Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Middle Eastern Salad

This is a salad served all over the Middle East and Near East. I've heard it called Israeli Salad and also Arab Salad, which shows you how popular it is. For the sake of peace and the recognition that food can unite people, I'm simply calling it Middle Eastern Salad. It is a refreshing mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, mint and parsley, salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil. It goes beautifully with all kinds of roasted meats and is one of the dishes almost required when serving Turkish mezes - they call it Shepherd's Salad and the Iranians make it too and call it Salad Shiraz. You can call it anything you like and if you haven't made it yet, it may quickly become one of your favorites too!  

Middle Eastern Salad

1 large cucumber, peeled, cut in half, deseeded and cut into chunks
4 Roma Tomatoes, stem end removed and diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
Juice of 2 small lemons - about 1/4 cup
1/4 cup Olive Oil
Small Handful each of Parsley and Mint, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional:  Yellow or Orange Peppers, diced

Mix together all the ingredients and toss to coat.  Let sit for at least 15 minutes up to 24 hours (refrigerated) to let the flavors meld.

Five Element Analysis

Cucumbers belong to the Earth Element and Tomatoes to the Fire Element. If you use Peppers, you add even more Fire. The olive oil and lemon juice contribute the Wood Element. The parsley and mint add the Metal Element.  Only the Water Element is missing so you might want to consider adding an eggplant dish or a seafood dish to create a Five Element Balance.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie

There was a special on beef roasts at QFC last week - 2 for 1 - so of course I bought two as there are so many things you can do with leftover roast beef.  I make it in the simplest of ways - I just season it all over with Lawry's Seasoned Salt and garlic powder. Then I put it into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn it down to 250 degrees and cook for about 2- - 25 minutes per pound for rare roast beef.  If you like it medium go up to 30 - 35 minutes per pound. We have roast beef the first night and then I make things like Thai Beef Salad or Beef Pot Pie.  In the fall and winter I tend to make Pot Pie with potatoes and carrots and peas. In the summer, it's almost always with mushrooms. Sometimes I make pot pies with chicken too and turkey after Thanksgiving.  Now, a lot of people make pot pies with a stew, but I like it much better when I make a quick gravy to go along with the meat and vegetables. Then you top it with puff pastry which I don't even roll out - I just cut it to fit with scissors - a much underrated kitchen tool and then I cut a few vent holes and bake in a hot oven for 20 - 25 minutes. You will be rewarded savory delight - crispy puff pastry covering a luscious blend of tender roast beef and mushrooms. It's so delicious and so easy!

Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie

4 cups cut up leftover roast beef, cut into large chunks
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups washed and sliced mushrooms (about 12 medium button mushrooms)
1/4 teaspoon salt and sprinkling of fresh ground pepper
3 cups beef broth (including roast beef drippings - I used Better than Bouillon)
6 Tablespoons Butter
8 Tablespoons Flour
2 sheets thawed Puff Pastry (I used Pepperidge Farm)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large frying pan with deep sides, melt butter and add in onions. Cook until they become translucent. Put in the mushrooms and the salt and pepper and cook until they just begin to soften.  Add the beef and toss.  Then add in flour and mix until the flour is fully incorporated.  Then add in the broth and cook until just thickened.   

Divide mixture between 2 9" pie pans (I used glass ones).  Then put the puff pastry on top and cut to fit the round shape with scissors. Cut numerous vent holes in the puff pastry with a sharp knife.  Put into the oven over a cookie sheet (it might drip) and cook for 20 - 25 minutes or until the puff pastry is puffed up and browned.

Five Element Analysis

Beef and Mushrooms belong to the Earth Element so this is clearly a very grounding dish.  The wheat in the puff pastry and flour contributes the Wood Element. The onions bring in the Metal Element and the butter adds even more.  The Water and Fire Elements are missing so be sure to serve foods later that belong to these elements, but if you are trying to make a balanced meal, serve the Pot Pie with a green salad or with sliced tomatoes and perhaps some dark berries for dessert.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Versatile and Simple Chicken Salad

I bought two roast chickens the day before yesterday because I was too tired to cook. There were four of us here and that's a lot of chicken!  So of course there was leftover chicken today and since all of us here favor the dark meat when it is hot, there were 2 whole chicken breasts waiting to be used.  And, when I have leftover chicken, I love to make chicken salad.  I like it simple - just chicken, celery, red onion and mayonnaise. During the summer, I get inspired to add some snipped Tarragon and I always add Lawry's Seasoned Salt. But, this is a versatile recipe - I have made it into a Curried Chicken Salad and have even added fruit, fresh or dried, red and yellow peppers and even nuts. Some people like to use 1/2 mayonnaise and 1/2 yogurt or sour cream. There are so many options!  Most people I know like their chicken salad as a great big sandwich.  I like to serve it with Rice Crackers so it's almost like a dip.  And if I'm going to have it for lunch, I serve a salad or I make a soup to go with it - made from the leftover roast chicken bones - of course. Any way you make chicken salad - it's delicious!

Versatile and Simple Chicken Salad

2 cups diced cooked chicken
3/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red onion or green onion
1/2 cup Mayonnaise (I used Best Foods/Hellmans)
1/2 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt (or just plain salt and pepper)
1 teaspoon fresh Tarragon, snipped into small pieces (or 1/2 teaspoon dried Tarragon)

Optional:  1/2 teaspoon crumbled Rosemary or  1/2 teaspoon Curry Powder
Optional:  Cut up Apples or Halved Grapes
Optional:  Walnuts, Pecans, Raisins, Dried Cranberries
Optional:  Cut up Red or Yellow Peppers or Cucumbers

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and serve with Crackers (I used Rice Crackers) or Toasted Bread

Five Element Analysis

Of course, the elemental makeup will change depending on what you put in, but for the basic Chicken Salad Recipe, the Chicken contributes the Wood Element and the celery adds even more. The Red Onion and herbs bring in the Metal Element along with the Mayonnaise.  The salad I served with it adds the Fire Element.  Dried fruit or peppers will contribute the Fire Element too. The walnuts and pecans would bring in the Water Element or serve it with soup. But, the Earth Element is still missing. Adding cucumbers might be an idea or serving it with a sweet dessert sounds even better to create a Five Element balance.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Twice Cooked Pork - Hui Gou Rou

Tonight, I made a dish that reminded me of my childhood - Hui Gou Rou or Twice Cooked Pork.  This was one of my father's favorite dishes and my mother would make it whenever she felt like pleasing him.  Now, back then, I thought it was a bit too spicy, but these days, it seems pretty tame. This recipe traditionally uses pork belly first boiled and then sliced thin to be cooked again another day. I did something a bit different. I used leftover pork chops from the night before, sliced them thin and then sautéed them with onions and cabbage and seasoned the dish with Soy Sauce, Hoisin Sauce and Chili Bean Sauce. I thought about adding green peppers as is sometimes done, but I would have just picked them out and sometimes I add red peppers or  green onions or leeks instead of the onions - the choice is yours. This dish comes together in only minutes because the meat is already cooked. Served with some rice, it makes a lovely lunch. For a Chinese dinner, it is a good choice as one of several dishes as it has a very distinctive taste.

Twice Cooked Pork - Hui Gou Rou

1/2 pound leftover cooked pork, sliced into thin strips
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 small Onion, sliced thin
1/2 Cabbage, cored and sliced into strips (about same size as pork)
1/2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce or Tamari
1 Tablespoon Hoisin Sauce
1 Tablespoon Chili Bean Sauce
1/2 cup  Chicken Broth
1 heaping teaspoon of Cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a slurry

Heat a wok or large frying pan and add in the oil.  Then put in the onion and cabbage and cook, tossing until just beginning to brown. Then add in the pork, the Chicken Broth, the Soy Sauce or Tamari and the Chili Bean Sauce.  Stir and bring to a boil and cook until the meat softens (only a few minutes).  Mix in Cornstarch slurry and stir until slightly thickened.  Serve immediately.

Five Element Analysis

Pork belongs to the Water Element and the Soy Sauce, Chili Bean Sauce and Hoisin Sauce all add even more water. The Onion contributes the Metal Element along with the Rice and the Cabbage brings in the Earth Element. The Wood Element is represented by the Chicken Broth. The Chili Bean Sauce also brings in the Fire Element although this is the one element that could use some support. So add the red peppers in or pass some extra chili sauce on the side or serve with tea to make this a balanced delicious little dish.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Salad

I've been cooking this month, but somehow I've found myself cooking a lot of my old favorites, which are already on this blog and because it has been so hot, I've mostly been making salads.  So, I thought I would share with you one of the salads that I usually make in the fall. It's composed of roasted caramelized cubes of Butternut Squash, chopped up Swiss Chard and pre-cooked Wild Rice. Now, I cheated a bit as I bought the Wild Rice precooked at Trader Joe's, but I will give you the recipe for making it from scratch.  I also added Red Onions - I bought new ones with the green tops attached at the Farmer's Market so that's why you see what looks like green onion. The dressing is composed of Cider Vinegar, a bit of Olive Oil, salt and mustard.  It's a filling salad and quite beautiful to look at and delicious too! 

Swiss Chard called Silverbeet in New Zealand is a nutritional powerhouse, chock full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.  It's considered helpful for blood sugar regulation as is Butternut Squash and  is anti-inflammatory and good for bone health. For me, It's tender and delicious and I think it is tastier than Kale.  So, if you are tired of the same old salads - try this one. I think you'll like it.  

Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Salad

1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, trimmed from center rib and cut into bite size pieces
1 small Butternut Squash, peeled, cut into bite size cubes and roasted (recipe below)
Cooked Wild Rice (recipe below)
1/2 small Red Onion cut into small pieces
3 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
6 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt

In a small bowl, put in the Red Onion, the Cider Vinegar, the Mustard, the Olive Oil and Salt. Stir to Combine.  Place the Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice in a large bowl.  Pour dressing over and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

For Butternut Squash:  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Put small cubes of Butternut Squash onto an oiled baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to keep the pieces from sticking.  The squash is done with the pieces are browned and soft.

For Wild Rice:  Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add in 1/4 cup of Wild Rice and turn down to a simmer.  Cook for 45 minutes then drain in a mesh colander.  Use as directed above.

Five Element Analysis

Swiss Chard belongs to the Wood Element and the Cider Vinegar and Olive Oil adds even more. The Wild Rice, since it is a dark colored seed contributes the Water Element.  The Butternut Squash adds the Earth Element and the Mustard and Red Onion contribute the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element is missing, so serve this with a Fiery main course or add a Berry dessert to create balance. I'm thinking of adding some tart dried cherries next time.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Birdseed Salad

When my son was very small, he was quite intrigued by birds and we had a bird feeder that he maintained in our back yard. He asked me one day if I would make him something out of birdseed so he could taste what the birds were eating.  I recognized only two things – millet and sunflower seeds and I ended up cooking some millet like a cereal, adding some sunflower seeds on top and serving it to him with butter and maple syrup. He loved it and it became one of our favorite breakfast foods. Over the years, I’ve thought about making millet again as it is a gluten free grain and I don’t know why I don’t because it is so delightful – nutty and chewy and easily digestible. It’s quite popular in the North of China where some of my ancestors come from. It is said to have been the grain that nourished countless Chinese armies.

According to Chinese Medicine, millet nourishes Yin and supports the spleen. It nurtures the liver and helps increase blood production, so it’s good for you too. It’s much like quinoa but I think it is more flavorful.  So tonight I decided to make a salad with it and in honor of my son, I added sunflower seeds too.  A friend just gave me the remnants of his CSF box and I had an assortment of fresh green onions, pea pods and radishes to use.  So, I toasted the millet and then steamed it in some diluted chicken broth (use water if you are vegetarian or vegan), lightly blanched the pea pods and the carrots and chopped up the green onions and radishes. I tossed it together with a light dressing made of coconut oil, lime juice and honey. Then I sprinkled it with sunflower seeds. It was so good!  You could add any number of vegetables to this salad – I think it would be great with some tomatoes or red or yellow peppers or some celery.  I also discovered that this salad keeps well. Just remember not to add the sunflower seeds until just before serving to keep them crunchy.  This would be a great salad to bring to a potluck and can easily be doubled or tripled to serve a lot of people and it would introduce them to a virtually unknown grain that deserves some attention.

Birdseed Salad

½ cup Millet
1 ½ cups diluted chicken broth
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon Honey
½ teaspoon salt
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into small pieces
4 radishes, ends trimmed and cut into small pieces
2 small carrots, ends trimmed, peeled and cut in half
Handful of sugar snap peas or peapods, ends trimmed and strings removed
Optional:  Cut up tomatoes, red pepper and/or celery
1/3 cup Sunflower Seeds, lightly toasted in a frying pan

In a frying pan, toast the millet over medium high heat for 5 -7 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Add the chicken broth and cover and cook for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to boil and add the carrots and peapods. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes or until the peapods are tender but still crisp. Drain and add in cold water to stop the cooking process. Then, cut into small pieces

In a large bowl, put in the radishes and green onions.  Add in the coconut oil, lime juice and honey.  Mix in the peapods and radishes and any other vegetables you are using.  Then add in the hot Millet and toss to coat (it melts the coconut oil).  When ready to serve, sprinkle on the sunflower seeds.

Five Element Analysis

Millet, as a yellow grain, belongs to the Earth Element and the Coconut Oil, carrots and honey add even more.  The chicken broth, lime juice and peapods contribute the Wood Element.  The green onions and radishes add the Metal Element and the Sunflower Seeds bring in the Water Element. Only the Fire Element is missing so this salad would be even better with Tomatoes or Red Peppers, but I didn’t have any so I ate it with tea – a fire beverage – instead.  Or you could serve it with a Fire meat like lamb or venison. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Lahmacun - Armenian Pizza

I used to go to these wonderful Armenian Delis in the San Fernando Valley when I lived in LA and I would buy Lahmacun and go home and heat them up in the oven as a midnight snack. I never had them fresh out of the oven and I've always wanted to make them so I did. For those of you who have never had a Lahmacun, they are like pizzas but with no cheese. They are usually made with ground lamb, tomatoes, onion and spices and there as many variations with the seasonings as there are Armenian cooks. This dish originates in Gaziantap, which is now part of Turkey and so this is a popular snack food in Turkey too. Today, I got a sudden craving for them but I didn't have any lamb and I'm back to not eating gluten for a while, so I made it with ground beef and Udi's gluten free pizza crusts instead. You could use any prepackaged pizza dough if you don't feel like making it yourself. As you can see from the photo, I put a lot more meat on - about double the usual amount - because I love the meat and I've always wished there was more on the more traditional Lahmacun. It turned out so wonderfully that I will be making these a lot more. It's a delightful snack with a delicious and a slightly exotic taste.  I don't know why I  never made it before, but I will definitely be making this much more from now on!

Lahmacun – Armenian Pizza

½ pound ground beef or lamb or a combination of both
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
3 Plum Tomatoes, chopped
3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon of Paprika
½ teaspoon of Allspice
1 teaspoon Red Chili Flakes + more for serving - can also use 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne
¼ teaspoon ground Cumin 
¼ cup chopped Parsley for garnish
Optional:  Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of Pine Nuts

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and add in the chopped onion and garlic.  Cook until just beginning to brown.  Put in the ground beef and cook until it is no longer pink.  Add in the Tomatoes and the Tomato Paste.  Season with salt, Paprika, Allspice and Red Chili Flakes and then cook until bubbling.  Turn off the heat and let cool until ready to use

To Make the Dough:

1 tsp. sugar
1 package active dry yeast (I would use Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise)
2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
¾ cup warm water
1½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil plus more for oiling the bowl

Combine sugar, yeast, and ¾ cup water in a small bowl and let sit until foaming. Mix flour and salt and add the yeast mixture and stir to form a dough. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth. Then put dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest until doubled in size - about 1 hour. Divide dough into 2 portions, and roll each portion into a circle.  Then, place on an oiled baking sheet and put on topping.

Or use 2 Udi’s Gluten Free Thin & Crispy Pizza Crusts for a gluten free version like I did.  Place the pizza crusts on the on the oiled cookie sheet and put on the topping.

To Make the Lahmacun:

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Use 1/2 of the meat mixture and spread it over the top of a dough round – covering all of it almost to the edges.  Repeat for the second Lahmacun. Then, place them in the oven on a middle rack and cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until crust is browned and meat sauce is bubbling.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with parsley.  Serve with additional red pepper flakes.

Five Element Analysis

If using beef, it supplies the Earth Element and the Udi’s Gluten Free Pizza Crusts contribute the Metal Element as they are made from Rice and Tapioca Flours. The olive oil contributes the Wood Element. The Tomatoes and the Tomato Sauce and the Red Chile flakes bring in the Fire Element and the Garlic, Parsley and the spices add plenty of the Metal Element. The Earth Element is covered by the browned onions. Only the Water Element is missing, so making an accompanying Eggplant dish would create balance or  a dish that involves some nuts or seeds.  One idea is to sprinkle it with Pine Nuts before serving  If you make this with lamb, it is considered a Fiery food and the Wheat Crust brings in more of the Wood Element. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mediterranean Bread Salad

Many dishes are created as a way of using up leftovers and one of the favorite ways to use leftover bread in the Mediterranean areas of Europe is to cut it up and put it into a salad with lots of fresh tomatoes. The bread soaks up the savory juices and it is simply delicious! This is the time of year to make this wonderful salad as the tomatoes are very ripe. While there are many versions, the kind I've been served in Nice is my favorite.  The flavors of this salad involve classic Nicoise ingredients - olives, capers and anchovy filets.  Now you can leave the anchovies out, but it is really so much better with them in and they create a wonderful savory flavor that doesn't taste like fish at all. I think it is best when you grill the bread although as it gives the salad a lovely smoky flavor, but you can also brown the cubes in the broiler or toast them in a pan with some additional olive oil.  I used Udi's Gluten Free Bread for my salad and it worked out just fine although I toasted a good Italian loaf of bread for my sons.  This salad tastes like summer to me and is perfect when paired with grilled fish or a grilled steak.

Mediterranean Bread Salad

6 large Tomatoes, cut into chunks
½ red onion, cut into small pieces
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Squeeze of Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup Black Olives, pitted and halved
2 Tablespoons Capers
3 cups bread cubes from an Italian Loaf (like Ciabatta - I used Udi's Gluten Free Bread) crusts removed
Optional:  2 Anchovy Filets, mashed with a fork
3 Tablespoons Chopped Parsley
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Mix together the Red Wine Vinegar, the lemon juice, the garlic and the olive oil.  Add in anchovies, the red onion and season with salt and pepper.  

In a large bowl, put in tomatoes, olives and capers. Pour dressing over and toss to coat.  Grill or broil the bread or toast in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil and add to the salad when ready to eat.  Sprinkle the salad with parsley to serve.

Five Element Analysis

Tomatoes belong to the Fire Element and the vinegar, lemon juice, olives and olive oil ad capers all contribute a lot of the Wood Element.  The garlic, onion and parsley bring in the Metal Element.  The Water Element is represented by the Anchovies.  Only the  Earth Element is missing, which is covered if you serve steak, like I did. But if you serve fish instead, just add a sweet dessert or serve another Earthy dish to create balance.