Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hainanese chicken - exclusive secret!

As you may know, I have a book coming out by Timber Press around December 2016. I can't wait for this book about growing and cooking Chinese vegetables to come out! Inside are all kinds of family stories, secrets, and even some of my favorite recipes - including a recipe for Hainanese chicken and rice.  If you've had it, you know how incredible this delicious chicken is over rice, especially with a spoonful of the savory and fragrant ginger and onion oil on top. You'll have to wait for the official recipe to come out, but I will share a secret with you in advance that won't be printed in the book...

My mom's Hainanese chicken is rubbed with salt and sits in the fridge for a couple of days. Since we have to do all that waiting, she tends to prepare 2 or even 3 of these chickens at a time.

This chicken is cooked low and slow by simmering and then steeping in a pot of water. The result is a whole chicken with the most ridiculously tender texture you've ever had.

Here's a secret: after steeping the chicken, my mom actually saves the broth for cooking another chicken. And then sometimes, she saves the broth for cooking yet another chicken! As you can imagine, this broth gets better and better over time and each chicken ends up being more and more flavorful.

Today, I was doing a final test on this recipe before it's submitted to my editor and I cooked 4 chickens in this pot!  Now I'm just trying to figure out how I might savor this super concentrated broth. I may use some to cook the rice that will be served alongside my chicken. I may treat it as a base for my favorite chicken and dumplings recipe. I may freeze in small amounts to use as recipe starters. Or I may just keep the whole pot safe in the freezer for those unavoidable winter colds. No doubt it will make a really powerful chicken soup cure.

While this secret will not be included in my book, the book will be chock full of many other interesting tips and tricks, and I can't wait to share it with you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipe (and Bonus Bloody Mary Mix Recipe!)

Roasted tomato sauce, ready when I need it. A great use for all those summer tomatoes!

Like other backyard gardeners, I wait long weeks through most of the summer for those first ripe, sun-warmed tomatoes. But truth be told, there are only so many fresh tomato tastings, BLT sandwiches, and caprese salads a moderate tomato liker such as myself can handle.

On my first post-vacation harvest, I came in with a shirtload of our favorite heirlooms, the Cherokee purple. Far too many for BLTs...however, just the right amount for a batch of roasted tomato sauce!

Within an hour, these just ripe tomatoes, gently unloaded from the bottom half of my shirt were transformed into a couple of generous portions of sauce that I froze and will certainly thank myself for on some future busy weeknight.

And an instant gratification bonus for my smart planning and thoughtful food preservation? A homemade bloody Mary unlike any bloody Mary you've had.  Keep reading...

Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipe

8 med-large tomatoes
6 or more cloves of garlic
a pinch of salt
a tiny pinch of pepper
a tiny pinch of sugar
a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
optional: fresh or dried herbs such as basil or oregano (I generally leave the herbs out so I can customize later on according to what I'm using my sauce for).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle olive oil in a large baking pan. I usually end up using a couple of pans to contain all the tomatoes. Evenly sprinkle salt, sugar, and pepper in the pan. Cut tomatoes in half (I don't like too many seeds in my sauce, so I squeeze the seeds out into a strainer set over a bowl.  The juice that strains through becomes the base for my bloody Mary. If you don't mind seeds and have no interest in the excuse-to-drink-early-in-the-day cocktail, you can skip this step). Place tomatoes cut side down in the pans. Throw the garlic cloves in with the tomatoes.

Halved Cherokee Purple tomatoes ready to go in the oven.

Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Pull off skins and break up tomato chunks with a fork or potato masher. Reheat if using, or pack, label, and store in the freezer.

*** Often, the tomatoes will release a lot of juice while cooking, making the sauce too thin for my liking.  I will either pour off some of the liquid (which I could use for another purpose like as a soup base), or I'll mash the tomatoes as usual and then cook the sauce down a bit to thicken it up.

Fork-crushed and ready to go! Puree with a stick blender if you prefer a more even texture.


Brie's Bodacious Bloody Mary Recipe

No part of this process goes to waste!  With the tomato juice that I've strained into my bowl, I end up with one perfect portion of the base for one of my favorite cocktails (I just add a few ounces of vodka). While I just make a single serving of my friend Brie's bloody Mary mix, she is a huge tomato grower and mixes up zillions of mason jars full of the stuff - chilled on ice and ready to add merriment to an annual summer bash she throws. She knows her bloody Marys. Here's Brie's recipe below for a big invite-your-friends sized batch of the mix. Haven't tried her spicy tomato juice yet. I'm saving that one for after this weekend's pepper harvest!

I squeezed the seeds out of my tomato halves and ended up with this jar of juice. It's ready to use in the freshest, lightest-yet-most-flavorful bloody Mary I've had! Thanks for the recipe Brie!

Monday, June 1, 2015

A fateful string of events

About 10 years ago my father brought home a few white geese. A short while after that he drove hours to southern Virginia to pick up a pair of Chinese geese.These geese live a peaceful, good life with a safe shelter to rest in at night, and eight acres to roam during the day. A little while later my father began raising ducks and after that came the chickens. My father is not a dog or cat guy but apparently he does keep pets. As a pet caretaker this means spending a small fortune on food and many hours weekly improving their habitat (like collecting pine needles for their shelter, building and cleaning a large chicken coop, and feeding the ducks special leafy green treats from the garden). Many evening hours were also spent taking care of predators in a way people in the country need to take care of predators.

After about a decade of keeping these animals, and with it, the intense care and work it requires, he's decided to give it up. Perhaps it was this past harsh winter of endless below 0° days and having to trudge through snow and ice to feed the animals daily that helped him reach this decision. Perhaps it was turning 70 and realizing there are still more than enough chores on his property to keep him busy enough, without the animal care. Either way, he decided that by the end of this year he would give up all the ducks, geese and chickens. 

The next question was, where would they go? He had just started talking to some friends and acquaintances and found some places to bring them, but he suspected that his beloved pets would not be taken to new homes to live the kind of life they had at my father's house. They would be "taken care of" in a different kind of way. My father has had the older generation of geese for a decade. As you can imagine, the thought of this made his heart ache. 

One of the white geese and one of the Chinese geese in the foreground

The other day, a neighbor my parents had never met before came to their house. She told my father she had a four acre farm just a few blocks away with horses, chickens, and a small pond, and that she had a pair of geese for 11 years. The goose pictured below, one of her favorite animals, had recently lost his mate. She'd noticed a change in his behavior and she was concerned that he was lonely. With a heavy heart herself, she explained that she'd remembered driving by in the past and seeing my father's geese happily roaming the yard. She'd come to ask if her goose could live at my father's place and hopefully find some company. He told her of course he would take the goose.

The neighbor's 11 year old goose who recently lost his mate

Neighbor's goose in the water, ducks along the edge

After a day or two my dad saw that the new goose was not eating so he called the neighbor who came over to visit again. He told her he was concerned the goose was not going to do well if he was refusing to eat. They decided that it was a possibility the goose was not transitioning well and might need to be back at his own home. My dad then told her he actually had a plan to get rid of all of his animals by the end of the year. He asked her if she wanted any of them. She was thrilled about the opportunity to adopt ALL of them! This way she would keep her goose and my father's entire flock would move to their new home with him. In about two weeks, they will make the exchange of animals. Before this time, she'll be cutting out a bigger pond and getting ready to increase her animals by about 10 geese, 15 chickens, and about 20 ducks. 

As the neighbor left that day, she said goodbye to my parents, quacked at the ducks and honked at the geese. With that, my dad knew there would be a happy ending to the story!

Growing Chard in My Windowbox

While I've been delighting in watching this chard growing in my windowboxes for the past few weeks, one day recently, my husband said to me, "Those are ugly flowers growing in the windowboxes"!

Well, guess who doesn't get to have any of this beautiful leafy green?

Since I have limited good gardening space, I'm always looking for creative places to plant edibles, and I think this "Rainbow Chard" with its bright colored stems is just perfect where it's planted, don't you?

Where have you found spots to tuck edible plants?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

How to Grow and Use Lemongrass

A new and small lemongrass plant in the back corner
As a gardener with a limited area of prime, sunny gardening space, I'm always looking for open places to add edible plants and herbs.  I have done things like force compatible vegetables to share space by tucking basil in with large planters of tomatoes, have used neglected window boxes to grow tidy rows of chard, and have added beautiful red-veined sorrel to empty spots in my perennial beds in front of my house.

This year, I wanted to claim some space in the big ornamental container by my front door for growing edibles. As someone who is not terribly creative with ornamental container plantings, I tend the stick with the "thriller, filler, spiller" rule of thumb and thought what better “thriller” than the tall statuesque lemongrass.

Lemongrass is a citrusy-flavored herb that gives Thai food its distinctive taste.  It is relatively carefree in a sunny garden in a tropical zone.  In colder zones like mine, lemongrass can be grown in containers and taken in during the winter months, or simply planted outside in the garden and grown as an annual.  Plants can be started by seed (for a far slower start), but it is easy enough to take cuttings from a friend or find fresh green lemongrass stalks from an Asian grocer and root in a glass of water.  Change the water every other day and roots should appear within two weeks.  When roots are a couple inches long, the lemongrass stalks can be planted in a container or into the garden.  In the garden, lemongrass can grow to at least three feet tall and wide.  The lemongrass in my planter has already gotten noticeably larger in the past couple of weeks, but being situated in partial shade, and being confined to a container, it won’t get too big.  Still, I won't be stingy with using the stalks when I need to. And at the end of the season, I will cut all remaining stalks and dry for use throughout the winter.

To use lemongrass, harvest as needed by cutting larger outside stalks at soil level.  The part used in cooking is the light green or yellowish section near the bottom half of the stalk. You can crush the stalk in this section and notice the fresh citrus scent. Tough or bruised outside leaves with no fragrance should be removed before cooking.  There are numerous cooking methods to use depending on the dish.  To flavor soups, cut into 5 inch lengths and twist the entire length of the section or crush with a mallet or rolling pin before adding to the pot.  To add to stir-fries, grate lemongrass or crush and then mince.  For curries, use tender lemongrass sections and cut very thinly.

I love the fragrance of lemongrass and find it very energizing and mood-boosting.  It is also a critical ingredient in making a great Thai tom yum soup like THIS one.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2015

GBBD: May 2015

It's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day! While this is the first time I've participated in probably...years...(I've been a very very bad blogger), I'm thrilled that hundreds of garden bloggers around the world are still posting photos of their blooms reliably every month.  Just about as reliably as these beautiful blooms in my May garden.  Visit May Dreams Gardens  blog to see more!

Tom Yum Soup Recipe

Fragrant and distinct, the classic tom yum kung soup is a perfect blend of the most common Thai herbs and vegetables, many of which you may be able to grow in your own backyard.  Don’t have it all going in your garden just yet?  All of these ingredients can be found in Asian supermarkets, and most can be found in your well-stocked local supermarket.  Not only is this soup a delicious amalgamation of savory, tangy, and spicy tastes (if you’ve had this soup before, I know you’re craving it now just reading about it), it may have health benefits.  Ingredients such as shallots, chili peppers, lemongrass and galangal are touted as having immune-boosting properties.  Try it tonight or the next time you’re fighting a cold.  Serves 4.

Tom Yum Kung    

6 cups chicken stock

2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 5 inch sections, and bruised with a mallet

1 inch piece of galangal or ginger root, sliced

3 shallots, cut in half and crushed with the back of a knife

4 kaffir lime leaves

1 8-ounce can of straw mushrooms, rinsed

2 chili peppers, chopped

1 tablespoon chili paste

12 Large shrimp, peeled tail-on and deveined

1 lime, juiced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons fish sauce

Handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Bring chicken stock to a boil over medium high heat.  Add lemongrass sections, galangal and shallots.  Tear the kaffir lime leaves halfway and add to pot.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add straw mushrooms, chopped chili peppers, chili paste, shrimp.  Add lime juice, sugar, fish sauce.  Simmer for a few minutes more until shrimp is cooked.  Remove from heat and garnish with cilantro to serve. Enjoy!

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