Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ode to an Easy Oatmeal

One of these days I'm going to surprise you all and just post a recipe without a long-winded tale to introduce it. Today is not that fact this may be a Personal Best Post in terms of the wordy-background-to-short-recipe ratio.

I'm always interested in learning about what other people eat. I'm especially interested in what people in other countries feed to their kids, since one of my hopes for raising my son is that he will appreciate the wondrous array of foods that the world has to offer. So, when I get to know someone from a different cultural background, I like to ask them what they have for breakfast.

Although this is not a carefully controlled study, I can't help but notice an apparent correlation between countries full of skinny people and eating a hearty breakfast. By "hearty" I mean almost anything except the processed-type of cereals, donuts, muffins and other sweet things that have crept onto the American breakfast table. Some cultures have eggs and tortillas, some have rice and fish, some have a nice big pork chop - my point being that breakfast truly is a meal that nourishes the body after the long break since dinner.
Does having a hearty breakfast sustain you longer into the morning than a bowl of cereal, with the net result that you eat less all day? I bet those Special K folks sure hope not.

Since I am trying to be a little more skinny myself, I am doing an experiment that throws American dietary advice out the window and treating myself to bigger morning meals. Last night's (homemade) veggie lo mein and kimchee stew with rice made surprisingly good breakfasts. I'm not sure I'm ready for the breakfast pork chop, though; I love bacon and sausage but I guess I have too much culinary bias to try chops for breakfast. (Isn't that odd? Maybe it's because I was raised with pork chops on the dinner plate, whereas the lo mein and kimchee entered my kitchen when I was an adult). At any rate, this observation, coupled with our horribly cold weather of late, has me hankering after hot breakfasts. But sometimes there are no leftovers, and sometimes I just want something more familiar as breakfast food. Which brings me to my point: oatmeal.

I wasn't a Big Oatmeal Fan until I discovered steelcut, or Irish-style oats. If you've never tried them, they have the same general flavor as rolled oats, but they aren't rolled - the grain is mostly intact, so they're bigger and chewy-er. (I'm not doing a good job of describing this...just take my word for it, they taste better!). oats are one of those food that I classify as Ludicrously Healthy, plus they taste good. The downside to the steel-cut variety is that they cost a little more than rolled oats (though you can find them in bulk at Whole Foods or other "natural" grocery stores) and they take a lot longer to cook. So it would seem that hot oatmeal is not an option for the whole hearty breakfast thing on a busy weekday.

But wait! Thanks to Marion Cunningham, author of "The Breakfast Book," there is a way to have your oats and eat them on a weekday, too. I call this "Overnight Oatmeal."

For 3-4 generous servings:
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup steel-cut oats

Put the water in the top half of a double boiler. Bring the water to a boil and shake in the oats and salt. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, fill the bottom of the double boiler with water and bring that to a boil, too. When the 5 minutes of oat-simmering have elapsed, cover the pan and transfer it to sit in the hot water in the bottom of the double boiler. Leave it on the stove overnight and in the morning, the oats will be cooked. You can re-heat the oats by turning the heat on low to bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a simmer (let it simmer for ~15 minutes to heat the oats), or by scooping out individual servings into bowls and heating them in the microwave.

That's it. For ~15 minutes' effort in the evening - most of which is waiting for water to boil - you can have hot oatmeal waiting for you in the morning. If you don't have a double boiler, you can place the covered pan with the oats in a larger pan of water. Alternatively, you can use a small Crock-pot or put the oats and water in a covered dish and bake all night at 225 F (no need to pre-boil the oats with these methods).

I do love this recipe. Add some fruit and a little yogurt, cream, brown sugar or maple syrup and you're in breakfast heaven. (I should note that Marion says you can cook regular rolled oats in the same way. So if you don't want to deal with steel-cut, you don't have to).

You don't have to limit yourself to oats, either. I messed around with this a lot when my son was in the mushy-food stage, and tried out various grains and combinations. I came up with what I like to call the Rule of Threes, to make it easy to remember the recipe: (1) use three cups of water for every cup of oats, (2) up to 1/3 of the oats can be substituted with another type of grain, and (3) don't use more than 3 kinds of grain.

The last two rules came into being because I was trying to come up with a multigrain-type of porridge. Through trial and error I found that adding too many different types of grains muddled the flavors, and too much volume of different grains affected the consistency of the porridge. My favorite combinations are 2/3 cup oats with 1/3 cup (total) of millet and cracked wheat, millet and barley, or cracked wheat and quinoa. If you can find it, get "hulled" barley instead of "pearled" barley; the germ has not been removed from hulled barley. This gives an extra "snap" to the cooked barley that goes really well with the oats.

So give it a try, and let me know what combinations you like...or at least what you like to eat for breakfast :-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cashew Chicken Two Ways

I made Indian food for dinner tonight, by which I mean that I spent all afternoon making Indian food and we ate it for a late dinner this evening. I really like Indian food so I don't mind spending a lot of time on it. I usually make a big meal with a curry or two, rice, dal, and accompaniments, then either freeze the leftovers or eat them for the next few days (sometimes both!).

This recipe for curried chicken with cashews is from one of my favorite cookbooks: "The Complete Asian Cookbook" by Charmaine Solomon. The book has recipes from 15 different countries, although I mostly use it for the Indian recipes. We really love the "gravy" in the curried chicken and you don't need too many special ingredients to make it. You could make your own curry powder, but I adore the Madras brand that comes in a can so I don't bother. Likewise, you can make your own garam masala, but they sell it at our local Indian market, and I saw several brands at Whole Foods today so you should be able to find that in a store, too. I always have whole-milk yogurt in my fridge - I eat it for breakfast, use it in baking, and put it on baked potatoes and burritos instead of sour cream - so for me, this recipe is a "pantry-staple."

I don't have quite so many uses for raw cashews, though. So, I decided to post this Chinese-style cashew chicken recipe (from Everyday Food magazine) as well. In contrast to the curry, it's a quickly-put-together dish for a fast weeknight dinner. Yeah, you do need to have hoisin sauce on hand, but hoisin sauce is another thing that's just so yummy that I think it's worth giving up the fridge space. So, if you can squeeze a jar of hoisin sauce in your refrigerator, tins of curry powder and garam masala in your cupboard, and a bag of raw cashews on the shelf (or in the freezer, if you need to store them longer than a couple of months), you'll get a lot of good eating in return.

Curried Chicken with Cashews (Kaju Murgh Kari)
adapted from: The Complete Asian Cookbook, by Charmaine Solomon

6 Servings

1 3 1/2-lb chicken, cut into pieces (or ~ 3 lb assorted legs, thighs, and breast pieces)
3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons curry powder (I like Madras brand)
1 teaspoon chili powder, optional
3 teaspoons salt (I use ~ 1 teaspoon)
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander or mint leaves, plus additional for garnish
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 cup plain yogurt (preferably whole-milk yogurt)
4 oz raw cashews, finely ground (use a food processor or blender, or chop very fine with a knife)

1. Cut chicken into serving pieces. For curry, the pieces should not be large so separate the drumsticks from thighs, wings from breasts, and cut the whole breast into four pieces.

2. Heat the ghee or oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and ginger over low heat until soft and golden. Stir occasionally. This will take a long time - maybe 45 minutes. (I sometimes do this step earlier in the afternoon, and leave the cooked onions in the pan at room temp until I'm ready to finish cooking the dish).

3. Add the curry powder and chili powder and stir for 1 minute. Add the salt, tomatoes, chopped herbs, stir with a wooden spoon and cook to a pulp (or just bring to a simmer).

4. Add the legs and thigh pieces to the pan and stir well to coat with the spice mixture. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for ~15 minutes. Uncover the pan and add the breast pieces, if you are using them. Stir again, cover the pan and cook for another ~30 minutes. Stir once or twice during cooking to make sure that the chicken does not stick to the pan.

5. Uncover the pan and sprinkle on the garam masala. Add the yogurt and stir to combine. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

6. Add the ground cashews, stir well and let the dish heat through. Garnish with additional chopped coriander or mint. Serve with rice, naan or other Indian breads.

Cashew chicken
From Everyday Food magazine

1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
8 scallions, white and green parts separated, each cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
¾ cup raw cashews, toasted
White rice for serving

1. In a medium bowl, toss chicken with cornstarch until chicken is coated. Season with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Cook half the chicken, tossing often, until browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add the remaining oil and chicken to skillet along with the garlic and white parts of scallions. Cook, tossing often, until chicken is browned, about 3 minutes. Return first batch of chicken to pan. Add vinegar; cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds.

4. Add hoisin sauce and ¼ cup water. Cook, tossing, until chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in scallion greens and cashews. Serve immediately over white rice, if desired.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rice Cake Soup for New Year's

We had the playgroup this morning, and the bibim bap was a hit. With the Mommies, anyway; I'm not sure the kids sat still long enough to eat any of it...

We also made a beef soup with rice cakes, which is traditional for New Year in Korea. (Not the Quaker, puffy-rice-type of rice cakes! The chewy, rice-flour-dough kind). I was going to post the recipe but then I saw that Aeri already did that on her blog, in her usual, beautifully written and illustrated way. So go visit Aeri's Kitchen ( and read about rice cake soup!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bibim bap

Bibim Bap, adapted from "Korean Cuisine" by Young Sook Choi

I was typing up this recipe for a friend - she's making it for our sons' playgroup this week, to celebrate New Year - so I thought I would post it here, too. There are a lot of recipes out there for bibim bap, and they're all good! This one's adapted from "Korean Cuisine," by Young Sook Choi. It's my first Korean cookbook and the one I still use all the time.

This recipe is not as intimidating as it seems - most of the steps are accomplished quickly. I like to chop up a lot of garlic (~1/3 cup) and put it in a bowl, then scoop some out as I prepare each side dish. Any garlic that's left after everything else is assembled gets cooked along with the beef.

The hot sauce can be made well in advance (like a week) and the spinach, daikon, and bean sprout salads can be prepared several hours ahead of serving time. Cook the rice while you prepare the garnishes, then cook the mushrooms, beef, and eggs.

To assemble the bibim bap: put some hot rice in a large soup bowl and place a fried egg in the middle. Arrange the side dishes in little piles around the egg. You can put all the components together in each serving bowl, or present bowls of hot rice topped with an egg and let each diner add the side dishes and garnishes to their own preferences. Leftovers are good the next day, and even the day after.

The seaweed garnish is optional. You really only need to add two ingredients to your pantry to make this: sesame oil and Korean chili paste. (Yes, some of the side dish recipes call for Korean chili powder as well, but you can skip it if or use another chili powder for these dishes). Korean chili paste is so delicious that you may find your self sneaking it onto other things. We love it in breakfast burritos. So no excuses! Go make some bibim bap!

1. Hot sauce (bibim bap sauce)
1/2 cup of hot pepper paste (gochu jang)
1 1/2 tablespoons cola or water (I use water)
1 tablespoon beef stock (or additional water)
1/2 tablespoon red wine
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic clove

Mix everything evenly into a paste.

2. Shredded lettuce (use ~1/2 cup per serving of bibim bap)

3. Shredded cucumber (~1/4 cup per serving)

4. Shredded seaweed (cut sheets of nori or roasted seaweed with scissors into fine shreds)

5. Spicy daikon salad (1/4 cup per serving)
2/3 pound (total) of shredded daikon radish and carrot
1 teaspoon salt (I use much less)
4 teaspoons sugar (I use ~3 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper powder

Mix everything together in a bowl.

6. Bean sprout salad (use 1/4 cup per serving)
2/3 lbs mung bean sprouts (I prefer regular bean sprouts)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic clove

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the sprouts (a few minutes in the boiling water, until they get a little limp). Drain the sprouts and rinse them, squeezing out the excess water. Put them in a bowl and add the salt, sesame oil, and garlic.

7. Spinach salad (use 1/3 cup per serving of bibim bap)
2/3 lb spinach
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic clove
pinch of sugar
pinch of toasted sesame seeds

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the spinach (until it wilts). I sometime just steam the spinach, or cook it in a pot with very little water, stirring often, until it wilts. Drain the spinach and squeeze out the excess water. Chop the spinach coarsley (if the leaves were large), put it in a bowl and add the salt, sesame oil, and garlic.

8. Mushrooms (2 mushrooms per serving, though I love mushrooms and use more)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 shiitake mushrooms, shredded (or sliced)
pinch of salt

Heat sesame oil in a frying pan and add mushrooms and salt. Stir-fry over high heat until cooked. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

9. Beef (~1/3 cup per serving)
1 pound shredded beef (or ground beef)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
pepper and minced garlic, as desired

Mix seasonings with beef. Re-heat the frying pan and cook the beef mixture until the color changes and beef is cooked. Transfer the beef to another bowl (or put it next to the mushrooms, in the same bowl).

10. Eggs (1 egg per serving)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 eggs

Heat the oil in the frying pan and then fry the eggs to your liking (I like over easy).

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Praise of Pot Roast

Ah, the lowly pot roast. Not very glamorous, but quite tasty and satisfying on a day when the high is 18 degrees F. It's also a great recipe for many reasons: at-home moms like me can get it started at naptime and it'll be ready by dinnertime, with minimal attention needed in the afternoon. People with jobs outside the house can make it on the weekend and eat it anytime before Wednesday. Or freeze it and eat it months later.

This is based on the Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe. It was cheap (I bought a bottom round roast on sale), easy to prepare (the instructions for searing are copious, but not complicated - just trying to be complete), and everything was in my house already (the roast was in the freezer). The cooking liquid makes a nice, tomato-y gravy that has a bit of "body" to it - it's not too thin, and you don't need to muck about with flour to thicken it. The leftover meat is good reheated with the gravy, or sliced thin for sandwiches.

Searing the meat is optional but it does add depth of flavor that I like. You can do this recipe, minus the searing, in a crockpot - just throw all the ingredients in, turn it on, and come back in ~6 hours (I would turn the meat over once or twice while it cooks).

1 hunk of meat, 3-4 lbs of bottom round roast or other roast labeled "braise" or "pot roast"
olive oil
1 big or 2 medium onions, sliced or chopped (depending on how you like your onions)
2-3 tablespoons each of dry sherry and vermouth (or substitute red wine, whiskey, my hubby's 'old secret ingredient' --Jack Daniels-- or skip it altogether)
1 14-ounce can tomato sauce (or 2 8-ounce cans, or canned tomatoes, or even tomato juice)
1-2 bay leaves
fresh or dried thyme
some potatoes, carrots, or other "root" vegetables
some cabbage (sliced) or any other vegetable that you need to use up

Have the onions sliced (or chopped) and waiting in a bowl next to the stove.

Get out a large, deep pot with a heavy bottom that is big enough to hold the roast (the roast should not be touching the sides of the pot, or peek up above the rim of the pot). Place the pot on the stove, turn the heat on medium-high, and let the pot heat up while you prepare the roast. (If your pot has a thin bottom, don't start heating the pan until you've completed the next step). Do NOT put any oil in the pot - you will put the oil on the meat.

Put the roast on a cutting board or large plate and pat it dry with paper towels. Drizzle some olive oil over the roast and give it a good rubdown; the meat should be completely coated with oil, but not dripping with it. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the meat.

Check that the pot is good and hot: sprinkle a few drops of water on the bottom of the pan - they should skitter across the surface. If they bubble and steam first, let the pan heat up a few more minutes.

Carefully place the oiled roast into the hot pot. You should hear a "searing" noise immediately. After a few minutes, check to see if the meat has seared completely - you should be able to lift it up off of the pan's bottom fairly easily (or, at least with just a little tugging). A big pair of kitchen tongs works well to lift the meat. If the roast is stuck firm, let it cook a little longer. If there are juices starting to come out of the meat and accumulate in the pan, turn up the heat to high. When you can easily lift the meat, look at the bottom - it should be a nice, dark brown color (i.e., caramelization). There will be some caramelization on the bottom of the pot, too.

Flip the roast over onto another side and repeat the searing process, until it is seared on all sides. If an area of the pot bottom is getting too brown, just put the meat back on top of the dark areas to keep them from burning. When the roast is seared on all sides, or when you are tired of doing this step, use the tongs to lift the roast out of the pan and onto a plate.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions to the pan. Stir immediately, and often, to keep the caramelized bits in the bottom of the pot from becoming charred bits. When the onion begins to soften (look translucent), add the sherry & vermouth or whatever liquid you're using. Stir with a wooden spoon and scrape up the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the onions are soft (limp).

Add the entire can of tomato sauce/tomatoes/tomato juice to the pot. Add a little water to the can (about 1/2 canful) and swish around with a spoon, to rinse the can and add that to the pot, too. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the bay leaf and the roast, and wait until the liquid is bubbling briskly. Then, put the lid on the pot, turn the heat down low and cook for ~ 3hours, or until the meat is very tender. You want it to cook slowly, so there should be gentle bubbling in the covered pot. Flip the meat over once or twice so that each side of the roast gets bathed in the gently bubbling tomato broth (sounds soothing, doesn't it?).

When the meat is cooked, you can (A) let it cool and put it in the fridge, and finish cooking it sometime in the next two days or (B) add the thyme and whatever vegetables you are using (i.e., whatever you have on hand). If selecting option B, keep simmering for an additional length of time until the veggies are cooked to your liking. For small potatoes and carrot chunks, simmer for about 25 more minutes.

Eat (serve with bread, rice, noodles, potatoes, etc.), or let it cool and refrigerate, then eat sometime within the next 2 days.