Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Holiday Menus, or Holy Crap It's Almost Vigilia

I, like many people I know, am way behind in holiday preparations. I've had vague ideas floating around in my brain about what to serve for Vigila and Christmas dinners, but it wasn't until last night that I sat down to actually think out the menus. (OK, for those of you who are lifelong procrastinators, this may not seem remarkable. But I am a woman who writes out timetables for Thanksgiving dinner and weighs biscotti dough. I am, or at least I used to be, All About Planning. See what having kids does to you?)

Despite my tendency to over-organize prior to an event, I'm not so good at keeping notes on how it all went afterward. Here's where the blogging thing becomes a major bonus: I can check my posts to see what I made for Vigilia (Christmas Eve) last year, and how it came out. (Note to self: don't serve kapusta with cod again).

This year we're going ever farther away from the traditionally meatless Vigilia feast. We'll still be meatless, but I'll be adding two Korean recipes as well: a seafood pancake and a seafood stew. My friend Marta won't be joining us this time; instead, my sister-in-law's family will be with us for the holiday duration. This will be their first Vigilia away from home - my hubby's family usually congregates at my parents-in-law's. We're thrilled that Sis et al. will be making the journey. To keep our nephews happy (I'm not sure how receptive they'll be to Korean seafood stew!) I've kept crabcakes, pierogies (potato-cheese as well as saurkraut-mushroom), and stuffed mushrooms on the menu.

Last night, it occurred to me that (1) although I have eaten several, I have never actually MADE a Korean-style pancake and (2) it might be a good idea to do a trial run before Christmas Eve. So I got out my trusty bag of pancake mix that I purchased at the recently-opened H Mart in Burlington. The instructions couldn't have been simpler: combine pancake mix and water, add seafood, cook. Except that I couldn't stop there and just had to search online for Korean pancake recipes...all of which contained an egg or two. I checked my bag of mix: no egg in the ingredients, no egg in the instructions. Moreover, both the online mix bag instructions directed me to add uncooked veggies and seafood to batter. I was unconvinced that the fillings would cook sufficiently in the time it took to brown the pancake. What to do?

I decided to wing it, of course. One cup pancake mix, one egg, and 3/4 cup water. Veggies (red bell pepper strips, sliced garlic, shredded Napa cabbage, and sliced scallions) and seafood (just shrimp in this trial run) were sauteed until limp/cooked, and then the whole batch of pancake batter was spread on top. Cooked in the skillet until golden, then slid onto a plate and flipped back into the skillet for more golden goodness on the flip side. And it was....yummy. So yummy that I was tempted to make another one tonight. I'm glad I went for it with adding the egg to the batter.

And for Christmas dinner? Very straightforward, just kielbasa and kapusta. With rye bread and creamy horseradish. And some hot mustard. And more pierogies. And...oh, you'll just have to wait and find out what we finally ended up with. It's three days away - I haven't planned my menu yet.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lo Mein of Lamb & Leftovers

Some days, things just don't go as planned.

I've been trying hard to cook with what I need to use, vs. what I feel like eating - a necessary skill when you've invested in both meat and veggie CSAs. A quick survey of the fridge last night told me that tonight's supper would be something along the lines of braised tofu with cabbage (and no, it was not CSA tofu).

Then this morning I arose with, ugh, a sore throat and sniffles. (It is not, I believe, the Dreaded Flu). I was also dismayed to discover that I'd used up the last of my Korean ginger-honey tea concentrate - nothing whacks a sore throat upside the head like a good dose of ginger. So in I went to our local Hong Kong Market (formerly Super 88) in search of more tea, but instead walked out with some fresh shitake mushrooms and a nice bunch of garlic chives. (They were out of the tea).

(An aside: for years, I avoided fresh shitakes. I was introduced to the dried version by a Chinese-American friend who told me to never buy the fresh ones because they have little flavor. I stuck by that for years, until I discovered bibimbap and learned that yes, Virginia, fresh shitakes do have a place on the plate).

Why did I buy the 'shrooms and chives? It's not like I *needed* them; the fridge is already too full. We are still finishing up the Thanksgiving feast, although that (thankfully) is at last down to the final bits of turkey & wild rice soup. I really think I must have some kind of grocery shopping any rate, I knew I was gonna have to face the music when I put the new booty away. As I opened the fridge, the produce stared me down, as if, how could you? There's two-week-old kale in here!

Which brings me to the recipe/method for this post: lo mein. It, along with fried rice, enchiladas and curry of miscellaneous vegetables is one of my standard, clean-out-the-fridge tricks. Because yes, in addition to veggies I didn't need, I bought noodles I didn't need. A friend got me onto using thick, chewy udon noodles for lo mein (which maybe means that I shouldn't be calling it lo mein, if I use a different noodle? I am no expert, for sure, in the nomenclature of noodle dishes). You can find ones that are pre-cooked, which saves a step at dinner time and a dirty pot at cleanup time.

The basic method is to chop up some garlic and onions, whatever veggies you have on hand, and whatever leftover meat you have (or use tofu, or just skip it). Stir-fry the veggies in a little peanut oil or sesame oil, adding the longer-cooking veg to the skillet or wok first. When all the veggies are cooked, dump them into a bowl. Add a little more oil to the pan, add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, then add the meat/tofu/nothing. When the meat is heated through, add that to the bowl. If you are feeling highly motivated, scramble an egg in the pan, turn it out on a plate and chop it with a knife. Finally, add a little more oil to the pan, add the noodles and some seasoning (soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, black vinegar, brown bean sauce, all of the above) and a little water and cook to soften the noodles. Dump the cooked veggies, meat, and egg on top of the noodles and use a big spatula or chan to turn everything over and combine. Taste for seasoning and add some chopped green onion, cilantro, or basil as a garnish.

What was different about tonights lo mein was the leftovers I had to work with: the two-week-old purple kale (which looked surprisingly fresh. Must be something about buying direct from the farmer there!) and a mostly-consumed small leg of lamb. I don't think I've ever seen lamb and kale together, but what do I know, anyway? And then it occurred to me, lamb goes well with garlic, so why not garlic chives? I decided to go for it. Then while I was cooking, the words "hoisin-glazed lamb" surfaced from somewhere deep in the back of my head.

The final result was (surprisingly) tasty, and quite pretty. The purple kale turned almost black when cooked, making a nice contrast with the thick white noodles, the green chives and some red bell pepper (that also needed to be used up). Unfortunately, I don't have a photo to show you because I forgot to take a pic before dinner, and then - we ate it all up.

Of course, I'm still left with the cabbage and tofu, which means that's got to be on the menu for tomorrow night...with mushrooms.

Lo Mein with Leftover Lamb

peanut and sesame oil
1 small red onion (or 1/2 large), sliced
about 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
6-8 fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
1/2 small bunch purple kale (or other greens), washed well and chopped
about 1 cup diced cooked lamb
about 1/2 cup garlic chives, washed and cut into 1" lengths
1 pound fresh udon or other noodles, cooked 9and drained, if you can't find the precooked variety)
1-2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and ice wine vinegar or black vinegar

Heat a wok or large frypan over high heat. Add a little peanut oil (~1 tablespoon) and the onion and stir-fry for a few minutes, then add the bell pepper. Stir-fry until the onion and pepper are beginning to soften, then add the mushrooms. Stir-fry for a few more minutes, then add the kale and a little water to the pan. Let the veggies simmer, turning occasionally and adding a little more water as needed until the kale is just tender, about 5 minutes (longer if you have tougher or older greens).

Add the lamb and cook for a minute or two, then place the noodles in the pan and pour the soy sauce, hoisin sauce and vinegar on top. Turn down the heat to medium and use a pair of tongs or a wooden spoon to gently nudge the noodles apart. Turn everything over to mix gently, adding the garlic chives. Add a little more water if the pan seems dry or you want a thinner sauce. Taste and correct seasonings (the sauce will be sweet from the hoisin). Eat.

Make 2-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are and if you are making other dishes.

(1) You can, of course, use dried shitakes for this. Save the water that you soak them in (strain it through a coffee filter set in a funnel or sieve) and add it to the wok when you cook the kale. (2) If you can't find garlic chives, or don't want the angst of trying to use up the leftovers, substitute a couple cloves of garlic, finely chopped, and some green onions/scallions cut into 1" sections. Add the garlic to the pan with the meat and the green onions with the soy sauce.