Monday, December 29, 2008

A Trip to Savannah: Dinner at Paula Deen's Restaurant, Lady and Sons

This Christmas vacation my family and I drove from Florida to Connecticut. On the way, we stopped in Savannah, Georgia. After consulting our guidebook, we decided to make a reservation at Paula Deen's restaurant, Lady and Sons. We chose Lady and Sons not so much because it was Paula Deen's, but more because the guidebook said it had authentic, southern cooking.

To eat at Lady and Sons, you must physically go there to make a reservation. Apparently in the high season it is often fully booked by noon. Being the 23rd of December however, it was busy but not sold out. Gazing through the window at the southern style buffet, I was not too optimistic about how good the food would be, but we decided we would try it out anyhow.

Upon being seated at the restaurant, you are promptly served hoecakes and cheese biscuits, which are really really good. The hoecake is a pancake made with cornmeal, fried in clarified butter... yum!

And the buffet... well, it's literally to die for. There is so much butter and saturated fat, I don't think you could eat there more than 3 or 4 times per year without feeling like a heart attack was coming on. But it was DELICIOUS. I'm no expert in southern cooking, but everything from the greens to the fried chicken were very tasty. Definitely the best fried chicken I've ever had.

Here's a picture of a very nice lady (unfortunately didn't catch her name) who was making the hot cheese biscuits and hoecakes. Here you can see her scooping out biscuits on to a baking tray.

Anyhow, if you are ever in Savannah, check our Lady and Sons!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Traditional (and easy!) Singaporean Noodle Dish: Kway Teow

I asked my Singaporean friend at Le Cordon Bleu, Christine, to teach me a typical Singaporean noodle dish. The next Monday at school, she brought in homemade kway teow and let me have a taste, and I told her I wanted to learn it!

The next Sunday she came over. We went to an Asian grocer, picked out all of the ingredients with her expert guidance, and came home and cooked a delicious, and surprisingly simple dish.

Kway Teow
Makes two servings

400g fresh ho fun (or 200g dry)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100g of bean sprouts
20g (5-6 stalks) of Chinese chives, cut into two inch pieces
100g fish cake or shrimp/chicken/beef/tofu/pork
2 tbsp vegetable oil or canola oil
2 eggs
1 ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp sweet soy sauce
1 tbsp sweetish chili sauce (not too sweet!)
1 tbsp regular soy sauce (or more to taste)

First, lets take a look at some of the ingredients... I certainly wasn't familiar with all of them!

Three types of sauce... to the left, the chili sauce, in the middle, the sweet soy sauce, and on the right, dark soy sauce.

Chinese chives aka garlic chives... they are beautiful and mild tasting, and have a hint of garlic taste.

Dry ho fun. Needs to be cooked like pasta until al dente (probably about 5 minutes depending on what variety you get).

Fresh ho fun. Separate them in warm water.

Fish cake. A commonly used ingredient in Asian cooking. Any sort of protein can be used though.

Prepped fish cake, chives and garlic.

Now for the method. Heat the oil until it's extremely hot, even smoking. Add the garlic, and stir in the pan until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Do not let the garlic burn!

Crack the eggs and add them to the pan. Don't stir until they start to look brown around the edge. Then, break the egg up and stir until cooked through.

Add the fish cake, or whatever protein you are using, and cook accordingly.

The next step is to add the noodles. Be gentle stirring so that the noodles do not break. Heat through.

Next, add the dark soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, chili sauce and regular soy sauce. Stir thoroughly. Taste a noodle to check the seasoning, and look at the color. For more color, add more dark soy sauce. For more heat, add more chili sauce. For more sweet/smokey flavor, add more sweet soy sauce. And for more saltiness, add regular soy sauce.

Add the bean sprouts and stir through. Cook them for about one minute. They add crunch and texture to the dish, so don't cook them too much or they will become soft. Finally, add the chives. Turn off the heat, and stir the chives until distributed evenly. Serve piping hot.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Time Reminds Me Of: Slightly Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

I don't know why brussels sprouts are so dreaded. As long as they are cooked properly, I think they are delightful. I feel that many veggies get a bad wrap, and it's often due to the fact that people don't cook them well - I mean, who likes brussels sprouts that are very strong tasting, or totally droopy because someone has boiled them to death? I can understand that they are a somewhat acquired taste that that comes with age, but I don't think they should have such a terrible reputation.

Brussels sprouts take 90-180 days to grow. They grow on a long stalk, 2-4 feet in length, in a spiral pattern. Besides being related to cabbage, they are also a close relative of broccoli!

Anyway, here is one way I like to cook brussels sprouts. It's quick, and requires little skill.

Slightly Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
Makes 4 side dish servings

3/4 of a pound of brussels sprouts
1 tbsp of canola or vegetable oil
1/2-1 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste

Peel outer leaves off of brussels sprouts, trim ends (not too much or the whole sprout will fall apart!) and cut in half. Heat a shallow bottomed pan. Add oil and brussels sprouts. Place enough water in the pan so that the brussel sprouts are half covered. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Place lid over the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove lid, and let water completely evaporate. Taste a brussels sprout. If it's reasonably tender, caramelize the brussels sprouts (let them brown, stirring occasionally) gently, making sure not to blacken them. If not, add a bit more water, and simmer. Taste again. Once they are tender, caramelize them. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fig, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

I think this easy salad is a taste sensation. The combination of flavors and textures really makes it a delight to eat. The figs are sweet, the lettuce leaves are crunchy, the prosciutto is salty, the salad dressing is a bit tart, and the mozzarella is soft, mild, and seems to balance the salad.

Fig and Proscuitto Salad

Fig, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
Makes 2 Servings

4 ripe figs
1 bag of ready to use salad, or any mix of leaves you like in an appropriate portion for two
4 slices of prosciutto or other dry cured ham, cut into large pieces
Fresh mozzarella, cut into bite size pieces
3-4 tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp whole grain mustard
1/2 tsp garlic powder or one garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt

Prepare the balsamic vinegar dressing. Combine the mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar. With a whisk in one hand, and olive oil in the other, slowly emulsify the olive oil into the other ingredients by pouring it in slowly and whisking vigorously.

Assemble the salad. Cut a crisscross into the figs, without cutting all the way through. Squeeze the bottom of the fig a bit to expose the pink flesh inside. Place lettuce on the bottom of the bowl, and distribute the other ingredients on top. Just before serving, lightly dress the salad with the dressing. Alternatively, you can leave the dressing on the side so that people can choose the amount of dressing, if any, they'd like on their salad.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Eating Like a King or Queen; Traditional United Arab Emirates Style

I recently went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and visited the specific Emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. It was my first time in the Middle East and a very interesting experience. Not to mention I dined extremely well in the many restaurants available to us foreigners.

However, what I really enjoyed was visiting some of the historical places in and around the UAE. I learned a bit about how the Arabs used to live, what their homes were like, and how they used to eat.

I took some photos at the Al Ain Palace Museum, the formal home of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Men and women had separate areas in the palace to live, hang out, and eat. Traditionally, people would sit on the floors of rooms on pillows. However, as you can see below, the Sheikh had seats. I'm sitting on his "throne" in this photo.

In the middle of the room, there would be mats with large woven cones sitting on top. Food would be served on these mats in large dishes. Eating was communal, and it was (and still is) very important to eat with your right hand. The cones protected the food underneath from insects.

The coffee pot is one of the national symbols of the UAE. If you are a guest entering a home, you will always be offered coffee. If you take a look at the coinage of the UAE, the dirham, you'll notice a coffee pot on it.

Lastly, I just wanted to show you a date palm. I had never really thought about it, and didn't realize that dates grew on huge palms. They ripen and dry naturally on the trees, and are ready to eat as soon as they have been picked. Yum!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ten Minute Tasty, Fresh, and Easy Guacamole

As a kid, guacamole grossed me out for some reason; I guess it was a combo of being green and squishy looking that made it look so unappetizing. But isn't it funny how our opinions change. Now I think guacamole is delicious. Plus, it's easy to make, and wonderful to serve to other people because they love it!

Makes 4 - 6 Servings

2 avocados
1 tbsp of lime juice
1 small jalapeno pepper
1/8 cup of finely chopped cilantro
1/8 cup of very finely chopped red onion
1/2 roma tomato, diced
1/2 tsp kosher/coarse salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Tortilla chips

Halve avocados, remove stones, and remove flesh from the skin with either a knife or spoon. Immediately pour lime juice over avocado pieces so that they do not oxidize. To create a creamier guacamole, use a fork and mash the flesh. Add all other ingredients and gently stir.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Penne alla' Amatriciana aka Bacon Pasta

This recipe is an old favorite of mine. I think it's one of the first things I learned to cook. Who doesn't love something with pancetta or bacon as one of the flavors?

Penne alla' Amatriciana
Serves 4 for dinner

1/4-1lb of chopped/cut bacon or pancetta
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 cans of petite diced tomatoes
1 small can of tomato sauce
1/2 cup of white wine
1 pound of penne pasta
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Parmesan cheese

Quick tip: It's really easy to cut bacon with scissors.

Brown the bacon in a large deep bottomed pan. When the bacon is done, remove it from the pan and set aside. Throw away the bacon fat left in the pan by pouring it out. Do not wash the pan; the bits of bacon left in the bottom of the pan have a lot of flavor.

Next, add the olive oil to the pan and sweat the onion and garlic with the red pepper flakes, and black pepper until the onions are soft.

Add the white wine to the pan, and reduce the mixture until there is almost no liquid left.

Finally, add the bacon, the tomato sauce, and the two cans of diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Turn down and simmer the sauce for approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Add to the sauce, and stir for about one minute, until the sauce binds to the pasta.

Serve piping hot, with Parmesan cheese to garnish.