Browsing through other food blogs, I feel like a huge slacker for not having posted any “seasonal” recipes, but what with having to go to three different family get-togethers, two of which were out of town, as well as working and getting my upper flat ready for a new tenant, I didn’t have much extra time for holiday baking. I did make a bread pudding for a friend’s holiday potluck, but it didn’t turn out all that well and was unfortunately not worth blogging about (other than as a cautionary tale, but being short on time, I’d rather write about stuff that DID turn out)! Still, I do have some good food-related memories of the ’08 holiday season…
Christmas Eve, Marvin and I went to his mom’s for dinner. She made a dish of her own creation that can best be described as a “Latin Shepherd’s Pie”: she takes ground beef and cooks it in a skillet with onion, garlic, carrot and tomato sauce, and then spreads a layer of mashed yuca on top and bakes it. This was served with salad and some excellent tamales. It was very tasty and I hope to get more of an actual recipe from her eventually.
Christmas morning was lovely… Marvin and I opened our gifts in bed and then had a yummy breakfast of bacon & onion quiche, green salad and a tropical fruit salad. It was nice to be able to relax a little before having to dash home to make my dish to pass for Christmas dinner and make the drive to Lansing.
Our family does holidays potluck-style, with the host providing the meat and the rest of us contributing side dishes, desserts, etc. Our meat dish this year was ham, so my contribution to Christmas dinner was a dish of peppery turnip greens, sautéed with little pieces of bacon and a generous amount of diced onion, and seasoned with a couple pinches brown sugar, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a couple dashes of tabasco. I love the spicy/bitter flavor of turnip or mustard greens, but I realize it’s not for everyone- I had originally planned to do collard greens, but when I went to the store they looked terrible, so the turnip greens had to stand in. (I have since used some of the leftovers as an omelette filling, with a little handful of diced ham thrown in as well. Mmmm.)
For my other family gathering, I made a really simple “cheese log” using a log of fresh goat cheese- I just rolled it in chopped walnuts and cherries, put it on a little platter and drizzled some balsamic vinegar on top. Although I feel like those flavors are a bit cliché at this point, it was a matter of making something easy and quick with what I had on hand. Perhaps I’ll try it again with walnuts, honey and herbes de Provence to switch it up a bit.
I got some great cooking-related holiday gifts, including two cookbooks that were on my wish list: The Flavor Bible, a wonderful reference that was on many foodies’ “Top Books of ’08″ lists, and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (one of my resolutions for the new year: Bake more bread!). I also got a Wusthof chef’s knife and a beautiful French-inspired set of dishes from Marvin (you can see them in the quiche photo above), an ice cream maker from my sister, and a KitchenAid food processor courtesy of a gift card from my dad. Thanks everyone! I feel very fortunate to have such a generous family. Next year I do hope to get organized far enough ahead to give gifts of baked goods to friends… another New Year’s goal to strive for!
On the subject of New Year’s, Marvin and I decided to take it easy this year and just have a small gathering of friends over. I had to work during the day and the party was a total last-minute decision so I didn’t have any time to make any of the food… Trader Joe’s to the rescue! I feel guilty buying all store-prepared food, but it was either that or no party. Sarah did bring a plate of these cute little appetizers though… hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry, sliced, baked and served with a mustard dip. It reminded me of something Amy Sedaris would come up with. I’m happy to report that the party was a success, especially after we got a rousing game of Taboo underway (girls vs boys; the girls won, of course).
I have a few food-related goals for 2009, in addition to the bread-baking. I have a rather large cookbook collection, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I own several from which I have never cooked a single item. I thought I might set a goal of cooking one new item per week from these books, but I fear that may be a tad ambitious. Still, I definitely want to try to explore and make use of some of the books that have been sitting neglected on my shelf. My other main goal is to do more holiday baking- perhaps I’ll give Valentine’s treats out since I didn’t get to give away any Christmas goodies. I can’t think of many better activities on a cold February day than making batches of cookies or other treats!
In my potstickers post, I had mentioned that I would post my recipe for Chinese-style kale as well as some variations on the potstickers. In addition to the pork potstickers, Kathy also made some with a really great seafood filling. She was hard pressed to give me an exact “recipe” since she was kind of winging it, but I’ll try to approximate it for you all. Also, although the browned plate of potstickers looks awfully impressive, Kathy tells me that her favorite way to prepare them is actually boiled, so I’ll give instructions for that too. I think there’s just something more “comfort-food”-ish about eating them boiled, and they soak up the dipping sauce a little better than the pan-fried version. In regards to the kale, it was something I came up with on the fly several months ago, and it was so addictive that I’ve made it several times since. I hesitate to call it Chinese, since I only have a vague impression whether they would combine these particular seasonings, but the use of the dry mustard powder called to mind that sharp Chinese hot mustard, so I’m running with it. I’ll try to give amounts, but honestly I usually just eyeball everything, so you may want to add the spices in increments and taste as you go. Also, the kale cooks down a lot so you may want to double the recipe if you’re feeding more than a few people or want leftovers. (I wouldn’t necessarily double the spices though- try increasing them by a third and see how it goes. You can always add more, but you can’t subtract once they’re in there!)
Chinese-style Kale (printer-friendly version)
1 large bunch kale
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder, or more to taste
1 tsp dried red chili flakes or Huy Fong chili sauce (the kind with seeds)
2 tbs soy sauce
1/4 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tbs rice wine or Shaoxing (Chinese cooking wine)
Optional garnishes: toasted sesame seeds or fried shallots or garlic (these are available at Asian markets… try them and you’ll soon find yourself garnishing anything & everything with them!)
Remove the large stems from the kale. Chop into strips about 1 1/2″ wide; wash and set aside in a colander to drain. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot (such as a dutch oven), heat about 2 tbs of vegetable oil (add more if it doesn’t cover the bottom of the pan) and 1/4 tsp (a few dashes) sesame oil over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic and cook GENTLY until the garlic is browned, turning the heat down as necessary so it doesn’t burn.* If you are using the dried chili flakes, add them to the oil and cook them for about 30 seconds to bloom the flavor. Add the mustard powder and stir out any lumps.
Add the kale to the pot and stir to coat with the seasonings. It’s ok if the kale is a little wet; the moisture will help it steam and cook down. The kale probably won’t fit all at once, so cook it for a few minutes until it cooks down and then add the remainder. You can cover the kale to assist the steaming process; just make sure to stir it often enough so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. When the kale is tender but still green, add 1 tbs soy sauce and the chili sauce, if using. Stir and taste for seasoning, adding the remainder of the soy sauce as you see fit. You may also want to add a dash or two more sesame oil, chili sauce, or more mustard powder to taste. Sometimes I add a small splash of rice wine or Shaoxing as well (increase the heat for a moment to cook off the alcohol).
*A note on browned garlic: I know that most cookbooks advise you NOT to let your garlic brown, as they claim it acquires a “bitter” flavor. However, in some Asian and Indian cooking, cooks do brown their garlic and enjoy its characteristic flavor. If you do it gently and make sure not to over-brown or burn it, you’ll be fine. But feel free to sauté it for a shorter time if you disagree.
Filling for Seafood Dumplings (Gyoza)
14 oz. raw shrimp, peeled & deveined
6 oz. mild, white-fleshed fish such as sea bass or rockfish (you can alter the ratio of shrimp to fish if you like, as long as it totals 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs)
1 small bunch Chinese leek (available at Asian markets; see photo above)
2 tbs soy sauce
2 packages round gyoza wrappers, thawed if frozen
Roughly chop or snip the Chinese leek (you should have about a cup). Process with the shrimp, fish and soy sauce in a food processor until almost smooth (a little texture is OK, as long as the mixture holds together). Pan fry a tablespoon or so to check the seasoning. The filling will be a lovely pistachio green color when cooked. It should have a delicate flavor and not be over-salted. Wrap the dumplings as specified in the recipe for pork gyoza.
Boiling Instructions for Dumplings (courtesy Kathy Lee)
Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil. Add dumplings to boiling water. When water comes back to a boil, add a cold 8oz glass of water. Repeat 2 more times; then remove from water and toss around to keep the dumplings from sticking to each other and enjoy!