Not your typical mushroom Swiss burger. One whole roasted Portobello serves as the bottom “bun”. It was roasted with lavender seeds. The all natural store-bought patty came pre-stuffed with Swiss and mushrooms. More sautéed criminis with lavender goes on top of the burger. The less important simple frisee salad lingers in the background. A bun-less burger that needs a fork and knife to enjoy.
Snow is a big event here in Seattle and outlining metro areas. It’s big news when we see snow; the same goes if the sun decide to show up. When the forecast calls for 2 to 6 inches of snow, all hell break loose. Everything shuts down and people stock pile survival essentials like the world is going to end.
Since the world might end before the snow melt, I decided to make one of my favorite comfort food. If the world is going to end, why not go out with a BANG-o-liciious dish right?! My Snowmageddon Chili is extra spicy with big chunks of beef. I load up on the cayenne and chili powder. jalapeno were diced into big chunks with seeds left in. Keeping with the fiery hot theme, only red bell peppers and fire roasted canned tomatoes were used. The remaining ingredients are typical chili seasonings and spices. After having a heaping bowl of chili, I’m ready for whatever to come. BRING IT ON. 😀
The kitchen is like a garage for cooking up your next custom ride. It might even resemble a junk yard. Cooking with what you have on hand is simple and not a daunting task. Rummage through the fridge and cupboard, picture the possibilities with what’s available. Every ingredient doesn’t have to be in tip-top shape. Vegetables may be blemished or wilted. If you’ve done a good job in repackaging leftover produce and groceries, you’re bound to have materials for building your next custom meal.
In the back of the cupboard was a bag of lentils, forgotten and haven’t seen the light of day. The fridge bore one sad-looking half onion with minor cuts and bruises. In the vegetable bin I came upon a few wilted inner celery stalks. Next I was hoping to find carrots tucked away but it wasn’t meant to be. Moving up to the freezer three smoked ham hocks remained from my Thanksgiving festivities. At this point, lentil soup with smoked ham hocks were the obvious dish to put together. Since the ham hocks were frozen, I decided to utilize the crock pot to slow cook the soup over night.
A major part of cooking is developing flavors. Different cooking method yield different results. Cooking with a crock pot doesn’t necessarily mean you simply toss everything in and come back eight hours later. Diced onions and celery were sautéed with chopped garlic, dried herbs, and ground spices. This step is crucial for opening up its natural aroma. Near the end of the cooking process one can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes were added. It was kept for the end to help the tomatoes maintain its texture.
It’s hard to get excited over something like lentil soup. Baby food comes to mind every time I picture this type of soup. It’s a cheap and nutritious dish if you happen to have lentils collecting dust and a few other ingredients lying around.
If I may say so, tandoori chicken is a nice piece of meat! 😀 First of all, the chicken is stripped naked from their skin. If you’re a fan of crispy skin sizzling over live fire, you might cringe at this practice. Now that the chicken is flesh and bone, deep lacerations are cut deep into the meat. This will help the marinade to penetrate and speed up the cooking. Tandoori chicken has a nice red color exterior due to red food coloring or the use of excessive red chili or paprika powder. When you bite into a piece fresh off the grill, you couldn’t help but notice the aroma that is India.
Dark meat such as leg quarters (leg and thigh attached) or drumstick pieces are best for this dish. This part of the chicken is more tender and won’t dry up as easily as breast meat. Since I’d already had a whole chicken in the fridge, I simply did some minor deconstruction and cut it into manageable pieces. Spices for tandoori chicken typically consist of coriander, cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, and chili powder. The local World Market conveniently had tandoori spice blends in a bag available. A quick browse through the ingredient listing showed me what spices I was missing. My marinade consisted of tandoori spice blend, greek yogurt, fresh lime juice and fresh garlic and ginger paste. Red food coloring is an option for those who want the vibrant reddish hue. I didn’t care for it that much and decided to boost up the red chili and paprika instead. Combine all the ingredients to make a paste to marinate the chicken.
Tandoori chicken is traditionally prepared in a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor. Temperatures in the oven can approach 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The chicken pieces are typically cooked vertically and on skewers in the tandoori. Making tandoori chicken without the tandoor oven is typical for the rest of us not residing in India. Most of us have an oven and grill at our disposal. The obvious weapon of choice for me was my Weber charcoal grill. This live-fire method closely imitate the scorching hot tandoor. I utilized a two zone fire, one scorching hot and one cooler zone. Wood chips was added for the extra smokey taste. This is not a typical practice for tandoori chicken.
I feel lucky to have a handful of foodies within my circle of friends. Ever so often, they strike my fancy with their daily eats. Most of us at times go into a cooking stint and ran out of ideas. Call it cooker’s block or whatever, but it’s nice to gain inspiration from my fellow cooks. Case in point, a local fellow food blogger recently whipped up “tikka turkey” or “tandoori turkey”. Instantly I jumped on the band-wagon and gave myself the opportunity to finally make tandoori chicken for the first time. Check out her allergy-friendly and low amine recipes at http://aminerecipes.com/2011/12/04/tandoori-turkey/.
As much as I love a medium rare steak juices running down my chin, once in a blue moon, I have the urge to make something more nutritious and weren’t walking around on fours or twos at one point. Being a vegetarian is a far cry for me. But I do like the challenge of creating something tasty for meat-eaters like myself. Our taste buds crave the salt and fat that enhances what we eat. The trick of making a ‘vegetarian’ dish tasty is to extract every molecule and enzymes that make each ingredient taste the way they are.
A crucial component to any soups or stew is the stock or broth. To keep things real and natural, I made my own stock from scratch. Simple really. I had leftover veggies like celery, carrots and onions from Thanksgiving. Even had fresh thyme and rosemary left also. Those items alone was all I needed to get the ball rolling. Instead of boiling everything in a pot, a nice trick is to roughly chop the veggies and slowly saute until everything caramelize. Caramelization extract more sugar and the “brown” bits produce a richer and colorful broth. Featured mushrooms are dried shiitake and fresh criminis. Liquid from the soaked dried shiitake was also added to the stock. This dark liquid adds even more color and mushroom flavor. A shame if you toss it away.
The main source of protein and fiber comes from Tofu and Mukimame. Something I learned today was Mukimame is the same as shelled Edamame (cools). I chose firm tofu for its texture and ability to hold up during a long stewing process. To even further develop flavor and texture, individual cubed tofu was pan-fried. It’s a long and tedious process, but it’s healthy than deep-frying. The crispy crust helps the tofu to retain its shape during cooking. As I was looking for peas in the frozen section, I came across Mukimame and decided it would be a perfect fit. Why not keep the soy theme correct? Mukimame is loaded with fiber and protein.
With all stews, time is of the essence. Time develops richness and flavor. Just like most of us mature with time, a stew like this need time to fully allow the mushrooms to release its earthy and meaty flavor. Chunky carrots become tender and naturally sweet when given time. Some dishes do require more of your time. When you do have it, you’ll be rewarded with personal satisfaction and a dish that’s happy for the tummy and waist line. To steal a line from the Righteous Brother’s Unchained Melody, time can do so much!
On a final note, I’m glad to be blogging again. Looking forward to future eats and interesting dishes.
I’m not completely sure what to call this particular vegetable in English. It looks very similar to Fuzzy Melon, “Trolach” in Khmer. So I’m guessing what we call “Klok” might generically be called Asian melon. This soup comprised of Klok and pork meat balls. With most Cambodian soups, the stock is infused with galangal, lemon grass and garlic. For extra flavor, I used two packets of wonton seasonings. The rest is just black pepper and fish sauce or salt. The meat balls I seasoned with salt, fresh black pepper and fried chopped garlic. Then I simply spooned the ground pork into my palm to make a shape. The Klok was cut into rounds and then quartered. The soup is done when the Klok is fork tender but not mushy. A key last ingredient to most Khmer soups is the herb. For this soup, I opted for and herb called “ma’ahm” in Khmer. Culantro, “Gee’palah” in Khmer is another good herb to used. This soup is simple, healthy and satisfying. Try it yourself.
What a tremendous challenge it is to incorporate three randomly chosen ingredients into something worthy to be eaten. The toughest of three ingredients is the sieng (fermented soybean). Some of us know what fermented soybean taste and smell like. How to work it into the dish was the challenging part. Again, after numerous sleepless nights and long brainstorming walks on the beach, I came up with this dish.
For the sauce, I started with a beef broth base simmered with a few cloves of garlic. At the same time, a few spoonful of sieng was grounded with a mortal and pestle into a paste consistency. After about fifteen minutes of simmering, garlic cloves was removed and sieng paste added to the broth. Half a lime juice was squeezed in. Some worcestershire was also added. Later on, I added drippings from the roast. The whole key is to balance out the ferment-tasting and smelling soybean with something a little more rich and flavorful that serves as a sauce. The lime and worcestershire was key in achieving this balance.
The boneless leg of lamb was left to marinade overnight with salt, rosemary, thyme, chopped garlic and orange juice. Oven was preheated to 425. On the stove, I seared the lamb on all sides. Lamb was then roasted for 20 minutes in the oven then the temperature lowered to 300. Roast for about another hour depending on size of lamb. Lamb should be eaten medium to medium rare with the internal temperature about 135 degrees. Make sure to let the meat rest for 20 minutes before carving.
The radish was pickled overnight along with jalapenos and scallions. A side of any spicy and sour is a good combo for the meat.
The lamb came perfectly done to my liking. It was tender and juicy. The overnight marinating served it’s purpose. The lamb was flavorful enough to be eaten by itself. The sieng sauce was “interesting” but tasted acceptable and decent to my standards. It kinda paired ok with the lamb. For me, it was hard to think pass the sieng. With some dish, the sauce is what make or break the dish. Personally, I think the sauce did not harm or made the lamb any better. It was just something different and was not used too. My sister and her bf seemed to didn’t mind the taste. They know they’re eating something experimental. Overall, it was a tough challenge. I finally got to try a lamb roast for the first time.
For tonight’s dinner, I decided to veer off the beaten path for a bit. No typical Khmer dishes tonight. Instead, simple wild Atlantic salmon steaks is on the menu. Keep it simple and quick are the bases for a delicious meal. I try to fit fish into my diet whenever possible. The salmon steaks was simply seared with butter and evoo and seasoned with fresh cracked black pepper. Sauteed crimini mushrooms and chopped red bell peppers served on the side. A squeeze of lemon juice and zest topped out the dish.