Japanese Donabe Steamer

A Japanese donabe is an “earthenware pot made from special clay for use over an open flame.”

It came with a pretty cool steamer insert and can be used as a steamer and/or hotpot cooker.  I’ve had this one for quite a while but have never used it.

Why?  Because the instructions stressed that the hot pot must be “seasoned” before it’s first use to prevent cracks.  Then they went on annoyingly about how I should make a “rice porridge” by filling the pot up to “80% with water” and adding “a bowl of cooked rice”, then heating the mixture on a “medium low” flame to boiling, reducing to simmer and continue cooking until the porridge is “ready.”  WTF!  I did this today because it’s snowing again and I thought I’d take the challenge.  It was as hellish as I thought it would be, the pot would not boil and when I turned it up, it boiled over, losing a “percentage” of the water.  I finally got something that resembled thick Cream of Wheat.  I smeared the hot stuff over the uncovered surfaces that the porridge didn’t reach.  That will have to do.

I knew I didn’t want to do this!   They should have included a tiny Japanese person in the box to supervise!  Well we’ll see.  I’m using it soon!

 

 

Posted in Asian, Cooking, Food and Wine, Japanese | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Let It Snow

My husband has started to claim that he’s not retired but retiring.  That’s why he left on Sunday morning for a consultancy and Christmas shopping boondoggle in Senegal.  About 30 minutes after he left, it began to snow and has been at least flurrying every day.    Undaunted and secure in the knowledge that our pantry and freezers would allow the dog, cats and I to survive a 10 day blizzard without ever leaving the house or lifting one shovelful of snow, I went to the door to answer the ringing bell.  Outside stood a young man with a shovel who asked if I would pay him to shovel my walk.  I told him I sure would and asked him to also clear a path from my kitchen back door to the garbage cans and the car in case I lost my mind and thought of driving in the snow and ice.  He did an excellent job and we were both pleased 🙂  He’s been showing up after any snow build up.  Yesterday it snowed all night.

On Tuesday I was invited to Anne and Bob Lynch’s house for a potluck get together.  Their house is about 4 houses away and usually within walking distance.  However, I had to take the car because I was carrying a hot, vegetable gratin and was afraid I’d slip and fall on the ice.  I reasoned that if it was too icy after the party, I would just leave the car and walk home empty handed.

I like to make this gratin because it’s easy, can be made ahead and you can vary the vegetables according to what you have.  This one has steamed cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes.  I took this opportunity to use my new $15.99, two level steamer that I found in an Asian supermarket in Allentown.  I love it!

I covered the steamed vegetables with a cheese bechamel sauce and sprinkled the top with cracker crumbs before baking.  Bread crumbs will work also.

One of the reasons I don’t like to bake is that the measurements must be so exact for success.  Measurements should be joyful and free flowing, like this cup of cheese for the bechamel.  The extra cheese on the board went in too 😀

When I’m “home alone”  I try to avoid standing and eating directly from the refrigerator because that’s so depressing!  I put the left over duck and zucchini in a bowl with boiled eggs, sat down at the table and ate it for breakfast like a cold salad.  Tasty and pretty.

I’ve never understood why my husband nor M. Parret dislike yellow wax beans!  M. Parret ate them grudgingly, whining and complaining after each bite.  I couldn’t wait for wax bean season in France because I like them and I adore serving them to Le Parret 😀  My husband won’t complain but he looks so sad that I don’t serve them often.  But when the cat’s away….

Smoked pork chops cost the earth at the Alpine butcher but are so good and perfect with the beans.

The bamboo has such a hard time during the winter.  I’m always afraid that it won’t survive but it does and is green and beautiful again each Spring.

Udon noodle soup is always good but especially comforting after a hard snow.  I had some sliced pork belly (I don’t know why they sell it like this) from the Super Duper supermarket and rediscovered aged but edible udon noodles from the bottom of the refrigerator freezer.

My husband still believes that nothing can ever go bad in the freezer, no matter how long it’s been there.  It’s pointless to argue.  The udon noodles had lost some of their chewy texture and broke down a bit in the soup, but the soup base that came with the noodles added that Wagamama flavor 🙂

I browned and crisped the pork belly with a little olive oil for a crunchy texture.

I didn’t have much in the way of soup vegetables but appreciated the red bell pepper, the handful of mushrooms and a little spinach with garden green sprouts.

Pork Belly with Udon Noodle Soup

1 tbsp olive oil

1lb pork belly, skin on, sliced

1 tbsp peanut oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

1/4 large red bell pepper, diced

1/4 large onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 slices fresh ginger, chopped

5-6 brown mushrooms, sliced

2 packets noodle soup base

1 tsp garlic chilli sauce

3 cups chicken broth

2 packets udon noodles

1 -2 handfuls spinach/garden greens

Scallions, sliced

Brown and crisp the slices of pork belly with the olive oil in a large pot.  Remove and slice into bite size pieces.  Set aside.  Wipe out the pot with paper towels.

Heat the peanut and sesame oils in the pot, add the bell pepper, onion, garlic and ginger.  Saute until the aromatics are soft.  Add the mushrooms and continue to saute for about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the soup base and the chilli sauce.  Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, add the reserved pork belly and simmer for 5 minutes.  Bring the broth to a boil, then add the noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes or according to package instructions.  Remove from the flame and stir in the greens.

Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the scallions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Asian, Cooking, Food and Wine, Main dishes, Recipes, Soup | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Creole Duck Breast with Warm Broccoli Coleslaw

Got a big winter haul of duck from the farm in New York; breasts, legs and a little “duck ham.” Now that I have a freezer, sky’s the limit 🙂  I rubbed this duck with Emeril’s essence before searing.

A fellow shopper told me that broccoli slaw was made from the stems of the vegetable.  Looked good to me.  I sauteed it with onion, garlic and wilted spinach.  Very good and I will buy this again.

 

 

 

 

Posted in American, Cooking, Food and Wine, French, Main dishes | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Aubergine and Paneer Curry

Disgusted with digging in the refrigerator’s freezer bottom drawer, hunting things we remember buying but can’t find but discovering freezer burned meats, poultry and fish that we don’t remember buying but obviously did, we finally bought an upright, stand alone freezer.  We’re slowly relocating neglected, specialty items to the new freezer.  That’s how I discovered a frozen block of  Indian paneer and some oldish ground beef.

What to make, what to make?  Well, there were those withering Japanese aubergines, dried out shallots and ginger, okay garlic and totally non-photogenic tomatoes.

Curry?  Well sort of.  Indians don’t eat cows, they consider them sacred and worship them.  Some of those cows I saw in New Delhi looked pretty tasty!  They are fed the best food that both rich and poor Hindus have to offer and the steaks must be succulent.  But we’ll never know  😉  However the Bangladeshis, who are not cow worshipers, creep across the border yearly for a midnight cattle rustle.  The cows are like pets and practically follow them home.  Of course this creates problems between the governments and causes shots to be fired over the border, resulting in not a few deaths.  Still it happens every year as Bangladesh is an extremely poor country whose land is located on a shifting delta that is incapable of supporting it’s 163 million population.  Which has nothing to do with my ground beef curry but I thought you’d like to know 😀  You can make this more authentic with ground chicken or lamb.

Aubergine and Paneer Curry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 block of paneer cheese, cut into cubes

3 Japanese aubergine, halved vertically and thickly sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

4 shallots, finely chopped

1 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 lb lean ground beef

4  S&W Golden Curry Sauce blocks, coarsely chopped(mild, medium or hot)

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

3 cups chicken broth

Brown the cubes on each side in the olive oil.  Remove and set aside.  Add the aubergine to the skillet and lightly brown.  Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil to the skillet and saute the shallots, ginger and garlic until just soft.  Add the ground beef and cook until the pink just disappears.  Stir in the chopped curry blocks until they are melted and blended with the meat mixture.  Add the tomatoes and heat for a minute or two.

Stir in the browned aubergine, then the broth, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cooked paneer and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.

 

 

 

Posted in American, Cooking, Food and Wine, Indian, Main dishes, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Crab Body Gumbo

In Northeast Pennsylvania, with little or no access to what is considered by Pennsylvanians as “exotic” ingredients, I find myself nostalgic and craving both foreign cuisines and the cuisine of my childhood, that being Southern Black cuisine or what has been labeled as “soul food”; Texas barbecued ribs grilled from sun-up to sunset, southern fried chicken (lightly coated with seasoned flour), hot water corn bread, beef kidneys, oxtails, Louisiana tea cakes, mustard greens with ham hock, sweet potato pie and, of course, seafood file gumbo.

I’ve been preparing gumbo for several decades now and although each rendition was good, even delicious, it was never my mother’s gumbo.  Because I’ve lived most of my cooking life overseas, I did have to make some substitutes like chorizo instead of  andouille sausage, but I’ve always had a jar of gumbo file with me and because gumbo is a dish with  rural roots, prepared with regional ingredients found on the land and in the rivers and streams running through it, I managed to make do, though never duplicating the sublime perfection of my mother’s gumbo.

While strolling through our local Weiss supermarket, not really needing anything but nonetheless filling up my shopping cart, I prepared to speed by the fresh fish section which only disappoints, when to my shock I saw, for the first time in years, crab bodies!  The sign said “crab clusters” but they couldn’t fool me!  These bodies or clusters are what remains when the crab is cleaned by removing the crab “apron”, the top shell, gills, lungs and rinsing.  What you buy is the rich, sweet meat of the claws and body.  And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead” (Apocalypse Now), my mother always used crab bodies in her gumbo and not the refrigerated canned crab that has always gone into mine!  I suppose I defensively submerged this memory because it was that or never make gumbo because the bodies weren’t available.  Guys, the bodies make a difference, permeating the soup with the fragrance and flavor of the ocean and recalling our delight in cracking the claws and bodies to slurp the sweet meat into our mouths.  I made my mother’s gumbo 🙂

If you don’t have Emeril’s essence on hand, you can buy some or make it.  It’s easy to make and stores well.

Worrying, as always, is the chicken situation.  The other day I read that we are sending chickens born in the U.S. to China for processing before they are returned to the U.S. and sold as American chickens in our supermarkets.  I find that odd and off putting, so I usually get farm chickens.  This time, trusting in the religious strictures of the Jewish faith, I bought a kosher chicken.  Expensive but it tastes like chicken and the flesh doesn’t have that weird spongy texture of supermarketl chickens.  Also, these chickens are from Scranton, about 30 minutes down the road and fairly local.  I’ll probably do more kosher and check out their meats too!

After cutting up the chicken in the normal way (cut off the wings, separate the legs from the body and cut into drumstick and thigh, cut the back from the breast section and cut the breast into two pieces), and seasoning with the Emeril’s essence, the whole 3-3 1/2 lb chicken fits perfectly in the big black skillet for browning.  The browning oil is used to make the roux.  Guard it with your life 😀  Making a roux is not as hard as many gumbo experts make it sound.  Don’t freak out, it’s like making a large flour browned version of bechamel.

Make sure you have a really large stockpot because instead of using picked over crab, you’re adding the crab still in it’s shell and that takes up quite a bit of space.

The chicken boiled up nicely, didn’t dry out and made a fragrant, flavorful stock.

The onion, celery and garlic that was boiled with the chicken and herbs looked and tasted so good that my husband and I decided that instead of discarding them we should eat them immediately 🙂

All American southern cuisine that I have been blessed to experience emphasize seasoning.  The aromatics, herbs and spices used are what makes these dishes unique.  I suppose that can be said of any cuisine.  Indian and Asian come to mind.  However, I tend to think that the importance of seasoning in southern cuisine, especially black southern cuisine, grew from limited food options driven by post slavery poverty.

Garlic, onion, bell peppers and celery could be grown on small plots and added to a plain pot of beans, rice,  corn or whatever was available set a delicious tone for gourmet poverty.  Onion, celery and bell pepper are called “The Holy Trinity” and  considered the foundation of many a savory dish by the Louisiana Cajuns, Creoles and my Texas mother.  When I see a chopped mixture like this, I feel confident 😉

The secret of enjoying the preparation of gumbo is to chop, measure out and season ahead of time before you start the actual cooking.  Once you’ve done your prep, this can be a labor of love instead of a tedious voyage into hell with you on the oars.

I’m getting a stand alone freezer today!  I’ll be sure to get more crab bodies!

Crab Body Gumbo

3-3 1/2 lb kosher chicken, cut up and seasoned with salt, pepper and Emeril’s essence

1 cup peanut oil

1 1/2 – 2 lbs smoked andouille sausage, sliced

2 onions, quartered

2 celery branches, cut into 3 pieces each, with the leaves

2 bay leaves

1 tsp peppercorns

4-5 whole cloves garlic

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

4 quarts water

1 cup flour

2 onions, chopped

2 bell peppers, chopped

2 celery branches, sliced

4 garlic cloves chopped

1 tbsp Emeril’s essence

1 tbsp gumbo file

8 crab bodies, claws separated from the bodies, the bodies broken in half

1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 tbsp gumbo file

Cooked rice

Sliced scallions

Brown the chicken in a large cast iron skillet.  Remove and set aside.  Brown the sausage slices in the same skillet.  Remove and set aside.

Put the quartered onions, celery branches with leaves, bay leaves, peppercorns, whole garlic cloves and thyme in a large stock pot.  Add the chicken and water, bring to a boil and simmer for 40 minutes.  Remove the chicken, strain and reserve the stock.  When the chicken is cool enough, remove skin and bones, then cut or tear into large bite sized pieces.  Set aside.

Reheat the oil to medium low, add the flour and brown, constantly stirring, until the flour is cooked and a chocolate brown.  Add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft.  Sprinkle the vegetables with 1 tbsp Emeril’s essence and 1 tbsp of gumbo file.  Cook for about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the stock, stirring into the roux mixture, up to 2 quarts of water.  When the mixture is smooth and homogeneous, pour it into the stockpot, turn the flame to high and stir in the remaining stock.  Bring to a boil, add the reserved chicken and sausage, then simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir in the crab and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, sprinkle with the remaining gumbo file, remove from the flame and allow to rest for about 15 minutes.

Serve over rice, sprinkled with scallions and more gumbo file if desired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in American, Cooking, Food and Wine, Main dishes, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Cornmeal Coated Smelts

I’ve always assumed that smelts were only available from the Pacific Ocean and was surprised to learn that other varieties are also found in the Northern Great Lakes region and the Atlantic Ocean.  These seem to be a larger variety that, unlike the smelt my father bought at the docks in California, should be gutted and headed before cooking.  Those I grew up eating were smaller and, when fried , were edible whole with just a quick wash and dry.

I found these headed and gutted smelts at a seafood store in Scranton.  They were good but I sometimes miss the ferocity and simplicity of primitive eating.  In some ways, the French still eat like that.  Rabbit heads.   😀

The butter wilted herb and chilli topper is a must for fried smelts or sardines.  Fresh dill justifies it’s reputation as a fish enhancer.

I adore butter lettuce but it’s not always available and when it is, it’s enclosed in a plastic, hydroponic container.  I like iceberg but we could use more variety in our salad greens.

 

 

Posted in American, Cooking, fish, Food and Wine, Salad | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pork Loin with Apples and Plums

On an overcast and mildly depressing Saturday we were gifted with the company of Anne and Bob Lynch for lunch.  We cheered right up.  They are great company and we shared a drinkable Macon Village table wine imported by Louis Jadot and proudly stocked by the State government liquor store, derisively over priced.  Sigh.  But all was well and we did have a good time.

In general when buying an individual serving from a traiteur (caterer) in France, it is sold in real glass or pottery ware, and over the years I have quite a collection which it pleases me to reuse whenever an opportunity presents itself.  Below are some of my favorites.

I filled these with old school shrimp cocktail;  chili sauce, scallions, garlic chives and gilded the lily with my favorite off the shelf French mayonnaise.

I also had some very fresh quail eggs from Quails R Us Plus, our go to for farm fresh chicken and eggs.

Pork, of course, tastes good with everything but especially cooked with fruits and herbs.  Having both, I used both.  I had some pink lady apples, “red” pears and rather large, dark plums.

It occurred to me that, as usual, I hadn’t given much thought to dessert, so I cleverly decided to side line the pears for an easy dessert of pear crumble 😉  I mixed onions, apples  and thyme sprigs into the bottom of my tajine and dotted all with butter, setting the plums aside to be added later for a shorter cook time.

I popped the pork roast, slathered with herbs, garlic and olive oil on top.

I roasted some parsley sprinkled, small potatoes to add a little heft and satisfy my husband’s Irish leanings 😀

Every year when the sky grays and natural light weakens, I have difficulty getting the pictures I like.  That’s why you’re seeing the pear crumble without the crumble.  Oh well, it takes me a while but I’ll hopefully work it out.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

 

Posted in American, Appetizer, Cooking, Dessert, Food and Wine, Main dishes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments