11 May 2009

One-Pan Wonder

It was a good fluke. I had four medium-sized potatoes, a head of cabbage, thin-sliced porkchops, and a red onion. In my head I ran through the possible cooking methods pairing these ingredients together. Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be Eastern European. I don't want to claim that I can cook German food, or Polish for that matter, because I can't. Like I said, it was a fluke.

I sliced the cabbage, potatoes, and onion all into thin strips (a little bigger for the cabbage, smaller for the onion, so everything cooked evenly). I also diced four cloves of garlic, because garlic = love.

Turner browned the chops in a frying pan over high heat and then removed them and moved aside so I could cook the vegetables. I first sauteed the onion over low heat until it softened, then added the garlic and fried together for a bit. In went the potato to soften a bit along with a cup of chicken stock and some fennel. After spreading that evenly over the pan, I dumped in the cabbage and placed the pork chops on top of that. The layers were covered with a lid and the heat turned down to low for everything to simmer. The cabbage cooks down and the pork chops cook through in about 20-30 minutes. (I forgot to time it.) Everything gets salt and pepper at its appropriate cooking stage (when it is the focus of the pan).

What came out at the end were tender chops and soft cabbage and potatoes in a sauce that, were there more, would make a fabulous soup. This was a great meal to finish out a long rainy da
y, and I would definitely make it again as it is a one-pan wonder.

10 May 2009

A Bite in Time

Just a brief post tonight because I'm tired. We went out to dinner with Turner's co-worker/Frisbee partner Ying. She's a very sweet girl and fun to talk with. We went to a Western restaurant near their office called Lisa's. Decor-wise it was very modern and un-Chinese. We went mainly for the hamburgers, which Turner claims are the best in Qingdao. I had to see if they lived up to their reputation.

We all ordered burgers, creative right? I also had a glass of white wine, which was surprisingly drinkable. A plus for the restaurant, the burgers all arrived at about the same time. At other establishments, there has been a 30 minute lag time between entrees. Everything looked appropriate but something in the flavor bothered me until I figured out that it tasted like Italian sausage! They must have added pork to the beef and used oregano and/or fennel.

Overall, I would give the restaurant one thumb up. To bestow the second thumb would require me sampling more of their food.

09 May 2009

This Little Piggy

It feels like summer in Qingdao. With the sun high in the sky by 8am and the temperature nearing 80 degrees by midmorning, I have less desire to cook than when the weather is cold and dreary. I don't want to spend hours in the kitchen when it's perfect weather to be outside. Nor do I want to stand over a hot wok or leave the oven on for hours.

I knew it was time to cook something though. It had been a few days since I had blogged about food, and I was tired of eating out at restaurants. Yesterday, I went grocery shopping for the first time in over a week. With no plan in mind, I just wandered the store trying to find something to spark my interest. I bought a chicken to cook this weekend, but knew I wouldn't have time for that yesterday because Turner wanted to play frisbee when he got home from work. Glancing over the meat case, I spied some pork ribs that looks perfect for a quick bake in the oven with barbecue sauce. We gave away our little Weber grill when we moved apartments last year, otherwise I would have grilled them outside for that extra flavor only charcoal can impart.

I made some brownies when I got home from shopping because it's always good to have something chocolatey on hand.

Then I made a quick barbecue sauce with soy sauce, ketchup, molasses, honey, a little rice vinegar, cumin, salt, and chili powder. Any combination of flavors like these, be it tomato paste and brown sugar also, make a wonderful sauce, and much healthier than anything out of a bottle.

I poured half the sauce on the ribs in the baking dish and put them in a 400 degree oven covered in foil for 30 minutes. After that, the foil came off and the rest of the sauce poured over the top to bake for another 30 minutes. The ribs are done when they have a nice dark crust and the meat has shrunk a little on the bone. We had Mexican rice (which I now love, maybe because of the MSG in the chicken boullion) and green beans alongside. The ribs were sticky and dee-licious.

On another note, I bought a container of dried peach chunks and this morning was craving some scones to go with my coffee. What to do when you crave scones? Make scones of course! I quickly threw the ingrediants together and started to cut the dough into triangles when I remembered that I forgot the sugar! It had already been a long morning because I went for a run before having coffee--what a really, really bad idea. I dumped the unbaked scones back in the mixing bowl and quickly mixed in the sugar, reformed them into triangles, and put them in the oven. The cardinal rule of scones is not to overmix, so I thought these might be too tough due to the extra mixing.

They weren't photogenic by any means, but man did they hit the spot. They actually came out pretty well!

This is a good morning for me... coffee, scone, and food blogging. Now I just have to get off the couch.

Here's the recipe should you want to whip up a batch yourself. It's super easy.

Buttermilk Scones with Dried Fruit

2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons basking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup chopped dried fruit (apricots, peaches, craisins, raisins...)
1 large egg
1/2 buttermilk (I cheat and use 1/2 cup of milk and a bit of lemon juice or white vinegar)
1 tablespoon lemon zest (optional but really nice)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare "buttermilk" so acid can react while you get everything else ready.

2. Mix flour, baking powder, and baking soda in mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with hands, pastry cutter, or mixer until it's in small pieces. Add fruit and sugar (and zest). Beat egg into milk and then add to dry ingredients. Mix quickly until just combined into a rouch dough and turn out onto floured surface. Pat into 9-inch circle and cut into wedges. (I usually make about six, but they're big so adjust for your preference.)

3. Bake 12-15 minutes until tops are golden brown. Enjoy warm from the oven (with jam if you prefer).

04 May 2009

You Say Tomato...

My apologies, loyal readers (the few out there), my blog postings have gone amiss due to too much fun. If there was ever any excuse, this has to be the best because who can argue with too much fun? Either I have not been home enough in the past few days to cook, or I just had too much else to do, so I have had nothing worthy to write about.

Today, however, the tides turned. Today I made a loaf of bread, lemon yogurt cake, salsa, tortillas, Mexican rice, and burritos. And I taught this morning, ran four miles, and tried to grade grammar exams. A full day despite only two hours of real, paid work. (On a side note, today is China Youth Day, so my students got the afternoon off to do whatever youth do. I wouldn't know; I'm not one of them.)

I was supposed to grade exams today. I got through ten. I made a cake instead. Which do you think is better?

This morning I intended to make spaghetti for dinner. Then the temperature neared seventy degrees and I did not feel like making sauce, so I shifted to omelets--easy, quick--until Turner sent a text saying he had eggs for lunch. Third time's a charm, right? I thought about the two cans of refried beans in the fridge and half bottle of Patron tequila--and our two months left in China--and decided to make burritos.

Yesterday I saw beautiful orange tomatoes still on their vine sitting outside our local fruit stall. I needed something to use them in, so I decided on an orange tomato salsa to go in the rice and bean burritos. I diced the tomatoes along with some hot Hungarian pepper, onion, and garlic. Salt and cumin rounded out the spices, and lime juice brightened everything. After the fresh salsa sat for awhile, I cooked it briefly in a frying pan: one, to save us from getting sick; two, to bring the flavors together a bit; and three, to take the bite out of the garlic and onion. The salsa added a note of freshness to the burritos.

For the rice, I made a cup of plain white rice in our microwave rice cooker. Once finished, I put it in a sauce pan and added a cup of onion and a bit of garlic I had browned in a frying pan, a cup of fresh diced tomatoes (tomatoes are rockin' this time of year), cumin, oregano, chili powder, and salt. The rice turned out moist and sticky, robust with flavors of sun-baked Mexico.

Turner and I whipped up a batch of burrit
o sized tortillas, made more difficult by the white russian I was drinking and Turner's beer-in-a-bag that he brought home (yes, it does exist).

We had grated cheese, cilantro, hot sauce, refried beans (re-refried by Turner in lard that he keeps in the fridge), and the Mexican rice to build into burritos.

The only thing that could possibly make the burritos better would be avocado. It's not too shabby when the only thing missing from our Mexican repast is a difficult-to-ship, expensive, finnacky fruit. The Patron made up for it, I suppose.

I ate two burritos. They were amazing.

30 April 2009

Shandong Tour

Here is a brief, and I mean brief because Turner took over 400 pictures, showcase from last weekend's whirlwind tour around our province.

We went to the Weifang Kite Factory, which was pretty cool. I bought a dragonfly kite!

This is the whole group outside the kite factory. This was day one, you can only imagine what we looked like after an average of five hours a day on a bus.

The next day we went to Qufu, the hometown of Confucious. Turner and I had already been last year, but we went to a few new sights.

Like the Confucius Forest... the most natural green space I have ever seen in China.

Just look at all that green!

On Sunday, our last day, we went to the top of Tai Shan.

Turner carried a can of Tsingtao beer to the top and posed next to the sign that reads something like, "Confucius was here."

29 April 2009

Hot Curry Lovin'

Occasionally I will ponder, at 7 o'clock in the morning mind you, what I'm going to cook for dinner. If I happen to ask Turner then or at any other point before the evening, he will say that he doesn't know because he's not hungry. I think that since I cook the food and have to put something together, I tend to think about the preparations ahead of time. Turner is more likely to throw something together based on what's in the house or forgo cooking altogether and go get some street food.

This morning I was at a loss. I was tired of my repertory of recipes and di
dn't have the energy for completely unknown culinary territory, so I decided to do a variation on my regular curry recipe. Since I had a can of lentils and a can of tomatoes, I Googled "chicken lentil curry" and found some relevant recipes to used for inspiration. For dishes like stews, chilies, and curries, I tend to just toss things together instead of measuring precise amounts.

In a wok, I sauteed the basics to start: first the onion, then the garlic and ginger.

I added the boneless, skinless chicken that I had cut into small bits and the curry powder so that everything could get coated and the spices could toast to bring out their aromas and flavors. Then I squeezed the whole tomatoes from the can and added the juice along with two cups of chicken broth (from bouillon), a bay leaf, and three dried chilies.

Once this had simmered away for about 20 minutes, I added the rinsed lentils and let it all cook for about another 30 minutes. (I had to turn it off because Turner was late coming home from work.)

After Turner got home, had a shower, and made cocktails, I reheated the curry and then poured in almost one cup of yogurt. This adds a nice thickness/creaminess to the curry and can mellow out the heat of the chilies if it's overpowering. The curry gets ladled alongside white rice and steamed spinach. Oh, it was tasty. I'm already looking forward to eating the leftovers tomorrow. Like chili and stew, curry is usually better the second day.

28 April 2009

All the World's an Egg

So simple, yet so perfect in its infinite forms. Eggs have represented so much throughout history, as a luxury, as a staple, as a microcosmic image of the world around us. Life is contained within a single egg.

Over the weekend, Turner and I ate a lot of Chinese food. Much of it oily and salty. For all their cuisine's fame, the Chinese rarely serve food that actually tastes only of that food. There is a sauce for everything. A few times, we have had people over for dinner and served a simple steamed vegetable, like green beans, and they are amazed at how sweet they are. Usually, beans are stir-fried in oil and garlic and sauce. And hence taste like oil and garlic and sauce.

For our first meal back home, we wanted something familiar. I did not have much in the refrigerator but a bag of eggs, so I thought that omelets would be heaven. I bought some spinach and an onion, which were subsequently softened in some olive oil to use as filling along with some mozzarella cheese (the only kind we had on hand).

When people asks who cooks in our household, I always say that I do but Turner makes the coffee. He also makes a killer omelet. It's one of the dishes I always leave up to him.

He whisks two eggs and two tablespoons of water together, adds some salt and pepper, and pours it into a lightly oiled, preheated frying pan. This much I can muster. It's the actually "omeletting" that evades me. As far as I can tell, he scrapes the outside in to the center until it starts to set, then when it's almost done he adds the fillings and flips one side over the other.
We had fresh bread with jam and butter on the side. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the finished product because I wolfed mine down in a couple minutes.

24 April 2009

Innocents Abroad

Turner and I are off on a whirlwind tour of Shandong Province, mostly to places we have already been but the school is paying this time. I will surely have plenty to blog about when we return, what with the requisite banquets and local "delicacies."

On another note, I made Chicken an Broccoli Pizzas with Garlic last night for dinner. They reminded me of Carmine's Restaurant in Buffalo. Miss B will know what I'm referring too.

22 April 2009

Portrait of a Chocolate Cake

It all started with Google. Doesn't everything these days seem to start with Google? Well, I was chatting with Turner, who was at work, when I realized that my image on Google Talk has been a penguin for too long. Out of the sparse options Google provides for your image, I chose the chocolate cake. Who wouldn't choose a chocolate cake when given the option of that or a frog?

My new clip art in place, I chatted away, always keeping that cake in the corner of my eye. Subconsciously it started telling me that I wanted chocolate cake. Have you ever gotten off your lazy butt and baked and frosted a chocolate cake because a piece of clip art told you to? Now I have.

I found this simple recipe on a fellow food blog for an Easy One-Layer Chocolate Cake. I was in no mood to mess around with layers or fillings. I just wanted cake!

It was as easy as ripping open a box of cake mix and adding the wet ingredients. Honestly, I don't know why anyone bakes with boxes anymore. The real deal is almost foul proof
, especially considering that the cake was baked in my toaster oven. So if you've never made a cake from scratch, try this one. Your skills will astound you and also your loved ones who are also fond of chocolate cake.

For the frosting, I followed the beat of my own drummer. I melted a few ounces of butter, a bar of Dove dark chocolate, and a bit of sugar. After it came off the heat, I sprinkled in some corn starch because it wasn't thickening like I wanted. What can I say, I'm impatient. That's why I can't sew. While the frosting didn't turn out like buttercream or ganache, it gave the cake an extra boost and a glistening topcoat. I must say, this cake has some serious sex appeal.

Immediately after I poured the frosting over the cake, I cut into it. My reasoning was that the late afternoon light would make for a great picture, and I wanted to eat it. So with a shot glass full of the leftover milk, my corner piece of cake posed for its portrait.

21 April 2009

To Market

After attending our university's annual sports meeting (really just a school-wide track and field event), Turner and I walked around the old campus area known as Yushan. We were looking for some barbecue and stumbled upon a bustling market area down one of the side streets. I want to share some pictures to show the variety and quality of the produce in China that you can find just about everywhere, though certain things, like watermelons and strawberries, have their seasons.


Green onions, baby leeks, any guesses?


Various grains for sale.


Lajiao and huajiao--the spices of life.

The sweetest beans you've ever seen.

Can you imagine seeing such a pile of grape tomatoes at your local grocery store?

Mangoes by the dozens!

The Chinese know how to do peanuts.

White Radishes


20 April 2009

A Leeky Day

April in Qingdao fulfills the stereotype of spring--rain and cold one day, hot and humid the next, windy after that. Yesterday evening, the heavens dropped a deluge on us. It poured. And roofs are supposed to keep everything under them dry, right? Well, at the top of our stairs, above the seventh floor landing is a hatch that opens onto the roof. For some reason, the tenants on the seventh floor decided to remove the hatch cover, providing ventilation and a very leaky hole. The water drizzled down onto our landing on the sixth floor and continued to make it's way downstairs until it eventually dried out on the third floor.

Today fared little better. It started off breezy and rainy, turned cold and windy, and finished the day off downright tempestuous. I almost had to yell in class so the students could hear me over the howling wind. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and warm. So there you go; spring in a nutshell.

The foul weather put me in the mood to try this macaroni and cheese recipe that I have been saving for awhile. It takes just the right day to justify cooking with two c
ups of milk and almost a pound of cheese. Well, today was the day.

The recipe for Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks is from March's issue of Bon Appetit. I halved the amounts to fit in my little baking dish inside my little toaster oven. Luckily, I had almost a whole block of Vintage cheddar that is crumbly and pungent, like I think a "farmhouse" cheddar would be. It's the one decent cheese we buy regularly here in China, and it imported from Australia. Maybe someday the Chinese will come to appreciate good cheese, but I think it's far in the future. Leeks, however, they have in abundance.

Anyway, the recipe is fairly straightforward, using eggs as a thickener instead of a roux. The flour is stirred into the sweated leeks as the base for the cheese sauce, which then gets mixed in with a beaten egg and tossed with the pasta. Some Dijon mustard and hot sauce round out the dish, lifting it from the usual heaviness of a cheesy casserole. My own adaptation is to toss some panko breadcrumbs with olive oil, salt, oregano, and cayenne pepper and sprinkle this over the top. I love having the crunch on top of the soft goodness of the mac and cheese.

While the casserole baked, I made a quick rice pudding with our leftover rice from yesterday's leftover Chinese dinner. If you ever have any white rice sitting in the fridge (possibly because your husband doesn't want to waste anything, even 10 cents of cooked rice), then you should definitely learn a basic rice pudding recipe.

The one that works for me (and I love to eat) seems simpler than others I have come across. I merely mix up some dry soy milk powder with hot water. You can certainly use fresh soy milk, but we don't have that luxury in China. For about two cups of cooked rice, I start with two cups of milk and about half a cup of white sugar. Stir everything together over medium heat until it's gently simmering. Then you can add flavorings. I'm trying to use up my whole spices so I dump in a few cinnamon sticks, some star anise, and slivers of crystallized ginger. To westernize it, I add some ground nutmeg and vanilla. This all cooks until the rice is the consistency you like, usually very soft. You had to stir it occasionally to prevent it from burning to the bottom of your pot and you may have to add hot water every now and then if it thickens too quickly (which will depend on the type of rice you're using).

I prefer rice pudding to oatmeal actually, though I know it's not nearly as good for you. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top (and sweetened condensed milk if you're feeling decadent). It's great warm or cold, morning or night.

19 April 2009

In Search of Pain Perdu

Turner and I were going to run to McDonalds this morning for their 10RMB breakfast special (egg sandwich, hash brown, and a coffee), but we forgot that they stop serving it at 9am. By the time we had finished our morning cup of coffee, it was too late. Someday we'll do it, just have to wait for the right day. Also, today dawned cloudy and cool, providing even less incentive to get out of bed early enough for the breakfast run.

After my mid-morning run around our university, I decided to use our last wedge of bread and last egg to make french toast. This was not to be just any french toast though. Last year my mom mailed me a cooking magazine that had a recipe for Swiss-style French Toast. I think it was Swiss anyway. The country of origin doesn't matter too much. All you need to know is that this makes a regular Sunday breakfast into a sweet treat.

Cut into cubes any day-old French bread. Challah or brioche would work wonderfully for this; however, they require a few days prep time in themselves. I used the bread I bake every other day (the no-knead bread).

In a bowl, whisk together an egg (for two people, use more eggs for more bread/people), a few tablespoons of milk, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, some cinnamon and nutmeg. (My measurements for many recipes are really just "a shake of this" and "squirt of that," but I try to make some things reproduceable.) Anyway, at this point you're basically making French toast. The only difference so far is cubing the bread instead of leaving it in slices. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for a bit, tossing to make sure every piece is soaked through.

Then heat a few pats of butter in a frying pan and toss in your eggy bread. Fry it in butter on all sides until it's golden brown. Essentially, you bring it to the stage where it looks like French toast ready to eat.

Now comes the special part. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and sprinkle a 3-4 tablespoons of white sugar over the cubes of bread. Toss everything together in the pan so the bread is coated with butter and sugar. Now you are caramelizing the outside of the bread, so cook it for a few more minutes until the sugar crystals have dissolved and the bread has a deep brown caramel coating.

This is best eaten warm, obviously, so the caramel doesn't stick to your teeth as much. Turner and I drizzled what we have left of our maple syrup over the top. Needless to say, this is nowhere near healthy as it has a few tablespoons of butter and plenty of sugar, but it is delicious. We had some apple slices alongside so maybe the doctor will forgive us our trepasses.