Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Orange Hoisin Pork Ribs

Let me tell you about a dark time in my life. A time when I didn't eat pork. Why? For no other reason than because I didn't like the texture. What texture, meat texture? No. Dry meat texture. I assumed that pork was always dry. It's not because my father wasn't good at cooking pork. I have no idea, actually, where or when my dislike of it started, but I do know that it ended once and for all when I moved to China.

China, you see, is rife with pork. This is because 1) Beef didn't arrive for a long time. And once it did, it was a liiiiittle late to become the dominant and preferred meat 2) Pigs are much cheaper to raise (chickens are even cheaper) than cows and need less space and 3) China, though large, doesn't have the same amount of available farming space that the US does, thus making what space it has prioritized for vegetable crops. These are the same reasons that pork, chicken and seafood are more popular in places like South America and other Southeast Asian countries. Beef isn't very common. Even now, it is very unusual for me to see any beef in stores here in China. Lamb and mutton are far more common, in fact. 

I never bought pork when I lived in the US because I didn't know how to cook it, but necessity is the mother of invention, and scarcity is the mother of adaptation. This recipe is a favorite around here. Since I first stumbled upon the original recipe a few weeks ago at my holy grail of food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, it's been eaten almost once a week. I have made it each time with a tweak here or there, and have used both  full sized ribs and riblets. The recipe below delivers ribs with crispy bits, lots of saucy flavor and tender, flavorful meat. The two step process sounds involved, but really is one of those 'set it and forget it' sort of things. You can prep everything else during the wait, and have everything on the table at the same time easily in just over an hour and a half.

I always serve this with buttered corn on the cob, which I really enjoy. Other sides I've paired it with are pasta salad, coleslaw, green salads, baked potatoes, roasted carrots and onions, and mashed potatoes. To take this meal further East, I like to pair this with ganbian si ji dou, a classic Sichuanese dish that translates to 'dry fried green beans'. A good recipe is here

Orange Hoisin Pork Ribs
originally adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Hoisin-Honey Riblets
serves 2 for dinner

4 lbs of your choice of ribs or riblets, (aim for good marbling) cut into individual ribs
2 large oranges or tangerines
1 medium, red onion
2-3 green onions
salt & pepper

Sauce: (make 2 batches if using full sized ribs)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp spicy fermented chili bean paste (辣豆瓣酱 la doubanjjiang) (optional)
1 tbsp + 1/4tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp white rice vinegar
2 tsp garlic, minced or made into a paste
1/2 tsp ginger, minced or made into a paste
1 tbsp orange juice

1. Preheat your oven to 375F~190C. Line a roasting pan with foil for easy clean up later. Slice your onion into rings. place the rings on the bottom of the roasting pan in an even layer. Lay your ribs on top of the onions ring. Lightly salt and pepper the ribs. Cut your oranges, skin on, into slices about 1/4 thick. Lay these slices on top of  the ribs spaced approximately evenly apart. 

2. Add 1-2 cups of water to the pan. You really just want the water to to go about 1/4 of the way up the side of the ribs. We're not boiling them, but we don't really want to crisp them right now either. Tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil. Put into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

3. Make the sauce in the largest bowl you have. Use a spoon to peel the ginger. Also, I usually use the grater with the smallest holes (not the parmesan one, I hate that one!) to turn my garlic and ginger into an easy mince. You could use a special ginger grater if you've got one, but graters are easier to clean. You're welcome to taste the sauce to adjust flavors. If you're looking for a sweeter sauce, try about 1 tsp of brown sugar and a little more orange juice. If you want a spicier rib, add 1/2 tsp of dried ground chili flakes or powder. Be warned, this will taste kind of spicy and sharp due to the raw garlic and ginger. This will definitely mellow in the cooking process, so keep that in mind as you're adjusting flavors.

4. Once the ribs are done, pull them out of the oven (keep the oven on!) and remove the aluminum foil cover. Be careful! Steam is hot! Using tongs, discard the orange slices. Your meat should be slightly browned and cooked through. You should also see some fat and other juices in with the water. Move the ribs to your big bowl with the sauce and use your tongs to toss and coat. 

5. Lightly grease a roasting rack that fits in the roasting pan you used. I use the 'oven rack' that came with my toaster oven and it works just fine. You just want to elevate the meat out of any possible moisture. Dump out most of the water from the roasting pan and discard the onions. Arrange the ribs on the rack above the roasting pan or cookie sheet. Pour 1 cup of water into the roasting pan. This will help the ribs retain some moisture, and also help with clean up later!

6. Bake the ribs again at 375F~190C for about 15-20 minutes. You're looking for the sauce to be absorbed and lightly caramelized. Once this happens, pull the ribs out and, with a brush, baste the ribs one last time with your left over sauce (..or another batch of the sauce). I like to really lay it on thick! Pop those suckers under the broiler for another 10 minutes, just to cook the sauce through and zap some moisture out. 

7. Cut up your green onion. Arrange your finished ribs on a large plate or bowl and add the green onions on top. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kathleen's Irish Soda Bread

I have a friend named Katheleen. We met in Beijing in February 2011. It was both of our first times in China, neither of us had done any teaching and, as it turned out, we had a lot in common. We both love 80's movies, Muppets, Jim Henson and Mystery Science Theater 3000. We're both big nerds, and have a deep, abiding love for David Bowie. We're both occasionally, psychopathically indecisive, and we're both extremely laid back. After the first year was over, my boyfriend and I moved away across the country to Chengdu, and Kathleen stayed in Beijing. It was sad. I hadn't expected to find someone so great in a random suburb at a random private school in China I'd randomly decided to work in.

We've kept in touch and I miss getting to dork out daily with her. During the Chinese New Year festival break, which is about a month long, I went back to Beijing to visit for a week. We drank tea non stop during the day and night, and ate food I've been deprived of in the suburbs of Chengdu. The first day there, we went to her Chinese friend's house and made dumplings/potstickers, called jiaozi. It's a tradition to eat jiaozi during the festival because it promises good luck and prosperity in the new year. The jiaozi look like little purses, symbolizing wealth and good fortune. Well, that day, Kathleen made Irish soda bread and brought it to share with our Chinese friends. It was a big hit. The Chinese don't love overly sweet things, and this bread was only just verging on sweet. A month later, my boyfriend and I befriended an elderly Chinese couple living in our apartment complex. They invited us over for dinner, and I made some of this bread and some orange curd and brought it over to share. They loved it.

I'd only tried rosemary soda bread, and had never had sweet soda bread until Kathleen made it for us in January. I love it. It's not too sweet, it's extremely fast to put together, it stays entirely edible and not rock hard for at least 5 days, and it is not fussy at all. I've tinkered with it a little bit, but to me, it's still Kathleen's recipe. She got it from her mother, and I have no idea where she got it. 

Thank you Kathleen and thank you Kathleen's mom! I've made this so often since you first made it for me, I'm sure it will be a classic in my recipe book for years to come. I will always think of you when I make it and the unlikely friendship we formed in Beijing!

Kathleen's Irish Soda Bread
makes 1 small loaf, enough for 2 people over a few days, or 4-6 people as a light dessert/snack

As with many baking recipes here, I replace the butter with oil. I would highly recommend bringing this to an afternoon hang out session or a casual lunch or dinner with friends, old or new. Or just make it for yourself and enjoy it first thing in the in the morning or very late at night.

The Cast of Characters (...minus eggs)
1 cup buttermilk OR sub. 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick of butter= 8 tbsp butter
 (OR sub. 6 tbsp neutral tasting vegetable oil)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg
raisins and other add ins (not shown)

1.Preheat your oven to 350 F or about 175 C. Mix together dry ingredients. I always do this when I bake because it makes sure to evenly incorporate things into the finished product and will make sure there are no big lumps of salt or baking soda. It also makes sure you don't overwork more delicate doughs, since overworking can lead to underdeveloped rises in anything from quick breads to pancakes.

Mix together the wet ingredients first
2. Now add the wet ingredients. It helps to mix all of the wet things, like oil, the egg and buttermilk together beforehand. If using melted butter, start with this first before adding the other wet ingredients. Stir until just combined and all the dry is incorporated. This will be a wet, sticky, shaggy dough. Don't be afraid.

Add your wet to the dry.
3. Gently mix in your add-ins. I usually use some type of raisin and snipped, dried apricots. I've also used some orange zest and marzipan. This is all of the above with small chunks of lightly sweetened marzipan infusing the bread with a light almond flavor, setting off the fruity, bright notes of the raisins and apricots. I especially like when the apricots poke out of the top because the sugars caramelize into a deep, tart, citrus flavor.
Almond paste, dried apricots and golden raisins.
4. Now, roughly shape this into a ball. It won't really hold its shape, but don't worry too much about it. I score an X on the top as is traditional. Put your dough blob onto a greased baking sheet, or into a greased cake pan.
Don't worry about it being gloopy
5. Bake for about 45 minutes or until lightly golden on the center rack. You're welcome to check its doneness with a thin, sharp knife inserted into the middle. It will continue to cook just a little when you take it out, and unless you want a crumble fest, don't bake it longer or you'll dry it out. Take out, cool on a wire rack, then dust with powdered sugar.

Serve warm or cold. Because it's only lightly sweetened (very lightly) it is really scrumptious with lemon or blood orange curd, or with homemade blackberry jam. I strongly recommend it paired alongside a large cup of black tea with a splash of milk. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Eggs Florence

When I wake up on Saturdays, life feels so free. Rain or shine, my day is mine. I get to slowly acclimate to the day, without waking up to adrenaline and blaring alarms. Without lightning fast showers and running out the door with wet hair. I don't have to give a lecture to anyone today, or sternly remind students of timeliness and their work. I don't have to clock in. I do what I want, darn it!

First, I start with a cup of tea or coffee and a book. These days, it's Black tea brewed strong as I've slowly been weaning myself off of my coffee addiction. Then, I take a shower, long and hot. I lather my hair like I have all the time in the world, and I let my conditioner really have time to sink in. I get to brush my hair and let it dry into something not styled by the wind whipping through it on the motorbike (read: crazy art teacher hair). I put on my clothes that have been heating over the heater, and I slip my sock clad feet into slippers instead of real shoes. Then, I think about food. What do I want to eat today? Eggs Florence.

Eggs Florence is the homely, less subtle cousin of Eggs Florentine. They're definitely in the same family, but where Florentine might wear tea rose printed skirts, Florence wears comfy old jeans with paint stains. Florentine likes cashmere, Florence likes flannel. The differences are subtle. They both consist of a bread substance, a salty sweet breakfast meat, spinach, eggs and a citrusy-butter sauce. But Florence is more casual and slightly less fussy. Eggs Florentine is of course delicious, but Eggs Florence is friendly and approachable. The riff on hollandaise sauce here is virtually unbreakable due to the addition of Dijon, which seems to aid in the emulsification of the sauce. Not only is it easy, but I usually have everything on hand here in China, and my boyfriend loves it. So here you go.

Eggs Florence
makes 2 servings

For the base:
4 eggs
2 slices Canadian bacon OR 4 slices of maple bacon OR homemade green bacon
2 slices whole wheat or sourdough bread, toasted OR 6 finger width slices of day old baguette, toasted
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 a large red onion, diced
A large bunch of fresh spinach, chopped OR an appropriate amount of thawed frozen spinach
1 tsp olive oil (optional)
salt and pepper

For the sauce:
2 room temperature egg yolks (save the whites!)
3 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh squeeze lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

1. Lightly toast your bread base. Split up the slices equally between two plates. Dice your onion, mince your garlic. Chop up your spinach. Now, I love spinach. LOVE it. I use .... a lot. I couldn't say exactly how much, but I use as much as possible each time. Decide how much to make using your own discretion, but keep in mind that wilted spinach takes up a lot less room than fresh, so use slightly more than you want to end up with.

2. Heat a large pan over medium heat, once it's hot, add your chosen meat and lightly brown it. Remove cooked meat to a plate and stick it somewhere to keep warm, like a very low oven, or a microwave.

3. If you've cooked Canadian bacon and it hasn't given off much grease, add the 1 tsp of olive oil to the same pan you cooked the meat in to heat up. Once the oil or grease is warm, add your diced onion. When it starts to become translucent, add the garlic and saute for 1 or 2 minutes just to soften it and get garlic flavor in the oil. Don't brown it! Add your chopped spinach and cook until just wilted (no longer fresh and crispy). Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Remove the pan from heat and set aside.

3. In a small, heavy pan, or a double boiler, or a heat proof bowl that fits on top of a small pot of boiling water (seriously, I've used all of these methods with no problems, fear not!), add 1 tbsp of the butter and melt it over low heat. Low is the key. You don't want to scald or curdle any of these ingredients, so go with low heat. From here on out, use a whisk or a fork to stir pretty constantly, keep the sauce moving. It goes pretty fast, so don't let the instructions scare you. I've just found this method works best.

When the first tbsp of butter has melted, add 1/2 tsp of olive oil and one ROOM TEMPERATURE (I can't stress this enough) egg yolk and whisk in. Add another tbsp of butter plus the mustard and keep stirring until melted. Add the last (2nd) egg yolk, stir. Now, the last (3rd) tbsp of butter and HALF of the 1/4 cup of lemon juice, stir. I am a crazy lemon freak. I always wish that the hollandaise sauces at restaurants had more pucker and zing so I add a lot of lemon juice. But for you, taste it now and adjust accordingly. The Dijon will already give it a little bit of zing. If it's too zingy, add the other 1/2 tsp olive oil to mellow it. Add pepper and just a little salt, the Dijon is a little salty already. When you've got the flavor you want, take it off the heat, stir for one more minute to make sure it doesn't curdle, and then leave it alone while you finish up the construction of your breakfast. It will thicken a bit as it cools.

4. Heat up your spinach on the stove and while you do that, fry or poach 2 eggs per person. On the two plates, construct your Eggs Florence like so: bread base, lay down the meat on top (room temperature does not bother me here), pile your just reheated spinach into a flat-topped mountain, then lay your freshly cooked eggs gently on top. Stir up your sauce and spoon it over with wild abandon. I love me some sauce.

I usually serve this with home fry potatoes and fruit salad when I'm feeding my boyfriend and myself. When it's just me though, I eat just the Eggs Florence with an extra helping of spinach, tea and orange juice. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pasta Pomodoro

One time, I was a freshman in college and it was only the 1st month. College was new and exciting and different, but oh man was the food situation dismal. So, I went to the closest supermarket, bought the ingredients for this sauce, started it up in the tiny little, communal kitchen in our dorm hall and sat down with a book in the adjacent common room. I knew few people at this point, but I met a lot of people that day. Because the sauce takes abut 30-45 minutes to reduce, the smell of homey, sweet, buttery tomatoes started to waft through the room and slowly down the hall. Boys I'd never seen before showed up, drawn by the smell and their stomachs, and girls who I'd only awkwardly made friendly hallway conversation with came in to see who was cooking and what it was. Later on down the road, this sauce was the first one my boyfriend learned to cook. And in my senior year, I made this same cheap and easy sauce for a huge group for less than 25 dollars.

I learned this sauce from my father, who got it from a book at some point but he's never used a recipe. We would eat it when I was a kid and it was one of the first things I remember cooking, as it's so easy. Pasta Pomodoro is the easiest pasta sauce I've heard of. It has just 3 ingredients, none of them hard to find. It's an excellent base to create more complex sauces, but the sauce that results from this is so delicious and warming and homey. Why mess with it?  The pickiest eaters eat it, it's vegetarian and it will be great on seriously any shape pasta you pair it with. Serve it with ravioli for a truly lovely meal, but with regular spaghetti, garlic bread and salad, no one would complain.

Pasta Pomodoro
makes 3-4 servings for light saucers, 2 servings for heavy saucer                                                                                         
**4 tomatoes or 2 15oz cans of plainm peeled tomatoes with their juice. I like Hunt's brand, and I like whole.
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) salted butter
1 large yellow or red tomato (yellow is best)

Empty both cans of tomatoes into an appropriately sized sauce pan. Use a wooden spoon to sort of punch the whole tomatoes if you're using them. Turn on the burner to medium high heat. Add the butter, cut into 4 or so pieces and the peeled onion, cut into 4 pieces also.
Simmer these ingredients, stirring occasionally, squishing tomato and onion occasionally too. When the sauce has reduced by half, add salt and pepper to taste. Though the reduction takes a little time, you'll be rewarded with a silky rich sauce that's condensed all of the sweet tomato essence and imbued it with the friendly flavors of butter and sweet onion. It tastes rich, but is cheap. You can blend it if you like, but my favorite part is eating the chunks of tomato and the translucent soft onion layers. If serving with ravioli, I beg you to try a cheese one. This does not sound gourmet, but one of my earliest 'omgfood' moments was this same meal. Simple is good.

** If, like me, you don't have access to canned tomatoes...or are simply too tired to go get some, check out my Blanched Tomatoes how-to and use about 4-6 ripe tomatoes instead. Super easy and fast as well, and if you have homegrown tomatoes, you will never regret it. Just add a cup of water in with the ingredients at the beginning so that things have a little more juice to work with in cooking the veggies.