apps & snacks


Did you see some broiled, miso-glazed eggplants hiding out amongst the pork belly stew last time? If you did, my dear hawk-eyed reader, then perhaps you also thought to yourself, “Forget the pork belly! Tell me how to make those eggplants!” For surely, this little scene did not only happen in my head.

Well, here, at long last, is that eggplant recipe!

It now seems silly that I took so long to write this follow-up post. Seriously, these eggplants are easier to make than, well, just about anything else (except maybe toast since you know, toast is pretty easy). They make a great side dish and an even better snack, especially with some cold sake. In fact, the first time I had these was at an izakaya which, as an aside, I must say that the Japanese have us Americans beat when it comes to bar snacks.

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables but it’s also one I cook with at home rarely. Have you noticed that most recipes involving eggplants also involve cuploads of oil? Many eggplant-based dishes call for deep-frying the eggplants, including my beloved Fish-Fragrant Eggplants (which, as another aside, has my vote for most misleading name for a dish ever, since there’s no fish involved and it certainly doesn’t evoke the ‘fragrance’ of a fish either). While I will happily eat deep-fried eggplants at restaurants, I personally don’t ever get the urge to deal with large volumes of oil at home. So whenever I find eggplant recipes that manage to not resort to deep-frying, I jump for joy.

*Jump*

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Every so often, I like to go treasure-hunting.

In my freezer.

Without fail, I would find some package of meat I had forgotten about hiding way back in the corner, by the little box of baking soda and the bigger box of delicious Melona bars. My last round of treasure hunting unearthed a neatly-wrapped, butcher-paper-encased package of ‘fresh side pork’…Huh?

It turns out that fresh side pork is basically the same cut of meat as bacon, except that it’s fresh and not cured. Not wanting to wait another week before eating it (that’s the amount of time it would take to make bacon), Nathan and I quickly decided on the #2 best use of fresh pork belly: buta no kakuni. We had it at a Japanese izakaya months before and ever since, I’ve been talking about trying to make it at home. Yup, just call me a copycat. Meow.

I will warn you now that this is not a recipe for warm days since you will be heating up your kitchen for multiple hours to make a hearty, belly-warming stew. But on a cold, rainy night, there is nothing better than snuggling up with such a bowl of porky goodness. Plus, your whole house will smell insanely delicious for the rest of the night, so much so that your kitty (if you happen to have one) will go absolutely bonkers.

PS: Another post to come about those miso-glazed eggplants you see in the background above.

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Even though I’ve never had a chance to eat at his restaurant, Eric Ripert is one of my favoritest chefs ever. Ok, so what I know of him is only from his television appearances – as Anthony Bourdain’s buddy on “No Reservations”, as a judge on various “Top Chef” episodes, and as a curious chef touring the world on his own show on PBS – but doesn’t he just seem like such a nice and easy-going guy who oh look, also happens to be one of the top chefs in the country??! Let’s hang out, Eric! (Before you mock me too much, let me point out that I even know of a few men who have what can only be described as “man crushes” on Eric Ripert. So there!)

Alright fine, so maybe I won’t actually get to hang out with Eric Ripert any time soon. But I got a copy of his book (thanks to the contests over at Serious Eats – yay!) so it’s almost as good, right?? Given the reputation of Le Bernardin though, I was pretty skeptical about whether any of the dishes in the book would be doable at home. I was imagining recipes asking for seafood I’ve never even heard of, so fresh that they’re still wiggling around, and exotic, crazy ingredients you have to mail-order from France. Thankfully, flipping through the book, we did manage to find a few that are totally doable at home, especially if you’re willing to make some substitutions. This scallops dish is one of them – we opted to use sea salt instead of ‘smoked viking salt’.

Say no to smoking vikings, I say!

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Happy Holidays, everyone!

Before Nathan and I head out for Hong Kong tomorrow, I originally wanted to end 2009 (at least blog-wise) on a sweet note. We made chai tea panna cotta for Christmas Eve dinner at Nathan’s parents’ place and while the panna cotta did set (woo!), the unmolding was an ordeal in itself. Although it tasted great, we ended up slightly soupy panna cotta, so we’ll have to wait and try again in 2010. Stay tuned!

Instead, I’ll turn things over to Molly of Orangette, who wrote about one of my favorite discoveries of 2009 in her Bon Appetit column: Pomodori al Forno, or slow-roasted tomatoes. Something about the process of slow-roasting (ok ok, the cup of olive oil probably helps too) transforms even the crappiest tomatoes into gorgeously silky and delicious morsels. Lay them on some toasty baguette slices with a bit of goat cheese and you’ve got appetizers fit for any holiday party!

If I’m remembering correctly, my dear ex-roomie Laura tried this recipe with canned tomatoes and reported success also. So really, you can’t go wrong! And all that extra flavored olive oil left? May I suggest using as a dip for crusty bread or making it the base of an awesome pasta sauce?

I wish all of you a lovely holiday season, filled with excellent food, wine, and company!

Pork and Leek Dumplings

It’s been a while since I’ve waxed poetic (at least here) about how much I love dumplings. When I really get going, I have been known to declare that dumplings are the snacks of the gods, are so awesome that nearly every culture has developed some version of them and quite possibly, the food item that will eventually bring about world peace. But I will spare you.

Finding that suddenly I have much more free time than I have in the past months, I decided it was time to stock up the freezer with a menagerie of dumplings again. This time, I restricted myself to only two varieties: a trusty pork and ginger filling from Ming Tsai and a new-to-me pork and leek filling from a recent cookbook acquisition, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s gorgeous Beyond the Great Wall. I ended up modifying their dumpling recipe slightly by adding an egg to the filling to help it bind better and by scaling up, since I always make dumplings in big batches for freezing.

Now that I own two of their books, I can officially say that I love this couple of cookbook authors. Their books are more like travel diaries interspersed with recipes and with plenty of beautiful photography, which happen to be three things I love…well, in addition to dumplings, of course.

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In order to get my sister and I to finish every single grain of rice in our bowls, my grandmother used to tell us that leaving rice grains would mean our future husbands would be ugly. “What do you mean ‘ugly’, grandma?” we asked. “Lots of pockmarks. Or freckles. Or both!” exclaimed my grandmother.

Unfortunately for my grandmother, marrying yucky boys was the last thing on our minds. So she quickly revised her strategy: not finishing all your rice would mean we would grow up with lots of freckles! Yikes! From then on, not one grain of rice was seen in anyone’s rice bowl. Funny thing is, little did she know that we would one day grow up and live in a country where people actually think freckles are cute!

(I hope I’m not giving anyone the impression that my grandmother was cruel because she was the sweetest and kindest woman. She just had a funny strategy of asking us to finish our dinner.)

Thanks to my grandmother’s efforts, the philosophy of not wasting food is now permanently etched in my brain. So, what does that have to do with flatbread? If you’ll remember (from what seems like ages ago), the creation of a certain sourdough starter (admit it, you thought I killed it already, didn’t you!) and its continual maintenance (ha! but I didn’t!) generate enough leftover starter that I can feel the onset of freckles just from thinking about dumping it in the trash.

What to do … what to do? Thanks to a recipe from breadtopia, slight modifications, and an expectation of something more like flatbread than a fluffy pizza, not one grain(?) of wheat will go to waste!

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I’ve been making these Vietnamese summer rolls (or spring rolls, whichever you prefer) a lot lately. I first had a craving for them on a particularly hot day since it requires minimal stove time and makes for a refreshing light dinner. Besides, Nathan had bought a bag of frozen shrimps for a Thai curry or something, so I saw it as my duty to help clean out the freezer.

Then just last week, my lab was treated to a celebration dinner at Incanto, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, where we got to partake in a Whole Beast Feast. The whole beast in question was an 85 lb piggie and needless to say, it was both delicious and unforgettable. But as it turned out, our lab eyes were way bigger than our lab stomachs, leaving us with box after box of leftover roast pork. Vietnamese spring rolls come to the rescue again, as I substituted shredded roast pork for shrimp.

Finally, just today while looking for a snack during housecleaning, I stared into a fridge that I’m trying to clear out before our Boston trip next week. I spotted a random piece of fried tofu left over from a round of sandwich making, and that became Vietnamese summer rolls round #3.

Before I forget, thank you to my former roomie Kim for teaching me how to make these!

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