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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Remember how I was singing the praises of flour not that long ago? Well, flour must also be on other people’s minds because I opened up one of my favorite blogs the other day and there was this gorgeous picture of flour in action.

It seems Michael Ruhlman was also reading the same issue of Saveur I was but instead of chicken paprikash, the recipe that caught his eye was one for buttermilk dinner rolls baked in a cluster in a springform pan. He adapted the original recipe, which itself was an adaptation of one found on The Fresh Loaf. Funnily enough, in following Ruhlman’s recipe, I ended up having to make some adaptations of my own, including sticking the dough in the fridge when I had to leave for a Super Bowl party. When I got home and was assembling the cluster, I took a little extra time to rewarm each of the dough balls by working the dough with my hands before rolling them into little tight boules.

Lately, I’ve been working from home every so often when I don’t have to go into lab for meetings. I love that not only do I actually get more work done from home, I can also multitask and make bread during the day. It takes all of 15 minutes to mix up some dough in the morning and then while I’m being the good little worker bee all day, the yeast is also working hard in the kitchen. By the time the sun is setting, you’re ready to stick the dough in the oven and look forward to freshly baked bread for dinner. I predict this recipe will come in handy during one of these future work-from-home days.

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You know what amazes me?

Flour.

Yup, just that – flour.

I mean, think about it. You take flour, add in just a few other ingredients, and you get everything from bread to pasta to dumplings. On top of that, you can use flour to make crunchy, crispy coating for fried chicken or really fried anything. And when a sauce is too thin, you mix up some flour with butter to make a roux and your watery sauce will turn silky in no time. Or you let the roux brown and you’re well on your way to making Louisianan goodies like gumbo and etouffé, which let me assure you, is on my must-cook list of 2010.

So when I was browsing through the latest issue of Saveur and came upon this ridiculous (as in ridiculously gorgeous) photo of chicken paprikash, with a recipe that uses flour to both make the dumplings and coat the chicken, I did not hesitate. One glance over at my bin of flour to check that I have enough at hand and off I went to shop for the other ingredients. Although the recipe calls for a whole chicken cut up into pieces, it would work just as well if you bought an equivalent amount of whatever chicken parts you like. I’m personally a dark meat person, so next time I make this, I may just buy some thighs, drumsticks, and wings.

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Happy New Year!

I thought I’d kick off the new year with a few of my favorite things: lentils, spinach, and Indian food! Sadly, to this day, I have not yet found a good way to take a super appetizing picture of Indian food, so pardon the kind of crappy shot above. I have this theory that Indian food looks best when you have a spread of multiple differently-colored dishes but when Nathan and I are cooking for ourselves, especially on a weeknight, we usually settle for one dish. Ah well. But let me assure you that while this dish may not look that great on camera, it definitely tasted delicious and warmed our bellies.

I love love love dhal and I love love love keeping jars of all the different dhals you can buy at an Indian grocery store in my pantry. Not only do they look pretty and colorful, but they never go bad and they’ll make sure you’re always ready to whip up a batch of yummy dhal for dinner.

This recipe is based on one I found from one of my new favorite cookbooks: “South Indian Cookbook” by Devagi Sanmugam. I had actually picked up this book with some leftover foreign currency at the Singapore airport a few years back and have been loving the recipes in the book since. FYI, in the book, this dish is actually called ‘Paruppu Keerai’ and not ‘Saag Dhal’ – perhaps a difference in dialect?

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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!

Back when I used to live in San Antonio (yes, in Texas), the small Mexican restaurants in town would serve homemade menudo during brunch hours on the weekends. Once my family discovered this soup, it quickly became a weekend favorite. After all, what is not to love about a rich, spicy, warming soup of hominy and beef tripe? At the time, though, I had no idea that menudo is supposedly a great cure for hangovers … which begs the question: did my parents sneak out to some fun parties while my younger self was sleeping soundly??

Although I do have a soft spot for menudo, I’m also not prepared to mess with cooking tripe at home, so I’ve been searching for alternatives. Then one day, at a little Yucatecan restaurant, I discovered pozole, a hearty, warming, green soup full of hominy and chicken. A while later, Nathan and I randomly stopped into a different little Mexican restaurant for lunch and there was pozole on the menu there too! But theirs was a different version, a rich, spicy, red soup full of hominy and pork (menudo-esque, if you will), and that’s the one we’ve been obsessing over ever since.

After some research, we learned that there are many different regional versions of pozole, roughly categorized into the three colors of the Mexican flag: green (verde), red (rojo), and white (blanco). For our beloved rojo, we eventually dug up two different recipes: one from Señor Bayless himself and one posted on Chowhound. Being the most indecisive people in the world, we couldn’t choose so ended up using parts of both of them. In a moment of insanity, we also decided to double the recipe and ended up with way more pozole than we could handle or even store. But then, that’s when you can count on your sister, friends (like Ben and Erin), and neighbors for backup, right?

You know, with Thanksgiving only days away, you might actually hear your leftover turkey bones and meat whispering ‘pozole’ to you on Friday morning (but not in a creepy way). I know if I do, you just might find me back at the stove again working on another giant cauldron of pozole, a green turkey one this time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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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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