Monday, January 30, 2012

Egg Rolls and Geo Politics: Cooking Chinese with Kids

Kids are funny, aren’t they?

I don’t know about yours, but my son’s favorite playthings are often not even toys. Give him a map and hours later you’ll find him tracing his way from Maine to California. Google maps and GeoMasters are tied as his favorite iPad apps. Neither he nor I could live without our car’s GPS; we’re simply motivated by different needs.

Maps aren’t his only geo-political obsession. I have a whole slew of his drawings of the flags of the world dating back to 2010.

Late last year, we hatched an idea that combined his love of nation states and my love of cooking. Regularly, we plan to focus on a country. We dedicated a blank book to this purpose. In it, he’ll draw the nation’s flag and pair it with a few quick facts about the selected country. For my part, he and I will cook together a meal from the country.

Starting with China, we launched our project on Saturday to coincide with the country’s New Year. We made Egg Rolls and Shrimp Toast from scratch and enjoyed Stir-Fried Hoisin Pork with Peppers from Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.

Chicken Egg Rolls

A few years ago, I comandeered a few my mom's old cookbooks including The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller, and this recipe is adapted from one in that book.

Makes 10

Raw ingredients
2 tablespoons dried porcini
1/4 pound chicken breast
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon tamari
2 1/2 cups bean sprouts
4 cups fresh spinach, loosely packed, sliced into 1-inch ribbons
The greens of 2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Egg roll skins
Vegetable oil for frying
Sweet and Sour Sauce for dipping

Soak the mushrooms in hot water.

Cut the chicken breast into very thin strips. Combine cornstarch, sugar, salt, and tamari in a small bowl. Add the chicken strips and stir to coat. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the bean sprouts in the water for 2 minutes. Drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook a few minutes or until it's no longer pink. Remove from the pan and let cool on a small plate.

Fresh filling ingredients
Cooked filling
Heat remaining oil in the pan. Add the scallions and saute for a minute. Dump in the bean sprouts and spinach and cook until the spinach is softened. Return the chicken to the pan and stir together all the ingredients.

Scrape the mixture into a colander and let drain while it cools.

Heat a large pot filled with several inches of vegetable oil over high heat.

Fill egg roll skins according to package. Set the filled egg rolls onto a plate.

When the oil reaches 375-F degrees. Add 3 egg rolls at a time to the pot. Cook until the egg rolls are golden brown. Drain and serve hot with sweet and sour sauce.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cook a Rainbow with Your Kids

Purple carrots, had only I known you six years ago. . .

Unlike many other purple vegetables, like purple Brussels sprouts and sadly even purple asparagus, purple carrots, the ones colored through to their core retain their vivid hue after cooking. Not only do they keep their color, but purple carrots lend it to their partner ingredients in a dish.

You won’t find these carrots at your ordinary grocery store. No, for these, you’ll have to make a stop at Green City Market. Look for Vicky Westerhoff of Genesis Growers, she’ll hook you up.

Purple carrots will help your kids to eat a rainbow – a recommendation that many a dietician and doctor would make for a healthy diet. Thor and I were given a terrific tool to keep track of his rainbow consumption from my friend, Kia Robertson: a Today I ate a Rainbow Kit. He tracks what colors he’s eating on the magnetized fridge chart, I plan for our week’s worth of rainbow foods with the shopping list, and we both enjoy her delightful book, The Rainbow Bunch.

I’m sharing this wonderful tool with one lucky reader. To enter our Today I Ate a Rainbow giveaway, all you have to do is become a Facebook friend of Purple Asparagus. If you are already one of our friends, simply recommend our page to your friends. My Little Locavores kid will pull a number out of a hat this Friday.

Happy friending!

Purple Bean Soup
Serves 4
6 cups chicken stock
1 ham hock
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 purple carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
½ teaspoon cumin
3 cups cooked black beans
1 bay leaf

Pour the chicken stock into a large pot and add the ham hock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the ham hock and reserve for another purpose.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan or soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and sauté until the vegetables are softened. Sprinkle the cumin over the vegetables and cook for another minute.

Add the black beans and pour in 4 cups of the ham stock. The remainder can be frozen for another purpose. Drop in the bay leaf, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and three grinds of freshly ground pepper and bring the stock to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes.

Puree in a blender (be sure to cover the top with a clean dish towel) or with a stick blender. Ladle into shallow bowls and dollop with sour cream and a spritz of lime juice.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lucky John Hops into the New Year: Black Eyed Pea and Ham Salad

When growing up, my parents hosted an annual New Year's Day party. In addition to family favorites, my mom filled the table with traditional dishes thought to impart good luck to the eater.

Several years ago, my husband and I began hosting our own New Year's celebration and I renewed my mother's tradition. Well sort of.

Rejecting the herring (I just don't want money that badly), Hopping John always graces our table though more for the flavor it provides than the luck it promises.

The second helping I returned for must have done the trick because 2012 has started on a really great note. Between a successful annual appeal, a new logo and a new office in the Green Exchange for Purple Asparagus, the New Year has been treating me well thus far.

While Hopping John with its indulgences of white rice and pork rich stock is a one a year dish, black eyed peas should not be. For a healthier, weekday version of the combination, try this Black Eyed Pea and Ham Salad. Hopefully, you too will enjoy some good fortune afterwards.

Black Eyed Pea and Ham Salad
Serves 4

3/4 cup black eyed peas
1 bay leaf
1/4 yellow onion
1 celery stalk
1/2 red pepper
1/2 chayote squash
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup cubed ham

Soak the peas for 3 hours. Drain and dump into a medium pot. Cover with cold water and add a large pinch of kosher salt and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

While the beans are cooking, cut the onion, celery, and pepper into small dice. Core the squash and cut into julienne strips.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl.

In a nonstick saute pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the ham cubes and cook until lightly browned. Cool.

Drain the peas and cool slightly. Dump them into a medium bowl. Add vegetables and ham. Fold the dressing into the salad. Serve as a light main course or as a side dish.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Diet Food that Doesn't Suck: Salsa Turkey Burgers

I hate diets. There’s far too much delicious food to be eaten in this world to deprive ourselves of it.

And yet, every January, I start one. Sort of.

After a month long of indulgences, including a 4 day sojourn to the dining capital of the southern states: New Orleans, I need to recalibrate my eating.

Out go the cookies, in come the carrots. Skim milk, turkey bacon, and lots of lettuce all went into Sunday’s grocery cart.

The weight watching regime will last about a week or until I feel back to my old self. However, the turkey burger I made last night may just make the regular dinner rotation.

Southwestern Turkey Burgers
Makes 4

1 slice whole grain bread
2 tablespoons skim milk
1 pound ground turkey, preferably a blend of breast and thigh
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons salsa (I used Frontera Food's Guajillo)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin
ground pepper
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons salsa
1 avocado

Break the bread into small pieces into a small bowl. Sprinkle the milk on top. Mix together the soaked bread, turkey, onion, cheese, salsa, salt, cumin and pepper in a large bowl using your hands. Form into 4 patties. Cook on a preheated griddle. Flip when brown and fry until cooked through.

Mix together the yogurt and salsa. Slice the avocado. Top the burger with avocado and the salsa yogurt.
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