Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Whole Hog: Pork Fried Rice with Leftover Ham

I'm not sure why it took me so many years to learn to make Chinese-style fried rice. Sometimes I allow myself to get into certain habits, where I cook in a certain style, using the same palette of spicing, the same cooking techniques, the same pots and pans, because it gets comfortable and it's easier on my brain.... I'll look at a delicious-sounding recipe in my new cooking magazine and say to myself "deep-frying?" or "squid?" or "a wok?" and turn the page dismissively. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Well, I must report to you that when I finally made fried rice for the first time, it was an immediate, sure-fire, hands-down, perfect-every-time winner. It worked so well that I resisted the urge to just trust that I would remember it the next time; I jotted down the order of steps, the spicing techniques and the quantities. I am very confident that this will be a sure-fire winner for you, too!

On this particular evening, I used some of the leftover ham in coke from Easter. (Ham is a common ingredient in cooking from the Hunan province.) However, this recipe has proven equally tasty with the following different meat choices: odds and ends of leftover pork chops saltimbocca, leftover odds and ends of steak, leftover bits of lamb chops, of roast chicken, of the Thanksgiving turkey... Really, any leftover tidbits of meat or tofu will do; this is an especially useful recipe when there is just too little of some leftover dinner item to serve as a main course. The only adjustment I ever make is to sometimes adjust the spices slightly; I like to toss chicken or turkey with teaspoon or two of Chinese Five Spice powder, for example. (A spice blend which includes star anise; it is available in bulk at Country Cheese or Berkeley Bowl in our fair city, or in well-stocked grocery stores elsewhere.) Otherwise, everything really stays the same.

I do get down the wok for this, but I think a well-seasoned large frying pan would work. There are two key elements in making this recipe; using cooked rice that has had a chance to dry out, and organizing the ingredients in small bowls in order of cooking. Once you start cooking with a hot wok, you have to work quickly; you don't want to stop your momentum to get that next ingredient ready. If the rice is still moist, it can get too mushy during cooking. Cooking the rice the day before or using leftover rice is great, but you can make the rice fresh that day; just be sure to spread it out in a broad bowl or cookie sheet to dry and cool for a couple of hours before you fry it.

Chinese-Style Fried Rice

1 batch of pre-cooked, dried brown rice, at room temperature
(2 cups of raw rice, cooked with 4 cups water)

High smoke-point/high heat cooking oil; peanut or safflower, e.g.
Keep the oil at hand for the wok

In a small bowl:
One knob of fresh ginger, about 1-2", peeled and minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch of scallions (green onions) chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp red pepper flakes

1-2 cups leftover meat, cut into 1/4" - 1/2" dice, in a bowl OR
(If chicken or turkey, tossed with 1 - 2 tsp five spice powder) OR
1 cup of spiced, baked tofu, cut into dice

As many eggs as you have people to feed, (at least 2) lightly whisked, in a bowl

2 cups thawed frozen peas

2 TB soy sauce and 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, in a small container

Optional: Hot chile oil

Arrange your ingredients to have readily at-hand; you will not be turning off your burner in-between steps. Turn on your fan, or open your windows, then heat your wok over high heat until it is very hot. Working quickly, pour a TB or so of the oil down the sides of the pan. Then add the ginger, garlic, scallions and pepper flakes. Stir them constantly with your special wok spatula tool. After a few seconds, add the meat. Stir it constantly for several minutes, and when it has browned nicely, remove it and put it back in the bowl it started in.

Pour in another TB or two of oil down the sides of the hot pan, and add the eggs. Using your spatula-tool, spread the eggs up the sides of the pan, cutting the cooked portions and letting the liquid portions onto the hot metal. When the eggs are cooked, remove them from the pan and add them to the meat.

Pour in another 2 TB of the oil, and add the rice. Working constantly, scoop up the portions of the rice which are on the bottom and let the other parts of the rice take their place. Since you are working with a lot of rice, this part will take the longest and require the most physical effort. When the rice is completely hot and beginning to take on a nice glossy appearance, add back in the proteins. Use the side of your spatula to cut the eggs into smaller pieces. Lift, scoop and toss the ingredients to combine well. Now add in the peas; again, toss and lift until all is well-combined and the peas are hot all the way through. Now add in the soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, pouring it all over the surface of the rice mixture. Again, toss and lift to combine thoroughly.

When all is hot, test the seasoning. Does it need a little more soy sauce or a little more spice? Now is the time to add them.

Serve in bowls, to universal applause. (Yes, kids really like this, too.)

Wine: A Riesling or Alsatian white wine, or beer are good matches.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Whole Hog: Black Bean Soup with Ham in Coke Stock

As I wrote in an earlier post, by the end of Easter week the hambone was clinging modestly to its last morsels of pink. It was time to make the famous Ham and Coke soup!

My thoughts were that the sweetness of the coke mixed with the salty ham would be a bit like the classic Brazilian stew Feijoada, which combines black beans with smoked beef, orange juice and other sausages and meats. Therefore, I spiced it accordingly; cumin, carrots, onion.... It certainly needed no salt! I used just one pound of beans, and when the soup was done, although truly delicious, I needed to add more beans to balance the flavors. The recipe I have given corrects for this.

Ham and Coke Black Bean Soup

For Soup:
Leftover Stock from Ham in Coke, strained
(4 quarts or more - if you don't have enough, add some water)
2 pounds dried organic black beans, soaked overnight and then drained
1 small piece of ham fat
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
4 large carrots, washed and chopped
2 tsp ground cumin

For Garnish:
Whole milk Greek yoghurt or sour cream
Fresh lime wedges
Fresh cilantro sprigs

After you have strained out any unwanted solids from your stock, combine the stock with the soaked, drained black beans in an eight quart stock pot. Add the ham bone, and bring to the boil over high heat; then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the ham fat over medium high heat in a large, cast iron skillet until it gives up enough fat in which to cook. Add the onions and reduce heat to medium. Cook onions, stirring frequently, until they are wilted. Add the carrots, and, stirring frequently, cook until they are just barely tender and beginning to turn color. Stir in the cumin and cook until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion/carrot mixture to the stock/bean mix. Deglaze the pan with a ladle-full of stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the rest of the cumin and any tasty bits that have formed in the frying pan, and add them to the stock pot, too.

As the beans become tender and the soup nears readiness, take out the ham bone and any big pieces of ham that have fallen off. When they are cool enough to handle, remove any meat from the bone and chop the meat into nice little chunks, 1/4-1/2" in diameter, to your taste. Add them and any other tasty bits back into the soup pot. Save the bones for a doggie friend.

Serve, garnished with a nice big dollop of Greek yoghurt, lots of fresh cilantro leaves, and wedges of lime.

Delicious with - of course - corn muffins! A nice ale or a Rhone-style red wine on the side.... You can choose the vegetable course!

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Phoenix Pastificio's Almond Macaroons

I clipped this recipe, developed by Berkeley's artisan pasta shop Phoenix Pastificio, from the San Francisco Chronicle's food section several years ago. Then it sat in my recipe file for quite a while; yes, they sounded delicious, and yes, as a good German daughter I LOVE anything with almond paste. BUT - a pastry bag? And they have to dry for 24 hours? No, thanks. However, after a while I overcame my resistance, and when I finally made the recipe, I found that it really wasn't that much work at all, and they are well worth the effort; these are exceptionally good. Disposable pastry bags are available for 50 cents or so at Spun Sugar on University Avenue in Berkeley, and I hear that a heavy, large ziploc bag really does work well. Counter space is the other serious issue in my house; three cookie sheets are optimum for this recipe, and we have no work space to spare. Not to worry! The cookie sheets turn out to stack easily with cooling rack spreaders in between, or on the racks inside your oven until you're ready to bake them.

p.s. They are kosher for Passover, and gluten-free, too!

Phoenix Pastificio's Almond Macaroons


3/4 cup egg whites (8-9 eggs)

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

1 1/2 pounds almond paste

1/8 cup (approximately) Meyer lemon juice

Powdered sugar (optional)

(Christine's Notes: High quality almond paste is available in bulk in the refrigerator at Berkeley Bowl, near the bulk section, or in containers from Country Cheese. This is an ideal recipe for using egg-whites left over from a recipe which calls for lots of egg yolks, such as ice cream or custard. When I made these recently I used just such a container I'd had in my freezer for about six months.)


Put egg whites and sugar in top of a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture is temperature of a very hot bath, about 15 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for 5 minutes, then at high speed 1-2 minutes. On low speed, add almond paste in tablespoon-size chunks until completely incorporated, 10-15 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste.

(Christine notes: I used the whisk attachment for beating the egg-white/sugar mix, then switched to the paddle attachment when adding the almond paste.)

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe 2 1/2-3-inch circles onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. If you don't have a pastry bag, put mixture into a heavy-duty Ziploc bag, seal and snip corner to make an approximate 1-inch opening to squeeze mixture through. Let dry at least 24 hours, uncovered, at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator.

(Christine notes: if you don't have a star attachment, don't sweat it. Just cut off enough from your bag to squeeze a nice, wide ribbon, and, starting from the center, pipe it around in a spiral/snail shape until you've reached the right size.)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325°. Use a spatula to remove macaroons from baking sheet and shower with powder sugar, if using. Return cookies to baking sheet. With your thumb and forefinger, gently squeeze perimeter of each macaroon to break the dry skin in a few places so cookie can expand while baking. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove to a rack and let cool.

(Christine notes: I haven't dared take the raw cookies off the sheet to sprinkle sugar on them - they seem mighty squishy underneath, and bound to fall apart if I tried this. I just skip this step. When I've seen these cookies for sale at the Phoenix Pastificio table at the Saturday Berkeley Farmers' Market - for $4 apiece - the sugar looks really pretty. But the cookies are very rich and very sweet - no need for more.

Per cookie: 175 calories, 4 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat (1 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Whole Hog: Easter Ham in Coca Cola

Easter certainly seemed like an excellent excuse for selecting a big ol' ham from our collection of pig parts. I picked out the biggest one I had - 13 pounds - and commenced to invite a lot of friends over for dinner. Then came decision-making time; how should I cook it? When you have a good ham from a good pig, you really can't go wrong simply baking it and serving it with the classic sauce my Daddy always made (mustard, mayonnaise, and brown sugar.) But my friend and fellow pig-shareholder Ondine had told me about how she had baked one of her hams in Coca Cola, resulting in rich and flavorful meat, and that the cooking liquids had then made a delicious black bean soup base - ooh, sign me up! She had been meaning to write it up for the blog, but time had gotten away from her; she referred me to the Nigella Lawson recipe she had used.

Crazy as it sounds to us northerners, cooking meat in "Co' Cola" is a classic southern technique, and I had recently made and enjoyed a phenomenal Mexican-style beef stew with (of course) Mexican coke, which is made with cane sugar. (American coke is made with corn syrup. Feh.) Also, at my last job I worked with a number of Filipina women who had waxed poetic about whole pig roasted in Seven Up, so my mind was open to the idea. So, after doing a little research, I decided to go for it. There are many different recipes out there, most of which call for glazing the ham, then baking and basting it with the Coke. British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson starts her version of the recipe by confessing that she first made it as a joke, expecting it to be disgusting, but now has a hard time making it any other way. Her version calls for braising the ham in Coke on the stove top for some hours, then glazing it and baking it. She does, however, say that she often skips the glazing and baking part, opting to just cook it in the Coke for longer.

After much deliberation, I braised the ham in Coke in my large enameled cast iron Dutch oven, then glazed and baked it. Nigella Lawson's recipe calls for glazing it with a tablespoon of "black treacle" - blackstrap molasses - topped with Demerara sugar and powdered English mustard. I used my own variation of Daddy's classic ham sauce; I mixed brown sugar with both dried and prepared mustard, smeared it all over the top, and baked it in a foil-lined roasting pan. It was quite delicious, a huge hit with the guests, and frankly, I wouldn't know it was cooked in Coke if I hadn't been told. Ham is already a sweet meat which is complemented by additional sweet glazes and sauces; the Coke is actually pretty mild compared to the classic application of pineapple rings in heavy syrup and super-sweet glazes.

As for that definition of eternity as "two people and a ham" - so far we have absolutely no data that corroborates this famous quote. Although I wondered if I might come to feel that way as I packed away the somewhat substantial leftovers on Sunday night, on this the following Saturday, we are now down to a (generously upholstered) ham-bone. On Monday night, I made a pasta dish with cream, shallots, white wine, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and ham. Johanna (our nine year-old) happily ate grilled ham and cheese sandwiches every night this week for dinner, while I ate it fried (Joel was at a conference in San Francisco all week, eating at restaurants with colleagues.) The fried surfaces of the ham caramelized beautifully and intensified the delicious flavors. And last night, as we polished off the last of the fried rice with ham (recipe soon to follow) I had made the night before, Johanna was heard to wistfully remark that she wished that "eternity was two people and a ham. Then we would never run out of it."

Today, as I write, the ham bone is nestled in among the black beans as they cook in the leftover braising liquids; it looks and smells divine. (Recipe also soon to follow.) Ah, ham; gone again so soon.

Ham in Coca Cola
A Southern Classic: Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Version

For the Ham:
1 Fully Cooked Ham (Please get one from a sustainably raised pig)
2 Liters of Coca Cola made with Cane Sugar (available at Latin specialty stores)
1 large onion, peeled and halved

For the Glaze:
1 heaping TB molasses
2 tsp dried mustard powder
2 TB Brown or raw sugar

2 TB Brown sugar
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried mustard powder

Put your ham, fat side down, with the cut pieces of onion, in a Dutch oven large enough to hold it and the cola. Add the cola to the pan, bring it to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to the simmer and cook it, partially covered. Allow 1/2 hour per pound of meat.

While it cooks, cover your roasting pan with foil to make sure that you can clean it later!

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees at the appropriate time, (close to when the ham is done braising) and when the meat is braised, turn off the burner. Stick your carving fork in to remove the ham from the liquid (be sure to save the liquid for the soup yet to come!) - and put the ham in your roasting pan, fat-side up. If you have excessive fat on the ham, carefully remove it from the ham using your carving or chef's knife; it will come off easily, as everything will be quite soft now.

If you are using the molasses-based glaze, smear the top with the molasses, then combine the sugar and mustard powder and pat the dry mixture onto the molasses until it sticks.

If you are using the prepared mustard glaze, combine all three ingredients and spread them on the top surface.

Pop the ham into the hot oven and bake until the glaze is bubbly and lovely, about 10 minutes.

An excellent accompaniment is, of course, corn muffins (see my earlier post) or biscuits.

Wine match: A Riesling or Gewurtztraminer, Prosecco or other fruity/sweet white wine blend is an excellent match. We enjoyed ours with an Alsatian white.

Bon Appetit!