Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caviar Not the Kind You're Thinking, Part Two

The previous post contained the recipe for Samurai Caviar. This one will include the original recipe for Cowboy Caviar, the inspiration for the Asian version.

Friends from Texas knew what this was when I made it for office parties. It may be found in other parts of the South. If there's anyone reading this who knows, please tell me?

A local friend gave us the original recipe, to which he adds lots more hot sauce. (Hot sauce and items with lots of salt encourage drinking!) The only fellows who avoided eating this were Dennis, who doesn't eat vegetables (but these are beans!) and Nate, who doesn't eat cilantro. Here's the recipe:

Cowboy Caviar

  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, drained
  • 10 ounces corn – frozen or canned – drained
  • 3/8 to ½ cup Newman’s Balsamic vinaigrette (lowfat is just as good)
  • ½ cup cilantro (leave this out if you don’t like the taste)
  • optional: 2 cloves garlic, cut into large slivers or finely minced
  • 1 small firm avocado, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 firm tomato, diced
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients and serve with Tostitos scoops.

Optional but good: peeled, seeded and diced cucumber – a good substitute for the avocado – or green and/or red bell pepper. A splash of vinegar. ½ teaspoon of cumin for a zestier taste.

Note: I can no longer find canned black-eyed peas in ANY of the markets I go to (and I refuse to go to Safeway). So, I’m forced to buy a bag of BE peas and COOK them. You can use black beans instead – different but still good. And BE peas are NOT peas, rather beans.

Further note: I like this better than Samurai Caviar because I love the nutty taste of black-eyed peas. And I love cilantro (Chinese parsley). I know that cilantro is both loved and hated. It can taste like soap, and always does to a certain segment of people. They may be supertasters, with an aversion to the bitterness of coffee and the heat of chili peppers. (So glad I'm not a supertaster!)

Caviar Not the Kind You're Thinking, Part One

If you're like us, you have holiday events to attend, and are scratching your head over what to take as your contribution. In Hawaii, the buffet table at potluck events groans with food: everything from homemade to takeout, from home-baked creations to trays of bought noodles and garlic chicken.

If I took some of each thing on the table(s), I'd need more than one plate, and afterward, I'd lapse into a serious food coma! So, I'm pretty selective about what I put on that plate, and I'm always on the lookout for something green (as in vegetables) to eat.

At the library potluck, my plate held small pieces of teriyaki beef, makisushi, finger jello, and a pile of wonderfully bright green spinach salad with grape tomatoes and tofu cubes tossed with a slightly spicy shoyu/sesame dressing. What I brought to the table was the following dip, which is pretty healthy, and several groups of ladies later asked me for the recipe (which is mainly an assemblage of ingredients - I'm better at assembling than cooking!):

Samurai Caviar

  • 2 bags shelled edamame (soybeans), cooked in salted water until tender. Drain and rinse to cool
  • 1/2 ounce hijiki seaweed, soaked in 2 to 3 cups water until reconstituted. Drain.
  • 8 ounces whole water chestnuts, drained and cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • 3/8 to ½ cup Angelo Pietro salad dressing - shoyu or miso types
  • optional: 2 cloves garlic, cut into large slivers or finely minced
  • 10 ounces corn – frozen or canned – drained
  • ¼ cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Dash of rice vinegar  
Combine all ingredients and serve with Tostitos scoops or shrimp chips. 

You can substitute water chestnuts with jicama, diced small. Add a can of Japanese seasoned baby clams, aburage (fried tofu skins) sliced fine, diced red bell pepper or agedofu (diced small). Try shichimi tongarashi, chipotle or Sriracha hot sauce instead of the usual

I know a lot of these ingredients may be unfamiliar to you. I'll be happy to answer any questions you have in the comments, and you can find most of them in the Asian food section of a large supermarket, or an Asian food store.

This is my original recipe, but if you are familiar with Cowboy Caviar, you will see the inspiration for this, for which I'll give my recipe in the next post. We were eating the last of this tonight, and the DH asked if I'd already written about it. "Because the rest of the world should know about it!" This is why I married him! Well, one of the reasons.

Do people really want to eat in a more healthy manner? I can see that the women in my age group do, whereas the younger folks and men in general head straight for the fried chicken and noodles. Well, if there were no other choices, I guess I would, too. There is usually a fruit salad or tray of crudites (cut vegetables) with ranch dip, but those were missing this time. 

There was SO much food, I can't remember it all, but here's a partial list: pumpkin and apple pies, spice cake with a glaze, coffee cake, bought trio of pound cakes, 2 or 3 kinds of cookies - home-baked and not, finger jello in 2 colors, 2 kinds of bread pudding. ~takes a breath~ Fried rice, fried noodles, sushi, garlic chicken, teriyaki beef, chili (and rice), other entrees I've forgotten. In addition to the spinach salad, and my edamame (soybean) dip, there were lovely, jewel-like slices of steamed Okinawan purple sweet potato. Mulled cider (non-alcoholic, but delicious!) and lots of coffee to save us from the inevitable drowsiness of food coma were the beverages. 

I got excited when I saw the pot that held the cider, because I thought it might be soup. The library is a bone-chilling 70 degrees, and it's drafty. A small bowl of lentil, Portuguese bean soup or chowder would have been great!.In the library, my accessories often include fingerless gloves, a wrap or scarf, and sometimes even a beret! Human beings are more comfortable when the thermostat is set at 74 to 75 degrees! 

Back on topic! People in Hawaii do not even think of chips and dip as a buffet contribution, so the above description is not unusual. This event was held in the morning, and by lunchtime, only the beverages, chili, rice and baked items remained in any quantity! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December Reading: on Food

Fed up with Lunch by Sarah Wu. In which a public school speech pathologist undertakes the unenviable task of eating a year's worth of school lunches.

Did you eat school lunch? Both the DH and I went to public schools, and had working parents who were too busy or modest to pack home lunches for us. DH told me the summer lunch he packed when he worked as a yard boy consisted of rice and a can of Vienna sausage!

If my mom had packed my lunch, it would probably have been PBJ, lunch meat and processed "American" cheese or - worst! - "deviled meat" on white or "brown" Loves bread. Anything "meat" in the previous sentence was probably beef and pork "parts" - anything from the tail to the snout, and in-between. And not in a good way, as "snout to tail" means today.

When I think back on school lunch in Hawaii, I remember fondly Spanish rice and sloppy joes. I still crave those comfort foods, but rarely make them. I've forgotten the worst of them, but the desserts were fabulous - big almond cookies with a red (probably #40!) dot, squares of shortbread and cream puffs.

I probably only had TWO cream puffs in my whole elementary school career. They were praiseworthy AND unforgettable!

Back to the book: much of the food Sarah Wu ate was preprocessed. A lot of it included chicken "nuggets" and meat patties. Of our own small family - two out of the three of us have always been suspicious of the chicken "parts" - beaks and feet?! - they may consist of. The book suggests only 50% may be chicken something, the rest "filler" - whether wheat, soy or corn.

And the beef may have hormones and antibiotics. When you feed cattle - ruminants designed to graze on grasses but are instead given a diet of cheap and plentiful corn to fill them up, they get sick and are given antibiotics. The author references food source guru Michael Pollan for this.

The author offers ways to increase the nutritional value of lunches, and to introduce fresh ingredients. School lunches have few fresh vegetables - they spoil too easily. But now, even the DH's cafeteria has a salad bar.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Comfort Food, Part Two

I've got a chest cold I've been fighting for a week, so what makes me feel better is SOUP. Yesterday, I picked up some ramen, drank ALL the soup and only a few of the noodles. My ramen of choice is the wafu from Yamagen, a tiny hole in the wall on King St. across from Stadium Park. Yes, across from where all the homeless are camped on the sidewalk.

The other things we eat are the yakitori don and tonkatsu. Actually I am the one who eats those. The DH ALWAYS eats the nabeyaki udon and maybe a side order of tonkatsu or yakitori or tempura.

I could make miso soup tonight - comforting but boring. I'm thinking of cooking those garnet yams and making this soup. It's warming and soulfully spicy.

But I also have baby potatoes and beets that are talking to me. What to do?

In the meantime, the jook/congee that I made has other iterations. We were given okai as children - a simple rice gruel made by cooking rice with lots of water. This was simply served with umeboshi - a pickled plum. Perfect for digestive systems ravaged by flu or other stomach upsets.

Other similar Japanese rice gruel dishes are okayu - which may be the same as okai, or may have broth and be served with green onions. Zosui is another type of rice gruel, usually made with leftover ramen or udon broth. Chagayu - a version where rice is cooked with tea - may be either firm or softer and soupy. I have forgotten what it's called here in Hawaii by those who grew up eating this.

What do YOU eat when you're under the weather?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comfort Food, Part One

Am I alone in thinking that the best part of a holiday meal is the leftovers? And I'm not talking about reheated stuffing, turkey and gravy, or even a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce.

No, what I mean is full-on repurposed meals that are almost unrecognizable from the original items.

I cannot believe that a friend has only been to making stock from her turkey carcass in the last couple of years. To me, that is the best part of the bird. I can tell how big my turkey was by the size of stock pot I need. This year's bird was over 14 lbs. Some years, it has been smaller. Once or twice, it was big enough that I had to haul out the large stock pot.

Since I'm merely a home cook, I simply put the bones - stripped of meat, skin and visible fat - into a stock pot and cover with water. That's it! In years past, I would add celery, onions, garlic and carrots, but I do so many things with the stock that those may affect - no, INFLUENCE the flavor. Real cooks would strain the stock of all those vegetables, and any meat along with the bones. Since I'm not a real cook, I do not boil the heck out of those bones, but just simmer them for 2 to 3 hours. Then I let it cool just enough that I can fish out the bones and pour the stock into containers to refrigerate.

I wait at least 24 hours for the fat to rise to the top, lift it off and discard it. Then I freeze that rich, wonderful stock that's full of collagen. The first thing I cook is this:

Turkey Jook aka Congee

3 cups turkey stock
3 cups cooked rice
2-3 cups water

Combine the ingredients above in a saucepan and set it to high. When it starts bubbling, turn heat to medium. Stir often. Add one thumb of sliced ginger if desired. (I removed the ginger after 15 minutes, as it had a strong taste.) Stir in 1/2 to 1 tsp. Hawaiian or kosher salt. The jook is the right consistency when it slides off the spoon. If it stays on the spoon, it's too thick! Add more water to thin, or cook a bit longer to thicken.

Condiments are an integral part of the jook. For turkey jook, take 1 cup of leftover turkey meat (in bite size pieces, shreds are better than chunks) and add 2-3 Tbsp shoyu, 1-2 Tbsp mirin, 1+ tsp sesame oil and stir all. Prepare all the cilantro sprigs, soft leaf lettuce and finely chopped green onion you want. You will also need one chung choy turnip, soaked in warm water until soft. Drain and mince finely. The salt and crunch of the turnip juxtaposed with the soft creaminess of the rice soup is marvelous!

When we eat turkey jook, we don't add extra sesame oil or shoyu - all that flavoring has already been combined with the turkey meat. We fill a bowl with rice soup, add our individual amounts of seasoned turkey meat, cilantro, turnip, green onion and lettuce. The hot soup, contrasted with the cold vegetables is heaven!

On a cool Honolulu evening, it may be all of 70 degrees, but with the wind chill, it can feel like 60. Turkey jook is warming and reassuring. While many things in life change and others are lost, the simplicity and richness of turkey jook lives on and nourishes us.

In future posts, I'll tell you what else you can do with the rest of the turkey stock.

BTW, my friend says soup is only as good as the homemade stock andxxxxxxxxxxxxx