Thursday, January 26, 2012

Preaching to the Choir (and a recipe for Potato Leek Soup)

Yes, you are in for a spate of slow-cooker recipes.  What can I say?  I'm in love. 

After trying a lot of stews and braised meat dishes (all to stupendous results) I decided to go even simpler.   I wanted to try the "dump everything in and walk away" method of slow-cooker cooking.   You know, the reason we all have them: laziness.  Er, I mean, convenience.  Then it dawned on me - SOUP!

I love soup all year round but there is something so perfect about a bowl of warm, fragrant soup on a cold winter's day.  I figured pretty much any recipe that ends up pureed would benefit from a long and slow rest in the slow cooker and started my soup foray with a classic - Julia Child's recipe for Potato Leek Soup.   

Until last year I hadn't eaten this in forever.  As a family we rediscovered it while on a cruise.  I ordered it at dinner one night thinking I'd eat just a bit and then move onto my entree.  One mouthful into the bowl, my daughter snuck her spoon in for a taste.  Her eyes lit up and she took another.  And another.  And another.  She soon polished off the entire portion and requested more. (Fortunately you can do that on a cruise).   I knew I had to add it to my repertoire.

Julia's recipe calls for cream and serving with a generous dollop of creme fraiche.  Now all of these additions are delicious.  But I am a woman of a certain age (ahem) with a cholesterol count of a certain level (ahem).  Time and genetics are not on my side.  I didn't want to sacrifice any of the luscious creaminess imparted by all of those high-fat ingredients, but I'd also like to stick around for a while.    

Taking inspiration from the method of adding bread to thicken soups (like gazpacho) I added some hearty sourdough to the soup once it finished cooking and pureed it together with the rest of the ingredients.  The bread adds a subtle creaminess and acts as a thickener without adding any additional fat.  A touch of butter adds richness and brings out the sweetness of the leeks.  Best of all, until you have to puree the whole mess you can just leave it to cook all day.  If you prefer you can make this on the stove top and I have included those instructions as well.

I have since made several other soups all to great success and am considering a soup swap (a la traditional cookie swaps).  If you're interested in participating, let me know.  In the meantime, make this soup and eat it on a chilly night with some salad and raise a glass of dry white wine in a toast to Julia.

Creamy Yet Creamless Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from Julia Child
Yield:  approximately 8 cups

  • 3 cups leeks, whites and light green parts, sliced
  • 2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced (Russet work well but I have also used large new potatoes)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water - if you're feeling really ambitious simmer the dark green parts of the leeks in the water of the stock for a while to make a leek stock)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 TBS butter (optional)
  • 2 slices of bread (preferably sourdough or something hearty), crusts removed and roughly chopped 
  • Parsley or other green herb of your choice for garnish (optional)

  1. Place leeks, potatoes and garlic in the container of a slow cooker.  Pour the liquid over.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook on low 8 hours or high for 4.
  2. If desired stir in 3 TBS butter and allow to melt.
  3. Add bread into soup mixture and stir to combine.  
  4. Puree the soup in batches or using an immersion blender.  You will get a much silkier textured soup if you use a blender.  If the soup is hot take care to only fill the blender 2/3 of the way and don't cover it tightly.  Instead, place the cover on leaving a small gap and place a thick dishtowel over the top while blending.
  5. Reheat if necessary.  Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.  Traditional accompaniments include fresh herbs and creme fraiche.
  6. Alternatively, place the leeks, potatoes, garlic, broth and seasoning in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 60-75 minutes until potatoes are tender to the point of falling apart.  Continue from Step 2. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Have Seen the Light and It's On My Slowcooker (plus a recipe for Short Ribs)

I'll admit it.  I was not quick to jump on the slow cooker bandwagon.

"Why do I need a slow cooker when I can braise on my stove top or in my oven?"  "What can I make in a slow cooker that I can't make in a pot?"  And, to be truthful, those questions are still pretty valid.  But, after spending some time using one, I have come to the conclusion a slow cooker definitely has its advantages.

I can make dinner.  While I am sleeping.  I can make breakfast.  While I am sleeping.  It. Will.  Cook.  For.  Me.  While I am sleeping.  I like sleeping.  I don't sleep enough.

In all seriousness a slow cooker is a great kitchen tool if you have the room for one.  It takes up a lot of valuable counter real estate and in a NYC kitchen it has a lot of competition.  Plus storing it when it's not in use also requires a serious space commitment.  However, once you've tasted creamy oatmeal, on a 15 degree morning, that cooked while you were SLEEPING, you will no longer be a commitment-phobe.  For that recipe visit Food52.  I'm here to talk about short ribs.  If the oatmeal doesn't convince you, these will.

Short ribs are one of my favorite winter-time meals.  To me there is nothing more comforting and homey than a plate of warm,  flavorful meat and sauce that has cooked all day.  Ordinarily  making them is a huge undertaking.  Not with a slow cooker!  You do some advance preparation, plug it in and walk away (or go to sleep).  In my research on slow cooker methodology it would appear that there are recipes that allow you to toss some ingredients in, turn it on and walk away (soups, the aforementioned oatmeal).  My (admittedly limited) experience bears out that most recipes involving meat benefit from a little more work.  Taking the time to brown the short ribs and develop a seasoned, thick braising liquid is worth it.  Really worth it.  When you wake in or walk into a home that smells like this recipe and you see that little red light on the "warm" setting, you won't regret it. 

I've seen the light.  Go towards the light.  You will be rewarded.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs with Red Wine Sauce
Yields 4 servings

  • 4 lbs bone-in short ribs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 TBS canola oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 large celery stalk, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 generous TBS tomato paste
  • 2 TBS flour
  • 2 cups red wine (nothing too fruity)
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock

  1. Pat the short ribs dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large heat the oil and pan brown the short ribs on all sides (in batches if necessary) and remove them from the pan.
  3. Degrease the pan if there is too much fat left from cooking the ribs (leave a little behind for cooking the vegetables).
  4. Add in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until the vegetables soften slightly (about 5 minutes).
  5. Stir in the tomato paste to distribute evenly and allow it and the vegetables to brown slightly (an additional 5 minutes).
  6. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat evenly.
  7. Carefully pour in the wine and stir to combine.  Make sure to scrape up any brown bits that have formed in the pan (known as fond) - they add a ton of flavor to the dish.  Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid thickens and reduces slightly; 3-5 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  At this point you can combine the ribs and this mixture and refrigerate if you want to prep this the night before.  In the morning, continue with step 8.
  8. Pour into the container of your slow cooker and place the browned short ribs on top.  Place the herbs on top and pour the stock over.
  9. Cook for 4-6 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.  
  10. Check periodically to make sure the liquid hasn't reduced too much.  
  11. Once cooked, remove the ribs from the container and set aside.  Allow the liquid to cool  and skim off any fat you can see.  (It's best if you can make these a day ahead and chill the sauce in the refrigerator,  It makes removing the fat from the sauce much easier.) Reheat the sauce.  If it needs more time to thicken you can pour into a pan and simmer until it reduces.  Add the ribs back in to reheat over low heat.  
I like to serve over egg noodles or polenta  (you want something that will hold all of the luscious sauce).  It looks pretty garnished with a little chopped parsley (for color) and pairs nicely with a leafy green salad and a glass of dry red wine.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Another New Year (and a Recipe for Long Life Noodles)

We're barely into 2012 and I have to start thinking about another New Year.  Lunar New Year is just around the corner and I am not remotely prepared.  Well..., now that I think about it, I am totally prepared.

Sweep out the old luck of the last year by cleaning your home?  My apartment looks like a bomb hit it.  Start the year fresh with a new hair cut?  I'm pretty sure the last time my hair was cut I was wearing shorts.   Eat traditional foods in celebration?  This post from last year will surely help, as will the recipe that follows.

This year is the Year of the Dragon.  In Chinese Astrology this year holds great significance.  The Dragon is the only animal in the Chinese Zodiac that isn't real.  It is believed to have mystical powers and represents power and wisdom.  People born under the sign of the Dragon are said to stand out from the crowd and great things are expected of them.  Boy, am I  happy I was born under the sign of the Pig.  No one expects much from a Pig.

As the years pass and I celebrate more Asian holidays with my husband's family I develop a greater appreciation for the deep-rooted traditions embedded in the celebrating.  Having been raised by a very superstitious mother I am all for traditions that are meant to increase my chances for good luck, a long life and prosperity.   Long Life Noodles are eaten at Lunar New Year to ensure your longevity.  The longer the noodles the better.  And, you should NEVER cut them lest you cut your life short. Slurping them is actually encouraged. Long life and an excuse for bad manners?  Bring it on.

I should caveat that this recipe will require a trip to an Asian Market or your nearest Chinatown.  I generally prefer shopping at the smaller more mom and pop markets but there are two larger "supermarkets" in Manhattan's Chinatown that will have everything you need to make this recipe: Hong Kong Supermarket and Kam Man.

If anyone is interested I am planning a trip in the next few weeks and always welcome company.  Hit me with an e-mail (mmarksshih at yahoo dot com) or send me a message on Facebook or Twitter.

In the meantime, Gong Hay Fat Choy.  May you prosper in the year of the Dragon.

My thanks to the always funny, witty and lovely Amy Kover for asking me if I had a recipe for Long Life Noodles and inspiring this post.  Check out her well-written blog and follow her musings on Twitter.

Long Life Noodles (aka Tossed Noodles aka Lo Mein)
Adapted from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller
Yields - at least 8 servings as a side dish 

The thing about lo mein is that everyone has his or her own favorite version.  Mine is made with roast pork, shrimp, Chinese cabbage, bean sprouts, and something green and leafy (usually spinach); so that is the recipe I am including here.  But lo mein is a very forgiving "recipe" and you can use any ingredients you like.  When I prepare this each year for Lunar New Year at my daughter's school I make a simple version using only julienned carrots and bean sprouts along with the noodles.  It's really the method that is important.

In simple terms the method is as such:  stir fry your ingredients (aromatics, vegetables, meats until mostly cooked through); add in 1/4 c stock or water and heat; place parboiled noodles over the stir-fried mixture; add in more stock.  Cover the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes to heat through over medium heat.  Sprinkle noodles with sugar and soy sauce.  Stir to combine and serve.

  • 1 lb long egg noodles (you can buy these in most Asian Markets and many larger markets with a good ethnic food section.  They can be dry or fresh.  I often buy the pre-cooked packaged noodles to save a step in the cooking process.
  • 2 TBS oil (peanut, canola, grapeseed - you want something with a high smoking point - not olive)
  • 1" piece of ginger, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 2 scallion stalks, thinly sliced (whites and greens)
  • 1 cup roast park, sliced (we love to get our roast pork from Big Wong (Yes, laugh at the name like a 12-year old boy) located at 67 Mott Street, New York, NY (low on ambiance but high on the quality of the roast meats and congee)
  • 1/2 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined (depending on the size you might want to dice the shrimp)
  • 1 TBS sherry or Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts, blanched and cooled
  • 1 cup Chinese cabbage (shredded), blanched and cooled
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (or water) divided into two even parts
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 TBS soy sauce
  1. If cooking the noodles you will need 8 cups of water and salt.  Bring the water to a rolling boil.  Add in salt and the noodles.  Stir the noodles from time to time and cook until barely done (you want some bite as they will be cooked again).  Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Coat with bit of oil to keep them from sticking and set aside. 
  2. In a wok or other large cooking vessel (preferably a wok, really), heat the oil.  Once it is shimmering, add in the ginger, garlic and scallions and stir fry to brown slightly.
  3. Add in the pork and move around the pan a few times (keep in mind it is already cooked).  Stir in the sherry.
  4. Add in the vegetables and stir fry for about 1-2 minutes, just to incorporate them and distribute evenly. 
  5. Add in the shrimp and cook an additional minute.
  6. Season with salt.
  7. Have the stock warm and add in 1/4 c.  Cook 2 minutes, covered, over medium heat.
  8. Add in the noodles,  the remaining stock and cover.  Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat, add in the sugar and soy sauce.  Test for seasoning.  Adjust, if necessary, and serve immediately.