Quick Meals

Chocolate Oatmeal with Toasted Almonds & Greek Yogurt

Chocolate Oatmeal with Toasted Almonds & Greek Yogurt

 

I resently found myself reading an article in the Bangkok Post entitled “Yes, adults can have chocolate for breakfast” by my favorite NY Times food columnist Melissa Clark. Well, yes indeed…why not? I was in the kitchen early the following morning cooking up Melissa’s recipe which turned out exactly as described and, as always, was absolutely delicious.

In the article Melissa cuts right to the chase. “…there will always be something grey and Dickensian about a bowl of morning porridge. ” Who hasn’t had those very same thoughts while stirring and peering into the saucepan of simmering opaque pasty grey oatmeal. Unless that is you add chocolate.” There is  the game changer!

The idea of mixing grain with chocolate has been around since the Maya and Aztecs’ invented atole. Atole is a warm gruel made with corn based masa harina (corn meal/ flour) flavored with chocolate, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and canella (cinnamon). That said, a chocolate oatmeal is still  a bit of a revelation that turns oatmeal into a much more enticing prospect for breakfast along with some added health benefits a well. Unsweetened cocoa powder is naturally fat free and loaded with antioxidants. Just try to keep the sweetener of choice to a minimum.  Bitter sweet is better than too sweet!

Before continuing, a quick rundown on oats available for making oatmeal. There are steel cut oats, rolled oats, and instant oats. Steel cut means the whole oat groat is cut into smaller pieces. It resembles rice and will have a pronounced bite when cooked.For rolled oats, the whole oat groats are steamed and then rolled to flatten them. Rolled oats will cook faster while still retaining a bite. Quick, or instant, oats are precooked groats that are dried, and rolled. They cook faster, but most of the texture is lost in the process.The cooked quick oatmeal tends to be mushy.

Melisssa’s recipe calls for steel cut oats, but rolled oats are more readily available and work just fine with a slightly shortened cooking time.

To read Melissa Clark’s article and recipe (click here)

 

Brown Butter Chocolate Oatmeal (Recipe; Melissa Clark, NY Times)        makes 4 servings

 

Rolled oats sauted in butter

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups steel-cut oats
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 4 1/2 cups water, or 2 1/4 cups water and 2 1/4 cups milk
  • Raw sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste

Toppings:

Cream, milk or coconut milk

  • Butter
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Sliced bananas
  • Shredded coconut
  • Sliced dates
  • Sliced avocado

Preparation:

1  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until it turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty, 2 to 4 minutes. You’ll know it’s close when the bubbling quiets down as the moisture cooks off. Add oats and saute until they turn golden at the edges, 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape the sauted buttered oats into a bowl and reserve.

2  To the same pot (no need to rinse it out first) add 4 ½ cups water (or half water and half milk) and bring to a boil. Add the cocoa powder and whisk well to dissolve lumps. Whisk in buttered oats and salt.

3  Lower to a gentle simmer. Let cook stirring occasionally until the oatmeal begins to thicken, Then stir more frequently until done to taste, 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 5 minutes. Check the thickness, thin with boiling water if needed. Stir in sweetener to taste and serve with toppings of your choice.

 

Egg & Olive Sandwich with Pickled Watermelon Rind

Egg & Olive Sandwich with Pickled Watermelon Rind

 

Summer’s soaring heat has already arrived here in Thailand so it’s timely to think about cooling it down in the kitchen with some easy summertime chilled favorites.

You can call me old fashioned, but what came to mind where a couple of dog days of summer lunchtime favorites that my mother used to make up for us when we were kids. Egg and olive sandwiches, pickled watermelon rind, and a tall pitcher of lemon iced tea were all set out on the old Victorian oak kitchen table where lunchtime was always peppered with lots of chatter and wild laughter. Lunch was then topped off with strawberry ice cream cones for all! An hour later we were all running off to the creek for a swim. Those were the halcyon days of summers past!

With the glow of those summer days on my mind I couldn’t help thinking about how beautiful the forms and colors of the ingredients are as I gathered them together while recalling the recipe as I remember it to be. Cooking does have this wonderful narrative that captures your imagination as you work from garden to table. You may well have your very own favorite recipe for an egg and olive sandwich What ever the case, this is a sandwich that may have fallen through the cracks of time, but it is a splendid old time favorite that is well worth a deserved revival.

 

Egg & Olive Sandwich    makes 3 to 4

Chinese celery& broad leaf parsley

Chinese celery& broad leaf parsley

  • sliced white bread (or my preference panini), lightly toasted
  • 4 hard boiled organic eggs
  • 8 pimento stuffed olives, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1/3 cup finely diced young tender celery (or Chinese celery; not to be confused with coriander/cilantro)
  • 2 tablespoons finely sliced broad leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise + more for spreading
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • sea salt to taste
  • several twists of ground white pepper
  • iceberg lettuce

As mentioned my alternative for white bread is panini, which I like for its soft billowy texture and slight scent of olive oil. 

I have used Chinese celery as blanched young celery is not available in Thailand.

 

Place the eggs in a saucepan and add water to  cover the eggs. Bring to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes. This will insure that the yolks are soft.

Fill a bowl with water and add ice cubes. After simmering for 10 minutes, promptly transfer the eggs to the iced water bath.

When cool enough to handle, lightly bash the eggs and peel off the shells under cold running water and set aside.

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise, remove the yolks and gently chop them. Place them in a small bowl and set aside.

 

 

Slice the egg whites lengthwise and then slice into thirds crosswise and place in another bowl. Add the sliced olives, celery, and parsley and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon Mustard, and salt and pepper. Whisk together until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings to you liking.

Egg & Olive Salad

Egg & Olive Salad

Add the mayonnaise mixture to the bowl with the egg whites, olives, celery, and parsley and fold the mixture together until evenly coated.

Add the chopped egg yolks to the bowl and gently fold them in with out breaking them up if possible.
Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to make the sandwiches.

To assemble the sandwiches lightly toast the bread  or panini slices. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the slices. Place iceberg lettuce on half the slices and top with the egg & olive salad mixture. Top with the remaining bread slice and serve.

As suggested serve with pickled watermelon rind (see recipe here) or pickles of choice.
…and don’t forget the strawberry ice cream cones afterwords!

Braised Chinese Sausage with Rice Glass Noodles

Braised Chinese Sausage with Rice Glass Noodles

 

Gong xi fa cai (Mandarin)…Kung hei fat choi (Cantonese)….a happy and prosperous lunar new year from my kitchen to yours!

The recipe that follows is probably more a figment of my imagination or a recreation of a dish I vaguely recall from the distant past. I am of course not Chinese  and make no claims for the authenticity of this recipe other than than to say it is one of my favorite Chinese inspired cold weather quick meals using lap cheong (Cantonese)/ la chang (Mandarin)/ Gun chiang (Thai), a dry Chinese sausage with a sweet and spiced flavor as the main ingredient. The aroma and warming flavors of this dish are sure to sooth away any of winter’s biting chill.

La Chang; Chinese sausage

La Chang; Chinese sausage

 

Braised Chinese Sausage with Glass Noodles serves 4

Have on hand a lidded ceramic baking casserole.

Preheat to oven to 350f/180c

  • 3-4 dry Chinese sausages
  • 2 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced batons of young ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced bok choy (or green cabbage)
  • 2 ½ cups chicken broth (heated)
  • 6 oz/180g dry glass rice noodles (rice vermicelli)
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3  teaspoon Chinese five spice powder (wu xiang fen) (see note)
  • fresh ground toasted Sichuan pepper  (hua jiao) to taste

Prick the sausages all over with a wooden skewer and place them in a large skillet along with about a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove the sausages and set aside to cool. Discard the cooking water.

When the sausage is cool enough to handle thinly slice it on the diagonal and set aside.

Return the skillet to the stove set over medium heat. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the onions, garlic, and ginger and saute while continuously stirring, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the Shaoxing rice wine and saute until it is nearly evaporated.  Add the bok choy (or cabbage) and the sliced sausage and cook until the bok choy is wilted. Promptly add the hot broth and stir in the rice noodles. Then stir in the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, 5 spice powder, and Sichuan pepper to taste. Cook until the noodles are wilted, about 1 minute.

Transfer the mixture to the baking casserole and cover with the lid. Place in the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until most of the broth has been absorbed and the noodles are lightly browned around the edges.

Remove from the oven and serve in individual bowls!

Note: Five Spice Powder (wu xiang fen) is a seasoning mix of ground star anise, ground cassia bark (cinnamon), ground Sichuan pepper corns, ground fennel seeds, and ground ginger. There is no set recipe but equal parts of each ingredient works well. You can adjust the mix to suit your own tastes as well.

Miso Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

Aka-Miso (red miso) Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

 

Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have waned soups are very much on my mind. One of the most satisfying soups I can think of is Japanese miso soup. It is simple to prepare and the warming pleasures of miso soup for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are well worth so little effort.

As I started thinking about this post a favorite Japanese film came immediately to mind; Tampopo. It is a sweet and very very funny comedy about Tampopo’s quest to make the best noodle soups for her noodle shop in her village. It says everything about achieving perfection in all things Japanese, including in the kitchen, and well worth a watch for some very lively and entertaining inspiration.

Ichiban Dashi, a clear light amber colored broth, is the foundation for many Japanese dishes like soups (including miso soups), simmered dishes, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Its essence is in its simplicity, using only three ingredients. Water, kombu seaweed (kelp), and Katsuo bushi (shaved dried bonita flakes). The resulting clear light broth has a subdued mellow smoky flavor with an underlying sweetness and a hint of the salty sea that belies its rich nutritional content.

Kombu is cultivated in the icy mineral rich waters of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most prefecture. After harvesting the kombu is air and sun dried into a hard leathery textured bark like strips. Kombu contains numerous nutrients including natural glutamic acid which contributes an umami (pleasant savory) taste to the dashi broth. More about umami taste in my next post.

Katsuo/bonito is a type of Japanese tuna. The fish is boiled, the bones removed, and the flesh smeared with a fermented fish paste. The fish is then set aside to marinate and then sun dried. Once completely dry the fish is smoked until it is very dry and hard. The bonita is then thinly shaved into flakes called katsuo bushi that look very much like planed wood shavings.

Dashi preparation involves slowly simmering strips of dried kombu in water to extract the flavor and nutrients from the kombu into the broth. Just before the water comes to a boil the kombu is promptly removed from the pot to avoid any bitterness to the finished broth. Katsuo bushi/shaved dried bonito flakes are then added to the pot. Once the water returns to a boil the pan is promptly removed from the heat and set aside until the shaved bonita flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. The broth is then strained and set aside. This preparation’s success is all about timing!

This may appear to be a little complicated, but really the whole process takes no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are packaged instant dashi powder sachets available, but the results using the traditional method of making dashi is far superior and more nutritious in every way.

To make Miso-shiru soup, miso is stirred into a small quantity of dashi until dissolved and then whisked into the hot dashi broth and poured into a soup bowl that may include some cubed tofu, a few sprigs of chives, and a dash of sancho pepper. That’s all there is to it!

The ingredients, as unfamiliar as they may sound, should be readily available at larger supermarkets, Asian markets, health food stores, or online as a last resort.

 

Ichibon Dashi

Ichibon Dashi

 

Ichiban Dashi (first dashi) makes 2 quarts

kombu

Kombu

  • 1.9 liters/2 quarts cold spring water
  • 1 oz/25g dried kombu strips
  • 1 oz/25g dried bonito flakes

Fill a medium size soup pot with cold spring water.

You will notice some white powder on the kombu which contains nutrients and will add flavor to the broth, so do not rinse it before placing the kombu into the pot of water.

Put the kombu into the pot of water and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring the water to a slow simmer without boiling for about 10 minutes. The kombu will soften, unfurl, and turn a deep green as the water nears the boiling point. As mentioned it is important that the kombu is removed from the pot before the water comes to a boil to avoid any bitterness in the broth. Using tongs remove the kombu and set aside to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) with a more assertive flavored broth later.

Katsuobushi; Dried Bonito Flakes

Katsuobushi; Dried Bonito Flakes

Bring the broth back to a full boil and then add a little cold water to bring the temperature down a bit and add the bonito flakes without stirring. As soon as the water returns to a boil promptly remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Once the bonito flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, skim off any foam from the surface of the broth and discard.

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the both into a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Reserve the bonita flakes to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) later.

The dashi can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for later use.

Niban Dashi (second dashi): Reusing the kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi will produce a deeper flavored dashi that is useful for simmered dishes, sauces, and dressings.

Follow the same procedure, adding the reserved kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi, in a fresh pot of water. Bring to a near boil, remove the kombu, and then lower the heat and simmer until the broth is reduced by a third. Then add ½ oz/14g fresh dried bonita flakes and promptly remove from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, remove foam, strain, and refrigerate or freeze. 

Miso 

Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste. All have a high protein content and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Shiro miso; aka white miso is pale light color with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.
Shinshu miso; yellow miso is a yellowish brown color with a bolder flavor and more salty.
Aka miso; aka red miso is dark red brown with an assertive flavor and the most salty miso.

 

Miso-shiru (miso soup) basic: serves 4

  • 4 cups Ichiban Dashi (first dashi)
  • 3-4 tblespoons Miso of choice
  • ½ block firm tofu cut into small cubes
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions 
  • Optional: shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, assorted Japanese herb stalks, sansho pepper as a seasoning.

Heat the dashi to a near boil.

Place the miso in a small bowl and ladle some of the hot dashi into the bowl and whisk the miso into the broth until completely dissolved. Then slowly pour the miso mixture into the hot dashi and stir until well combined.

If you are using mushrooms or seaweed stir them into the soup as well.

Heat the soup for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until piping hot without boiling.

Serving:

Place the cubed tofu and scallions into individual serving bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.

Garnish with Japanese herbs if using and serve.  Sancho pepper, with a light lingering peppery citrus after taste, is a nice additional seasoning at the table. 

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