Lemongrass Skewers

About two years ago, my husband planted two stalks of lemongrass in our front yard herb garden.  It’s grown to this:

I can’t believe all that from two stalks!  Apparently, this plant loves warm, humid weather. It’s very low maintenance – just a matter of weeding out the dead outer layers.  Every few weeks, I trim off the leafy tops.  Easy!  Even a brown thumb like me can keep these alive.

Because of these thriving plants, I’m always on the search for more lemongrass recipes.  This recipe is even easier than others that use lemongrass, because the stalk stays mostly intact.  Just trim off the nubby bottom, and cut off the leafy top.  The meat tastes great over rice, or as the filling for a banh mi sandwich.  I’m averse to including pictures of raw meat, so here’s one of the meat before being cooked.

adapted from a Luke Nguyen recipe

Lemongrass Skewers

Lemongrass Skewers

Ingredients

Meat
12 oz. ground pork, beef, or a mixture of both
1 green onion, thinly sliced
½ Tbs sugar
1 Tbs fish sauce
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Skewers
8-10 lemongrass stalks, trimmed

Instructions

  1. Place ground meat, green onion, sugar, fish sauce, and black pepper in a bowl. Mix until well combined. Cover and chill for an hour.
  2. Heat grill to high. Press meat around each stalk of lemongrass in an even layer all around. Each stalk can hold about 1½ oz of meat, unless the stalks are very thick. (You’ll be able to feel how much meat the lemongrass can handle.) Grill skewers until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.
http://kokocooks.com/2013/06/lemongrass-skewers/

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Thai Wonton Soup

Ah, I have finally emerged from my turkey coma.  I think I gained 5 pounds in the past week.  And now, all the holiday baking starts.  Heaven help me!  There are going to be so many enticing sweets hanging around the house.  Not only will I be busy with baking, but our busiest gigging season also starts up.  Now more than ever, I try to make quick and healthy dinners to get us through these busy times.

I’m a sucker for the Thai wonton soup at Pei Wei.  It’s a perfect example of a fusion dish – a traditional Chinese soup with a Thai inspired broth.  Any time I get takeout from the place, I always make sure to order this.  The wontons don’t take too long to make, and the wrappers are easy to work with.

original recipe

Thai Wonton Soup

Thai Wonton Soup

Note: I usually make a double batch of wontons and freeze half for a later use. To freeze, place freshly wrapped wontons on a lined baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once they are frozen solid, transfer them to a freezer-safe container and keep frozen until ready to use.

Ingredients

Wontons
½ lb ground pork or beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green onion, white and light green parts finely chopped
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 ½ Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
¼ tsp black pepper
15-20 wonton wrappers (I used square)
Broth
2 Tbs olive oil
½ c lemongrass, sliced into rounds (3 small stalks or one large stalk)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbs ginger, roughly chopped
8 c chicken stock
1 c baby spinach, tightly packed
Garnish
Lime wedges
Thai basil

Instructions

  1. To make the wontons: In a mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, garlic, green onion, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and black pepper. Fill a small bowl with water. Place a wonton wrapper on a clean surface. Place about 2 tsp of meat mixture towards one corner of the wonton. Dip your fingertip in the bowl of water and lightly wet the edges of the square. Fold wrapper diagonally over the meat and press edges together to seal. Place wontons on a plate in a single layer.
  2. To make the soup: Heat olive oil over medium-high in a large pot. Add lemongrass, garlic, and ginger; sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Using a mesh strainer, remove the solids from the stock. Gently drop the wontons into the stock and simmer another 10 minutes. Stir occasionally (and gently). Add the spinach and simmer another 5 minutes.
  3. Carefully spoon soup into bowls. Garnish with lime and Thai basil.
http://kokocooks.com/2012/11/thai-wonton-soup/

 

 

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Split Pea And Ham Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons

How did February slip by so quickly? One moment I was cooking and blogging, and the next I was bombarded with gigs. I got to play two concerts with tenor Andrea Bocelli. Ever since, I slunk into a culinary funk, and hardly cooked for 3 weeks. Happily, I’ve found motivation. Maybe it was the blustery wind and rain from this weekend. The weather put me in the mood for soup, and this version of pea soup totally hit the spot. It’s not super-thick like some recipes, but hearty enough to take the chill of a cold day.

 

adapted from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen, 2012

Split Pea And Ham Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons

Split Pea And Ham Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons

Ingredients

Soup
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 lb dried, green split peas
1 ham hock
12 oz. ham steak
7 c water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Pumpernickel Croutons
½ loaf of pumpernickel bread, cut into cubes
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Instructions

  1. For the soup: Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery and carrots, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add peas, ham hock, ham steak, water, thyme and bay leaf. Turn heat up to high and bring to a low boil. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 1 ½ hours. Remove ham steak from soup, and let sit for 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, dice the ham steak. Remove bay leaf and ham hock from soup and discard. Return ham to soup, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. For the croutons: Preheat oven to 400˚F. Place cubed bread in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat all pieces. Place bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and thyme. Bake until bread is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with soup.
http://kokocooks.com/2012/03/split-pea-and-ham-soup-with-pumpernickel-croutons/

 

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Dan Dan Noodles

Before this recipe, the only dan dan noodles that I had were from Pei Wei. They were good, but I had a teeny suspicion that they weren’t quite the same as the real thing. Then one day, Hubs made a version that claimed to be more authentic. I instantly loved them. We have them at least once a month. The key is the Sichuan (Szechuan) peppercorns. They have a very different flavor than black peppercorns – more herbal, spicy but with a mellower heat. We found them here. We now have a one-pound bag of peppercorns. Not to worry, they will get eaten up.

I adapted the original recipe two ways – the way Hubs makes it, and a version with less obscure ingredients. If you aren’t able to find black vinegar, dark soy sauce, or fresh Chinese noodles, the substitutions are in parenthesis. You can also make a vegetarian version using crumbled tofu in place of the ground pork. The cucumber and bean sprouts are an homage to the Pei Wei version, and a way for me to sneak some veggies into the dish.


adapted from Land of Plenty
by Fuschia Dunlop

Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles

Ingredients

Sauce
1½ Tbs soy sauce
½ Tbs dark soy sauce (or substitute another ½ Tbs regular soy sauce)
1 Tbs chili oil, or to taste (use less for less spice)
1½ tsp black vinegar (1 tsp rice vinegar and ½ tsp brown sugar)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
1 Tbs peanut oil
4 oz ground pork (vegetarian option: firm tofu, crumbled)
1 tsp rice wine (dry sherry)
2 tsp soy sauce
Noodles
12 oz fresh Chinese noodles, cooked (spaghetti)
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Handful of fresh bean sprouts

Instructions

  1. Mix together the 1½ Tbs soy sauce, dark soy sauce, chili oil, black vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorns. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 Tbs peanut oil in a wok over high heat. Add ground pork, rice wine, and 2 tsp of soy sauce. Stir-fry until pork is just cooked through, breaking up the meat as it cooks. Reduce heat to medium. Add the noodles, and stir to combine. Pour sauce over the noodles and toss. Top with sliced scallions, chopped cucumber, and bean sprouts.
http://kokocooks.com/2011/11/dan-dan-noodles/

 

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Swedish Meatballs

 

A little over a year ago, I posted a recipe for Swedish Meatballs. The picture looked like this:


Not so appetizing, although at the time I thought the picture looked good. I hope my photography skills keep improving.

I liked this dish the first time I blogged it, but thought the sauce was thin, and there wasn’t nearly enough of it. I searched for another recipe, and thought Alton Brown’s sounded good. So I combined elements of the CI recipe and the AB recipe. I loved how the meatballs and the sauce turned out.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated,  January/February 2009
And Alton Brown

Swedish Meatballs, revised

Swedish Meatballs, revised

Ingredients

2 slices fresh white bread
¼ c milk
2 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
¾ lb ground beef
¾ lb ground pork
1 egg
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp packed light brown sugar
Vegetable oil for frying
Gravy
¼ c all purpose flour
3 c beef broth
¼ c milk

Instructions

  1. Tear up bread into small pieces. Place in a bowl with ¼ c milk, and let sit.
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet with over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft. Remove from heat.
  3. Place bread/milk mixture, sauted onions, ground beef, and ground pork in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until well combined. Add egg, salt, pepper, nutmeg, allspice, and brown sugar and mix for another minute.
  4. Pour vegetable oil into a large dutch oven until it is 1-inch high. Heat to 300˚F. While oil is heating, shape meat into 1-inch balls. Fry in batches (can place meatballs close together in the oil), turning once, until browned on all sides, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer cooked meatballs to paper towels. Drain the oil from the dutch oven but leave as much of the browned bits as possible.
  5. Lower heat to medium-low, return dutch oven to stove, and add the flour. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Very gradually add the beef broth, whisking constantly to minimize lumps. Stir in the milk. Simmer until gravy reaches desired consistency, add meatballs, and simmer another 5 minutes.
http://kokocooks.com/2011/02/swedish-meatballs-revised/

 

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Banh Mi

I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago. Hubs and I usually go out for dinner on each other’s birthdays, but this year we decided to stay in. He asked me what I wanted for dinner, and I was craving banh mi sandwiches. All those episodes of “Food Truck Road Race” got me thinking about banh mi.

Hubs found this recipe on the epicurious site. I nixed the jalepenos, since I’m not a fan of them raw. When choosing bread, look for the skinny baguettes. We had them on both the wide, poofy baguettes, and much preferred the thin ones. Sometimes you can find pickled carrots and daikon already made at Asian markets. We intended on freezing half the meatballs to eat at a later date. However, we liked the sandwiches so much that we ended up eating them all within a few days.


Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit
January 2010

For the meatballs:
1 lb ground pork
¼ c finely chopped fresh basil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, white and light green part, chopped
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs sriracha
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

For the pickled vegetables:
1 c coarsely grated carrots
1 c coarsely grated peeled daikon
¼ c rice vinegar
¼ c sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

For the sandwiches:
1 Tbs sesame oil
Baguettes (2 or 3)
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Fresh mint sprigs

Line a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Mix all the meatball ingredients together. Using moistened hands, roll into meatballs, using a scant tablespoonful of meat for each one. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover and chill for at least an hour. (Can be made a day in advance.)

For the pickled veggies: Toss the carrots, daikon, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt into a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Preheat oven to 250˚F. Heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, browning on all sides and cooking through. Lower heat if they start to brown too quickly. Transfer cooked meatballs to a clean baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

Cut baguettes into sandwich-sized portions. Slice in half horizontally. Place meatballs, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and mint on the bottom half. Top with the other half and press together.

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Baby Back Ribs

Yet another pork recipe! This was one of the last times we used the grill during the official summer season. It is currently still reaching the nineties during the day, so we will most likely keep grilling well into November – one of the few perks to living in Florida.

Baby back ribs is a dish whose success has eluded us. We have tried a few times before. They either ended up chewy instead of tender, or lacking the caramelized barbecue coating and therefore not flavorful enough. This time, the ribs scored on both counts. The recipe utilized oven for slow-cooking, and then the grill for the finish. One day I would like to find a satisfying recipe that uses only the grill, but these ribs work well enough.


Baby Back Ribs
From Meat
By John Harrison with Frederick J. Simon

1 rack of baby back ribs (about 1.5 lbs)
1 small onion, sliced
1 bay leaf, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ½ c barbecue sauce of your choice (we used Stubbs)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place ribs in a large roasting pan and add enough water to come about ¼ inch up the sides. Add the onion and bay leaf to the water; season with salt and pepper. Tightly cover the pan with foil. Place the pan in the oven and braise for about 1 hour, or until the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone. Remove the ribs from the pan, drain on paper towels, and cut into smaller 3 or 4 rib mini-slabs. Discard the cooking liquid.

While the ribs are baking, prepare the grill. Brush the ribs with barbecue sauce and grill over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes on each side, until dark and crisp. Baste frequently with the barbecue sauce. Serve ribs with more barbecue sauce.

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