Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Notes from Koreana in Cambridge, MA

For those of you who have read my blog before, you've probably figured out that I tend to gravitate toward Asian food. Let's take yesterday for example. I had to get my teeth cleaned at the dentist's office at noon. It was not the most pleasant of experiences. But I decided that one way to reward myself for enduring the dentist was to take myself to Koreana (, located in Cambridge, MA.

I have visited just about all the Korean restaurants in the Boston area -- from the stalls at the food court at the former Super 99 in Brighton, to Shilla, also located in Cambridge. I have to say that I think Koreana beats all of them.

Like most restaurants, Koreana has a lunch menu. I chose one of my favorite dishes, which is a spicy stew called yuk gae jang. A large clay bowl arrives of beef, egg, vegetables and thin cellophane noodles served in a chili-based broth. It was absolutely delicious. (If I could have licked the bowl, I would have; but I was trying to behave in a respectable manner.) For me, the highlight of the stew is the long think fungus, the name of which escapes me right now. The server told me that Korean monks are the ones who gather it from the mountains. I meant to ask how the fungus arrived at the restaurant, but I was too busy slurping, and smacking my lips. Plain, boiled rice was served on the side.

The main course was not outdone by the side dishes (known together as banchan). I asked the manager about the kimchi and she told me that there is an older Korean woman who makes it for the restaurant. I'm a kimchi lover and there are real differences between and among kimchi. How it tastes often depends on the personal tastes of its preparer. Some are heavy on the chili and a bit lighter on the vinegar.

At Koreana, the kimchi is very vinegary with just the right amount of salt garlic, and chili. The spiciness is definitely there, but it doesn't overwhelm the taste of the cabbage. The other side dishes included pressed fish, seaweed with red onion, bean sprouts and a spicy mixture of zucchini with carrots. The vegetables were super crisp. I could have made a meal from those side dishes. Each one stimulates the taste buds in different, yet rewarding ways. Crunchy, spicy, soft, and pungent all come together beautifully.

To clean the palate, Koreana serves a cinnamon tea with a touch of lemon. It was refreshing and elegant, as it was served in a small bowl.

If it weren't for the fact that I didn't want to look like an absolute glutton, I would have ordered another bowl with more banchan! Yes, it was that good.

I've had other dishes there that are equally as good. Mandoo Kook, the bento boxes, and the chigae are all winners.

So if you're ever in Cambridge, definitely check out Koreana.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Back to SE Asia -- Chicken Laksa

I have written before about my love affair with Malaysian cuisine. One of the many dishes of which I became enamored is laksa. Laksa is a spicy noodle soup that originated in the Pernakan culture. It's fusion food -- a combination of native Malay and Chinese influences.

The heart of laksa is the same as the heart of Malaysian sambals: the spice paste. I warn you now that making the spice paste is time consuming, unless you have someone doing the prep work for you. I didn't. It was very tiring and time consuming. The recipe claimed a short preparation time -- 30 minutes. That was a flat-out lie! It took me longer. Maybe I'm a slow cook.

Spice pastes for laksas and sambals usually include some combination of shallots or onions, garlic, fresh ginger, lemongrass, chilies, belachan (dried shrimp paste), coriander, cumin, tumeric and other spices (and the spices should be whole, then put over heat to release their fragrance, then ground). Once you blend this concoction, it gets sauteed in oil in a large pot or a wok. Doing so releases the flavors, which become more complex as they heat together.

The laksa that I made a few days ago uses coconut milk. The recipe can be lightened by using low-fat coconut milk. Because of the rich spices and seasonings, you don't lose much in the flavor department by lightening up the coconut milk. You can also vary the heat in the laksa by adding more or fewer chilies. I strongly recommend against not using any chilies. Bending to the pressure of my son, I made this laksa once without any chilies and it was an unmitigated disaster. This dish requires some amount of heat. I tend to love spicy food, so I'm fairly liberal in my use of chilies.


Chicken Laksa

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 onion, roughly chopped
1tablespoon roughly chopped ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 stems lemon grass (white part only) sliced
6 candlenuts or macadamia nuts (see Notes)
4- small fresh red chillies
2-3 teaspoons shrimp paste, roasted (see Notes) 4 cups_ chicken stock
1/4 cup oil
14 oz chicken thigh fillets, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
3 cups coconut milk
4 fresh makrut (kaffir) lime leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons grated palm suger or soft brown suar
9 oz dried rice vermicelli
3 1/4 oz bean sprouts
4 fried tofu puffs, julienned
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh Vietnamese mint
2/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
lime wedges, to serve

1. Roast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry saucepan or frying pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant, tossing the pan constantly to prevent them burning. Grind finely in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
2. Place all the spices, onion, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, candlenuts, chilies and shrimp paste in a food processor or blender. Add about 1/2 cup of the stock and blend to fine paste.
3. Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan over low heat and gently cook the paste for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent it burning or sticking to the bottom. Add the remaining stock and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes, or until reduced slightly. Add the chicken and simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until cooked through.
4. Add the coconut milk, lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar and simmer for 6 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not bring to the boil or cover with a lid, as the coconut milk will split.
5. Meanwhile, place the vermicelli in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 6-7 minutes, or until softened. Drain and divide among large serving bowls with the bean sprouts. Ladle the hot soup over the top and garnish with some tofu strips, mint and coriander leaves. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Note: Raw candlenuts are slightly toxic so must be coked before use. To roast the shrimp paste, wrap the paste in foil and place under a hot grill (broiler) for 1 minutes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

quiche Lorraine

For all my infatuation with Julia Child's classic cookbook, as well as the Grand Diplome series, I have never never made quiche Lorraine. It's scandalous, I know. It's not clear to me why I've never been tried to make it. As I'm sitting here composing, it occurs to me that my experiences in eating quiche Lorraine was less than stellar. It takes just one bad experience eating something to turn you off forever! When I was child, I attended a church that often made lunches for the congregation. Quiche Lorraine was on the menu one Sunday. The memories are vivid and not good. The crust was soggy and the quiche was woefully under-seasoned. What could be less inspiring than that?

A few weeks ago, my 5-year-old son, Brooks (who is also a foodie), asked me to make quiche Lorraine. Needless to say, I was a little taken aback and asked him where he learned about this French classic. Apparently, it was mentioned in a TV program he had watched. I screen his TV viewing very carefully; I guess I did a good job! I explained to him what quiche Lorraine contained and he was insistent that he wanted to try it.

So I set about finding a good recipe for it. Most of the recipes use cheese - either Gruyere or Swiss. However -- at least according to Julia Child -- the classic quiche Lorraine does not use cheese. I could not bring myself to make quiche that did not contain cheese. So I made a modified quiche and used Gruyere cheese.

The other issue to pay attention to is the crust. You should partially bake the crust before pouring in the mixture. I found a short and simple pie crust recipe that does not require chilling prior to rolling it out.

I served the quiche with a garden salad and was very, very pleased with the result. So was my son. In fact, he liked it so much that he asked me to make it again.


Quiche Lorraine


To make the pastry: rub 225 grams of plain flour, a pinch of salt and 100 grams of butter into 'breadcrumb' type consistency. Add a very small amount of milk, and knead that in (The milk can be replaced by a beaten egg if preferred). Add a tiny bit more milk if necessary but always a very small amount at a time. If you add too much it will suddenly go sticky and unworkable (if this happens add a little more flour).

6 slices bacon cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Swiss/Gruyere cheese, diced or grated
9" partially baked pie shell
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon
ground nutmeg
white pepper (go with black if that is all you have)

Cook bacon until almost crisp. Remove it from the pan and drain on paper towels. Sauté onion in 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings until tender.

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Bake the pie shell for just a few minutes. Cover the bottom of the partially baked pie shell with onions, bacon and cheese. Beat eggs and cream together with the salt, nutmeg and white pepper. Pour all into the pie shell.

Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350ºF and bake another 15 minutes.

Yes, it's still cold enough for hot soups

I am a huge fan of soups, as you may have noticed from my blog. For me and for others, they are the ultimate comfort food. What's better on a cold evening than a big bowl of hot, flavorful soup full of chunks of veggies and some kind of meat? Accompany the soup with a hot, fresh roll (and if you're really hungry, a salad) and you have a complete meal. Soups have other advantages, too. You can be creative and use making soup as an opportunity to purge your refrigerator. Leftover chicken or turkey, rice, the last bit of carrots and cauliflower -- whatever's in the crisper -- all lend themselves to making hearty, flavorful, satisfying soup.

During the winter, I tend to get stuck on two soups in particular: sausage/lentil and split pea. Yes, heavy soups are appealing to me. I turn the split pea into a stew by adding potatoes and cutting up pieces of ham. I like to see lots of stuff floating around the liquid.

But soups can be filling if they're vegetable-based. I particularly like soups with broccoli and cauliflower. The recipe below can use either one. The original calls for heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half. For those who want to lighten it, go ahead and use low-fat milk. There is not much you can do about the cheese unless you use reduced-calorie varieties. I admit to being suspicious about them and have never used them in a recipe. Not everything that is low-fat works.


Broccoli- or Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

1 pound broccoli or cauliflower, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 coups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped
3 tablespoons minced fresh or canned jalapeno chilies, or to taste
1 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup freshly shredded Emmenthaler or Jarlsberg cheese
slivered baked ham for garnish

Place the broccoli or cauliflower in a steamer rack set over simmering water, cover, and steam until just tender, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, rinse with cold water to sop the cooking and preserve color and drain. Chop finely and set aside.

In a soup pot or large, heavy saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the stock or broth and cream or half-and-half. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring or whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan or skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the onion and saute until soft but not golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, and chile and saute until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to the cream mixture. Add the broccoli or cauliflower and the cheeses and cook over low heat, stirring almost constantly, until cheese melts, about 5 minutes; do not allow to approach boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle into preheated bowls, garnish with the ham, and serve hot. Alternatively, pour into a container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, then tightly cover and store up to 3 days. Slowly reheat, stirring frequently to keep cheese from curdling, before garnishing and serving.

Serves 6 to 8 as a soup course, or 3 or 4 as a main dish.