hawaiian banana cake with panocha frosting

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It’s Easter. We should eat healthy, right? And so we did. To celebrate the end of Lent, we did eat healthy. Depends on how you define healthy; as a fitting end to the sacrifices we made during Lent, like giving up desserts, well, yes, it was healthy. We had ham with 5 spice cherry sauce; garlicky pak boong (morning glory) stir-fried with Chinese sausage; sugar snap peas with red onions and shiitake mushrooms; citrus-roasted asparagus; and broccoli-grape salad. Except for the pak boong, I made this for Easter dinner last year in New York. But all good things must end with something sweet. And that’s this banana cake.

I found the recipe on Food 52. It originally comes from Hawaii; it is a family recipe of Lindsay-Jean Hard. Apparently, in Hawaii a penuche (pronounced pen-OO-chay) frosting is pronounced “panocha.”  A penuche/panocha frosting basically consists of  three cups of sugar. It’s terribly sweet. However, I liked the recipe because that idea of a recipe handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter is just so awww-inspiring. I wish I had that. What’s more intriguing–other than the fact that I’ve made two consecutive banana recipe posts–is that this banana cake uses the same techniques as a chiffon cake–folding in whipped egg whites. The result is a crumb that is moist and tender. I’ve made some adjustments to Lindsay’s recipe because another thing about family recipes is that they are so familiar to us that we tend to leave out key instructions in the method.

Hawaiian Banana Cake with Penuche/Panocha Frosting

Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 35 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Makes one cake that can be split into two halves and frosted

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (338g) superfine sugar
2 large eggs, separated when cold
1/2 cup sour milk (1/2 tablespoon white vinegar in a measuring cup topped to 1/2 cup level with milk)
1 2/3 cup pastry flour (160g)–according to Lindsay, you can substitute all purpose
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat the oven 350˚F or 185˚C. Butter and flour one 8-inch spring form pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and flour it. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. One at a time, add the egg yolks, bananas, and sour milk, mixing after each addition.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture all at once to the butter mixture. Stir until some white streaks remain.

In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped whites into the butter-banana mixture. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 25-35 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove the sides and allow the cake to cool thoroughly. Remove the bottom. I did it by inserting a pancake turner between the bottom and the cake. Remove the paper. When it is cool, split the cake horizontally into 2 equal halves then frost with penuche frosting.

Penuche/Panocha Frosting

Prep time: 5-10 minutes (includes whipping)
Cooking time: 7 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour plus

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered confectioner’s sugar

I had a lot of problems getting this frosting to set. It’s so hot here–it’s the middle of the Thai summer and the air throbs with the heat. After the 2 cups of powdered sugar failed to make the frosting fluffy, I decided to put the bowl in the fridge to firm up for an hour. By then it had turned into the consistency of almost-set fudge. But a few minutes in the heat of the kitchen softened it enough to whip again. I recommend chilling the mixing bowl and beaters while you boil the frosting.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and cook, two minutes, stirring constantly. Then add the milk. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boils, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool until lukewarm, about 1 hour. Though the recipe didn’t say, I guessed the next step is to whip the mixture with the powdered sugar.

Take the chilled bowl and beaters out of the fridge or freezer where you had been keeping them. Scrape the sugar mixture into the bowl and whip on high speed, gradually adding the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, until light and fluffy and smooth. Incorporating more air into the cooled frosting will use less sugar, is my theory.

Makes enough frosting for one two-layer cake.

Variation: try doubling the cake and frosting recipes to make a four-layer cake.

freezer banana cream pie

DSC03307We went to Xinn Tien Di, a Chinese restaurant that specializes in dim sum in the Gaysorn Shopping Center. Gaysorn was so wanting for customers–all those Western luxury brands, and not a single customer in sight. The street protests have started to put a deep dent in the flow of tourism.

At Xinn Tien Di, the lunchtime crowd had just filled up all the tables by the time we sat down. We ordered six dimsum dishes–little dumplings filled with shrimp, pork, and fish– and, to top up our appetites, a plate of fish in black bean sauce with noodles.  In the picture at left is sticky rice, mushrooms, and shrimp wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. The taste was delicate: the slightly earthy taste of the shiitake mushrooms, the freshness of the shrimp, and the smooth stickiness of the rice that captured the seasonings so they didn’t all steam away. The cost was surprisingly reasonable: Baht 1050 for two people.

We were still quite full after dimsum–it wasn’t heavy so much as it was satisfying, and the memory lingered all afternoon in our stomachs. We were ready for a light supper by 7 p.m. and dessert. I made this banana cream pie last night because it takes 12 hours to chill and harden. The only baking required is to make the pie shell. Just before serving I sliced up a large banana into slivers, dipped each sliver into fresh lime juice to preserve the color, and placed them on top of the pie. I ate the few leftover slivers–bananas and lime juice definitely are a match. I sprinkled demerara sugar on top of the bananas on the pie. You can brulée the top of the sugared banana slices if you have a kitchen torch, which I do not. I should get one–I’ve always wanted to set my food on fire.

 

freezer banana cream pie

freezer banana cream pie

 

Freezer Banana Cream Pie (adapted from Yahoo! Shine Food)

For the pie shell:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F or 185˚C.

Pulse all ingredients in food processor to evenly distribute the butter and salt, if using. Transfer to one 9” pie plate and press the crumbs on the bottom and sides. Bake for 12 minutes. Set aside to cool on a wire rack until cooled completely.

For the filling:

2 ripe bananas (approximately 1 cup)
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped until stiff peaks form

In a large bowl, mash 2 ripe bananas with the back of a fork. Add condensed milk, salt, and vanilla. Combine one-third of the whipped cream mixture into the banana mixture. This lightens the banana mixture so you don’t over-mix it when adding the whipped cream. Add whipped cream to the banana mixture and gently fold with a silicone spatula. To fold, cut the mixture in the middle of the bowl and push the banana-cream mixture towards the side. Flip and do a quarter turn of the bowl. Continue folding and turning the bowl until the mixtures are combined. Pour into cooled pie shell. Freeze for 12 hours.

For the topping:

1-2 bananas
2 tablespoons demerara sugar

When ready to serve, thinly slice 1-2 bananas and layer on top of the pie. Sprinkle with sugar. The original directions say you can brulée the top. If you wish to do this, use superfine sugar instead of the demerara, because it is the sugar that melts and browns in brulée. Alternatively, you can brown the bananas in a little butter on the stove top. Slice and serve.

guisada: a latin-thai pork stew

DSC03215I haven’t cooked in six weeks!

But I’ve been indulging my inner gourmande. I have been discovering and savoring new flavors in and around Salaya where I now work. So far, my favorite place is Vietnam Hut; their specialty is pizza on a cracker. The cracker is made of rice that puffs up wonderfully light and crispy in hot oil. The cracker is then overlaid with a rice pancake, thin slivers of meat sausage, herbs, lots of crisp slivers of fried garlic, and sprinkled with vinegar dressing.  That’s the Vietnamese version of pizza. It’s crunchy, salty, tangy, sour– I just love blended cuisines!

Now that I am off for the Songkran or Thai New Year holiday, I intend to cook as much as I can.  This first recipe of my vacation is a guisada. It refers to a Portuguese stew that somehow in its translation to Jamaica the gizzada became a shortbread cup filled with a sweet coconut mixture. It went from a stew to a dessert. But I’m not making either traditional guisada or gizzada here. I found this recipe on Skinnytaste and of course, it went through some necessary transformations, not all of it cultural. Much of the changes were dictated by what was available at Tops Supermarket.

First of all, I couldn’t find beef stew so this became a pork stew. I used Chang beer–so that makes it Thai in my estimation! I also added the Chinese celery (คื่นฉ่าย), a piquant herb that’s used to add flavor to Thai soups and salads. I added sweet soy sauce, which is thicker and sweeter than regular soy sauce, and is available only in Asian grocery stores– in New York, that is. I used it to color the sauce and the meat and to add a little sweetness to balance the salty earthy flavors of the herbs and the seasonings.

Guisada

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30-45 minutes

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3 stalks scallion, chopped
2 stalks Chinese celery, stripped of leaves and chopped
4 fat cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin trimmed of fat and silver and cut into 2 inch chunks
10 oz small potatoes, halved and then quartered
1/3 cup Chang beer
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

In a large Dutch pot, heat a teaspoon oil. Cook the scallions, celery, garlic and cilantro until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the mixture. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute. In a large skillet, heat the other teaspoon oil and cook the meat until it is seared on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side.

Add the seared meat to the vegetables in the Dutch pot. Add the potatoes, beer, water, seasoning salt, paprika, cumin, and soy sauce. Mix well. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes to 45 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.

You can also cook this in a crock pot; it will take 6-8 hours to cook though.

Serve the stew hot with hot cooked rice. To reduce calories even further, serve it with riced cauliflower instead of rice, or my favorite, slices of fresh Jamaican hard dough bread to soak up the gravy.

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jamaican hard dough bread

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I think I made a two-fer one recipe for bread.

This weekend I adapted a recipe for Amish White Bread and renamed it Teddy’s Bread. Two days after baking it, the bread settled into that familiar dense structure that we call hard dough in Jamaica. It’s still soft and moist. At home, we’d spread condensed milk on the slices and eat it. Me, I loved to eat it with peanut butter and strawberry jam. So whatever its incarnation–Amish White Bread, Teddy’s Bread, or Hard Dough Bread–there is nothing like it!

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teddy’s bread

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Yesterday, my colleague gave me a package of bread flour and some packets of dry yeast. He said he was going to bake bread but he had changed his mind. I decided, well, why not? Baking with yeast is not my favorite thing to do but if I can find an easy bread recipe, I’m making bread this weekend! So I found this recipe for Amish White Bread on allrecipes.com, it looked easy enough so I adapted it here. The result is two rustic bread loaves.  I’m calling it

Teddy’s Bread

Prep time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes

2 cups warm water (110˚F)
2 tablespoons superfine sugar (recommended because it dissolves quicker)
1x 11g packet active dry yeast or 1 1/2 tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup rice bran oil (can use vegetable oil)plus more for bowl and pans
6 cups (762g) bread flour plus more for flouring the board

First, oil a large bowl and two 8 1/2×4 1/2 inch loaf pans.

Baker’s note: I had 1 x9 and 1 x 8 1/2 in loaf pan. I prefer the look of the loaf in the smaller pan; it’s more compact whereas the other is squat. So though the recipe calls for 9×5 inch pans, I’m recommending the smaller pans.

Heat the water for 1 minute in the microwave. On an instant read thermometer it registered about 118˚F. Let it cool in another large bowl and add the sugar, stirring it with a whisk to dissolve. Then add the yeast and stir. Let the yeast mixture rest on the counter top until a creamy foam covers the surface of the liquid. This will take from 10-20 minutes.

Add the salt and oil. Add the flour 1 cup at a time; I recommend weighing the flour for best results. Stir after each addition. Knead the dough in the bowl until the sides are clean. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times until the dough is smooth. Put the dough into the prepared bowl and turn it to coat. Cover it with a damp cloth and put it in a draft free place to rise, about 1 hour. I preheated the oven to 50˚C then switched it off. Don’t open the oven door until you’re ready to proof the dough in the oven.

After an hour, the dough will have doubled in size. Remove the damp cloth and punch it down. This doesn’t mean to do violence to the dough! Actually, poking it with a finger will achieve the same result. The dough will deflate. Turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times to incorporate the flour. Using a bench scraper, cut the dough in half. Shape each half into loaves and place in the prepared pans.

Meanwhile heat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C. Let the loaves rise for 30 minutes or until they achieve a height of 1 inch over the top of the pans. For me this took 15 minutes. Put the loaves in the oven to bake for 30 minutes. The crust will look light golden brown and may be tough to the touch. However, as it cools, the crust will soften. Cool the loaves the pan for 10 minutes then remove from the pan. Slice and eat! It’s so simple. The crust was chewy but the inside was soft and moist. I loved how it surrendered itself to the butter on each slice, one for me and the other for Andy.

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chocolate sponge cake

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Now I’ve come to the best part of any meal, the dessert. I made a chocolate sponge cake from the South Beach Diet cookbook. This recipe frustrates me because I can never get consistent results. The method is not very clear, and sponges, alas, are delicate. Sometimes when I make it, it is humongous! Other times, it’s only six inches high because of over mixing. I think a height of eight inches signals success. So here is what I think: when combining the batter with the meringue, the flour, and the melted butter, mix them up all at once. It’s a light and airy cake when done well. Not as moist as a chiffon, but it has its charms, particularly with  the rich chocolate ganache that just oozes down the sides. Included at the end of this cake recipe is the chocolate glaze from the South Beach Diet cookbook. In the photograph above I used a chocolate ganache that’s 1/2 cup whipping cream and 11 1/2 oz milk chocolate.


Chocolate Sponge Cake (
SBD)

Prep time: 1 hour 45 minutes (includes cooling time)
Baking time: 40 minutes

Cake
7 egg whites (210g) separated while cold then bring to room temperature, about 30 minutes
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup (169g) superfine sugar
3 egg yolks (75g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (130g) cake flour
3 tablespoons (43g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Glaze
1 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Make the sponge cake. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Use one 10-inch tube pan, ungreased and un-floured, Microwave the butter in a glass one-cup measure for 30 seconds on high heat. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the egg yolks and vanilla. In another large bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meringue forms stiff glossy peaks. Fold in one-third of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture.

Gently scrape the remaining meringue into the egg yolk mixture. Using a sifter or a strainer/sieve, sprinkle the cake flour over the top of the mixture. Pour the cooled melted butter on top. Very gently, fold—do not over mix.

Spoon the batter into the pan, spreading evenly. Use an skewer to make cuts in the batter around the inner and outer edges to reduce air pockets. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted hear the center comes out clean.

Invert the tube pan onto a large funnel or bottle, or if it has feet, let it rest on the counter top. Let the cake hang until it is completely cooled, about 1 hour. Press a thin blade knife towards the cake around the inner and outer edges of the cake to release the cake. Use a skewer to do the center. To release the bottom, turn the cake on its side and rotate it as you press between the cake and the cake bottom. Turn out onto a rack, and cool completely, with the crusty topside up to prevent splitting.

Make the chocolate sauce. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Cool slightly.

Put the cake bottom-side up on the rack in the center of a large cookie sheet. Drizzle the melted chocolate in a criss-cross pattern across the top of the cake, letting the excess run down the sides and onto the cookie sheet below. Using a large spatula, lift the cake and transfer it to a serving platter.

@ sra bua: exploring molecular gastronomy in bangkok

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At Sra Bua (pronounced sah BOO-ah) we discovered the magic of food meticulously and scientifically prepared. This was a marathon of eating that began at 7 p.m. and ended three hours later. I wanted to try the full tasting menu and Andy didn’t, a difference of 3 dishes. And when Andy and I finally got up from the table, we felt sated but not uncomfortably stuffed. It was a time to enjoy eating, all my senses were on alert, and I became aware of each sensation, the taste, the sight, the smell, and even how food sounded in my mouth. Familiar tastes, I learned, can be rediscovered in different combinations.

In the beginning, we sat at small tables with comfortable chairs and cushions to  enjoy the nibblings and street food, in other words, the hors d’oevres. The fun began with a cool refreshing lemongrass-and-pandan tea that was lightly sweetened. We proceeded to enjoy a soy roasted cashew nut meringue, prawn cracker with chili-tomato dip, and kaffir-lime scented lotus root. The meringue was an unexpected take on the Japanese soy-sauce flavored crackers. Prawn crackers, so ubiquitous in Asia,was freshly paired with a chili-tomato dip. The lotus root was a disappointment, however, lacking a strong flavor identity. After these nibbles we moved on  to the street food offerings. Bangkok’s street food is hard to top so I wondered what we would see next. Each course was eagerly anticipated!

Up next was smoked sausage served on traditional bamboo skewers. It was paired with prawn bread with sesame, which wasn’t much of a stretch from its original Chinese incarnation, shrimp toast. Thais love Japanese food, so the umami flan’s arrival was a fresh idea. Nestled in a wonderfully delicate but flavorful miso soup, the tofu-like flan was a new way to present something traditional. It was paired with a sashimi-style tuna wrapped around a pork bone, a great serving idea but the spiciness of the seasoning drowned out the delicate taste of the fresh tuna. The next course was both hot and cool. The hot was the tom yam, a spicy Thai soup. It was paired with a cool foamy galangal with fresh baby lobster. Andy loved the soup; he said he broke out in a sweat, his own personal Scoville Scale. I couldn’t taste anything but chili so I gave him my soup to finish.

Andy decided to try an Argentinian Malbec from the wine list. Like the courses on the tasting menu, it seemed to be a sampler too. Moderation rather than excess seemed to be the theme of the evening; leave room for the next course and the next…By this time, we were invited to move to a booth for the main courses. It was intimate, and covered with silk and cotton embroidered cushions, but I was three feet away from Andy at the other end of a silk table runner. Too formal. I wanted to sit beside him, not opposite him,  so the server simply set a place mat for me next to Andy. Everything in its place!

The first entree was scallops with a tamarind and lemongrass sauce drizzled over it. Scattered on the plate were five or six tiny shrimp like creatures that were amazingly crunchy and tasty. Now I know how a whale feels when it eats krill! The scallops were grilled and served with orange-colored purees dotted on the plate like an archipelago of islands. You couldn’t see what they were originally, but the taste was unmistakably carrot and pumpkin. Then I had marinated codfish with tiny red disks of beetroot on top and little gray-green pearls of kaeng khio wan or green curry on the side.  The beetroot was slightly sour and tart, like pickles. The green curry was amazingly good with the beets and the codfish. It was a surprising combination but it worked. Because Andy’s tasting menu was not the complete one, he did not get these last two courses.

No Thai meal would be complete without the services of a kroke or a mortar and pestle. At tableside, the server pounded the ingredients for a sauce and drizzled it all over the larb  duck or duck salad. It came in two little onion cups joined by a savory meringue that connected the two cups of ground duck flavored with lime juice and fish sauce. It was the traditional paired with the new, meringue instead of a bed of lettuce. Next up: Kiin Kiin Egg with wild mushrooms and holy basil served in the egg-shell on top of a bed of salt. It didn’t need the salt so I presume it was there just to hold up the egg on the plate!  The last entree was the braised beef. It had the delicate flavor of palo powder; the Chinese call it Five Spice Powder. It was reminiscent of braised pork leg or khao khaa moo. The beef was served with sweetbread, a papadum on top, and a spoonful of sweet and sour pineapple sorbet on the side. The sweetbread’s flavor was somewhat nondescript, but the coolness and tartness of the sorbet was a nice contrast with the strong flavor of anise seed.

Though I savored each course, I felt finishing each one would bring me closer to my true joy: dessert. I looked forward to The Snowball. It arrived at table, a spun sugar confection on a white plate. The server poured coconut cream on it and my snowball vanished on the plate, dissolved into the coconut cream. It was like magic. Then I ate a spoonful of  the dessert–and tasted the gritty sugar of the snowball at the bottom of the spoon. This was a variation on two Thai desserts: roti sai mai or pancake with spun sugar, and ruammit literally “little bit of everything.”

The servers were well trained, courteous, and professional. They were very well-informed about the restaurant and its history and could answer our questions about the menu. Our server told us that  the menu is changed every three months. Chef Nielsen flies in from Denmark to create a new menu. The servers are then invited to taste the new menu, which is what makes them so knowledgeable about its preparation. The management did offer Andy a complimentary dessert–The Snowball–because we complained about the slow service. It did take three hours to eat the entire meal.

We went to Sra Bua for an early celebration of Valentine’s Day. I would go back to try a new menu, but only for another very special occasion. And if we have the stamina to eat for another three hours.  In any case, this is the place to go to enjoy a leisurely meal, European fashion, with home-grown Thai ingredients. Another thought is that it would be great if the Chef could make recommendations from the wine list.

I wish I could say that the second dessert, the banana cake, transported me to gastro-heaven, but it was a dense disappointment. It tasted like convenience-store banana cupcake in a cellophane wrapper. There was too much coconut (coconut again!) and not enough salted ice cream and caramelized milk. Perhaps I was full by then, but I found the petit fours with tea (me) and coffee (Andy) not worth the picture. The petit fours arrived at table in dramatic fashion, inside a large lacquered binto box. But inside each layer were just two macarons, two marshmallows (covered in that ghastly coconut again), and two chocolate pepper cookies each the size of a US cent. Over dramatization. Not a worthy end to the meal that was, in retrospect, uneven in quality, preparation, and presentation.

garlicky stir-fried morning glory with Chinese sausage

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This dish reminds me of Michael Pollan’s dictum: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. In this next recipe adapted from Cook’s Country magazine, I decided to substitute Chinese sausage for the andouille and to use pak boong or morning glory for the greens. The Chinese sausage (fah chung in Chaimaicanese) added sweetness and texture. The vinegar added a sour note that balanced the garlic and the sweetness.

Garlicky Pak Boong with Chinese Sausage

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 3-4 minutes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used rice bran oil)
3 ounces Chinese sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch chunks (Cook’s Country recommends andouille, kielbasa or chorizo)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin (Cook’s Country recommends red onion for contrast)
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 pounds pak boong or morning glory (Cook’s Country recommends beet greens, Swiss chard, or curly leaf spinach) I cut the pak boong into 3 inch lengths
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

SERVES 4

INSTRUCTIONS
1. First brown the sausage in oil. Add the onion and cook until wilted. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
2. Add greens and vinegar to pot and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted
and have released their juices, about 3 minutes. Remove lid and increase heat to high. Cook until liquid evaporates,2 to 3 minutes. For the pak boong cook until the vegetable turns a dull green. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

spaghetti alla carbonara

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We were expecting company for dinner, but  the guest list suddenly expanded from two to five. Which is okay because there was enough chicken to go around–the Lemon-Garlic-Rosemary Chicken with Potatoes. I had also planned on making spaghetti alla carbonara, and two vegetable dishes. This carbonara does not have a cream sauce, for which I was grateful. Sometimes a cream sauce can be just too heavy for this dish. It should be light and salty. I do like the salty flavors from that bacon and ham generously crumbled and chopped and tossed in the pasta. I doubled this recipe for 8, so halve it for four.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara (adapted from food network)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound dry spaghetti  (preferably whole wheat)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 strips bacon, crisped in the microwave then crumbled
1/2 cup Canadian bacon or ham, chopped (about 6 slices)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 large eggs
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 handful fresh basil, shredded, or use Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped coarsely (optional)

Directions

Make the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian “al dente.”) Drain the pasta well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.

Microwave the bacon to minimize spatter. Do not discard the fat. When the bacon is crisp set aside to cool. Pour the rendered fat into a large skillet. Add the Canadian bacon. When it is slightly browned, add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Return the cooked bacon to the pot. Combine. Turn off the heat.

Coat cooked spaghetti in bacon fat. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands in the bacon fat. Use a pair of silicone tipped tongs to toss the pasta. You may need to add a bit of olive oil. To add the sauce in the next step, do NOT turn on the heat.

Make the sauce. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Pour the egg/cheese mixture onto the pasta. This is done off the heat to ensure the eggs don’t scramble. That would be a tragedy! The heat from the pasta cooks the egg. Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Cook’s Note: I did not get much sauce, probably because I doubled this recipe.

Add seasoning. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt.

Serve. Mound the spaghetti alla carbonara into a large serving plate. Garnish with basil or parsley, if desired. Add more cheese if desired. This carbonara was zesty from the Parmesan cheese, chewy because of the aal dente pasta, and a bit salty and crunchy from the ham and bacon. The egg sauce binds to the pasta so that the Parmesan flavor came through with every mouthful.

 

company’s coming: lemon-garlic-rosemary chicken with potatoes

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This is a dish that cooks up in one pan but I used three! First you brown the chicken and potatoes on the stovetop then put them in the oven for finishing. At first I was dubious about the method. Yahoo Shine said to put a roasting pan on two burners for the stovetop part, but I used two pans to brown up the chicken and potatoes, then transferred the lot to the roasting pan. So even if you use just one pan or three, the result is chicken that’s crisp on the outside but juicy and tender on the inside with a delicious lemony flavor boosted by the capers.  I didn’t get any sauce from this dish after baking, but my guests raved about the chicken’s flavor. Using seasoning salt to season the chicken is a little trick I learned from my mother, and I believe it really adds flavor to the chicken. I added brown sugar to the sauce for a little sweetness.

Lemon-Garlic-Rosemary Chicken with Potatoes (adapted from Yahoo Shine)

Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 50 minutes

For the chicken:
4 pounds chicken drumsticks
Seasoning salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

For the sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 lemons, sliced into thin rounds about 1/4 inch thick, discard the thick ends
10 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons coarse salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 pounds potatoes, preferably red russet sliced in half (I used Yukon gold, halved then chopped into chunks)

Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Put the chicken drumsticks in a large bowl. Trim the excess fat from under the skin. Season the chicken drums liberally with seasoning salt. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil (either in two skillets or in a roasting pan resting on two burners). Brown the chicken pieces about 5 minutes, then add the potatoes and brown for another 5 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and potatoes to a roasting pan (if using the 3 pan method!) and place in the preheated oven. Bake 50 minutes. The original recipe said 45-50 minutes. Test a chicken leg to see if it is done. It should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F on an instant read thermometer. Serve hot with slices of buttered French bread.