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Monday, January 31, 2011

Basic Asian Soup Base

Basic Asian Soup Base With Homemade Wontons, Shrimp, Mung Bean Sprouts, Green Onions, Cilantro, And A Sprinkle of Chili Oil

Here's a good base for making all kinds of Asian soups.  This is not authentic to any specific Asian cuisine, just a nicely balanced mixture that I really like.  Make the basic broth, then add whatever veggies, proteins, and noodles you prefer.  The proportions in this recipe are for broth to use when making soup for immediate consumption.

This recipe also freezes well.  If you're preparing this to freeze for later use, make it very concentrated in order to conserve freezer space.  Use the same amount of water, but triple the proportions of the other ingredients.  When you thaw and prepare the frozen soup, dilute it with three parts water (or to taste).

Basic Asian Soup Base Recipe

(Makes 2-3 entree portions, 4-6 starter portions)

3 quarts water
2 6-inch pieces lemongrass, bruised well with dull side of knife and cut in half lengthwise
6 green onions
2-inch knob of ginger, unpeeled, sliced
9 garlic cloves, unpeeled, crushed
1 or 2 Thai bird chiles (to taste), cut in half lengthwise
1 bunch of cilantro or stem ends from 2 bunches of cilantro
a few basil leaves
a couple of kaffir lime leaves *
5 white peppercorns
1/4 cup fish sauce
* Kaffir lime leaves can be hard to find.  I found kaffir limes at Central Market a while back, bought a bunch of them, juiced them, and froze the juice in an ice cube tray.  I used one kaffir lime juice ice cube for this recipe.  You could also substitute the juice of 1/2 to 1 regular lime.
Bring all ingredients to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer at least one hour.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove solid ingredients.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Plunging Headlong Into Charcuterie ... Homemade, Home-Smoked Bacon

Check out this peppery, smoky, sizzling greatness!
 I love all things salted, cured, and preserved ... and I love pork ... therefore, I love Charcuterie!

We've dabbled over the years at smoking salmon, chicken, and turkey, and in the more complicated and sophisticated realm of curing pancetta and curing and smoking our own bacon.  I finally invested in this amazing cookbook:

I'm so in love with this cookbook.  If you are enamored (as am I) with the art of salting, curing, aging, smoking, preserving food, this cookbook is your Bible, a must-have.

Although I like to consider home-curing and home-smoking bacon and other delectables to be so 2011, so avant garde, I remember my daddy talking about his youth, when slaughtering a pig was a routine part of survival in rural life.  They would hang the various pork cuts in the smokehouse to cure, and they dropped pieces of the pork skin into hot oil, creating the treasured delicacy "cracklings," like what we call pork rinds or chicharonnes. 

There's a Biblical passage in Ecclesiastes that says, "There is nothing new under the sun."  No words could be more appropriate.  When we smoke our own bacon, we're not reinventing the wheel, folks; we're simply getting back to our roots.

Yummo, look at all this beautiful pork belly just waiting to fulfill its bacon destiny!

I was lucky enough to find large, bone-in pork belly portions.  And as a bonus I got to practice my meat fabrication skills.  I think that's the culinary school term for having a lot of fun butchering meat, meat fabrication.  I removed the rib sections from the pork bellies, reserving the ribs for another use, which I'll detail in a later post.

You only need a couple of specialized items to make your own bacon.  You need pink salt, a special salt made for curing and preserving (look for sources online) and it's best to use a food scale for accuracy in weighing your ingredients (you can find very inexpensive food scales -- I found this one at Wal-Mart for around $20).

Basic Dry Cure For Bacon

1 pound/450 grams kosher salt
8 ounces/225 grams sugar
2 ounces/50 grams pink salt


One 3- to 5-pound slab pork belly, skin on
Basic Dry Cure for dredging

Trim the belly so that its edges are neat and square.  Spread the dry cure on a baking sheet.  Press all sides of the belly onto the cure to give it a thick uniform coating.

Place the belly in a 2-gallon ziploc bag.  Refrigerate for 7 days, flipping the bag over to redistribute the liquid that will accumulate every other day.

After 7 days, check the belly for firmness.  If it feels firm at the thickest point, it's cured.  If it still feels squishy,  refirigerate it for up to 2 more days, checking it every day.

Remove the belly from the cure, rinse thorougly, and pat dry with paper towels.  Let the bacon rest in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.

We made one slab of regular bacon and one slab of pepper bacon.  For the pepper bacon, we pressed cracked black peppercorns into one of the pork belly slabs after rinsing.

Prepare the fire in your smoker and smoke the bacon with wood of your choice, such as apple wood, at a very low heat until bacon reaches 150 degrees.

The easiest time to remove the skin is while the bacon is still warm from the smoker.  Be sure to save the smoky skin to flavor a pot of beans.

Both the regular and the pepper bacon are good, but the pepper bacon is probably the best bacon I've ever tasted.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whole Wheat Applesauce Cranberry Muffin Recipe

This recipe is from  It's definitely kid-tested and kid-approved in our house.  This super easy recipe is a great way to sneak a little healthy fiber into your kids' diets, and it's a nice, simple recipe for the kiddos to prepare with you.  It's absolutely scrumptious!!!

Whole Wheat Applesauce Cranberry Muffin Recipe

1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I highly recommend Penzey's)
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven  to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oil, butter, sugar, and egg.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, wheat germ, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and stir gently with a spatula or wooden spoon just until the mixture is combined -- don't overmix or the muffins will turn out tough.  Stir in the dried cranberries.

Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray or line it with cupcake liners if you prefer.  Fill each cup about 3/4 of the way to the top.  Bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beef Bourguignon Recipe

I've seen the movie "Julie & Julia" four times now, and I look forward to seeing it again.  I'm mesmerized by Julie Powell's story.  The movie inspires me to cook and it inspires me to blog.

This recipe is from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa).  I think it's in the "spirit" of Julia Child's Boueuf Bourguignon, but slightly updated for us contemporary "servantless American cooks."  My baby sister-in-law, Joann (who trained at Le Cordon Bleu Dallas, I should add), introduced me to this recipe and assured me that although it requires a bit of effort and time, the result is totally worth the investment.  She is so right.  This recipe is going into the "rotation" here.

I had reservations about using an entire bottle of red wine in the recipe, that the result would be a tannic, sour stew.  Silly me!  How dare I not trust Barefoot when she's channeling Julia.  The wine helps to tenderize and flavors the beef during the cooking process and the result is a mellow, well-rounded, full-flavored stew.  This is one of the best recipes I've ever prepared, so classic and such an upscale comfort food.  I hope you'll give it a try.

When you prepare Beef Bourguignon, be sure to use really good quality bacon and beef, no mystery stew meat.  I skipped the toasted bread at the end of the recipe as my beloved and I are always looking to reduce those carbs that inevitably just end up as cellulite (or as I like to call it here in North Central Texas, hail damage, hahaha) on my thighs.  If "wearing" your carbs isn't a concern for you, serve this dish with the toasted bread or with egg noodles or mashed potatoes.



1 tablespoon good olive oil
8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, diced
2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
1/2 cup Cognac
1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or
   Pinot Noir (I used Mark West Pinot Noir) 
1 can (2 cups) beef broth (obviously if you make homemade
   beef broth, use it in this recipe)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound frozen whole onions
1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced

For serving:

Country bread or Sour Dough, toasted or grilled and rubbed with garlic clove
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, optional


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

Toss the carrots and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol.

Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.

Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

To serve, toast the bread in the toaster or oven. Rub each slice on 1 side with a cut clove of garlic. For each serving, spoon the stew over a slice of bread and sprinkle with parsley.