BaoBao, the giant panda cub at the National Zoo, turned one year old over the weekend! And besides the levels of squee something like this elicits, I decided I should make a panda-inspired recipe to celebrate the occasion. Since googling the phrase only turned up cute food-craft ideas of how to decorate desserts to look like a panda, I decided to make some kind of Californian-Chinese recipe, and I decided on trying to make moo shu vegetables. Now, I am totally aware that Californian-Chinese food is not what they eat in China (I was in China last fall and have had a few lectures and delicious foods from a close friend of mine), but that doesn’t make it bad. I treat it as a separate cuisine entirely from Chinese food. And since BaoBao is a Chinese-American panda, making Cali-Chinese food seemed totally appropriate.
Moo Shu Veggies
small knob of ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
1 large carrot, shredded
1 small daikon rashish (same size as the carrot)
5-6 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
Prepare all the vegetables – all the chopping and mincing – first. Beat the eggs and cook them as a flat omlette, and set aside. Pour some peanut oil on a large frying pan. Once warm, fry the scallions, garlic, and ginger for a couple minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook a couple minutes, then add the cabbage, daikon, and carrot. Cook for a couple minutes, and add the vinegar, soy sauce, and a tablespoon or so of hoisin sauce. Mix all together and cook until the veggies are done. Chop up the omlette and add it to the veggies. Heat up some tortillas, smear with a generous dollop of hoisin sauce, add the veggies and eat.
The result was awesome. Super delicious. I used corn tortillas, because I didn’t see any flour ones. And what’s more Californian that a fusion of Chinese and Mexican ingredients? They actually were ‘soft’ corn tortillas, and tasted like a half-way point between corn and flour, and it worked incredibly well. I was out of green tea, so I served this with beer, a saison from a local microbrewery. Wine never really seems to go with Chinese food in my opinion. Song of the week: Ventura Highway by America. I absolutely love this song, and listen to it a lot as a relaxing thing, and it has a cool, very distinctive guitar riff. And of course, Ventura is in California.
So this is one of those recipes that turned out yummy, but it was not actually what I expected it to be. I wanted to do something different with eggplant this week, and I did not want to do a bake or lasagna or something on that end. Then, I found this recipe for eggplant risotto, which was great because I had been thinking it had been a long time since I made risotto. However, I wanted to add cheese. Normally I’d use fontina, but Whole Foods didn’t have any and I didn’t feel like making a second trip to Trader Joes. So after a brief consultation with my parents, we decided that gorgonzola would be an acceptable but risky choice and so I ran with it. After all, what’s the point of new-recipe day if I don’t try risky or surprising food combos?
1/2 a large eggplant
2/3 arborio rice
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2-3 ounces gorgonzola cheese
Start by cutting the eggplant in half, a lightly coating one of the halves in olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 until the eggplant is soft – aka when you press the skin of the eggplant and the indent remains. Scoop out the inner-flesh of the eggplant and chop it up (or puree it) so its all soft and mushy, not fibrous. Set aside
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and onions and saute them for 3-4 minutes. Add the rice and saute that as well for a minute or two. Slowly add the broth, one 1/2 cup at a time, letting the rice absorb each 1/2 cup before adding more. When the rice are close to done, but not there yet, add the white wine, then add more broth if/when needed. Once the rice are done (no hard, crunchy bits in the center but still on the firmer side of things) mix in the eggplant, parsley and cheese. The cheese should melt into the risotto. Serve while still warm.
Result: super creamy and quite good. The only downside (if you can call it a downside) is that the gorgonzola overpowered everything. I like blue cheese,so that wasn’t a bad thing per se, but it might have been nice to taste the eggplant. That said, given that the eggplant just sorta blended in with the rice, the flavor might not have been there regardless, in which case, the blue cheese is a welcome addition. I served this with a white wine, a South African Chenin Blanc specifically. It worked well, but I think a red would be better – gorgonzola always pairs better with reds. Also, for the record, I don’t really like South African wines, even though I’ve tried a number of them in an effort to give them a fair chance. Maybe 1 in 5 is actually decent in my opinion (this one was good though). Not good enough odds to be worth it in my opinion, when most other regions 3-4 out of every 5 wines are good. Finally – the song of the week is Rocky Mountain High, by John Denver, because I just visited my sister in Boulder and its a great song (I may have been singing it to myself while hiking in the mountains …)
Despite everything, some days I get into terrible food ruts. I can’t find anything interesting and new to try, and nothing sounds particularly appealing. Eventually, I just got fed up with myself (and kinda hungry) and decided to just start cooking and see what happens. I started with polenta, and then wanted to fry it, which lead to some trial and error ingredient additions. Then I tried putting some cheese and honey on it, and it was awesome. Super awesome. So here is the finished product of my random experimentation: Sweet and Savory Polenta Pancakes.
Step 1: The Polenta
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup polenta/cornmeal
1/2 tablespoon honey
Bring the vegetable broth to a boil, and add the cornmeal or polenta. Stir constantly, making sure to break up any lumps that form, while the polenta thickens. When it is nearly done, add in the honey. Finish cooking until the polenta is thick, and doesn’t taste grainy. Stick in the fridge to cool.
Step 2: The pancakes
The polenta, cooled
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Add the egg, flour, and baking powder to the polenta. Melt some butter in a frying pan, and plop the polenta and fry into pancakes. Warning, the polenta is still pretty soft, making the pancakes somewhat tricky to flip, so you don’t want to make them too big, or thick.
Step 3: The topping
1-2 ounces strong cheese
Once the pancakes are done, top with some intense shredded cheese and honey. I used Raclette, a French Alsace-region cheese, but anything in that family, gruyere, comte, etc. would likely work. Drizzle over with honey and serve warm.
The outcome is delicious. I made these for dinner, but they make a great breakfast as well, as I discovered with the leftovers. The nice thing about them is that they are both sweet and savory at the same time, a combination I adore. You can serve these with pretty much anything, wine, beer, tea, milk, etc. This is just a beautifully versatile dish. Song of the week: Only by Nine Inch Nails. I’m not a metal fan, but sometimes its nice to listen to something more hardcore, and this song strikes me as metal meets Talking Heads. Its’ good stuff, particularly the ramped up bass.
I don’t care how old you get, Dr. Seuss is always awesome. This recipe, however, initially had absolutely nothing to do with the author however – it started with parsley. Fresh herbs are always better than dried ones – but when you cook for one person, a whole bunch of any given herb takes awhile to use up. This week, I happen to have a lot of extra parsley, and had to find a way to use it.
2 eggs OR 1 egg and 1 egg white
2 green onions, chopped
Chopped fresh parsley
1 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Melt the butter in an omlette pan, add the white parts of the green onions and let saute for about a minute or so. Mix in the eggs, and scramble them. I usually use one egg and one egg white because it strikes me as slightly healthier. After a couple minutes, add the green parts of the onions, the parsley, and the cheese and mix into the eggs, continuing to scramble until they are all done. I list mozzarella because it works well with the parsley, but you could use fontina or probably goat cheese if you want.
The result is awesome – it makes a good brunch item, a lovely quick dinner after a long day of work, and when I eventually become an aunt I will totally make and feed it to my sister’s kids while reading them Green Eggs and Ham. Sometimes, good food doesn’t need to be complicated or involve a lot of prep – and that’s a helpful thing to remember – especially when you spend 12 hours at work on a given day. Song of the week – Here’s to the Heartache by Nothing More. Angsty music gets a bad rap in my opinion – life sometime is objectively crappy, and when that happens, angsty, angry music often makes me feel better. Not that I had a bad week – my sister just introduced me to this song a couple days ago and I had to share.