Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pepper Steak

Well, it's been a while since I've written. That's because the nasty flu bug has come down upon our home. Most of the family members, including the dog, have been sick. It's hard to write about food, when you can't keep it down, and you're cleaning up after every one around you who can't keep it down.

Thankfully that is over.

After getting past all of that I started thinking about what has inspired me to love cooking so much.(Obviously my appetite was returning) I really didn't consider myself much of a cook, or interested in cooking as a kid. Then I had a flashback of Chun King Pepper steak.

Why did this come to me? Well, I was craving beef after being drained by the flu. I probably needed vitamin B. I happened to have some carne asada meat in my fridge and thought that a stir fry would taste better than Mexican food right now. All of a sudden, pepper steak popped into my head. Then I remembered how much I loved pepper steak as a kid, and then it came to me. That was one of the first dishes I ever cooked, and I cooked it for the family. It was just meat, and a packet of Chun King spices and bell pepper if I remember correctly. It tasted good and I made it, all by myself. My parents ate it! Mom didn't even criticize my cooking. I think that was where it started for me. I found out I could make something yummy and others would eat it and enjoy it.

So I made my adult version of pepper steak for dinner. Actually it was tomato beef enhanced. I have a wonderful Chinese cookbook called The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, by Grace Young. Many of the recipes are complicated and difficult to make because I can't find the ingredients where I live, but I discovered the tomato beef recipe. A very simple and delicious recipe. I of course messed with it and added my own things, bell peppers being the main addition, since I felt the need to relive the "pepper" steak meal I had made as a kid. The main difference from my childhood dish was the salt. Far less salty then the Chun King version. But it was beautifuly simple and so soothing to eat. The sauce was a subtle reminder of my pepper steak dish from 30 years ago, but so much better. Less salty, smoother and simple. The bell peppers were a good addition. The only thing missing were the crunchy egg noodles on top. That would have really taken me back to my child hood meal.
So, now that I'm feeling better, and I have recalled my first official cooking experience, I am excited to be planning a trip to Oakland's Chinatown. We're having a little family vacation, and on the way home we're stopping to visit a good friend who hopes to take us to Oakland's Chinatown. I am so excited. I'm pulling out my Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen cookbook, and I'm making a list of all of the ingredients I can't get here, and I hope to get as many of those ingredients as I can while we're there. My other big hope is to visit a truly authentic Chinese restaurant. A place that serves the true Chinese food that they would eat in China. Not the over salted, sweet and sour, Americanized stuff we usually get. I'm talking the real thing. The scary stuff, the suckling pig, the Shark fin soup (yes I know that's not eco groovy), the roast duck, jelly fish and octopus. You can't find any of that in a Chinese Restaurant where I live.
This is the place I hope to dine at:

And they serve this:

Yummy! Suckling Pig and Dim Sum! I can't wait!!!!!

So, somehow the flu has taken me to my original cooking experience, which was Chinese influenced, all the way to planning a trip to enjoy real Chinese food. I've always loved Chinese food. My mom use to tell me she thought I must be part Chinese the way I loved it. Now, to have the opportunity to try "real" Chinese food is so incredible! I can't wait! I'll be letting you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lime Semifreddo with berries

Once again I bought a Bon Appetite Magazine that I do not need, but I have an addiction to them. As I thumbed through it I spotted a wonderful looking desert called meyer lemon semifreddo with summer berries. Well, I didn't have any meyer lemons, and I didn't have all of those berries, but I did have a bunch of whipping cream I needed to use up, lots of eggs from our chickens a few strawberries from the local strawberry farmer and a few blueberries from the market and a whole wad of limes that my husband bought, and I wasn't sure what I was suppose to do with. Ding Ding Ding! That's it, make this desert with limes! If it's good with lemons, it will be good with limes right? Boy! was I right!
Here's what it looked like, almost straight out of the freezer. I couldn't get a picture of it before half of it was gone.
And this is what a single serving looked like served up with berries:
You can find the meyer lemon version of this recipe in June 2008 Bon Appetite magazine, or you can probably pull it up on or

My version used about a 1/2 cup of slivered almonds (sliced would be better, like the original recipe calls for, I was just working with what I had)
1 3/4 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp sugar
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp grated lime peel ( went light on this, as lime zest can be more bitter then lemon zest.)
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups strawberries and blue berries, and a few raspberries I had left before my daughter ate them all.

Line a 9x5x3 loaf pan with plastic wrap and leave a generous overlap. Sprinkle the almonds over the bottom. Beat whipping cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form and refrigerate while making custard.

Whisk 1 1/4 cups sugar, egg yolks, lime juice, lime zest and salt in a large metal bowl until blended. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture is thick and fluffy. It should read 170 degrees with an insta read thermometer. This should take about 4 minutes. Remove from simmering water and beat until cool, thick and doubled in volume with an electric mixer (6 minutes). Fold in the chilled whipped cream. Put the mixture in the loaf pan, smooth the top and tap lightly to get rid of air bubbles. Fold the plastic over the top to cover. Freeze until firm (8 hours or overnight).

Mix the berries with 2 tbsp of sugar.

Unfold the plasticwrap and invert onto a platter; remove plastic wrap. Slice with a knife that has been dipped in hot water; cut crosswise into 1" slices, place on a plate and spoon berries over. Eat and enjoy!!!!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What's for breakfast?

Bacon -Wrapped Eggs with Polenta!

I love polenta, but my family pretty much despises it. So this morning when I was trying to think of something to fix myself for breakfast (everyone else had already eaten) I ran on to this recipe on Epicurious (from the April 2005 Bon Appetite Magazine). This was my chance to have some polenta and not have to worry about anyone complaining about me serving it, because it was all for me and only me. YUM!

I changed the recipe to suit me, what I had in the fridge, and garden. I think this would be a great recipe for a brunch because you can do a lot of it ahead of time, then just pop it in the oven as guests arrive. That is if you are lucky enough to have people in your life who like polenta. If you want the original recipe you can find it here:

Here's my version:

Polenta (this can be made up to 2 days ahead and you can assemble the final dish an hour before guests arrive):

This is for eight people, I modified it for one.
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter (for one - 1/2 tablespoon)
1/4 cup minced garlic chives (for one - a couple of tablespoons)
4 cups water (for one - 1 cup)
1 teaspoon salt (for one - a pinch)
1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal) (for one - 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup (packed) grated Parmesan cheese (for one - 1/8 cup)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme - from my garden (for one - 1/2 tsp)

Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic chives and stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Add 4 cups water and salt; bring to boil. Gradually whisk in polenta. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thick and creamy, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in cheese and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to lukewarm. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate; polenta will become firm.)

Baked Eggs:

20 thick slices bacon (for one - I used 2 slices of our bacon from the pig we butchered a few months ago.)

6 ounces medium cheddar cheese, grated (for one person I eyeballed it. I would have preferred extra sharp cheddar, but didn't have any)
6 ounces Winey Goat cheese, grated (again, I eyeballed it for one) (*refer to notes at the end of this post)

8 large eggs (obviously 1 egg for one person - fresh from our chickens)
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic chives (a tablespoon - straight from my herb garden - yes I'm gloating.)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (a pinch, again, straight from my garden)

Fry the bacon until beginning to brown but still pliable, about 4 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Cool slightly.

Line sides of eight 1 1/4-cup custard cups with 2 slices bacon each, forming collar. Place 1/2 slice bacon on bottom of each cup (I just used one slice to line mine, but 2 would probably have been better). Divide polenta among cups, a generous 1/3 cup each. Press polenta over bottom and up sides of bacon. Mix cheeses in bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese mixture over polenta in each cup. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Crack 1 egg into center of each cup. Sprinkle eggs with remaining cheese, garlic chives, thyme, and black pepper and a scant amount of kosher salt. Transfer cups to rimmed baking sheet. Bake until egg whites are set, about 20 minutes. Depending on your oven, this is if you like your eggs cooked hard. They were too hard for me, I like a little runny yolk and would cut the time down to 10 to 15 minutes, keep in mind all of the egg warnings, they can carry salmonella and other bacteria, so make sure your eggs are fresh and clean if you aren't going to cook them thoroughly. Let eggs stand at room temperature 5 minutes (eggs will continue to cook).

Run small sharp knife around edge of cups; tilt cups and slide bacon, polenta, and egg onto plates and serve.

This was so good! The polenta was warm, buttery and the parmesan added a wonderful pungency and saltiness to it.. The garlic chives and thyme added a mild garlicky taste and perfuminess. The bacon brought in a smoky element (everything is good with bacon!) and the egg, even though it was over cooked for me, was velvety and smooth in contrast to the grainy texture of the polenta (oh how yummy it would have been with some egg yolk to moisten the polenta a bit more!). The goat cheese gave it a slight earthy flavor and the cheddar gave it that creamy cheesiness that the child in us loves. I can only imagine how much better this would have been with a good sharp cheddar.

I think I may use this the next time I have a brunch, served with a sparkling wine and a salad of spring greens and a vinaigrette. Anyone out there who thinks this sounds good is free to steel it and modify as they please. Please share your modifications and let me know how they turned out so I can steel back. Hmmmmm the thought of blue cheese worked into this somehow seems like a potential....

*For those of you who may not be familiar with Winey Goat Cheese. I just want to let you know, it's not like the chevre you are mostly likely familiar with when it comes to goat cheese. If you want to use chevre, go for it, but it won't have the same affect at Winey Goat, which is a semi soft goat cheese that has it's rind washed and rubbed in wine during its curing. It's delicious!