Category: Food

The more bitter, the better

Ken and I are pretty adventurous eaters. A stop at the local Asian mega mart may be a journey into an alien world for some, but it’s on our tour of regular grocery-shopping stops. One of our favorite exotic veggies in stock there is the bitter melon. When we go through the check out line, we typically get that “You do know what you’re buying, right?” look. Once we assure the staff that we know exactly what we are doing, we are offered recommended preparations and old family recipes.

Some of you may already know that bitter melon requires a very acquired taste. As Ken states, those who love a really hoppy beer may enjoy it. I’ll leave it to other sources to tout its medicinal benefits. I know that I always feel healthy and refreshed (and full) after consuming it!

Our preferred way to eat it is rather simple: stir-fried with dried black beans. We use Grace Young’s recipe in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing. I have omitted the flank steak, as we typically do, for this recipe:

2 medium bitter melons (1 1/4 pounds total)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon finely shredded ginger

1 teaspoon rice cooking wine

1 teaspoon thin soy sauce

1 teaspoon plus 5 tablespoons vegetable oil (we usually use far less and substitute with olive oil)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon Chinese dried black beans

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Cut the bitter melons in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Place in 1 quart of boiling water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Allow the water to return to a boil. Then, drain and rinse the bitter melon under cold water and set aside to drain thoroughly.

Rinse the black beans in several changes of cold water and drain. In a small bowl, mash the black beans and garlic with the back of a wooden spoon until it resembles a paste.

Heat a flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add oil, bitter melon, black bean paste, corn starch, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Stir fry for one-to-two minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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A simple soup for two

My master chef came up with a simple soup today for lunch, to accompany chicken salad with homemade mayonnaise (more about that later). Simple because he used what he could find in the fridge. Simple because it took no time to make. No name, just simple.

2 cups of chicken broth, homemade is best but this brand will also do

1/2 cup of cooked jasmine rice

1/2 cucumber, sliced 1/8″ thick

3 baby bok choy, chopped

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

white pepper to taste

Ladle the boiling chicken broth into two bowls, then evenly disperse the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Oldie but goodie

One of our favorite wedding gifts is one we use regularly to this day: The 1990 edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook given to us by my Grandma Drake’s dear friend Lela Cameron. In the note that accompanied her gift, Lela wrote that it had been a classic and that she had used it as a text book in home economics classes at the University of Georgia. That note is still taped inside the front cover. It still is the classic cookbook.

When visiting my Grandma in Gastonia, NC, Lela and her husband, Cam, would often invite us for supper or Sunday dinner (lunch to you non-Southerners). As we sat eating, I would think of the stories my Mom had told me of Lela and her handsome Egyptian boyfriend whom she had dated seriously before settling down. I had so many questions but knew it was not appropriate to ask. Back to the food…I am sure the source of many of those tasty dishes was the Fannie Farmer.

My resident master chef says it reminds him of his organic chemistry textbook from college: The layout, colors, and font.  I like to think of him as a chemist as he mills about in the kitchen.

Here is one of our Fannie favorites, Green Dip:

1 cup parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

5 scallions, chopped

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco

1 1/4 cups mayonnaise

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 cup sour cream

Salt

Liquify the parsley, scallions, and 1/2 cup of the mayonnaise in a blender or food processor. Add the remaining 1/4 cup mayonnaise, the sour cream, dill, Tabasco, curry powder, and salt to taste, and chill.

We enjoy it with red and yellow bell peppers, cucumbers, and blanched green beans and broccoli.

First Lunch

If you prefer not to eat all American breakfast foods, like Ken, then look upon it as a first lunch.

Here’s our first lunch on this Sunday, a twist on eggs and grits. Add sautéed summer squash, arugula, and paprika.

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It’s the simple things

Try this: Make your own salad dressing. From scratch. I dare you. If you do I bet you’ll never hit the bottle again.

I’m sharing a very simple recipe courtesy of Alton Brown, one of our first forays into homemade dressings. Kick it up and add some dill like we do. Enjoy!

Veni Vedi Vinaigrette

Place red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic and salt in a glass or metal container with a tight fitting lid and shake to combine. Add olive oil and shake vigorously, until dressing emulsifies and thickens to the consistency of cream.

Let dressing sit for 1 hour at room temperature before straining out garlic and serving. Dressing can be refrigerated, but should be brought to room temperature and shaken again before serving.