Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Color Purple

(Note - just a regular daily blog, not part of the Meme!)

Late summer. Plums are everywhere. All a different shade of purple.

Plums are absolutely one of my favorite fruits. A delicate flavor, a wonderfully smooth texture, and a nice sweet finish. When they are exactly perfectly ripe – not too much, not too little – wonderful.



We were looking for something different for dinner. Something lighter, in fat anyways. And something to complement some chicken legs, that were on sale for an amazing price.

I was immediately intrigued when we found chicken in plum sauce with plum salsa.

The plum sauce here is not quite the same thing you get when you buy a bottle of plum sauce in the Asian store. I am not sure if it is a matter of more reduction to get the store type of plum sauce, or of they are fundamentally different beasts. The next time we shop there I am going to compare ingredients.

Anyways, we made some variation of Chinese plum sauce using ripe black plums. This was the marinade for the chicken. And also got baked onto the chicken as a sort of thick coating. Filled with Asian flavors that were very complementary to the plum flavor.

The result was a purple leg of chicken. Moist, interesting looking. And very flavorful.



For the salsa, we used red plums. The red plums made it look almost like a typical tomato salsa. But the flavor was ripe with juicy sweet plum flavor, and it made a nice contrast to the darker plum on the chicken. I think this plum salsa would go well with a variety of things. Naturally something like roasted salmon comes to mind.

We plated everything on steamed rice.

Simple. Interesting. Very nice flavors. And once assembled, a dramatic visual appeal as well. Definitely worth trying again.



Roasted Chicken in Plum Sauce with Plum Chili Salsa
Recipe from Epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/cooking/menus/cooknow/recipes/12153

For the marinade:
4 large ripe purple or red plums (about 1 pound), chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon minced seeded fresh jalapeño pepper (wear rubber gloves)
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh gingerroot
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
8 whole chicken legs (about 4 1/2 pounds)

Plum Chili Salsa (recipe follows)

For garnish
ripe plum wedges
lime wedges
whole fresh mint leaves

Make the marinade:
In a food processor purée the plums, the garlic paste, the oil, the soy sauce, the orange juice, the vinegar, the sugar, the jalapeño, the gingerroot, the mustard, and black pepper to taste until the mixture is smooth. In a large saucepan bring the marinade to a boil, simmer it, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until it is reduced to about 2 cups, and let it cool.

In a large shallow dish arrange the chicken, pricked in several places with a fork, in one layer, pour the marinade over it, reserving 1/4 cup for the salsa, and let the chicken marinate, covered and chilled, turning it once, for at least 1 hour or, preferably, overnight. Transfer the chicken to an oiled rack set over a foil-lined roasting pan, spoon the marinade over it, and roast the chicken in the upper third of a preheated 450°F. oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is cooked through.

Make the salsa while the chicken is roasting.

Arrange the chicken on a heated platter, garnish it with the plum wedges, the lime wedges, and the mint leaves, and serve it hot or at room temperature with the salsa.


Plum Chili Salsa
Recipe from Epicurious

1 pound ripe purple or red plums (about 4 large ), diced (about 3 cups)
1/3 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon minced seeded fresh jalapeño pepper (wear rubber gloves)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste

In a bowl stir together the plums, the onion, the coriander, the mint, the jalapeño, the lime juice, the sugar, some of the reserved marinade to taste, salt and pepper to taste.


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Foods to Die For – A Meme in Five Parts (plus an Intro)

The Meme is called: ‘5 things you've eaten and think that everyone should eat at least once before they die’. It was started by Melissa, of The Traveler's Lunchbox. I also like ‘Foods to Try Before You Die’, the somewhat shorter, if less sensational, title. But I like ‘Foods to Die For’ the best. And here I am, already not following the rules.

I was happy (honored, even!) to be selected by Haalo, of ‘Cook (almost) Anything at least once’, to offer my thoughts on the subject. She writes a wonderful blog and has fantastic food ideas. And, as she notes, the Meme presents an interesting topic! (Hopefuly she is not already regreting her choice!)

I thought for a while about all the foods I’ve eaten over the decades (decades? yikes!). I’ve had the opportunity to be a fairly adventurous eater.

From trailside delicacies, maybe picked ripe and fresh from the field. Or the most local of local homemade treats served at ramshackle roadside huts. To 4 star 12 course affairs, with wines matching each course, and svelte and posh crowds of moneyed scene-sters to match each wine. From wildly exotic items (to me, anyways) to the most common things prepared perfectly.

And in thinking about all this, and reminiscing on all these culinary adventures, one thing is clear – the food that I would die for, and the food that I would wish others might have the chance to try before dying, is tied to the experience.

A simple list doesn’t seem like it could convey the ‘to die for’ nature. And I won’t go into the potential culinary experience enhancers such as eating a perfect raspberry macerated in vintage champagne from your lover’s navel while sailing off the coast of Tahiti. That’s for the other blog ; )

But that still leaves a lot of ‘to die for’ space to explore.

As a simple example, you can certainly buy a bottle of the premier beer of Bavaria, Erdinger Weiβbier, in many parts of the world. Even our local SoCal supermarket carries it. But it is not the same Erdinger Weiβbier – those shipped outside of Bavaria are different, they add something to it to help preserve it. Not to mention that you most likely won’t be drinking it from the correct glass. Already some of the potential pleasure of the experience is gone. And you won’t be drinking it on a warm summer evening, with the sun slowly setting and the sky turning from white and blue to deep indigo, your back and brow damp with a light sweat from the humidity, sitting outside under huge, towering chestnut trees along the Isar river in Munich, watching the Steckerlfisch (Mackerel roasted whole over open flames) cook, and keeping an eye on your kids in the play area, after having biked through the woods to get to the Biergarten that naturally serves only fresh beer perfectly poured in the correct glass.

It seems likely to me that just opening and drinking an Erdinger Weißbier, even if you know how to do it ‘correctly’ (i.e. like a native Bavarian - with the bottle completely inverted into the special Weiβbier glass, pulling the mouth of the bottle up slowly as the contents fill the glass with Bier and just the right amount of foam), will not convey the full range of enjoyment that is worth trying before you die.

Or take pizza. Simple enough. But pizza to die for in my mind is served only after midnight. At a small pizzeria in Fredonia, New York, called Lena’s. Where the crust is 18 inches across and chewy. And the pepperoni is abundant. And the cheese is bubbly hot. The thing to die for, however, is the ocean of grease floating in the middle of the slightly concave pizza, that has soaked up all the pizza essence, the cheese, the pepperoni, the hot chili pepper flakes, the garlic, the tomatoes. Which is smeared all over the faces of all the college friends huddled around the chipped Formica table hoisting huge and droopy slices of the pizza with two hands one after the other to their faces, pulling on yard long strands of mozzarella still attaching mouths to pizza, after a night of beer drinking downtown. Pizza is pizza, but that is pizza to die for.

These are the types of things you have to try before you die – to overwhelm all your senses with the full experience.

By the way, these two things didn’t even make the final top five cut. (See? I’m cheating already!)

So maybe this is not quite the point of the Meme, but it is my interpretation. And it is how food is connected in my sorry excuse for a brain.

So, with that hopelessly long Intro, I will bring out my list over the next few days, more or less in ascending order.

Enjoy!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

You know Summer’s over when …

Sometimes I don’t notice (or want to notice) that the evenings are already starting to cool. The sun is setting earlier.

I focus on the fact that it is still hot during the day.

And that shorts and bikinis and flip flops still rule.

But, the signs are there.



One of the first is the arrival of what I call ‘Zwetschgen’, or what most people call Italian plums, in the markets.

And in Munich, when these things arrive, we make ‘Zwetchgen Datschi’. Which is a flat fruit tart covered with these Italian plums cut in a very specific way. And a very Bavarian thing to make.

These particular types of plums are especially good for a tart as they are firmer than other types. Therefore, during and after baking they both retain a bit of their form and don’t exude so much juice that the tart becomes a ruined soggy mess.



This ‘datschi’ tart can be made with a variety of doughs: yeast, baking powder, and one they call ‘Muerbeteig’, which references the high fat content of the dough and the resulting moist and crumbly texture of the baked crust. Naturally, most choose to make the fatty dough, which contains lots of egg yolks and butter. But my attempts at it have mostly resulted in a pile of loose crumbs with fruit on top.

I think I mentioned some time ago how me and baking powder and traditional crusts don’t get along. So I always make a yeast dough for my ‘datschi’. This yeast dough is soft, with lemon zest in it, and results in a wonderfully moist base for the roasted fruit.

For the German linguists in the crowd, a short Bavarian grammar lesson: "Datschi": Mir scheint ein Zusammenhang mit "dätschen"/"tatschen" (flachdrücken, flachklatschen) naheliegend.

So, when we saw the signs in our vegetable market last week (already!!), I knew there was no choice but to shift into ‘datschi’ mode.



We picked up a couple kilos or so of the fruit. Smaller than a normal plum, and somewhat oblong shaped. With a flat pit inside, and a seam along the one side.

And we whipped up a batch of ‘datschi’ dough – this time whole wheat (TeenGirl’s influence!).

The trick to this tart is in the cutting and arranging of the fruit.

First you cut the fruit along the seam, but not all the way through, leaving the two halves attached. You CAREFULLY remove the pit, which is sometimes hard to get out, without breaking the fruit into two pieces. Then, you even more carefully cut each half about 2/3s of the way through, so that the two halves can unfold, and so that you have basically the four quarters of the plum, all still attached to each other, and able to be flattened out.

After letting the dough rise (for a yeast dough), you press it into a free form rectangle, and let it rise some more.

If you’re new to this – arrange the cut fruit on the dough as a practice arrangement, making sure you have enough fruit, and getting some idea of how densely to arrange it so that you don’t have too much or too little left towards the end. Correctly arranged, the fruit should almost stand on end, and overlap tightly, with the tips pointing straight up in the air, not laying flat. Once you have your arrangement set, take it all off again. I do this so that if I have completely misjudged the crust size to fruit ratio, I haven’t buttered the dough yet so I can just re-knead the dough and reshape it as necessary.

Once the dough shape is set, brush the dough base with melted butter – so the fruit juices don’t leak through and soften the dough during baking, preventing it from cooking through.

Another tip – don’t sugar your fruit before baking. This will draw juices out of the fruit during baking, and you will have an ocean of juice, a soggy uncooked dough, and some limpid fruit in top. If you have trouble with too much juice, you can sprinkle the dough base with bread crumbs before laying down the fruit. That can help absorb some of the excess juice.



Also, let the tart cool somewhat after baking before sprinkling with sugar, or in my case brushing with honey, for the same reason.

Of course this is best enjoyed with ‘Schlagsahne’ – or whipped cream. Unsweetened, as it more typical in Bavaria. And a cup of strong coffee.

“An Guaten! Loß das schmeka!”




Zwetchgendatschi mit Schalgsahne – Bavarian Plum Tart with Whipped Cream
Recipe from ‘Bayerisches Kochbuch – 53. Auflage’ (Bavarian Cookbook – 53rd edition)
Translated and adapted by surfindaave

Ingredients:
Datschi yeast dough (recipe follows)
1.5 to 2 kg Italian plums (3.5 to 4 pounds) cut as mentioned above
Butter
Honey
1 cup heavy cream, well chilled

Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC).

Place parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Butter the parchment paper.

Press the dough out onto the buttered parchment paper until you get a good 14 inch by 10 inch rectangle or so. Press up the edges to form a good rim.

If desired, lay the cut fruit out on the dough to get a feel for density and arrangement. The fruit should be standing almost straight up, and overlapping tightly. Remove the fruit.

Brush the base of the dough with melted butter. Arrange the fruit on the dough in a tight, standing straight up, overlapping arrangement. Let the dough rise a bit.

Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, it helps to suction out excess juices that are forming if you have one of those fat siphons. Otherwise, the juice will overflow the rim, and make the crust soggy. I use this juice, mixed with a little melted honey, as a glaze for the fruit after baking.

Make sure the crust is baked all the way through – since it will be very juicy, the middle of the tart sometimes is hard to get completely set.

When baked, remove from oven, and let cool somewhat. Melt some honey, and mix it with any of the juices siphoned off during baking, and brush the fruit with the glaze.

In a tall, chilled container, and with chilled beater blades, whip the cream until it just holds form peaks.

Serve room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream. Enjoy!





Datschi Yeast Dough
Recipe from ‘Bayerisches Kochbuch – 53. Auflage’ (Bavarian Cookbook – 53rd edition)
Translated and adapted by surfindaave

Ingredients:
375 grams flour (we used 250 grams whole wheat, 175 grams white)
1/8 to ¼ liter warm milk
1 package dry yeast
80 grams butter, softened
1 egg
zest from one lemon
50 to 80 grams sugar, or agava nectar
pinch of salt

Proof the yeast in a small bowl with some of the milk, sugar and a sprinkle of flour.

Add the flour to a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add the proofed yeast. Add the softened butter, salt, egg, lemon zest, and a little milk. Begin combining into a dough. Add just enough milk to form a soft, pliant dough.

Knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes, adding as little extra flour as possible. Place in a buttered bowl, covered, and let rise in a warm place until doubled.

Punch down the dough, and without adding any additional flour, give it a light knead.


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Herbal Mystery Solved - WHB

Here’s what you do.

Get up early. Drive your kids all over to various sports at 6 am on Saturday morning. After having finished posting your blog that same morning at about 1am. Make coffee. Vegetate in front of the computer for a little while. Then go to the Farmer’s Market and bumble about for a while.

You come home with some really, really interesting stuff.



But you forget exactly what the herb guy told you it was called.

Began with a ‘P’, that much I know. I should take a pad pf paper and make him write this stuff down.

And tastes like cilantro. That tidbit stuck as well. (Should have just bought cilantro!!)

No worries. Internet handy. Search for ‘cilantro-like flavor herb’. How hard could that be?

Many, many hours of Internet searching later, admit defeat.



Only ONE result. Papol. One result. Not 10 million. Despite all my clever attempts to find out what papol could be.

With synapses mostly down, the obvious does not occur to me. That I have something wrong here.

Fortunately, today is a new day.

New searches, same result. When I finally find what it is: pepicha, or pipicha. Suddenly, the search returns millions of results. Whew. I thought I was going crazy for a while.

Pepicha, or pipicha – a Mexican herb that tastes a lot like a very strong cilantro. And – it grows well in very hot weather, unlike cilantro. So for those of you mourning the annual disappearance of cilantro in the hot mid-summer, this is a possible solution.



Here are a few links with more info on the herb:
http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/recipes/puebla/kgyerbas.html
http://www.foodsubs.com/HerbsHisp.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipicha

TeenGirl made a wonderful cucumber and tomato salad, using the herb in the vinaigrette dressing, for dinner (plus she took all the pictures). For , sponsored by . Without yet knowing what the herb actually was. Hoping it was not some medicinal herb intended for topical use. But ultimately trusting in our herb guy.



Strong. Pervasive flavor. You just need a little. Full, full, full of flavor. I like cilantro better at the moment, but I’ve only tasted the pepicha once. But we have more. Who knows - it may grow on me. I always like a good mystery!

Note - I didn't post a recipe on this one, as it is just an arranged cucumber and tomato salad with a basic vinaigrette. We used red wine vinegar, one clove garlic, and maybe 2-3 tbsp of chopped pipicha. Enjoy!



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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Oh – To Live in a Jelly World! SHF 22



I’m not so much of a tradition-oriented person. Much more of a try everything new type. Which leaves little time for keeping up traditions.

It may be because I don’t have much tradition to reach back to. My childhood had more to do with can openers and TV dinners than canning and preserving.

So I didn’t fully appreciate the task at hand. That of making some sort of preserve for Sugar High Friday #22, sponsored by Nicky, of Delicious Days. As noted, I don’t have a source of tradition to reach back to. No family recipes were handed down. And I haven’t focused on jellies and jams. For the above mentioned reasons.

But as I got into the task, I realized the error in my ways. The scales fell from my eyes. The light shone down. I get it!

The jelly world is a total do-over world.



If you overcook your egg yolks when making a custard, well, you’re screwed. It won’t come back.

If you burn the roast, it’s not going to get less burned. No matter what you do.

That was my mind set as I started on the jelly making. Careful. Any mistake, and you’ll either have Koolaid, or colored cement.

I started by cooking down some sweet cherries. With a touch of lime juice. As I had had cherries and lime juice before. A nice balance.



And I was reading about pectin (of course in mid procedure). When the invaluable tip caught my eye.

If you blow it, if you totally screw up, if all is lost, just reheat, adjust, and try again!

Wow! This pectin stuff jells over and over. And if it is a little weak, just toss in some more!

The jelly world is a totally do-over world!

After two hours of gently simmering the cherries and lime juice, I had a cup and a half of strained juice (you can see what a novice jelly maker I am!). I added the chilies, cooked a bit longer, then I added the pectin, and let it cool. The flavor was so intense, almost too much cherries, and the texture a bit too firm, that I decided to do a do-over! Back in the pot! Something to cut it – champagne!

I did this about a dozen times. Adding a bit more of this or that. Tasting. Adjusting. Melting it back down. Doing it over until it was just right. Right flavor, right heat, right texture.

Nice balance. Not too sweet. Good cherry flavor. Just a gentle hint of heat. Wonderful!

And what a concept! The jelly do-over!

If the real world was like this, there would be no country music at all. Pain and agony? No need to get out the guitar and sing, just do it over!

Dog died? Hey, just melt him down and make another!
Truck broke down? No problem – melt it down. Another, better one is there in no time!
Fired? Great! Melt that job down to a better one!
Wife left? Good riddance! Melt her down to a better one!

War? Heartache? Pestilence? No problem in a jelly world! Just keep doing it over until everything is just perfect!

Man – I want to live in a Jelly World!



Cherry Champagne Lime Jelly with a Kick
Recipe by surfindaave
Makes just 2 cups of jelly, but I think you could double or triple the basic recipe

Ingredients:
6 cups cherries, pitted, cut in half
1 lime, juice, peel reserved
½ cup agava nectar, or sugar
1 ½ Thai chilies, seeds and membranes discarded, minced very fine
reserved lime peel - all pith removed, and sliced into very thin, long pieces
1 to 1.5 cups champagne
1 tbsp pectin (mine required some calcium solution to activate the pectin)

Add cherries, lime juice and sugar (nectar) to a heavy pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer over very low heat, covered, stirring occasionally for 2-3 hours to release the juices. Strain the cooked cherries through a fine mesh strainer, pressing hard on the solids, into a clean bowl.

Return the cherry juice to the cleaned pot, and add the chilies. Bring to a boil, and simmer for a few minutes. Add the lime peel slices and the champagne.

Prepare the pectin according to package instructions (note – with my pectin, I had to add some calcium to the juice earlier in the procedure). Add pectin.

At this point, you can either do the whole canning jar processing procedure (boil jars, lids, etc.), or simply pour the jelly into a convenient container and eat it in the next few days (believe me, it will go fast!) Delicious on toast with a big dollop of butter!

Another thing you can do is to pour the jelly into ramekins to create the top layer of a custard, or in my case a panna cotta.




Crème Frâiche Panna Cotta with Cherry Champagne Lime Jelly
Recipe by surfindaave

8 ounces Crème Frâiche
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
3 tbsp agava nectar (or 4 tbsp sugar)
1 packet flavorless gelatin (1.8 ounces, about 2.5 tsp)
2 tbsp cold water
Cherry Champagne Lime Jelly (recipe above) – cooled, but before it has set

Oil 4 one cup molds with olive oil. Spoon some of the warm jelly into each of the molds. Place in fridge, and let set for one hour. Remove from fridge 10 minutes before filling with panna cotta.

For the crème frâiche panna cotta, soften 1 packet of gelatine in the 2 tbsp cold water. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the crème frâiche, cream, milk and nectar just to a boil, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside keeping warm. Transfer the softened gelatin to a medium bowl, place over a hot water bath, and stir until dissolved. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dissolved gelatin and crème frâiche mixture until well combined.

Let the panna cotta cool, but don’t let it set. Pour the cooled panna cotta into the four molds until ¼ inch from the rim. Cover with plastic wrap. Let cool completely, then refrigerate over night.

Run a knife around the rim of the mold, and invert onto a plate. Garnish with lime peel curls.

I served mine on a chocolate sauce, with while chocolate sprinkles – cherries chili and chocolate go perfectly together. Delicious!

Enjoy!


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Emerald Green

I’ve made salsas with a lot of things.

Tomatoes, of course. Tomatillos. Bell peppers. Cilantro. Corn. I guess pesto is a sort of salsa, as well.

Often the taste is good, but the hoped for color dies with the preparation.

Tomatillo-based salsas always seem to turn a dull green when finished. Tomatoes are often not as red throughout as they are on the outside, making the final visual effect less impressive than hoped for.



But this one, unexpectedly, turned the brightest possible green. Real emerald green. And stayed that way.

It was surprising because the poblano chilies we made it from are much darker green on the outside.



The flavor is mild, but with a lot of depth. Not like the recent ‘burnin’ down the house’ meals we’ve made recently. It adds a nice background flavor.

It might be a little mild for most Mexican dishes, but I think it would go well with fish, grilled chicken breasts, burgers, etc.

Just a quick post, mostly because I wanted to capture the recipe. And because I still have to post on Sugar High Friday AND Weekend Herb Blogging. (Whew!)




Poblano Green Salsa

Ingredients:
2 poblano chilies, seeded, and inner membranes removed
3-4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, chopped roughly
½ bunch cilantro
juice from 1 lime
1 tbsp honey
salt
pepper
¼ to 1/3 cup water

Add all ingredients, except water, to a food processor. Process until smooth. Add water to thin to desired consistency. Let sit for an hour to let flavors develop. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve. Enjoy!


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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Things they don't teach you

File it under ‘Not having an Einstein moment’.

A long day. Hotter that it had been recently, as well. Which adds to the brain drain. Maybe a little tired. Sort of getting things ready on auto pilot. Because, even though this is a new recipe, which, of course I’m not following exactly anyways, I had read it through last night. And I think I have the idea. I have already planned how I’m intend to modify it.



Chopping up some long beans. Chinese style.

Mixing up some marinade.

Slicing some flank steak – super thin and against the grain of course.

We’re going to try some Orange Beef. Hunan style. Sounds like fun. And I’ve never tried it before.

So after mixing, and chopping, and assembling for a while, nature called. As sometimes happens. No problems. I’m a pretty clean person.

But it was afterwards. Immediately afterwards. As I was taking out my contact lenses.

Everything started to burn.



And, of course, I knew I had unthinkingly handled Thai chili peppers shortly before nature so rudely interrupted. They were in the marinade. It’s actually spicy orange beef. And of course the capsicum from the chili peppers was still all over my fingers. And being an oily thing, had soaked in and was not going away soon.

Blame it on the long day and the cooking on auto-pilot. Something I try to avoid.

First the eyes. Which was bad enough. But as the immediate and intense pain there began to subside, I knew I was in trouble.

Other – areas – began to burn as well.

Man, talk about a mindless moment. And, yes, I know I could have used gloves. But I usually don’t, because I’m usually involved in the cooking and don’t make such mistakes. They can teach you everything about sauces and handling food and techniques, but they can’t teach you about staying awake.

Well, I knew it would go away eventually.

But, even though I was somewhat more alert now, the constant burn kind of put me off my game. It distracted me. That, plus the usual people yelling about something, and the clock ticking away.



And then I screwed up the recipe. Because I was distracted by the burn and the noise and started cooking along in sort of auto pilot mode again. And by the time I realized it, it was too late. I had already sautéed the beef, just like I’ve done a million times before. When I realized that this recipe called for the strips of beef to be deep fried. Actually deep fried twice, for that super crisp effect (like they do with French fries).

So that evening, we ate lesser spicy Hunan orange beef. Not the way it was intended. It tasted fine. But unimpressive.

The next morning, I took all the remaining beef out of the leftovers, and deep fried it per the original recipe concept. And tossed it lightly in a fresh batch of clear sauce, as was originally intended. And naturally used the more correct preparation for the pictures. I figured cooking once and deep frying once was almost the same as deep frying twice.

And it was really good! I think the crisp effect was 90% there. Way better than the one I served for dinner, which wasn’t half bad, by the way. But it lacked the crunch and crisp finish of the intended recipe.




Hunan Spicy Orange Beef
Recipe from The FoodNetwork, adapted by surfindaave

For the beef:
2 pounds thick flank steak, weighed after trimming, cut into strips 2 1/2 inches by 1/4 inch
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 teaspoon Shao-Hsing wine or dry sherry
Pinch freshly ground white pepper
4 tablespoon peanut oil
8 tablespoons cornstarch

For the sauce:
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tablespoon sugar (we used 2 tbsp agava nectar)
4 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoon Chinese white rice vinegar or distilled vinegar
½ cup Chicken Stock
Pinch freshly ground white pepper

3 1/2 cups peanut oil, to deep-fry the beef
5 small dried chilies
3 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 fresh Thai chili, minced
4 tablespoons 1/2- by 1/8-inch pieces fresh orange peel, most of pith removed
6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch sections
2 oranges, separated into sections

Marinate the beef with baking soda in the refrigerator for 8 hours or, preferably, overnight. After marinating, wash thoroughly, twice, with cold water. Drain and dry with paper towels.

Place the beef in a bowl, add the egg white, and mix well until the beef is coated. Add the wine, white pepper, 1 tablespoon peanut oil, and cornstarch, mixing with your hand each time and ingredient is added. Allow to rest for 1 hour, refrigerated. There should be no residue.

In a bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat for 1 minute. Add the 3 1/2 cups peanut oil and heat to 400 degrees F (I chickened out and only got my oil to 380ºF). Place the beef strips, one at a time, in the oil and cook for 1 1/2 minutes, loosening the beef with a spatula. Remove with a strainer and drain. Heat the oil again to 425 degrees F. Place the beef strips again in the oil and cook for 2 minutes, until the beef becomes crisp. Remove and allow to drain.
Drain off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the wok and heat over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the dried chilies, stir, and cook until darkened. Add the ginger and garlic and stir briefly. Add the fresh chili and orange peel and stir briefly. Add the scallions, and mix well. Add the beef and cook, stirring, for 45 seconds. Make a well in the center of the mixture, stir the sauce mixture, and pour in. Mix well until the sauce is absorbed and the beef acquires a shiny coating. Remove to a serving dish and serve, garnished with the orange slices.

Serve with a vegetable, such as stir fried Chinese long beans, and steamed rice. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Complementing Leftovers

I like leftovers. Especially ones I have originally made. Even better if there is a large variety of diverse things.



We had some chicken and sausage gumbo, spicy prawns, chicken breasts in rosemary, roasted figs, humus, plus small amounts of an array of vegetables and starches. All neatly packed in plastic containers.

A scoop of this. A bit of that. Everything popped into the microwave. Dinner.

Every once in a while this is both enjoyable as well as necessary. To make room for more leftovers.

But this one needed a little help. Mainly in the vegetable department.

We had found some baby bok choy recently. Just a fraction of the size of a full grown behemoth bok choy cabbage. They look more like badminton birdies. Only green.

And I had been thinking about how to make them. I was tending towards a soup of some sort. Something with glass noodles and lots of ginger.

But, not wanting to start another new leftover on the ‘get rid of the leftovers’ dinner night, I went in a different direction.

I had pan roasted radicchio a number of times. As well as other lettuces. I just cut them in half, anoint them in some olive oil, and sautee them until browned.

I thought this treatment would work for the bok choy as well.



But I had ginger on my mind. And besides, one reason I seldom buy bok choy is everyone’s complaints about it lacking in flavor. So I was on a mission to add some flavor to this vegetable.

I figured the caramelization from frying would add some flavor.

And ginger. That was going in somehow as well. Plus garlic. Ginger and garlic would add a nice punch.

Everything sautéed in peanut oil. Just for that interesting nuance of flavor it imparts.

But I was still rooting through my cupboard and fridge for that last inspiration.

Soy? Too everyday. Hoisin, Oyster sauce? Too heavy. Mirin? Too sweet. Sesame oil? Too heavy.



Until I came upon my bottle of ponzu. I don’t know who invented this stuff. Sort of a light soy with citrus flavoring. But it is fantastic. As a marinade on salmon. In a salad dressing. As a component of a sauce in finishing a Chinese dish.

I could sprinkle it on steamed rice and be pretty happy about that.

So we created some ginger and garlic braised baby bok choy with ponzu. Light. Full of flavor. Energized by the ginger and ponzu. A nice fresh complement to a wonderfully diverse leftover dinner!




Ginger and Garlic Braised Baby Bok Choy with Ponzu
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
8 baby bok choy
1 large knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp peanut oil
½ cup ponzu

Note – I made this in two batches so that the bok choy pieces could lay flat in the skillet.

Cut each bok choy in half lengthwise.

In a large skillet, heat the 2 tbsp peanut oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, add ½ of the ginger and ½ of the garlic, and sautee for 1-2 minutes, stirring. Increase heat to medium high. Place 8 pieces of bok choy, cut side down, in pan. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of the ponzu. Cover, and cook, undisturbed, until the bottoms of the bok choy have browned, 4-5 minutes. Carefully turn the pieces over, and cook uncovered until that side is browned. Remove to a plate. Repeat procedure with the remaining half of the ingredients. Serve. Enjoy!


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Monday, August 21, 2006

Physical Attraction

It’s similar to how they package new celebrities. Someone you’ve never heard of, never seen before. Images appear. Stories appear. After awhile, it occurs to you that you’ve seen this person before. A few more images, and you take an actual look. And before you know it, this person seems to be everywhere. In movies. On TV. On the cover of magazines. And you begin to redefine your concept of attractive and desirous. Unconsciously. Based on this marketing barrage. Until you come to the odd conclusion that you find this person irresistibly attractive. Though you’ve never met, talked, or shared a single interest or experience together. It’s a purely physical attraction.

And so it is with these crazy heirloom tomatoes.



People have been talking about them for a long time. They’ve been written about. They’re on covers of magazines. And on TV.

Then you see one. In some specialty market. It catches the corner of your eye.

Then you see some more. With a little more variety. In more markets. And notice more and more people talking about them.

Now every stand in the farmer’s market has some sort of heirloom something. Usually tomatoes.

In many stands, you can’t really see a difference between the ‘heirloom’ tomatoes and the ‘normal’ ones, except that the price is two to three times as high for the ones labeled heirloom.

But the hooks are in. You know you have to try them. The attraction is too strong.

Finally, you see the Jessica Alba (or George Clooney) of heirloom tomatoes. The mother lode. Perfect in every regard. Ideal form. Breathtaking color. Unblemished. Wonderful variety.



For a price.

So you walk by.

Week after week.



But the hooks are in. They’ve got you. It’s just a matter of time. You know summer is running out. And they will be gone for a long time. They know summer is running out to. And raise their prices. Cause they know they got you.

And finally you give in. And shell out a fantastic amount of money for a tomato. Because of the irresistible physical attraction. To something you’d never even noticed not so long ago.



What other explanation could there be for agreeing to pay such outrageous prices for a tomato?

And they’re not just standing there counting your money. They’re already at work. Because they have to come out with next year’s even more fantastic model. In time to set the hooks and reel us in all over again.

We enjoyed these heirloom tomatoes with some fresh Buffa mozzarella, fresh ground black pepper, a few fresh basil leaves, and extra virgin olive oil.

The orange one had a mango taste. The red and orange stripped one had a sweet pineapple flavor. The green one had a nice tangy bite to it.



Worth the price? Hey, it was just something physical.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Burnin’ Down the House – Weekend Herb Blogging

If you live, or have lived, in the deep South of the US, you’ve had okra. It’s that simple.



It goes into all sorts of stews, such as gumbo, jambalya, things like that. It gets breaded and deep fried, just like those fried green tomatoes we made last week. It gets stewed, alone, with tomatoes, with potatoes, all sorts of things. It get stir fried.

It is indigenous to Africa, and came to the deep South along with the slave trade. It has now become a substantial part of the culture there.



To my surprise, it is also big in Asian cooking, as well as Indian. To me, this vegetable is so tied in to New Orleans that I never gave much thought to other cuisines.

Here are a few links with some more detailed info:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okra
http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/publications/vegetabletravelers/okra.html

But, you won’t find fresh okra for sale very often in the typical large chain markets, only frozen (which works fine, by the way). Rather, we find it by the ton in the Asian food markets. And at the Asian stands at the Farmer’s Market. I am quite sure most people are using it in stewy sorts of Asian dishes as a thickener. Just as it is used in New Orleans cooking.

I’ve never made gumbo without okra. To me, it wouldn’t be gumbo. The okra imparts a thick, somewhat slimy gelatinous texture to the stew that is part of the essence of gumbo. When you cut the fresh okra into slices, you can see the sticky juice as you carefully pull the pieces apart. That is the stuff that, together with a good roux, turns a watery vegetable stew into thick, rich gumbo.

So, when we began seeing fresh okra in the markets recently, we bought a pile. Probably three pounds of it or so. And got set to make some gumbo. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Anthony of .

In preparation for the gumbo, I had been noticing that my cayenne pepper had lost its punch. The color had changed over time, and there was almost no pungency left. So we got some new cayenne pepper. Fresh. Pungent. HOT!

Now, I did significantly reduce the amount of cayenne pepper I put in this gumbo, keeping in mind the fact that it was new. And had a lot more fire power. With the idea that I could add more later if necessary. But more on that later.

The gumbo always starts with the same procedure. Making the roux. Flour and oil, cooked together until deep and rich in color and flavor. I make a dark roux. Chocolate dark – not milk chocolate either. You’re always flirting with the fine line between dark and burned with roux. I start fast, then slow it down as the roux color deepens. Ending with the heat off and the roux finishing in the hot pan until just the right color. One note – the darker your roux, the less thickening power it will have. You need significantly more of a dark roux to thicken a given amount of stew than a very light roux.

Aside from thickening, the roux also helps give the gumbo that essential deep color. You don’t want a pale, limpid gumbo. You need a deep, dark color. And that is achieved with a dark roux and some seasonings.

Next, I fry the meats. This time chicken and sausage.

Then the veggies go in, using the fat from the meats. Always onion, celery and green bell pepper. It’s the mire poix of the south. With some garlic. Then the okra, meats, broth and the roux – ½ a cup or more, depends on your preference.

Finally it’s the spices. As mentioned, quantities reduced to reflect the new cayenne pepper.



While we were letting the gumbo come to a boil, we tasted the difference between the old cayenne pepper and the new. The old tasted like dust. No fire at all. The new on the other hand – my mouth burned for quite a while.

After that fire had died down a bit, and the gumbo had come to a boil and was simmering, I tasted the gumbo.

You just cannot compare fresh spices with old things left too long in the cupboard. This gumbo was on fire! A fire that started in your nose, went down your mouth all the way to the bottom of your gut. Not too hot for me – but maybe over the line for others. In any event, no Tabasco sauce was going to be needed with this one!

In the end, everyone agreed that after a few bites, the heat was bearable. I though it was awesome. One of the best I’d made, but then my internal organs had already been desensitized by several years of living in New Orleans.




Burnin’ Down the House Gumbo
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 cup canola oil
1 cup flour
4-5 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed
3 pounds spicy chicken sausage (raw), cut into pieces
1 onion, chopped
3-4 stalks celery (I like celery!), chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds okra, cut into ½ inch slices
2-3 red peppers, cut into pieces
8 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp (fresh) cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp paprika
1-2 tbsp salt
(note – some add onion powder and garlic powder as well)
1 tbsp black pepper
several sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 cup chopped parsley
6 green onions, sliced thin, for garnish
Boiled white rice
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco, if desired
Fresh French bread

Make the roux: Heat the oil and flour over high heat, stirring, until it boils. Turn down the heat a bit, and cook, stirring frequently. As the color deepens, turn down the heat more and more, until the roux has almost reached the desired color (think chocolate). Turn the heat off completely, and continue to stir occasionally. Remove to a heat proof bowl and reserve. Save any left over roux in the fridge for the next time.

In a large, heavy pot, fry the Chichen in batches in a little oil until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate as done. In the same pot, fry the sausage pieces until browned. Remove to a plate and reserve.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of oil from the pot. Sautee the onion, celery and green pepper in the oil over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic, and sautee for 1 minute. Add the okra, red peppers, chicken, sausage, chicken broth and all the herbs and spices except the parsley and green onions. Bring the gumbo to a gentle boil, stirring, and reduce heat to a low simmer. Add about 1/3 to 2/3 cup of the roux, depending on taste and darkness. Simmer the gumbo, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 hour or longer. It should be thicken and dark colored. Taste the gumbo and season as needed. Just before serving, stir in the parsley.

Scoop some white rice into shallow serving bowls. Ladle the gumbo around the rice. Place some chicken and sausage pieces around the rice. Sprinkle with the slices green onions, if desired. Serve with additional hot sauce, such as Tabasco, and slices of French bread (for the broth!). Enjoy!

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

What Lies Beneath

The last time we used the shishito peppers, we tried them raw. In a corn tomato relish. Just to sort of try the unadulterated taste.



But this time, I wanted to pan roast them. With a sprinkle of salt.

The only reason for this is that when I was researching the peppers for last week WHB, I noticed many restaurants serving the peppers pan roasted with salt as a side dish.

So, naturally, I wanted to see what it was that they found so appealing about this simple preparation.

But, I can’t just try something. That would make too much sense. And be too easy.

Since there were not so many peppers, about a pint, this seemed like more of a garnish.

The question became one of what would go underneath.



Many chefs probably begin with a solid foundation. And add some interesting taste and texture components. Then move on to the garnish.

Again – too easy. Too ordinary and conformist.

The more interesting idea was to start with the garnish and imagine something or things to fill in the structure and foundation.

To be fair, we already had the prawns. From a recent visit to the Asian market. So that layer, unless we had a really inspired idea, was sort of set. None the less – prawns can come to the table in many forms.

We’ve sort of overdosed on rice lately, and potatoes were vetoed. I was leaning towards polenta. When TeenBoy and I simultaneously came upon grits. New Orleans polenta. Cooked up with a lot of milk instead of water, and fortified with some cheese. Maybe parmesan.



So now, with the top and bottom set, all that was left was to finish the prawns. And that was now easy – Creole style prawns. Set on top of parmesan grits. With the roasted peppers as a garnish on top. The mildly spicy peppers would work well with some smokin’ hot spicy prawns. And a later of creamy, cheesy grits would be a nice contract in taste and texture.

The result was fun to make, and had a wonderfully rich, spicy flavor. And made a very nice presentation. We left the heads and tails on the prawns for looks. Both the prawns and peppers we just as easy to eat with the fingers as with a fork. Just a gentle twist, and the prawn head popped off, and the rest could be eaten while holding it by the tail.

I think the roasting brought out a little more heat from the shishito peppers as well. I liked them much better pan roasted. Tender with just the right touch of heat. A real complement to what was beneath.




Shrimp on Parmesan Grits with Roasted Shishito Peppers
Based on recipe by Emeril Lagasse, adapted by surfindaave
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 pounds medium-large shrimp in their shells, about 42, shells removed and reserved
Mix together:
1 tbsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tbsp Cumin
1 tbsp Dried Oregano
1 tbsp Paprika
1 tbsp Salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme
16 turns freshly ground black pepper, in all
4 tablespoons olive oil, in all
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 bay leaves
3 lemons, peeled and sectioned
2 cups water
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
Roasted Shishito Peppers (recipe follows)
Parmesan Grits (recipe follows)

Season the shrimp with ½ of the seasoning mix and cracked black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the reserved shrimp shells, the remaining seasoning mix, the bay leaves, lemons, water, Worcestershire, wine, salt, and the remaining 8 turns black pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for about 15 minutes, and strain into a small saucepan. There should be about 1 1/2 cups. Place over high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until thick, syrupy, and dark brown, for about 15 minutes. Makes about 4 to 5 tablespoons of barbecue sauce base. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned shrimp and sauté them, occasionally shaking the skillet, for 2 minutes. Add the cream and all of the barbecue base. Stir and simmer for 3 minutes.

Spoon the grits in the center of each plate. Place the shrimp around the grits. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and around the plate. Garnish with the roasted shishito peppers. Serve. Enjoy!


Parmesan Grits
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
Grits – either regular, or quick, for 8 servings
Make grits per package directions, using ½ milk and ½ water for total amount of liquid called for
1 to 2 cups grated parmesan cheese
salt, pepper

Make grits per package directions for 8 servings, using milk for ½ of the liquid called for, and water for the other ½ of liquid called for. When grits have thickened, stir in the grated parmesan cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste.


Roasted Shishito Peppers
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as a garnish

Ingredients:
1 pint shishito peppers, washed and dried
Olive oil
Salt

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet until hot. Add peppers, and toss. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until peppers are well charred in many places and softened. Remove to a plate, and season with salt.


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Work and Play

Chicken again? Whew. For some reason, I was less than enthused.

If I’m not excited by some food idea, it’s hard to get motivated to get the food cooked. Cooking turns from fun to work. It’s like that Tom Sawyer fence painting episode, where he defines work – “… Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do…“ (from Mark Twain, “Tom Sawyer”).

So there it is. If I have to do it, it’s work. Which by definition is no fun. If I want to do it, doesn’t matter if it’s the same exact thing, if I want to do it, it’s fun.

Well, we were flipping idly through some search results, looking for some spark of an idea. A bit unenthusiastically.



When my eye caught a partial list of ingredients. Sort of an odd combination. Basil, hoisin sauce, garlic, oyster sauce, sesame oil, hot chili paste. Among other things.

Basil? In an apparently Chinese style dish? With sesame oil and hot chili paste and oyster sauce? Hmmm. I’d never seen basil in a Chinese dish before. Thai, maybe. But not Chinese.

And it turns out we actually have all the ingredients. How often does that happen? Usually I’m looking through things, and there is at least one key ingredient that I don’t have.

But for this one, not only did we have everything, but the combination was unique. Something intriguing.

Work was turning into play.

The idea of the dish was to combine the basil as a counterpoint in flavor to a more typical Chinese seasoning combination. Pretty simple. The savory, slightly sweet hoisin sauce, the salty soy and the spicy chili paste balanced against the lightly licorice flavored basil.

Plus the recipe calls for chicken thighs. Which I prefer. As they have about a million times more flavor than chicken breasts. And I’m willing to put up with the complaints on occasion for the extra flavor.

So off we went.



The recipe is built along standard Chinese cooking lines. Marinate meat. Sautee meat. Add gravy ingredients. Serve. Everything fried over very high heat in a Wok (mine broke, so I use a heavy skillet and very high heat). I added some vegetation to the recipe, and pumped up the seasoning a bit. We had some Chinese long beans in the fridge, so I quick stir fried them prior to cooking the meat, and put both over steamed rice.

Wonderful! I love the flavor of the chili garlic paste. It has such a unique fire to it. And the basil was fantastic. Even though I knew what it was, it really surprise the taste buds! So by the end of the meal, everyone, taste buds included, had had a chance to play!

The basic recipe is from a Web site that sells Ken Hom Chinese cookware, with some adaptations by me, and the addition of the long beans. I included the intro text as well.




Spicy Hot Chicken with Basil and Long Beans
Recipe by Chef Ken Hom, adapted by surfindaave
Serves 4

This is a savoury, almost lusty chicken dish of Southeast Asian provenance.
Chicken thighs, with their darker, firmer meat, lend themselves to marinades and longer cooking. I enjoy their more robust chicken flavour and their more substantial texture. Chicken combines nicely with all spices but I particularly enjoy the surprise here of the anise-flavoured basil which is so nice a counterpoint to the other spices. If basil is unavailable you can substitute fresh mint. Serve the dish with plain rice and a salad or green vegetable for a complete meal. It can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator as it re-heats well.

2 large bunches of Chinese long beans, rinsed
2.5 lb chicken thigh meat (or 4 lb unboned chicken thighs, skinned and boned)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp corn starch
2-3 teaspoon sesame oil
4 tablespoons peanut oil
6 cloves coarsely chopped garlic
2 tbsp chilli-garlic sauce
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 teaspoon sugar (I used agava nectar)
Large handful fresh basil leaves – about 100 leaves

Cut the long beans into 1½ inch bite sized pieces, and reserve.

Remove the skin and bones from the chicken thighs or ask your butcher to do it for you. Cut the chicken into 1 inch (2.5cm) chunks and combine it in a bowl with the light soy sauce, cornflour and sesame oil.

Heat a wok and add 2 tbsp of the oil until it is very hot. Add the cut long beans, and toss quickly. Add a few tbsp of water to the pan, and cover. Steam for 2-3 minutes. Remove lid, and toss beans until most of water is evaporated. Remove beans to a heat proof bowl, and reserve.

Add remaining 2 tbsp of peanut oil to wok and heat over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the chicken. Stir fry for 5 minutes, then remove the chicken and drain off the oil. Return the drained chicken to the wok and add all the remaining ingredients except the basil leaves. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. When the chicken is cooked, add the basil, and stir well. Transfer to a serving platter together with the beans and serve at once with steamed rice on the side. Enjoy!

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