As regular readers know, I spent a part of my career traveling to and working in China. At the time (and probably still today) the residents of China and Hong Kong divided the people of Chinese descent into two groups. Chinese and Overseas Chinese (with Taiwan as a special case). And one of the places where this is very important is in cuisine. Overseas Chinese cooks/chefs, in restaurants large and small, adapted recipes to take advantage of local fresh ingredients and modified them to fit local taste. Chinese food in Singapore veers off in one direction, Chinese food in the U.S. and Canada follows a different path. Shrimp with Lobster Sauce is one of those Canadian/American overseas Chinese dishes you won’t find in Asia (though “white sauces” like lobster sauce are used in Cantonese cooking, occasionally).
At this point, I’ll inject the obligatory “no lobsters were harmed in the preparation of this sauce,” reference. But you already knew that, right?by
There are plenty of ways to make a good old beef stew, and a well made stew is one of life’s great pleasures. You’re not likely to find an easier — or better — version than this daube Provençal. Daube? Yep. The name comes from an interesting looking ceramic cooking vessel called a daubiere (see photo at right, from Wikipedia) that’s designed for low and slow cooking in an oven.
The version below is adapted from one I rescued from an old French cookbook that disintegrated a long time ago, so I can’t speak to its authenticity. Since I don’t have a daubiere, this recipe is adapted for a dutch oven and could easily be converted for a slow cooker, as well.
In a clasic daube, red or white wine is the only liquid used. The classic recipe also calls for beef shank along with the chuck, which adds body and flavor to the dish. For this recipe, I added half a cup of beef bone stock, which substituted for the shanks and simplified things.by
One of the best things about fall is that I get to bring out the stock pot and get a good soup or stew underway. Soups and stews give me the chance to be creative and experiment with flavor combinations. In particular, I love making soups that, served with some rustic bread and a nice green salad, are hearty enough for a full meal. This chicken sage and corn soup is a result of just such an experiment.
Because it is still early in the fall, I can still manage to find some fresh corn, so that was the starting point for the recipe. Adding fresh sage from the mini herb garden on my deck was the thing that made the soup. Somehow the aroma it gave the soup, along with the smokiness of the bacon, just evokes a kind of late-summer early fall feeling.by
Had it been invented here in the U.S., the croque monsieuer would be considered “bar food,” but since it was created in one of the many bistros in Paris sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the name is much fancier. This version is slightly modified from the French classic to take advantage of some wonderful ingredients I happened to come across.
The ham came first. The traditional croque monsieur would use boiled ham, much like the ham you can get at just about any deli in any supermarket. Just a short drive from where I live, however, is Virginia ham country, and so I sometimes get my hands on some excellent thin-sliced lightly smoked country ham from Surry Farms. If you really like ham and you want a real treat, you can order it online. You’re not likely to find anything better.
Then the cheese. In Paris, it would be gruyere or ementhaler, or maybe Compte for this sandwich, but I also had on hand some Balsamic Bellavitano from Wisconsin’s Sartori Cheese, so in the interests of making this an all-American version of croque monsieur, I figured I’d give it a shot. Good choice, it turns out. It complimented the ham well and wasn’t overpowered by the rich bechamel.
Finally the bread. The classic version uses slightly sweet bread called pan de mie, which resembles brioche. If you can get your hands on brioche, great. I’ve found that challah works well and is close to the French pan de mie. Some versions of this sandwich call for using what Americans call French toast — bread dipped in whipped eggs and fried crisp. Feel free to do that if you’re making this recipe. Personally, I like the crunch of grilled bread.
If you’re not familiar with French sauces, bechamel is one of the so-called mother sauces. It’s just a white roux of flour and butter, with some milk whisked into it, flavored with a bay leaf and a bt of nutmeg, salt and pepper. For this sandwich, I also add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. I’ve included a small-batch recipe for the sauce that makes enough for two or three sandwiches.
Croque monsieur is perfect for a nice lunch or even better as part of a more elaborate brunch. It pairs well with a rich chardonnay.
- Thin-sliced smoked Virginia ham (or boiled ham from the deli), enough for 2-4 sandwiches.
- Gruyere, Ementhaler, or Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano, enough slices to cover the ham on the sandwiches plus 1/4 cup grated for each sandwich.
- Two slices soft-crust slightly sweet bread such as brioche or challah per sandwich
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- Prepare the bechamel by melting the butter in a small saucepan, and when it has clarified and just begins to bubble, add the flour all at once. Stir and cook for several minutes, until the roux is nearly dry. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and then continue to cook until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stir in the nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Set aside.
- Butter all sides of the bread slices and assemble the sandwiches with the ham and sliced cheese. Grill on a hot griddle until nicely browned and cheese begins to melt, turning once. Place the sandwiches on a non-stick cookie sheet or broiler pan.
- Top each sandwich with enough bechamel to just reach the edges and sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese on each sandwich. Run under a preheated broiler until the sauce on top is bubbling and browned.
- Serve immediately.
Shakshouka is a beautiful, colorful blend of North African and middle eastern culinary traditions that makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or dinner. It’s also versatile. You can add any number of ingredients to this basic recipe and so long as you’ve got that bright red, spicy sauce and some eggs, you’ve still got shakshouka. My only departure from the standard base is to add some onions, because, well, I like onions.
Like most dishes from this region, it’s hard to pin down the origin, but most of the sources I found credit the start of the modern version to Tunisia. From there it spread across North Africa and into the Middle East, where it now is a favorite breakfast or dinner in Israel. In Tunisia, the dish often includes artichoke hearts, potatoes and/or broad beans. I’ve also had it with sausage, chick peas, and feta cheese, in various combinations.
In other words, experiment and have fun.
This version uses harissa, the arabic blend of spices built around chili peppers. You can find it either in paste or dried form in most mainstream groceries, these days and it’s easy to find online. Some recipes I’ve seen call for other chili-based spice blends. Again, use what you like. You also can add more eggs to stretch the dish to feed more people, so long as everyone gets an egg or two.
- Olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. harissa (or to taste)
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 cup diced white onions
- 2 large red peppers, diced small (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 1 28 oz. canned whole tomatoes
- 4 large eggs
- Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium heat and when it fully heated, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom.
- When the oil is heated, add the onions and peppers and saute until they're softened.
- Add the harissa, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for another minute or two.
- Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes, using the back of a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- When the sauce has reduced a little and become very thick, use a spoon to make four evenly spaced indententations in the sauce and gently break and egg into each indentation.
- Reduce temperature a little, cover and simmer until the eggs are poached to your liking.
- Remove from the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to settle, then spoon into individual plates and serve with fresh bread (Challah is great for this).
Along with Won Ton soup, I would be willing to bet that pepper steak is one of the first things most of us Americans tried when we first encountered Chinese food here. I’ve never encountered anything like pepper steak in China, though the flavor reminds me of a dish I had once at a hotel in Guilin made with pork. The version served in most inexpensive Chinese restaurants in the US is typically rather bland and seems more American than Chinese, probably for a good reason. This version has more authentic flavors and a bit of a bite. And while its not authentic by any means, it’s flavor profile is much more like what I remember from southern China and Hong Kong.
Some notes about the ingredients are in order. Xiaoxing wine is not easy to find, but dry sherry is a perfectly good substitute, one that I use most of the time, in fact. I found a market where I can sometimes find real Sichuan peppers. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon them, stock up and freeze what you can’t immediately use. The small red Thai peppers that are more common make a pretty good substitute, but they’re not the same.by
Dessert is something that’s pretty rare around my kitchen unless we’re having guests, but once in a while something I see catches my eye and I just have to give it a try. That’s how this spiced plums recipe was born. It started when I stumbled across a picture of a brunch menu while browsing my Twitter feed. I’m not sure why that particular picture caught my eye, but given that fall plums had begun showing up at the local farmer’s market, I had to give it a shot. I’m happy I did.
This is a perfect no-fuss kind of dessert that’s ideal for a fall brunch. Warm fresh fruit, a hint of cinnamon and cloves and a little citrus tang. The plums are easy to warm up and, even better when served over a piece of ginger bread.by