Monday, June 30, 2014

Good Fortune Hot Pots

A Chinese hot pot restaurant opened recently on 2700 South and 300 East. It's diagonally across the street from a classic Prairie School Architecture church.

I'm not entirely sure of the name. The menu said Good Fortune, the receipt said Good Future. The signage is all Chinese characters which I don't read. In any case, it was a pretty good meal.

The hot pot is set up like a buffet at $14.99/person. Add $1.00/person for every extra broth style you choose. They offer some different broths such as Chicken, Bone, Tonic, Hot & Spicy. We opted for the Chicken and the Bone stocks. The bone is the whiter of the two  broths. It turns white from emulsified fat, something considered a failure for western style stocks. It's the same concept as the Tonkatsu broth for Ramen in Japan.

The hot pot operates on a gas burner brought to your table. It's not particularly high output so you have to watch how heavily you load the pot to keep it cooking. Also, it's best to keep the ladles out of the broth between uses or the handles become quite hot. 

And the buffet tables of which there are three.

This first photo shows the seafood table. It has shrimp 2 ways, mussels, fake crab, real crab, a fish, squid or cuttlefish and so on.

Next is the vegetable table. This one included potato, daikon, bean curd skin, broccoli, cauliflower, Napa cabbage, Romaine lettuce,  and a few different mushroom choices. I was a little surprised by the large pieces of tree or cloud ear. It was a nice touch. The bean curd skin, potato and daikon had been blanched to accelerate the final cooking time at the table.

The meat table offered ham, pork, beef, chicken, fish balls, pork balls, shrimp balls and a fish cake. 

Saucing was a little confusing. Our staff couldn't readily offer an English description of all the 5 sauces. The primary sauce in the largest bowl was identified as a sesame sauce. I think it was built from toasted sesame paste, soy sauce and ginger. Probably some other things in lesser quantities.
The Thai Sweet Chili sauce was obvious, and a good choice. There was a hot mustard. A dark ketchupy looking sauce that had an intense hot finish. And a thicker light tan sauce with a vaguely meaty flavor and salty taste. 

We quite enjoyed ourselves and you should give Good Fortune/Future a try yourself. I'll be including some daikon potato and bean curd skin in my hot pots in the future. Those were a good idea.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Towards a Theory of Chinese Marinades: Part 5, Cornstarch

Cornstarch has become very popular in Chinese marinades. Martin Yan uses it in just about everything on his shows anymore, usually with the description of it making the meat tender.  It's viewed and used as the great secret to tenderness. I'm not convinced.

Texture is certainly important to Chinese cuisine. Texture is managed in many ways: drying, soaking, brining, how it's cut, how its cooked, velveting...

OK, velveting. That's cornstarch and it is a tender texture technique. Is it marination or is it battering and par frying / boiling in water.

Can you reduce the velveting effect to just including cornstarch in the marinade?

Does the order of using cornstarch matter? Some people think so.

Note the emphasis on adding the corn starch last.

And also again in their beef and broccoli  I've noticed that Martin Yan tends to add it last, but have not seen him explicitly call for it to be added last, though it is often last in his list of ingredients as well. I've seen no explanation for this but it seems to me it's the easiest way to avoid clumping of the corn starch.

Hsiang Ju Lin notes two uses of cornstarch for controlling texture in his classic Chinese Gastronomy. One is described as "To preserve the natural delicate texture. To form an impenetrable barrier between meat and hot oil". The sample recipe is velveted.

His other  is "To bind juices of meat with seasonings. It is essential to add liquid at last stage of cooking."  The example recipe is marinated with corn starch and liquid is added at the end. In the recipe description, he indicates the corn starch seals in the juices.  I suppose juiciness is a related trait to tenderness but it's not the same thing.

At yet another point in Chinese Gastronomy, he notes that the cornstarch keeps the juices in the meat, to keep the juices away from the other ingredients. He had just finished discussing how in a longer cooking time, the juices from the meat run out and into the dish making everything taste of beef--a more western idea of unified flavors rather than contrasting flavors. And it's one of they key skills in stir frying to not cook anything to the point where it's juices run out. This is hard in the west with our lower output stoves and things tend to steam if one isn't careful in loading the wok.

Similarly, Cook's Illustrated opines (via
The Mysterious Powers of Cornstarch Most cooks keep a box of cornstarch on hand for a single purpose: thickening. So did we - until we noticed that cornstarch was working its magic in other ways as well. Predictably, adding cornstarch (3 tablespoons) to our soup thickened it. What was surprising, however, were the two other uses we found for cornstarch. Adding just 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to the pork marinade of soy sauce and sesame oil caused the marinade to cling to and coat the meat during cooking, creating a protective sheath that slowed the inevitable rise in temperature that separates moist, tender pork from dry, chalky pork jerky. And adding just 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch to the egg that's drizzled into the soup at the end of cooking seemed to have a tenderizing effect. Cornstarch stabilizes liquid proteins when they're heated, staving off excessive shrinkage and contraction. So this last bit of cornstarch helped the eggs cook up lighter and softer.

Or with a little variation alongside the Hot And Sour Soup recipe in "The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook ". Click the image to read it in a bigger format.

And I agree that cornstarch in the marinade can help seal up the meat's juices. But I don't think it is the same end effect as velveting as is so often portrayed.  Also, it's use as a crutch over practicing good technique is saddening. Adding starch tends to cloud flavors. There are times the benefit of retained moisture outweighs the negative impact on flavor and it should be used. But it's not a universal solution to improving every marinade.  Before you just blindly add it because the recipe calls for it, or you've heard how great it is, try to understand what it will accomplish in the recipe. It might well be better without it.

One last note. Cornstarch is a relatively recent product of the west. Corn is native to the Americas and while there is a theory that corn was in China before Columbus came to the Americas (see it could be the usage is generic as corn is in English for grains. Corned beef as a term similarly predates the Americas and referred to the size and shape of the seasoning spices. Or early English editions of the Bible use corn as generic for grain in the Old Testament which also would not have used corn in the modern sense. In any event, the early starches used in China before corn were from water chestnuts and millet primarily. (Harold McGee On Food and Cooking)

Other posts in the Marinade series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Towards a Theory of Chinese Marinades: Part 4, Ginger and Garlic

Garlic is a frequent ingredient in the West for marinades. Not so much in China. And the same is true for ginger.

There are a few different reasons for this but mostly scorching of the garlic and ginger, and food philosophy.

In the west, we tend to marinate large cuts of meat, a whole chicken breast or pork chop and so on. It's easy to remove any bits of garlic before cooking. In Asian cuisine, especially the stir fry, where the meat is often thinly sliced, it would be difficult to remove all the bits and they'd scorch and burn creating terrible flavors.

In recipes by western cooks creating an Asian style dish, marinade or sauce, the ginger, garlic and soy sauce abound in ways unnatural to the cuisine. One dish my son cooked for his foods class in high school had him simmering a stir fry in a 1/4 cup of soy sauce for a few minutes toward the end to finish cooking the vegetables and reduce the liquid. Or they shoot for a teriyaki sort of result which is a sauce highlighting soy, sugar, garlic and ginger.

The west sees a marinade as an opportunity to build bold punchy flavors. And this can work. I'm a big fan of Cochinita Pibil or Pernil, roasts of pork usually flavored with a strong marinade of citrus or vinegar, achiote, garlic and so on.

For the Chinese, marination is more about balancing the flavor to bring out the best natural qualities of the item being marinated to best exemplify itself in the dish with the other ingredients. So each ingredient has it's good points and bad points. The marination, along with the cooking technique, accenting/contrasting ingredients and sauce if any are to bring out the best features while minimizing or removing the worst aspects.

Ginger and garlic are often used in cooking then to remove the off flavors of ingredients.

Again, looking at many Chinese recipes originating in the west, the ginger and garlic go in at the start of stir frying with the meat. And they stay there. Or as Cook's Illustrated has done, they add these seasonings later in the cooking so they have more presence and punch in the final dish. Its more likely in a traditional recipe that the ginger and garlic will go in at the start to season the oil, and then are removed. They're not always there to be a noticeable part of the dish, just to correct the other flavors to be at their best.

It's why the Japanese serve pickled ginger with the sushi. Not to be eaten on the sushi, but to refresh your palate for the next taste of sushi. The ginger clears your palate of fish. You'll usually see ginger cooked with fish and other seafood to remove the fishy flavors and let the best qualities of the fish shine through.

Yan Kit So hints at another aspect of ginger, it's acidity, that can be inappropriate in a marinade or even the whole dish. In the recipe for Stir-Fried Prawns in Tomato Sauce from her book Yan-Kit's Classic Chinese Cookbook she says:

"The Cantonese like to bite into prawns that are 'crisply firm' and to achieve this texture Cantonese chefs leave out ginger and wine when preparing them as we have here." 

Or again in her Homestyle Chinese Cooking when she makes Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce,

 "In making this dish, the goal is to make the texture of the shrimp crisp. Thus both alcohol and ginger are to be avoided." 

She often marinades for hours as well which would exacerbate the issue. Ginger can be as acidic as lemons and can be used to curdle the milk in a ginger custard.  So to avoid the acidic cooking effect as in ceviche, omitting the ginger can be important both in the marinade and in the dish itself.

Garlic, onion, green onion, shallot have the same purpose in many recipes, to correct off flavors. Of course, there are some times when these are the main point of the dish and so the flavors of the alliums themselves might be corrected to be less sulfurous or to bring out the sweetness.

In other techniques of cooking, say a baked or a steamed dish as fish often are, there is little or no opportunity to add flavors during cooking. So marinades for steamed dishes usually build the complete flavor profile for the dish or most of the flavors. And with steaming there is no worry of scorching the ginger or garlic. Indeed such dishes often feature a hot oil finish to bring out the best aspects of the aromatics since steaming doesn't get quite hot enough to do so.

Braising, the garlic and ginger are usually in the liquid of the braise, even though some parts are often stir fried first, much as we in the west would brown off the meat prior to braising.

Hsiang Ju Lin writes in Chinese Gastronomy (one of the greatest Chinese Cookbooks), "The cuisine of Szechuan is a brilliant freak which breaks all the rules and gets away with it."  Hsiang doesn't recognize Hunan as a noteworthy culinary region of China, but it also often goes for the big bold flavors which is probably why those two regions have come to dominate Chinese Restaurants in the West over the Cantonese style restaurants that lead the way originally. And why Cook's Illustrated feels it necessary to punch up aromatics as well.

If you see garlic and ginger in the marinade step of a stir fry recipe, read the rest of the recipe closely. It's quite possible you'll want to change how the garlic and ginger are used in the dish to get the best results.

Other Posts in the series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cheesecake, plain and simple

As long as I posted a birthday Hot Pot, I need to post the birthday dessert.

I like a good cheesecake. Sadly, most restaurants sell you a Sysco cheesecake or similar mass produced thing. I only order a restaurant cheesecake if its made in house. It's sad really because a good cheesecake isn't particularly hard to make. There are a few techniques that improve the cheesecake and they do add a little work to the process, but it's nothing hard.

A good cheesecake should be dense, tall and rich with a smooth creamy custardy texture. Not too sweet either.


Pan--traditionally a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. I've used a number of different springform pans and have largely given up on them. If you have one you like, go ahead and use it. I've taken to using an 8 inch round silicone cake pan. I should get a 9 or 10 inch silicone cake pan and it would simplify things for me a bit. If you're using a cake pan, you'll also need parchment paper so you can release it from the mold.

A rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan-- big enough to hold the cake and surround it with water

A food processor or blender-- a mixer won't create a smooth even batter. The down side of this tool is that it adds in air but that can be fixed. When I made this with my 9 cup KitchenAid food processor, I had to do it in batches. With my 11 cup Cuisinart, I can make it in one batch.  I don't have a blender but it should produce an even smoother batter than the food processor. The food processor leaves small bits of cream cheese, but it's smooth enough. But I don't make specialty drinks so I don't have much use for a blender.

I did this once with a handheld immersion blender. It worked, but it about burned out the blender. It's not really up to the task.

Crust Ingredients

If you have a crust you like, use it. Graham crackers, nuts, cookies, they all work. I use Vanilla Wafers for a plain cheesecake. I get more adventurous with other flavors of cheesecake.

1 3/4 cup Vanilla Wafers  when crushed to crumbs yields 1 cup crumbs.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted

Set your oven to 325 with a rack in the lower third.

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the pan. Details on cutting the parchment are at the end of this post. Use a spray oil to grease the pan, then set in the parchment. The oil film holds the parchment flat so you can easily form the crust.

Crush the Vanilla Wafers in the food processor and let it mix in the sugar as well. Pour the crumb mixture into the pan on top of the parchment paper.

Make a well in the center of the crumbs. Pour in the melted butter. Mix the butter into the crumbs. I like to use a fork, but use what you like. Spread them out  into an even layer.

Then press them into a tight packed layer. A measuring cup, drinking glass or similar object with straight sides makes this easier. I like to use my meat tenderizing disk for this. Give your packing tool a light twist as you remove it from the crumbs. This helps shear the crumbs off the tool and keep your crust intact.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. If you're using a silicone cake pan, use the sheet pan with it to keep the bottom rigid and crack free.

Meanwhile prepare the filling.

Filling Ingredients

Don't skimp. Low fat, or non-fat cream cheese, sour cream substitutes and such do not make a good cheesecake. Use real vanilla, not imitation. If you want to cut back on the calories and fat, cut a thin slice and exercise will power. But enjoy yourself with the great cheesecake that this is.

Similarly, buy a good grade of cream cheese. The off brands often cut back on the cream. Philadelphia will work well. I usually buy a 3 pound brick of Raskas Cream Cheese from Costco and I like that the best. I give a volume measurement for the sour cream. That's not really easy to measure and it makes a mess. If you have a kitchen scale, it's much easier and more accurate to weigh it out.

Ingredients should be at room temperature.

2 pounds of cream cheese and cut in cubes, about 2 oz each
3 cups of sour cream--27 ounces   You can use a full 24 oz container if that's better for you and it will work out just fine.  But it's even better with those extra 3 ounces.
4 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
1 cup sugar

Set the oven to 325 with the rack in the lower third of the oven. If you used my crust recipe, things should be ready to go.

Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Work in batches as necessary.

Technique 1--Remove Air from batter

If you're working in batches, pour your batches in to a large bowl and mix to combine and work out any uneven quantities from the batches.  With the food processor work bowl or large bowl, tap the bowl onto your counter from about an inch height. It takes about 5 taps to form each bubble of air and bring it to the surface. Keep tapping until you get no new bubbles coming up after 10 or 15 taps in a row. There are air bubbles rising to the surface in the picture below.

If you're using a spring form pan, wrap the pan in a single layer of aluminum foil on the outside. You must have no seams where the water from the bain marie can get in. A springform pan will let water in unless you wrap it in foil first.

Pour the batter into your pan form with the baked crust. Smooth it out

Because my pan is a bit undersized, I also pour the extra batter in to a silicone muffin pan and make some small cheesecake pucks which I cook for only a short time.

Technique 2--Cook in a water bath, or bain marie

Put the pan in the oven on the rimmed baking sheet but with a corner sticking out for easy access for adding water. Pour in enough hot water to come up halfway on the cheesecake pan.  Put the bain marie fully into the oven and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The water bath evens out heat and helps prevent overcooking the outer edges before the center sets fully. At the end of the cooking time, the cheesecake will be ivory colored with some light browning, usually more at the edges. You might see some shallow cracking on the surface, again usually towards the edges. Don't worry, the cake will shrink down and virtually heal those cracks. Note how it's puffed up above the rim of the pan about 3/4 of an inch.

Technique 3-- Coast to the finish

After the hour and 15 minutes, the cheese cake will not be done cooking. Turn the oven off and let it finish cooking and start cooling down in the oven with the door closed for 1 hour.

I use the time bake feature on my oven for this so I don't have to stress about timing at all. I know the oven will go off on time and I only have to mark my mind for the total two hours and 15 minutes. So I can go run an errand or whatever. Makes it simple.

If you click the image below, you'll see some minor cracking at the 7-5 o'clock areas, and up around 10 and 2. Those will heal down to minor creases. Also note how the cake has dropped about 1/2 inch in height. It will drop down about flush with the pan when fully cooled.

Technique 4--The Full Cure

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and chill for 8 hours. So make this in the morning if you want to eat it for dinner that night. If you're afraid of spilling hot water, lift it out on a wide spatula, board or whatever is thin, broad and stiff.

If you ever taste a bit of cheesecake warm from the oven, it has very little flavor. It's surprising because foods to be eaten cool or cold are usually overseasoned so they taste correct at the cold temperature. And even after 4 hours chilling down, the flavor still hasn't really developed. it takes a good 6-8 hours after coming out of the oven for the full flavor impact.

Result of the Techniques

Cooking the cheesecake in this way ensures that the cake is evenly cooked throughout, remains dense and self heals any shallow cracks that occur.

Unmolding the Cheesecake 

If you used a spring form pan this is simple. Run a thin knife around the outer edge of the cheesecake. Release the tension and remove the springform.

If you used a cake pan, it's trickier. Run the knife around the edge of the pan as with the springform pan. Cover the cake and pan with some plastic wrap. Invert it onto a cutting board. Flex the silicone around the base edges to break the seal between the pan and the parchment paper. Lift the pan slowly increasing the release from the pan and paper as you lift. When it lets go, slide the pan completely off. The cheesecake is dense and sturdy and can support itself without  fear of it collapsing.

Peel off the parchment paper. Occasionally a piece of crust may pop free. Simply put it back in place like a puzzle piece. It will stick to the cheesecake for serving.

Put the serving plate on the crust, and reinvert the the plate, cake and board. Lift off the board, wrap the plastic wrap and the cake and refrigerate until service.  The board was never even dirtied.  And yes, a piece of crust did pop free. Can you tell where it was? No, it's not the light spot towards the bottom left. The lines are from the creases in the parchment paper.

If you click on this image below, the enlargement shows some creases running from about 7 O'clock over to 5 Oclock and two small ones around 10 and the other over around two. These are the remains of small shallow cracks that self heal as it cools.  Compare that against the cracking picture in the Further Discussion section below.


A damp knife blade makes a cleaner cut. Wipe the blade between cuts for best presentation. Note the even texture throughout the cake from the center to the edge.

Further Discussion

The springform disappointment

I tried nonstick springforms, textured aluminum, glass bases. They all are problematic in leaking. After some use, they all impart off metallic flavors under the long curing time of this cake. The base is annoying to serve from unless you have the glass base. They're a little finicky to store compared to a solid pan.

And it discolors my baking sheets when I use the foil wrapped springform with my aluminum rimmed baking sheets as the bain marie.

In the end, they're just not necessary. Lift out bases are better for tender fillings and silicone cake pans eliminate flavor issues and are water tight.


For a first effort with no water bath, this is a respectable cake from the blog Little Bit Sweet  I use the image here just to demonstrate the more serious form of cracking in cheesecakes.

The main issue in cracking is that the batter has puffed from heat expansion. The outer surface is drying and thus shrinking. This is why cracks happen the most at the edges of the top during baking. That's where the batter has heat exposure on the side and the top.  And then when cooling, the contraction of the outer edges is faster than the center leading to the sort of cracks in the image above.

Controlling cracks is about three things.

1.  Minimizing heat differences

Using room temperature ingredients is important. You can't make this cheesecake with cold batter. The cooking times would be too short and you will have cracking problems.  Also, the water bath keeps the temperatures below boiling around the cheesecake thus buffering the heat.  The cool down in the oven also helps minimizing cracking as it cools slowly and evenly.

2.  Air in the batter

Mixing the ingredients smoothly will add air to the batter, a food processor or blender even more so than a stand mixer. Air in the batter makes the cheese cake rise even more in the oven leading to a highly puffed cheesecake that then falls. This movement leads to cracks, usually some overcooking making for a curdled crumbiness to cheescake too. The tapping technique is important to getting as much air out of the batter as possible.

If you see a recipe going for a light and airy cheesecake, it's going to have problems in texture, flavor and cracking. And it's really a different dish than the custard that a cheesecake really is.

3.  Batter issues

This is more the fault of the recipe writer than the cook. A custard is about getting the proteins to set up just right. So the recipe has to manage liquid, eggs, and cream cheese properly. There's a range where it works, beyond that it cracks and maybe gets runny or with a coagulated grainy crumb.

Shirley Corriher in Bakewise espouses flour as the solution. The vigorous mixing from the food processor activates the gluten in the flour and that gives the structure needed to the final product. As far as it goes, that's true. But flour mutes the taste of the cheesecake and creates a more gummy texture that's a problem in its own right.


Plain cheesecake is best plain. So many places add a goopy over-sweetened pie type fruit topping. It's too sweet and the wrong accent. If you want fruit, use a lightly sugar macerated fresh or frozen fruit, sliced as needed.

Lemon, lime or orange curd is a good compatible topping as well.

Cheesecake varieties

Once you start getting into pumpkin, chocolate, caramel and such, the cheesecake gets quite different. The sugar goes up and the nuances of the cream cheese gets lost. Certainly there are good cheesecakes of these types but they're even scarcer than a good plain cheesecake.

The marbled approach is better I think. Where you get strong bites of each type of flavor to compare and contrast on your palate. Even going so far as to where a cheesecake and chocolate cake combine as in a Black Bottom Cupcake.

Cutting the parchment paper to a round

Fold the parchment in half and then half again. The corner where all the creases meet will be the point in all subsequent folds.

Fold it in half at an angle this time.

If you keep folding and sandwiching the creases, the point tends to drift off center and you end up with an oval that won't fit right. So alternate the direction of the next fold.
 Then repeat on the opposite site.

Hold the point at the center of the pan and then trim the edge. It's better to err on the large side than the small side as you can always trim off more but you can't add it back on. 

 It took two trims to get a good tight fit.

Test the fit with it open to judge whether more trimming is necessary.

The edge will often have a slight scallop to it but that's fine.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hot Pot or Fire Pot

This is Fondue Chinoise (according the French and the Swiss) or Chinese Hot Pot or Mongolian Fire Pot. A meal of small food items to be cooked in a simmering broth. The Europeans tend to use a small fork color coded to each diner. The Asians usually use small wire mesh baskets. At my house, both tend to get involved.

Traditional charcoal fired fire pot (from I'm a little concerned about carbon monoxide and such to use one of these in the home.

Divided hot pots (from so you can have different flavors of broth, often one spicy and one milder. These look a little small for feeding more than 4 very polite diners. Maybe two serious food lovers could get along in one of these. 

I usually make a hot pot in either an electric fondue pot (the New Years Hot Pot at the end of this post) or on my induction burner (Birthday Hot Pot below) that can keep a bigger volume of liquid hot even when there are lots of baskets and forks in the pot. 

Select a mix of meats and vegetables that cook well simmered or boiled. The list of possibilities is long. As I usually make this for a celebratory meal, my examples below are heavier on the meat than you might want. 

Here's some other people's versions for you to use for ideas:
ChinaSichuanFood with some interesting ideas for a "dry hot pot" and an Ice hot pot. 

I tend to use a more strongly seasoned asian stock for my broth, but there are many possibilities if you look through the above links. 

Birthday Hot Pot for my son (induction burner and larger pan)

Thinly sliced pork and chicken, shrimp, tilapia filet, tofu, asparagus, spinach, zucchini.

If you're using loin chops for the pork, it helps to slice off the fat rind. lay the pork chop on edge and cut along the fat rind, with the knife horizontal to the cutting board. 

An array of baskets and forks cooking items in the broth.

When you're slowing down, the broth has reduced and concentrated, finish cooking the rest of the ingredients and ladle the resulting soup into bowls of noodles. For this batch, I used egg noodles. Alternatively, you can cook little baskets of noodles along the way.

A fresh plate would be more formal, but here, I'm enjoying my soup on top of the plate I worked from for the meal. So there's a little bit of shrimp tails and such about.

Lunar New Year Hot Pot 2014 (electric fondue pot)

Scallops, fishballs, squid, tofu, bean sprouts, pork, zucchini, spinach, small bok choy leaves.

This soup used rice noodles.

It's nice to have some different sauces for dipping the cooked items. And also the standard array of Chinese condiments for seasoning the final soup. 

I tend to favor a Black Vinegar and Ginger dip as well as a Sesame-Soy Vinaigrette. Use any of your favorites if you wish of course. 

Black Vinegar and Ginger Dip
1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons black vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sweet chile sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Optional--a flavored oil: chili oil, chive oil, sesame oil. Don't repeat an oil you're using in another dip. Keep them different. 

Mix, and let stand at least 30 minutes for the ginger flavor to penetrate the sauce. This is also very  good with pot stickers. 

The ratios here make this sauce scale easily. 

Sesame-Soy Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dark soy

Combine and stir to dissolve the sugar. Shake or stir vigorously before using to mix in the oil.  I use this one a lot on salads and slaws.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Frittata is a baked Italian style omelette. It shares some concepts with the Spanish Tortilla, but the fillings are often more diverse. I like the frittata as a simple way to repurpose leftovers quickly into something tasty.

The concept is simple. A 10 inch skillet. Nonstick or well seasoned cast iron or carbon steel simplifies things a lot and I strongly recommend one of those choices. It needs an oven proof handle as well, at least for the technique I prefer.

The ratio is this: 6 eggs to about 3 cups of filling. The filling usually includes something starchy like potatoes or pasta, some vegetables, often some herbs and some meat and/or cheese. For this fritatta, I'm using up some leftover linguine in a tomato sauce,  some sauteed zucchini and patty-pan squash, some cut up ham, and a mix of Romano and Parmigiano cheese.

I tend to cook on a lower heat for a longer time than many other frittata recipes you'll see. Those frittatas have a darker overcooked egg surface that is less appealing. You'll see.

Season your eggs. I chose some Goya Adobo, black pepper and a little garlic Cholula hot sauce. That's what I most often s eason my eggs with for most any savory purpose.  Then beat the eggs.

Add your filling choices. Mine were pasta, squash, ham and cheese. 

Combine those. 

Heat your pan over medium heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Tilt your pan to coat it evenly. I don't recommend butter. The milk solids tend to overcook and darken the surface of the fritatta and tastes a little off from the longer cooking time of this dish.  

Add your fritatta mix. It will set around the edges slowly. Lift the edges and let some egg run under and cook. Do this around the fritatta twice. 

Meanwhile, heat your broiler and position your rack about 6 inches from the heat. You can see on the right of my photo I'm down one notch on the position in my oven. Also note that I removed the cover from this pan's handle so it's safe for broiler temperatures. 

The surface will set before it's done cooking. Look for the surface to pick up some color is useful clue. When you see some color, to see how the fritatta jiggles. If it moves fairly uniformly it might be done. if the center jiggles more than the edges, it needs to cook some more. You can test it pretty simply for doneness. Poke a knife into the center and look for liquid. If you click the photo below to see it larger, you'll see the liquid shine by the blade. Some recipes say that it will finish cooking from the carryover heat outside the oven, but I've been burned by that technique. If you like your omelets with a littlye runniness in the french style, that's fine. That's just not my preference. The surface here can take a little more browning. so I let it go another 2 minutes under the broiler At that point, it had enough color but was still wetter than I liked so I turned off the broiler, and let the frittata bake in the closed and cooling oven about 5 more minutes

Compare the browning in mine to the wikipedia frittata-photographed by flagstaffotos. Their egg surface is overcooked and will have poor texture and flavor. 

Generally, recipes tell you to invert onto a plate. Plates don't give you a lot of extra rim if you're not experienced at that inverting thing. This is where the non-stick cooking surface helps out. A cutting board is easier I think than a plate and it's much easier to cut and better for the knife. 

Then slip it onto the serving plate.

Good warm or at room temperature.