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Ask a Foodie: What Do You Do with Bok Choy?


Q. Suggestions for what to do with bok choy? Do I eat the the stalk, leaf, or both?

— Valerie

Bok choy

Bok choy

A. Bok choy, occasionally spelled choi, is an Asian member of the cabbage family. According to About.com, “Its white stalks resemble celery without the stringiness, while the dark green, crinkly leaves of the most common variety is similar to Romaine lettuce. The Chinese commonly refer to bok choy as pak choi or ‘white vegetable.’ Another common name is white cabbage.”

You can use it like cabbage in a stir-fry with water chestnuts, snow peas, carrots, celery and onions, not to mention your choice of meats or tofu. It would go well with pork, beef, chicken or shrimp. Add some basil and chile oil for a Thai-style dish that can be served over rice or with your choice of noodles added.

Even more simple would be to sauté it in your choice of butter, olive oil, coconut oil or bacon drippings. Treat it like brussels sprouts and toss in some bacon and a touch of orange zest for added flavor.

If you didn’t want to cook it, you could use it raw in a coleslaw. Bok choy is also good cut in half lengthwise, lightly oiled and seasoned and cooked, cut side down on the grill. And, you can juice it as well.

To get you started, here’s an easy recipe from “Joy of Cooking.” It calls for baby bok choy. If yours are a little larger, the cooking time will be longer.

Baby Bok Choy with Soy Ginger Sauce

4 baby bok choy
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon slivered peeled fresh ginger

Rinse the bok choy, then cut lengthwise in half.

Steam cut side down over boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a pair of tongs to a platter.

In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, vinegar, water and ginger. Spoon the sauce over the bok choy and serve. Allow 1 to 2 whole baby bok choy per person.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

From “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

 

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Give Your Mushroom Soup a Kick


Mushroom Soup

Recipes are guidelines, not written in stone. It’s a mantra we repeat whenever we enter the kitchen, especially when we may be shy of an ingredient called for.

I repeated that to myself when trying this recipe freely adapted from “Joy of Cooking” (Scribner, $35). I had plenty of wanted a little extra mushroom oomph, but I didn’t have the wild mushrooms called for, so I added porcini powder to my mix of button caps and cremini mushrooms.I was fresh out of shallots, so I used little less than 1/2 cup of red onion and minced it finely.

I also like a little extra spice, so I stirred in some Indian garlic pickle. Sriracha or even a dash of hot sauce would work well.

Finally, take a tip from Irma S. Rombauer and her fellow authors of “Joy of Cooking: “Slice rather than chop the mushrooms for a meaty texture and a handsome look.”

So, here’s your outline. Make it as you like it.

Mushroom Soup

3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or additional olive oil
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, preferably 12 ounces wild, wiped clean and tough stems removed, sliced
1/2 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme, or less to taste, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock, mushroom stock or chicken stock
2 generous teaspoons porcini powder (see note)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley or fresh thyme, for garnish

Heat in a stock pot over high heat the olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and shallots. Cook, stirring often until the mushrooms are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add sherry or Madeira, flour and thyme, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, for 5 minutes. Stir in stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. reduce the heat the medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Ladle into warmed bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley or fresh thyme.

Note: You can get porcini powder in the spice area at Central Market.

Makes about 6 cups.

Adapted from “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

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Griffin to Go: It’s Time to Clarify the Butter


On seven different yet glorious occasions, I have spent Labor Day week (or close to it) aboard the Victory Chimes off the coast of Maine. The three-masted schooner sails without an engine or motorized power and goes largely where the winds carry it.

It is a week of bliss, in which the breeze carries away with it every last care in the world and sets you free from the stresses that lurk ashore. Even when the threat of a natural disaster clouds the picture, the mere fact of being on board the boat is enough to make rejuvenate in a way that no other trip can. (And I say this having been on the boat during the threat of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike and the memory of having been aboard the week before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.)

My favorite night aboard the boat is lobster night. Heaping bowls of steamed lobster are set in the center of each of the three dining tables and the 30 or so guests, along with the captain, enjoy the freshest and finest crustaceans from the sea. It’s a kind of all-you-can-eat affair in which you draw lobster after lobster or ears of corn until you’ve had your fill.

I honestly don’t know the definition of too much on such occasions. I once had four lobsters and while I could have had more, I was gentleman enough to allow my friend Carol to have five that evening. (We had two vegetarians and three people who didn’t eat shellfish at our table, and we graciously allowed them all the corn they wanted. It’s called manners. It’s the way we were brought up.)

I didn’t get to sail this year, but I have learned that the season has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to lobster. So many lobsters have been harvested that the prices are rock bottom, which may not be great news for the fishers, but it is for us diners. Even in San Antonio.

Groomer’s Seafood has been offering lobsters fresh from Maine at prices less than most of us would pay for beef. Check out their specials on Facebook or call (210) 377-0951.

Still, I had not cooked lobster on my own, and that conjured all sorts of flashbacks of “Annie Hall,” fears about cooking anything alive, and fears of cooking something different that was considered a luxury item. What if I messed up? Would the money be wasted?

I had planned on boiling the lobsters in salt water, but I changed my mind when I read the following about steamed lobster in the 1997 edition of “Joy of Cooking” (I know this is the maligned edition, but I actually prefer it to the others): “There is only one good reason to boil lobsters instead of steaming them: If you are cooking lobsters in batches — say, eight or more, so there is no way you can fit them all into the pot at once — each one flavors the broth for the ones that follow. But for the average meal, steaming is faster an easier (if you can steam broccoli, you can steam lobster). You can use this same procedure for king crab legs or Dungeness crab as well.”

Well, that had me convinced that steaming was the way to go.

It worked perfectly, too, with clarified butter and lime slices — not to mention a little coleslaw and a bottle of 2005 Chateau St. Jean Le Petite Etoile Vineyard Fumé Blanc.  But it wasn’t the end of the meal.

The shells went into the oven to dry out so I could make lobster butter and, in accordance with the guidance of a local chef known as Tatu Von Munster, it went into lobster stock, using the shells and the water in which the lobsters were boiled. He also suggested lobster mayo, but I didn’t have enough shells, though it did sound good.

The point is, lobster is now affordable, probably more so than monkfish, which used to be known as the poor man’s lobster. So, what are you waiting for?

 

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Steamed Lobster. It Really Is Easy.


When I tried this recipe, I only had two lobsters on hand. Still I steamed them in about 1 inch of salted water as directed, and I was quite pleased with the result. It’s easy. Almost too easy.

Steamed Lobster

4 (1 1/4-pound) lobsters
1 tablespoon salt

Fill the bottom of a part large enough to hold the lobsters with a good inch of water. Add the salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Add the lobsters and cover. Cook 1 1/2-pound lobsters, or less, for about 15 minutes, until they are bright red. Add 2 to 3 minutes for every 1/4 pound increase in weight; that is steam 2-pound lobsters for 20 minutes, 2 1/2-pound lobsters for 25. (All of this assumes that the water continues to boil as you add lobsters; if you are cooking more lobsters or you leave the lid off for more than 30 seconds or so, ad a couple of minutes to the cooking time.) Serve with clarified butter and lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings. (Or 1, if you’re hungry like me.)

Adapted from “Joy of Cooking”

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Don’t Throw Those Shells Away. Make Lobster Butter.


Dry the lobster shells before steeping in butter.

When you’ve finished enjoying your lobster, don’t throw the shells away when you’re cleaning up. Use them to season with this butter.

“Use as a sauce for shellfish, as a spread for canapés, or for finishing béchamel or velouté  sauces served with fish,” write the authors of the “Joy of Cooking.”

I could also see it topping a just-grilled steak. Or just spread it on bread and enjoy.

Lobster Butter

Uncooked or cooked shells from 1 pound shrimp or crayfish or 1 (1 1/2-pound to 2-pound) lobster, well rinsed and drained
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 ounce (1 shot) pernod, ouzo or raki (optional)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Add a splash of Pernod if you like.

Dry the shells in the oven for 10 to 20 minutes. Break up the shells as finely as possible with a wooden mallet or rolling pin.

Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Add the shells and simmer gently for 10 minutes; do not let the butter boil. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve line with several layers of cheesecloth into a bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Refrigerate and skim off the butter when mixture is solidified. Discard the liquid.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

From “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

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Guavas Are in Season. So What Do You Do With Them?


Guavas

The large display of guavas in the supermarket had a heady aroma that filled the entire area. It was sweet and fruity, but there was also a floral note that was entrancing. I just started to grab the first ones I saw. But what was I going to do with them?

I have worked with guava paste in the past, in empanadas among other dishes. But I’ve never used the fresh fruit. So a little research was in order.

“There are a number of guavas in the world, but the common guava — the one most available here — resembles a pale smooth-skinned lemon,” says “Joy of Cooking.” That was the variety in the market, not the green ones with a pink interior that are commonly depicted. “Choose blemish-free fruits, as yellow and soft as you can find, and ripen them at room temperature, out of the sun, or in a closed paper bag. … Ripening time is unpredictable, so check daily and turn the fruits often. When they are ripe, refrigerate in a perforated plastic bag.”

From that point, things get both easier and more complex.”Guavas are simple to serve. Just trim off the blossom end, slice in half either way and eat with a spoon — the seeds of most guavas are edible. For fruit cups and salads, peel with a vegetable peeler and cut in slices,” according to “Joy,” which is largely indispensable in such matters.

Trouble is, the cookbook offered no recipes for guavas.

I did find three simple recipes in my favorite go-to guide for all things fruit, “A Passion for Fruit” by Lorenza De’Medici. They ran a gamut of styles, and I made all three in the course of the evening, just to get that aroma into the kitchen.

Guava Sautéed with Chives was a sweet-savory side dish. Guava Sauce with a lively hit of chili powder went perfectly with a pork chop for dinner. And dessert was a decadent Guava Ice Cream made with heavy cream.

All of the recipes talked about seeding the guava before using, and one website mentioned that there were often anywhere from 112 to 535 per fruit, but no one really said how to do it. I tried picking at a few with a knife tip, but that seemed to take away too much flesh with it. Juicing the fruit would probably work, but the recipes I had didn’t want juice. So, I simply left the seeds in. I do that with raspberries and blackberries. I don’t mind those seeds. I will say that the guava seeds are a little larger and slightly harder, so that really could be a problem for some.

The next day I went back for more. Now that I’ve started,  I can see more ways of using guavas, from salads to tarts. Or, as a friend suggested, you could swirl guava purée into an icy glass of horchata. How do you like to use them?

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Want to Make Your Own Flan? Give It a Practice Run


Making flan is easy once you get the knack of it.

When a friend from church announced that she was being deployed to Afghanistan, it was time for a dinner to send her off in style. What would Erica want for her last meal with us?

Boil the syrup until it turns a deep amber.

Tex-Mex, she said. And Tex-Mex she got.

Everyone in the group pitched in with a lengthy array of delicious dishes from beef enchiladas and tacos to fresh guacamole and borracho beans. I decided I would make flan, simply because I had never made it before.

I had certainly eaten enough of this caramel-topped custard in my years, but making it was another matter. I experienced a little trepidation about making it, though, because I’ve failed at making caramel and melted sugar candies in the past. It was time to try it again, if only for Erica’s sake.

The first thing I had to do was find a recipe. I turned to the original “Joy of Cooking” and found one of the oddest recipes for flan I’ve ever seen. The dish in the book is actually called Custard Tarts or Flan with Fruit, and the recipe reads: “Fill Prebaked Tart Shells … with: 1/2-inch layer of Baked Custard. Top the custard with: Strawberries or other berries, cooked, drained apples, drained cherries, peaches, bananas, pineapple or coconut.”

Not a help. And certainly not the flan I remembered that was an egg-rich custard topped with a silky caramel that ran down the sides and flooded the plate.

I thumbed through a number of other cookbooks that were unfortunately no help. “Make a caramel …” would be the full extent of directions offered. Mexican chef Rick Bayless was no help. His new cookbook, “Fiesta at Rick’s,” features a flan recipe, yet it is far from traditional. Instead of caramel, the coffee-flavored “Café de Olla” Flan calls for pre-

Spread the caramel quickly before it solidifies.

made cajeta. Bayless’ introduction offered no comfort, either: “This recipe is an unorthodox approach to flan, since the caramelized sugar — a kitchen terrorist if ever I have seen one — is replaced by store-bought cajeta (goat milk caramel) and the custards are baked in flexible silicone muffin molds for easy removal.”

“A kitchen terrorist”? Oy, what had I gotten myself into?

So, I pulled out the 1997 edition of “The Joy of Cooking.” If you are a cookbook foodie, you know this is the much-maligned edition of the otherwise beloved cookbook, the version that was deemed too hoity-toity for the general populace. Yet the description of how to make a traditional flan, or crème caramel, as the French call it, was written in plain English.

To make the caramel, you had to pay attention. Watch the pot of water and sugar boil, and you’ll do fine, the authors seemed to be saying. So, I gave it a shot. I made sure I had all my ramekins ready and handy before I filled a small saucepan with 3/4 cup sugar and topped it with 1/4 cup water. I didn’t stir the pot but swirled it as it cooked over medium heat. Eventually, the mixture cleared, just as the book said it would.

So far so good. I raised the temperature and brought the mixture to a boil, then covered it for what seemed like an eternal 2 minutes. Any moment, the syrup would boil over, I feared, because the lid was making an angry racket. Then I uncovered it and continued to watch it boil. And watch it and watch it. I swirled it regularly to make the time pass. After a few minutes, the mixture started to get somewhat darker. No matter how long you’ve been watching the syrup, do not let your attention wander at this point. Watch it closely as it gets darker and darker in a matter of seconds. When it’s the color of a fine bourbon, it’s time to remove it from the heat.

Some of the egg custard has spilled into the water bath, but it doesn't matter.

I was so excited to see the syrup turn dark that I almost let it go a little longer on the heat than it should. Get it too dark and you’ll burn the sugar and the caramel will solidify in the bottom of your pan.

Be ready to work quickly at this point. Grab a ramekin and swirl a little in the bottom and slightly up the sides. The book said to get it halfway up the sides, but I wasn’t fast enough for that. The caramel had solidified in seconds, and I had more dishes to coat. So, I divided the lot equally among the dishes and let them set.

At this point, it’s time to make the egg custard, which seems easy in comparison. Yet it is also easy to mess up, if you are not careful. Don’t let your milk get so hot that it cooks the eggs before you bake them in the oven. Use one hand to pour the milk into the egg mixture slowly while whisking constantly with the other. Divide the egg mixture among the caramel-lined ramekins, then place the dishes into a large pan and fill halfway with boiling water. Place the pan carefully in the oven to bake.

I somehow jostled the tray as I was sliding it into the oven and the egg mixture spilled over the sides. It baked to the outside of the ramekins, but it was no great problem, because your guests won’t see the ramekins anyway.

The stress of making the caramel had made me somewhat anxious. My thought was, is all this worth it? Do I really need to do all that?

Though the flans look great just out of the oven, let them chill before eating.

After 50 minutes or so, the custards looked good enough to eat. But I couldn’t. The recipe said to let them chill first.

Plus, my work wasn’t done. I had another recipe to make because of how many would be at the dinner. For the second batch, I decided to try the Orange and Tequila Flan from “The Golden Book of Desserts.” The description of how to make the caramel was a little too basic, so I used the knowledge I had gained from the first recipe and put it to work.

This time there were no problems, no kitchen terrors. The procedure went flawlessly, even though the recipe was a little more involved. Having made the first batch, the second seemed positively easy.

Inverting the flans proved to be simple, too. Thanks to the help of a friend, a knife and a pot of almost boiling water, each serving came out beautifully with that caramel bath covering each plate.

Best of all, Erica seemed to enjoy it. I’ll have to make it again when she comes back in six months. God keep her safe.

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Griffin to Go: O Cooking Tree


Ornaments4When it came time to decorate my Christmas tree, I discovered I had no desire to haul out the traditional ornaments this year. No taking anything out of a box (except the tabletop tree itself), no unwrapping metal toys or delicate bulbs, no lights even.

I wasn’t being Scrooge, no feelings of humbug here. I just wanted a little change. So, I loaded up the CD player with some holiday albums from Mel Tormé, Barbara Cook and Ella Fitzgerald and put up a cooking tree instead. I had done this in years past, and with the launch of SavorSA, it seemed the perfect year to bring it back. All it takes is a few kitchen gadgets you don’t use too much mixed in with a few items from the bar, the grill and my cookie cutter collection.

Near the top is a cork angel, made from the stopper of a Champagne bottle. Also on the tree are wreaths of a sort, napkin rings made of jingle bells with a bright red ribbon on top. Cocktail skewers for olives or pickled onions as well as full length metal skewers for shish kebabs make for a type of tinsel.

Ornaments3Cookie cutters, of course, make for great ornaments. They’re easy to hang, and I even have a set in red that outlines designs such as Santa, a Christmas tree and a gingerbread man.

Wine charms are also easy to hang, and I opted for a series with wild animals in honor of my African safari earlier this year.

A few under-used kitchen utensils, including a real nutcracker and a specialized zester that creates thin strips of citrus peel, hang alongside a few kitchen-related ornaments that many of us foodies have accumulated over the years. These include a miniature Kitchen Aid and a small copy of “Joy of Cooking.”

Ornaments1The one traditional piece on the tree is the topper, a miniature Santa hat. I had wanted to crown it with a chef’s toque, but mine was so large that it weighed the tree over. I could have kept it that way. Upside down trees hung from the ceiling were popular a year or two ago. But a felled tree on its side? Now, that would have been something for Scrooge.

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Joys of Cooking With Rombauer’s Classic


Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" and Chris Messina as "Eric Powell" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" and Chris Messina as "Eric Powell" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

The struggles of blogger-turned-author Julie Powell soon will be viewed in movie form by millions as “Julie & Julia” is released.

The book, subtitled “365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen” describes Powell’s struggles to master every recipe in Julia Child’s “The Art of French Cooking” in a year. She chronicled her mission in a blog that soon amassed a huge following.

Thirty years prior to this 1961 edition of Child’s masterpiece being published, Irma S. Rombauer, an excellent home cook, self-published what would become another classic, “The Joy of Cooking.”

Rombauer’s book, illustrated by her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, began at the request from her children. They’d asked her to make a record of “what Mother used to make,” she says in the preface of the 1943 edition. Her friendly but firm voice, plus recipes that worked, made the book a trusted kitchen companion in the decades that followed.

“The Joy of Cooking” is the cookbook John Griffin and I open up again and again when we need to double-check the time and temperature for cooking a roast or the correct technique for making muffins. (“Make no attempt to stir or beat out the lumps. Ignore them,” were Rombauer’s words.)

Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

My book is the 1943 edition, which wasn’t in good shape when I purchased it in 1973 at a used bookstore in Tucson. After 10 years of use, it became so battered that a friend who worked at a library took it away with her to repair. But, it was beyond her skills, so she mailed it to a professional bookbinder. It came back looking quite spiffy. The cover was replaced by a fresh one of generic medium blue. The bookbinder trimmed the tattered, stained edges of the pages, making the book look better and the pages easier to turn.

Glancing over the preface to my book I came across a sentence that sounded eerily contemporary, as we, nearly 80 years later, struggle through an economic downturn. (What they called a “depression” back then.)

“When the revision of this book began a year ago we had no intimation that international obligations would lead our land of plenty to ration cards. It now goes to print with a number of emergency chapters added, written to meet the difficulties that beset the present-day cook,” wrote Rombauer in her preface.

Over the years, were they ones of poverty or plenty, our cookbook collections have grown. We’ve reached out to new culinary frontiers and turned to other books with regularity. However, “The Joy of Cooking,” with its harmonious blend of fact and homey wisdom, will always ensure its prominent place on our bookshelves.

Cecil and John have also written related articles on other cookbooks that have inspired memorable meals.

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Clam Griddle Cakes

[amazon-product]0743246268[/amazon-product]1 cup sour cream
1 egg
3/4 cup minced clams, cooked or canned
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda

Beat together well the sour cream and egg.  Add clams and mix. Sift the flour, then resift with the salt and soda. Combine dry and liquid ingredients with a few swift strokes. Bake cakes on an oiled griddle until browned on both sides.

Makes 4 servings.

“The Joy” of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer

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