Category Archives: cooking

Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken

One of the best kitchen investments I have ever made is the slow cooker that I bought this year. Allow me for a moment to sing its praises… For a mere $11, a lovely 4-quart slow cooker was shipped to my door (a slick deal indeed!) Since that day, I have been salivating over all the delicious things I can make effortlessly in a slow cooker, all without turning on a stove or stepping outside my dorm room. It is the best appliance ever for a busy student like me, as well as for anyone out there who would love to have hot, homemade food without spending time cooking. You rarely have to check on the dish either, since slow cookers keep the liquids from evaporating, so food does not dry up and burn. The longer you cook meat in a slow cooker, the more tender it gets, until eventually it just falls right off the bone. In fact, I always have to prevent myself from constantly opening the lid to check up on the wonderful stuff stewing in my slow cooker, since opening it releases heat and slows down the cooking process. But… when my slow cooker sits in the same dorm room that I live in… it is impossible not to gravitate towards the delicious smells that fill my room! Also, since slow cookers are, by definition, cookers that cook slowly with low heat, I often like to take advantage of the nighttime, to cook in my slow cooker while I am sleeping! (Genius, if I do say so myself). With so many recipes calling for a cook time of 6-8 hours, it is ridiculously easy to throw the ingredients into the slow cooker before bed, and wake up to a pot of food that I can eat for lunch and dinner that day, all without spending time cooking over a stove. Yes, I am absolutely in love with my slow cooker.

slow cooker thai peanut chicken

In fact, my love for my slow cooker grew ever more when I discovered the blog “A Year of Slow Cooking“, by Stephanie O’Dea. She challenged herself to cook with a slow cooker for 365 days, and the recipes that she blogged about propelled her overnight into a slow cooker superstar. She now has two slow cooker recipe books published, and is essentially an internet celebrity. These recipes opened my eyes to just how much I could do with a slow cooker, and offered me tons of mouth-watering ideas as I was getting acquainted with my slow cooker. One of the first recipes I made with my slow cooker was this Thai peanut chicken that I adapted from Stephanie. My chicken was falling off the bone, and melt-in-your-mouth. The peanut sauce was balanced between the creamy taste of peanut butter and the savory flavor of soy sauce and hoisin sauce, and was awesome with rice. I am definitely addicted to the sauce! Such a yummy, hearty chicken dish that required so little effort… now that’s what I’m talkin’ about :)

slow cooker thai peanut chicken



Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken (makes 4-6 servings, uses a 4-quart slow cooker)

Recipe adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 chicken thighs (may also use drumsticks, or mix and match!)
  • 1 bell pepper (red or green), sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2  medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • (optional) freshly chopped scallions for garnish

Directions:

1. Stir together lime juice, peanut butter, soy sauce, chicken broth, hoisin sauce, and curry powder. The peanut butter doesn’t have to be completely well-dissolved, but do your best. Set sauce aside. Prepare vegetables.

prepared ingredients and sauce

2. Place sliced garlic at bottom of 4-quart slow cooker. Place chicken thighs on top, spreading them out to cover the bottom of the cooker. Add potatoes next, and finally the peppers and the onions. Pour prepared sauce into slow cooker.

slow cooker loaded up and ready to cook

3. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, then increase heat to high for 2 hours. (Or you may cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4 hours). Stir contents once or twice after initial 4 hours, but refrain from opening lid to check on the dish!

don't open the lid!

4. Adjust sauce for taste at the end as needed. If you would like a thicker sauce (which I always like), you may remove the chicken and boil the sauce on high with the lid off, or add a cornstarch slurry and allow to boil on high with the lid on until thickened. Serve over rice, top with freshly chopped scallions and enjoy! Mmmm!

a second batch that I made with red peppers

slow cooker thai peanut chicken


Mystery Ingredient: Sweet Osmanthus (gui hua 桂花)

Growing up with Chinese cooking in the home, there were a lot of unique ingredients that I had the pleasure of experiencing, often without even knowing how special they were. It wasn’t until I moved out of the house and started cooking out of my own pantry that I suddenly realized just how interesting some of these Asian ingredients were (and how hard they can be to obtain!). I sometimes start to worry that I might go stir crazy if I move to a place without an Asian market, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to cook half the things I cook without one! It is my hope that through my posts I can introduce some of these interesting ingredients to all of you, and maybe the next time you wander into an Asian market, you won’t feel as intimidated by your surroundings. Maybe you’ll even experiment with a thing or two!

sweet osmanthus in bloom (Photo source: Nipic)

Enough about me, let’s talk about today’s mystery Asian ingredient – sweet osmanthus. If that name sounds completely foreign to you, don’t worry. I had to look it up just for this post! In fact, growing up, the sweet osmanthus was always called by its Mandarin name in my household: “gui hua” (桂花). It sounds something like “gway hwa”. It is the fragrant dried small yellow flowers of the sweet osmanthus tree that we value in cooking. These trees are found in Asia, particularly in eastern and southern China. And if you ever have the pleasure of visiting when they are in bloom in the fall, the fragrant flowers will woo you with the scent of apricots. The flowers can be white, yellow, or even orange. The dried flowers are tiny, about the size of rice kernels, and retain their sweet fragrance.

sweet osmanthus (gui hua)

It is this sweetness that makes the sweet osmanthus so popular in Asian cooking, particularly in the desserts. In fact, you can buy the sweet osmanthus as unsweetened dried flowers, as a jam paste, or even as an infused sugar (much like vanilla sugar). When I was younger, my mother would often prepare one of my favorite desserts, lotus root powder congee with sweet osmanthus. I know, that’s a mouthful, and you probably also have no idea what this lotus root powder congee is. Perhaps that should be its own mystery Asian ingredient post sometime! Suffice to say that it’s a thick starchy soup made from ground lotus root and flavored with sweet osmanthus sugar. It was always warm and soothing to eat… a welcome treat in the wintertime or at night. And it was never quite complete without the sweet osmanthus sugar, although it’s hard to put your finger on exactly how the flavor changes. But you just know, when it’s not there, you’re not getting the whole package. As I grew up, I began to learn that the unsweetened sweet osmanthus flowers are often infused in teas in China. Green teas and black teas, they would only need a sprinkle of sweet osmanthus before steeping with hot water, and the fragrance would bloom. What a wonderful little flower!

As it turns out, what with this tree being native to Asia and all, sweet osmanthus is pretty difficult to obtain in the US. I sort of think of it as the saffron of China. Whenever I see it in the Asian markets, sold as jam or sugar, it is at a premium price (something like $4 for a 1 oz. jar). If you are looking for it, you can sometimes find it under the name “cassia flower”, which is a literal translation of the word gui hua, but not the proper name for the flower since cassia is a different species. I have also heard that the sweet osmanthus is known as the Tea Olive down south in the US. In any case, my source of dried sweet osmanthus is typically straight from China. When I go to visit my relatives in Shanghai, they give me a baggie of the stuff, and it lasts a long time. I love infusing my tea with it, and sprinkling it into some of my desserts for a sweet fruity aroma and flavor.

This week I was making a coconut sago dessert soup at home, enjoying the lovely scent of the coconut milk as I was dissolving rock sugar into it, when I had the idea to toss in some sweet osmanthus. It was a wonderful combination! I have previously posted my taro sago with coconut milk recipe, but the one I made this week was slightly different because I did not have any taro and only had 1 can of coconut milk. The soup was  very thin (not thickened like the taro sago), but at the same time very refreshing with the nice chew from the tapioca. Some restaurants like to serve it thinned and some serve it thicker. I like both versions, depending on my mood! The sweet osmanthus definitely added a delicately sweet aroma and a little bit of that “je ne sais quoi” to the coconut milk, and thus I was inspired to write this post. While I was doing some reading on the Wikipedia article, I noticed that the sweet osmanthus supposedly has neuroprotective, free-radical scavenging, and anti-oxidant properties! A superfood of sorts! In any case, I hope you’ll find the opportunity to try it sometime, or I hope at least it was interesting to hear about :)

coconut sago with gui hua (sweet osmanthus)



Coconut Sago Dessert Soup with Gui Hua (Sweet Osmanthus) (makes 8 servings)

Recipe adapted from Taro and (Tapioca) Sago in Coconut Milk

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dry mini tapioca
  • 1/3 cup rock sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 3 cups milk
  • generous sprinkle of dried gui hua (sweet osmanthus)

Directions:

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the dry mini tapioca. Boil for 6 minutes, then turn off heat and cover, allowing the pot to sit for 15-20 minutes, until the centers of the tapioca are translucent. If they remain opaque in the centers, you may heat up the pot while stirring, until the tapioca are translucent.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, add the coconut milk and rock sugar, and heat on medium to medium-low. Continually stir the rock sugar until it dissolves completely. Do not let the coconut milk come to a full boil (it may curdle). Sprinkle the sweet osmanthus into the pot when the rock sugar is nearly dissolved, allowing it to heat with the coconut milk for about 5 minutes.

3. After the rock sugar dissolves, turn off heat and stir in the milk. Taste for sweetness at this point, and adjust as necessary by adding granulated sugar or more milk as desired. It should be slightly more sweet than your final desired sweetness.

4. When the tapioca is ready, pour it into a fine sieve while running cold water over it to wash off the excess starch. Add the tapioca to the pot with the milk, and stir well to break up the tapioca clumps. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled, as desired. (The coconut milk may clump slightly when chilled.) Sprinkle more sweet osmanthus on top for garnish when serving. Enjoy!

coconut sago with gui hua (sweet osmanthus)


Chicken Tikka Masala for the Beginner

When I want to indulge, the creamy curries and smoldering spiciness of Indian food never fail to satisfy me. But making it for yourself at home, now that’s a whole different story. I never seem to have the right ingredients, and the recipes always seem more complicated than I want to deal with. Well, I’m making it my goal to start making my own Indian food, because it really shouldn’t be that daunting to make something I love so much. So I started with one of my all-time Indian food favorites – chicken tikka masala. Okay before I get any farther, can I please just say that one of my biggest pet peeves in the food realm is hearing people call it chicken “tikki” masala. That is not the name of this dish!!! This isn’t a tropical bar on a Pacific Island… okay, now that’s out of my system, we can carry on lol.

Anyway, chicken tikka masala (or any kind of tikka masala) is what I consider a combination of all things I like about Indian food. Somewhat spicy, with a savory tartness and a creaminess that complements any protein you add to it and rounds out the main dish with a satisfying bloom of flavor on your tongue. It is the perfect accompaniment to a plate of delicious saffron-laced basmati rice. Now, I know, tikka masala isn’t traditional Indian food any more than one could consider General Tso’s chicken traditional Chinese food. Somewhere along the way I heard that tikka masala was invented in England where a chef threw together a dish using tomato paste and spices and cream, in order to please a Western customer who came in desiring something different from what was offered on the Indian restaurant menu. Whatever, I still love it! The problem with making tikka masala in the comfort of your own home is that most true-to-the-flavor recipes require quite a bit of prep work, often including many spices and ingredients that are not common in households, and also tacking on some long overnight marinating business. So I went in search of a simple but still (mostly) faithfully tasty recipe that I could make for an easy dinner, especially having not made any Indian food by myself before. The only tricky ingredient here is the garam masala powder, which you should be able to find at any decent sized supermarket along with the other spice bottles, but please don’t skimp on it because it is the key ingredient in this dish and the taste will be very different without it!

Chicken tikka masala

Chicken tikka masala


Chicken Tikka Masala for the Beginner (serves 4)

Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless chicken thighs, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup scallions, finely chopped
  • ½ lime
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp Madras curry powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala powder
  • 1 cup plain yogurt plus 1 tsp flour
  • 2 tsp tomato paste

Directions:

1. Combine the ginger, garlic, scallions, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, the juice of half a lime, a tablespoon of yogurt, salt, and pepper. Stir, add chicken to bowl, and set aside to marinate (may let sit for 1-2 hours if time permits).

2. While the meat is marinating, heat the remaining oil in a heavy, large skillet over low heat. Add the onion, cook gently for 10-15 minutes until falling apart and caramelized (be patient!)

3. Add the garam masala and stir well to combine. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to combine the flavors. Season with a good pinch of salt, then scrape into a bowl and reserve.

4. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken pieces. Cook, turning occasionally, until chicken is still barely pink.

5. Return the onion mixture to the skillet, and add the flour then yogurt. Stir in the tomato paste, Madras curry powder and simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Check for seasoning, adding sugar, salt or lime juice as needed. Serve over white rice.

(P.S. If you want your tikka masala to be more red like the restaurant version, you should use chili powder per the original recipe. I had to make some substitutions here because I didn’t have any chili powder on hand at the time. Also, feel free to substitute for your choice of protein to suit your needs – tofu, paneer, and fish are popular choices.)

Tony and I at the comedy club

Tony and I at the comedy club

Mmm so hearty and flavorful. I made this dish with my boyfriend on a night before we had to leave for a comedy show, so we were somewhat pressed for time and I was impressed with how easily everything came together and how delicious and satisfying it was. We paired it with a side of mixed vegetables (carrots, onions, and cabbage) cooked in a Madras curry sauce, which was a nice mild flavor to switch to when I wanted a break from the spicy flavor of the tikka masala (although don’t worry, I am pretty wimpy when it comes to spiciness, and this dish definitely qualifies as “mild”… add more spices as desired!) The spices just warm you up from the inside out, perfect for this chilly weather in the middle of November. Keep an eye out for the next Indian recipe to come, a mouth-watering and rich-tasting cashew chicken curry with cilantro pesto!


Easy Chinese style red braised pork belly and ribs (红烧肉)

I promised more Chinese food posts from a dinner I made with my boyfriend earlier this year, so here is part II. Is there anything more heavenly than a bowl of steaming hot rice with a dish of Chinese style red braised pork belly to go with it? No, don’t even think about it, the the answer is no. Red braised pork belly is one of those Chinese comfort food treats that I look forward to every time I visit my parents, because they’re the only ones that can make it so perfect (my dad is a pro at this one). Tender pork belly and ribs with the meat falling off, bathed in a luscious soy-based sauce that is just the right combination of savory and sweet (the signature of a Shanghainese dish done right)… just the thought of it is making me dizzy. My dad’s version is even more uber because he adds kao fu (烤麸), which is “steamed wheat gluten”, aka juicy cubes of spongy vegetarian protein that absorb all the wonderful sauce cooking in the pot with the pork belly. Trying to describe kao fu with words feels so wrong, because it tastes amazing but sounds terrible in English. Just trust me on the kao fu.

Anyway, that’s not the point today, because today I’m writing about a super simple version of red braised pork belly that I can make easily away from home, and it still tastes great (I’d say it’s 8/10 if 10 is the traditional version). Whereas the traditional version can get complicated with things like rock sugar, star anise, five-spice, and maltose, this recipe uses easy-to-obtain ingredients, which is especially nice for students or people with small pantries. The secret ingredient? Coke. Yep, the soda. A few years ago, I described to you that my mom made a similar red-braised chicken dish in her pressure cooker called Cola chicken, which uses a can of coke and soy sauce. The same concept is adapted here to make quick and easy red braised pork belly, because the phosphoric acid in coke is a great meat tenderizer, and the sweetness blends perfectly with the soy sauce to create that mix of sweet and savory necessary for a red braise. The process involves first blanching your meat in boiling water to seal the surface and remove some of the bloody impurities. Then you simply saute the meat in a pot, add your liquids, and simmer away! I recommend letting the meat simmer for as long as possible before you eat it, so that it has time to achieve the absolutely falling-apart texture, but if you’re in a pinch, about an hour or so will get you to an acceptable texture. As always with Chinese recipes, play with the recipe until you find something that works for you! And for those of you uneasy about eating the fatty pork belly… in Asian culture the women believe that the pork skin with its high collagen content is great for your skin. Or just… tell yourself that it’s okay to indulge every once in a while ;)

 

Easy red braised pork belly


Easy Chinese Style Red Braised Pork Belly and Ribs (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb pork belly and ribs (ask your butcher at the store to cut it up for you into chunks)
  • 1 large carrot, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 slices ginger
  • 2 stalks of scallions chopped into 1″ segments
  • 1/2 cup Coke (use classic if possible)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • Pepper

Directions:

1. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Blanch the meat for 2 minutes in the water, then drain and set aside.

2. In a skillet, heat some cooking oil on medium-high and saute the ginger, garlic, and scallions for a few minutes. Toss in the blanched pork belly and rib chunks, and sear until lightly browned.

3. Transfer to a medium saucepot, add in the coke, water, dark and light soy sauces, rice wine, and a few dashes of pepper. Make sure the pot allows the liquid to cover most of the meat. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

4. Simmer for 1 and a half hours, adding the carrots when there is 30 minutes remaining. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks and that the liquid does not boil dry. The sauce should start to reduce nicely. You may optionally stir in a cornstarch slurry (mix together 1 tbsp cornstarch with a few tbsp cold water, and slowly stir into your boiling sauce), watching until your sauce becomes the desired thickness. I left my sauce as is, not quite so thick.

5. Serve with a side of sauteed Shanghai bok choy and fluffy white rice. Did I mention this was heaven?

Easy red braised pork belly

Previously, I wrote about the honey soy sauce glazed chicken wings which was also part of this Chinese dinner. Look for parts III and IV (a Chinese vegetable dish and soup) coming in the future!

P.S. You may have noticed that the look of My Edible Memories has changed a little! I switched to a new theme today that I thought was a more appropriate feel for a food blog. Let me know what you think!


Roasted eggplant and garlic dip

 

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip on French bread slices

 

Vegetables. There’s something so terrible about them when you’re young, and something fearfully boring about them when you’re older. But add the word “roasted” to any veggie, or to any food at all really, and your brain just perks up immediately. Roasted vegetables have a rustic sophistication that conjures thoughts of that warm smoky aroma with the velvety lusciousness and richness of the texture that sets them completely apart from their un-roasted counterparts. If I could eat all of my vegetables roasted, aside from perhaps leafy greens and cucumbers for a salad, I think life would be just wonderful. Let’s not gloss over the fact that roasting vegetables could be one of the easiest, healthiest, and most bang-for-your-buck ways of preparing vegetables. Add the phrase “roasted [vegetable of choice]” to any dinner menu and it instantly kicks up the classiness of the dish by a factor of 3, which suddenly makes roasted vegetables any dinner host or hostess’ new best friend.

My friend was having a birthday potluck a couple months ago, and I was thinking about what I could bring that would be quick and easy to put together for a group of 20 people yet still be unique and delicious. I had just read about an appetizer on Serious Eats (one of those websites that I must visit at least once a day to feel complete), which was called “eggplant caviar“. It intrigued me, and sounded so simple. “Caviar”, I thought, “now that sounds classy!” But… how exactly does one get eggplant to taste like caviar? I mean one is a mild flavored vegetable that is soft when cooked right, and one is… small flecks of saltiness. I read the recipe, and decided that it really didn’t sound like it would be in any way similar to caviar, but it did give me the idea to make a dip based on roasted eggplant. I could envision the seasoned smooth pulp of a roasted eggplant being just the right consistency for spreading on crackers and slices of French bread. But how to make it more indulgent? Well, with garlic of course. And since I have been singing the praises of roasted vegetables, it shouldn’t surprise you that I decided to pair the roasted eggplant with roasted garlic, oh the roasted garlic that makes me weak in the knees! The best part? The recipe is still easy as pie. No, easier than pie by a lot, and I will show you how to roast a head of garlic anytime, with no effort at all. Wait no, maybe the best part is that it’s dip made from roasted vegetables and so isn’t bad for you. Or maybe the best part is that the ingredients cost all of $3 to feed 20 people. Or that when you run of out bread and crackers to spread it on, you can just eat it straight up. Or, or, or…oh hell, just try it :)

 

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip with French bread

 



Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Dip (serves 20)

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium globe eggplants (approx 2 lbs total)
  • 2 large heads of garlic, roasted (see below for how to roast garlic)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the eggplants in half length-wise and rub the flesh with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

2. Place the eggplant halves with the cut side down in a large baking pan, and bake, together with the garlic (see below for preparation) for approx 45 minutes until the flesh is very soft. A knife should slip easily into the tough stem of the eggplant when they are ready.

 

Eggplant after roasting

 

3. Remove from oven and allow to cool until it can be handled. Spoon out the flesh from the eggplant halves, and place in a large bowl. Using a fork, stir and mash the eggplant flesh until it is a smooth puree.

4. Mash the roasted garlic on the side, and combine with mashed eggplant.

 

Mashed roasted garlic

 

5. Stir in 2 tbsp of olive oil, and season as desired with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. For a richer taste and texture, you can add more olive oil as needed.

 

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip

 

6. Garnish with basil and serve with freshly sliced French bread or crackers. Can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or chilled.



How to Roast a Head of Garlic

What you need:

  • 1 large head of regular garlic (not the elephant kind)
  • olive oil
  • aluminum foil
  • Optional: muffin pan, if roasting multiple heads of garlic

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel away most of the dry layers from the outside of the head of garlic.

2. Chop off the top of the garlic, such that you expose the flesh of the cloves. You may miss some of the shorter cloves, so you can break their tops open with your fingers.

3. Wrap garlic with aluminum foil, leaving the ends to meet at the top. Drizzle the top of the garlic generously with olive oil (approx 1 1/2 tbsp per head of garlic).

 

Garlic prepped for roasting

 

4. Seal the aluminum foil at the top and place in a slot of a muffin pan if using one. Otherwise, just place the wrapped garlic with the opening facing up (of course) into the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The garlic will look nicely caramelized and smell amazing.

 

Roasted head of garlic

 

5. Remove and cool slightly before peeling at the garlic and using a small fork to pick out the garlic cloves. The cloves should be soft and have a nice golden-brown color on the outside. You can mash them or use them whole in cooking as desired. So easy!

 

Roasted cloves of garlic

 


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