Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Farmer’s Market Fried Noodles

Blame it on the eggplant. I have a weakness for eggplant, their plump roundness and glossy purple skin just seems to call out to me as I’m threading my way through the farmers’ market crowd, jostling for some late summer corn and dodging strollers.  So before I could really decide what the hell I was going to do with them, I found myself tucking some fleshy, cucumber-shaped Japanese eggplants into my oversized pleather purse.

I’ve also been on a tear with making fried noodles. Rice noodles in particular…although I’m getting ready to move on to clear glass noodles. The more noodles I make, the more I realize the variations are endless – you can pretty much put anything into a fried noodle dish, the same way you might throw anything into a batch of fried rice. With the farmers’ markets in late summer and tons of produce available, this is a great opportunity to experiment and fry up some noodles with your favorite summer ingredients.

For the most part, the key is to stir-fry the different vegetables separately, until their almost done, and then bring all the ingredients together (soaked noodles, sauce, almost-cooked vegetables, protein)  in a final stir-fry.  And that’s it really. I used eggplant here, which was so delicious, but some other ingredients you can use are shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, leafy vegetables like Chinese broccoli or chard, sweet peppers,  green beans, pea pods, tomato wedges, -- basically anything you can stir-fry.

The end result – a one-dish meal featuring fresh summer produce and deliciously fried noodles. Try not to inhale the whole platter of noodles at once. Like my boyfriend did. I was hoping for some leftovers for the next day, but not a chance. Oh well, guess that means I’ll just have to make more fried noodles next weekend!

Here’s my basic recipe. There are many variations of sauces you can make, but for my eggplant fried noodles, I went with a sweet-salty-garlicky-spicy mixture based on fish sauce – reminiscent of Pad Kimao.

 6-8 oz dried ½-inch-wide flat rice noodles (1/2 packet)
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar (reduce if you don’t like things too sweet)

4 to 8oz ground chicken/pork
20 basil leaves, shredded
3 Japanese eggplants – quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch sticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 hot chili peppers (jalapeno, Serrano, thai chili), minced 
reduce/add chilies to suit your heat level
2 tbsp oil
1-2 eggs (optional)

1. Let the noodles soak and the chicken marinate while you prep the other ingredients. 
Soak the dried noodles in lots of hot water. Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar together. Take a couple teaspoons of the sauce mixture and marinate the ground chicken, using your fingers to work the sauce through. Save the rest of the sauce.

2. Stir-fry the eggplant (or whatever vegetables you have) 
Lightly salt the eggplant (optional). Heat the oil on high heat in a large, seasoned wok. When the oil is hot, slide in half of the eggplant and stir fry for about 5 minutes until they are tender and almost cooked through. Remove the cooked eggplant to a plate, and cook the rest of the eggplant. Put all the eggplant to the side.

3. Stir-fry it altogether.
Drain the noodles. Get all the ingredients nearby. With the fire hot, add more oil to the wok, if needed, so there’s about 1 tbsp of oil in the wok. Once the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chilies and allow to cook for about 20 seconds. Add ground chicken, breaking it up as it cooks. Once chicken is no longer pink, add in the shredded basil leaves, sauce mixture, drained noodles, and cooked eggplant. Stir and mix to evenly distribute ingredients.

4. Scramble an egg into the noodles (optional)
Push the mass of noodles to one side of the wok. Break the eggs into the empty space on the wok. Let it cook for about 20 seconds and then scramble the eggs with the spatula to get little lumps of eggs. Once the eggs are no longer runny, stir the eggs into to the overall noodle mixture.  

5. Final touches
Taste the noodles. Adjust seasonings as needed. If the noodles are a little undercooked (too chewy), pour ½ cup of water around the sides of the wok, turn the heat up and let the noodles steam a bit. Dish out. Garnish with basil leaves. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Midnight sugar cookies

Yesterday was a weeknight, which I sometimes still think of as “school night” even though I’m almost 28 and haven’t been in school for years. I meant to go to bed early so I could be super-productive tomorrow, kick some ass at work and save the day for my decrepit, going-nowhere project team. Instead I found myself inexplicably baking sugar cookies around midnight.

With sugar cookies, the essence of what baking comes down to – butter, sugar, eggs, and flour – comes together in a sublime little package that melts into buttery goodness in your mouth. I used to think sugar cookies were eh, boring and bland. Until I discovered this recipe from a book by Rosie’s bakery...which are the absolute best sugar cookies I’ve ever tasted. One Christmas I asked my boyfriend (let's call him H) what kind of cookie he wanted for that year's round of Christmas baking and he said "sugar cookie," which kind of pissed me off because I really wanted him to say something that was already on my list – preferably something chocolate. But I found this recipe in a random cookbook on my shelf and the cookies came out unbelievably good and I've been a convert ever since. Once again, H was right, and I was wrong. Damn him.

The other thing about making sugar cookies is that you don’t even have to bust out the mixer or clean up more than one bowl . (I hate washing dishes about as much as I hate lugging home grocery bags of flour and sugar in heels.) I ate half a pan of these cookies as they were cooling in the window. I brought some cookies to work "for sharing", and ate more of them for breakfast. And lunch. Yes, I subsist on sugary baked goods as much as possible. And ice cream. Preferably chocolate, but that's for another post.

Sugar Cookie Recipe

13 tbsp of butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup regular white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla

  1. In a large bowl, mix the icing sugar, regular sugar, salt, flour together. (A wire whisk is good for this, but a fork will be fine)

  2. Cut up the butter into chunks.

  3. Add the butter to the flour mixture. Using two butter knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into little pieces, mixing it in with the flour. Sometimes it is faster to use your fingers too -- just rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips. After awhile it should look like a bowl of crumbs that you can stir around with a fork.
  4. In a little bowl, beat up the egg and vanilla together.
  5. Dump the beaten egg into the butter-flour mixture, and stir it together with a fork until it looks all mixed in. (It'll look kinda dry and crumbly)
  6. Knead the mixture with your hands until it comes together into a dough.
  7. Divide the dough into two parts. Roll them into balls and flatten into a disc*. Refrigerate for about an hour.
  8. Roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick using a rolling pin. To make the dough not stick, roll it in between two sheets of cling-wrap or parchment paper or dust the counter with flour. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Preheat oven to 375 F
  9. Put the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake about 8-10 minutes. Once they start to turn a little brown, they should be done. (If you have it, line the cookie sheets with parchment paper -- it makes it easy to remove the cookies)

    *OR make cookies that are sliced instead of cut from cookie cutters. Form the cookie dough into a long log. Try to get the log to be uniform. I kinda make the dough into a rough log and then put it on a sheet of parchment paper (wax paper might be ok) and roll the dough in the paper using a ruler (or something long and straight) to push against the paper. Roll up the log in parchment paper, slide it carefully onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until really firm ( you should be able to pick up the dough log, like a cold stick of butter). Use a sharp knife to slice the cookies (1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick). Rotate the log after each slice if it's getting smushed. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

    1/4 cup heavy cream
    1 cup icing sugar
    drop of vanilla (optional)
    food coloring (optional)
Mix it all together with a wire whisk or fork until smooth.
It should be thick like lotion/yogurt, but it shouldn't be so thick that it stands up in stiff peaks when you lift the fork out of it. Add more cream or icing sugar if it's too thick or too watery.
If you want, add in food coloring, a couple drops at a time. Mix well before adding more drops.
Frost the cooled cookies with a butter knife (metal spatula is ideal but not necessary)
Or put the frosting into a ziploc bag. Cut a corner off of the bag and pipe out the frosting.
Let the frosting dry and set -- it takes awhile, but it's faster if you can put them in the fridge. Sometimes I let them dry overnight.

Store in airtight tupperware, ziploc bags once frosting is hardened.

Lemon-sugar cookies
Add zest of 1 lemon + 1tbsp of freshly-squeezed lemon juice to the recipe
I can’t seem to help deviating from recipes a little bit so last night I added some lemon to the cookies. I like to top that with my special (as in especially easy) lemon frosting.

Lemon frosting
Juice of half a lemon + more as needed
1-2 cups icing sugar + more as needed
Drop of vanilla

Beat icing sugar, vanilla and lemon juice together until smooth with a wire whisk or fork. Add more juice or more icing sugar to get the right consistency. For cookies, the consistency should be spreadable, but thick (or it will never dry) like all-natural peanut butter before you refrigerate it.