Search This Blog

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How to be not scared of kale

It was maybe two years ago. I was standing in line at the grocery store, Kamal in his little infant carseat stashed in my cart. The lady at the front of the line was buying at least eight bunches of kale. After she'd paid and left, the guy right behind her and ahead of me asked the cashier, in tones full of trepidation, "Was all of that kale?"

"Yes," the cashier told him. "Lots of kale. Maybe she's a juicer."

"I don't know," said the guy. "I don't know about that kale. I know everyone says it's so good for you, but I had it once and it was disgusting."

I hate unsolicited advice, and I try not to give it, but man was it hard to bite my tongue. I wanted to write down a million recipes for the guy. I wanted to feed him caldo verde. I wanted to stand on the conveyor belt, waving curly, verdant bouquets of kale and shout: "THIS STUFF IS DELICIOUS! GIVE IT A CHANCE! GIVE THE KALE A CHANCE!"

Like I said, though, I hate unsolicited advice, and I let the poor man go back off to his kale-deprived, tragically misinformed life. You, however, don't have to live like him. If you already love kale, awesome. I'm preaching to the choir! But if you don't, please let me show you some easy ways to prepare it, and how delicious it can be. Let's not even talk about how good it is for you. You already know that, and there are plenty of other places for you to read about it. Let's talk about its general yumminess and convenience.

First of all, I think the biggest reason people don't like kale is because they've had incorrectly-prepared kale. When I was visiting my dad several years ago in Florida, I wanted to make this super-healthful vegetable for him. Unfortunately, I couldn't find kale in his local grocery store or at any farm stands. (Here in Northern California, I realize I'm in a bubble where easy access to kale is taken for granted.) I finally found some pre-bagged kale in a giant supermarket. When I got it home, I was dismayed to realize it was clearly older kale that had been pre-cut without being stemmed first.

Kale tends to be a pretty sturdy, tough vegetable. Older kale is tougher kale, and the stems are the toughest part of the kale. There are times when I eat the kale stems, especially if the kale is on the younger side, but I cook them separately and for much longer than the leaves. Cooking them together--which was pretty much the only thing to do with the unstemmed, pre-cut kale I had purchased--results in a very unpleasantly fibrous eating experience. Or rather, alternately fibrous and mushy, as there's no way to sufficiently cook the stems without way overcooking the leaves. Blech.This experience, unfortunately, left my dad thinking he did not like kale, and I couldn't blame him. I wonder if the kale-hater in the grocery store had had a similar experience. To save the world from a gross misunderstanding of kale, here is a step-by-step of proper kale prep.

Step 1: Get a big, sharp knife. Run the blade along each side of the stem, as close to the stem as possible, to separate the stem from the leafy part.

Step 2: Make two big piles. One pile is leafy. One pile is stemmy. You can compost the stems, save them for making vegetable stock, pickle them, or feed them to your chickens.

Step 3: Stack, roll and chop. Stack leaves one on top of the other, roll the stacks up, and slice away to make wide ribbons of kale.

Step 4: Scrubba scrubba. I find the best way to clean my kale ribbons is by using a salad spinner, but you can also just use a colander. Or if you don't have a colander, rinse a few times in a large bowl and then spread out the kale ribbons on dishtowels to dry. 

Step 5: Stash. Put your cleaned, dry kale ribbons in ziploc bags, with as much air sucked or squeezed out as possible. 

Now you have kale ready to go for a simple sauté that's perfect for topping your congee or serving as a side dish: just heat coconut oil (or olive oil, or whatever your favorite cooking oil is) in a pan, add some slices of garlic and sauté those till they're golden and fragrant, then add your kale and sauté that till it's tender--depending on how old your kale is and how soft you like it, anywhere from two to ten minutes.  (If you've saved your stems and want to cook those too, just chop them up into inch-size pieces and get them started sauteeing well in advance of the garlic.)

Kale saute as congee topping...

and as side dish.

Oooh, or scrambled with eggs and a little parmesan--so good.

Other ways to enjoy your beautifully prepared kale:

Make a kale salad. Adam and I love this recipe, from the Northern Spy restaurant in New York City's East Village. It's wonderfully flexible and forgiving: we've subbed apples and nectarines for the butternut squash, and walnuts and pecans for the almonds, depending on what we have in the house and what's seasonal. Also, we find using a good-quality cheddar--our favorite by far is Cougar Gold--makes a huge difference.

Make kale chips. Use your hands to toss your prepped kale ribbons with olive oil and a little salt and whatever seasonings you like. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown. Let cool. Crunch happily. 

Make caldo verde: Literally translating to "green broth" caldo verde is a hearty, traditional Portuguese soup made with lots of kale, potatoes and linguiça or chorizo. Emeril's recipe looks delicious; you could also sub in different types of sausage (I'm kind of dying to try it with chicken-apple sausage). 

Now you're prepared in case you ever run into a kale-hater. Don't tell him off--he's not a bad person, he's just a little scared of the unknown. Awww. And don't tell him what he's missing; he probably isn't ready to hear it. Just smile politely while you feel smug about the giant bags of prepped kale in your fridge and all the delicious things you know you can do with them.

How do you like to eat your kale?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Adam's loco moco congee

I told you in my last post about how Adam had the phenomenal idea of combining congee with loco moco, that beloved, decadent breakfast local to Hawai'i.

Here's how you can make loco moco congee, too.

First, make bai zhou, plain white rice congee: bring to a boil a cup of white rice with five to eight cups of water, depending on how thick you like your congee. Once it's boiled, reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow to simmer until the grains have begun to lose their borders and the bai zhou is porridgey in consistency.

Here's what my bai zhou looks like after about 25 or 30 minutes of simmering. The rice grains are still more or less distinct, but you can't quite tell where one grain ends and another begins. 

Here's what longer-cooked (one hour or more) congee looks like (along with some hei zhi ma  for a garnish and some greens mixed in)--no distinction whatsoever between the rice grains. Neither way is more right--it's really about your preference. 

Lightly salt and pepper about one quarter of a pound of ground beef--Adam used grass-fed ground chuck, 80% lean.  Gently form a patty with your hands.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet on high heat. Put your patty in the skillet and cook it for about 3-4 minutes a side. There's no need to oil your pan first. Don't touch it at all for at least the first couple of minutes on each side; Adam insists: "It'll let go of the pan when it's ready." During those first couple of minutes, you're building a nice crust on the outside of the burger and also building up the fond, the nice crusty bits that are left stuck in the pan that will be the basis for your flavorful gravy.

Take burger out and set it aside, or just set it on top of a bowl of bai zhou.

Take the pan off the heat, let it cool a bit. There will be some fat in the pan that has come off of the ground beef. If it's more than a couple of tablespoons, remove some fat. If it's less, add some butter to make up a couple tablespoons of fat total. Then return the pan to medium heat and whisk in two or so tablespoons of flour; whisk (or stir with a wooden spoon) for two to three minutes till the flour starts to brown a little bit. Gradually whisk in beef or chicken stock (we used chicken stock)* very slowly--make sure each bit of stock is smoothly incorporated before adding more. Continue adding stock, more or less a cup in total until you have your gravy at the consistency you like it.

*It's worth noting that if you're not making your stock at home, storebought chicken stock is generally far superior to storebought beef stock.

In another pan, cook an egg over-easy.

Assemble your loco moco congee: bai zhou in a wide bowl, then hamburger patty, then egg; top it all with gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste, plus hei zhi ma if you like. Enjoy.

OMG, you guys. 
This morning, Adam made me a healthier version of loco moco congee--bai zhou topped with an egg over-easy; a turkey patty he formed with salt, pepper and smoked paprika; sauteed kale; and his homemade sriracha. It hit the same heartwarming, nostalgic spot for me as a "real" loco moco, and kept me going through a busy morning with a fussy, fevered toddler (who is, thankfully, all better now).

Okay, so it was my idea to call this "a healthier version of a loco moco." Adam insists that he was not trying to imitate a loco moco, and that without gravy, this is not a proper loco moco at all, and that I shouldn't even call it that because I am bound to disappoint the masses. But I really, really liked it. 
If you've never had a loco moco, please try it. I mean, once, at least. There are all sorts of versions of it, but I'm a purist: steamed white rice, beef patty, gravy and an egg over easy. A runny egg yolk is critical, because it needs to mix with the gravy and that mixture has to sort of saturate the rice. (I remember one time, years ago, Jenjen called me from a visit home to Honolulu all outraged; she'd gotten a loco moco somewhere, but they'd cooked the egg all the way through. "Then it's not a loco moco!" I shouted, instantly beside myself on her behalf. "I KNOW!" wailed Jenjen. "Do it right, or like, what's the POINT?")

I love that Jenjen knew that she'd get a sympathetic ear, calling me about an improperly executed loco moco.I'm not saying you can't mess around with your loco moco--I mean, I'm messing around with it just having it over congee, or suggesting you have it with turkey and kale and no gravy. But all that being said, no matter what I do to your loco moco, I promise, gravely and sincerely, that I will never, ever, ever serve it to you with an overcooked egg.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Congee all day

To reap all the remarkable health benefits of congee, you really only need to eat it for your first meal of the day. You don't have to eat it for multiple meals of the day.

I just like to.

Here's what I packed in my bag for a full day at work: A jar full of coffee. Three persimmons. A jar of bai zhou topped with coconut-oil-sauteed kale, a lovely fresh egg, and a little bit of the roasted pork shoulder left over from the awesome tacos Adam made the other day. Two more jars exactly like that first one.

Here is where I 'fess up to having broken my vow of eating congee every day for a whole year. The truth? I've eaten it most days. But in June, Adam and Kamal and I went to Hawaii for a week, which is where I grew up, and I ate loco moco for breakfast every day: steamed white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and epic amounts of brown gravy. Ohhhh, so amazing. It's the island answer to a bacon cheeseburger. I love bacon cheeseburgers, but I'd pick a bowl of loco moco over a bacon cheeseburger any day.

Hawai'i was pretty awesome, you guys.

Here is the one family photo we managed on our trip. How amazing is that tree?

And, ok, even when we've not been traveling, there have been days, here and there, where I've been out of rice and/or out of time and grabbed a healthy breakfast somewhere, or eaten something like toast and a spinach omelette.

I expect to feel a little more sluggish when I eat a rich, heavy breakfast like a loco moco, or something high in sugar and low in fiber and protein, like a muffin. What I find interesting is how different I feel when I eat congee versus eating what most people would consider a healthy breakfast. Root veggies with baked eggs and greens? That's pretty healthful, and it's not like I feel bad when I eat them, but I don't feel as awesome--as energized, as ready for the day, as, I don't know, spry--as when I put down my spoon after that last bite of congee. Oatmeal with fresh berries and coconut milk? So delicious and warming, but nope, not the same kick as my savory, light-but-satisfying, comforting-but-not-cloying daily congee bowl.

On the left: K-small demonstrates how I feel after eating congee for breakfast. On the right: K-small demonstrates how I feel after eating anything else for breakfast. Cute either way, but a lot brighter and floatier with congee in my belly. 

From a Western nutritional standpoint, it's a little far-fetched that a bowl of congee and the baked-egg breakfast I described make me feel so different. The components are largely the same: starchy carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the egg, and leafy greens. If anything, because the root vegetables are not refined carbohydrates, as is the white rice in my congee, I ought to feel less good after slurping up my bai zhou than eating the other breakfast.

But from a traditional Chinese medical perspective, it's totally logical: the congee is easier to digest. White rice nourishes the Spleen, which does take a little while to wake up. (Root vegetables do too, but not as gently.) The fact that the rice is technically way overcooked means it all goes down a lot more easily, and even more importantly, is converted into usable nutrition more efficiently. The coconut oil's very healthy fat, the egg's fat and protein, and the fiber from the leafy greens keep the white rice from causing a quick blood-sugar spike.

So: I have erred. I have slipped up on my yearlong congee commitment. But I keep coming back to congee, and I know I will continue to do that year after year--and not just because I said I would, but because I notice how much better, stronger, sharper I feel when it's part of my early morning. And frankly, when it's part of my late morning, too, and early afternoon? I feel even better. Why wouldn't I eat it more than once a day?  

It helps that it's delicious and infinitely variable. What also helps is that I have a brilliant husband who decided I don't have to choose between loco moco and congee when we're at home--he made me loco moco congee. CHECK THIS OUT, you guys: 

Without gravy.

With gravy! Is there anything that is not better with gravy? That's a rhetorical question. Don't answer it.

This isn't healthy. BUT IT WAS AWESOME. Sprinkled with toasted hei zhi ma and fresh scallions for prettiness and extra deliciousness, it was an unusually rich bowl of congee--but still didn't make me feel weighed down and gunky the way a proper loco moco typically does.

Holler if you want the recipe for Adam's loco moco congee!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Garlicky greens congee, and three steps to eating better

There's this very short list I give to patients who want to completely overhaul their eating patterns and start eating healthfully. Here it is:

1) Start each day with a warm breakfast. (Ahem. Congee, for example.)

2) Drink half a gallon or more of room-temperature or warm water a day.

3) Eat cooked greens with every meal.

I like this list because it's short, it's common-sense, and it's all about things to add--not take away--from your diet. Of course there are more steps to a complete, balanced, healthy approach to food. This is just a start (and for what it's worth, I think starting with a short and easy list is a lot more realistic and useful than attempting an immediate overhaul. In fact, I believe in celebrating each intermediate step towards optimal health, no matter how seemingly small. The thing is, being "healthy"--in quotes because that means so many different things for different people--is just a series of choices, every day. It's not like we get to some summit of healthy, or happy, or successful, or whatever good place and then we're just done and can throw a party. It's always work; we're always practicing; we're constantly making small steps. So celebrating that we've just started drinking more water or less diet soda is creating the good habit of cheering ourselves on throughout a long life built of tiny choices that serve us well. This is a long parentheses. More on celebrating the small another time).

So, okay. The three-step list is just a starting point, but it's a good one. I wrote about why you should eat a warm breakfast every day here.  You've probably already been told that it's good to drink at least eight glasses of water per day, and there are, oh, about a billion reasons why. But greens with every meal? That's a lot of vegetables.

The short story is that cooked greens have so many benefits and so few drawbacks that it's almost a guarantee that putting lots of them in your diet will make you feel better. Of course, there are a few cases where this is not true: it is possible to overdose on greens, particularly for people with metabolic or cardiac disorders. Extremes, per usual, are not good--for all its goodness, two bunches of kale per day (which some people actually do eat, say, in smoothies) without variation or balance can actually result in significant thyroid imbalance.

Ok, so you're saying: I can eat something like caldo verde or sag paneer for lunch, and for dinner I could revamp my favorite burritos or make sure tonight's stir-fry is richly cruciferous. But vegetables in my breakfast? Seriously? Where, exactly, in my breakfast am I going to put those?

Oh, so glad you asked.

So you could do a frittata, or this gorgeous breakfast slab pie. You could top a slice of whole-grain bread with cottage cheese, spinach and an egg. Or--you could cook greens into your breakfast congee, like so:

Garlicky Greens Congee


One and a half cups white jasmine rice

3 large cloves of garlic

Half a pound of cooking greens, like kale, collards, or spinach--I used rainbow chard here

A tablespoon of your favorite cooking oil

Four cups of chicken stock


How to: 

Thoroughly rinse your rice, greens, and garlic.

Trim the tough stems off your greens, and mince them finely.

Like so.

Peel your garlic and mince that, too.

Like so.

In a heavy skillet, heat the tablespoon of oil.

This is my favorite cooking oil for this kind of thing.

When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic; sautee till just golden, then add the minced greens. You want to keep this stuff moving in the pan; it's easy to burn the garlic, and burnt garlic means you'll have to start all over, which would be a bummer.

If you can take a non-blurry photo of your greens, YOU ARE NOT MOVING THEM AROUND ENOUGH.

Once the greens are wilted and vibrant green, turn off the heat under your pan. Put the rice and garlicky greens in a medium saucepan. Add the chicken stock.

And cop a helper if you can.

Bring the whole dealio to a rolling boil.

Like so.

Then reduce the heat to medium-low. You want a lively simmer. Stir frequently, making sure you are reaching the bottom of the pot with your spoon to avoid any burnt bits.

After ten minutes, my congee looked like this:

See how the stock is almost fully absorbed, but the rice grains are still largely separate and have their individual borders fully intact? If your congee looks like this at any point, it's your cue to add more liquid. I added another two cups of water here.

 After another fifteen minutes--twenty-five minutes total--my congee looked liked this:

Now the borders of the rice are a lot less distinct, and the water I added has also been largely absorbed. At this point, I'm calling it done. (You can totally cook the congee for longer, and the consistency will just get smoother and smoother. It's a personal call. Do what you're gonna do. There's no judgment here.)

Mama and baby breakfasts

I splashed a little hot-chili-pepper sesame oil and some organic tamari on my bowl, and topped both my serving and Kamal's with one of Adam's perfect-every-time boiled eggs.

So good! And so green. Enjoy!  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nori goma furikake

If you've never had furikake before, it's one of those condiments that you won't remember how you lived without once you try it. You'll want to put it on everything--not just your congee, but your popcorn and noodles and fish dishes. You'll sneak it onto sandwiches and into salads--and because it's rich in vitamins A, B12 and C, not to mention iodine, iron and zinc, you'll feel virtuous while doing it.

This simple furikake is just one of countless possible variations on furikake; many versions include bits of dried fish, miso, sea salt, egg, preserved plum, or roasted rice. If you're not as excited about making your own as I am, you can buy all kinds of prepared furikake at many grocery stores that stock Japanese ingredients. Here's a neat photo from Yelp user Chad Y. of the furikake shelf at Pacific Mercantile Company, an Asian Market in Denver. Look at all those different furikakes!

There are many different types of furikake

Another benefit of this particular furikake is that it can help to tonify your Kidney qi, because it uses hei zhi ma (black sesame seeds) and nori, which is black in color and therefore tonifying to the kidneys.

Here's the kind of nori I buy.

Nori goma furikake:

1/2 c black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma)
5 sheets nori
2 tbsp soy sauce (use gluten-free tamari instead if you need to keep this recipe gluten-free)
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 tsp chili flakes

Preheat oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone non-stick liner or parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the soy sauce, mirin, and chili flakes.

Tear or scissor the nori into small pieces. They don't have to be super-small; you'll crumble them smaller later. Put them in a small bowl and toss them with the soy sauce mixture.

Spread the nori mixture on the baking sheet and bake for 10 to 25 minutes.

Should look wet and clumpy like this.

Check after 10 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter. Pull the nori out of the oven when it feels dry and crisp to the touch.

Dry and crisp now, not wet and clumpy 

While the nori is baking, prepare your sesame seeds this way.

When the nori is cool enough to handle, crumble it into teeny-tiny pieces. You're going for sprinkle-size pieces, about the same size as the chili flakes. You can also use small kitchen shears for this, but I think crumbling it in your hands is more fun. Mix with the roasted sesame seeds.

Stored at room temperature in an airtight jar, this stuff will keep indefinitely. Sprinkle it on your congee, then try sprinkling it on everything else. It's seriously heaven on popcorn.

This is a pretty subjective recipe, by which I mean your preferences for salty, pungent and spicy might be very different from mine. Play with the ratio of soy sauce, mirin and chili flakes each time you make this recipe till it tastes exactly right to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

No-time-to-make-congee congee

I'm still here! And still eating my congee every day. Finding the time to write about it regularly, however, has gotten more and more challenging in direct proportion to how mobile my small Kamal has gotten.  He's running now, and climbing, and even throwing the occasional full-fledged tantrum--a truly free-range toddler if ever there was one. (He's also giving hugs, telling jokes in his own funny toddler language,  and planting grave, carefully-aimed kisses on my mouth.)

Grave pre-kiss face.

This morning's congee was what I call lazy-day congee, or busy-morning congee. Basically it's congee made with already-cooked rice. It lacks a bit of the silky texture that real congee has, but the speed in coming together makes up for it, and thickened with some whisked egg, even I barely notice the lack. It's not the right choice for congee purists, but on a morning like today's--following a night when my charming child slept basically not at all--it's the difference between congee and no congee.

This is just a gratuitous photo of Kamal sleeping, because I need the reminder that it actually does happen sometimes.

No-Time-To-Make-Congee Congee

(Note: this made way too much for my breakfast and Kamal's. There's a bunch in the fridge I'll reheat for us tomorrow morning.)
About one cup cooked white jasmine rice (or any cooked rice or grain)
About 2 cups chicken stock (or dashi, or beef stock, or whatever stock you have around)
2 large eggs
(For add-ins, use whatever you have available that appeals to you. Here's what I used:)
About half a cup frozen shiitake mushrooms
A handful of shredded chicken pulled off a leftover roast chicken
2 big handfuls of washed fresh baby spinach

In a medium pot, combine rice, stock and mushrooms (and/or any frozen ingredients). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-high heat,  stirring frequently. After 5 or so minutes, whisk in eggs and continue frequent stirring; the mixture will thicken considerably and become more cohesive. Add in chicken and allow to heat through. Just before serving, stir in spinach until wilted.

That's it! You're done! Dig in. Here's my serving and Kamal's:

And Kamal's reaction: circumspect tasting,

skeptical connoisseurship,

  and finally, begrudging approval.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mahogany Beef Congee

Adam and I got married in our backyard and it was the best party we've ever thrown.  We had cases and cases of wine and beer and champagne. (We will have our fifth anniversary this May, and we still have some wine left over.) Champagne got opened right as the guests were arriving, and we had half-pint Mason jelly jars for wine and bubbly and pint Mason jars for beer, but somehow nobody found the half-pints, so the party got underway with everybody gleefully drinking PINTS OF CHAMPAGNE.

It was awesome.

photo by Tod Brilliant

The next day, we discovered lots of opened, mostly-full jugs of red wine. Lots of lots of nice red wine, so much that there was no way we could drink it without it all going bad. We could have thrown a whole other party with all that wine, but we were ready to be not throwing parties the day after our wedding, so instead, Adam remembered that he'd made a recipe--Mahogany Beef Stew--years back that used a lot of red wine. So all the leftover wine went into a couple huge potfuls of the stew, which then went into many quart Mason jars, which then went into our freezer, to be happily remembered, opened and reheated on many busy at-home evenings. And we went off on our honeymoon, free of any guilt over neglected wine.

Last week Adam decided to make me Mahogany Beef Congee. The hoisin sauce in the recipe adds delicious Asian overtones, so turning the stew into a congee felt like a natural fit. Adam adapted the recipe linked above, and prepared the congee essentially as written except that he:

-skipped the cornstarch entirely
-used less beef (a little over two pounds, instead of the three-and-a-half pounds called for in the original recipe)
-added about 6 tbsps of fresh minced ginger (4-6 inches), and
-added about 2-3 tbsps of fresh minced garlic (3-5 cloves)

He started on the stovetop, heating olive oil in a large pan and searing the beef on all sides on medium high, being careful not to crowd the pan (you can do this in batches if your pan isn't big enough). As the beef came out of the pan, he lightly salted and peppered it. You can salt it before it goes in to the pan too, but don't pepper it till it comes out, because pepper will burn.

Once the beef was out of the pan, he reduced the heat to medium and cooked the onions in the same pan for about 15 minutes; in the last couple of minutes he added the ginger and garlic to the pan. Then he mixed the beef back in, and then added everything else except the carrots from the recipe, and let it all cook, covered, on the stovetop for one and a half to two hours, until the beef was very tender. (Note: This cooking time was longer than in the original recipe.)

He then put the stew in the fridge and went to bed.

The next morning, he added the stew to our big 10-cup rice pot with about two and a half cups of washed white jasmine rice, another cup of wine, the carrots, and enough water to fill the pot, and switched the rice cooker on.

Here's what it looked like the first day I ate it, when I came back from an early morning meeting to a house filled with a rich, winey, gingery fragrance that reminded me of those first giddy days of being married to the kind of man who will make winey, gingery congee for me:

And here's what it looked like the second day, topped with a perfect soft-boiled egg:

This recipe made enough for me to eat it for breakfast every day for about ten days, but I liked it so much I ate it for lunch, too, so it only lasted about five.

I'm one of those people who can eat the same meal ten times in five days and not get bored, especially if I add different vegetables to it each time. If you're not one of those people, though, this freezes beautifully. Just pull out and heat up a portion whenever you're feening for real, heartwarming-but-not-heavy comfort food.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Congee to go

Today I woke up at 5, Kamal woke up at 6, and I had a meeting at 7. With no time to eat breakfast before my meeting, I put hot bai zhou in a pint Mason jar and topped it with sauteed chopped green beans and shiitake mushrooms, an egg cooked over-easy in coconut oil, a little tamari, and a little hot chili sesame oil. Screwed the lid on, threw it (along with another pint Mason jar full of tea) into my giant purse, kissed Kamal and Adam goodbye, and was out the door with my good-to-go breakfast. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

All aboard the congee train: Guest post by Jenjen!

Jenjen and I have been friends since I was 12 and she was 9. Well, we were more like younger sister and older sister; we even still call each other "Meimei" and "Jiejie," the Chinese honorifics that older and younger sisters call each other. I would post a photo from those days, but I was going through a heinously awkward phase and I don't want to subject you to it. (Jenjen was always completely COMPLETELY adorable, though.)

When she moved to New York for graduate school, we became grown-up friends, big-time.  Jenjen (along with our sister-in-spirit, Mayumi) danced a hula with me at my wedding
Photo credit to Mayumi Shimose Poe

and held Kamal when he was a teeny-tiny.
photo credit to Mayumi Shimose Poe
Like me, Jenjen grew up with congee. Here's her lovely piece on her grandmother's congee. 

Jook was never really my comfort food.  I never craved it when I wanted to make myself feel better after a bad day.  When I was a kid, it was what my mom fed me when I was sick.  So naturally, it was always bland because I couldn't taste anything.  On the other hand, Turkey Jook is a whole different ballgame to me.  

Every Thanksgiving, I would look forward to the post-feast meals almost more than the actual meal itself.  My popo (grandmother) would transform the turkey carcass and meal remnants into this lovely rich broth that would take center stage in an incredibly luxurious jook.  But, it wasn't just about ravenously devouring bowls of that jook with my family; it was about my alone time with my popo while we made it together.

My popo was one of my biggest influences in my early childhood.  Instead of hiring childcare while my parents worked, she was my secondary caregiver.  And she'd regale me with stories of her own childhood, where she worked in the Hawaii sugar cane plantation fields, while she kept me busy with yard work or kitchen duty.  So now, I frequently look back to her kitchen time life lessons when I'm in my own times of distress.  

She taught me about honor, love, family, respect, sacrifice, ....she taught me to be a warrior, like her.  And she did it all between washing vegetables, brandishing her giant meat cleaver, and tossing morsels in her wok; while I hungrily watched at the hem of her worn out draw-string denim apron.  So while we made turkey jook, one of her biggest lessons from that was to not waste any food.

Her particular brand of turkey jook was different from the rest of the island.  Mainly because it involved throwing everything we didn't finish into the pot to flavor the broth.  So naturally, it tasted different every year.  But, for some reason we'd undoubtedly always have leftover raw carrots that she'd finely dice and throw in for color and sweetness.  So to this day, I can't have turkey jook without specifically going to buy carrots for that purpose.  

I've had many years where my peers would laugh at my family's odd carrot-filled turkey jook.  But, I just smile at them.  Because to me, that's my popo's wisdom "chop-suey-ed" into a bowl, and served steaming hot.  Thank you, Popo, for the love, the wisdom, and the laughs.  I hope to make you proud as the warrior that I've become today.

Turkey Jook
(sorry, there are no measurements. Popo never measured anything except by saying..."oh, throw a little of this, and a little of that. Use your tastebuds.")

-Turkey carcass (reserve the leftover turkey meat)
-leftover vegetables
-green onions
-star anise (small handful)
-sesame oil 
-soy sauce
-1 cup white jasmine rice
-2 large carrots, finely diced

Sautee the ginger, onions, green onions, and star anise in sesame oil on medium high for a few minutes, until onions have become translucent.  Add turkey carcass, leftover vegetables, and enough cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and put on simmer for 2 hours.  Strain broth out.  Sautee another onion and cilantro in a stock pot for a few minutes.  Add rice and coat.  Add strained broth and bring to a boil (approximately 9:1 water to rice ratio).  Simmer on medium low and stir frequently for 2 hours.  In the last half an hour, add in the diced carrots and turkey meat. Add a few dashes of soy sauce, to taste.  Serve hot with cilantro leaves as garnish.

[Mmmmm. Jenjen says "...needs thousand-year-old-egg." But I think it looks perfect just the way it is.]

Saturday, February 22, 2014

An event of historic proportions

You guys! This right here? This is a photo of my child eating congee.

If you read this post, you understand why this is such a huge deal. 

Here's the bowl of congee I made for myself yesterday morning, which Kamal kept trying to put his own spoon into, which prompted me to give him his own little ramekinful. 

It's just bai zhou topped with sautéed baby kale and one and a half of Adam's perfect soft-boiled eggs. (The other half-egg is on Kamal's breakfast plate). 

Since Kamal has consistently refused rice and since I've committed to eating congee every morning for a year, I will typically make us separate breakfasts, like this one. 

Our breakfasts one day last week: Kamal had roasted sweet potatoes, roasted chicken, sauteed spinach and spaghetti in meat sauce. I had brown rice congee, an egg over-easy, roasted chicken and sauteed spinach.

But yesterday morning gave me hope! I mean, look at this! He was so into it! He's only just learning about eating with utensils and yet he's spooning up that congee like a champ!
Okay, in this photo there's technically nothing actually on the spoon, but whatever. Points for effort, kiddo. 

The rest of the day was just golden, probably because when you start the day with congee things tend to go well. There was some two-wheeling and kumquat eating:

And then later in the evening Kamal helped Daddy fix dinner. 


Of course, this morning when I optimistically gave him a serving of congee, Kamal studiously removed it all from his bowl onto the dining table, and then dramatically flung a piece of congee-covered kale onto the floor. Chagrin! 

But a few minutes later, he trod across the discarded kale, and its congee coating made it stick to his foot. And then with a delighted expression he discovered the kale stuck to the bottom of his foot, sat down, peeled it off, and ate it. Parenting moral: Progress, such as it is, is not necessarily linear.