Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Consider Clemntines

I love clementines. I love that they are cute and tiny and you can eat three in a single sitting. I love that they are so much easier to peel than oranges, so you can snarf them down at your desk or wherever you may be without squishing the fruit in the peeling process and making a big ol' mess. I love that they are sweet, never sour, as can sometimes happen with oranges, and you don't have to worry about seeds, either. And lastly, as pointed out in New York Magazine, they are in season now, in February, a bit of citrus-y sunshine in what has been an otherwise beastly cold winter.

Clementines are the tiniest of the mandarin orange family, aw, and are said to originate in the Canton province of China. As they are in season in the winter, as I mentioned above, they are also commonly referred to as "Christmas Oranges," and those funny wooden crates they always come in seem to imply that they would be a perfect present for a vitamin C-deprived friend or someone who is suffering from the winter flu or just the winter blues. While I enjoy clementines as they are, freshly peeled, and sometimes will sprinkle them over a salad, in addition to the neat recipe linked in New York Magazine above, I came across this great recipe from Bon Appetite, and plan on trying it this week! Instead of Chicken Broth, you can sub-out for vegetable stock instead if you want to make it vegetarian (Lent starts this week and a common thing to try is being vegetarian, or so I have found, and this will be a nice thing to try as you explore vegetarian options in lieu of meat for 40 days!)

  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth (or vegetable stock)
  • 1 10-ounce package plain couscous (about 1 2/3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 clementines
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas
  • 12 large green olives, pitted, quartered lengthwise
  • 6 dates, pitted, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Bring broth to boil in small saucepan. Mix couscous, 1 teaspoon salt, and olive oil in medium bowl. Pour boiling broth over couscous mixture. Stir, then cover with plastic wrap. Let stand 15 minutes.

Peel your clementines; chop peel. It should be easy to peel it with your hand in one nice strip but you can always try with a vegetable peeler if need be, although I feel like then you run the risk of squishing the fruit inside. Cut flesh into 1/4-inch pieces. Combine chopped peel and flesh in small bowl and set aside. You can also just grate the peel if cutting it into mini pieces is too tedious.

Bring chickpeas with liquid to boil in saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chickpeas are heated through, about 3 minutes. Drain chickpeas. Gently fluff couscous with fork. Add chickpeas, olives, dates, mint, and clementines. Stir to incorporate evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bon Appetite also includes a mini-tutorial as to how to remove the "pith" or white stuff that sometimes remains attached to the fruit after peeling, but I like to eat it. It doesn't seem to taste like anything to me, and Chinese folklore says it is an anti-carcinogen, so if you're into that sort of thing, go nuts!

Yummy! And the fact that this also includes dates, so much the better. It would be interesting to try this recipe with straight up figs as well, but dates are perhaps a bit easier to use/not quite so squishy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tastes like Balsamic-Pomegranate Glazed Chicken

I have a tried-and-true chicken recipe that I use over and over again at home. It's simple and I almost always have the ingredients on hand so I can make it on the fly (sugar, soy sauce, garlic and olive oil). But it can't hurt to mix it up every now and again, and a friend of mine passed this delicious recipe onto me. It's almost as quick and easy as mine, and she has just welcomed the sweetest, most beautiful little boy into her and her husband's life, so the fact that she has time to cook something so yummy is a testament to its ease and practicality! Plus, it is healthy, too, and we all know how I feel about pomegranates...

Take equal parts balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice (POM or some other equivalent) and coat however many chicken piece you like, along with fresh thyme, pomegranate seeds and a bit of olive oil to help coat.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until done. That's it! The glaze coats the chicken nicely and whatever is left over in the baking dish you can pour over the chicken upon serving.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In bounds the rabbit: Chinese New Year Yummies

My Chinese mother is a self-proclaimed banana, which I suppose is a kinder term than "twinkie." Vronsky is a self-proclaimed "egg," so I suppose everything evens out in the end. If you can't figure out what I am referring to here, think colors and pejorative terms for race.

Slang aside, I think there are a lot of "eggs" out there when it comes to food. My favorite part of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was where he decreed that, in all honesty, his favorite, quintessential New York meal was Chinese take-out, Sriracha sauce, a joint and a classic movie. Illegal drugs aside, a part of me truly does think that Chinese food really is the "world's cuisine." I am not kidding. You could find a "Lucky Noodle" in Nairobi and in St. Louis. And while the level of taste at these places could vary widely, from fake Chinese food like orange chicken, to wonderfully authentic, I always smile at the ubiquity of the cheesy fortune cookie and lo mein.

Since Chinese New Year's Eve is this Wednesday and Thursday ushers in the Year of the Rabbit, now's a good time to partake in the omnipresence of Chinese food and try some traditional Chinese New Year treats. Food has such a high standing in Chinese culture itself, the food served on the New Year is filled with tradition and some superstition.

For example, a whole roasted chicken symbolizes family togetherness, while noodles represent long life, so eat them whole and don't break them if you can! And my po-po made sure to remind me to eat some oranges or tangerines tomorrow night and Thursday, which symbolize good luck and Cantonese families will give the fruit to each other as gifts. Too bad I don't have any oranges from her orchard out in Sacramento. Those are the best...always sweet, never sour, and she always peels them for me in a single long peel, like she's done since I was little, because it still impresses me.

Fish also served whole, on the bone, is another traditional treat and done well (nice and thin and crispy) it is absolutely delicious and de-bones very easily. In fact, whole proteins are the M.O. for New Year meals as the act of cleaving meat could be perceived as cleaving family togetherness and unity, a big no-no. As far as your whole fish goes, don't be intimidated by the fact that it comes with the eyes still intact. My grandfather would always tell us to eat it because it would make us wise (all-seeing perhaps) but we never believed him. The fact that he never ate the eye either tipped us off...

Steamed rice cakes are the classic desert. Rice is life, the sweetness symbolizes richness, and the circular shape of the cake itself represents unity. Pomelo fruit is also a classic, but I actually don't care for the taste, but I'll eat plenty of leafy greens and gai lan (Chinese Broccoli), which are also "lucky," to counteract that.

In the moving book Mao's Last Dancer, Li, the protagonist fondly recalls making "jiaozi," or special New Year dumplings with his mother when he was a boy. He grew up in abject poverty in a collective farm in northern China, where "jiaozi" are tradition, and the family would scrimp and save for months to be able to afford enough meat, oil and dough to make the dumplings.

To balance out the excessive feasting that occurs on the eve of the new year, the first meal New Year's Day is traditionally vegetarian. This meat-free meal is also thought to generate good will on that first day as nothing was killed to make it.

The New Year feasting lasts for almost two weeks and you can learn more about each day and what food coincides with it here, but for a half-banana and an indulgent egg, one night of feasting is enough. I plan on making Vronsky's favorite "at home" meal: fresh white rice, steamed lapchong, some sauteed veggies (broccoli, water-chestnuts, snow-peas, ginger and carrots with soy sauce and garlic), and oranges for dessert. And then we will leave all the cleaning for the next day, since it is also bad luck to clean on the New Year, lest you sweep bad luck away. I am convinced that tradition was started by fed-up wives, who themselves were exhausted after the feast and the preparations the night before and needed a DAY OFF before tackling all that mess....