Archive for January, 2012

Teriyaki Chicken

I am the person you’re embarrassed to be seen with in a sushi restaurant. See, I don’t eat shellfish, the idea of cold fish wrapped in seaweed makes me gag, and I’m not even a fan of sake. So when we go out for Japanese food, I have teriyaki or tempura and Mr. B tries to pretend he doesn’t know me while he orders eight types of fish I can’t even recognize on sight.

Chicken, on the other hand, has a wider appeal. This chicken is perfect, with orange and soy and even a bit of sake to round out the sauce.

Ingredients (serves 2)

3/4 lb chicken parts

flour, for dredging

2-3 T oil for frying

3 T soy sauce

3 T sake

Juice of 1/2 of an orange (Satsuma or Clementine, not Navel)

1 T sugar

1 head of broccoli

Directions

Dredge the chicken pieces in flour.

Cook in heated oil in a wok for 1-2 minutes a side.

Set the chicken aside and drain the oil. Combine the soy sauce, sake, sugar, and orange juice in the wok. Stir to dissolve the sugar and heat over medium heat.

Add the chicken and flip to coat once the sauce begins to simmer.

Cut the broccoli into florets and toss in with the chicken.

Cover for about 5 minutes to steam the broccoli.

Toss everything in the sauce one last time before serving. Serve with rice and fried lotus root.

This is incredibly quick to make; even when juggling three hot pots and pans and a camera, everything was finished and plated in fifteen minutes. I like the addition of orange to the sauce, because our favorite Japanese restaurant adds a whole orange on the side of their teriyaki and the best bites are the ones the orange has oozed into. It’s tangy and delicious.

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Olive Roasted Brussels Sprouts

So, I made these back in early December. Since the move, though, the camera has been safely nestled in a box and the computer has been safely ensconced in a different room from the X-Box, and I have Skyrim.

Basically, I’m telling you that I’d rather make cabbage stew in a video game than sign on here and talk about actual real food. I’m ready to be judged.

These sprouts are worth waiting for, though. I know sprouts have a bad reputation, and they even deserve it sometimes, but it isn’t their fault! See, Brussels sprouts are delicious, until you overcook them. Once you overcook them, they are sickening, mushy, sulfurous little beasties that just don’t deserve to be in the dining room. Roasted briefly–for 15 to 20 minutes, tops–they are crisp, fresh, smoky on the outside, and crunch a bit like broccoli stems crossed with cabbage in the middle. Add olives and you have a perfect side dish.

Ingredients (serves 2)

10-12 small Brussels sprouts

6 olives

1-2 T olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise, put them in a bowl, and drizzle them with olive oil.

Slice the olives into half-moons. They’re not pretty, but they are tasty.

Toss the olive slices over the sprouts.

Grate on some Parmesan cheese and toss it all together.

Arrange the sprouts cut side down in an 8″ by 8″ baking pan. This will ensure that the cut edges get nice and browned. Add salt and pepper as desired.

Roast the sprouts for 15-20 minutes, until a fork slides in without violent stabbing but still meets some resistance.

Serve with drunken pasta and very crunchy bread.

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Red or Green?

New Mexican chile probably isn’t a big deal to those of you who don’t or haven’t lived in New Mexico. When I first moved there, I couldn’t understand it. A friend took me to a lovely New Mexican restaurantand once I’d ordered, the waiter asked the most baffling question I’d ever heard: “Red, green, or Christmas?”

The elusive Christmas chile. (Wikimedia Commons)

See, in New Mexico, pretty much everything that isn’t dessert is served with chile. There’s green chile, which is made of ripe green chiles cooked with spices and maybe a little flour as thickener, and red chile, which is made from dried red chiles (the same species as green, just fully ripened then dried) plumped with water and pureed. Then there’s Christmas, which is of course a mixture of both. You may notice, especially if you’re a Texan, the lack of meat or beans or anything else in this chile sauce. It’s just a sauce they pour over every burrito, enchilada, and fried egg in the state of New Mexico. Now some folks are protesting against the good people at the New Mexico Chile Association and the Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU because part of their funding could be used to research genetically modifying the peppers that define New Mexican cuisine. The Facebook page of the protesters (Occupy Green/Red Chile) seem to be  focusing more on the potential commercial repercussions of GM chile seeds rather than the health risks that some folks allege are posed by GMOs.

Image from the USDA

I was surprised to see an economic movement attach itself to a culinary cause.  I was also a little concerned that the protests might lead to pressure to change the track of some of the research being done at the Chile Pepper Institute. So I sent them an e-mail, and after a few weeks of phone tag (Tip: never try to reach a professor at the end of semester, especially while you’re moving. You’ll each end up with 30 second bursts of time that never seem coincide.) I spoke with Dr. Paul Bosland, the  director of the Chile Pepper Institute. I had been rather expecting a grad student or intern to deal with me, honestly, because I’m not a scientist or even a reporter, just a person who cooks pretty well and sometimes writes about it. Dr. Bosland didn’t seem particularly worried about the movement. According to him, the protest’s presence is primarily an Internet phenomenon; they were scheduled to protest on NMSU’s campus the weekend before I spoke with him, but he didn’t notice any protest at all that day. Of course, he gave a very good reason to ignore the protests entirely: there are no GM chiles. It’s actually rather baffling–other nightshades such as potatoes and tomatoes and tobacco take to gene insertion quite nicely, but apparently if you insert a gene into a callus and then try to grow a plant from the callus, it doesn’t work. Obviously the Institute is interested in finding out why this is the case, but a greater part of their focus is on plant breeding.

Callus tissue. From Wikimedia Commons

  Their research foci include the usual you’d expect to find in plant research: increasing yield, nutrition, and flavor, as well as some (probably obvious) avenues that hadn’t occurred to me. The protesters worry about cross pollination from GM plants reducing genetic variety–that is, contaminating landraces and changing them. The Chile Pepper Institute is worried about non GM plants doing the same thing. “Let’s say you’re a farmer, and you plant a NuMex 6-4 [one of the popular cultivars bred by the Institute] in the same field with, say, an heirloom jalapeño. There’s going to be cross pollination, and the next generation will be changed,” Dr. Bosland explained. So the Chile Pepper Institute cultivates many varieties of chile and saves seeds to preserve their unique genes and characteristics. They also make new ones, and Dr. Bosland discovered that an Assam pepper called Bhut Jolokia is (or was) the hottest chile in the world at 1,001,304 scoville heat units. Mr B. just ordered some seedsfor it, because apparently he wants to eat something that will hurt more than biting a hot poker.

Also, he co-wrote this book, an older version of which has helped us successfully grow chiles here in Texas. Sometimes. I'm really good at killing plants.

But insane heat levels aside, chiles contain high levels of vitamins C and B6, as well as some vitamin A. According to an older text called Culture, Environment and Food to Prevent Vitamin a Deficiency by Kuhnlein and Pelto (sorry, I haven’t found any more recent studies), in some parts of rural China chile peppers are the primary source of vitamin A. Sounds great, until you realize that one average chile (with a great deal of variation between individuals, obviously) only contains 5-6% of your daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Now try to imagine eating at least 20 entire chile peppers every day. If the levels of the vitamin could be boosted, either by breeding or genetic engineering, a vitamin deficiency that causes a quarter to half a million children to go blind every year could be treated even in areas where medical treatment is of limited availability.  It’s things like this that cause me to feel so strongly about the importance of research into improving the nutritional values of food crops by any means possible. Other resources (aside from all the fun links above) The New Mexico Chile Association’s breeding solutions statement,  which discusses how the acreage of chile peppers grown in NM have decreased by 75% in the lest 20 years (not due to GM; we’ve discussed that). If you read nothing else, read this. It’s a clear, concise explanation of how research is actually being used to help the chile industry, including small farmers, in New Mexico. The Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU has loads of information for both scientists and the rest of us, as well as seeds for sale and growing tips for an astonishing variety of peppers. They also sell hot sauce, salsa, and BBQ sauce made from the Bhut Jolokia, if you want to try out some crazy hot chile sauce without growing and making it yourself.  As a bonus, the profits go towards Chile Pepper Institute research. This article has Dr. Bosland ever so proudly showing off his certificate for measuring the heat of what was the world’s hottest pepper. How cool is he?

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