Saturday, January 23, 2016

"The (Martin) Yan Can Cookbook;" "The Pot and How to Use It;" "Vegetable Love" - Lemon Chicken, Tangy Sushi Rice and Lemon Light Carrots

Date I made these recipes – January 17, 2016 – still cold

The Yan Can Cook Book (As Seen On National Public Television) by Martin Yan
Published by:  Doubleday
ISBN: 0-385-17606-6; © 1981
Purchased at local library used book sale
Recipe:  Luscious Lemon Chicken – p. 93

The Pot and How to Use It – the mystery and romance of the rice cooker by Roger Ebert
Published by:  Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
ISBN:  13: 978-0-7407-9142-0
Purchased at Barnes and Noble Used Books – Roseville, MN
Recipe:  Tangy, Stick Sushi-Style Rice By Devin Chalmers on November 2, 2008 6:18 A.M. – p. 95-96

Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka with Christopher Styler
Published by:  Artisan
ISBN:  10: 1-57965-168-2
From my late friend Carol's collection
Recipe:  Lemon-Light Carrots – p. 188

For the record, it's still cold.  In fact, probably colder.  When I last peeked through my fingers at our indoor thermometer, I think it said -4 and that was midday.

You should also know that our kitchen, added after the house was built (1904), is not insulated.  Every single window displayed indoor frost.  Yes, that's right:  indoor.

So by all rights, I should have and could have made another comfort food dish just like last week's "fancy" chili except I decided I had held off on making my Asian meal long enough.  Besides, the use of lemon and lemon juice temporarily tricked me into thinking I was in a warmer climate.  Dream on.

In an "amazing but true fact" moment, all three of the dishes here worked well with each other.  And honestly, the Vegetable Love book just fell open to the right chapter to reveal a delicious carrot recipe. It was a sign, no?

Let's start with Martin Yan of The Yan Can Cook Book.  In the 1980's, well before the Food Network emerged, PBS hosted a number of shows from previously unknown chefs like Yan.  His book is named for his show.  As I found with his other books, Yan delivers a wide variety of Chinese dishes, all of which sounded pretty yummy to me.  The dish I selected was really tasty and the lemon sauce was light instead of cloying.  Sometimes I think the American versions of Chinese sauces come with instructions along the lines of "Make thick and goopy and by all means, add lots of sugar."  This is not that dish.

As I was making this dish, I thought about the first time I had lemon chicken and that was at LeeAnn Chin's, named after local Chinese restaurateur and cookbook author, Leeann Chin.

I've written about Leeann Chin before and how she turned a few family recipes into a culinary empire.   Back in the early 80's, she operated a couple of Leeann Chin restaurants before expanding the business to include several quick-service/take-out sites, and one of her famous signature dishes at all locations was lemon chicken. 

Leeann's lemon chicken is different from Martin Yan's as it is breaded and fried and then the sauce, containing sugar and corn syrup, is poured on top and not mixed in with the stir-fry.  If it's made fresh, it can be pretty divine.  But after she went the quick-service/take-out route it wasn't so divine.  If left to sit too long, the breading gets soggy and the lemon sauce recipe seemed to morph over the years from light and delicate to almost syrupy, at least to this palate.

And so even though I loved most of her other dishes, I feared my lemon chicken days over.

But then I found this recipe and I would make this again 1,000 times over.  The only small frustration with the ingredients – and it is small – is that the marinade calls for 1 teaspoon of "ginger juice."  Let's discuss!

A quick Google search told me I could buy a bottle of "ginger juice" at a grocery store but I'd be paying close to $5 for the bottle and that was ridiculous considering I only needed 1 teaspoon.

And so I then Googled "make your own ginger juice" and came up with several recipes.  My version was undoubtedly not the right one (dice up ginger, add water, voila!) but it worked for me.  Besides, it was for the marinade so it didn't need to be spot on.  At least this is what I told myself; purists may differ.

Luckily, you'll only have to marinade this for a half an hour and then you can get going cooking it in your wok.  I love dishes like this.

So that's Martin Yan's recipe and now let's discuss the book The Pot and How to Use It – the mystery and romance of the rice cooker by Roger Ebert.

I do so hope you remember Roger Ebert.  He became a household name to many when he and the late Gene Siskel, both film critics for competing Chicago newspapers, starred in the TV show, Siskel and Ebert At the Movies

When this show started up, I remember thinking that it was kind of quirky but it soon became incredibly popular, with viewers tuning in to watch the two guys throw down against each other.  I don't recall Ebert liking too many movies and the fact that Siskel usually liked something Ebert hated spurred them on into near fisticuffs.  Still, it was an entertaining show and I learned a lot about the movies.

After Siskel died, Ebert took on a new movie critic partner and all was well until Ebert was diagnosed with cancer.  He wrote this book while undergoing treatment (he died in 2013) which is amazing to me because a mere headache can wipe me out, never mind cancer.

It appears that this book was prompted by Ebert's desire to eat relatively healthy after his cancer diagnosis as well as a love of cooking things in one pot.  Others favor soup pots or casseroles but for Ebert, it was a rice cooker.  The beauty of this book though, is that it includes more than just basic recipes such as  "Seafood Jambalaya (p. 85)," "Chicken Spaghetti (p. 85)" and even "Oatmeal (p. 97). " And these were all fine and well and good but at day's end, I opted for the sushi rice to accompany my lemon chicken.   Yes, that was a totally predicable choice but it worked out really well.

This recipe – Tangy, Sticky Sushi-Style Rice (submitted by Ebert fan, Devin Chalmers) – could not be easier and yet, finding white sushi rice, as opposed to brown sushi rice (OMG – ugh!) turned out to be harder than I expected. Actually, let me clarify:  I could have easily gotten my hands on several pounds of sushi rice but I didn't need that much and so finding just the right amount proved to be the challenge.  Inexplicably, at least three stores I visited had brown sushi rice and I must confess that never, ever did I think that sushi was made with brown sushi rice.  Seems like a sin against culinary nature to me!

Happily, Whole Foods had a small package of white sushi rice containing just about the amount I wanted and so all was well with the world.  And, considering that Whole Foods' nickname is "Whole Paycheck," we got out of there for only a couple of bucks – score!

For the record, all of the recipes in this quirky book sounded great and Roger's commentary is hilarious so it was a total win-win purchase on my part.

This leaves us then, with our third cookbook, Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka.  This thing is a "tome," containing 667 pages of vegetable recipes and then several more source lists.  Naturally, it weighs a ton and so do handle carefully!

Normally, selecting a recipe from a book this large would overwhelm but as I mentioned previously, the book just seemed to fall open to just the recipe I needed to round out my Asian meal:  Lemon-Light Carrots.   This dish – basically, slow-cooked carrots – is freshened up by lemon juice, lemon zest and Chinese five-spice powder.  We loved it.  But if carrots are not your thing, then by all means peruse the rest of the book for alternatives, broken out into the following chapters:  "Vegetables of the New World;" "Vegetables of the Mediterranean Basin, Europe and the Arab World;" "Vegetables of Asia and Africa," and "Citizens of the World."  The carrot recipe, found on page 188, was part of the "Mediterranean Basin, Europe and the Arab World" section and yet it fit perfectly with my Asian theme. 

And as with the other two books by Martin Yan and Roger Ebert, Vegetable Love's author, Barbara Kafka, is very well-known in culinary and cookbook circles.  Her cookbook, Roasting, is probably the most well known and yet you know what?  I don't have it.  I must rectify this forthwith!

Luscious Lemon Chicken – serving size not given but there was enough for two decent servings
½ pound chicken or 2 breasts, boned
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons green onion
¼ cup soup stock
1 tablespoon wine
1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
½ lemon, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch solution (Ann's Note:  I guessed at the ratio and thought my solution was a bit too thin i.e. too much water to cornstarch but it worked.)
For the marinade
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons wine
Dash black pepper
1 teaspoon ginger juice (Ann's Note:  you can buy this premade or make it like I did – finely chop or grind some fresh, peeled ginger, then add water.)

Cut the chicken into 1 ½ inch squares; marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in wok over high heat and stir-fry chicken for 1 ½ - 2 minutes. (Ann's Note:  The chicken pieces were still pretty raw after 2 minutes so I cooked them for a few minutes more.)  Add the remaining ingredients except cornstarch and lemon.  Mix well and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover and simmer for 1 ½ minutes.  Add lemon slices and continue to cook for 1 minute.

Thicken with cornstarch; garnish with extra lemon slices. 

Tangy, Sticky Sushi-Style Rice – serving size not given but I made about 2 cups (Recipe with notes from Devin Chalmers)
2-3 cups white sushi-style rice (short-grain) (Ann's Note:  Use the plastic measure that came with your rice cooker pot as the measure for your rice and not a regular measuring cup.)
5 parts rice vinegar to 1 part sugar with a bit of salt

Rinse white short-grain rice carefully.  The water should be clear, and long-grain rice is for Communists.  (Ann's Note:  I'm sorry to say, I feel the same way about brown rice!)

Add a little (maybe a third by volume) more water than rice.  Let it soak for a good half hour or so.  (Ann's Note:  I barely covered the rice and it cooked perfectly!)

Cook in the Pot.

While the Pot goes, prepare a solution of approximately 5 parts rice vinegar, 1 part sugar, and a bit of salt.  Call it a third of a cup total for 2 to 3 cups of rice.  Microwaves can help with this, or you can cleverly harness team from the Pot to assist dissolution.

Remove the rice to a large, shallow bowl-like thing.  Have a friend fan the rice while you drizzle the vinegar concoction and gently turn the rice.  (Fanning helps with the stickiness.)  (Ann's Note:  I put Andy in charge of the vinegar/sugar/salt mixture as well as the direction to "remove the rice to a large, shallow bowl-like thing."  Upon reading that, he snorted and then got out a large, plastic, not-so-shallow bowl-like "thing" a/k/a/ Tupperware and that was that!)

For extra fun: (suggested by Devin)
  • Add (low-sodium? Perhaps) soy sauce and wasabi for a cheap cheap cheap alternative to waiting in line at a sushi restaurant.  All you really wanted was the soy sauce and wasabi, right?
  • Make rice balls!  You can put thing inside them.  I suggest using a piece of plastic wrap to keep your hands clean if you're making more than a few.  Make a hole with your thumb to insert fillings – maybe something sweet, bits of pickle, anything.
  • For added points shape your rice ball into a fat triangle and wrap with seaweed.  Eat while the nori is crispy.
  • Rice balls are notoriously hard to keep more than a day; they dry out in the fridge very quickly.  I've had some limited luck microwaving them a bit.
 Lemon-Light Carrots – makes 5 cups; serves 8 as a side dish
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
10 medium carrots (3 pounds), peeled, trimmed and cut into 3 x ¼ x ¼ -inch matchsticks (Ann's Note:  OR—you can do like I did and buy carrots that have already been cut into smaller matchsticks for salads and then just keep an eye on your cooking time.  Worked like a charm!)
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
Zest of 2 lemons – removed with a vegetable peeler and thinly sliced into long strips (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Melt the butter in a nonreactive 4-quart pot over low heat.  Stir in the cayenne pepper.  Add the carrots, onion and lemon zest and mix well.  Cover the pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender but not mushy and the onions have softened and turned light yellow, about 45 minutes.

Stir in the five-spice powder, lemon juice and salt and cook for 30 seconds more.

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