Rice Cooker Cornbread Dressing

Autumn brings its peculiar sensibilities, and by that I mean, the desire to start strangling yourself with a long piece of fabric (called a scarf) and putting a cinnamon/nutmeg combination into and on everything.

(As I write this, I’m sitting in a cafe, sipping on a seasonal hot brew of barley ginger tea with red dates.)

Also? Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving overseas is quite an experience. First of all, there’s no guarantee you can track down key ingredients like, say, turkey. I’ve yet to find allspice here in Shanghai, although others have convinced me its around here somewhere.

Luckily, a select few of international teachers are determined to keep Thanksgiving as a tradition of gathering with friends and family over comfort food. With a online sign-up list, and the ability to deliver to your door practically anything in the world, we were able to create our very own Thanksgiving feast, complete with all the trimmings, here in Shanghai.

My offer was cornbread dressing, complicated by the facts that 1) There is a considerable lack of cornmeal around, 2) it’s the norm to NOT have an oven in your kitchen wall, and 3) I’m definitely not from the southern U.S.  Well, I can solve the first by keeping my eyes open and buying cornbread mix when I stumbled across it a few weeks ago in the “foreign” market. I can solve the second by learning to bake basically anything in my rice cooker. I still haven’t been able to solve that last one, though.

So, yes. Here’s a recipe for cooking cornbread dressing in your rice cooker.

cornbreadstuffing

RICE COOKER CORNBREAD DRESSING

1 loaf of cornbread (8×8)
2 slices of wheat bread, toasted and cooled/dried
6 Saltine crackers
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 stick of butter
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 cup celery, diced
2 cups chicken stock
3 eggs, boiled
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. sage
1/2 tsp. thyme
3 bay leaves/laurel
salt/pepper

1. Prep, prep, and prep:

1.1 Prepare the cornbread according to directions (yes, I baked the cornbread in the rice cooker the day before), allow to completely cool and roughly cut into small pieces, reserving all the wonderful crumbs, and put it all in a giant mixing bowl.

1.2 Toast a couple slices of wheat bread, allowing them to completely cool, too. Tear them into small pieces and add to the bowl.

1.3 Pulverize the Saltines (try between a folded paper towel), adding them to the bowl.

1.4 Add the baking powder and toss all the dry ingredients together.

1.5 Boil 3 eggs, cool, peel, and slice.

1.6 Butter the bowl of the rice cooker. Place three bay leaves/laurel at the bottom.

2. When you’re ready:

2.1 Sauté the onions and celery in 1/2 stick of butter. I like the little browny bits on my onion, so it’s about 10  minutes of frying and tossing.

2.2 Add the remaining butter until it’s just melted.

3. Put it all together:

3.1 Add the buttery onion/celery mix to the dry ingredients. Fold it to mix together.

3.2 Continue to fold, adding the chicken stock gradually. You want it moist but not wet, and definitely not soupy. You might not even use the whole amount.

3.3 Add the sliced boiled eggs, beaten eggs, and seasonings. Fold together, aiming for a stiff but moist dough. More like a cookie dough than a cake batter.

4. Cook it!

4.1 Pour the dough into the greased rice cooker bowl, flattening softly.

4.2 Press the “蛋糕” button for “Cake” on the rice cooker. The total cooking time should be about 45 minutes, but may need up to one hour.

4.3 Check for doneness, but only when the cycle is complete. Don’t lose that heat! The top should appear firm and feel dense/not too springy when tapped. It may be wet– baking in the rice cooker keeps things quite moist!

5. Presentation

5.1 Flip the bowl over your serving dish, carefully removing the bay leaves. I used a casserole dish to keep it warm until presenting it for serving.

ENJOY!

You’ll love the way the dressing will be so crispy along the outside, and how moist the dressing will be. I might even suggest increasing the amount of chicken stock to use, as the dry stuff really absorbs the ingredients well.

三杯雞 Sanbeiji (Taiwanese 3-Cup Chicken)

from TimeOutShanghai.com, actually*

from TimeOutShanghai.com, actually*

If you don’t try to blog every day, suddenly you look up and realize it’s been a week or more since you posted anything. I’m still writing for a few projects, it’s just that they are not bloggable, I suppose. That, and I’m packing everything I own into 8 boxes or fewer in order to move countries. There is that, too.

I am preparing to leave Taiwan for my next adventure in Shanghai.

One of the signature dishes in Taiwan, and one of the first that was shared with me by a local Taiwanese friend, is Sanbeiji, 三杯雞, literally 3-Cup Chicken. It takes its name as the sauce is basically 1 part soy sauce, 1 part saké, and 1 part oil– just braise the chicken and sauce it, topping it all with a ton of fresh basil. That’s basically about it, super quick and easy and thus a favorite for college students who want to not eat at the 7-11 or Family Mart that day. I’ve found it’s best with a few other ingredients to help it along, too.

SANBEIJI

1 lb. chicken pieces, thickly sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (or saké with 2 tsp. sugar)
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced

Steps
1. Sear the chicken in a dry pan until you can move the chicken without it sticking.
2. Combine the sauces together then add to the pan, stirring with the chicken.
3. Cover and stew the chicken for about 8 – 10 minutes.
4. Uncover and add the ginger, garlic, basil, and scallions. Crack some black pepper over everything.
5. Continue cooking until the sauces is reduced, another 10 – 12 minutes or more. In the last few minutes, add the tomatoes for brightness and sweetness but don’t overcook them.
6. Serve the chicken and basil over white rice, removing from the stew. If desired, use a flour rou or continue reducing the sauce to thicken it and top the chicken.

So on my way out the door, here’s one more, 3-Cup, for the road…

*The picture comes from a review at TimeOutShanghai.com, a Taiwanese restaurant that has whole garlic roasted with their Sanbeiji

 

Drunk Chicken Curry

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I don’t drink a lot of beer, and it’s never my go-to choice if I ever visit a bar or a dinner party with friends. However, there are some foods that are just so much tastier when paired with a beer. I’m not sure if it’s blasphemous or not, but for me, a beer with spicy Indian curry just makes the whole meal taste better. Sorry, purists, if that’s somehow not traditional or if it’s downright sacrilegious. Just pretend I’m talking about a British curry, and I think we’ll all be fine.

So I wondered, what would happen if you added the beer as a part of the cooking process?

Drunk Chicken Curry

1 can/12 oz. beer
2-3 chicken breasts
3-4 bay leaves
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
Curry spices:
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 tsp curry powder
– 1/4 tsp paprika
– 1/4 tsp tumeric
– 1/4 tsp chili powder
– 1/4 tsp ginger powder
– 1/8 tsp star anise powder
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup plain yoghurt

Steps:
1. Steam the chicken breasts with hot water, 1/4 can of beer, and bay leaves.
2. Fry the onion in melted butter until translucent.
3. Add the garlic and curry spices, stirring constantly, for just a few seconds.
4. Add the rest of the beer and deglaze the pan if necessary.
5. Add the chicken (removing the bay leaves!) and beans, cover, and stew for about five minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
6. Add the tomato paste, stirring until well incorporated. Continue cooking uncovered, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes or until most of the liquid is evaporated and the curry is saucy but not soupy.
7. Add the yogurt and adjust the seasoning if needed.
8. Serve over rice or with naan. As always, if you can let stand for up to an hour, the flavors will meld better.

I like to steam the chicken in my microwave steamer, as it takes less time to make the dish overall and it does seem to be flavorful without overloading on oils for frying. You can fry the chicken directly, after the onions, if you want that seared chicken taste.

The verdict overall? Well, the taste doesn’t really change that much from a “regular” curry, actually. There’s both a sweetness and a sourness, perhaps even more sourness than other curries I’ve made but it’s not overpowering. It makes the beer you drink with the curry even more tasty, though! And if you want a more vegetarian option, you can surely leave out the chicken with no problem.

Cheers!

Bourbon Soy Chicken & Mushrooms

Rainy monsoon days during the weekend means trying to clean out the cupboards … which can lead to playful and interesting results.

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BOURBON SOY CHICKEN & MUSHROOMS

olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 shittake mushrooms, diced (1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp 5-spice powder
2 – 3 chicken breasts, thickly sliced
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp cup black vinegar
1/4 cup bourbon

Steps
1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add onions, until just starting to brown.
2. Add the mushrooms and continue frying until mushrooms have shrunk and browned, about 2-3 minutes
3. Add the garlic and the spices and toss for 30 seconds.
4. Add the chicken and toss, allow the chicken to sear a bit.
5. Mix the liquids together then pour over the chicken. Mix, cover and cook while the sauce is bubbling for 3-4 mintues.
6. Uncover and allow the mix to reduce for another 5 minutes or so, tossing the chicken one or two more times.
7. Serve over white rice or buttered noodles.

The whole thing is quite tasty without being too rich. It’s like a chicken marsala, really, which is just a mushroom-wine reduction, but this adds a bit of Asian flavor and is slightly more sweet. Next time I might try for more extremes, such as adding some pineapple or raisins for even more sweetness.

 

Dragon Boat Pork & Rice

I really, really wanted to make zongzi this weekend.

It’s a very traditional holiday food for the Dragon Boat Festival holiday– rice and meat steamed in bamboo leaf wrapping. Talk about comfort food! There’s something about bread and meat wrapped together that’s simply amazing… from tamales and corndogs to dumplings and calzones. Forget sliced bread, these are the best inventions. I will draw the line at stuffed-crust pizza, though. That’s just wrong.

But the problem with zongzi is that there’s just so many steps. My local friend’s mother makes zongzi to sell for a living, and she gets up at 4am and spends at least 4 or 5 hours to make a big batch. Well, I was determined to do it differently. Surely I could single-handedly change what generations upon generations have developed, right?

I couldn’t even get through the grocery store. Apparently, it’s more difficult for me to find bamboo leaves in Taiwan than it would be for me to find in Los Angeles. Unless, of course, I’m locally Taiwanese. My friend told me that in general you’d just have to go to various stores here and there to pick up all the ingredients, or go to a local wet market. But this was supposed to be a time-saving version of the recipe!

So in the spirit of East-Meets-West I present a completely different infusion inspired by the filling used to make zongzi during the Dragon Boat days. Really, it’s its own meal entirely.

2014-06-02 18.08.43

DRAGON BOAT PORK & RICE

Ingredients:
White rice, prepared
1 kg/2 lbs. pork shoulder
Spice rub:
– 1 tbsp. salt
– 1 tsp. black pepper
– 1/2 tsp. anise seed
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1/2 tsp. grated ginger
– 1/2 tsp. five-spice powder
– 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp. ground Szechwan peppercorns (or 1/8 tsp. cayenne powder)
1/4 cup beer
1 cup shelled peanuts
2 tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
1 large white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups shitake mushrooms, diced
1 cup bamboo shoots
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (or 1/4 cup sake with 1 tsp. sugar)
3/4 cup chopped green onions/scallions
2 boiled eggs, diced

Steps:
1. Prepare the rice according to the directions.
2. Boil the peanuts for 30 minutes, while you prepare the other ingredients. Drain and set aside.
3. Combine all the spices for the spice rub, and coat the entire surface of the pork shoulder.
4. Use a microwave steamer/dumpling basket to create a pseudo-braised pork. In the bottom of the steamer, combine beer with hot water. Add the rubbed pork fat-side up and half of the diced onions to the basket. Microwave the steamer for 12 minutes.
5. Melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a frying pan and sweat the remaining onions for 3 – 4 minutes. Toss in the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Continue frying on medium heat until the mushrooms have shrunk and the onions show signs of browning.
6. Add the soy sauce and mirin, reducing the heat to low and letting the soy sauce simmer for about 5 – 6 minutes.
7. Shred the braised pork, pulling with forks if possible.
8. Toss the shredded pork and peanuts into the sauce. Add more salt, pepper, and/or five-space to taste. You’re looking for a sweet but aromatic flavor with a hint of spiciness. If the soy sauce reduces too much, add a drop or two of mirin to loosen it, but don’t go overboard. This isn’t a sauce-y meal and you want enough to coat the meat without overpowering the saltiness.
9. Finally, turn off the heat and toss with the green onions and sliced boiled egg.
10. Serve hot over a bed of white rice.

Makes about 5 cups of Dragon Boat Pork & Rice. That’s a few days’ worth for me, but for big families you’ll have to adjust accordingly!

You’ll notice that this recipe relies on a steamer/dumpling basket that you can microwave. I’ve fallen in love with the way I can make easily-steamed vegetables and meat in minutes, and often much more health-ily! If you don’t get one for yourself, you’ll have to do an actual-to-goodness braised pork, or perhaps stir-fry some ground pork instead, in step 8. Just use the same spices there as the rub, adjusted for taste, especially the salt!

As you can see, this is still a somewhat involved process, but nowhere near the billion-step, multi-hour process of real zongzi. The real stuff uses glutinous rice/sticky rice (needing to be soaked for 3 hours) as well as stews the meat, eggs, and stuffs everything in leaves before finally steaming everything. Phew! This gives you a similar flavor and is better able to be plated, but of course can’t substitute for the real thing. Check out local Asian markets for some prepared zongzi around the end of May, and check out the great variety! This one hopefully will bring you a flavor of Taiwan.

Of course, if you really really REALLY want to make zongzi, here’s some helpful sites:

Cherry Date Fruit Protein Bars

2014-06-01 14.06.28

Can’t decide on which protein bar you want? Is your agenda so filled you only have time to chug a glass of Soylent for your meal? Label that as “first world problems” and harken back to those days when your mom could have a full breakfast hot on the table before you bolt out the door for the school bus.

But to be fair, these two opposite ends of the spectrum exists everywhere and across culture and time, too. In Taiwan, on one extreme, you might be living with an extended family, and the mom or grandma can have the “luxury” of providing meals for the others with pressing agendas. On the other, there’s a convenience store on nearly every corner (sometimes two!) with food boiling away the hours in piping hot soup– just grab a bowl of meat or tofu or “iron eggs” and you’re good to go. (Notice I label both ends as “extremes,” so if you know of an exception, I’m sure you are right.)

Now, I admit that I don’t mind eating my meal in bar form. As much as I like food, and all the spectacle that it allows, sometimes it’s just fuel. Just pick up and go.

Disappointingly, “protein bars” are one export that has yet to really catch on outside the U.S. I guess we have to make our own!

CHERRY DATE FRUIT BARS

Ingredients:
2 cups almonds
1 cup dates
1/2 cup dried cherries
3 tablespoons orange juice
Orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon wheat germ
2 scoops vanilla-favored protein powder
1 cup rice flour

Steps:
1. Grind the almonds to a fine powder, using a food processor.
2. Grind the dates and cherries (separately) using a food processor. Both will ball up together pretty quickly, so do in batches/scrape the sides down as necessary.
3. Combine all the “wet” ingredients together, including the ground almonds. The dough will be quite thick! Use a potato masher.
4. Add the “dry” ingredients– protein powder, rice flour, and wheat germ. Usually at this point, I put the potato masher aside and use my hands to knead the dough. So thick!
5. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper. Press the dough flat, looking for 1/2 inch thickness.
6. Refrigerate for one hour at least.
7. Cut the dough into small bars, aiming for 12 to 16 bars. Wrap each one in waxed or parchment paper.

Despite how thick and dry the dough will seem, if you let it rest, and as it refrigerates, the end result is quite moist, so don’t overdo the orange juice. It’s also quite tart. If you need more sweetness, add some honey when making the dough.

These ingredients are highly variable. I tend to just use a mix of stuff if I have it hand, such as mixing in some oatmeal. Or I might reserve some of the almonds and chop them instead for added texture. For gluten-free, you can certainly eliminate the wheat germ, right? In the version I have pictured, I had no oranges on hand, so I used one tablespoon of Korean yuzu-honey tea concentrate instead of zest and juice.

These taste great with some black Rooibos tea!

Homemade Peanut Butter

There are a few things you take as a given in life. Death, taxes, and the fact that no one really eats peanut butter outside of North America.

I can’t say no one eats it *at all,* because you can find peanut butter if you look really hard. Usually in your friendly corner Costco or in an upscale, foreign-food friendly grocery store. Heck, one of my favorite places is a sandwich café that boasts a pretty tasty BLT that uses peanut butter. But as you can see, all of these require a bit out-of-your-way planning, especially if you forgot to pick some up and are staring at a thoroughly-scraped jar that you put on the shelf instead of throwing away the last time you used it…

Aside from scarcity, you got other problems of price and brand. It’s not uncommon to find a normal-sized jar ranging from 8 – 12 US dollars, and that’s pretty much universally going to be Skippy brand peanut butter. My favorite brand used to be Trader Joes All-Natural Unsalted peanut butter, but obviously that’s not going to work. You can’t even take those things on airplane carry-ons anymore. I will hold out to the bitter end to avoid anything Skippy, mostly due to the presence of the hydrogenated oils that mute the taste of what should be, you know, tasting like *peanuts.* There’s another reason, too, in that I can’t really look at Skippy and not be reminded of the nearly full century-long trademark battle that occurred because Skippy used to be an American icon and popular comic character, until someone ignored a court order and kept using the mark for their peanut butter. True Story.

But here’s the thing– peanuts are readily available and used throughout Asian cooking, as is peanut oil. I can make my own homemade peanut butter for almost a quarter the cost. Better tasting, more healthy, and cheaper. And all I have to do is spend a little time at the blender and deal with the clean-up afterward. Hmm. On second thought…. Ah, just kidding.

Peanut peanut butter

Homemade Peanut Butter

2 cups peanuts (unsalted, shelled)
1 1/2 tbsp peanut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Step One: Pulse the peanuts in the blender until they are reduced to crumbs.

Step Two: Add oil and blend. You’ll need to stop at several intervals to use a spatula to manually stir in the more creamy stuff at the bottom.

Step Three: When the peanuts are nearly broken down (when you don’t have to use a spatula anymore, after about 4 minutes), set the blender aside. Let it cool about 10 minutes or so, and then continue blending for another two minutes. Add a dash or two of sea salt at this point if you want.

That’s it!
Not many recipes call for the vanilla, but it really enhances the flavor when you eat it with fruit or jams. I sometimes add another 1 tbsp honey as well, but I don’t always like having have a sweet peanut butter.

Enjoy!