Saturday, October 25, 2014

Simple Chicken and Vegetables

I never really think much about the recipes that dot the William Sonoma catalogue. I just page by while scanning all the things I am not going to buy. But today, looking for something homey and warm and most importantly a one pot supper (I am just not in the mood to scrub pans) I stumbled across this rustic quick braised stew. WS' recipe called for carrots and potatoes. I had a couple carrots but also the lonely end of a bunch of celery and some still pretty nice bright pink radishes. I adapted. First I seasoned 4 chicken thighs with salt, pepper and paprika and browned them (about 2 minutes a side) in some bacon fat. Yes, I admit I do save it in the fridge. Then I set the chicken aside and dumped 2 small mild peppers (pardon), 1 chopped shallot (I wish I had more), the carrots I had (3 little runts from the garden and 1 respectably sized), a couple stalks of celery in big pieces, a bunch of radishes (cut in half), and two potatoes cut into big cubes into the pan. Seasoned with salt and peppers the vegetables sautéed for about 5 minutes. I sprinkled 1 1/2 TB flour over the skillet and let that cook just a bit before adding 1 1/3 cup  chicken stock and 1/3 cup white wine (and a pat of butter) which I brought to a boil. I nested the chicken (and the collected juices) back into the pan, brought the liquid up to a bubble, covered the pan and let everything cook together for about 25 minutes.
Usually James isn't so enthusiastic about chicken for dinner -- unless it's fried. But he found plenty to like in these long cooked potatoes and silky sauce. I'm gonna look more closely at those Williams Sonoma pages from now on.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Return Visit

When I last ate at Little Sichuan, my now favorite spot in Plano Texas, I asked one of the waiters his favorite dish on the menu.
"Beef and Napa Cabbage," he said in heavily accented English. "It's what we eat in China." He further explained.
Of course I didn't manage to ask until after I ate so I've been waiting for a chance to go back and try the recommended dish. With just one day left in town I ventured in.
Not at all what I expected,  the spicy dish was a delicious aromatic almost stew with chili flecked sauce to sop up with rice. A perfect winter dish. I kind of wish we had a Little Sichuan near us.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Congee is Chinese rice porridge. A supremely simple comforting dish. It stretches a simple cup of rice and flavorful scraps to feed a family breakfast and is popular throughout Asia. I'm not sure what I find so appealing about what is basically a bowl of gruel.
I know there is better Chinese food to be had in the Plano area, but the allure of comfort food brought me into JS Chen Dim Sum and Barbecue. Though it was hardly morning, I settled in for a comforting bowl flavored with fish and preserved egg ( I ordered chicken and duck) and ribs, a perfect flavoring for the bland (in a good way) rice.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Little Sichuan

The funny thing about traveling for work (often) is that by the time I've landed, know my way around and find the places I like to time it's time to move on.
Barbecue may be what people come to Texas expecting to eat, but here in Plano looking around at the substantial Asian immigrant population (I've seen both East West and Cathay Bank -- harbingers of quality Chinese food in the vicinity) it suddenly dawned on me. Don't tally with smoked meats that pale in comparison to the delights of South Texas or the Hill Country . . . eat Chinese!
Armed with the power of my newfound resolve, late on a sleepy afternoon I wandered into Little Sichuan, a nondescript space in a completely Asian mini-mall ( a small version of what diners might see in Monterey Park, CA or Flushing, NY). To one side off duty wait staff sat cutting a giant pile of hot peppers into strips for the kitchen. The cook lounged at a table watching Chinese soap operas. He walked to the kitchen to ready my dishes after I ordered. The only other diners a group of elderly Chinese. I am the only white face.
Sichuan food is famous for its liberal use of chili, and garlic. I love the tingly almost numbing effect the area's Sichuan peppercorns add to a spicy dish. Chengdu (capitol of Sichuan provence) is the fertile regions most famous gastronomic city and these "Chengdu" dumplings, soft dough pot stickers bathed is vibrant chili oil, are a popular snack. Little Sichuan's version were savory and not seemingly hot (as Sichuan food can be) but somehow addicting. The more I ate the more I wanted.
Following the dumplings, twice cooked bacon. I expected crispy pork bits but instead found a plate of sautéed pork belly bound by an earthy cumin flavored sauce. Bacon is bacon but the real treat of that dish were the delicious leeks, peppery and soft.
I've eaten Chinese food all over the world. I love it and rarely attempt it at home. Here in little Plano Texas, nearly hidden from view, are dishes maybe not quite as spectacular as those in LA or Queens (or maybe so) but solid tasty cuisine that stands up favorably to the best anywhere within the middle of the country for sure.
So often the case, towards the end of my trip I've found that place I should have known all along.  Can I go again? Can I eat every meal at Little Sichuan until I leave? Why didn't I find it sooner?  The usual questions surrounding a most unusual and unexpected restaurant.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Kor-BQ: The Legend Spreads

Not too many years back LA's Roy Choi started a revolution with his Kogi food truck fusion of Mexican and Korean flavors. Since its inauspicious start in 2008 the Korean taco has spread not just across the southland but across the country and spawned a Los Angeles restaurant empire for its creator.
Ideas have a way of migrating and even here in Plano TX, certainly not a hotbed of culinary invention, there is Kor-BQ a bright and clean fast food spot in a modern mini-mall. Kor-BQ's specialty may be the egg rolls filled with either bulgogi or dweji but I'll never know. They are gone, the cashier assured me, every day by about noon. Kor-BQ opens at 11:30.
For my evening visit, close to closing time, I settled for two rib-eye tacos and an enormous rice ball, filled with marinated meat, cheese, and topped with a tangy siracha mayonnaise -- the best bite at Kor-BQ. The food was fine. I won't be craving it or drive far from my path to get it but tasty enough.
These may be the flavors that started a nationwide food trend, but they can't stand up to the invigorating taste of Kogi's specialties. Innovator Roy Choi is a trained chef with years of restaurant experience -- Eric Park, Kor-BQ's creator, is a former math teacher riding a lucky trend.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lockhart Smokehouse

Hold up in Dallas. Not exactly known as a mecca for Texas' specialty slow smoked BBQ. Though there are many types of barbecue across the country and many I enjoy, over the years I've come to understand that Texas style is my favorite. In Texas 'cue is all about the meat (mostly beef which I prefer), and the smoke. Here in Dallas brisket is king --as it is across the state -- but pork has made significant inroads. Beef ribs, the pinnacle of TX barbecue and the focus of my local meat love affair -- are hardly to be found. The sauce -- if even included -- is at best an afterthought. Fine with me.
Maybe not the best the state has to offer. But when in Texas one must eat barbecue. 
Not too far from my hotel I found the well reviewed Lockhart Smokehouse, a local mini-chain run by relatives of the more famous purveyor Kreuz Market. Why not I thought and headed over. True to Texas market style you walk up to the counter where your order is cut, weighed, and wrapped, along with spongey white bread,  in butcher paper. I ordered burnt ends, a one day a week specialty, and jalapeño sausage. Burnt ends, generally a specialty of Kansas City BBQ, are one of my favorite meats. It is the slow cooked point cut (the fattier part) of brisket often cubed and some times covered in sauce. At Lockhart's the cubes are big with the requisite black char "bark". They look just right but in fact -- and perhaps because for the lunch rush the meat is already cubed and waiting in the hot box -- the meat was a bit dry. Smokey enough but dry. The sides, deviled eggs and blue cheese coleslaw were at best nothing special. But, contrary to the reviews I read, the sausage was the highlight of my visit. There is something indescribably alluring about the taut skin of slow smoked sausage and Lockhart's version (supplied by Kreuz Market) nearly popped under my teeth. Juicy, flavorful and highly spiced this sausage and the ample supply of spicy pickle chips were the highlight of my afternoon visit.
To be honest Lockhart can't stand up to the greats of TX barbecue. Its close and that may be the best recommendation I can offer. If I were nearby I might venture in for a sausage link but I'd remember not to order anything else.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hurry Up Harvest

With just a couple days at home and a long list of chores James and I took a little time to change over the garden -- or at least part -- from summer to fall. Out went the beans, peppers, cucumbers, squash and in went broccoli, chard, kale and cauliflower surrounded by arugula, lettuce, spinach and James' new favorite salad green, pepper cress.
Next stop at home I have to man handle the rangy tomatoes and get in a good crop of favas, carrots and garlic.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creamy Dessert

Walking in the door from a long trip with a guest coming for dinner (and to spend the night) I wanted  a menu of make ahead, no fuss dishes so I could get dinner ready and still get in a little time to rest before serving. With peposo (the peppery Italian slow cooked beef in red wine) occupying the oven (for 6 hours) I decided on a stove top old fashioned dessert -- butterscotch pudding (based on a recipe by David Lebovitz). Besides, pudding is fairly easy to make in small batches so we wouldn't have too much hanging around after dinner.
First I melted 2 TB of butter and stirred in 1/2 cup brown sugar until well moistened and removed the pan from heat. In a separate bowl I mixed 1/4 cup of milk with 1 1/2 TB cornstarch until it was smooth and then mixed in one egg. Then I added both 1 cup milk and the cornstarch mixture into the brown sugar, returned the pan to heat, and while whisking constantly, brought the mixture just to a boil. After the pudding bubbled I turned the heat to a low simmer and cooked for a minute more until the pudding was thick (like hot fudge Lebovitz says). Off the heat I stirred in 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1 heavy tsp bourbon (okay not quite scotch but I tend to cook with bourbon and there is always a bottle by the stove). Poured into mason jars these sweet little puddings waited in the fridge (firming up over four hours) until I topped them with whipped cream and -- my new favorite edible garnish, spiced figs.
The perfect make ahead dessert.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chicken and Spinach Salad

One of James' favorites and maybe the quickest dinner ever -- crisply fried chicken cutlet over -- in this case -- a warm spinach salad. A rare treat, with these bright green super fresh leaves I tossed up a warm bacon vinaigrette.
First I fried several slices of bacon over medium heat to render out the fat. I removed the bacon from the pan (leaving about 3 TB bacon fat) and added in a thinly sliced shallot. After about 30 seconds -- just long enough for the shallot to soften I poured in 3 TB of red wine vinegar and a half teaspoon of dijon mustard and whisked over low heat. Just when the dressing had come together I poured the vinaigrette over the waiting spinach mixed with sliced hard boiled eggs (wish I had a couple mushrooms) and served before the leaves really had a chance to wilt.