31 July 2015

Farro with and without Pasta

You may have noticed a running theme on this blog lately, and that theme is avoiding turning on the stove.  My little kitchen is surrounded by non-air conditioned rooms in a charming Craftsman bungalow that was built when the Rockies stayed cool in the summer. It is decidedly more charming come September. Right now we regularly have 95+ degree days, and our little evaporative cooler can't always keep up. So, I often prepare several things ahead in the early morning or late evening, when it's cooler, and then combine and re-combine those ingredients throughout the week. Those things include steamed vegetables I harvest from the garden or get at the farmer's market, pasta shapes, beans prepared in the pressure cooker, and various grains. (If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I always have some cooked beans and grains in the freezer for times like this.) And of course, the farro obsession developed after that beautiful, life-saving salad at the train station in Milan a couple summers ago. 

Mediterranean Farro Salad, with or without pasta

Serves 2-4

1 cup cooked farro
2 cups cooked pasta shape (penne, farfalle…)--optional
1 lb. green beans, trimmed steamed
1 large ripe tomato, cored and chopped
1 6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts in their liquid
2 tablespoons chopped kalamata olives
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest and juice from ½ lemon
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Dump everything into a bowl, including the marinating liquid from the artichoke hearts.  Stir it.  Eat it hot, cold, or at room temperature.  If you include pasta, this should serve 4 (photo below); without, treat it as a salad that serves 1-2 (photo above).

28 July 2015

Gingery Pork Stiry Fry

I came up with this as a way of using some of our abundant pea crop earlier this summer; it is simple, comforting, and very easy to make.  You could make this year-round if you're that into peas, or replace the approximate amount of pea pods and peas with any green vegetables you like (broccoli seems like a natural, and some green bell pepper might be pleasant...).

For a vegetarian version, TVP or soy crumbles (like Morningstar) stir fired with a little Sambal Olek is a great, spicy alternative.

Gingery Pork and Double Pea Stir Fry

Serves 6-8

1 teaspoon neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
1 lb. ground pork
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 cups pea pods, trimmed
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Jasmine rice and lime wedges for serving

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and pork and cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the pork into small chunks.  When the onion is translucent and the pork is almost cooked (about 8 minutes), reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, ginger, and pea pods.  Continue to stir constantly until pea pods are bright green and tender.  Add the peas, scallions, sugar. Soy sauce, and cilantro and cook until peas are just done.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over cooked jasmine (or other) rice with lime wedges on the side.

24 July 2015

Eating Dim Sum at Star Kitchen in Denver

Cantonese food can be kind of bland, but I love the adventure of eating it as dim sum for an early lunch. There are a few places in Denver that serve it--I've already reviewed Empress here--but I think Star Kitchen has the best variety, and the freshest fish, in Little Saigon (which seems to be as close as we come to a Chinatown here).

Dim sum is served here from 10:30am to 3pm.  If you go close to 3pm, it's still pretty tasty, but not so fresh, and the servers don't get to eat their's until you've gotten to try from all of the carts, so they tend to sort of rush you through and quit early in order to have their own meal.  It's best to go from opening til about 1pm, but if you can handle eating your sim sum as an early lunch before noon, it will be as hot and fresh as it's going to get. Traditionally, dim sum is enjoyed mid-morning over some mahjongg, I'm told, so you're just keeping it authentic.  Ish. 

Star Kitchen is the real deal, and the cavernous room feeds mostly Chinese and other Asian locals. I always take this as a good endorsement. The fish is well-prepared and seasoned, and there's a much bigger variety on the menu than other places in the area. Vegetables are not terribly popular as dim sum, but the Chinese broccoli here is beautifully steamed and served with a generous drizzle of homemade, super-salty oyster sauce; it's actually one of my favorite things here. 

Steamed BBQ pork buns are solid, and the dense, football-like fried pork dumplings are weirdly sweet and satisfyingly salty at the same time.  I also love the pan-fried leek dumplings, shrimp & cilantro dumplings, steamed meatballs, and fried fish balls. The sticky rice in lotus leaf is generously filled with sausage and ground pork and well-seasoned, and the fried sesame balls are a nice, relatively light dessert item.  But my favorite dish, pictured below, is the fried calamari.  As you can see, it was a huge pile of the battered, fried little guys along with quite a lot of fried jalapeno slices.  The batter itself is nicely salty and actually has a good deal of minced onion in it, so it's kind of like eating really good onion rings with calamari meat in the middle. 

There's something luxuriously appropriate about getting dim sum in the summer.  It's cool and dark inside, you're not in a rush to get anywhere, people keeping dragging carts towards you with all kinds of crazy things on little plates.  And you eat a little too much and are amazed by it all.  Why not?  The world is your oyster. 

Star Kitchen 
2917 W Mississippi Ave #5, Denver, CO 80219
(303) 936-0089
Monday - Friday: 10:30 - Midnight
Saturday - Sunday: 10:00 - Midnight

Clockwise from left: fried calamari with jalapenos,
Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, and fried pork dumpling. 

21 July 2015

Tomato and Garbanzo Salad

Back in grad school in the late 90s, I was trying to be all grown up by reading Health Magazine and trying out the variations on stomach crunches they offered every month.  Their claims to any scientific understanding of what they were printing were dubious at best, and the tiny little asides with "recipes" seemed to prove that they thought the need to eat regularly was a weakness, and enjoying that food an inexcusable luxury. BUT, there was one little mention, just once, of a brilliant, simple salad that I found delicious and have been making in the summertime ever since. It was a mere combination of fresh tomatoes and chick peas dressed in some red wine vinegar.  I have since altered it slightly, but I never tire of the version I currently make (below).  If you want to make this a little heartier, toss it with some hot or cold pasta or a cooked grain like bulgar, barley, or farro.

Tomato and Garbanzo Salad

Serves 2, or 4 with grain or pasta

2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 can (or 2 cups) garbanzo beans
¼ red onion, diced
½ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro (or a combination of the three)

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Add the tomatoes, beans, onion, and fresh herbs and stir thoroughly to combine. Taste for salt and serve either at room temperature or chilled.