I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Shrimp and asparagus risotto

Today brought a quick and easy early summer meal, when there are still a few bunches of local asparagus coming through and the craving turns to something more refreshing. Risotto is one of the best basic recipes; like a white dress shirt, it can be dressed up and down according to whim or necessity.

I had a bunch of asparagus in the fridge that was slouching towards the other side of fresh. We walked past Whole Foods on the way home, and the only counter not mobbed was the fish counter, so a package of shrimp later and we were on our way. We had some crisp Riesling in the fridge, so there was a little for the dish and a little more for us (my favorite kind of cooking). In the end, like the white shirt, the dinner was a result that belied the little effort that went into making it.

Shrimp and asparagus risotto

1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 C. arborio rice
1/2 C. crisp white wine
2+ C. vegetable stock
Handful of asparagus, the tough ends snapped off, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb shrimp

In a large saute pan, add a swirl of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add garlic and cook gently for a few minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring, for another few minutes. Add wine and let it cook down into the rice. Start to add warm stock, 1/2 C. at a time, waiting between each addition for the rice to absorb the liquid as it cooks. Stir frequently (or just enough).

When rice is nearly cooked, add asparagus (if the stems are older or tougher, add earlier). Push rice and asparagus to edge of the pan and add the shrimp in the center, stirring for a minute until they begin to cook. Then stir dish around to ensure all ingredients are incorporated and cooked, and season to taste.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Mapo tofu

There's the most fantastic Sichuan restaurant near work, and although the rumor is that they have an extremely shady ownership, they make really, really good food. In particular, they make a version of Mapo tofu that is sublime. I like tofu anyway, but this dish would convert the most ardent soy-haters. The sauce is a piquant mix of chili, ginger, and fermented black beans, coupled with silky tofu and toothsome ground meat. I could eat it by the bucket. It is that good.

Anything that good, I want to know how to make it. I looked up recipes for Mapo tofu and discovered that it ain't rocket science, and in fact looks like a relatively simple affair. As well it should, for Mapo tofu is named, so the legend goes, for a pock-marked old lady who served the dish to travelers who passed by her home in Chengdu. (Yes, it is far more appetizing than the name would have you believe.)

I researched the recipe and gathered my ingredients. By a stroke of luck, I found some chili bean paste in a little bodega around the corner from me, saving me a trip to Chinatown for this vital ingredient. Fairway supplied the Sichuan peppercorns, and the local Associated supermarket carries 10 varieties of tofu (I [heart] NY!).

My first attempt was tasty, but with the wrong proportions. I had too much meat and not nearly enough sauce. It was a sort of Sichuan inspired bolognese. Good, but not Mapo standard. My second attempt was much more successful. I decreased the amount of meat, increased the liquid, and got it almost perfect. At least I think so; it may be completely alien to the chefs at my favorite Sichuan restaurant, or to Mapo herself, but it's pretty good to me.

Mapo tofu

1/2 cup chicken broth or water
2 Tbs. hot bean paste
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 lb soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb. ground pork shoulder
1 1/2 Tbs. finely minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbs. finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbs. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs. water
1 1/2 tsp. Japanese sesame oil
1/2 to 1 tsp. toasted Sichuan-peppercorn powder
3 Tbs. thinly sliced scallion

Stir together broth, bean paste, soy sauce, and set aside.

Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot and add 1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil, swirling to coat. Add pork and stir-fry, breaking up lumps and adding remaining 1/2 tablespoon corn oil if meat sticks, until no longer pink. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir reserved sauce, then add to pork and bring to a simmer.

Stir cornstarch mixture and add to stir-fry. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds.

Turn off heat and sprinkle with sesame oil, Sichuan-peppercorn powder to taste, and 2 tablespoons scallion. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon scallion.

Serve over rice.

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