Monday, March 24, 2008

Sweet Soy Marinated Short Ribs

I've received two recipes for short ribs in the past couple weeks (from my mom and Euge) and gave my mom's recipe a try last weekend. It's super quick and easy, and, of course, delicious. I almost venture to say that they were almost as good as my mom makes. Don't worry, Euge - I'll try your friend's recipe soon too, and maybe even make both at the same time at some point so there can be a rib-off!

The trickiest part of making short ribs is getting the short ribs. First of all, they don't usually sell short ribs unless maybe if you go to an asian supermarket - in regular supermarkets you usually only find "long" ribs (~6"), and then you have to have them cut into short ribs (~2"). The tricky thing is, most meat counters close around 7 or 8PM, and by close at 8, they mean the butcher leaves at 7, and by leaves at 7, they mean you're out of luck whenever the butcher shuts off and cleans the equipment, which is usually around 6. It's probably also a good idea to go to a store where they sell ribs by the pound as opposed to pre-packaged from third parties, because I'm not sure if they'll cut packages (I decided not to risk another disappointment and went to a place where they sold ribs by the pound, i.e. Andronico's as opposed to Safeway); you'll also get better choice and can get exactly the amount you need.

So now that you've got the short ribs taken care of, what do you do to them?

For 1.5 lbs short ribs (~5 servings),

1/4 C soy sauce
3 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp garlic, flattened, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Combine ribs with marinade in a large airtight ziploc bag and let marinate ~ 1 hr, turning the bag a few times to coat evenly.

1 Tbsp oil
1/3 C brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 Tbsp water
1-2 Tbsp scallions, chopped

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok and add ribs, reserving the marinade. Cook over high heat for 1-2 min, turning to brown evenly.
  2. Add the reserved marinade, bring to a simmer over low heat, and cook, covered until mostly done, about 7 min, turning ribs once or twice during.
  3. Add brown sugar and cook until reduced by 1/3 or 1/2, ~ 2 min
  4. Lower heat and add cornstarch mixture, cook until thickened, ~ 2 minutes.
  5. Add scallions during the last minute, and serve garnished with more scallions.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Beef Stew

One of the first recipes I made out of Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food was Beef Stew. I missed my mom's cooking and I remembered beef stew fondly for its savory, hearty comfort and ability to be paired deliciously with thick noodles for beef noodle soup. It was a rousing success the first time and now that I've made it three times I figure it's definitely something to blog home about! If you like it as much as I do, the best part is that it makes plenty for leftovers. So here, paraphrased from Alice Waters, is a very simple recipe for Beef Stew. This might be illegal... maybe?

  • ~3 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1-2 inch cubes and seasoned with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 4-6 strips of bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • a couple tablespoons brandy (optional)
  • 2 or 3 each of carrots and parsnips (optional), chopped into large pieces
  • 1-2 medium onions, quartered
  • a couple sprigs each of thyme, parsley, rosemary/savory
  • 4 whole cloves, each stuck into a quarter of onion
  • 2 star anise
  • a couple peppercorns
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • a small head of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ~4 cups chicken or beef broth

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or wok and cook bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned but not crisp. Remove bacon.
  2. In batches, brown the beef on all sides in the bacon fat and transfer to a large pot.
  3. Pour off most of the fat from the skillet and cook the carrots, parsnips, and onions with the herbs, anise, and peppercorns until lightly browned. Transfer to pot with the beef.
  4. Add the brandy to the skillet if using, and the red wine. Scrape up any browned bits from the skillet and boil the wine until reduced to 1/3. Pour over the beef and vegetables in the pot.
  5. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and broth to the pot. The liquid should come up at least 3/4 of the way up to the top of the beef/vegetables; add more broth if needed. It does not need to cover the ingredients entirely.
  6. Cook at barely a simmer for 2-3 hours or until meat falls apart when tested with a fork. Season to taste with salt and serve over rice.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On reading

Reading is like many of my other hobbies in that I don't do it consistently, but when I do, I do it hardcore. That means I may end up buying dozens of books in 2 months, read 75% of them, and then not finish another one for the next 6 months. Ever since I started taking the train, however, I've come to appreciate having reading time on a regular basis (all 10 minutes a day of it), enough that I think it may become more of a mainstay than it has been. The trouble now is finding the books.

About 2 years ago I went through a golden age of reading. Sure, there were a couple books I didn't quite care for, but in the end I more than doubled my list of favorite books. Memoirs of a Geisha, Middlesex, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Empire Falls, The Kite Runner, and The Power of One, to name only a few. I learned that I enjoy contemporary popular literature of the trade paperback variety. Not the mass market type full of dialogue, or the trendy stream of consciousness episodic style, and nothing even remotely obscure either, just good, pretty, sometimes witty prose. East of Eden by John Steinbeck, anything by John Irving. I also have a soft spot for prehistorical fiction - e.g. Jane M. Auel, Edward Rutherford, etc.

At any rate, now that I've exhausted my familiar names, I no longer know where to find dependably good books. Just going by what's new and notable doesn't work for me; few things depress me more than buying a book only to discover that I'm just not that into it. I've latched onto a few authors to try and stave off the dry spell - Robert Sapolsky, Oliver Sacks - but am quickly running out of titles. Lately, it's been a "nonfiction" phase. Not necessarily true nonfiction, but the anecdotal, pop culture type exemplified by Freakonomics (Stephen Levy) and The Tipping Point (Malcom Gladwell). I've found that I lose interest in anything that goes into too much detail (RIP, The Elegant Universe...).

Currently, I'm reading Monkeyluv by Robert Sapolsky. I have nothing lined up after that, so if anyone has suggestions for books, I'd definitely welcome them. Here are more books I've read recently that I really liked:

Animals in Translation - Temple Grandin. If you're at all interested in animal behavior, or in autism, this book is amazing.
A Primate's Memoir - Robert Sapolsky. Self-deprecating humor at its finest.
An Anthropologist on Mars - Oliver Sacks. Enlightening and perfect for anyone who loved reading psych case studies in college.
Blink - Malcolm Gladwell. Good if you're the type to contemplate why people do what they do.
Bringing Down the House - Ben Mezrich. Fast-paced and makes you think maybe, just maybe....
Until I Find You - John Irving. If you like John Irving, this will be familiar. The ending, unfortunately, seems just a tad too little, too late.
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not quite as florid or fantastical as 100 Years of Solitude, but still beautiful, and stays fresh to the end.
Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres. Passionate and moving, the love story is interwoven with the war story without demeaning either one. It might just make you cry.

And other books I did not particularly like:

Atonement - Ian McEwan
The Known World - Edward P. Jones
The Singularity is Near - Ray Kurzweil
The Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
The Tangled Wing
Saving Fish From Drowning - Amy Tan (but I loved all of her other stuff)

Maybe I just don't like books starting with "The"?

Monday, March 3, 2008

How long would that take in chicken-pounds?

Units are a funny thing. They're definitely useful, and let us communicate unambiguously with other people about quantitative amounts. At the same time, they can be incredibly arbitrary, and when you're dealing with different units for the same type of measurement, it can be a bitch to convert between them. But as long as we're going to have hundreds of different units, why not come up with some some more that are only relevant to a small subset of people?

Chris and others once ruminated on the chicken-pound: the amount of time it takes to cook 1 pound of chicken in a microwave. This unit is made even better by the fact that it is subject to the microwave brand and model, and the altitude at which the microwave is being operated.

Alain, a model flight enthusiast, speaks of prices in terms of the jet: the amount of money it costs to buy a model jet (~ $8K). I then argued that a jet should be the amount of one full size jet, and a millijet should be the amount of one model jet.

Over at MIT, they measured the bridge over the Charles River in Smoots: the length of a student from days of yore whose last name was Smoot (as the story goes, they laid him end to end and found the bridge to be 364.5 Smoots).

There are no doubt other awesome units out there; these are what I could think of for now.