Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Peony Asian Bistro

Adapted from a post to Usenet newsgroup triangle.dining in 2007. Eldest son and I had a spontaneous lunch (delayed a trip to a nearby Home Depot) at a new restaurant open a few weeks in Patterson Place (near New Hope Commons off US Hwy 15-501) in Durham. This mini-mall is badly laid out and so it can be hard to spot but this place is across the way from Panera's.
We entered about 1 pm on Sunday. Only a few tables were occupied and they seemed to have about 5 servers and dining room managers. Plenty of service but it was confusing as to who to turn to for assistance. Although the posted paper menu looks like every other storefront "Chinese" restaurant, one's impression changes suddenly upon entering. The space is small but spacious. Tall ceilings and large expanses of orangey-peach walls give an open dramatic look. 
Most of the menu is conventional but they do offer sushi that we didn't try or see. Shortly after we were seated, our server brought a small artful salad as welcoming gift from the chef. I can't tell you what it was for sure but it was unique and delicious and beautiful. Seemed to be formed from fried panko crumbs, shreads of cold vegetables and a light savory dressing. A big surprise in a "store front" restaurant.
What makes this place a winner are the special dishes. Son ordered crispy shrimp with salt and pepper. Generous serving of large shrimp in a tempura-type breading ($11.95). Nicely garnished. He thought them excellent. The side order of pork fried rice was bland and forgettable. They frequently refilled his Coke. The side order of hot and sour soup was said to be better than average but not hot enough. My dish was especially outstanding. Half a boneless duck, crispy skin, moist tender meat over a bed of nicely sauced stir-fried vegetables with a side of steamed brown rice ($12.95). Very generous serving, beautifully presented. The flower garnish fashioned from orange carrot and *white* carrot was elegant. Not a surprise but a shock in a store-front mall restaurant but proof these people both know and care.
My only complaint was the tea. Oddly served in a coffee cup and very strong -- been sitting around for a while. I should have ordered fresh in a pot. They have beer and wine but very limited offerings. We will be back soon.

Faux Kreplach

Recorded July 30, 2012. A kreplach is a stuffed noodle similar to soup won tons or ravioli in broth. Kreplach simmered in chicken stock makes a filling light supper. But good homemade kreplach take a lot of time and effort. A workable substitute is frozen beef ravioli, widely available in grocery stores such as Walmart and Kroger, for example.
12-1/2 oz (350 g) (half bag) frozen beef ravioli
3 qt (3 liter) water
1 T (15 ml) salt
Bring the salted water to a rolling boil in a 4-qt (4-l) pot over high heat. Add the frozen ravioli. Stir gently to break up clumps. Ravioli will be on bottom. Cover the pot, lower the heat, and return to a gentle boil. After the ravioli have begun to float, lower the heat to a fast simmer and cook 5 minutes more. Lift the ravioli gently with a slotted spoon and place in hot chicken stock or soup. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Serves 3 to 4.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chicken Enchiladas

First prepared July, 2012, and many times since. A Family Favorite. Developed from a family friend’s hand-written recipe. The dish is distinguished by using a sour-cream enriched velout├ę to cover the filled tortillas rather than a sauce based on tomatoes. After baking, it comes to the table as a casserole of hearty flavors and solid nourishment.

1/4 c (125 ml) each butter and olive oil
1 c (250 ml) white onion, chopped
2 to 4 jalape├▒o peppers, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 c (500 ml) chicken stock
1 c (250 ml) sour cream

1 T (15 ml) lemon juice
1 t (5 ml) salt
12 corn tortillas  

8 oz (240 g) cooked boneless chicken, shredded
1/2 c (125 ml) grated queso cotija cheese (or romano)
1/4 c (60 ml) chopped green onions
1/4 c (60 ml) chopped cilantro
1/4 c (60 ml) chopped parsley
6 oz (175 g) shredded Mexican-style cheese blend

Heat oil and butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, add the onion and peppers, and cook about 5 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the garlic, and when fragrant, stir in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the chicken stock, and heat with stirring until the sauce boils and thickens. Off heat, stir in sour cream, lemon juice, and salt. Moisten the filling with a 1/2 c (125 ml) of the sauce, and pour half of the remainder into a greased 9x13 inch (23 x 33 cm) glass baking dish. Soften the tortillas in the microwave under a damp paper towel. Place a twelfth of the filling in a tortilla, roll up, and arrange in the baking dish, seam side down. Continue until all the tortillas are filled. Pour remaining sauce over the tortillas. Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top and bake uncovered 25 minutes at 425 degrees F (220 C) until the cheese melts and is lightly browned. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Garnish each serving with chopped green onions if desired. Serves 4 to 6. Suggested side: slices of ripe tomato and avocado dressed in lime juice, olive oil, salt and cumin.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuna Pasta Salad

Recorded July 22, 2012. Adapted from Jeremy and Suzanne's pasta salad dish.
8 oz penne rigate, cooked until tender in salted water
1 c grape tomatoes, halved
6 oz mozzarella, cut in cubes
1/4 c thinly sliced red onion
1 can Italian tuna packed in olive oil
2 T flat parsley or basil, minced
2 T lime juice
3 to 4 T vinaigrette dressing
salt and pepper to taste
Chill the drained pasta and place in a large bowl. Fold in the additions and then fold in the dressings. Adjust the seasonings. Serve cold as a light lunch or as part of a summer supper.  Variations For some crunch, toss in a handful of garlic croutons or bite-size pieces of iceberg lettuce.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Simple Chicken Soup

Recorded July 21, 2012. A lot simpler than beginning with an entire chicken. Cooking the chicken and vegetables separately gives better control over doneness.
3 lbs chicken pieces (drums and thighs)
8 black peppercorns
fistful of parsley
2 bay leaves
2 crushed whole garlic cloves

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch lengths
2 ribs plus leaves celery, cut into 3 inch lengths
3 medium yellow onions, peeled, whole
3 small parsnips, peeled and halved lengthwise 
Skin chicken pieces and cut away visible fat. Rinse well. Place in a 6 to 8 quart pot, and cover with water by an inch. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, permitting the foam that forms to coalesce and stick to the walls of the pot. Lower the heat to a fast simmer, and cook uncovered 25 minutes. Remove the partially-cooked chicken to a platter, and cover. Skim the stock of floating debris using a fine strainer and ladle. This step helps produce a clear stock. Tie the seasonings in cheese cloth, a paper coffee filter or a tea ball. Add the onions and the herb bundle to the pot and bring to a boil, lower heat to a fast simmer, and cook uncovered 10 minutes. Add the other vegetables and seasonings to the pot, adding water as needed, and simmer for 20 minutes. Return the chicken and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are tender. Discard the herb bundle. As a first course, serve the stock plus matzo balls, kreplach, or egg noodles, cooked separately. Next, serve the meat and vegetables as a second course.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grilled Baby Back Pork Ribs

St. Louis-cut Spare Ribs for a Recent Gathering
Recorded July 16, 2012. Prepared this way for many years. A Family Favorite.
1 slab of pork back ribs, about 3 lbs
3 T  general purpose dry rub
heavy duty aluminum foil
Preparation. Prepare ribs by rinsing, peeling off the membrane that lines the bony side, and cutting and scraping away as much visible fat as practical. Dry with paper towels. Cut between the 6th and 7th rib to yield two half-racks, easier to handle during cooking. Season the meaty side and rub in well. Marinate in the cold for 2 to 12 hours covered with plastic.
Grilling. Start a hot fire in a large kettle grill (
Weber or similar) with about 3 quarts (3 L) of briquettes. When red-hot, push the coals to one side of the grate, and preheat and clean the grill. Start with meat side down directly over coals, grill for 2 to 3 minutes until beginning to color. If it flames up, move immediately to the 'cold' side of the grill to let the flare die down. Turn and continue to grill over hot fire, turning occasionally until both sides are nicely colored. Move the meat to the cold side of the grill, and cover tightly, and close top and bottom vents half way. Roast for about 10 minutes, turn and rotate the meat, continuing to roast and turn for a total of 35 to 40 minutes. Double-wrap each piece tightly in foil and return to the grill, with the vents closed. Let the meat steam for another 20 minutes. Let each bundle rest off-heat for 10 minutes before dividing into individual ribs. Variation: Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and a pinch of dry rub to each aluminum foil bundle before returning to grill. 
Serves 3 to 4. Suggested sides: all-american potato salad, onion-cucumber salad, kasha, white bean salad.