Monday, March 14, 2011

Cook Club: Ming Tsai's One Pot Meals

Ming Tsai's Tamari Tofu Stir Fry


HIGHEST SCORING DISHES:  Star Anise Ginger Braised Chicken, Crispy Tofu with Miso Butter, Tamari Tofu Stirfry with Rice Noodles

LOWEST SCORING DISHES: Ginger Chicken Thighs with Parsnips, Spicy Shrimp and Avocado Salad

To kick off the new year, I wanted to dive into some of the cookbooks I received for Christmas and, after a quick poll of Cook Club, we selected Ming Tsai’s One Pot Meals.  I was excited to try this cookbook because it offered a different flavor profile from the other cookbooks we have tried recently.  Chef Tsai drew on a number of Asian countries in his recipes, including China, Thailand, Japan, and Korea.  Also, who doesn’t love the simplicity of a one pot dish?  As you’ll see though, the “one pot dish” concept was a little bit of a stretch for some of the dishes, but overall, the dishes were not too complicated or difficult. 

This round also marked the first DC Cook Club party with me, Lisa W., Sonia, and Rachel (and our lovely guests).  We decided to take a page out of the Dallas cook club girls’ book (Anjali, Amanda, and Lisa H) – they’ve been cooking up dishes for cook club and serving them up for one another for awhile now, which is an idea I always loved because what makes food even better is sharing it and experiencing it together!  So you’ll see mixed in some of the reviews the added comments of some of the cook club-ers that were in attendance at each party. 

Because the reviews are almost all entrees, I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by the name of the cook club-er.  As an extra treat, here is the recipe for our top scoring dish – Crispy Tofu with Miso Butter – (SO GOOD).  Enjoy!

Crispy Tofu with Miso Butter

Ming's Notes:  This recipe elevates humble yet healthful tofu to great, delicious heights.  It's flash-fried, which makes it golden brown and crispy.  The tofu is then dolloped with a flavorful miso butter whose richness is offset by ponzu and iceberg lettuce -- a lettuce I've always loved for its compatible, no-frills crunchiness.  This makes a great light meal or appetizer.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons shiro miso
2 tablespoons naturally brewed ponzu, plus more for drizzling
1/4 pound salted butter, at room temperature
Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying
Two 12-ounce packages silken tofu, each portion quartered lengthwise
1 tablespoon togarashi or chili powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups rice flour
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 tablespoons finely sliced chives, for garnish


1. In a medium bowl, combine the miso and ponzu.  Using a hand blender or sturdy whisk, whip until well blended.  Add the butter and whip until blended.  Set aside.

2. Fill a heavy medium skillet 1/2 inch full with the oil.  Heat over medium heat to 375F.

3. Meanwhile, season the tofu with the togarashi and salt and pepper to taste.  Spread the rice flour on a large plate, add the tofu, and dredge on all sides.  Shake off excess flour and, using a skimmer or slotted spatula, transfer half the tofu to the oil.  Fry the tofu until crisp, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining tofu.

4. Transfer the lettuce to a platter or divide the lettuce among four serving plates.  Drizzle with the ponzu, top with the tofu, and dollop with the butter mixture.  Garnish with the chives and serve.

Ming's Tips:  The frying is best done in a heavy, straight-sided pan, but any heavy pan will do.  You may have extra miso butter.  Refrigerate it and use it later for searing fish or meat.

To Drink: A crisp lager like Yanjing from China


Ming Tsai's Pork ChopsAmanda’s Chile Pork Chops with Garlic Brussels Sprouts
Score: Pork Chops - 2.5; Brussels Sprouts - 4.0

I picked this recipe because I LOVE brussels sprouts, especially when they have been roasted, :) so this recipe was an obvious choice. The preparation was very simple and straightforward. The mixture of spices--chili powder, brown sugar, and garlic--were a great combination for the pork, I just wish it would have had more flavor after cooking it in the oven. I think next time I will marinate the pork chops for a bit before cooking to see if that enhances the flavor. The Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, were very flavorful. The first step in cooking them was to quickly heat them in the skillet with the same spices as the pork. Yum! They were definitely my favorite part of the dish! Another modification I would make is roasting the potatoes separately for a longer time, or at a higher temperature. They were, much to my embarrassment, undercooked for our dinner party. :-/ Overall, I really liked the recipe and would like to try it again with adjustments.  Anjali also enjoyed this dish and gives it overall a 4.0.

Ming Tsai's Shrimp Risotto with Basil
Amanda’s Thai Basil Shrimp Risotto
Score: 3.5

Risotto was always a dish I wanted to learn to make, but have never found a recipe that really appealed to me. This one caught my eye though, and I decided that the time had come for me to figure it out. The recipe itself was very easy to follow, although I think it should have included more flavor or spices. Overall, the dish seemed to be missing something. That said, I understand that risotto takes some practice in order to master, so part of this score could be stemming from my lack of technique. If anyone knows of a step by step guide for cooking risotto, let me know! :) I will definitely try this one again!

Amanda’s Ginger Chicken Thighs with Parsnips
Score: 2.0

I chose this recipe for the parsnips. Having never cooked or eaten them, I thought this dish would provide the perfect opportunity for both. :) They are a very interesting vegetable, flavor-wise, and I think roasting them is the best way to cook them, which is what my recipe instructed. Again, I feel like this dish was missing something, and was a bit bland. The chicken thighs were very moist and tender, but needed lots of seasoning after they were cooked. The recipe said to bake everything together, (hence the name of the cookbook, I suppose) but I think the vegetables would have tasted better roasted separately and for less time.  Anjali dined on this dish as well and gave it a 3.0.

Ming Tsai's Braised Chicken with Star Anise
Anjali’s Star Anise Ginger Braised Chicken
Score:  4.75

I chose the dish because I have never braised anything besides turkey on Thanksgiving and the flavor profile appealed to me.  This recipe was incredibly simple! The "One Pot Meal" technique always makes like a little easier.  The prep work was easy, but of course, the cook time is lengthy, but that just means more time to drink wine while in the kitchen! The end result was a hit at the party.  The meat was incredibly tender (I forgot to mention, I cheated and bought thighs/breasts instead of a whole chicken because I don't like carving meat!).  The flavors were rich and deep.  Lucky for me, there are leftovers!

Jackie's Kung Pao Chicken
Score: 4.0

I was curious to see Ming Tsai's take on kung pao chicken, a standard Chinese take out dish.  The directions reminded me of the stir fry dishes that my parents typically made, so I was mainly curious to try out the flavors of the kung pao chicken.  This recipe called for sambal, which I could not find in my grocery store, so I substituted it (as suggested by the internet!) with sriacha and hot sauce... I was worried about overdoing it on the spicy, but I think next time I would kick it up a bit more. In general, the recipe was very straightforward, the chopping/cutting of the chicken and veggies took much longer than the actual cooking!  I enjoyed the flavors and would make this again.

DC Cook Club Comments: “Loved that this wasn't greasy, and the peanuts really make it. The veggies add a nice crunch.”  “This was a flavorful dish that had an extra crunch from the peanuts that I loved!”

Jackie's Curried Beef
Score: 3.8

My husband and I love curry dishes, so when a very cold wintery day rolled around (we've been having so many of those), we decided to make this dish.  And let me tell you, it is perfect for warming up your insides and making your house smell delicious.  I unfortunately could not find any skirt steak, so I substituted with another cut of beef... even though the dish cooks for quite awhile, the beef was still a bit tough (but not overly tough... not too chewy).  The curried beef cooks up with the potatoes, so the curry flavor permeates everything.  We served it with some rice, but I think a vegetable would make an excellent accompaniment as well.

Lisa W.'s Asian Spaghetti
Score: 3.0

My husband's favorite food is spaghetti so he naturally picked this recipe for the cook club this month. The ingredients that made this dish "Asian" are Thai basil leaves, soy sauce, and pork. Ming states that this recipe feeds 4. This recipe could easily feed 15! Overall, we thought it had a nice flavor. However, we agreed that we prefer Italian spaghetti and would stick to that as our spaghetti of choice!

The DC cook club-ers agreed, that this “tasted like very good spaghetti,” but “nothing particularly Asian about it.”  “The flavors were great” and the dish created “good leftovers that stood up well to reheating.” 

Lisa W.'s Crispy Tofu with Miso Butter
Score: 5.0

I cannot rave about this recipe enough! First of all, miso butter is delicious! The creaminess of the butter paired with the miso and ponzu created the perfect sauce. The tofu was dusted with rice flour, which when fried, created a yummy shell of crunchiness! The tofu was served over a bed of lettuce. In the future, I am going to cube the tofu and serve the miso butter as a dipping sauce and eliminate the lettuce as it did not enhance the flavor of the dish. Overall, this was my favorite recipe from the DC cook club party!

And some comments from our DC cook club party: “The miso butter makes this dish. It would be good on anything. I suspect (but do not know) that the fried tofu was a lot of work, and that I'd rather just make the miso butter and put it on a baked sweet potato :)”

“Score: 4.5!  The miso butter stole the show at the dinner party!  It was really flavorful and complemented the tofu perfectly.”

“I'm kind of obsessed with this fried tofu with miso butter dish.  I could have eaten the entire plate myself and was very happy with my leftovers the next day.  I adored the miso butter – gave the perfect kick to the fried tofu.  I definitely want to make this dish.”

Lisa W.'s Spicy Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Score: 2.0

This dish definitely wins the award for being the most colorful dish! I love avocado with everything so I thought that this dish would be a winner. However, I realized that I am not a fan of pairing shrimp and avocado. The textures of the shrimp and avocado did not work well for me.

And some comments from our DC cook club party:  “Perfect light salad - would make a great picnic item or light dinner on a hot day.”  “I enjoyed the slight spiciness of the shrimp balanced by the creamy and cool taste of the avocado.”

Sonia's Wild Mushroom Polenta with Thai Basil Salad
Score: 3.5

This is an interesting combination of Asian and Italian influences.  The mushrooms were hearty and stood up well to the creaminess of the polenta.  I used regular basil instead of Thai basil, but the salad turned out nicely, and the bright, zesty flavors of the herbs and lemon was a good contrast with the earthy mushrooms.  I was a bit perplexed as to why pink peppercorns were really necessary in the recipe.  I ended up buying pink salt instead, and it made no difference with the end product (you couldn't see it at all).

Our DC Cook Club thoughts: “Unexpectedly GREAT. This would be a really nice, warm, filling vegetarian entree for a winter day, and the basil topping keeps it from feeling heavy or too ‘casserole-y’.”

“I really enjoyed this dish.  Another dish that I could eat a ton of!  I am a big fan of polenta and mushrooms, so the two of them coming together was ideal for me.  I was very happy to snag some of the leftovers for the next day.”

“Typically, I am not a huge fan of polenta, but the addition of the wild mushrooms made this dish delicious!”

Sonia's Hot and Sour Soup
Score: 4.0

This soup has a lot of flavor, and is very spicy.  The mushrooms and tofu made it substantial enough for a main course.  I would definitely make this soup again, but might scale it down a bit and add bamboo shoots for a little extra crunch.

Ming Tsai's Tamari Tofu Stir Fry
Sonia's Tamari Tofu Stirfry with Rice Noodles
Score 4.5

I think that the "one-pot" aspect of this dish was stretched a little thin (wok, colander, bowl of ice water, extra bowls for cooked broccoli and noodles), but beyond that, this was an excellent stir-fry.  I was wavering as to whether or not to be lazy and skip the ice water bath, but I'm glad I didn't, because the broccoli came out bright green and really crunchy.  I used brown rice noodles to up the nutritional content, and couldn't tell a difference at all.  I also substituted seitan for tofu, because that's what I had on hand.  The marinade was really flavorful with the addition of garlic, ginger, and chili sauce, and my only complaint was that it wasn't really enough to coat all the noodles, and it came out a little dry.  Once everything was mixed together, I added a bit more soy sauce and some sesame oil, which corrected the problem.  I was very impressed by how this turned out, and will definitely be making this regularly.


And as an added bonus… Sonia made these amazing cupcakes for our dessert at our DC cook club party.  Even the name alone sounds delicious: almond chocolate souffle cupcakes with white chocolate ginger cream.   Check them out in full at her blog.