30 April 2013

Homemade Pasta: The Reckoning

It's been a while, but I finally gave up. With a library at hand, I checked out a book on making pasta and followed some directions. I know, I know, not the usual. Whatever, I wanted something that tasted good, and I wanted it quickly. The short version of my short cutting? Success! And sweat.
Turns out I've been doing many things wrong. One: equal parts egg and flour is a little too dry. Two: half semolina flour is still too rough. Three: all-egg for liquid is a little firm. Four: kneading for a few minutes isn't enough. Five: rolling for a few minutes isn't enough. Six: cutting my noodles all wrong. I wonder how many experiments it would have taken to figure that out? I had already given up on more iterations of homemade pasta as it has been horrible every time. Except now, of course. Cookbooks: pretty rad, actually.
We topped it with a homemade white-wine sauce, made up on the spot. I provide a recipe, but you should understand this as simply what I made, not how one makes sauce. I, honestly, have no clue but guessed together something good. I used home-grown sage - E has started a wonderful garden on the deck. While we eagerly await the first greens from it, I have been using the sage as often as E will let me. I would surely kill the plant without her intervention - we have this great recipe, invented by E and cooked by me, that I'll share some time. It uses a bit of sage.

The pasta was also topped with crispy slices of leek; I'll omit a recipe for that but you can figure it out. It involves a cast iron, salt, and a bit of oil. And about ten minutes of your time.
Homemade Pasta in White Wine Sauce
Serves.. 3? Whatever
Takes a really long time
1 large egg (60g or so)
50g white flour
25g whole-wheat flour
25g semolina flour
2tbsp water, give or take

Mix the flours together in a small bowl. Stir in the egg and water using a fork; the dough should be dry-ish, but smooth on the surface. On a very lightly floured large work surface, begin kneading the dough. Add flour as necessary, but keep to a minimum. Around five minutes, test the dough by gently pulling it - if it rips immediately, wet your hands and work it into the dough. If you get a little stretch, then a rip, maybe add a drop of water. Otherwise, just keep kneading for another five minutes. If it ever begins sticking, add a bit more flour. If it appears dry, add a few drops of water. The surface of the dough will be smooth and it should be pliable and stretchy. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. You can start the sauce now if you want.

After 30 minutes, prepare your muscles and a large work surface, very lightly dusted in flour. We have a rather large cutting board - at least 24"x18", if not larger - and cut our dough in half before rolling. The little lump of dough will need a rather lot of space. Using your hands, make the dough into something like a rectangle. Then start rolling. Keep rolling, rotating the dough and dusting with hints of flour if it sticks. Use your forearms. E rolled for maybe ten minutes; I took around five. If you are lacking in upper-body strength, I suggest making friends with a climber (great for opening cans - many more uses around the house as well).

The dough is thin enough when you can see through it. Yeah, it is a lot of work. And it is possible by hand. If you cut the dough in two, put the first finished piece between two towels so it doesn't form a crust while you finish the second piece. To cut the pasta into long, straight noodles, use the following magic trick: place the dough flat and roll up the top and bottom edges until they meet in the center. Fold in half. Cut. Magic! Unroll all the noodles and cook in a large pot of salted, boiling water for three minutes. Drain and serve immediately (or, drain, toss in sauce, and serve immediately).
1/2 cup white wine of some sort (I don't pretend to know)
1/2 cup water (could probably replace this with more wine or stock of sorts)
1tsp butter
1 italian onion, diced
handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
can of white beans + liquid
several fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
(optionally) a bit of leftover, cooked, thick-cut bacon from a previous meal

In a large sauce pan, heat a splash of oil over medium. Add the diced onion, a bit of salt, and let cook for a while. Stir it every now and then, adding oil as necessary, until it has softened. Add the wine, water, some salt+pepper, whatever dry spices you want, and the bacon if you have it. Reduce to low and let simmer until much of the liquid is gone, tasting and seasoning as you go. Remove the bacon, dice it up, and put aside for crisping and future garnish.

If it is more than give minutes before your past will be ready, shut off the heat. Otherwise, cut the tomatoes in half and add them, along with the entire can of beans+liquid and the sage. Increase heat to medium and stir everything together for five minutes. Toss with noodles and serve immediately, topped with bacon and crisped leek rounds.

01 April 2013

New Post, New City

So, E and I moved across the country. Rather, up - from SF to Seattle. Across the hotdog way, not the hamburger. This was my poor car for the drive:
We used one of those "we drop off a crate, you fill it, we ship it" companies for the majority of the move and stuffed the car with necessities for "camping" a few nights in our old place and a few nights in the new. Including a minimal set of cookware. The day before the crate arrived at our old place, I got sick with what E dubbed "convenient-itus" and what I called "some horrible stomach bug". Needless to say, the cookware was not used in the few days before we drove North. We arrived on a Saturday night after a leisurely two-day drive, spending the night in Grant's Pass after a meal at Black Bear Diner. I fondly remembered this chain from a similar road trip as a younger self - the pancakes where the size of my plate and my brother's burger almost the same. It almost lived up to the memories - the pancakes only want to the inner edge of the rim, robbing the poor souls eating them of a good inch on the diameter of what would surely be a wondrous food coma. But, yes, back to arriving in Seattle - our new neighborhood has a Sunday market, perfect for our Saturday night arrival and cookware. So we made this:
Some delicious fresh pasta, some random greens with goat chevre, and a duck egg. A most excellent lunch. A key benefit to the new location is a library barely a block away, and one with decent hours even. You know, those places that give you free books for a bit. They have cookbooks, even. Good ones. I promptly checked out Ad Hoc at Home, a beautiful book I could never convince myself to buy. If you need a good, all-purpose cookbook that doubles as something to display, you could do much worse. In particular, it's packed with useful tips for prep and cooking. I've always been one to blanch greens sometimes, but now it's an always. And between a wonderful surprise cooking class at Book Larder from E and the tips in this book, I'll always saute and baste with a parchment lid. Hopefully next time it won't look as ugly as this:
Something bad happened to the skin - dried out too much maybe? I don't really cook chicken, so that could be another cause. On the other hand: Jerusalem artichokes have received unanimous approval from the M&E panel of expert diners. Blanched, skin on, until just tender, then prepped however you want - like a potato. I've roasted them whole with the chicken (mistake; should cut them in half, face down, to soak up juices) and cut them into fries (super-success). Other cooking successes, brought to you by an apartment that is room temperature instead of outdoor temperature, includes sourdough bread.
Yes, after leaving SF, land of the sourdough and 60-or-so degree apartment, I've gotten back into sourdough. And it works, beautifully. Two new-ish things with this loaf. First, after watching Josey Baker shape a table full of rustic loaves in the time it takes me to do one, I got a bench scraper. For a boule, it can't be beat. And, secondly, I made a mistake, never to be repeated, with the salt. I didn't put it in initially when combining the pre-ferment with the bread ingredients. Instead, I let everything-minus-salt rest for 30 minutes to make sure the starter took and to somewhat-copy the method used by Tartine. Then I used coarse-grain sea salt. Not the best idea; even with wet hands and a few stretch-and-fold iterations, I don't think it fully mixed. Next time, kosher or fine-grain.
That led to some bites full of flavor and others bland, plus the giant and undesirable pockets of air in the above photo.

19 November 2012

Plenty More Cooking

My schedule returned to normal, my stomach the same, and the arrival of "fall" in SF all lead to one thing: more cooking. The latest edition of Lucky Peach arrived last week and has proved excellent so far. While the recipes are not exactly basic, the lot seem less chef-ified than past issues. For a cooking night with E, we made a modified eggplant, soba, and mango dish from Plenty and a very heavily modified "vegetables stuffed with fish paste" from Lucky Peach - I used chicken sausage instead of fish paste.
The eggplant dish was excellent, as everything else from the book - cilantro, lime, onion, and red pepper provide the base, and the mango livens it up a notch. However: the slight modifications to the eggplant recipe, entirely my own doing, are not ones I would recommend. It asks for fried eggplant; please do so. The chewiness of baked eggplant was not the best. Also, the dish is intended to be cold. We, as hungry diners, ate it warm instead. The leftovers, having marinated in the liquids for some time, had more body.

Later in the week, E requested yams. For some reason, I decided the yam bruschetta would be a grand idea. It, as we discovered, is. We deviated from the bruschetta template by a large margin, so I may offend some with the name. Don't let that stop you from cooking this dish; tomato, yam, and a strong cheese create a winning combo. The yam baked until it is almost creamy and stacked with carmelized onions is a dream to bite into.
Yam Bruschetta
Serves 2-3 as dinner/4-6 as appetizer (depending on yam size)
1 medium-ish yam, sliced into thin rectangles
bread (we used a home-made pita-ish dough)
2-4 small heirloom tomatoes
1 yellow onion, cut as you would for a sandwich
watercress stems, cut slightly shorter than the bread
a strong, hard cheese (we used a goat gouda)
olive oil
Preheat oven to 425. Prepare the yam by slicing in, then lightly tossing in olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and potentially more seasonings. E was in charge of this part and I only remember cinnamon. Definitely something else. Put on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put in the oven.

Cut the onion into strips and put in a small pan over medium-low - the onion should completely cover the bottom and then some. Sprinkle with a little salt and carmelize slowly while you go about the rest of prep; after 10-15 minutes, stir every 5 minutes so they cook evenly and don't burn.

Slice your bread, tomatoes, cheese, and watercress. When the yams are soft so that a fork could spread them on bread, 40 minutes or so, remove from the oven (but don't shut it off). The onion should also be nice and sweet at this point.
Assemble the bruschetta - brush each piece of bread with a small amount of olive oil, then place a yam slice, a tomato slice, a few strands of onion, and a hint of cheese on top. Finish with 4-6 watercress stems and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

Cook in the 425 degree oven for 10+ minutes until the tomato has started to give off liquid, the cheese has begun to melt, and some onion/green tips have blackened. Let them cool for at least a few minutes, lest you burn your mouth on the tomato.

12 November 2012

Socca That Shouldn't, But Does, Work

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I actually posted. Then, I went to Beijing for a few weeks, got back to a stomach bug for a week, and have generally been busy. I ate really a rather large variety of food in Beijing; E along as my translator made things much easier. We still did guess our way through a few menu items as the characters used for describing food aren't exactly the most descriptive. For instance, my "noodles tomatoes and egg with <unrecognized characters> extra" that we were excited for? <unrecognized characters> just meant "a size bigger". Hrm. But, yes, chuan is delicious (as is all Uyghur food we had), I really like zhōu (congee/rice porrige/jook/etc), and there were some surprisingly good tofu skin/peanut dishes.

And really a lot more to talk about, but this post is not about that. It is about a dinner that, by all accounts, should have been an interesting experiment and nothing more but was, in reality, simply delicious. I have been cooking a lot from Plenty (another reason for the lack of recipes) and have enjoyed everything from it so far. It had a recipe for socca - chickpea flour pancakes - topped with onion and tomato. I took the recipe as an inspiration, ran it through parts of Japan and China, and came up with this.
Socca, with green onion inside, topped with mâche (lamb's lettuce), and a mushroom/tomato saute. The China part is, somewhat obviously, the green onions in the socca - like scallion cakes but much lighter. The Japan part isn't so obvious from a photo, but from a bite it would be obvious. The saute was seasoned with a combination of sake, (fake) wasabi, and brown sugar. Sesame oil could, probably, have helped a great deal. Delicious, though, most definitely delicious. If I see Italian/Japanese fusion places in the future, I won't be quite so stunned.
Socca (By Way of Asia)
Serves 2
This recipe is an approximation, and not a final product. Consider it a place to get started; much could be improved in the dish. For instance, a sauce, aioli, or dip could be of great benefit. As could some spices.

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp minced green onion

1 "box" mushrooms (8oz, I think)
2/3 "box" cherry tomatoes (???oz)
1/4 cup-ish sake
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp (give or take) wasabi
a bit of mâche

Mix the socca batter - combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk. Clean the mushrooms and dry them, then slice them. Sweat the mushrooms with a dash of salt in a frying pan over medium heat for about five minutes. While the mushrooms are sweating, begin cutting cherry tomatoes in half. When the mushrooms have reduced by a bit and are tasty, prepare to multi-task.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and prepare a parchment-lined baking sheet. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat with a bottom the size you would like your socca (think slightly larger than tacos). While doing the rest of the saute prep, you should be cooking socca: put a dash of oil in the pan and add ~1/4 cup of batter, spreading it evenly over the bottom. After 1-2 minutes, it should have bubbles and the top should have begun to set a little. Flip and cook for another minute.

In the downtime of cooking socca, add the sake, brown sugar, and wasabi to the mushrooms and reduce for several minutes. Then add the tomatoes, cook for five minutes, and add salt and pepper to taste. All the while, you should be making socca - I got 6 pancakes from the recipe, which is a good amount to aim for.

The saute should finish before the socca, which is good as you want it to cool slightly. When all the socca are done, put a bed of mâche on each one, then top with saute. Place in the oven for 5-10 minutes to warm. Serve and eat immediately, as they will cool quickly. Warmed plates may help. Eating with your hands may be a good idea, as E thought the dish was close enough to a taco to be eaten like one.

Hell, maybe add some guacamole.

18 September 2012

Spaghetti-Sauce Sandos

Cooking more meals at home also means having more leftovers. Never is this more apparent than in the preparation of pasta. Portioning noodles is easy - boil as many as you want. The rest will keep as they are dry. Pasta sauce, not so much. It comes in these giant jars, fit for a family. Solution: put it on a sandwich. Try and make it less messy than pictured below if you want to proudly post photos of it, mind you:
That is a fresh-baked "ciabatta" roll with reheated spaghetti sauce, spinach wilted in, and a fried egg. It is Grade A delicious. I suggest you make it some time. You'll also notice the patterning on the bread. I finally caved and began proofing my freestanding loaves in an improvised banneton - a bowl lined with a floured cloth. I'm not sure if it helps the proofing process, but the visual appeal is worth the effort expended in washing the cloth afterwards.
On that note, most of my cooking effort (as opposed to normal dinners, which are not usually worth a recipe post) has been invested in bread. Hence the lack of recipes, and instead an influx of beautiful breads. All three breads pictured in this post, in fact, used the exact same recipe. They were all mixed the same, bulk-risen the same, and cooked (roughly) the same. Only the shaping and proofing differed. Though, really, the cooking is the key. Dutch oven, or equivalent, all the way. Cover your bread for the first half of the oven time and cook it hot. By cooking the bread covered, you prevent a crust from forming until much later in the baking process, at which point more of the bread is ready to crust up.

24 August 2012

Huckleberries, Heath, Cucumber

I've come back from a relaxing 5-day stay in Northern Idaho to visit E's family. The daily plan went something like this: lazily wake up. Eat some grub and decide where to go outside that day. After getting hot hiking/walking, jump in a lake/river. Eat some food, drink adult beverages, and go to bed. Also I didn't have cell phone service or easy internet access, so there was that. E delivered on one of her longstanding promises - to take me huckleberry picking in Idaho. We hiked up Schweitzer resort in 90 degree weather, eating huckleberries the whole way and emptying a Nalgene or two. We walked down, filling that empty Nalgene up with berries to use later. It was divine.
E put most those berries to use in a cobbler, though we couldn't find suitable sugar to use so it was more hot berries topped with something like a honey-oat streusel, served on ice cream. I put another chunk of the berries to use with pancakes topped with E's quick berry syrup, introducing yet more people to the wonder of Mikey's pancakes. And that was all the cooking we did. No bread, no experiments, nothing.
As an addendum to the previous post, it was brought to my attention that I mentioned, but did not picture, the bowls. So, below, you'll see one of the bowls filled with lightly-crusted indian-spiced tofu, blackened brussels, and grilled cucumbers. Peaking out of the corner is the fig/bacon dish. Oh, yes, right, grilled cucumbers. In the same way that pickling transforms a lukewarm, bland vegetable into a chilly, crunchy delight, cooking cucumbers in a cast iron elevates them to cuisine. An early dinner at Bar Tartine led to this discovery, quickly recreated at home. Cut cucumbers into quarters or so. Heat them, face down, over medium-ish in a cast iron with a brush of salt and cumin. Do this until they are soft and hot all the way through. Consume. Be enlightened.
Huckleberry Pancakes with Syrup
Recipe for 1, scales as necessary
for pancakes
1/4 cup spelt flour
1 thumb-length of banana (~1/4 banana)
2 tbsp huckleberries
~1/4 cup soy/almond/coconut/hemp/etc milk
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
pinch salt

for syrup
handful huckleberries
handful strawberries, chopped
sugar to taste
possibly water

To make the pancakes, mush the banana until it almost passes as a liquid. Add everything but the milk-like liquid, then slowly pour in milk until you end up with a batter-like consistency. This is usually a quarter cup and a dash more, but it varies on the kind of milk and the amount of banana. Experiment a bit. On a griddle or non-stick pan over medium, add some butter. Cook pancake amounts of batter until bubbles form on the surface. Wait 15-30 seconds after that point, then flip and cook for a minute or two longer.

To make the syrup, in a sauce pan over medium-high, add the berries. You'll want to lightly mush them with a spoon, but also make sure you stir them so they don't stick or burn. After a few minutes, they will start to liquify. Add a dash of water and sugar, and continue stirring while it kinda-boils. Continue until you have something that looks like jam. Let cool for a few minutes and check the sweetness, adding sugar if necessary. Once removed from pan, you can boil some water in the pan to both clean it and make some pretty tasty tea (all credits to E on that one).

06 August 2012

Sesame-Glazed Edamame, (Attempted) French Macarons

The number of Heath Ceramics I own just tripled, from one to three. I guess I should be precise - I joint-own the two I just got. E moved in with me, and her wonderful former roommate got us a pair of large bowls. This adds to my happy cup, purchased for hot drinks at work. An aside on that - SFMOMA has a Blue Bottle on the top floor in a beautiful, well lit space next to the sculpture garden. They serve coffee in cocoa-colored Heath mugs and these mugs make me quite happy. After some investigation, I found to be custom-made just for that location but an almost-identical mug is sold at their store. It may seem stupid to spend that much for a single mug, but it does make me quite happy. End aside.

The most remarkable feature of the bowls is their size. My standby dinner bowls, pictured in many previous posts, aren't really big enough for single-dish dinners. Maybe chili is filling enough given the volume, but definitely not my more standard rice-and-tofu dishes. To inaugurate them, I cooked a rather  unremarkable udon and silken tofu soup. About halfway through making the soup, I knew it would not astound and hatched a plan to make at least something good. A few handfuls of edamame, pre-steamed and laboriously popped from pods, were intended for the soup. Instead, they met their fate in my cast iron with mirin, cayenne, and sesame seeds. I was a little influenced by that little chickpea dish I've made before. The end result was a slightly crispy sweet and spicy bite, perfect for adding some flavor to a meal. Not so good for finger food - much too sticky.
The same weekend, I also endeavored on a standard trial of bakers: French Macarons. In short, if you don't care about them looking perfect and you own something for beating eggs, you have no reason to not make these. The ingredient list is impressively small, ignoring the filling, and the result is that combination of soft and chewy and sweet and sticky that begs to be savored. Again, assuming you don't care how perfect they look. Case in point, the macarons I baked up:
I think my flaw was using the wrong recipe. I should have just used the one a friend of mine does; instead, I Googled for "Miete French Macron Recipe" and took the first hit. It gave me weights for all the ingredients but the egg whites. It said 6 for the double recipe, so I halved it down to 3. But, alas, my batter was runny. Before you ask, yes, I'm sure my whites were stiff enough. They clumped in the beater and looked like meringue; they held a point. I may have deflated them too much in the mixing, but I'm going to bet if I used a recipe with weights on the egg whites and scaled around that, they would have come out at least the generally correct shape. Not bad for the mess it created.
Sesame-Glazed Edamame
More an idea than a recipe
1/2 cup edamame beans, pre-steamed and removed from pods.
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (reduce if desired)
dash salt
dash chinese five spice

Make sure the beans are fairly dry. Toss them with spices and salt, and put them in a pre-heated cast iron over medium. Allow to cook for five minutes, stirring once. Pour in the mirin and the sesame seeds, and stir actively to make sure the edamame gets a nice coating. Once the mirin starts to gum-up, leave them alone in the pan for a few minutes so they can brown; repeat on the other side.