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.

24 July 2012

Homemade Noodles, Take Two

I took a Thursday and Friday off last week and did, roughly, nothing with them. I played some video games  sketched at coffee shops, read a bit, and coded for fun. But, really, I didn't do anything. Not even any culinary adventures with my free time. The closest I got was iterating on handmade pasta. Learning from the previous time, a flour mixture of 50% semolina and 50% white flour was used. The pasta was also rolled for much longer - though sans machinery there is a limit to how thin I can manage. And then the cutting. Lots of cutting.
But it was good - much lot closer to pasta than the doughy previous attempt. The noodles maintained a little bit of the gummy-ness of the previous attempt, but it was rolled and cut thin enough to cook as pasta and not as boiled bread. When topped with a sauce made by E, it was a fantastic dinner.
A project that has just been started is some test baking for a local baker. The first loaf came out rather well as you can see in the photo. It was a very simple loaf, made without a preferment, but with lots of cold fermentation time and a wonderful crust. After cooling, the crust had softened a bit, but everything else was wonderful. Which is something of a shame, as the new coffee shop/toast bar has started serving up toast in addition to the awesome espresso and drip. So I can now, no matter my laziness level, go get a piece of thick-cut toast for breakfast without making it myself.

17 July 2012

Hearty Soups, Scandinavian Dreams

A cold worked its way through the office, eventually finding its way to myself. I don't know if it made its way to me through coworkers or through E, who picked it up the week before. Now, what does two weeks of people with colds mean? Soup. Not as much as one might expect, but not as many as in this post. One was an interesting experiment, but not worthy. But first, look at this baby corn I found at the farmers market. It has a tiny little husk and everything!
Also, a foray into bread from last post. I now have a "dutch" oven cast iron, instead of my jury-rigged cast iron pot and brownie-pan lid. Before I got that, I made one last loaf in the old style. This was a tiny loaf - 90g flour. It was cold-proofed, 20% whole wheat, 70% hydration. It was good stuff - by itself, with jam, with butter, and a la Scandinavian future dream. I haven't quite worked out toasting bread in a cast iron for maximum awesome, but I hope to hit that style soon.
Two soups were worthy of this post. The first is yet another recipe from The Herbal Kitchen for avgolemono. No recipe for this one, but the idea is simple - heat broth, cook some rice in it, whip lemon juice into eggs, and add them to the soup without curdling. That last bit is the hard one - the soup not featured in this post was an egg-thickened broth that went too far. You must ensure the soup temperature is well below simmering, the mixture is stirred constantly, and it is only heated for just long enough to thicken. Ignoring that part, however, its a simple 20 minute soup of incredible depth, especially when herbed, that uses 4 ingredients as a base (broth, egg, rice, lemon).
The other soup, though it really isn't one, was a return to jambalaya. I haven't cooked this in a few years, but it is a favorite dish of mine. The idea is simple - take the trinity of celery, onion, and pepper and sautee them in oil. You can make a roux at this point, but I'm not entirely sure on the tradition. At this point, add all the other ingredients - rice, stock, tomatoes, meats - and let it cook for a while. Seasoning is up to you, though "cajun" should be the name of the game. The meat, bowing to tradition, is most likely a combination of andouille sausage, shrimp, and chicken. I modified that for laziness in this recipe, using just andouille. What you get out of this is anywhere between a stew and a rice dish, depending on taste and hunger level, that hits the spot like none other. You can substitute meat-free sausage in this recipe, but be mindful of flavor. That andouille spice is hard to match.
Mikey's Jambalaya (more suggestion than recipe)
Serves 4 or so
4-6 stocks celery
1 white onion
few cloves garlic
1 green bell pepper
2 cups stock
1 cup rice
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 andouille sausages
crushed red pepper
cajun seasoning
extra cayenne, to taste
olive oil
green onion for garnish

Dice the celery and onion. In a large pot over medium heat, add a tablespoon or more of olive oil, onion, and celery. Season with salt and cajun mix. Mince the garlic, and add it after 5 minutes. Cook for another 5 minutes - the onions should be clearish - then add the pepper, stock, rice, tomatoes, and sausage. The sausage should be sliced and the pepper diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 (stew) to 50 (rice-dish) minutes. You may need to replenish the liquid if you cook for too long. Taste intermittently and add more seasoning as desired.
Place in a bowl and top with diced green onion. Optionally, serve with mustard greens like in the above shot - sauteed with a dash of sherry and oil, salted, and topped with fresh-ground ginger and horseradish.

02 July 2012

Cold-Proofing Bread

I have this "ideal" breakfast I've concocted in my head; I think it stems from watching Gary Hustwit documentaries and a few shorts on noma. Plus reading Dwell, on occasion. I'm sitting at a table, probably made of some reclaimed wood. It is a small table - suitable for two - though the room is larger. Everything about the surroundings are rustic; I bet there are even terrariums hanging from the wall. It is in Scandinavia, of course. I'm eating breakfast with my partner before we head to work; a slice of toast cut as thick as a sandwich, a pad of butter with a light sprinkle of sea salt. Some fresh jam on the side. An egg, sunny side up and cooked to perfection.

Well, I can make part of this breakfast no problem. I've done it with E a few times now - I just steal a piece of dough from whatever loaf I'm cooking up and get fresh bread for two without prematurely staling the rest of the loaf. The egg, jam, and butter are all at hand. The crucial thing missing is the texture - the crust should be thick. When you look at a slice head on, you should be see a thick, brown ring around the center like bark on a tree. I'm not there yet, but I'm trying.
I have two angles of attack, which I'm currently pursuing one of. The currently ignored angle is the steam/dutch oven approach. I know this is necessary, but it is also relatively easy to figure out - you get crust from cooking bread in a humid environment. The easiest way to do that is to enclose the bread in a dutch oven for the first part of baking (or to use a steam bath in your oven, which I find difficult). The other angle of approach is in the proofing. Letting the dough dry out slightly can form a darker, deeper crust. Having read the Tartine book, as well as a few brief mentions of "cold proofing" in Reinhart, I've been adapting my usual loaf to the method.
The way I have usually cooked by bread, known to some as "No Knead", is a strech-and-fold followed by overnight cold fermentation and proofing at room temperature. That is, you make the dough and let it sit in the fridge for a night or two, then you shape it, let the dough proof, and cook it. The cold proofing is like that; instead of the rise happening the fridge, its the proof. Mix the dough, let it rise, then shape it and throw it in the fridge. It goes directly, the next day, from the fridge to the oven. The crust is a much deeper color and scoring the loaf more effective.
The only non-obvious part is that, when moving the dough from the fridge, you want to make sure you aren't refrigerating it on the same surface that it bakes on. You want the heat to hit the bread instantly, and a cold baking sheet going in the oven with it will ruin that. I've taken to proofing it on parchment, which is then placed on a plate and covered. I make sure a baking sheet is in the oven when preheating, and then carefully slide the parchment onto the sheet when the oven is hot. This gets a very even crust, instead of a pale and weak bottom.

18 June 2012

Figs and Bacon

The farmer's market at the Ferry Building in SF is an oddity; both a large tourist draw as well as a favorite of locals. Unlike the Powell-Hyde/Powell-Mason cable car lines, Fisherman's Wharf, and Alcatraz, the number of tourists at the market Saturday morning is likely less than locals. In addition to finding the rare and elusive mingling of tourists and locals (see also "Dolores Park" and "Alamo Square"), one can usually find meal inspiration. Sitting on a bench with E, drinking morning inspiration, she mentioned making pasta dough was really easy and we decided to add it to the "cook sometime" list. Otherwise, our goal was some fruit with which to make sorbet and something for dinner.
We rambled through the market, looking for tasty things. My wonderful discovery last week of tiny brussels was not to be repeated, though E spied some lavender to pretty up my place with. We also impulse-purchased some figs; I thought on a whim, but E had something in mind for them. Having completed a loop, we decided the lavender would go great with blueberry so off I went to get a basket. I also asked the mushroom man for some recommendations as I've been attempting to convince my taste buds of them; he suggested a variety I can't remember the name of for a pasta primavera. A meal had formed - pasta primavera with homemade noodles.
Now, as is often the case, I was mistaken on the matter of a pasta primavera. E suggested we add carrots and peas; I replied that, no, the dish was just deconstructed mushroom sauce. It wasn't until this morning, several days after devouring the meal, I discovered my error. According to the great settler of debates, Wikipedia most decidedly decided in E's favor - carrots and peas are in. Oh well, oh well. It was still good, though not the star of the meal. That would be these figs:
Warmed figs, with bacon, garlic, rosemary, and lavender topped with the smallest amount of goat cheese. This is based on a recipe from The Herbal Kitchen that E had been eyeing for quite some time and even, apparently, planned for the figs from the get-go. An aside on this book: I have yet to make anything less than excellent from it; these are simple, restaurant-worthy dishes in home kitchen-worthy preps. The figs, though, the figs! I would gladly eat these again, then have even more of them after. Most of the prep can be done an hour or more in advance of eating them, at which point they need only five minutes in a warmed oven, making them perfect for lightening a cooking load.
_______________o _______________
Warm Figs With Bacon and Goat Cheese
Makes enough for 2 people to devour, but scales well
3 ripe figs
2 pieces bacon
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
rosemary (fresh is better)
lavender (fresh is better)
goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Cook bacon in a pan, rendering the fat out and crisping it. When the bacon is crisped, remove and pat dry. Pour of some, but not all, of the bacon grease - keep roughly a tablespoon or so, enough to lightly coat the pan. Add the minced garlic and herbs to the pan, cooking for a few minutes until the garlic is slightly browned; remove from heat. Dice the garlic into small pieces, eating some, then add back to the pan with garlic and mix. Slice each fig in half and, using a spoon or thumb, create a depression in the center of each. Spoon some of the mixture into each of the figs. Five minutes before you want to eat them, add a tiny dollop of goat cheese to each and place in oven for five minutes. Eat immediately.
_______________o _______________
Homemade Pasta
Serves 2
1 egg
twice as much semolina flour as egg, by weight
tsp olive oil
pinch salt

First, a note: don't use 100% semolina flour, as we did. 50/50 semolina/all-purpose is probably better. In a small bowl, mix the salt and flour together. Form a divot in the middle. Break the egg yolk with your finger, mix it around a little, then put it in the divot with the tsp olive oil. Mix, lightly, by hand to incorporate the ingredients. It should form a nice dough. Knead, flouring as necessary, for 10 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover to let the gluten rest for 30 minutes.

Prepare a pot of water to boil, with a little salt. Lightly dust a work surface in semolina flour and pull out the rolling pin. Roll the pasta into a thin sheet. No, thinner than that. As thin as you can manage, and then some. Really thin. Doing this by hand is hard. Once rolled, cut into desired shape. Boil for a few minutes, until done. Eat at once.

11 June 2012

Cooking one-handed

A bit of a bike accident (entirely my fault, entirely avoidable) led to a rather sudden meeting between my left hand/forearm/elbow and the pavement. While everything heals up, I can use the fingers but not the palm. This makes cooking difficult but, it turns out, not impossible. Lovely weather was had Saturday, mostly wasted on my inability to do fun things like bike or run or climb and my nerdy desire to see Prometheus in the middle of the day. Sunday, magically, was nicer and less painful - a trip to the farmer's market near me was proposed and quickly ratified. The result, later that day:
Before that, however, was a simple picnic in the park with a hunk of bread (not made by me, sadly), some lovely artichoke spread, and a bag of cherry tomatoes. Also spied, and subsequently purchased at the market, were two peculiar items: small brussels and purple green beans. It turns out brussels season just began, again, if Wikipedia is to be trusted. Be prepared for many meals containing them, as I load up on the tiny, delicious ones instead of the late-season large varieties that don't cook properly. The purple green beans, as seen in the photo above, lose their color when cooked at high heat and turn green. This creates a nice effect if you are lazy cooking them, and overcook one side but undercook the other. But, yes, a dual-recipe today.
Blackened Miso-Butter Brussels and Dijon Green Beans
(more of a guideline than a recipe)

early-season brussels (smaller than, say, ping-pong balls)
unsalted butter
red miso paste

green (or purple) beans
seeded-style dijon mustard
chinese five-spice

For the brussels: preheat oven to 400. Wash the brussels and slice each in half, top to bottom. In a small dish, combine equal parts miso and butter and mix. You can add a splash of, say, vinegar or sherry if you wish, but it isn't necessary. Heat a cast-iron pan, large enough to fit all your sprouts, over medium. Spread a bit of the miso butter on the face of each brussels half and place them, face down, in the pan. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the faces have begun to crisp up. Transfer to the oven to finish, another 10 minutes, or until they have reached the desired softness.

For the green (or purple) beans: pluck the tough stems off the end of each and wash them. Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium-low and add the beans, tossing frequently. After they have some heat, but aren't cooked, add salt (not too much) and a generous dash of chinese five-spice, toss, then add enough seeded-style dijon to lightly coat them. Serve them immediately, before they have completely cooked.

05 June 2012

Chile Lime Yuba, Jiaozi, Others

Since the last post, I've intended to do more cooking with chemicals. It hasn't happened, really. One experiment in making some form of ice cream (hemp milk, xantham, versawhip) was met with success but  that isn't exactly impressive; ice cream is fairly trivial to make (though it is nice to not need a machine to do it). In the mean time, most of my meals have been simple ingredients with involving preps. For instance, I made a yuba stir-fry that involved making steamed buns, cleaning a rather lot of mushrooms and snap peas, carmelizing onions, and using a mortar to grind a sauce from jalapeno and basil. Yet the end result was just interesting; maybe something to work on, but nothing extraordinary. In fact, what I've described is basically the recipe if you add some lime to the sauce and some soy sauce to the stir fry.
For recipes that I can give, there were some definitely delicious dishes cooked in the past weeks. For instance, this mujaddara from food52 was phenomenal and simple. Cooking the rice in the oven was something I had never considered though it now makes perfect sense. The trick to really good sushi rice is ensuring it cooks by steaming, not boiling. Putting it in the oven is like the too-lazy-to-buy-a-rice-cooker man's solution to this problem. We topped it with oven-roasted carrots and broccoli, a dish that E has been knocking out of the park lately.
Another is a repeat iteration of "peas with horseradish", from Momofuku. That is it, really. Oh, it is from Momofuku so you have to add some butter. But, yeah, that is it. Heat some butter in a cast iron. Add some sugar peas, or snap peas, or really any pea that cooks quickly until you think it is done. When it is, sprinkle on some salt, shave some fresh horseradish on, toss it, plate it, and shave a little more horseradish. Consume, quickly. The flavor on this one diminishes quickly.
And, finally, a glorious dish: jiaozi (or, chinese dumplings). E kicked ass on this one, basing the recipe on the first hit on Google (note for later: searching for ethnic food recipes by their ethnic names yields better dishes). We subbed "Gimme Lean"-brand vegan ground beef substitute for the real thing and used store-bought wrappers. It took a while, considering how cramped my steamer became. One batch was boiled; I wouldn't recommend that - steam these puppies. They are awesome.

21 May 2012

Experiments with "Modernist" Cuisine; Momofuku-Inspired Green Beans

E had been soliciting me, somewhat, for gift ideas. One of which was delivered to me on Friday night, and a good gift it was - a kit from Modernist Pantry for doing all sorts of chemical things to food. I can now make foams, turn anything into a gel, and generally try cooking some crazier things. And, amazingly, Diablo III hasn't completely drained the life from me, coating my fingers in Cheeto dust and my veins into rivers of Mountain Dew. I actually haven't had any of those things in recent memory (except Diablo III, which I've had quite a bit of). We cooked a decidedly non-modernist dinner with a few  flourishes of weird using the other part of the food present - a trip to Sur La Table to pick up stuff that would be useful, but not necessary, in my kitchen.
The kitchenware trip got me a hand blender (for beating things, mostly) and a bamboo steamer (for making steamed things, of course). Given that and the chemicals, we settled on "grain and beans" for the main, steamed artichoke, green beans, salad with solid vinaigrette dressing, and a dessert that read like something between ice cream and whipped cream. The things I was in charge of (namely, the chemical cooking) were interesting. On the other hand, the things E was in charge of (all the other food but the green beans) were actually delicious, an important quality for food. She definitely won the award that night. 
Now, the chemicals: the vinaigrette was, roughly, your normal vinaigrette with agar agar added. Agar agar is crazy - like gelatin you would find in, say, Jello, but vegetarian and capable of holding up even under moderate heat. The texture worked - I made a sheet of vinaigrette that we could then cut and scatter on salad. E disagreed with the texture; I couldn't see the point other than Science! so it was deemed a failure. The dessert was similar - interesting texture, not much else going on. Perhaps I need better recipes aimed at a novice.
The rest of the meal is not quite befitting of a recipe - spinach pasta with black beans, seasoned lightly. Delicious steamed artichoke with mayonnaise. Green beans cooked in a bit of browned butter in a cast iron, tossed with a pinch of salt and freshly-grated horseradish, liberally adapted from a similar recipe in Momofuku, devoured before the rest of the meal was ready.

14 May 2012


Instead of the usual cooking routine, I took time recently on refining and iterating on recipes. I've done this before, most notably when experimenting with shortbread, but never with dinner. It is odd, as well; there is no dinner I can cook that is distinctly "my" dinner. Maybe black bean cakes as I've cooked them a few times, though never really learned much from them. Or tofu and rice; but I season that what appears to be a unique way each time. The trout of last weekend, however, seems a good candidate.

E and I cooked it again, somewhat randomly, with a few attempted tweaks. I think I overcooked it, however, as it was not noteworthy as the last effort, though still a fine meal. The modifications this time were a bit more oil in the pan, a bit more flour on the skin, and (potentially?) a hotter pan. Also, I may have cooked it too much in the pan, making the three minutes it spent in the oven one or two too many. We had it with E's prep of oven-roasted veggies and also her take on a simple dish of farro, onion, and goat cheese that I cooked earlier in the week.
Though I complain of having no signature dinner dish, the same can not be said of breakfast. My pancake recipe is a frequent request from my tummy and others. A prep right before camping this weekend, and a discussion over camp breakfast the next day, had me decide to make the dry mix in bulk. I added a dash of both ginger and cayenne pepper to the recipe, and settled on 100% spelt flour for the "perfect" taste. I need to take a few times to weigh out bulk quantities of the recipe and get it to a happy place; the current prep is all volumes, pinches, and dashes. But, once done with that, I'll post the current state of easy-to-measure recipe and bulk-by-weight for all to enjoy.

07 May 2012

Crispy Trout, Rosemary Chickpeas, Ginger Libation

I can explain, I can explain - I haven't posted anything for so many weeks because I haven't made anything interesting. Part of this was having a stomach bug for a little over a week, during which time I was never really hungry and my stomach always felt unsettled, more so after eating and as the day progressed. The silver lining to that cloud was the day my hunger returned - I ate six meals and was still hungry the next day. That was on Thursday; cooking was cancelled on Friday in favor of pizza and drinks with a friend. Saturday, it was on.
E and I wrote down three recipe options from a book, plus knowledge of our main, and went to the store. The plan was crispy-skinned fish with rosemary chickpeas and either lentil strudel or Asian summer rolls as well (the last three of which are from The Herbal Kitchen). My grocery store, to add to the long list of things it lacks, carries neither phyllo dough nor rice paper, so we just opted for a salad. Which was a wonderful idea - handling phyllo dough for the lentil recipe looked Sisyphean, though the summer rolls looked plausible.
The fish also posed a conundrum; the store had wild Alaskan King salmon, a truly ostentatious fish I've cooked once before. This time, the butcher had accidentally skinned their fillets, leaving us with a single, pedestrian option: butterflied trout, farmed. Given the intended prep method, I think a leaner fish was the right (accidental) call. The fish was mostly crispy, flaky, and perfectly flavored with only salt and pepper. The rosemary chickpeas, somehow, seemed to go well with the fish. And E made a wonderful drink of ginger beer to go with the weather. A fine return to cooking, I say.
Crispy-Skinned Trout
Serves 2
1 trout, skin on, butterflied (we got a 0.62 lb fillet, already prepped)
olive oil
ground sea salt
ground pepper
semolina flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Do any prep necessary for your fish - we removed the head and some of the fins, though my knife wasn't sharp enough for all. In a oven-safe pan that can fit your fish, heat a thin layer of olive oil to just below smoking. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, then rub it with a mixture of salt and pepper on both sides. Add a small dusting of semolina flour on the skin side and make sure there isn't any excess.

Place the fish, skin down, in the pan and make sure it stays flat so the skin is in constant contact with the pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until it looks crispy, then flip the fish over and move the pan to the oven to finish. This took ~2 minutes for our fish, given how thin the fillet was; more may be required if you have a thicker cut. Serve immediately.

If eating with rosemary chickpeas (which are, essentially, heated chickpeas tossed with rosemary), I recommend the drink E made. Add a small amount of vodka (to taste) and a thumbs-length of rosemary to a highball/rocks glass. Muddle a bit. Fill glass with half a Bundaberg or so and add a slice of lemon. Let it site for a few minutes as the rosemary flavor won't immediately infuse.

16 April 2012

Spicy Rice Cake Soup, Others

An initial attempt at cooking Friday led to rotisserie chicken from the grocer and a Pixar movie. The next night, after a long day of climbing, scrambling, and exploring up the coast, nothing seemed like a better idea than cooking what we didn't the previous night. A recipe from Momofuku was picked, entailing blanching and peeling a pint of cherry tomatoes. Mayhaps a poor idea given the exhaustion from a long day, but the idea we went with. The salad was a take on caprese, with silken tofu providing a base. Served with rye soda bread, miso butter, and soft boiled eggs it made an interesting snack. You can find a photo lower in the post; below this, however, is the title of the post.
I decided, somewhat accidentally, on a new take of a previous dish. This time, the soup would be more of a soup and the cauliflower on the side. The idea was to take a tomato-basil soup, provide the creaminess with silken tofu instead of dairy, and throw in grilled rice cakes for the hell of it. I ate it with two quick side dishes - blanched snow pea with rice vinegar and quick sweet pickles - and the mentioned cauliflower. The sides were, frankly, somewhat conflicting with the soup and I wouldn't recommend them. But the soup itself - yes. To further confuse the reader is a photo of the previous night's dinner of salad and toast.
_______________ o_______________
Spicy Rice Cake Soup
Serves 2-ish
2/3 cup uncooked sushi rice + water
12 oz silken tofu
1 large heirloom tomato (or maybe 6-12 oz canned tomato)
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sesame oil
spiciness to taste (sriracha, dried cayenne, fresh jalapeno, anything really)
several leaves basil

Cook the sushi rice per instructions - rinse thoroughly, heat to boil, cook covered until the water is gone, fluff the rice and let sit covered for 10 minutes. After the rest, put the rice in a bowl to cool. Do some prep-work on sides if you want. When the rice is cooled, use a wet spoon or your fist to mash it into a pulp. With a spoon, use the back to smear sections along the side of the bowl, doing this until you get something like a paste or get tired. With wet hands, form it into a log and set aside.
Prepare the soup. In a saucepan, add the water, mirin, and sesame oil. Heat to a boil and let reduce for a minute - consider adding onions or garlic before, but I didn't. Add the tomato, mushed, to the soup - try and avoid adding skin as it will add texture, but a little bit is fine. Simmer for another minute or so, then add tofu and spiciness. Reduce heat to low. Prepare a cast iron over medium heat with a bit of oil. Slice the rice cake into patties and grill until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Split soup between bowls, add the rice cakes to each, and top with torn basil (or basil chiffonade if you want to be fancy).

12 April 2012

Cinnamon Rolls, Mushroom and Fennel for Dinner

Things have calmed down a bit in Mikey-land; I even got a quick weekend trip to Seattle in. This means back to baking and cooking; I took this as an opportunity to handle a long-standing request from coworkers for cinnamon rolls. The recipe is straight from Artisan Breads Everyday, one that I have even used in the past (the dough, not the filling). And if I remember one thing from that, it was the amount of glaze called for by the recipe was preposterously excessive. I used a quarter of the called-for glaze and still had a bit left; I don't know why anyone would want to dump a full two cups of sugar on top of something already filled with it.
The filling was what I thought traditional, and the book as well, but my coworkers seem to have differing ideas w.r.t. the makeup. Cinnamon and sugar, plus equal parts chopped pecans and raisins. For a brief moment, I contemplated walnuts and went so far as a taste test. Walnuts taste like... walnuts. Dry things. Salads with apples in them. Pilafs. A single bite of the pecan brought back memories of cinnamon rolls as a child; the association is so strong that I think pecans taste like cinnamon rolls. The only tweak I did was a bit of lime juice in both the dough and the glaze; a hint and no more. They also puffed immensely in the oven - below is the just-sliced photo; a two hour rise later, they didn't look much different. 20 minutes in a hot oven, and they almost filled the pan.
I also quicked a cook dinner with E the other night, though she honestly did most of the work. I was in charge of a veggie side, knowing the main was garlic and lemon flavored. Asparagus is an obvious choice, but an overdose in the past week left me blasé on the matter. Mushrooms with fennel seemed a good idea. There wasn't anything remarkable in the dish - the mushrooms were cooked in a pan with salt, no oil, until they began to sweat then a bit more. At that point, you add the oil and a few minutes later the fennel, cooking it for just long enough to not. Something learned: however many cloves of garlic we used were too many, especially to deglaze with a splash of white wine and dump on the potatoes.