Saturday, December 29, 2012

See You in 2013

Just wanted to take a moment and say thank you to everyone for following my blog. I hope your holiday season has been full of good company and food. I hope 2012 has been full of growth and that you're looking forward to 2013. Onwards and upwards.

What's pictured above? In the foreground is a bowl of you fan, literally "oily rice" in Chinese. It's made with sticky rice, and is a staple of Taiwanese potlucks and dinner gatherings. I followed this recipe loosely, for this, my first attempt. But I think it needs considerably more soy sauce; it was fairly bland. When I've had it at family/friend gatherings, it's always been a lot darker (more soy sauce). I'll include the pork next time. Cilantro garnish is a great addition. Also including the little dried shrimp (not mentioned in this recipe) is great, too, if you're not allergic. Recipes for you fan are difficult to find online. I'll come back with my own when I've refined one.

And in the background? Just some Hainanese chicken and sauce for it. Recipes abound online. I didn't bother with the rice--was making you fan, after all.

See you next year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kale Chips

Crispy and full of fiber, baked kale chips are a great snack or hors d'oeuvre--and a healthy alternative to potato chips.

Making them is actually quite simple; once cleaned and cut, you just have to toss them in a little oil and salt and pop them in the oven for twenty minutes. Of course, you can always add more or other flavorings. I like a little cayenne pepper or paprika and adding garlic cloves to the roasting pan.

One thing to note, though, is about whether you need to eat the chips immediately lest they go soggy, as I've seen recipes warn. I haven't found this to be an issue, but maybe it depends on how you do things. In any case, I've found this recipe to work perfectly. The differences are (1) I tear the kale into bite-sized pieces by hand since it's not too much slower than using a knife and results in more natural looking pieces (this isn't important), and (2) I only use a half bunch of kale (and halve the oil to match) since I want to make sure I'm not overcrowding the kale and only have so much space/pans. Maybe I could fit more kale in each pan without problem, though. And the more kale you have to work through, the more time savings cutting with a knife will yield.

Kale Chips

1/2 bunch kale
1 TBS olive oil
Sea salt
Cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
  2. Tear kale leaves into bite-sized pieces (discard the ribs). Wash and drain thoroughly in a colander (spin dry in a salad spinner if you have one), then lay out on paper towels or cooling racks to dry completely (up to 1 hour on the safe side).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, toss kale with olive oil, salt to taste, and cayenne pepper (if desired). To ensure an even coating of oil, toss kale with your hands. Lay out leaves in baking pans, allowing space between the leaves so they bake in dry heat. Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes.
  4. Gently use a flat spatula to loosen the leaves from the pan; it doesn't take much pressure. Serve immediately or allow to cool completely before refrigerating in sealable container.
[update: a friend of mine reminded me of a point I neglected to note: with all its folds and wrinkles, you need to toss the kale with your hands to make sure it's all covered with oil. ]

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

Probably my favorite pie, but let's be real here, pumpkin-anything is pretty great.

One of the things you miss out on when you can't have dairy is the great majority of desserts. Remove gluten and it's exponentially harder to find desserts (and anything) you can have in restaurants and other food establishments. So, it's great to be able to have a dessert that's not sorbet or fresh fruit--especially a holiday mainstay like pumpkin pie. But, you do still have to make the crust yourself.

On the plus side, this gluten-free pie crust recipe over at King Arthur Flour is really excellent--crumbly and short. A simple substitution of Earth Balance for the butter makes it dairy-free, as well.

As for the filling, pumpkin pie is an example of silken tofu's being a godsend for dairy allergy sufferers. It subs in perfectly in the pie filling. It's also a yogurt and sour cream alternative (with other ingredients). Just make sure to press the tofu beforehand to get rid of all the excess fluid (you should always press tofu before cooking with it).

Before baking

Crust shielded to prevent burning. I just improvised it but there are better ways to make a foil crust shield.

The pie really came out great. Make sure to start the baking hot (425F) before turning down the temperature later, to prevent the crust from turning out soggy. The only thing is that I wish I'd rolled the crust out a little thinner so that I would have had enough crust at the top to fold or crimp.

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

King Arthur Flour has an excellent gluten-free pie crust recipe: Just substitute out the butter for Earth Balance (or other vegan butter). As for the flour, you could make your own mix or use a pre-made mix, such as from King Arthur. I use a mix from Denise Jardin’s book, The Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free Kitchen, with rice flour, potato flour (not starch), sorghum flour, and tapioca starch (also called flour).

9” pie tin
oil or cooking spray for greasing pie tin

1 can (16 oz.) pumpkin purée
12 oz. silken tofu, pressed and food-processed or blended until smooth
10 TBS brown sugar
2 TBS maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1.    Make crust according to recipe linked above.
2.    Pre-heat oven to 425F.
3.    Combine all filling ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.
4.    Pour filling onto the crust in the pie tin and spread out to fill the tin, smoothing out the top for a flat surface. Shield the crust with aluminum foil so it doesn’t burn while baking.
5.    Bake at 425F on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Then turn oven down to 350F, put pie on middle rack, and bake until done, about another 40 minutes. Look for the filling surface and crust to have browned and set. Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack before refrigerating to chill.

[edit: slight tweaks to the recipe; I'd originally typed up the recipe from what I could remember, until I found my sheet of notes.]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rumblings: Tonkotsu Stock Trial

Oh yeah, that happened. It's just so beautiful.

I finally tried making tonkotsu* stock, which, as I've mentioned before, is a pain. Or is it? It certainly takes a really long time for the bones to give up all their delicious innards (10-15 hours of simmering). But Marc Matsumoto and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, whose recipes I referenced for this trial, probably make it more complicated than it really needs to be. They're going for their own idealized tonkotsu stocks, very rich and complexly flavored.

After this trial, though I came across this recipe, which references this very simple tonkotsu stock approach (and also mentions Matsumoto's). And it helped clarify for me how simple tonkotsu stock really is. At it's very base, it's like the pork version of sullung tang, the Korean beef bone stock. Except that lots more ingredients are added to the pork stock foundation, whereas with sullung tang it's basically the beef stock and salt. And maybe a couple other garnishes.

Anyway, I'm working out what to add for my own ideal tonkotsu soup (sadly, no ramen noodles for me, as they're wheat based). Here are some good things to include: ideally chashu braising broth or alternatively soy sauce, mirin, white pepper, sesame paste...I'll do a proper write-up when I settle things more. The chopped up, braised fatback is pretty key for a rich soup, though. But too much, or too thick a stock, and it's overboard, too thick and sticky.

Remember how I mentioned a gentle simmer for clear stock? Well, with tonkotsu (and sullung tang) you actually want a thick, "milky"** stock, so you don't need to simmer gently.

Hmm, looks like a mess, huh? Well, all those ingredients get strained out. Also, I should have par-boiled and/or cleaned the bones more at the start if I wanted a lighter-colored soup. No biggy just making it for myself, though.

Oh, right. After shooting the pic at the top, I realized maybe I should show the noodles (quinoa and corn based) in the bowl since it was a noodle soup, after all...but now the egg isn't as pretty. Ah well.

*By the way, do you sometimes try to order "tonkatsu ramen"? Well, lemme just tell you that you're ordering fried breaded pork cutlet ramen, in that case. Tonkotsu, with an "O", literally means pork (ton) bone (kotsu). Hense tonkotsu ramen is pork bone ramen. Tonkatsu, with an "A", means pork cutlet (katsu being katsuretsu--cutlet--shortened). I don't deny, though, that fried breaded pork cutlet ramen sounds awesome.

**[edit] Agh, I added quotation marks because it's bothersome when I see "milky" or "creamy" used to describe foods in menus since I don't know whether there is literally some form of milk in it or not. There isn't milk coming out of the bones (I wouldn't be making it otherwise), so I'll try to remember to add the quotes when using the adjective figuratively.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Technique Tips: Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I don't know about you, but I loves me some sweet potato fries.

Making them's a whole other thing, though. I'm writing about baked sweet potato fries, in particular, since I don't like to deep-fry much; too much hassle and wasted oil for me. But with baking it is very difficult to get a nice crisp texture like restaurants do with deep-frying. Recipes abound on the Internet, so do a search and take a look at people's various approaches. I had varying levels of success...or results anyway, with recipes I tried.

After a number of varying attempts over the past year-and-a-half (very occasional), I'm concluding that you can't get the same result through baking as deep-frying, but that you can get a decent result, at least.

So without further ado, my observations, followed by a photo-roll of phfails (with notes):

1. DON'T CROWD the baking pan
This is very important. If you try to fit too many sweet potato fries together, they end up steaming in moist air instead of baking in dry air, resulting in mushy fries. And not just "in one layer", but give your fries breathing room. On a related note--

2. Try baking on wire racks
This allows air to circulate underneath the fries, which helps avoid steaming your fries in their self-released moisture.

3. Cutting thicker fries helps
The problem with baking thinner cut sweet potato fries (like with their deep-fried counterparts) is that their tips burn more easily--before they're done. The other benefit of thicker fries is that it's easier flipping and spacing the fries in the middle of baking. Still annoying going individually, though. You could mass flip thinner fries with a spatula if you don't use wire racks and don't care about making sure they've all been flipped to the opposite side.

4. Corn starch?
A viewer suggested on this page that dusting your sweet potato fries with corn starch helps make them more crispy. I haven't tried it, but supposedly it works. You might want to give that a shot. When next I make a batch, I'll try it out if I remember.


Above, way too crowded, leading to mushy fries, below:

Didn't crowd but thin cut fries mean quick burning.

Tried with parchment paper as this page suggests, but don't think it made much of a difference. Maybe it's marginally less prone to steaming compared to aluminum foil? Not bad, but their thinness meant they weren't able to crisp enough along their surfaces before burning started.

These are cut 1/4"-3/8" thick--too thin in my opinion. The ones pictured at the top of this post are more like 1/2"-5/8" thick.

What's My Recipe? Much the same as others:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Cut sweet potatoes into fries, 1/2"-5/8" thick, leaving skin on if desired.
  3. Toss in oil and salt (and other seasonings as desired) to taste and spread on wire racks placed in baking pan.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes on one side, flip fries and bake for about another 15 minutes on the other side, until golden brown.
  5. I like mixing Sriracha and mayonnaise for my dipping sauce.
Good luck!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Technique Tips for Soup

I should have thought of this sooner: if you have a tea ball, you can use it to hold seeds and herbs for easy removal when making soups.

Above, I've (temporarily) removed the chain that hangs over the lip of the mug and filled my tea ball with green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, and cloves. Granted, you may want a bigger tea ball for larger batches of soup than my single-serving one in the photo. But for the Thai oxtail soup recipe I was following, this worked out fine.

The other tip I wanted to relate was that if you're aiming for a clear soup and have bone-simmering involved, keep the heat low and simmer gently. When the water boils, knocking the bones about, the soup turns out cloudy.

And below's the final result (with me customarily forgetting the final garnish, celery leaves this time, before shooting). Recipe was good, but I think a touch sweet. Probably a little too much cinnamon.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Flipping the Bird

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. Above's the 13-pounder I roasted for our gathering. Not bad for a whole roast turkey noob, right? This is just out of the oven--after resting a half hour, the skin was even more bronzed and beautiful.

In preparing to take on the all-important Thanksgiving roast turkey, I referenced a number of sources to take in ideas on how to keep the meat flavorful and not dry. I'm happy to report that what I pulled together turned out very well, with dark and white meat, both, flavorful and moist. So how'd I do it? Well, read on and I'll tell ya all about it. I'll try to be brief, and break things down so that the steps are more digestible (figuratively speaking...).

Salting (Dry Brining)
This is really important. There's all sorts of writing about how salting, brining (wet or dry), or otherwise marinating meats works, chemically, to improve moisture retention when cooking, so you don't end up with a hunk of cardboard to chew on. This piece on dry versus wet brining at Serious Eats is really good. Stick with dry brining; it takes up less space (a big deal! otherwise you need a huge refrigerator or a big cooler with lots of ice) and has better results when it comes to flavor. Bottom line is that you need to rub the surfaces of your turkey (or whatever meat you're cooking) with salt, especially if you work it under the skin, and let the salt it do its thing overnight or thereabouts.

Once the brining step is done, rinse off the salt on the outside of the skin and underneath the skin. If you don't, your bird will end up too salty. Use paper towels to dry the turkey and then let it air dry a while. Once it's dried off--

Season Under the Skin
The skin acts as a barrier between your seasoning and the meat. Same thing as with the salt. If you work under the skin, you'll be applying your seasoning directly to the meat. If you're using butter or oil (fats), rubbing them under the skin also helps keep the meat moist while flavoring it as well. Of course, the skin is itself a delicious part of the bird, and should be seasoned, too. So do both; rub your seasoned butter (Earth Balance in my case) both under and over the skin (but more under).

Trussed Up Like a...Turkey...
Tying up your roast, whether chicken or turkey, keeps the roast in a tight package, which helps keep outlying parts from cooking too quickly.

And now for that ever-vexing problem: how to cook the dark meat to doneness (around 170-175 F) without drying out the white meat (which is done at 165 F). This page gives a good overview of the safe temperature (USDA recommends 165 F for all parts of poultry) versus ideal temperature for doneness. I also relied on America's Test Kitchen's (ATK) guidance a lot in their The New Best Recipe, and this is where the title of this post comes from (of course the joke had to be made).

Flipping the Bird
While roast chicken and turkey recipes will commonly tell you to roast the birds breast side up (for browning of the skin), you actually want to roast them breast side down for at least part of the time, and finish breast side up to brown the skin. This keeps the white meat from cooking too quickly, as it cooks faster than does dark meat. I don't know about the science of this, but I'm guessing it's because the juices drip downward, keeping the bottom parts moister, as well as the bottom's being exposed to less circulating dry air.

[On a related note, if you don't use a roasting rack, the bird ends up sitting in the juices at the bottom of the pan, which keeps the bottom moist, but also results in flabby skin as this page discusses.]

So following ATK's approach, I started the bird breast side down for 45 minutes, then flipped it on one side for 15 minutes, then the other side for another 15 minutes, and finally roasting it breast side up for the final 45 minutes. I'm not sure the two side flips are really necessary. Maybe you could just do an hour breast side down and then the remaining time breast side up. Or maybe it helps get the dark meat (legs and wings on the sides) cooked through without drying out the breast.

It seems really risky flipping a giant roast, but the way ATK says to do it works well. Fold up a paper towel for each hand and just directly handle the bird. This gives you much better control than trying to use ladles, for example.

Insert Legs First
The back of the oven is hotter than the front of the oven because you let out hot air every time you open the oven to flip the bird, check the temperature, and/or baste. Pictured below is the wrong way to put your turkey in the oven. I only remembered the legs-first tip when in the last stage of roasting I was having trouble with the dark meat not cooking fast enough relative to the white meat. Once I reversed the orientation, everything went perfectly.

Remove Just Before It's Done
The interior of your roast will continue to heat up even after you pull it out of the oven. This is because heat will distribute from the hotter exterior to the cooler interior (as well as to the surrounding environment) as the roast rests. Thus, you should actually pull the turkey out of the oven when the thickest part of the breast registers 160 F on an instant-read thermometer, and the deepest part of the thigh registers 165-170 F. Speaking of thermometers...

Use an Instant-Read Thermometer
This is the most accurate way to keep track of the meat's progress. Pop-up thermometers won't tell you how many degrees you have to go. And whether instant-read or pop-up, you'll want to monitor the turkey carefully as it approaches the finish line--while avoiding opening the oven too frequently. As Alton Brown discusses, opening the door too frequently cools the oven temperature, requiring longer roasting time, leading to a drier result. (This is why he recommends not basting. But if you have to open the oven anyway, to flip the bird or check the temperature, you might as well, since it helps to flavor the skin and improve even browning.)

This is backwards.

Let It Rest
As mentioned above, the heat will continue to redistribute around the roast after its been removed from the oven. But on top of that, so will the juices. As the meat cools, the muscle fibers relax, allowing them to hold more fluid, leading to less juices lost when you cut the roast, and more evenly juicy bites. Tent the roast with foil while it rests to avoid too much heat loss to the environment.

And that's it! Those are my aggregated technique tips for how to roast a succulent turkey.

It's too late for Thanksgiving this year, but maybe you're having turkey for other winter gatherings. In any case, here's my recipe this time 'round:

Dry Brined Roast Turkey

1 turkey, 12-14 lbs (1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person), rinsed; giblets, nect, and tailpiece removed and reserved for gravy
1/4 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp pepper

herbed butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp dried parsley
1 TBS dried sage
1 TBS Herbes de Provence
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
(or whatever herbs you want to use)

3 medium onions, sliced or chopped coarsely
2 medium carrots, chopped coarsely
2 celery stalks, chopped coarsely
6 sprigs fresh thyme

Note: This recipe is not for a Kosher Bird, which is already brined. You only need to dry brine (salt rub) an unsalted frozen or fresh bird.
  1. Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry. Combine 1/4 cup salt, the sugar, and pepper in a bowl. Rub all over the turkey and inside the cavity (use food service gloves; the salt hurts after extended contact with your skin—or at least for me it does). Put turkey on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 8 hours or overnight. Rinse well and pat dry.
  2. Mix the butter, parsley, sage, herbes de Provence, pepper, and paprika until combined. Reserve 4 tablespoons of the butter for your gravy, then rub the rest under and over the turkey skin on the breasts and legs (especially under the skin). Let the turkey stand 30 minutes at room temperature before roasting. The melted butter will thicken on contact with the cold turkey.
  3. Put the oven rack in the lowest position; preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put two-thirds of the aromatics ingredients in the bottom of the roasting pan, and the remaining one-third in the turkey’s body cavity. Bring the legs together to tie a simple truss. Pour 1 cup of water over the vegetables in the pan. Put the turkey breast-side down on a roasting rack set over the vegetables in the roasting pan.
  4. Slide the turkey into the oven legs first (always). Roast 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven (close the oven door each time you do this) and baste turkey with juices at the bottom of the pan. With a folded up paper towel in each hand, flip the turkey on one side (thigh pointing up) and return to oven. Roast another 15 minutes. Remove pan, baste again, and flip turkey so the other thigh is pointing up. Return to oven and roast another 15 minutes. Remove turkey again, baste again, and flip turkey so the breast side is facing up. Return to oven and roast until breast registers 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer AND the thigh registers 170-175 degrees, 30-45 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest at least 20 minutes before carving.

Besides ATK, I also referenced these recipes in coming up with my approach.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bad Food > No Food?

Matt Yglesias makes an interesting point about how, despite coffee snobs' (Matt said it first!) protestations to the contrary, Starbucks has on balance been a force for coffee progress in the US. As he puts it:

"The worst coffee shop or bookstore or whatever is the one that doesn't exist at all, it's only by bringing ideas to scale that you can achieve ubiquity."

There are many places whose markets are so small that its tough to support much diversity in product offerings and/or more specialized stores. Although these lower quality, mass produced options are inferior, they help to spread acceptance and build appreciation for the specialized goods (and services), which may ultimately lead consumers to explore and pursue higher quality versions of those goods. The spread of bagels across America is another example of this.

You gotta start somewhere, right?

But this got me thinking, what about the innumerable bad "Chinese" (Americanized-Chinese) restaurants all over America? Or bad "Thai"? Or bad "Japanese"? This hits closer to home for me. It's easier for me to accept the Bad Coffee > No Coffee argument since I rarely drink coffee. But is bad, super-Americanized Chinese food better than no Chinese food? I don't ever eat at Panda Express or Charlie Chang's--but coffee connoisseurs probably don't ever patronize Starbucks, either.

If we could see a definite trend toward Americans' appreciation and demand for better Chinese food, then I think I'd agree with the Bad Food > No Food argument. And honestly? I think we do see that trend, very slowly but surely. Though, there are many (most) who are satisfied with the dumbed-down Americanized versions of "exotic" cuisines.*

*And to be sure, Americanized-Chinese, in particular, has really evolved into its own thing at this point.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pumpkin Masoor Dal

Having extra ingredients on hand, for example due to having bought more than you needed for a recipe, turns out to be great for making you improvise. And one particularly flexible ingredient, I've found, is squash of all sorts--pumpkin in this case. It seems like you can toss squash into any sort of stew-type dish and it'll meld right in.

I only used half of a pumpkin to roast, and with the other half, I decided just to toss it into a masoor dal (red lentil stew). I felt that the light earthy sweetness of the pumpkin really harmonized well with curried red lentils.

It kind-of goes without saying, but you just want to pay attention to cooking times when improvising with ingredients on hand. Squash (and pumpkin) is generally cooked through in 20 minutes [I should be clear: timing varies depending on the type of squash you're cooking from under 10 minutes for a soft one like kabocha to 20+ for butternut] of simmering. Remove peels or don't, depending on the type of squash (kabocha skin is soft enough that you can eat it when it's cooked).

And yes, you may have noticed that I throw chopped scallions on everything. I would probably also throw chopped cilantro on things more, too, except that I find it less flexible an ingredient, keeps worse than scallions, and is more of a hassle to prep.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mixed Rice Stuffed Kabocha Squash | Kabocha no Takikomi Gohan Zume

Takikomi gohan (rice steamed with chicken stock, dashi, or other stock, and other ingredients) stuffed kabocha squash. Before I get to that, though, first I just want to mention an encouraging article:

A Brief Interlude
NPR has a short story about how popular food blog Smitten Kitchen's author manages to do all her cooking in a tiny 3'x6' kitchen by being very organized. I haven't looked at Smitten Kitchen much, but I find the article encouraging because it's another reminder that we don't need fancy equipment and facilities to make great food. I anticipate moving from my current healthily sized kitchen to probably a tiny one next year, and will have to get used to cramped cooking conditions once again. I did it before in an even smaller kitchen when I was in Japan, but it's really inconvenient and limiting.

And now back to our regular programming 
I think I've mentioned before that I have a bit of a fascination with stuffing vegetables. So with a kabocha on hand and chicken stock left from trying out a black chicken (silkie) Chinese herbal soup, it popped into my head that these two dishes, baked kabocha and takikomi gohan, already great on their own would go together marvelously--like...rice in a bowl...ahem.

And I was right! Pictured above is my finished takikomi gohan, fluffed after steaming. Takikomi gohan is really just steamed rice using a stock of some sort with other ingredients and seasoning tossed in. If you have some harder ingredients, like carrots, gobou (burdock root), or lotus root, you may want to parboil or pre-stir fry them a bit before steaming to make sure they've softened enough to your liking. Once your rice is ready, you can stuff your (halved and seeded) kabocha and bake it. You will want to cover the halves in foil, though, to avoid a hard, crusty top.

Pictured above is the stuffed kabocha, cooked. You can see the holes in the squash, above, where I prodded them to test for doneness. The photo at the top of this post is before baking.

And below, packed up for lunch, a nice bento. Not so eyecatching as these ones, though.

Takikomi Gohan 炊き込みご飯

2 cups (the smaller cup that comes with a rice cooker, 1 rice cooker cup = about .75 cups) rice [traditionally sticky rice but other rices work fine]
2 medium carrots, julienned
~9 oz. fried tofu, julienned
[and/or try cooked chicken, turkey, or other protein]
6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked 30+ minutes, sliced
[other ingredients to try: bamboo shoots, gobou/burdock root, konnyaku/konjac, soybeans, other legumes, fried gluten, anything]

Flavoring Ingredients
enough chicken stock and/or dashi [or vegetable stock for vegetarians] to fill rice cooker pot to the 2 mark (with rice in pot also)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 TBS rice wine

Optional Garnishes
Scallions, chopped
Snow peas, julienned
Cucumber, julienned
  1. Soak, cut, and cook ingredients as needed.
  2. Add rice to rice cooker pot. Pour in stock up to the 2 mark. Add in the remaining Flavoring Ingredients and stir to distribute.
  3. Toss other ingredients (carrots, mushrooms, tofu, etc.) together and add to pot over the rice and stock, distributing them evenly over the surface.
  4. Let the rice cooker do its thing on the normal cook setting. Once the cooker signals it’s finished, let the rice sit several minutes before opening up the cooker to fluff and mix the ingredients together. Use rice paddle to distribute in individual bowls, add optional garnishes, and serve.
--of course, don't serve it quite yet if you want to stuff some squash with your rice.

Stuffed Kabocha

1 medium kabocha
stuffing ingredients (in this case the takikomi gohan)
  1. Heat oven to 350F.
  2. Wash, halve, and seed the kabocha. Place halves hollow-up on a foil lined baking tray.
  3. Fill kabocha halves with your cooked stuffing (the rice) and cover with foil to keep top from drying and hardening.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until kabocha is easily pierced with a fork. Kabocha is a soft-skinned squash, so once it's cooked you can just dig right in, skin and all.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Korean Beef and Kimchi Shish Kebab

These-were-fantastic. Ever shish'ed your kimchi to grill? It's brilliant. Grilled kimchi is great; the browning adds a nice dimension to the kimchi flavors, and it works great skewered along with other ingredients for your shish kebab (I still want to type kabob, though it seems spelling consensus has moved since my childhood).

Also shish'ed in the pic are Korean style marinated beef and red bell peppers. I was told they were a hit at the barbeque!

The three different flavors played very well together, in my opinion--the savory beef, spicy/sour kimchi, and sweet bell peppers.

Long marination (ended up being 20 hours for the beef this time, since I'd prepped them the evening before) leads to more tender meat. However, you don't actually need kiwi or Asian pear purée--both popular options in kalbi recipes--to tenderize your beef here. As Harold McGee notes (in On Food and Cooking), the enzymes in these fruits penetrate into meat very slowly, so that most of the action only happens on the surface, leading to a mealy surface texture (if you're up for it, he suggests injecting into the meat if you want better tenderizer distribution). So with a long marinating time, you can probably leave your fruit purée out of the equation; the salt in the soy sauce and gochujang will do its job.

Here's my recipe:

Korean Beef and Kimchi Shish Kebab

1 lb beef sirloin steak (or other grilling cut), 1-inch-cubed

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1 TBS rice wine
1 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS honey
1 heaping TBS gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp ground perilla seeds [optional]
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS ginger, minced
1-2 green onions, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
1.5-2 cups kimchi

bamboo or metal skewers (flat ones are more stable and easier to flip, whereas round ones may just turn independent of the food)
  1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large sealable container or ziplock bag and hand-mix in the beef cubes to ensure all meat surfaces are exposed. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight; basically, the longer the better.
  2. Popular wisdom has it that before preparing skewers, one should soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes to avoid burning and splintering skewers. Some experts note that bamboo skewers will burn and split regardless when cooking over high heat, though.
  3. Alternating bell pepper, beef, and kimchi, thread the food onto the skewers. Bunch up several layers of (cabbage) kimchi together for bite sizes. With larger leaves, fold them up before skewering so they stay in a “package”.
  4. Grill over high heat until meat is done, about 4 minutes per side (~8 minutes total). Alternatively, if you don’t have a grill, you can trim your bamboo skewers to cook the kebabs in a skillet, or broil or bake them in an oven.

Wonk-note: The perilla seeds weren't too apparent in the flavor of the beef. I think maybe their flavor comes out better in long simmering. Generally they're used for spicy Korean stews and soups.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Brown Rice Tea

I recently wrote briefly about toasting brown rice for use in genmaicha, which is a tea of toasted brown rice mixed with green tea. Well, I like to steep just the toasted brown rice by itself, as well; it's like barley tea...but with brown rice instead. I don't add sugar or anything--just straight up toasted brown rice. It makes the water feel smoother and imparts a subtle sweet flavor to the water.

I'm very sensitive to caffeine, and don't need it to get up in the morning, so I don't drink much caffeinated drinks. When I want a warm drink, I have a fair amount of just warm-hot water or herbal or decaffeinated teas. But sometimes I want something with a hint of flavor, but not so much as a tea, and this fills in that niche perfectly. Give it a shot!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Savory Oatmeal: Soy Nuts 'n' Seaweed

I love me some savory oatmeal. Pictured above is another great variation of this simple, flexible concept: savory oatmeal with wakame seaweed and soy nuts.

Dried wakame is very convenient to have in your pantry, as you can just toss it into a soup or other soupy dish (like this oatmeal) in the last minutes of cooking and add a punch of savory flavor and vegetation to your dish.

As for soy nuts, I found out about them a month or two ago and really glommed on to them. Since I can't have tree nuts or peanuts, these are a really great substitute in that they keep well and have a great crunch and nutty flavor--and are a complete protein to boot. You can roast them yourself or, lucky me, one of my local grocery stores, Shoppers, sells unbranded packs of roasted salted soy nuts for much cheaper than similar brand-named products you can buy online. I do have raw, dried soy beans, though, for making my own; next batch will be wasabi powdered roasted salted soy nuts!

Anyway, this savory oatmeal is a great simple and healthy meal any time of day.

Savory Oatmeal with Soy Nuts and Wakame Seaweed
Makes 1 serving

1/2 cup (50 grams) rolled (old fashioned) oats
1 cup water
1/4 cup soymilk

1 tsp soy sauce
small handful of dried, pre-cut wakame seaweed

small handful of soy nuts
  1. Bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Add oats and reduce to medium heat. Simmer 3 minutes, until water has reduced and oats are starting to thicken.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and add soymilk and wakame, stirring for another 1 minute.
  3. Add soy sauce and stir another minute or until seaweed has expanded and is tender.
  4. Pour oatmeal into a bowl, garnish with soy nuts, and enjoy.

[edit: I reduced the amounts in the recipe as I've found that 3/4 cups rolled oats is indeed a large portion, and that 1/2 cup is about right for one person.]

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Peach Crisp Plum Crisp


A while back, Marc Matsumoto from NoRecipes had a post on strawberry crisp over at his page on PBS's website. Sweet, a gluten-free dessert! And the butter is easily subbed out for Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter substitute.

At the time I was getting various summer fruits from my CSA (yes, I made this a while ago) and went ahead and tried making plum crisp first and then peach crisp. Well, you see, with the plum crisp I followed Matsumoto's recipe more closely, with the grinding of the oats. Buuut it didn't turn out so great.

I mean it tasted great, of course, but the topping definitely was more mushy and not crisp. I'm not sure why. Maybe pulsing the oats in the food processor caused it to absorb the fat/oil more since it was chopped up. Another problem was that I used way too big a dish for the crisp. I thought it might hold together somewhat and didn't have an appropriately sized dish, but ultimately it kinda spread out as it baked.

In any case, for the peach crisp, I cut the Earth Balance and other topping ingredients together with knives instead of pulsing in a food processor to keep the oats intact. This worked much better for me, resulting in a crisp oat topping (see photo at top).

Here's my personally portioned recipe:

Peach Crisp, Personal Portion

1 medium peach, cored and diced
squeeze of lemon juice (to taste)
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp potato starch

pinch of salt
1 tsp brown sugar
2 TBS rolled (old fashioned) oats
1 tsp maple syrup (preferably grade B or dark amber)
1.5 tsp cold Earth Balance (or unsalted butter)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a ramekin, custard cup, or other small, oven-safe dish, toss diced peach with lemon juice, sugar, and potato starch. Set aside for an hour to draw out some of the juices from the fruit. 
  3. In a small bowl mix the oatmeal, maple syrup, and Earth Balance, sugar, and salt together using two knives and cutting the Earth Balance into the mixture until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  4. Spread the oat topping evenly over the peach, out to the edges of the dish.
  5. Put the dish on a baking sheet to contain spills and place it in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and crispy and the peach underneath is bubbling up through the cracks in the crisp.

 Cored and halved mini plums, tossed with sugar, starch, and lemon juice. I know, not strictly a necessary pic for this post, but I thought they looked neat, and also whatevs.

I've been thinking (woah now, best be careful) lately that I might have to change the name of this blog. You see, it started out as a blog for chronicling my, well, escapades in cooking(ery) as someone pretty inexperienced; my attempts were escapades in the sense of my making uncoached attempts to follow interesting recipes, and anticipating likely doing things loosely and incorrectly. I was kind of making forays into the unknown (to me) land of food preparation.

However, at this point, I've developed my skills and knowledge a fair amount. The feeling of being a blundering idiot in the wilderness is mostly gone (which is not to say I don't have a ton still to learn, as with everything). Lately, with my time constraints and with my CSA set produce (though it's soon to end for the year), I've done a lot of improvising, and been doing fairly well with it. Nothing really refined, but generally tasty.

Anyway, all this just to explain why I'm feeling like I might have to change the name and do a redesign sometime. Wonder how that'd work out. And there's the problem of all the old posts and linking. Maybe I'll start blogging my improvisations more, too, though again, they're not too refined.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gluten-Free Potato Gnocchi

Although summer squash season has passed, there is a new mass-supplied crop from my CSA: potatoes. So, to help consume larger quantities of them, rather than slicing and dicing, stewing and stir-frying, I tried making gluten-free potato gnocchi. I also referenced ATK's wheat flour version for their convenient and quicker method of precooking the potatoes.

About to start rolling them out.

Pretty successful. Looks kinda like dduk, here. Sauce is an Italian meat sauce, but with pork belly.

CAVEAT: Serious Eats' recipe is no good, in my experience. The amount of sticky/rice flour they call for is nowhere near enough for the gnocchi to hold together when simmering. They mention that the dough should feel "firm", so I just kept adding...and adding...and adding. Finally I just decided to stop, but my gnocchi still disintegrated a little when cooking, and after I'd added more than twice the amount of flour they had as their max. As a consequence, my gnocchi tasted a little floury, but was otherwise light and fluffy--though I've never had potato gnocchi before. Or maybe even plain-ol' gnocchi, for that matter.

Conclusion: probably still need xanthan gum for gluten-free potato gnocchi.

I tried making another batch, limiting the sticky/rice flour to their max and it just completely fell apart in water. Fortunately, it was still good as mashed potatoes.

Speaking of mashed potatoes, that's a much simpler and quicker dish to prepare if you want to use up a lot of potatoes. I was also very pleased to learn that you actually don't need butter to make good mashed potatoes--though a little bit of oil is nice to add.

mashed potatoes with kale (not from the disintegrated gnocchi)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Paean to Toaster Ovens


I came to really appreciate toaster ovens over this summer; I now consider them one of my three essential kitchen appliances, along with rice cookers and food processors (microwave's a given, IMO, since they're so commonplace). They are just immensely convenient and versatile tools, or at least larger ones are, which can accommodate larger dishes like whole corn cobs, whole fish, or bread pans and casseroles.

They're very simple to operate (push some buttons and go), while generating far less excess heat than conventional ovens and needing to heat a much smaller space, and thus, I imagine, using much less energy.

Of course, sometimes you want more space, whether to get more room between your food and the heating elements (as my singed summer squash bread attests) or for better air circulation and drying. Though, the excellent model my roommate has also has a convention baking option....but I'm not sure if that helps evacuate moisture or not.

Most of all, I really appreciated being able to just clean up a potato or cob of corn and pop it in the toaster oven, and have a perfectly done bite to eat without having to put in much effort otherwise.

Above: broiled mackerel
Below: roasted brown rice. Yes, you can roast your own brown rice to add in with your green tea to have genmaicha! Though, I don't know if there are other things involved.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stuffed Anaheim Peppers

Like a hot dog bun substitute! Or, I suppose, like a...stuffed pepper. Since I'm not putting hot dogs in them.

I've been getting these peppers for a while now from my CSA (or maybe they're Cubanelle? The CSA claimed banana peppers, but none of them have been yellow enough in hue, in my opinion) . As ever, stuffing vegetables is a fascination of mine, though I've come to the conclusion that it tends to be more for presentation than for flavor. I mean, you could save yourself some trouble and just chop up the pepper (or squash, as an example of another commonly stuffed food) and cook it with the filling. On the other hand, there is a nice textural novelty to stuff these long, narrow peppers, since you get to bite through the tender-crisp exterior to the soft interior as you eat.

For the stuffing, I had braised lamb on hand from another dish I'd made, so I just stir-fried it with some brown-rice and tomatoes, and added some salsa on top.

For the peppers, I just parboiled them quickly (30-60 seconds) in boiling water to soften them up a touch and make the seeding and stuffing operation smoother. You can't really put these peppers under a broiler for long, as they soften and turn mushy very quickly.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gluten-Free Dumplings, First Forays

Not being able to eat dumplings is one of the big losses of avoiding gluten/wheat. I'd pretty much written off trying to make my own dumpling skins/dumplings when I figured out my gluten issues. However, my recent success with xanthan gum and making gluten-free squash bread led me to consider taking a shot at gluten-free dumplings/potstickers.

Andrea Nguyen has blogged about her several attempts at making gluten-free dumplings with different flours + xanthan gum. I was just going to make an attempt with whatever gluten-free flour I had on hand, following her general method and proportions, but it turned out that the flour I was using (Bob's Red Mill) was the same as the flour Nguyen used in her first attempt.

You can see in her pictures and mine that the gluten-free flour is a little brittle, even with xanthan gum, compared to wheat dough. What's odd, though, is that her flour looks brittle even with the 30-minute resting time for the dough that she mentions in her instructions, whereas I found that between my first and second attempts, the resting time made all the difference in getting a more pliable dough (no resting time in my first trial). Hmm. Though, I did leave my dough for something like 1-1.5 hours. Maybe with Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour, you need more resting time than you do with Nguyen's second and third flour combinations.

I made the skins too thick in my first batch, especially the very first dumpling's. Though I definitely got better at it over the first trial, the somewhat brittle dough made proper rolling, pleating, and sealing more difficult. The too-thick, very "rustic" skins overwhelmed the flavor of the meat inside. My second batch went much better.

Huh, well, I got better at that pretty quickly. As mentioned above, the resting time made the dough much more pliable and moist.

Got better at this part pretty quickly, too. Though, even with xanthan gum, gluten-free flour doesn't have the stretch that gluten gives, so it's still easy to develop holes when folding the skins. You can't really pull the dough the way you can with wheat dough, so you need to make sure your dumpling skins are broad enough, or the filling little enough to fold the skin up without having to stretch it.

On the plus side, because there's no gluten to develop, you don't have to knead gluten-free dough

Boiled some (shui jiao) of the second batch, as well as pan-fried for better comparison against the first batch. Both worked out great. Pictured at the top of the post are the pan-fried dumplings (guo tie/potstickers) from the second batch.

If you get a proper seal and don't cook your dumplings too roughly or too long (such that they rupture), you should have delicious soup sealed in with the meat (watch out for the juicy explosion).

Next time I'm going to try Nguyen's third round recipe, which includes sticky rice flour for more stretchiness and a more refined mouth-feel. Even rolled out thinly, these dumplings using Bob's Red Mill were pretty rustic. I think it's the bean flours in the Red Mill mix.