Friday, July 27, 2012

Dabbling with Italian

I've started to dabble a bit in Italian recently, thanks to the produce I get from my CSA. Yeah-no, the mussels didn't come from the CSA. It was sort of a gradual chain of dishes that brought me to this Italian pasta with mussels dish. There's a great variety of produce that we get each week as CSA members, but squash is a big player in the box. A couple of the squash recipes that I tried were Italian influenced and I thought were great. Particularly motivating to me was the revelation of how much better balsamic vinegar was with basil than without; I started to get a sense of Italian ingredients and flavors.

On a whim at the grocery store, I picked up some mussels to make a pasta dish with since I'd never worked with them before. I referenced these two recipes in making my own (the Interwebs are so great). I was missing the anchovies and capers that Mario Batali's recipe calls for though, and wanted to try working with those to see how they changed things.

So of course I went and picked some up. This time for use in a puttanesca recipe found in The New Best Recipe. Olives were another new ingredient to work with.

Mashed the anchovies with a fork so they'd break down into a paste for the sauce. Although America's Test Kitchen tells you to do this, I think it's not really necessary; you can just mash the filets in the frying pan with a wooden spoon--it's faster with the heat and oil.

Well, now that I've tried cooking with anchovies (I also sautéed some squash with garlic and anchovies so that I could taste the fish more directly, and just nibbled on them straight, too), I can say I don't understand why some people are so averse to them. I can sort of see with fish more broadly that there can be a fishy flavor, but oil packed anchovies are really just salty and impart a bit of fatty, meatiness to a dish. But I enjoy my seafood, so maybe I just can't taste what they're tasting. Yeah, actually, the fishiness I can only smell when they're uncooked and losing freshness, too--not when cooked. *shrug*

The anchovies and capers (and olives) make a sauce punchier. Still, I found my puttanesca to be a little unbalanced. Maybe it was the canned tomato juices; there was a bit of a twang to these ones. I should have sliced the olives thinner, too. I'll try black ones next time, the way the recipe wanted. But when I added in some chicken to the leftover sauce for the next dinner, it was perfect.

Woops, I always forget to garnish before shooting. There should be parsley on that. And yep, more brown rice spaghetti. For the second go round, I used brown rice penn pasta, which was much better than the spaghetti: less mealy and less sticking. Still, it doesn't really seem possible to get a proper al dente with brown rice pasta so far. By the time the inside's done the outside's already getting soft.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Crispy Garlic Roast Potato Wedges

Wow, these potato wedges really came out well: crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, savory and spicy, too.

Vastly more than I can say for my repeated, and failed to varying degrees, attempts at baking sweet potato fries. I guess that's why they're usually fried instead of baked. The issue is that there's too much moisture in sweet potatoes for them to properly crisp up; I've found that even if the outside's crisped up, moisture from the inside will gradually make it soggy anyway. And you can't cook them for too long either, else you end up with burnt sticks.

But! The trick described here of salting your sweet potatoes first, and here of salting your potatoes first, to draw out moisture before you roast them sounds promising. An extra step...but I'll try it next time. I don't think it's really necessary with non-sweet potatoes, though. At least, with this batch of red potatoes it definitely wasn't necessary.

I based my recipe off of America's Test Kitchen's recipe in The New Best Recipe. But here's what needs pondering: they describe trying high-starch, low-moisture (russets) potatoes, medium (yukon), and low-starch, high-moisture (such as reds) potatoes, and conclude that the reds and yukons brown well, with the russets and yukons ending up too dry. (Thus reds were their favorite.) I guess that makes sense; if sweet potatoes are even farther up the scale of more moisture and less starch, then maybe that explains why they brown/burn so quickly while the inside is still too moist and steams out any crispness. Hmm...

*What's up with Blogger? It keeps randomly adding in background color to my text.

Crispy Garlic Roast Potato Wedges

2 lbs red or other low-starch potatoes, scrubbed, halved, cut into wedges
3 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS minced dried rosemary (fresh is probably nicer)
paprika to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Toss potato wedges with oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Place potatoes flesh-side down in single layer in roasting pan or two, making sure not to overcrowd. Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove foil and roast until the side of potatoes touching pan is crusty and golden brown, about 15 minutes more.
  5. Remove pans and turn over potatoes with metal spatula so the other flesh side is down (try to keep the crusts intact--I found that my potatoes released easily, though). Roast another 5-10 minutes, until the fresh flesh side is crisp and browned.
  6. Remove pans from oven and toss potato wedges with garlic, rosemary, and paprika, and serve.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Powdered Green Tea

This stuff is awesome! I love the convenience of the packaging, and being able to easily infuse hot soy milk with green tea for a delicious drink (or add it to other foods like yogurt, ice cream, and cakes or what have you--obviously I don't eat those). If you live near a TenRen Tea shop (it's a Taiwanese company, but has US locations), I'm a little envious.

Now, you might be wondering what the difference is between powdered green tea and matcha. I wondered that myself when I bought this, and asked the sales rep about it. She asserted that they were different, but whether or not she could have explained in more detail, I probably wouldn't have understood it since we were speaking in Mandarin. But if you look at the matcha Wikipedia page, you'll find explanation of its production versus other powdered green tea, and how only a certain type of tea produced a certain way counts as matcha.

The only problem is that it's a little tough to get all the powder to dissolve just by stirring or, per the package instructions, putting the concoction in a container and shaking it. Similar to hot chocolate, you still have to smear little powder globules against the side of your mug to get them to break down--unless you let it soak for a long time.

This was an unexpected finding of mine. I added as many cc's of fluid as the instructions suggested (whereas previously I added maybe 2/3 as much, since 450cc--almost a half-liter--is a lot for one serving) to see if the powder would completely dissolve. Volume of fluid wasn't really the issue, though, since I still got little self-contained powder pellets floating around and massing at the bottom. However, after soaking overnight, giving the container a good shake cause the unincorporated powder at the bottom to disperse into the fluid! The pellets had broken down during the soak and the powder had just gathered at the bottom.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Miso-Glazed Tofu, Toaster Oven Edition

So, miso-glazing, round 2! This time's technique is maybe more properly called "miso-glazing" than the last time I posted about it. I mean, I've seen the spoon-ladling-sauce-in-a-skillet technique called "glazing", (oh yes, I did just use the British comma-quotation convention, because it makes sense) but with a broiler or grill I think more of a glaze actually develops. Wikipedia's short article on glaze only confirms the confusion, referring to glaze applied by brush or made by reducing a sauce.

In any case, broiler glazing. Specifically, toaster-oven broiling. I've really become enamored with toaster ovens, lately. They're so convenient to have around: easy to use and to clean up; use less energy and generate less heat than ovens do; actually have broiler components whereas my oven does not. Now that I've been using one a lot, it's on my list of appliances to be sure to have, along with a rice cooker and food processor.

I'd been wishing I had a broiler when occasionally I needed one, as for grilling fish or vegetables, kalbi, charring peppers, or making a fruit crisp. And then I finally looked at my roommate's toaster oven sitting on the counter, which I'd stopped using at all since giving up bread, and remembered the upper heating elements and the "broil" button I'd seen on the panel. Excellent!

So it was that when I came across this very simple recipe for toaster oven miso-glazed salmon I was reminded of my intention to try miso-glazing with a broiler. And the toaster oven method is as delicious as it is easy-mode--which is to say very.

Toaster Oven Miso-Glazed Tofu
serves 2

1 block (14-16 oz.) medium-firm or firm tofu, pressed for 10 minutes and cut in half

1 TBS white miso paste
1 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS rice wine
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil

  1. Whisk the miso, sugar, rice wine, soy sauce, and oil together, and combine with pressed tofu blocks in a ziplock bag or other container to marinate for 10 minutes. Make sure to expose all surfaces to the marinade.
  2. Line your toaster oven's baking pan with aluminum foil (I crumple up the foil and open it up again so that food is less likely to stick). Pick up tofu blocks, allowing excess marinade to drain off them back into the container, and place on baking pan on top rack of toaster oven. Set to broil on high for about 15 minutes (cooking only takes maybe 10 minutes, but we just need it to keep going). Broil for about 5-7 minutes, until the top is starting to brown and char, and the marinade has dried on top.
  3. Pull out the top rack and brush the tops of the tofu with another coating of miso-marinade. Broil another 3 minutes, until the new layer has begun to char. Repeat another round if you like. Doing this gives the top a nice, crisp layer of glaze. Remove from toaster oven and serve. Ideas for garnish: aonori seaweed flakes, sesame seeds, very finely sliced scallions...
Note: unlike with grilled salmon, where you want the inside to be rare to medium-rare still, you actually want the tofu to cook through its center since that makes the texture velvety soft inside.

What?? I'm eating what look like wheat noodles of some sort? Those are actually a rice-based "spaghetti". I don't particularly recommend them, though: they're kind of mealy, releasing a lot of starch  and breaking off smaller pieces as they cook. I do remember having a pretty good gluten-free spaghetti, though--I'll have to find it again and report back. It had sold out the the last time I was in the market for gluten-free pasta.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Upside of Losing Your Local Supermarket

About two months ago, my local supermarket, a Harris Teeter, had to shut down due to a burst pipeline that flooded its building. This forced its customers to find other options. To try to redirect customers to the next nearest Harris Teeters rather than competitors, they have sent coupons to us while they deal with cleanup and a complete remodeling of the flooded store.

Although I now have to travel farther to do my grocery shopping (for me, the next nearest store was another Harris Teeter anyway), there is a benefit to concentrating customers into fewer grocery stores. As I've noted before, more customers means greater turnover of products, with produce (and fish/meats) benefitting from greater freshness in particular.

Now, I don't know if my substitute Harris Teeter was like this before the influx of "refugees", but its produce and fish do seem to be fresher. It is in a more densely populated part of the neighborhood, though, so it could just have more foot traffic in general. However, its ginger still suffers (Great Wall's the best).

I'm tempted just to keep going to this Harris Teeter (we'll see how the old one is when it comes back), but on the other hand, I'm benefitting from having unlimited access to a car while my roommate is out for the summer.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Toasted Oats

When I figured out my wheat sensitivity, naturally, I worked to cut out as much of it as possible from my diet (I have not stopped using soy sauce in my cooking; that would be unacceptable. And it's not causing me problems since it's not that much.) This is why I've stopped trying to make dao xiao mian and la mian noodles. But to my chagrin, I found wheat to be in the great majority of cold cereals and even granola cereals. I think it's used as part of the binding agent in the granolas (America's Test Kitchen's recipe in The New Best Recipe calls for food-processing some oats to a powder to fill in gaps between the granular ingredients so you don't just get concentrations of caramel), and for texture/mouth-feel's sake in various "oat" cereals.

So, as one by one my favorite cereals proved treacherous, I turned to making my own granola, at a friend's suggestion. My first batch, using the aforementioned granola recipe, turned out pretty well, though since I had to drop all the nuts and replaced them with oats, my granola turned out somewhat caramel-y in flavor. Maybe because the fats in the nuts weren't there anymore, the sugar/honey cooked a little faster, and caramelized more.

I was mostly eating my granola broken up with soy milk poured over it, as a breakfast cereal. Tasty though smoky caramel is, I found that the amount of sugar required to bind granola together is just more than I want to consume as a meal. The soy milk ended up very sweet after soaking the granola. (Though, I still like Nature Valley Oats 'n' Honey granola bars as a snack. But if you crumble some into your salad, you'll see just how sweet it really is.)

Fortunately, I had a great idea for a much less sweet, and faster, homemade breakfast grain solution that occurred to me in the process of making the granola. That is, the toasted oats pictured at the top of this post. Of course, I'm not the first to do this, though, it's actually not that easy to find lots of recipes to reference on the web; a fair amount of skillet-toasting and granola recipes come up instead. I'm having trouble finding the one I mainly looked at in combination with the New Best Recipe granola recipe in making my own--it's been a while since I made this the first time.

Before you get to mixing the oats with everything else going into your granola, you have to toast them. But the toasted oats are actually ready to eat just as they are. So, instead of adding the honey, spices, etc. after toasting and before the final bake for granola, toss the oats with oil and seasoning before you put them in the oven to toast. Toss the oats a couple times during the baking time, let them cool, et voilà, toasted oats.

Or, you could just have muesli and eat the oats without cooking them. I guess.

Toasted Oats Foundation Recipe

6 cups rolled oats
[nuts and seeds as desired]
1/2 cup canola oil (maybe just 1/4 cup necessary, unless including nuts/seeds)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup dried fruit

1. Place oven racks at 1/3 and 2/3 height in oven. Preheat oven to 325° F.
2. Add oil, honey, salt, cinnamon, vanilla to a small pot or skillet and stir over low heat until incorporated.
3. Measure out rolled oats and put into a large mixing bowl. Stir oats as you pour the liquid mixture into the bowl. Continue stirring and tossing until evenly coated.
4. Divide oats between two sheet pans and spread evenly. Put the pans in the preheated oven and bake until golden, about 30 minutes total, tossing oats every 10 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Add in dried fruit and toss. Store in sealed container (in refrigerator).

Chocolate variation
5 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup dried cherries or dates (optional)

Same as above, except:
Toss (dry) oats with cocoa powder before mixing in oil/honey mixture with oats. Proceed as above.

[Note to you: I'm a dark chocolate guy. Even besides the milk content, I don't prefer milk chocolate. Thus, you may want to increase the sugar you add when making your own chocolate version.]
[Note to self: pure cocoa sensitivity apparently confirmed, independent of milk. Avoid further consumption. Update: further testing reveals that pure cocoa gets a green light!]

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grape Tomatoes on Cereal

Grape tomatoes on your cereal: AWESOME.

In the words of Mr. Schwarzenegger, "DO IT NOW!"


*addendum: Alright, I can't resist my wonkish side. The tomatoes really bring out the flavors of the cereal grain (in this case a very light rice cereal). I think it's because of the high levels of glutamic acid in tomatoes, and we all know glutamates are flavor enhancers. What's great about the grape tomatoes is also their relative sweetness, small size (no cutting necessary), and the nice texture and burst of flavor you get biting into them.

Regarding that first link, oh woops we shouldn't remove the juicy, seedy interior when making sauces because that's where most of the glutamates are? Damn, guess we have a bit of a problem if we want to avoid too much fluid in a dish, then.

Also, here's an interesting article on why our bright red tomatoes are flavorless, noooooo.

Last point: the orange colored grape tomatoes pictured above are from Zima, and I found them to be much tastier than the generic red grape tomatoes I picked up from Harris Teeter to compare. They had more juice in them and were more flavorful.