Sunday, October 25, 2015

Arroz Misto Rojo Stuffed Blue Hubbard Squash

This is one of the greatest things I've created. I think it's an even better take than the last time I posted about mixed rice stuffed squash. Also, that's a place spoon pictured above--thing's enormous.

It's a great combination of flavors and textures: bright and savory red mixed rice with a squeeze of lime juice; sweet, earthy, and soft flesh of the blue hubbard squash; and finally, the softened but brittle skin of the roasted squash.

Turns out blue hubbard squash skin softens enough once roasted that you can eat it easily (unlike acorn squash, which just stays unpleasantly hard, though it becomes more brittle as does hubbard squash skin). I was pleasantly surprised by the nice interplay between the brittle, softened skin and the creamy, softened flesh.

Blue hubbard cooks up a lot like kabocha squash, in flavor and texture, though kabocha's skin cooks up softer. Both are somewhat drier than butternut, but I like the thicker, almost creamy mouthfeel of kabocha and hubbard better than butternut's less substantial feel.

Here's what I did:

Arroz Misto Rojo

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 TBS canola or other neutral flavored oil

dash of:
chipotle chili powder
ancho chili powder
cayenne chili powder

1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, low- or no salt added

4 cups steamed, mixed rice

salt to taste

for garnish:
sliced scallions
freshly squeezed lime juice

  1. Heat oil in skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, and lightly salt, and stir occasionally until beginning to brown.
  2. Add spices and sautée until spices are fragrant.
  3. Add tomatoes and sautée until heated through.
  4. Add cooked rice and toss until thoroughly combined and heated through. Season with additional salt to taste. Add garnish as desired.
  5. Serve immediately, or use in another dish, such as stuffed roasted squash.

Simple Roasted Blue Hubbard Squash

½ blue hubbard squash, seeds removed
olive oil
coarse sea salt
ground black pepper

  1. Heat oven to 425F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper for easier cleanup.
  2. Brush cut side and interior of squash with oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Place on lined baking pan cut side down or up (down may keep it more moist through roasting than up, but I didn’t notice much of a difference trying it both ways).
  3. Roast for 40 minutes or so, until a fork pierces the flesh without resistance and the surface has browned.
  4. Serve directly (it’s delicious as is, eating it by the spoonful) or stuff with a seasoned rice dish, for example.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Becoming a Seasoned Seasoner (of Woks and Cast Iron Pans)

Finally, I've got a solid handle of how to properly season and maintain one's wok and/or cast iron pan. But really, this time.

I wrote about my struggles with this previously, and while my conclusions in that last blog post aren't all wrong, they're not all right, either.

But hey, instead of me taking the time to write out my experience in my words, how about I just refer you to this guide from Kenji Lopez-Alt, which will tell you all you need to know--and be correct, too:

With regard to the mysterious flaking (or scaling, as Kenji calls it) that bedeviled my earlier efforts, here's the key, buried at the bottom of Kenji's post:
This happens when you heat the pan too often without adding extra oil to it. Rather than coming off in microscopic bits like normal seasoning will, the layer of polymers sloughs off in large flakes. To reach this state, I stored my pan in the oven for a month's worth of heating cycles without reoiling the surface in between heating. It's easy to avoid this problem by regularly oiling the pan after each use and not overheating it (don't leave it in the oven during the cleaning cycle, for instance), but once it happens, there's no turning back—you'll have to reseason it from the start. [My emphasis added.]
That's it: Don't heat your seasoned wok or pan to smoking without adding oil or fat to it!

Also, when you heat up your pan/wok, swabbed with a very thin layer of oil, turn off the heat as soon as it starts smoking.

Other things about my previous post I'd amend:
  • The stovetop method of seasoning your cookware definitely works just fine. Just don't heat your pan/wok without oil.
  • Canola oil is actually a good oil for seasoning your cookware. It turns out the gunkiness that I (and others I've seen posting on the web) experienced with canola oil was due to not heating it to its smoke point when seasoning.
For more on the chemistry behind seasoning, and which oil is best, check out this blog post. She actually recommends food grade flaxseed oil, but it's expensive. But buried in her post is an allusion to how canola oil is decent since it's got some extent of the properties you want in the oil used for seasoning a pan.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Chez Chen

Hey everyone,

Thanks so much for reading along with my unguided exploration and self-teaching of cooking. Just wanted to let you know that if you'd like to keep up with what I'm currently doing, check out my new Tumblr blog I've started over at:

There, I'll do short posts tracking my meandering cooking and food explorations in a sort-of stream of consciousness manner.

I first started Escapades in Cookery back in 2011, but lately I don’t really do long posts discussing my process and thoughts the way I used to, and which I find Blogger is better suited to. Instead, these days I find myself preferring the short format that Tumblr (and Instagram) are designed toward and facilitate, and a lot of what I’m doing no longer makes it onto this blog.

I also just feel like the tongue in cheek name I took for Escapades no longer really fits me–I started this blog back when I was first beginning to cook more regularly and felt like I was still basically flailing in the brush. It's turned out that cooking’s become one of my main interests, and something I spend a lot of time doing, as well as reading and thinking about.

It's possible that I'll still do longer posts here, but at the least, all my existing posts will stay up for the time being. Thanks again, I appreciate your attention, and happy cooking!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

More Uses For Cast Iron Pans

Check these awesome tips on more ways to use your cast iron pans:

Pizza stone! Sandwich press! Heat diffuser! Très cool.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sous Vide: Hajimaru

Got myself a fun new toy: a sous vide immersion circulator! Basically you can clamp the device to the side of a pot or cooler full of water, and it will automatically maintain a constant temperature in the water over time. What's so great about sous vide? I'll let Nathan Myhrvold explain. And here's a handy guide with Q&A about sous vide, specifically steak, but the questions are more generally put.

Definitely many things to try sous vide-ing in my future, but this first trial I just cooked a couple chicken legs I had already seasoned with salt. It was a good one to start with so I could compare against results from pan roasting. I'd made some of my latest favorite pistou (which I'll do a short blog post on in the future) to go with the chicken and decided to try two approaches with the sous vide: one I'd just put in the bag plain (salted), and the other I'd smear the paste under the skin before cooking. You don't actually need to add any fluid for the meat to cook properly, and actually, Kenji L-A notes in the guide linked above that extra fluids can actually serve to dilute flavor.

 Allow the water to reach temperature, immerse bags and squeeze out the air before sealing (without letting any water in), clip to the pot to anchor them in place, and away we go!

An hour and twenty minutes later, voilà! Just kidding; food comes out of sous vide with no sear, of course. As indicated in the pic above, I cooked the chicken at 165 degrees F—far below browning temperature. After you're done sous vide-ing, you have to brown your food (if you want to) by other methods (pan, broiler/oven, torch).

I used my steel skillet, and found that searing happened much quicker than it does with raw chicken. I think this is because the fat had already rendered out of the skin—which may also be why the fabulously crisp skin seemed thinner than you usually get pan-searing/roasting.

Except that it was different with the leg I put the paste under the skin for! The skin on this leg seared even faster than on the chicken leg with just salt before sous vide-ing. I left it on one side a little too long, not knowing this was going to be the case. But also very interestingly, the skin seared up with more volume, and was thus an even better crispy texture. Not sure why that was. They may just have been better contact between the skin and pan for this leg, which maybe created better bubbling. You can see the browned area is much broader.

Both legs turned out very juicy and tender, and very chicken-y. No bland chicken here. Of course, it also was dark meat.

More sous vide-ing to come!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Salad: Produce Over Dressing

I've been playing around with salads more, recently. Sacramento has such an abundance of great produce--and is so hot in the summer--that raw produce cut and tossed together becomes an ideal dish to prepare in the summer.

After a couple months of more regularly making salads and trying different things, I've come to one general realization about what makes, to me, a better salad: it's about the produce rather than the dressing.

Unless the produce you're working with isn't very flavorful, and you're trying to cover it up with the flavor of a stronger sauce (same thing with higher vs. lower quality meats). The produce around here is so good (if you pick well) you could eat it straight, without any preparation except washing. So those flavors really shine best in a raw salad when the dressing is kept simpler and not too strong.

I'm really liking a basic lemon vinaigrette currently. It's just:

  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 3-4 parts olive oil
  • a pinch of salt and pepper, and
  • optionally a touch of honey

Whisked together. It goes great on all sorts of salads, brightening up and accenting the flavors without overpowering them, while also balancing out the sharpness of bitter greens.

I've never been a very frequent maker of salads, not because I dislike them (I like them), but I guess rather for efficiency and convenience's sakes. I think cut, raw produce is best consumed while fresh, even more so than cooked vegetables (excluding stews, curries, and marinated dishes that need time for flavors to develop and be absorbed). So, what with work and life, and a strong appreciation for better tasting food, I've historically tended toward cooked vegetables. Plus, with my Taiwanese background, we never ate a lot of raw salads when I was growing up, too. You'll notice that raw salads are more of a western thing.

Plus, I find that cut tomatoes don't keep long at all in the refrigerator; it seems like every time I have cut tomatoes in a leftover salad it gives me a little stomach discomfort. So I keep them whole if I need to make extra for a later meal.

Friday, June 26, 2015

You Want a Rice Cooker Even If You Don't Eat Rice

You may think that rice cookers are only worth having for those of us who eat a lot of rice, but you'd be wrong. There's a lot more you can do with a rice cooker than just steam rice--like the polenta pictured above, perfectly smooth with no lumps. All you have to do is add polenta and water in a 1:4 ratio, hit the cook button, and perfect polenta comes out at the end. Well, you do have to stir the polenta once it's done cooking; it looks like this when the rice cooker flips over to "keep warm":

But then, you need to salt it of course, and maybe you want to stir in some butter at the end, so you have to give it a stir anyway. And that's after 45-60 minutes of no stirring at all, versus frequent stirring in the traditional method.

You can also make a great no-stir risotto with a rice cooker (Wolfgang Puck approves, though the timing and method in his recipe seems specific to his equipment). This one takes a little getting to know your particular rice cooker, since just letting your rice cooker do its thing on risotto will result in overcooked risotto at the end. Risotto generally calls for more fluid than steaming rice does since the targeted end result is wetter than steamed rice. And if you're Kenji L-A, you may add in more dairy/cream at the end, making some risottos a little soupy.

For my rice cooker, I have to stop the cooking about 10 minutes before it finishes "naturally", out of a normally 60 minute cycle. (Nominally 60 minutes, but my rice cooker will sometimes cut minutes short as it adjusts automatically with Zojirushi magic to whatever's going on inside its belly.)

On the other hand, Kenji L-A's method of making risotto in a skillet instead of a tall pot, which allows for more even heating over the volume of rice in the pan, works so well and easily (you only need to stir once in the middle of the cooking time!) that I think it's simpler just to do it on the stove-top rather than in a rice cooker. But the rice cooker option's there, say, if you need your burners or skillet. A caveat about Kenji L-A's recipe, though: I found his cooking time of 10 + 10 minutes (stir halfway through a total of 20 minutes) to result in overcooked rice, and needed to shave a few minutes off. Maybe it's the arborio rice I'm using versus his carnaroli, or maybe the minimum heat setting on my stove is higher than on his.

Besides polenta and risotto, rice cookers are also handy for making steel-cut oats without having to watch over them. I don't actually use mine for steel-cut oats anymore, though, since scaling up to doing 5 days worth (the work-week) at one time in a large pot, using the boil-and-overnight-soak method (I skip the frying and go straight to boiling).

Notice the theme here, about slow-cooking grains. Rice cookers are basically automated slow cookers, which may also work well for these uses. Though, my multi-function rice cooker has convenient "porridge" and "steam" functions as well, which I use for congee, polenta, and steel-cut oats, and, well, steaming, respectively. (Mine actually even has a "bake" function, which I've used for some tasty green tea sponge cake a couple times, but I haven't used it enough and am not enough of a baker to be able to say much about it.)

And what can you steam with a rice cooker? Whatever you want that will fit inside! Mine has a convenient plastic steamer insert (so as to avoid scratching the non-stick surface of the inner pot), but it's rather shallow and hangs close to the top. I've done vegetables, dumplings, and meats before. Pretty easy-mode for steaming chicken when you need a quick and easy weeknight meal, as I did here:

As always with meats, it's a good idea to salt it before you cook, for both flavor and moisture retention. And then I followed up with a modified chimichurri sauce, using cilantro, garlic, and gochugaru instead of parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and whatever other variant ingredients:

You could also get creative and efficient with your rice cooking and steam meats over your rice to allow the juices to drip over the rice as it cooks.

The bottom line is that while named for and designed around cooking rice, rice cookers are just another kitchen tool, and very versatile ones at that. Have one just sitting in a cabinet? Try cooking something other than rice in it. You might discover a new convenient way to cook a dish you love (but which isn't quite worth the time and effort), or maybe expand your multitasking capabilities.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Link: 5 Lessons From a Scientist-Cook

I'm no scientist like the author of this piece's husband, but these are five good tips on how to approach cooking that also describe how I do things. Well, I absorbed the lessons of the scientific method early on in my academic education. While cooking with a spirit of exploration gives you the freedom to do, learn, and figure out new things, you also need some rigor in your experimentation in order to pin down what exactly it is in your variations that brought about the change in results.

Check out the kitchn's article!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Playing With Polenta

Played around with polenta recently after reading this guide on the real rules of making polenta. I think Daniel Gritzer's right about all his tips (and debunked tips), including not having to stir constantly, and that water ratio's more important; I definitely wasn't standing at the pot for 50 minutes straight, though I was stirring pretty frequently towards the end as it got thick.

The results were great. Notice how it didn't spread out after I scooped out a spoonful (below). This means it was properly thickened, and would hold together when pan-frying for a good looking and tasty sear (above).

I even tried deep-frying some of the cooled and solidified leftovers, for some very tasty polenta "fries". The insides were so smooth and creamy that they reminded me of cheese. But I had no dairy in my polenta--just a little Earth Balance stirred in at the end instead of butter for a little smooth richness. As Gritzer notes, using water to cook the polenta allows the corn flavor to come through.

Finally, I also tried cooking polenta in my rice cooker, and the results were perfect. Smooth, no lumps, and thick enough to set for searing if desired. And no need to stand over a pot! Just set and forget. I think I'm going to start stocking cornmeal as one of my staples.

I'm building a case for why even if you're Western centric and don't eat steamed rice much, you still want a good rice cooker for perfect and easy polenta and I suspect risotto, which I'll be testing soon. On top of perfect and easy steamed rice, of course. And congee. And steel-cut oats.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Deep-Frying Fun

I know, I've said I'm loathe to deep-fry because of the large amount of oil required, but that was what much of my cooking experiments centered around this long weekend. I got drawn into it by circumstances: shallow-frying stepping stone from the Brussels sprouts I recently did a couple runs of, followed by a sale on good chicken thighs at the local co-op, which reminded me of a Taiwanese popcorn chicken (the dish pictured above is called yansu ji, or salty crispy chicken) recipe I wanted to try, which led me to think of other things I've wanted to try out. But it's not that I dislike deep-frying as a technique, just that I avoid it for practical concerns. (A deep-fry/candy/oven roast thermometer is your friend.)

The yansu ji came out great. I used a mix of potato starch and cornmeal, which was light and crisp with nice bits of crunch from the larger cornmeal granules. Not sure about the Thai basil I used, though; it just lost all flavor after frying, though perfectly crisp. Maybe Thai basil's too delicate and using Italian basil would have been better?

But the potato starch (which is fairly common in East Asian cooking, instead of corn starch. They behave a little differently but can generally be substituted in dredging and thickening applications) got me thinking to try making agedashi tofu.

Lovely! --but the crisp exterior wasn't quite right. I used purely potato starch and it had more body than is ideal. It had too much presence, overpowering the soft insides. I wonder if maybe just cornstarch would work better. It's interesting that it behaved so differently on the tofu versus the chicken. I noticed, though, that with the chicken, after resting a bit in the potato starch dredge, the surface of the chicken pieces were properly dry. With the tofu, however, a bit of a thick paste/gum formed with the starch, which probably led to the too-strong skins. Maybe I just needed more thorough pressing and drying. Or not to wait too long between dredging and frying.

Heheh, also notice the fail in the background of the first tofu pic. Turns out that rather than loading up a slotted spoon and lowering the tofu in that way, you should just gently place them in the oil with chopsticks or tongs; they'll stick to the slotted spoon immediately when the starch hits the hot oil. Maybe with a wire or mesh deep-frying strainer/spoon it'd be different?

And one more thing: I also tried deep-frying taro fries. Double-frying works great on taro fries, same as potato fries. Some claim that double-frying gets results impossible with single-frying (Kenji Lopez-Alt is hardly the only one), but I'm confused as to why this would be so. Does the rest period do something that just turning up the heat in the middle of a longer frying time wouldn't do? America's Test Kitchen has an approach where you just start the potato fries in cold oil and do one long single fry, which makes me think that a standard single fry with a step up in heat would work, too, so I dunno. I'll have to try it another time.

Thing is, though, as deep-frying tends to do, I felt that the taro lost a lot of its distinctive flavor. Maybe this is why at dim sum restaurants they do taro balls--so that there's a larger interior portion that steams and keeps its taro flavor. Hmm...but anyway, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, fried starchy sticks? No complaints here!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fried Brussels Sprouts With Spicy Broad Bean Mayo

Spicy Broad Bean Mayo Y'All!!

Man, mayo's a funny condiment. Just by itself, it is so pedestrian (but tasty, don't get me wrong). As soon as you toss in another angle, though, whether that's ketchup, garlic, herbs, chipotle, sriracha, or anchovies and dill (or some combination things), and suddenly it's an amazing, savory, supercondiment.

Well, if you like sriracha mayo and/or chipotle mayo, definitely give my variation a shot: spicy broad bean paste (la douban jiang) mixed with mayo! It's a great smoothly earthy, slightly spicy, savory iteration of the magnificent mayo mixes.

Pictured above, I've smeared a dollop of the mix on a plate with some fried Brussels sprouts, which are a great pairing. Actually, this is a simple variation on one of my favorite dishes: fried Brussels sprouts with anchovy and dill mayonnaise, which I once had at the great Red Hen restaurant in DC. There might have been one or two more ingredients involved, but they were of lesser import.

As for the Brussels sprouts, well, as I've mentioned a number of times, I'm loathe to deep-fry, since it wastes so much oil unless you deep-fry a lot. So I shallow-fried mine, cut-side down, and it worked out pretty well. I tried just frying it on one side to see if there'd be a nice textural contrast. I don't know though—it probably would have been best either frying a little longer or frying on both sides. I'll play with it some more in the future.

Your choice of fat for frying adds more nuance: instead of neutral canola oil, consider peanut oil (if it doesn't bother allergies) or pork fat, etc.

[Updated] Tip: use a high-sided pot to deep-fry, since the sprouts will sputter a lot. This will cut down by a lot the amount of oil droplets flying out at you, compared with deep-frying them in a wok. As with deep-frying generally, you want your ingredients to be dry to minimize sputtering, but fresh, unbattered vegetables will sputter because of all the water content they hold.

Spicy Broad Bean Mayo

1 part spicy broad bean paste (la douban jiang)
3 parts mayo (or amount to taste)
(optional minced garlic)

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and stir well.

—same as making sriracha mayo or chipotle mayo. Spicy broad bean paste can be tough to find. You'll want to look for a Chinese supermarket.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Trying Out Harissa

Ever had harissa? I haven't really had the North African spice mix much before, if at all, myself. Maybe I did and just didn't know what it was, but I've started hearing about it a little more recently, and ordered some powdered harissa, rather than make my own blend. Turns out you can buy it in paste form already, but it's not hard to just heat the powder with oil and garlic.

So what do I think? Well, the pan-roasted chicken with harissa chickpeas pictured above and below was really delicious. Here's the recipe I followed, except I just added a heaping tablespoon of harissa powder instead of a 1/4 cup of prepared paste. Seemed to work well. And as you'll notice below, I had lime on hand rather than lemon, but the citrusy acid worked just fine.

This was actually the second thing I'd tried using my harissa powder in, with the first being some other random weeknight concoction of mine. In that dish, though, I found the harissa to be a little jarring. But the tomato paste in this Bon Appetit recipe linked above I found to be just the thing to balance out the sharp aspects of the harissa and make for a great, rounded savory flavor. Good thing I have a tube of the stuff, and that it keeps well. I think I'll try using harissa in some lentil and other applications.

Basically, though, I think harissa works best with something to balance out its sharpness. That could be tomato (which has a sweetness to it), or yogurt in a marinade, or mayo for a condiment, or using it as a strong flavor spice rub on a savory meat where the richness (as with yogurt and mayo) helps to cut the sharpness, or other vegetables with a sweet flavor profile.

I don't think bread is a typical accompaniment in Tunisian/North African cuisine...? But I made a loaf of my gluten-free bread (occasionally working through iterations still, but it's tasty) since I was going to be using the oven for pan-roasting anyway, and used the bread to soak up some of that delicious broth. Rice would've been great, too. I don't eat couscous, of course, because it is a type of wheat.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pressed Tofu

I've lately become a half-time vegetarian, and this pressed tofu is a big part of why, along with packaged fried tofu, both available at the Sunday (Asian offshoot) farmers market in town. They're just so convenient, both for me to buy (since I go to the farmers market every week anyway and don't have to make a special trip for them) and to cook, that I like using them for easy weeknight meals with extra for lunch.

A bit about the pressed tofu, though: what's really handy about it is that because it's already been pressed, you don't have to do it yourself, and it's so thoroughly pressed that it fries up really easily. Yes, if you weren't already aware, you need to press your tofu to get rid of all the excess water content or it'll just leak out while cooking and mess up your browning if you're frying, or dilute your soup, and generally mess up your flavors.

It also doesn't go bad very quickly like raw meats do, so it's easy to keep on hand without having to worry about expiration dates. This makes pre-pressed tofu ideal as a ready-to-go protein to keep in your refrigerator when you need convenience. Or when you don't, too--it's got a nice, smooth and thicker texture than the unpressed tofu you commonly see in the "Western" grocery stores. But you'll probably have to go to an Asian grocery store to find it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jammin': Spiced Smelt With Basil and Chimichuri Cauliflower

I wanted to post this jam because it was so tasty, but the combination of ingredients are so eclectic that it's unlikely you'll have them on hand. The first phase was the shallow-fried smelt, and the second phase stir-frying the cauliflower before combining them together.

For the smelt, I first toasted some black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and cloves (key new addition! but go easy on them since a little goes a long way) before grinding them in a mortar and tossing with some gochugaru (ground dried Korean chili) and salt. I then shallow-fried the smelt before tossing them with the spice mix. Shallow-frying smelt (or deep-frying if you're down for using all that oil) is my favorite way to cook it, by the way. For whatever reason, it just gets rid of the bitterness in smelt's guts that broiling or sauteing don't manage to do. I think maybe it leaches out into the oil while frying.

Here's where it got more random. I had chimichurri and Thai basil leaves on hand and it all seemed like it would work out well with the spice mix I made for the smelt. So I sauteed the chimichurri for a short time before stir-frying the cauliflower and tossing in the Thai basil leaves at the end. The cauliflower is this kind of loose-stemmed variety, as opposed to the really dense heads you commonly see in grocery stores. I like this loose, long-stemmed cauliflower since you get more of the tasty stem, and it's not so dry and crumbly like the dense kind of cauliflower can be.

Finally I combined the smelt and cauliflower and ate it over steamed rice. Delicious! But I'm not often going to happen to have chimichurri and Thai basil on hand.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Previews: Delicious Gluten-Dairy-Tree-nut-Coconut-Free Bread and Perfect Roast Pork Belly

Today was a day of great culinary advances for me. Above, a very flavorful and moist gluten-free bread I baked. I'm not much of a baker, and having to figure things out with the very undeveloped gluten- dairy- and tree-nut and coconut-free baking world makes things that much tougher. The bread didn't have a ton of rise, partially because I baked it in a 9"x9" dish instead of a bread pan and partially because there's no gluten of course, so it's low like a focaccia, but minus all the extra oil.

But the flavor! Great bready flavor this time, and I'm not sure why. Maybe the ground flax meal I added (thanks to a GF baking class I took a while ago, I became aware of flax as a GF bread component) helped with the flavor. Maybe I finally worked with the yeast properly? I dunno, I'm not a baker! But if I can make breads that taste like this, maybe I'll do it a little more frequently. More insights to come as I play with the recipe more.

Oh, also, I'm bringing back lard as a bread spread.

And the other thing is that I've finally—finally—perfected my roast pork belly technique. I'll write it up, after a couple other posts I've been meaning to do. And I'll have to make a note on my previous (inferior) posts about it.

I'll just put this right here...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Technique Tips: Sichuanese Yu Xiang Eggplant, Purple

Alright, here we go. Vibrantly purple eggplant without deep-frying.

As I mentioned in my previous post about this (which I've updated with a note and my technique changes), the theory goes that exposure to air (oxygen specifically?) while cooking is what turns eggplant skin brown. Although I was skeptical at first, my subsequent trials with different methods have led me to believe that it may be so. In particular, when I tried covering eggplant while frying it skin side up in my wok, it seemed still to be purple until after I lifted the lid and fresh air started circulating over the eggplant. And I guess with microwaving, maybe not enough is shut in with the eggplant when you close the door for it to turn brown. ? But clearly there is air shut in with the eggplant both when microwaving or covering to steam. Could be the amount matters.

In any case, I've found that frying in some amount of oil does indeed seem to be the most effective and efficient way to keep your eggplant purple when cooking. But you don't have to commit to using the massive amount of oil needed for deep-frying! I found that shallow-frying actually works very well, too, though it seems like you get a bit of browning from contact with the hot wok. And I also tried shocking in ice water after frying--and found it to have no discernible effect at all. Don't bother.

Pictured in my trials below, besides the with/without ice shock, I also tried with/without the 15 minute salt water brine. Unsoaked eggplant seems to end up slightly prettier--less wrinkly, more purely purple--but I prefer the brined eggplant because it absorbs less oil and thus has better flavor and texture. (Unbrined is a bit of an oil sponge.)

Above: all were brined, but left side (vertically oriented) had the post-frying ice shock while the right side (horizontally oriented) did not.

Below: none were brined, but the right side (vertically oriented) had the post-frying ice shock while the left side (horizontally oriented) did not.

So, the upshot is if you want purple eggplant but don't want to use so much oil as deep-frying requires, shallow-fry instead, making sure you cook skin side down (as you would deep-frying, too). If you don't mind the amount of oil needed to deep-fry (maybe you're going to fry other things), deep-frying will get you slightly prettier results in that shallow-fried eggplant browned a bit where it touched the wok.

[Update: The other benefit of deep-frying is that you can cut the eggplant into other shapes an not be constrained by need the skin to all be in contact with a relatively thin layer of oil. Namely, you can roll cut the eggplant and still have beautiful purple skin like at this restaurant:]

Also, once you've fried your eggplant, when you add it back into the wok to coat with sauce, don't keep cooking over a high heat or the skin will continue it's browning progress.

Pictured at the top of this post and below is actually my yu xiang (fish fragrant) eggplant with pressed tofu variation of the dish. Pre-pressed tofu is actually super convenient, and I'll write it up in a future post.* Recipe (nearly the same, but adjusted for the tofu inclusion) is below.

*Thanks in large part to the tofu vendor at the weekly farmers market, which sells pre-pressed plain and five-spice tofu, fried tofu, and fresh tofu (as well as soy milk and dou (fu) hua), I've lately become a half-time vegan/vegetarian. It's just so convenient!

“Fish Fragrant” Eggplant Yu Xiang Qie Zi - with Pressed Tofu

Coarse salt
1 lb. Chinese or Japanese eggplants (about 2 large Chinese ones--Japanese eggplants are smaller), trimmed, split into quarters lengthwise and cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths

8 oz. pressed tofu (should come pre-pressed, so no need to press it yourself), cut into long blocks similar in dimensions to the eggplant

Peanut or vegetable oil for shallow frying

6 dried red Chinese chilies, sliced, seeds discarded (or Thai bird chilies, any small hot red chili)
~1-inch knob ginger, minced (about 1 TBS)
4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tsp)
4 scallions, whites thinly sliced, greens cut into 1/3-inch segments (keep scallion whites and greens separated)

2 TBS Sichuanese chili broad bean paste (doubanjiang)

sauce ingredients
1 TBS rice wine for cooking
½ TBS sugar
2 scant TBS soy sauce (gluten-free or tamari)
2 TBS black or chinkiang vinegar (use a not-too-fancy balsamic vinegar in its place if unavailable)

starch slurry
1 tsp tapioca starch (or corn starch)
1 tsp water

Roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Combine 6 TBS salt with 6 cups water in a very large mixing bowl (1 TBS salt per cup of water), stirring to dissolve the salt. Add eggplant pieces, skin-side up, and set aside to soak for about 15 minutes. If that’s not enough salt water, add more in the same ratio until all your eggplant has exposure to the brine.
  2. In a small bowl, combine rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, and black vinegar. Set sauce aside. In a separate small bowl, combine tapioca starch and water. Drain eggplant and spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Heat ¼-inch of oil in a wok over medium heat until inserting chopsticks into the oil produces small bubbles energetically. Add eggplant in a single layer, skin side down. Cook for about 2 minutes. Remove eggplant from wok and set aside in a bowl while you cook the next batch of eggplant.
  4. Pour out excess oil (leaving about couple TBS worth in the wok) into a heat-proof container to discard (or add back as needed). Add pressed tofu to wok and fry until lightly browned on one side, flipping to brown on the reverse side before continuing.
  5. Push tofu to side of wok (or remove from wok) and add ginger, garlic, scallions, and chilies to the wok. Cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broad bean paste and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss tofu with the ginger, garlic, scallions, chilies, and broad bean paste. Pour the sauce mixture over the tofu in the wok, toss and cook for a couple minutes to allow the tofu to absorbe some of the sauce.
  6. Turn the heat down to low and add the eggplant back into the wok along with the scallion greens. Give the starch slurry a stir to make sure the starch isn’t caked at the bottom of the bowl before pouring over the contents of the wok.
  7. Cook, tossing constantly, until sauce is thickened, glossy, and coats eggplant. Unless you've added too much fluid, this should happen quickly. If the sauce over-thickens, thin with a few tablespoons of water. Transfer the contents of the wok to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped cilantro leaves, and serve immediately with freshly steamed rice.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Okra for the Goo Averse

Hate the gooeyness of okra's guts? Try eating them raw and whole for a change. Raw okra has a crisp texture, kind of like a slightly softer cucumber, and it's insides don't turn really sticky until after cooking. Try to pick smaller okra, about 4-inches in length or less, for them to be more tender.

You can also cook them til they're just done, tossing them in oil and broiling, grilling, or stir-frying them before tossing with a little salt or other seasoning. The insides won't have turned super sticky yet, and the okra will be more moist. Keep the caps intact so the insides don't escape and turn gluey. You can trim them down a bit if preferred.

I don't actually mind the gooey texture of cooked okra, and think it's clever the way some Southern and African dishes take advantage of okra's goo in making stews. But when you're just eating okra straight up, I think it's a more pleasant eating experience this crisper way. And then you can always deep-fry okra, of course.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kimchi Dashi with Unfrozen Tofu

Made a kimchi dashi (my preferred kombu and niboshi dashi, rather than using expensive katsuobushi), which was really delicious, especially with the spongy unfrozen tofu soaking up all that savory soup. Also tossed in a microwave soft-cooked egg for some smooth richness, and steamed black and white rice.

Since the kimchi was already made, and had been fermenting several weeks, this was a really easy dinner to make. I hadn't made kimchi dashi before, but it's a fantastic soup. And I've always got kombu and niboshi on hand, so that's an easy soup base to make, whereas I don't generally have Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) or soy bean paste (doengjang) on hand. There's often wheat flour in doengjang and sometimes in gochujang, too, so allergy sufferers take heed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Noodles T-Shirt Up for Voting

Do you like food? I'm guessing you probably do since you're reading this blog post. Would you be interested in wearing food? Not literally, but a food themed t-shirt? This is much more palatable than wearing raw meat, anyway. Well, I made my noodle background for my Tumblr blog Will's Plate into a t-shirt design that's up for voting over at Threadless.

Check it out, and if you like it, please give it a high score and share it with others!

You won't be obligated to buy it just by voting, but it doesn't even go up for sale if it doesn't score well with voters.

Thanks in advance!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Technique Tips: Sichuanese Yu Xiang Eggplant

Oh wow, this is how eggplant should be prepared. The two big things I learned this time making braised eggplant were: (1) brining your eggplant makes it cook faster, sear and develop richer flavor more quickly, and absorb less oil, and (2) actually don't stir-fry, but rather keep the skin side away from the wok surface as you sear the eggplant if you want it to stay purple.*

[*Update: hmm, this isn't the whole story--there's something more going on, since when I tried it again, I didn't get quite as good of results. I'll need to try and figure out what's going on.
Also, I tried the microwave technique Kenji mentioned in his piece linked below. Don't do it. The eggplant collapses and dries out too much, turning a little tough and chewy. Stick with the brining.]

[**Update 2: check out my my later post with what I found through further experimentation. If you don't want to deep-fry, shallow-frying's the way to go. I've updated my recipe below.]

Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats has the details on brining your eggplant to extract excess fluid versus other methods (salting, steaming, microwaving, and nothing). Drawing out the extra moisture collapses eggplant's spongy structure, making it so that you don't need so much oil to cook it, and the eggplant also soaks up less oil while cooking.

Where my approach diverged from Kenji's (seems easier than typing/saying Lopez-Alt whenever you want to refer to him) was that he seared his eggplant without regard to the skin, which makes it turn brown as it cooks--which, let me be clear, is totally fine and doesn't affect the flavor at all. But how to keep eggplant purple has been a backburner question of mine for a while now.

The common suggestion is that you have to deep fry eggplant to keep it from turning brown, but it's just not worth it to me to use all that extra oil. I've also read talk of how you have to painstakingly keep the skin from coming into contact with air as it cooks (skin side down in water, weighted with a plate?), but that's probably even more of a pain. I haven't bothered trying it, but it sounds fishy to me, since with deep frying eggplant it's still exposed to air...though I haven't tried the deep fry method either.

But look at this beautiful purple hue! And I didn't deep fry at all!

Basically, what you want to do is sear the eggplant one side at a time, but never on its skin side. You get all the delicious searing and softening of the eggplant still, but it's also gorgeous on the other side. Yes, this is just about presentation.

Anyway, for flavor, the important thing is brining or otherwise drawing out the moisture from your eggplant first before you get to frying and braising. My recipe below, adapted from Kenji's, seems like it's not that different from my previous one, adapted from Grace Yang's, but the brining step actually makes a big difference. Besides what I've discussed above, the shorter searing and cooking time means that it doesn't need to braise for very long either, which means you don't need to add the extra water in my previous recipe for the braising to soften the eggplant. The sauce gets thick quick, and the flavors are just stronger and clearer. This is how I'm making Sichuanese eggplant moving forward.

“Fish Fragrant” Eggplant Yu Xiang Qie Zi

Coarse salt
1 lb. Chinese or Japanese eggplants (about 2 large Chinese ones--Japanese eggplants are smaller), trimmed, split into quarters lengthwise and cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths

Peanut or vegetable oil for shallow frying

3 dried red Chinese chilies, sliced, seeds discarded (or Thai bird chilies, any small hot red chili)
~1-inch knob ginger, minced (about 1 TBS)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 TBS)
3 scallions, whites thinly sliced, greens cut into 1/3-inch segments (keep scallion whites and greens separated)

1½  TBS Sichuanese chili broad bean paste (doubanjiang)

sauce ingredients
1 TBS rice wine for cooking
1 tsp sugar
1 scant TBS soy sauce
1 TBS black or chinkiang vinegar (use a not-too-fancy balsamic vinegar in its place if unavailable)
1 tsp tapioca starch (or corn starch)

Roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

  1. Combine 6 TBS salt with 6 cups water in a very large mixing bowl (1 TBS salt per cup of water), stirring to dissolve the salt. Add eggplant pieces, skin-side up, and set aside to soak for about 15 minutes. If that’s not enough salt water, add more in the same ratio until all your eggplant has exposure to the brine.
  2. In a small bowl, combine rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, and black vinegar. Add corn starch and stir until dissolved. Set sauce aside. Drain eggplant and spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Heat ¼-inch of oil in a wok over medium heat until inserting chopsticks into the oil produces small bubbles energetically. Add eggplant in a single layer, skin side down. Cook for about 2 minutes. Remove eggplant from wok and set aside in a bowl while you cook the next batch of eggplant.
  4. Pour out excess oil (leaving about couple TBS worth in the wok) into a heat-proof container to discard. Add ginger, garlic, scallions, and chilies to the wok. Cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broad bean paste and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add eggplant back into the wok along with scallion greens and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. Give the sauce mixture a stir to mix up the starch that’s settled at the bottom, and pour over the eggplant in the wok.
  5. Cook, tossing constantly, until sauce is thickened, glossy, and coats eggplant, about a minute (if the sauce over-thickens, thin with a few tablespoons of water). Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped cilantro leaves, and serve immediately.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kkakdugi - Radish Kimchi

Hey, I'm finally writing up my radish kimchi (kkakdugi) recipe, as foretold.

We're in the daikon season right now, so there's a lot of really great, fresh daikon at the farmers market. Lots of moisture so the flesh is firm and not squishy as you'll find with older radishes. Also, the flavor is light and can be lightly spicy to even sweet! Great stuff. Not like the bitter funk and harsh spiciness old daikon can have...

Now, daikon isn't traditional for kkakdugi--rather, the Korean radish varietal of the species is. But daikon substitutes in perfectly well and is much easier to find.

I referenced Maangchi's and Marc Matsumoto's recipes in developing mine.


3-4 lbs Korean radish (or daikon), peeled, diced into ¾-inch cubes
2 TBS salt
2 TBS brown sugar

  • Combine diced radish, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and toss well. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Meanwhile, do the prep work for the seasoning ingredients (see below).
  • Once the radish is done dry-brining, drain the juice from the radish into a small bowl.

5-6 cloves garlic
½-inch piece ginger, peeled
¼ cup fish sauce (substitute with soy sauce for a vegetarian version)
½ Asian pear or sweet apple (e.g. fuji, red delicious, etc.), diced roughly
⅓ cup of the radish juice

  • Combine the ingredients above (not the radish) in a food processor and pulse until a thick sauce is formed.

⅔ cup gochugaru (korean chile powder)
4 stalks green onion or 2 stalks leek (tough green portions removed), chopped

  • Add the sauce, gochugaru, and green onion into the large bowl with the radish and toss well, making sure the radish is completely coated on all surfaces.
  • Put all the ingredients into a container with a tight fitting lid*, pressing down on the top of the contents to squeeze out air from between the radish cubes. Pour in as much of the remaining radish juice as needed to fill in the gaps and just cover the radish. Leave the container on the counter at room temperature for 1-3 days to give the fermentation a head start before refrigerating to slow down the process and extend shelf life (and avoid mold). If you put it in the refrigerator right away, the culture doesn’t get a chance to grow enough, and fermentation will be extremely slow in the refrigerator. You can enjoy the kkakdugi immediately, as well as over time as the fermentation proceeds.

* You don’t actually want to seal your container air tight (like with a glass jar and screw-on lid), because as the food ferments, gas is released. Carried too far, your container will explode. Alternatively, you can occasionally open the lid to release gas. I use a Systema Klip It container, which has a rubber lining around the edge of the lid. I put the lid on but don’t clamp it down. This way as gas is released, when the pressure is great enough, the gas will simply escape on its own. Additionally, I’ll lay down some plastic wrap on top of the radish and press down, just to limit the air in contact with the radish, again to avoid mold. I don’t plastic wrap to airtightness, though, and leave it open around the edges for the reasons stated above.

What do you do with the savory fermenting sauce that's left behind? You can make kimchi fried rice with it! Or kimchi soups and stews! Or as a savory and punchy flavor base for anything you want.