Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pizza for grown ups

I love pizza - and as a kid there was nothing I enjoyed more than a pizza party with my friends.  And when I say kid, I mean well into my adulthood...

However at one point or another you might find yourself in a situation where it's not appropriate to have boxes from the local delivery joint piled up in the kitchen (it'll likely be just about the time when you realized you need to pour that beer into a GLASS on this particular occasion...)

So I came up with a grown up version of my favorite treat that's easy to pull together for any occasion.

Oven to 405 degrees.

Stuff you'll need (in no particular quantity or order):
1 container of pre-made pizza dough - I used Pillsbury - one can of dough makes two pizzas for me as I cut the dough in half the long way to make two long skinny slabs
Everything else is optional and entirely up to your taste here are a couple recommendations

BLT pizza;

  • Double smoked bacon - I buy slabs to keep around for just such an occasion - diced and browned
  • cherry tomatoes halved
  • Fresh arugula (I add mine after baking for color and taste)
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese

Fig and Goat Cheese

  • Fresh black figs if you can - dried figs soaked in wine if you can't
  • Goat cheese (or Gorgonzola)
  • Pine nuts

Caramelized onion and mushroom with Gorgonzola

  • Caramelized onions (check the link on how to do this)
  • Mushrooms - sauteed with dried herbs
  • Gorgonzola crumbles (or goat cheese, Brie, Parmesan etc.)

Ham and Cheese

  • Diced ham
  • Grated Cheddar 
  • Grated Jack (or pepper jack) cheese
  • Red onion (raw) rings
  • (add pineapple for Hawaiian pizza!)

Sausage and mushroom

  • Chicken apple sausage
  • Diced sauteed mushrooms
  • Caramelized onion
  • Mozzarella cheese

Open the pizza dough, and turn it out onto a floured surface.  Stretch the dough out to make an even sized rectangle pinching any holes in the dough together while you go.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough in half the long way.

Top with whatever mix of toppings you like -one of the suggestions above perhaps? Or pepperoni and cheese?  It's up to you!  I recommend pre-cooked toppings as this will make this dish so much easier on you...

Place the pizza on a baking sheet (I use a silpat under mine to prevent sticking, parchment is another option) and place in the oven for about 12 min or until the cheese melts and the crust begins to brown.

Slice into finger food portions and serve warm - presto! Instant appetizers!


Saturday, December 11, 2010


They look pink in the photo but they really aren't...

I'm not sure when or why I got it in my head to make marshmallows.  I've wondered from time to time what they're made of, but I'm not even entirely sure I like them, and I would usually rather have a bag of sunflower seeds rather than something sweet, but this seemed like it would be fun so - here here we go!

Being winter I'm def. thinking more 'top-some-hot-cocoa' rather than 'make-a-S'more,' so I'm starting with this batch in mint (they didn't have peppermint extract at the market, just mint so I've got a spearmint/peppermint mix in this batch) although you could easily substitute other flavors - vanilla, orange - whatever flavor extract you'd like.  (Based mostly on Martha Stewart's recipe)

Stuff you'll need:
  • Non-stick cooking spray (like Pam)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 4 packages (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract (or any other flavor really, I think I'm going to make vanilla next)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Couple of drops of red food coloring (for marbling if you feel compelled)
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
You'll need several bowls for this, including one very large one - if you have a big one, and you think it's big enough, find a larger one.  The marshmallow fluff reaches pretty impressive volume - even the largest bowl I have could have had higher sides for less collateral splatter.  Also, Martha's version requires a stand mixer which I don't have so I used an electric hand mixer for the mixing which I think impacted my whipping time. 

You'll also need a pan for molding the marshmallows.  I used a glass 8x8 pan for this, found it made for easy clean up.  If you're creative you could probably use different shapes, or no pan at all for marshmallow 'chunks'!

Spray your pan with the cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment - I used a strip of parchment that covered the bottom and folded out over the edges of the pan.  With the parchment in the dish, spray again - this stuff sticks like fluffy glue.  The spraying part - crucial although you could skip the parchment (makes it a hell of a lot easier to get it out of the pan)

To start, pour 3/4 of a cup of water into a heat proof bowl (or double boiler with a handle -you'll thank me later).  sprinkle gelatin over the water and set aside for a couple min. to soften.  meanwhile boil a bit of water on the stove for your double boiler.

In a separate sauce pot, combine 3/4 cup of water, with the sugar, and corn syrup.  Over medium heat, simmer until the sugar is melted into a simple syrup.  Turn the heat up a bit and using a candy thermometer, simmer until the syrup reaches 260 degrees.

Put your gelatin mix in the bowl over a bit of hot water, and whisk until the gelatin is fully dissolved, add your flavors here - my most recent batch had orange blossom water in it - then set it aside.   

 In your biggest bowl, whisk your egg whites using your electric hand mixer (or standing mixer if you have one) until you have stiff (but not dry) peaks. Set it aside for a moment.
Slowly whisk the gelatin and sugar mixture together (pour gelatin over sugar while whisking).  The hot sugar is going to react rather violently bubbling up and trying to spill over the edge of the pot, so go slowly especially for the first couple of drops.  (Sort of like tempering an egg mixture)

With the mixer on, pour the gelatin and sugar mix into the eggs.  Now this is the part that's going to take some work - you need to whisk the combined mix on high speed until it thickens significantly.  It took me just under 10 minutes with my electric hand mixer - but most instructions I found online specify somewhere from 12 to 15.   Honestly at 10 min the mixture got so thick it started bending the tines on my whisk so I had to stop.  Essentially you want to stop when the mixture starts to get kind of stiff - when the bubbles hold for a while or don't pop at all.  If you keep whipping, you'll find the mixture difficult to work with which is fine, it makes neat shapes, but if you're going to add marbling or want to shoot for somewhat evenly shaped final marshmallows, stop while there's still some fluidity :)

Scrape the mixture into your prepared pan, on top of the parchment and spread it out evenly (or try to).  You could probably use a second piece of greased parchment to help flatten it out - I didn't bother, I kind of like that remedial home made look.   If you want to this is where you want to drip a bit of red food coloring onto the surface, then using a chopstick or toothpick, swirl it around a bit to make designs.  Mine looked a little more Halloween Massacre than wish-you-a-merry-Christmas at this stage, but don't worry when you cut the marshmallows they look very festive!

Let the whole pan set for a minimum of three hours at room temp, uncovered (or lightly covered overnight) to set and dry.  Cut (scissors work well for here rather than a knife) and dust with powdered sugar to serve or store.

Here they are in 'Red Velvet' flavor.  Substitute chocolate extract for mint, and add red food coloring (a ton of it!) I would recommend using gel food color to minimize impact of the color on the consistency of the marshmallows. 

I dusted these with white powdered sugar (to represent the cream cheese frosting) and they'll be going on a stick with a chunk of chocolate fudge for hot cocoa on a stick! 


Saturday, December 4, 2010


I've had it in my head for a while now that I was going to take a shot at this - although I'm not that big a fan of beets, I'm utterly enthralled by the color of this hearty soup so I had to give it a shot.

Though it's going to be a while before I manage to match the borscht at Veselka here in NY's East Village (that's what set me off on this mission in the first place), this version I cobbled together is still pretty damn good.

It seems to be that the key here is to sort out a hearty, flavorful, savory broth base on which to build.  Ready?  OK!

Stuff you'll need

  • Beef broth (I used a whole 32oz container)
  • 4 or 5 medium sized beets, whole - don't peel them yet. (you could use canned beets{3 cans}, but at the moment they're in season so why would you?)
  • Cooking liquid from the beets (or liquid from the canned beets)
  • 3-4 stalks of celery chopped
  • two medium sized carrots chopped (or not - personally I forgot the carrots and it was still good)
  • Small to medium sized head of cabbage, shredded
  • 2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon(+) of 5 spice powder (most recipes I saw called for a teaspoon of allspice berries, but I didn't have any so I substituted 5 spice powder)
  • 2 medium sized potatoes diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 lbs pork shoulder
  • 3 - 4 good sized soup bones (I like the ones with a healthy chunk of marrow - good snacking!)
  • Salt (kosher works better) to taste
  • Pepper to taste

You're going to need a couple of huge pots for this.  Start with the beets - boil them with the skin on until tender.  Save the cooking water (which should be an eye watering shade of pink now) and peel and dice the beets. Set aside both the beets and the liquid.

Now the broth - cook the pork shoulder, in beef broth, with bay leaf, 5 spice powder/allspice berries, beef soup bones and salt and pepper to taste - be careful with the salt, it's possible the broth is already well salted. If you're able to find a boneless pork shoulder, cut the meat into chunks to facilitate cooking.  The first time I did it, I cooked it for about 30 min stove top, cut it up and added it to the broth to finish, the second time I cooked the pork in the beef broth in a slow cooker for about 2 hours.  Personally I liked the slow cooked results better, the broth was heartier and richer, the marrows dissolved almost completely into the broth (denying me of my snack but wow was it worth it).  I'd recommend slow cooking if you have the time (plan ahead it's worth it!)
In another large pot, pour a generous splash of oil - I used olive, but vegetable oil would be good here too - something flavor neutral.  Add garlic and onions, and sweat them till they start to become translucent.

Turn down the heat and add the potatoes, cooking them till they start to soften, add carrots, celery, and cabbage, and sweat the whole mix, letting the vegetables cook through without browning.  A tip for the order to add veggies - add the hardest ones first, like the carrots -  let them cook a bit then add the softer ones it'll help even out the texture and assists with timing.

Once the meat is cooked through, pour the entire pot of meat broth off into this pot with the veggies - this is going to create the base of the borscht. Add a splash of white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar if you prefer) - add vinegar sparingly, you can always add more but you can't fish it out..

If you've already diced up the meat, add that now, otherwise dice up the pork shoulder to spoon friendly pieces.  Let this simmer for a couple minutes to blend the flavors (like +/-10min).  You're looking for an intensely savory soup with a slight vinegar flavor. If it seems a little bit sour or salty, it's OK the beet liquid is sweet and it'll temper the salt and vinegar.

Now the fun part - add the cooking liquid from the beets, along with the diced beets to the  mix - adding it last ensures the color remains vibrant - over cooking at this point will change the color from vivid magenta to tomato red.  Warm the entire pot through and simmer it for a couple or 5 minutes and you're done!

I'm imagining this with a thick slice of toasted sour dough....


Monday, November 22, 2010

Coconut Macaroons by the Gentile

Masha needs her macaroons NOW and I don't know if you've ever tried to get between her and her macaroons but it's just unwise so here it is.  Yep. I said it.

Stuff you'll need;

  • One package shredded coconut (about 3 cups) (I suggest the unsweetened if you can get it otherwise they get too sugary)
  • One can sweetened condensed milk
  • Two egg whites - beaten stiff
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar (to beat the egg whites)
  • 1tsp almond extract (or vanilla - that's good too)

Oven to 350

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.  In a separate bowl, combine coconut, condensed milk and extract, forming a thick putty or paste.   Fold the egg white mix into the coconut mix gently (don't want to destroy the egg whites.)

Drop heaping spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet (or use a silpat - my favorite tool) with enough space in between for a little bit of spread, bake for 8 to 12 min until the edges become golden brown.

If you really want to be schmancy, you can melt down some chocolate and carefully dip the macaroons into them for a little twist!

The gentile girl brings dessert....Enjoy!!

Butternut, bacon and white bean ravioli

It's Autumn, which makes me feel like it's time for some kind of comfort food.  Plus I've seen butternut squash all over the place and it's as though it's calling to me so that's the impetus for this dish.  There are tons of options on what to put in the middle - blanched spinach with sausage and ricotta comes to mine - or a veggie mix perhaps?  If you're using fresh pasta (below) you'll want to make sure that your filling is pre-cooked, as the actual boiling time of the ravioli is not long enough to cook fillings through.

Stuff you'll need:

  • 2 - 3 cups of butternut squash,  roasted (instructions below) and smashed
  • 5 Spice powder
  • Olive oil
  • One clove of garlic - diced up
  • sweet onion diced into small bits (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of heavy cream (give or take)
  • 3 tablespoons of water (give or take)
  • 1/2 cup of bacon - diced (up to a cup if you, like me, are a bacon lover...)
  • 1/2 cup of white beans
  • 4 cups semolina flour + enough to dust surfaces and coat finished ravioli
  • 2 cup of water
  • 1 (or 2 - let's be honest butter is awesome...) stick of butter or 4oz of home made butter
  • Handful of fresh sage (chopped)

There are a lot of steps to this but the pay off is sooo worth it and none of the steps is difficult - ready?

Heat the oven to 400.

Starting with the squash - peel and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks, put it in a bowl and toss with a splash of olive oil and 5 spice powder to coat.  Lay the chunks of seasoned squash in a roasting pan with high sides, spread the squash out to an even layer (I used my silpat which doesn't actually fit in the pan, but makes for super easy clean up, parchment would help as an alternative - the squash is high in sugar and will stick like crazy to your cookwear when it starts to caramelize in the oven)

Put the diced squash into the oven and roast for about 40 to 50 min till tender.  Pull the squash out, and let it cool for a couple min. then using a fork make a nice mash of the squash.  Set it aside.

Find a pan that is large enough for the squash, beans and bacon combined - I used a saute pan.  Drop the diced bacon and stir while cooking - you're going for softened and caramelized, but not crunchy -  you don't want crunchy, crunchy bits inside of ravioli can be unsettling...

Add the garlic (and onions if you're using them), and continue to stir as they cook, letting them caramelize and become translucent. Turn off the heat, and set aside to let the temp come down a bit.  We'll get back to this in a little bit when it's cooled off.

We're going to take a second to attend to the pasta here.  In a large mixing bowl, add one cup of water to two cups of semolina flour - stir well to incorporate, it should result in a firm if slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter and knead till you have a smooth ball.  Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the dough and place in the refrigerator for 30 min.  The glutens have to have time to do their thing in order to ensure that you have pasta that cooks to a nice al dente rather than dissolve when they hit the water.

Now, back to the filling.  Add canned white beans to the bacon/onion mix, and stir, then fold in the butternut (folding will keep the beans intact) and add the cream bit by bit - you want to get a paste like consistency without annihilating the beans.

Transfer the filling mix to a covered container and place in the refrigerator for the time being, and back to the noodles.

Retrieve your pasta dough, and turn out onto a well floured surface.  My kitchen space is limited so I had to break my pasta dough into 3 portions.  Roll the pasta out to thin sheets, but not so thin that you can see through or that light comes through, add more flour to the rolling usrface as you need it to prevent the pasta from sticking.

You have a couple of method options here, you can put dollops of filling on one side, fold in half, seal and cut or you can roll a second sheet, put dollops of filling on one side, seal and cover and cut random shapes, or you can do what I did - make square (ish) ravioli.  I'll explain what I did, but have fun with this - there are no rules!  the imperfections are what make the ravioli a rustic home made look.

I cut the pasta into two fat strips and put spoonfuls of filling evenly spaced on one of the two.  Then brush the edges and in between the filling portions with an egg wash (one egg beaten with water added)  like this;
Try to push out as much air as possible around the filling as you seal the ravioli, and be careful not to tear the pasta. Press the edges to seal the filling in - you could actually use cookie cutters to seal the pasta and make fun shapes as well, or the tines of a fork to make fancy crimps around the edge.  You should wind up with your variation of something like this;
You'll want to set the ravioli aside to dry for about an hour before cooking, which will help give it a nice final texture.

To serve the ravioli;

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil -you want to make sure you have enough space in the pot for the raviolis to move about so they don't stick together.  Add the ravioli carefully - no splashing - and allow them to cook for about 5 minutes.  

In a separate pan, melt down a stick or two of butter - add the sage and let it brew over medium heat while the pasta cooks - the butter should start to brown just a bit, and you'll smell the sage in the butter.  When the ravioli is just about done, remove them one at a time from the pot and slide them into the melted butter - be careful, it'll sizzle up a bit.  Slide the ravioli around a bit to coat them, then plate and serve em up!
I was so hungry I neglected to take a proper photo of the final dish but here's a poorly lit camera phone snapshot so you can get an idea of what you're going to get;

Sprinkle a little bit of Parmesan and a touch of sea salt on top for a nice contrast to the sweet filling, and voila you have  your home made ravioli!!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Simmered Daikon

My mom used to make this dish - but at the time I wasn't a fan of daikon so I really didn't eat it.  Naturally mom knew best and now I find myself making this dish - although it's really mostly out of curiosity about technique and the amazing flavor of the broth, more so than sudden love for the flavor of this particular vegetable.

Bonus - it's easy to make this dish vegan if need be, by substituting a soy broth for the dashi broth (dashi involves steeping dried fish in the soup base, so it's really just a matter of how strict you need to be.)

Stuff you'll need:

  • Dashi stock - enough to cover the daikon slices (I used about 4-5 cups, click the link for the recipe)
  • Soy sauce to taste - a couple of table spoons for the non-vegan version, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup for the vegan version
  • Mirin - 2 - 3 table spoons
  • Dried Shitake - again use dried here the fresh ones don't have the flavor or aroma
  • Daikon - Japanese radish, looks like a massive white carrot on steroids

Peel the thin outer skin from the daikon, and slice into fat slices - I find just under an inch works for me.  Using a pair of chopsticks for a guide, slice part way thru the slice creating an 'X' on the surface.  This is both decorative and practical as it helps the simmering sauce penetrate the daikon slices.

Put the daikon and the dried mushrooms in a pot with the dashi stock add soy sauce and mirin to taste (I prefer to go light on the soy sauce as it results in more delicate flavors in the end) cover the pot, and bring to a boil, move the lid aside a bit to let steam escape, turn the heat down and simmer until the daikon are tender and start to become ever so slightly translucent.

The vegan substitute for dashi stock would be more soy sauce, and mirin - also adding a piece of thick konbu to the pot - the flavor will be similar to what you would get if you use dashi, but without the fish stock flavor.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Dirty Green Beans!

This dish is probably one of the easiest ever to make.  Like most Japanese food, there are a couple or few steps but still way simple.  Bonus is - it tastes sooo good!  This is usually the first empty plate on the table!

Stuff you'll need;
  • Green beans - string beans, yellow beans would work too
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce 
  • Mirin (optional) 
  • Chili paste (sriracha - also optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil - while the water is boiling, clean and dice your beans - I like the segments to be somewhere between one and two inches long but it's totally up to personal preference.

Add beans to water, and cook for about 3 minutes - you want the beans to soften a bit without becoming mushy because you're going to man-handle them in a moment.

Once the beans are cooked, transfer them to a roomy bowl and set aside.

In a clean dry skillet, pour out your black sesame seeds - do NOT add oil or water or anything else, you want to dry roast the seeds.  Stir the seeds constantly - keep them moving for about 4 min.  you'll know they're ready when you start to hear them popping.  Pull the off the heat - now I use my coffee grinder for this, but you could actually either use a mortar pestle or just leave the seeds whole if you like.  I prefer them ground as I like the flavor that releases from them. 

Grind those sesame seeds into a fine powder.  Take your cooked beans and drizzle them with the sesame oil, toss them to coat - add soy sauce to taste (optionally this is where you could add in some mirin or sriracha or both) .  Once the beans are coated, dump the ground sesame right on top and stir to coat.
The trick at this point is going to be plating them and getting them to the table without eating them all standing over the sink in the kitchen! 

And that's it - you're done!


De-constructed lasagna for Shani

This dish is an example of me living up to what I say - there's nothing to be afraid of in cooking, it's either going to work or it's not - even if it only 'kind of' works, it's a great opportunity to improve things!

My very first attempt at pasta - vegan pasta at that - is a perfect example.

I was not aware you could make pasta without eggs - seemed impossible to me.  Then a friend came over to eat, and this friend happened to be vegan, and similar to when my Shani came over and I had to think of something vegan to serve for dinner, I had impetus to sort out something other than a slab of cow.

And being admittedly too lazy to commit to a full baking dish of lasagna, I thought I'd try to be clever and 'de-construct' the dish.  I can def. use some practice here - it doesn't look quite like I would like it to but you get the idea...

Stuff you'll need;

  • Seminola flour - something about the gluten levels in this pasta make it excellent for making pasta.  I'm going to look it up later but for now just know this is what you need
  • Water - it would probably be helpful for me to know how much water, but I really didn't measure it.  Water is a safe ingredient, if you add it slowly chances are you'll be OK without measuring it...
  • Pinch (literally) of salt - I didn't actually put salt in the pasta dough (my doc. would be so proud) but most recipes online would call for it so I'm listing it here.  Honest, you can skip it.

I looked at about 12 different versions of vegan pasta recipes online, they all tell you to pour out XX grams of seminola flour onto a wooden board, made a hollow in the center and mix the flour in slowly.  It looks very authentic, but I have a kitchen that was built in a space that used to be a closet and I just don't have that kind of counter space so I used a bowl.
That's the whole thing.  There's really just no "mixing on the counter" when you have no counter...

In a roomy bowl, dump about 2 cups of seminola flour (if you only have 2 cups cut this in half - you're going to need extra flour to work the dough later) - add about a quarter cup of water, and stir gently to combine - there's no need to be overly vigorous just yet, you want to build the dough slowly and ensure equal saturation of all the grain first.  Add water a bit at a time (by a bit, I mean a couple tablespoons) and continue to mix.  You should notice that the mixture is starting to clump - clumping at this juncture is good.

In all you'll probably add just under a cup of water to form the dough - it's roughly a two (flour) to one (water) ratio, less a little water.  It's always easy to add water so proceed slowly, you're making pasta dough not pancake batter.  Oh and I use a fork for the first part of this.  Waaaay less messy...

Once you've managed to incorporate all the flour, you're going to need to get your hands in on it - wash and dry your hands, and get in there smashing the little bits together tor form one big ball of dough.  Once you've got one ball of dough, play with it a bit!  Stretch it out, fold it in half, do it again and again!  Squeeze it from one end to the other into weird shapes, put it on a lightly floured work space and smash it with the heel of your hand and fold it back up -  whatever, you're going to want to abuse the dough for about 10 min.  You're "stretching the glutens" by doing this - really just ensuring that the moisture content is equally distributed.

Divide up the dough and roll it out - now this is where I had challenges - I don't have a pasta machine.  I hand rolled the dough with a rolling pin - while on some level this made me feel very smug and look-how-authentic-I-am, on the other hand it made me realize that I need a boatload more practice.  I will admit that my noodles were all over the place in thickness.
Make sure to flour your working surface to make sure that the pasta doesn't stick and proceed to roll it out. you want thin as-even-as-possible sheets.  As you're rolling the pasta out, be liberal with the flour, it'll help keep everything from sticking together.

Now here's another fun part - the shapes.  I'm sure there's a pasta aficionado somewhere that's about to be horrified but this part is too much fun to let that sway me. The first batch of noodles, I cut into something 'like' lasagna shaped noodles because I wanted to plate them folded up on themselves.  The next batch I used a cookie cutter and went to town - the point being let your presentation determine the shapes!  I haven't tried any of the rolled shapes yet, just flat ones, but have some fun with it!

Once you've got the shapes you need but your well dusted noodles on a well dusted plate and let them dry a bit - dry noodles are less likely to dissolve in a pot of boiling water, and it's easier to get a nice al dente texture from them.  Once you're noodles have dried a bit (they don't need to be stiff like store bought noodles but you do want them to dry for at least an hour), boil up a big pot of water, add salt and a float of olive oil, drop the noodles in and don't walk away.  The noodles will start to get floaty in about 2 min - cook them for another minute to two minutes then fish them out.  Fresh noodles don't take as long to cook!

While the noodles are drying it's time to sort out a sauce.  While a nice store bought sauce is fine, it's such a great chance to be creative!  Here are a couple of options to consider;

Super-ultra vegan sauce - dice plum tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic, set aside.   Warm a generous helping of olive oil in a sauce pan - add the garlic and onions and cook them slowly over medium heat stirring constantly until they start to become soft and translucent.  Add the diced tomatoes and a spoonful of tomato paste (canned is fine), and a dash of your favorite dried herb mix (I use herbs de provance), and salt and pepper to taste.  Keeping the heat at medium/high, let the tomatoes simmer - they'll start to soften which is exactly what you're looking for.  And instead of salt, I used capers - it adds a briney flavor that I thing works really well with the tomatoes.  When you can't wait to shovel the sauce into your mouth it's ready - layer it over and between the noodles, top with shredded basil and serve.

Not so super ultra vegan?  Add shredded Parmesan or mozzarella - I did one version with a slice of prosciutto sandwiched in the middle of the stack.  The photo at the start of this entry even shows a small stack of garlic chips on the side!

Herb butter sauce - in a pan, melt a generous clump of butter (I like home made butter but store bought is fine).  Add a handfull of chopped up fresh herbs - sage works really well here.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Quick steam a handful of asparagus stalks chopped to about one inch pieces, and toss them into the butter to finish. Layer the asparagus with the noodles (once cooked) topping with remaining butter sauce and a healthy sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

I'm sure you can think of other yummy things to put on top of a dish of pasta right?


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Macha and smashed Lavender Creme Brulee

I had left over egg yolks, because I've got it in my head I'm going to make French Macarons.  The other recipe involves 6 egg whites, so rather than to let the yolks go to waste, I figured I'd bust out the kitchen torch and see what happens...

There are a number of different flavors I considered but I decided to twist it around and use macha (green tea powder) AND crushed lavender.  (In the past, I've also used thai tea, or vanilla beans or almond extract - all delicious options!)

So for this batch, stuff you'll need:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for topping
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of macha powder
  • Roughly quarter cup of lavender flowers (crush them with a mortar and pestal to release the flavor)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and put on a pot of water for the bain Marie.

In a saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat, add lavender flowers and macha powder.  Don't let the cream boil - you want it to get warm enough that you can smell the lavender and the macha powder can be incorporated (it'll just float on top of cold cream).  About 5 min.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until well blended - yolks without the whites won't gain volume so just make sure everything is well mixed.

Strain the cream to remove the buds from the lavender.  Slowly pour about a quarter cup of the warm cream into the egg mixture, while stirring - this process is calling tempering, and it allows you to mix the egg with the warm cream without scrambling the yolks!  

Once the yolks are tempered, you can whisk them back into the remaining cream mixture.  Now, I cheated a little bit here - the color wasn't what I wanted it to be, so I added just a touch of green food color - totally unnecessary step but I was going for a more distinguished green color.  So sue me.

You'll notice in the photos, I didn't use real ramekins - actually I found these cute little custard cups in SF Chinatown about a billion years ago, and I use these instead whenever I need ramekins.  They're cute and the come with matching lids...  Ramekins would be ideal, but any single serving oven save ceramic bowl should do the trick.

In a baking pan with high sides, place a dish cloth - this is going to help stabilize the ramekins when you bake. Place about six ramekins in the dish, and divide the creme brulee mix among them.  Fill the baking pan with boiling water so that it comes up about half way up the sides of the ramekins - if your oven has shelves that slide out, you may want to do it over there rather than trying to move a pan full of boiling water.  Safety first and all that!

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 min, or until the edges set and the middle is still jiggly.  Take them out of the oven and let them cool a bit then cover place in the fridge to cool even more.

Before serving, pour a bit of sugar onto the surface of the custard - tilt the dish around to coat the top.  

Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar to create that crunchy crust which is the primary reason to eat creme brulee in the first place. The kitchen torch might take some practice, I pretty consistently get darker sugar than I intend to, although I rather like the taste.  Let it cool for a moment to harden and dig in!


Friday, October 29, 2010

Munchy Corn Fritters

There's a restaurant in San Francisco, called E and O trading company, it's on Sutter street, between Stockton and Grant, and they make corn fritters.  Or should I say the BEST corn fritters ever?!!??  This is my humble attempt (second try) to replicate them.  Turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself!

The first batch was oddly doughy and fluffy in a way that distracted from the corn.  Like state fair food.  This batch highlighted the flavor of the corn and the scallions with a crispy crunch from the light batter... delish!!

Stuff you'll need:

  • One bag of corn (I used a 16 oz bag)
  • 6 or 8 scallions roughly chopped
  • pinch of salt
  • several grinds of black pepper (coarse)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites - whipped to stiff peaks
  • 3+ tablespoons flour

Whip egg whites until soft peaks form (then whip a tiny little bit more) and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine corn, scallions, salt, pepper and 2 of the egg yolks stir until well mixed.  Sprinkle in your flour - adding a little at a time to avoid clumping.

Fold egg whites into corn mix 1/3 at a time - you may not need to use all the egg whites so fully incorporate the mix before adding more.

When finished, your fritter mix should look something like this
The idea is you want just enough batter for the kernels to bind but not so much that it's all batter no veg.

On your stove (unless you happen to have a deep fry machine in which case - we might not be able to be friends or you need to invite me over to use YOUR kitchen...)  heat a pan of flavor neutral oil - I like canola oil.  You'll need about an two inches of oil at the bottom of the pan, enough for the fritter to float.

Carefully scoop batter into the hot oil - about a quarter cup at a time for a large fritter.  As the batter heats it'll spread a little - if you find they come apart like confetti, add a little flour to the mix.

Let it fry for about a min and a half then flip and fry for another 1 1/2 min to two min until they turn golden brown.  Lift out of the oil and place on a paper towel to drain, and repeat until all the batter is used.

Serve with your fav. dipping sauce, here's one version;

  • 1/2 cup of dark soy sauce or bottled tempura sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
  • splash of mirin
Mix ingredients together and place in a small dish to serve.

I'm a fan of an even simpler version using soy sauce mixed with a little dashi myself.  


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Black Cod with sweet miso marinade

One of my best friends from high school was in town a couple of weeks ago, and she took me to dinner at Nobu on a reservation that was arranged through her sick connections.  Wow.  Those people know how to make food happen, lemme tell you.  We went for the omakase meal, letting the chef decide what to serve us - every single bite was flavorful and unique - not a single wasted bite!

One of their signature dishes is black cod in a miso marinade - now let me be clear, there is NO way I think for a SECOND that I can possible duplicate the dish exactly.  However it did remind me of a version my mom used to make - that I can replicate with some changes owning to the fact that I don't have the sense to ask her how she did it.

I have to admit, I could eat this every day, and really I haven't managed to get it to turn out exactly the way I want to just yet.  I've tried stove top in a cast iron pan, and more recently I tried it in my Foreman Grill which demonstrated to me that I need to replace it as it's now the antithesis of non stick.  Ideally I think this dish needs a toaster oven to come out the way I want it to.  Guess I'll just have to make it again.  Darn.

But for now, here are the basics, remember it takes a couple of days to marinate the fish completely, though you could probably cheat it if you use a little extra sauce when you cook it.  My version is probably a little less sweet than others because I'm trying to minimize carbs so I don't use additional sugar.  You can add a table spoon or two (depending on volume of marinade) if you prefer sweeter flavor.

Stuff you'll need;

  • Black cod filets - skin on
  • Shiro miso (white miso) - about 1/4 cup
  • Mirin - 4 tbsp give or take
  • Dashi broth (water will actually do here, I use dashi because I always have a ton on hand.) have a cup or so on hand, this is what you'll use to liquefy the marinade
Get yourself a ziplock bag, close to the size of the filets with a little space to spare - the idea is to maximize the contact between the fish and the marinade mix.  Drop the miso paste, and mirin in the bag, and seal it - massage it a bit till the miso breaks up and the mirin is incorporated.  Add the dashi stock little by little (or water) enough to make a viscose marinade.  Add the cod to the bag push out as much extra air as you can and seal.

Now let it sit.  For at least 3 days.

When you're ready to cook pull the cod out of the bag, you might notice some color change, it's fine, that's just the marinade permeating the fillet.

Looks good already doesn't it!  Now, to the cooking.  Here's where I'm still stumbling a bit - I like the skin, specifically, I like the skin to get crunchy and charred a bit - it's salty deliciousness that can't be beat.  If the fish is properly scaled, and cooked well, the skin is often the best part!

However I haven't quite figured out how to cook the fish without the skin sticking to the pan and coming off the fish - could have to do with my aversion to non stick pans, or the fact that my overused Foreman Grill's non stick properties are no longer a viable feature.  C'est la vie, it's still delicious and I have no shame in scraping the charred skin off the surface of the dish, however to serve to company, I'd prefer it to look better so in an ideal world, I'd recommend using a toaster oven for this dish.

Toaster oven directions:
Set toaster oven on broil, line your cooking pan with foil for easy clean up after cooking.
Pop the fish in the toaster oven and let it broil for about 6 to 8 min - a little longer if the fillet is particularly thick.  Let the skin char a bit, it's sooo good that way!

Stove top directions:
Add a little bit of flavor neutral oil (I used canola) to a pre warmed pan on medium/ medium high heat.  Place the fish in the pan skin side down first, for about 2 min, then flip over and allow it to cook through, about 7 minutes a little longer for a thicker fillet.  (note, this method sometimes results in the skin coming off or not enough charring of the skin but it still tastes delicious!)

Which ever route you take, this dish with it's salty miso flavor goes well with green vegetables - broccoli rabe for example, or asparagus, or blanched spinach.   Also, while I'm trying to not eat carbs, this would be fabulous with a robust sticky rice, like Japanese style sticky rice mixed with barley and millet (just throw it all in the rice cooker at once).


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Five-spice Short Ribs with smashed garlic

Photo by Amy Fletcher for information go to

I love short ribs.  The tender fatty bits of slow braised meat that fall apart in their buttery goodness - what's not to love???  I've also discovered, I have a fondness for 5 spice powder and garlic and my slow cooker and red wine.  So I decided to experiment last night, and the results are what you see above (good thing there's a photo because I don't remember chewing....)

Beef short ribs go well with a few other flavors - onions, garlic and red wine if you're doing a western style preparation, 5 spice powder, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and mirin if you're doing an Asian style preparation.  I decided to combine the two and see how it came out - delicious that's how!!  I think this would only have been improved if I'd done a stove top or oven braising but I have DVR programming I wanted to catch up on so crock pot it was.

You're going to need;

  • Short ribs - I've used boneless as well as slabs with bone - either works (short ribs shrink like crazy so eye ball two portions size raw for one portion cooked.)
  • Onion - mine were regular yellow onions, but I bet one of the sweeter varieties would have been good.  I used half - you can use the whole thing if you're a big fan of onions
  • Garlic - I tend to use too much, like 8 cloves, I suggest somewhere around 4
  • Soy sauce - half a cup or so
  • Sesame oil - 1 - TBSp
  • Beef Broth 2 to 3 cups
  • Splash of rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • Mirin - about 3 table spoons (more or less to taste)
  • Red wine - I used an inexpensive Cabernet 
  • 5 spice powder - about 3 TBSP. 

I discovered that 5 spice powder varies from one place to another - mine personally has 6 spices in it for crying out loud!  However, most of the time you'll find it's a combination of cinnamon, clove, anise, licorice root and ginger in varying portions.  Mine happens to have fennel in it as well.  It's a wonderfully aromatic blend so I wouldn't spend too much time worried about it.

Dice the onions into substantial chunks - no need for a super fine dice here, one inch chunks ought to do - set aside.  Smash the garlic using the side of a chef's knife or cleaver - smashing the cloves make it easy to pull the papery skin off.  Cut the short ribs into uniform pieces (figure one or two chunks per serving).

In the slow cooker/crock pot, combine 5 spice powder, beef broth, soy sauce, red wine, mirin, vinegar, and sesame oil.  I find that pouring the oil in last makes it easier to incorporate the 5 spice powder which tends to stubbornly float on top.  Stir to mix, and give it a little taste - it might seem a little on the salty side which is fine, but you want to make sure the cooking liquid tastes good from here - I found I added a bit of red wine to make the flavor a bit more robust here.  Add the onions and smashed garlic, and the rib meat.

Turn on the cooker and walk away - my slow cooker has three settings, low high and warm - I set it on high for about 3 hours (it's called a slow cooker for a reason).  At about two hours take a peek - you want to make sure the onions are taking on a translucent look to them - give everything a good stir and - if you're like me - now's a good time to poke it.  The rib meat needs to fall apart with a fork alone before it's ready.

Once the meat is falling apart soft, you're ready to serve - I found mine took about 3 and a half hours total, times will vary based on your cooker.

I'd suggest topping it with something green - thinly sliced scallions or chives - cilantro would also probably be good although not sure on that one as I'm one of those people that thinks it tastes a bit like soap.  This would be great served on top of a steaming hot bowl of ramen soup as well for those not carb conscious!!

As a treat thick slices of daikon added in the last hour would also be delicious, as would chunks of carrots or potatos (though less so for the last two in my opinion).

If you don't have a slow cooker, don't despair, you can make this on a stove top or in the oven;

I suggest you use a large pot like a cast iron dutch oven.  Doesn't have to be cast iron, but I like the way those pots disperse heat.  Make sure you have a lid for the pot and if you're putting the pot in the oven, make sure it's oven proof (no plastic handles etc.).

In Oven directions:
Set your oven to about 350, and for added flavor, pour a splash of oil in the pot first, drop in the garlic and do a quick sear of the short ribs in the pot before you add the braising liquid.  Pour in enough liquid to cover the ribs half way (not all the way), cover and pop the whole thing into the oven and let it cook checking periodically to see if you need to add liquid as it cooks off. You want to let it cook until the meat is falling away from the bone.

Stove top directions;
Pour a splash of oil in the pot first, drop in the garlic and do a quick sear of the short ribs in the pot before you add the braising liquid.  Add enough liquid to cover the ribs half way, and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to the low end of medium and let it simmer slow and low till the meat is fall off the bone tender.
(if you're using a gas oven eye ball it, it's more accurate than the dials, if you're using electric you'll need to pay a little more attention and possibly adjust the heat to get a simmer)


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dashi to die for

The weather is getting cooler (finally!) which in my mind, makes it soup season.  All kinds of soup!  I'm starting this season off with soups based on the ingredients my mom had around the house when I was a kid - Japanese influences, tasty bits.  Lots of things like tofu and miso, petals of chicken and fish.

The bases of many Japanese soups and broths is dashi - the seasoned fish and kelp stock that is the corner stone of many kinds of soup.  Without good dashi, you don't get good soup - the nice thing is, the definition of good dashi is entirely up to the person who's holding the spoon.  That is to say, my mom might say I'm doing this wrong, but it's been damn tasty.  For example, I use shiitake and I like to make the flavors a little stronger in my batches, as I find it lends well to freezing and reheating.

So, with that in mind, I'll lay out the basic instructions for simple dashi - feel free to change the recipe to your taste.  For example David Chang of Momofuku fame makes a bacon variety that I'm dying to try making!  I'll let you know when I get around to it.  In the meantime I've made a couple dozen batches using the guidelines below and find it gets better every time.

The ingredients:
  • Konbu - or Kelp - you can pick this up in most Asian food markets.  It looks something like this
  • Bonito flakes - dried bonito (or Sarda, a type of mackerel), shaved down into flakes, sometimes mixed with dried shaved sardine flakes as well
  • Mirin (Japanese cooking wine) - mine looks like this but I haven't found much difference between brands
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms - re-hydrated in water with a splash of soy sauce and a splash of mirin - dried shiitake have a richer flavor than fresh, this would be one instance where I would say don't bother with the fresh version.  I should mention - shiitake mushrooms have a spectacularly earthy rich smell and flavor to them.  If you're one of those people that doesn't like things like truffles and mushrooms, skip this.  Otherwise let them soak for a couple of hours until they're soft, and save the soaking liquid.

  • Soy Sauce - I'm going to take this opportunity to get on a little soap box about soy sauce.  There are a ton of brands out there that aren't real soy sauce - they taste like soy sauce but they involve things like caramel color, even sugar sometimes but no soy beans.  Read. The. Label.  While real soy sauce comes in several varieties every variety should start with soy beans.  If it doesn't say soy beans put it back on the shelf.  Good ingredients make good food so I think it's worth paying attenuation.  
  • Water is the last thing - I like to make a big batch and freeze the dashi so I can use it over the next couple of days, so I'd start with around 6 cups of water. 
Put the water into pot large - I use a three quart pot.  You want to make sure there's enough space so the broth won't boil over.  Slip one sheet of konbu into the water - don't worry about washing it or anything, just straight out of the package, into the water.  Bring the water to a simmer and let the konbu steep until it's tender enough to cut into with a fingernail or edge of a spoon.  Then turn the water off, and let it sit for another 15 min or so.  The water should have developed a briny-kelp fragrance and a slight olive tinge.  Many recipes call for taking the konbu out much earlier but I rather like the flavor so I let it steep.

Next add the fish flakes - and be generous with them!  I use 1 or 2 generous handfuls, or roughly two cups lightly packed.  The water should be hot but not necessarily boiling - if need be, turn the heat on medium to low and bring the liquid to a simmer again.  Put a lid on the pot and let it steep as well, the flakes will sink to the bottom which is your signal to move on to the next step.

Strain the flakes out, using a sieve or cheesecloth.  I use a conical strainer sometimes called a chinois (although I'm not certain mine is actually a chinois as it's not mesh)  Season the resulting broth with splashes of mirin and soy sauce to taste - I tend to leave my dashi a little on the less-seasoned side, to accommodate the various flavors that come from adding it to different recipes like miso soup.

The next step is optional, I love the taste of shiitake mushrooms so I think of it as part of the base I pour the soaking liquid from the mushrooms into the broth, then slice up the shiitake and drop them in as well.  That gives me a head start the next time I want to use the broth, but it also means I have shiitake in anything I make with the broth. That makes me happy :)

I pour the dashi into one cup lidded containers to freeze them for later use (there were actually two more, but I couldn't help myself...they never had a chance.)

Now you have dashi!  Dashi can be used as a base for noodle soup, or hearty but delicate soups.  Dashi is also the key ingredient in miso soup - without it miso paste just makes salty water, or as the base for the sauce for tempura and age dashi tofu.

And sometimes, I like to just have a mug of it by itself to warm up on a chilly day.