Monday, June 28, 2010

Lazy Saturday

As my re-introduction to the kitchen (and blogging) after our vacation to Decatur, Ill., I decided to make bread. My friend Richie recommended this bread book that he swears by. Now, I already have a baking book and a couple of cookbooks that have breads in them, but this book is revolutionary! The authors' idea was to have homemade bread daily without working on it for hours. In fact, it's called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." Of course, that doesn't include rise and baking time, but you don't have to knead (!) and the way that it takes mere minutes to throw together is because you make a huge batch and refrigerate it! You can pull four loaves from that base over the course of two weeks. You need to invest time on day 1 to make the dough, but there is no blooming or kneading or anything. It's fabulous. Really, anything that Richie recommends is guaranteed to be fabulous. The guy is a Renaissance man. He lives in a yurt! That he built!
I opted to start with the European Peasant Loaf. It's chewy and light and lovely. You use steam for this particular loaf, so you have to put a pan in there, like I have done before. No big deal. So, without really thinking it through, I grab what it closest: a Pyrex. I see if it will fit in the tight space between the racks and, hey, leave it in there while the oven heats to 450. I then pull it out to pour in the boiling water because ... I am the dumbest girl on the planet! Please note that boiling water is 212 and the oven was 450. What happens when there is a 200 degree difference between glass and water?

It explodes.
Well, it pops and then falls all over the place. I managed to only let out a little scream of shock. It was a good thing I took the Pyrex out of the oven to fill. Normally, I would have slid it out of the oven just a bit to pour in the water. That would have meant glass in the oven and all over the floor. As it turned out, I had it on the range. Thank goodness my burners are sealed. But, man, those shards went everywhere.
I had freshly made banana bread sitting next to the range, too. I picked off a couple shards, but refused to throw it away because it was really good banana bread! I made the right decision because neither Josh nor I have a torn esophagus.

Friday, June 25, 2010


My parents came to visit and I made a couple veggie dishes that were quite good, if I do say so myself. One was sauteed bok choy. We all know that this vegetable can be bitter, but if you sear it over high heat and use the right sauce - given that you have chosen young enough specimens - you get something great. I managed to make this dish great. It makes me extra happy when that happens for guests. I just hate it when I mess something up when people are coming over. I want to ensure everyone that I am better than that, really.

Bok Choy: 1lb. baby bok choy, cut into quarters; 2 T chicken broth, 1T oyster sauce, 1.5 tsp. soy sauce, 1.5 tsp. cornstarch, 1/2 tsp. sugar, 3T veg oil, 2 ginger slices (optional), 1 clove crushed garlic. Procedure: Combine broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce, cornstarch, and sugar. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until definitely hot. If using ginger, add half of the oil and ginger, and fry for 10 seconds until fragrant. Add the rest of the oil, bok choy and garlic. Let the bok choy sear before stirring for 2-3 minutes total until leaves are limp but still green. Add sauce and let thicken for 1-2 minutes. Note: you can double the sauce, but only use 2 tsp. cornstarch.

The other dish was out of Bon Appetit. There was a glut of greatness in the last issue. The current one looks promising too. This is green beans and zucchini in a sauce verte. I don't normally like zucchini, but if you caramelize and cover it in a nice sauce, what's not to like?

Sauce verte: 1/3 cup basil leaves, 1 green onion, 1T parsley, 2 T capers, 1T lemon juice, 2tsp. Dijon, 1 garlic clove, 3T e.v. olive oil. Puree the first 7 ingredients, adding the oil slowly.
Vegetables: 1T olive oil, 1lb. green beans, trimmed; 12 oz. zucchini, in strips; 3 T water (optional - see below), 2 T parsley. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add veggies and stir until coated in oil. Sprinkle salt and water over and cover. Cook about 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Uncover and cook through to tender, about 2 minutes more. Alternately, you can omit the water and simply saute the veggies until seared and tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in sauce, season to taste, and garnish with parsley.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Two Haiku

Pasta eggs - couscous
Flying fish eggs - tobiko
Both stick to tables

Couscous sticks to hands
Tobiko to the table
Finding both in hair

Steak and Salad

Bon Appetit magazine is chock full of fabulous ideas this month. I usually read through all the recipes and put stars next to the ones I intend to try. Much like highlighting college textbooks, I felt like it would have been easier to mark the ones I did not want to use this month.

Here we have harissa-marinated sirloin tips and Isaraeli couscous with asparagus and peas. As with many BA recipes, the steak is marinated in something that, although increasingly popular among the cuisine-minded, is not found in the local market. I have realized that I can almost always figure out something to substitute after reading the description of the exotic ingredient in question. So, harissa is a chile sauce of Northern Africa. Well, I have Sriracha, a chile sauce of Thailand, already in my fridge - voila! - substitution made.

I used steaks from my frozen 1/4-steer and was determined to cook them perfectly. In my mind, "perfect" means rare. Medium-rare if I have to. So I seared them quickly ... too quickly. Turns out, treating fat slices of steak like shrimp doesn't work so well. Josh and I cut into our first bite and thought it looked like ahi. I probably would have eaten it if it was just me, quite honestly, but Josh thought it would be best thrown back in the skillet for a couple minutes. I will admit that they tasted better in the medium/medium-rare state they ended up in.

I believe I am paraphrasing Anthony Bourdain when I say that anyone who eats their meat well-done doesn't actually like meat. I would extend that to medium-well, even. The reason is that, once you cook a thing to smithereens, all real texture and flavor is lost. AB even said that when someone in a restaurant orders meat well-done, the kitchen will grab the oldest piece of meat in the fridge. Since there will be no flavor left, the diner will not be able to distinguish any off color, flavor or smell; these disappear through over-cooking.

I suppose this is part of my right way-wrong way thinking. I pretty much ascribe to the philosophy that there is a correct and, therefore, incorrect, way to do pretty much everything. Eating meat on the raw to medium scale (excepting poultry) is correct, so that's the way you should do it! Using the entire acceleration ramp to merge with freeway traffic is correct, so 99.99999% of Seattle drivers do it wrong and should learn how to drive correctly!

The couscous was quite good, too. The key was the dressing. Also key: toasting the couscous and cooking it in chicken broth.

Steak Marinade: 2T e.v.olive oil, 4 garlic cloves, minced, 2T golden brown sugar, 2T soy sauce, 1T minced fresh thyme, 2 tsp. harissa or Sriracha. Mix all that, toss in meat, and marinate anywhere from two hours to overnight. I put the marinade together in the morning and used the meat that night.

Couscous dressing: 2T e.v.olive oil, 2T lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2-1 tsp. grated lemon zest. Actually, I didn't measure the zest, I just used a small lemon and grated off the zest of the whole thing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Civilized Lunch

I told you about the book I was reading: French Women Don't Get Fat. It changed my thinking about food and meals, so much that I bought the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook in order to complete my transformation.

One of the things Guiliano notes is that French women sit down to lunch. You eat several courses - small courses - sometimes with a glass of wine; you take time to enjoy this food. So I really want lunch to be a meal - something good, balanced - something that makes me feel nourished and not looking to snack 10 minutes after I am through. I have been eating a salmon burger and salad - great, but I am "hungry" not long after I finish.
So this past week I decided to make a frittata - leek and smoked salmon with some cheese melted on top - and a vegetable soup.

The soup is like a minestrone and was easily the best vegetable soup I have ever had. I made it from my newish Lydia Bastianich cookbook. And, yes, I did have a wee glass of wine with my lunch. When Sam goes down for a late nap and I know I am not going anywhere in the afternoon, I go ahead with my little tipple, thank you.
It's most civilized and I highly recommend it.

Recipes can take a while to type because I am slow. If you want the soup recipe, let me know and I will gladly type it out for you, dear readers.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ricotta Tart

I discovered ricotta as dessert. I know, those of you with European influences are probably like, "Duh." I made little tarts with honey and ricotta for Sam once. Surprise! he didn't like them ... but I did. I decided to make this tart when my sister, M, was visiting.
I thought it was delicious, especially with the chocolate crust and orange and lemon zests in the mix. Josh confessed that he finds ricotta "chalky." That is not a pleasant description of anything, except chalk.
I also made a rhubarb compote. I had only eaten rhubarb once before, in brownies, and I had never worked with it. The fact that the greens contain a toxin kind of put me off. Nevertheless, this spring I resolved to try all the bounties of spring. My brain has finally held onto seasons and what grows when. Rhubarb heralds spring, so I needed to get some.

I cooked it too long such that it turned mushy, but it was still delicious - tangy and astringent, but sweet too.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lumpia - Take Two!

This time I got the recipe I wanted. Funny, though. So I asked the gal, R, for the recipe a couple of times. Really what I did was strongly hint that I would like to be invited to her house to learn to properly make lumpia in all its Filipino glory. I believe I said something like, "I would love to learn how to make these. Sam likes them so much. I think I would need a tutorial because yours are rolled so nicely, and they look hard." That's a pretty obvious fishing expedition, I think. But my hints went unrecognized. I then emailed R asking for the recipe. I got no response! I thought maybe it was a family recipe and she didn't want to, or was forbidden to, share it. I was going over all the reasons in my mind, really trying to steer clear from the high school-ish She just doesn't like you reason.
Then I talk to my friend EB, who is friends with R, goes out with R, socializes with R, has tea and crumpets with R and her husband, G, who is a lovely man, by the way. Turns out, R gave EB a strange photocopy of a recipe, written in haste, on binder paper. I assume that this was for me ... or maybe the original went to EB because she wanted it and she made me a copy because she knew I wanted it. Hmmmm. The piece of paper has the "recipe" plus parts of two other recipes and a scratched out shopping list. Huh? As I mentioned before, it's not really a recipe. There is an ingredients list and the instructions say three things: marinate overnight, cut the lumpia wrappers in half, keep a wet cloth over the wrappers to prevent drying out. What was missing from the instructions was whether or not I cook the meat before stuffing. I have a total of three lumpia recipes and two say to cook the meat, while R's says nothing. I do know that one can make potstickers and wontons without cooking the meat ahead of time. And I thought that not cooking it makes sense because R's lumpia are solid rods of meat and how could she get them to be like that if she was stuffing with cooked meat? I erred on the side of cooking. I mean, I guess you wouldn't say "don't cook" in instructions, but I thought it was weird. And, since R clearly does not like me, vis-a-vis bizarre recipe-sharing demeanor, I knew that emailing or calling (not that I have her number or would be authorized to get it) would probably get me nothing.

They were delicious anyway! My meat marinated for two nights because ... I have a toddler. They took me a couple of hours to assemble, and I assembled close to 60, I think. I had 1&1/2 lbs. beef, which doesn't look like very much in a bowl. When you realize you are only spooning a couple of teaspoons into each one, however, you know you're in it for the long haul.

In comparing this second set of lumpia with the first, I learned what makes a difference. First, marinate the meat, etc., overnight in a generous amount of soy sauce. R's recipe is 1/4 cup and the others I have only call for a tablespoon with as much meat. Not enough flavor and seasoning. Second, lumpia wrappers are awesome! Imagine a crepe; now slice it horizontally and you have the thin thin lumpia wrapper. I found them in the frozen section and spent I don't know how long just pulling them apart before stuffing them. Much much thinner than wonton wrappers, and that makes all the difference in the crunch factor. Third, egg is superior to water as a sealant. Fourth, and most importantly, Who needs a stinking fryer? You can totally do anything in a wok!

I bet I need to make my own wrappers to be declared Honorary Filipina. I'll work on that.

Next ethnic dish that requires a ridiculous amount of time: pastizzi. It's Maltese!