September 24, 2010

Trip to the Asian Market

I know, you wish there were photos.  So do I...

It has been so much fun to go through all the fun stuff we got at Oto's Marketplace in Sacramento last week.  I thought I would highlight a few of my favorite things.

Little ceramic rice bowls - Inventorying my kitchen cabinets, it would seem that typical American soup or cereal bowls have increased in volume over the last 50 years.  The three sets that I have acquired in the last 10 years boast a volume of over three cups each.  That might be acceptable for a main-dish salad or (a large single serving of) soup, but it can be pretty disappointing to be served one scoop of ice cream in one of those huge bowls.  Most often I end up using them as serving bowls for side dishes; they are the perfect size for our family of four.  By contrast, the bowls I inherited from my grandmother (which are at least 30 years old) hold approximately 2 cups of food.  I find them to be the perfect size for soup or oatmeal.  For smaller quantities--a scoop of ice cream, a serving of baby food, something to hold a small snack-- I resort to 1-cup Pyrex bowls and, okay, my two sets of ramekins.  Wow, that's a lot of bowls!  So maybe I didn't need this cute little set of rice bowls, but I love them.  They are perfect for serving ice cream.  That's how I remember my stepmother serving ice cream when I was little.  Or, of course for serving rice.

Japanese food-whether in a restaurant or a home kitchen- is beautiful, because there is so much focus on fresh ingredients and presentation.  Japanese home cooks take care to slice tofu, meats and fish evenly and to cut vegetables into pleasing shapes.  It is traditionally a very healthful cuisine, with emphasis on vegetables, fruits, soy, fish and rice.  And if served in Japanese-style dishes, it is naturally portion-controlled.

Chopsticks - Okay, I think all four of us--my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my husband and I--put chopsticks in the shopping basket, because we came home with over 20 pairs.  (This is after I bought a set of 20 plain chopsticks when we had friends over for sushi for my husband's birthday last June.)  But these new chopsticks are fun chopsticks.  There's a pastel-checkered set, and bamboo striped set, and an individual pair that has some kind of decorative rock embedded in it. I know, we went a little overboard.  But it is kind of fun when everybody can pick out their favorite set of chopsticks for each meal.  And now we will always have plenty for guests.  Wanna come over for a sushi party?

Nori Komi Furikaki Rice Seasoning - A mixture of toasted nori flakes, sesame seeds, sugar and salt, to sprinkle over rice (or, may I suggest, popcorn). Sweet, salty and nutty in a 1.7 ounce jar. (If you've ever had Trader Joe's Sprouted Brown Rice Bowl, this is the same mixture that is in that little seasoning packet.)  Yum.  They had other more exotic flavors of rice seasoning--one of them included salmon--but I stuck with what I was familiar with.

Mochi Ice Cream - yes, you can buy strawberry, mango and green tea at Trader Joes, but at Oto's we found Kona Coffee.

Rice Candy - My husband and I both picked up a couple boxes, saying they were for our 6 year old.  And we were both irritated with each other when we gave our daughter the other person's candy.  At Oto's these little boxes were 89 cents each.  Elsewhere, I find them for $1.49 each.

Toasted Nori and Roasted Nori Snack -  My daughter often takes a sheet of nori, the sushi wrapper, to school in her lunch box.  After reading one Japanese author's account of having sea vegetables in her lunch box when she she was younger, I asked my daughter what the other kids think about her seaweed.  I don't remember exactly how she responded, but my response was, "I'm sorry kids are making fun of you."  To which she replied, "Mom, they are not making fun of me.  They are making fun of my food. Who cares?"  I suppose that means she is well-adjusted.

Dried Bonito Flakes  - As I mentioned in my post on Miso Soup, I've looked all over for these.  I think most Asian food markets sell them, it's just that they don't always have the translation to English on the label. (I've included a picture on the left...Why didn't I just Google Image Search it years ago?)

Bonito is a super-thinly-sliced, dried tuna that is used a great deal in Japanese cooking.  When I first opened the package I noticed a really smoky, meaty smell, not unlike bacon.  I am looking forward to getting more familiar with this ingredient.

Loacker Quadratini Wafers -  True, these are not Japanese.  And true, they don't fit into a Locavore diet unless you live in the Italian Alps, but I have a bit of an addiction to them.  Think bite-size square Kit Kats without the chocolate coating! Oto's carries the Cappuccino, Hazelnut, Vanilla and Dark Chocolate varieties. 

Sushi Rice -  Yeah, you can buy it at many grocery stores, but a Japanese market has such a selection, that it is fun to get it there, even if you don't know anything about the differences in the various types and brands.  And believe me, there are differences, but, no, I don't know what they are.  Sushi rice is made with short grain rice, which cooks up to be pleasantly sweet and a bit sticky.

To Make Rice for Sushi:
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Cook 1 1/2 cups sushi rice according to the directions on the package. When the rice is almost finished, meat in a small saucepan, 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon salt.  Stir to dissolve salt and sugar and remove from heat.  Transfer rice to a large shallow pan (such as a 13 x 9" baking pan or a large, shallow mixing bowl.  Toss rice with a large spatula to cool it.  While tossing it, sprinkle it with the sushi rice seasoning.  Toss to thoroughly mix in the seasoning and to cool the rice.  Do not stop tossing until rice is at room temperature.

  Want some good homestyle Japanese recipes?  Check out this book.  The co-author grew up in Japan and now lives in New York City.  All the recipes are things that she or her Japanese mother make in their own kitchens.

September 23, 2010

Miso Soup

You know you might be a foodie when all your souvenir shopping takes place at food markets.  This weekend after some wonderful shabu-shabu and a trip to Oto's Market in Sacramento, I came home and made miso soup.

Did you know that I looked in speciality markets and Asian food stores for over three years before I found bonito flakes (dried tuna, I believe) and kombu (a certain type of seaweed), the two ingredients in dashi?  I found kombu at Chico Natural Foods a while ago, but Oto's is the first place I have found bonito flakes that were clearly marked in English, so that I could confirm that they were indeed bonito flakes.  I'm sure I've run across them in other Asian markets, but never with enough of an English label to determine that that is really what it was.

Being without dashi in the past, I have tended to make miso soup simply with boiling water poured over a heaping spoonful of miso paste, a handful of cubed firm tofu and half a sheet of nori, torn into 2" strips.  I top it with thinly sliced scallion.  Not much more difficult than Cup O-Soup, it is our favorite soup-when-someone-has-a-cold.  Still, I have kept a look out for the bonito flakes and kombu required to make a traditional dashi stock.

Dashi Stock
adapted from How to Cook Anything by Mark Bittman

In medium soup-pot or sauce pan, combine 1 quart cold water with a 6" piece of kombu.  Turn heat to medium-low and bring almost to a boil.  Test kombu, if it is not yet tender, add a little more cold water and let cook a couple more minutes until tender.  Remove kombu. (Kombu can be used once more for a second batch of dashi, or cut into small pieces and added to a stirfry.)  Add half-cup bonito flakes.  Cook 1-2 minutes.  Do not allow to boil.  Pour stock through a sieve and press to extract as much flavor as possible  from the bonito.  (Discard bonito.)   Stock can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Simple Miso Soup
Similar to the soup often used as a starter course in Japanese restaurants.  Miso is a salty soy paste, increasingly available in Asian and natural food stores.
Makes 4-6 servings.

1 quart dashi, or substitute 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water
4 oz firm tofu, cut into small cubes
3 sheets nori, cut or torn into 2" strips
3 tablespoons miso, plus more to taste, white, brown, red, whatever you have on hand
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat dashi to a simmer.  Place miso in liquid measuring cup.  Ladle approximately 1 cup of hot dashi into measuring cup and whisk to combine.  To the simmering dashi in the saucepan, add tofu cubes.  Cook 1 minute, just enough to heat through.  Turn off heat.  Add dashi-miso mixture and nori.  Stir gently to combine without breaking tofu.  Ladle into small soup bowls and top with scallions.

Heartier Miso Soup

To create a heartier miso soup, one that can be used as a vegetable side dish or even a main course, simply cook a up to four of your favorite vegetables in the dashi stock prior to adding the tofu.  Remember to carefully cut the vegetables into appropriately sized pieces, and add those that would take longer to cook (such as carrots, winter squash or sweet potatoes) first, following them with vegetables that require progressively less cooking time (various mushrooms, thicker greens, cabbage, udon noodles) and finally things that cook almost instantly (spinach, peas, bean sprouts and nori).

September 20, 2010

Hazelnut Brownies II - Chewy Hazelnut

Since my first batch of Hazelnut Brownies were a chocoholic's dream and I felt a little chocolated-out, I decided to highlight the Hazelnut flavor in the second batch of brownies by modifying a recipe for Nutty Butterscotch Blondies that I found in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.  Essentially, a blondie is a brownie without the chocolate.  It wasn't that I didn't want the chocolate, I just didn't want the chocolate to overpower the hazelnut.  So with this second attempt at Hazelnut Brownies, a Nutella-Hazelnut batter is marbled into a hazelnut blondie batter.  Then it is topped with chopped hazelnuts for some textural contrast, as well as a visual reminder of what one should be tasting.

While my first Hazelnut Brownies were egg-leavened and used a minimal amount of flour, this second batch is leavened with baking powder.  For the flour, being that the starting recipe is from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, I used white whole wheat.  I like whole wheat, because it gives full-bodied cookies and brownies a little ump, so that the texture stands up to the flavor.  I wouldn't use whole grain flours in delicate cookies, such as Katz Tongues or Madelines, but in anything chocolatey, I like to use whole grain flour for at least a portion of the all-purpose.

The end result is chewy, buttery and nutty. But you know what I concluded?

Maybe I don't really crave the real hazelnut-chocolate combination.  Maybe what I crave is Nutella...  Or Frangelico over ice.

Isn't it a bummer to all of us natural food enthusiasts when the -flavored product is somehow more satisfying than the 'natural?'  But, oh well, opening a jar of Nutella or a bottle of Frangelico is certainly less time-consuming than mixing and baking a pan of brownies.  Besides, my waistline needs a break from this kitchen adventure.  

Hazelnut Nutella Blondies
Highly adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup each white sugar and brown sugar
4 eggs, divided
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour or spelt flour
3/4 cup Nutella

1.  Toast hazelnuts:  Preheat oven to 350º.  Roughly chop hazelnuts.  Toast on ungreased rimmed cookie sheet 5 minutes.  Stir.  Toast 3-7 minutes more until just golden.  Nuts may go from white to burnt in less than a minute, so keep an eye on them and be smelling for a nutty aroma. Let nuts cool.  Then grind 2/3 of the hazelnuts into a powder in a food processor (or coffee grinder--but don't blame me if it breaks).  Reserve the remaining 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts. 

2.  Line a 13 x 9" baking pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.  Set aside.

3.  Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and add sugars, mixing until well blended.  Transfer butter-sugar mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. 

4.  Add three of the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape bowl.  Beat in vinegar and vanilla.  Beat in baking powder and salt.  Scrape bowl.  On low speed, beat in ground hazelnuts and flour, just until blended.  

5.  Spread about 3/4 of hazelnut batter in prepared baking pan.  To the remaining batter add Nutella and the fourth egg.  Beat to combine, about 20 seconds.  Spoon Nutella batter over hazelnut batter.  Run a table knife through the batters to swirl.  Top evenly with reserved hazelnuts. 

6.  Bake at 350º 26-28 minutes, until the top looks shiny and puffed. A cake tester inserted in the middle should reveal sticky crumbs.  Let brownies cool completely--or at least almost completely--in pan before cutting into bars.  Store tightly covered at room temperature for a couple of days, or freeze for longer storage. 

September 15, 2010

Hazelnut Brownies I: Fluffy, Rich and Chocolatey

I worked tirelessly last week on Hazelnut Brownies.  Okay, maybe not, "tirelessly," but the concept was in the forefront of my mind all week.  I baked two batches of brownies, and at first I hesitated to post either one, because neither one exactly filled the craving I had. Then I read a post which reminded me that, more than anything else, I blog to keep track of my kitchen adventures and recipes.  As I post all my favorite recipes here, I can find them more easily than in the mess of clippings and cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf.  So I've decided to post both recipes.  Maybe one of them will inspire someone to  somehow create a better Hazelnut Brownie.  Me, I'm shelving the Hazelnut Brownie concept for now, but in a couple months (or years) when the craving strikes again, I'll have this record of what I have already tried...

As I wrote in my original Brownie post, Judy Rosenberg's cookie recipes have never really failed me--I really think the issues I had with the brownies in my original post had to do with the chocolate I used, not the recipe-- so my first attempt at Hazelnut Brownies were hers.  I followed her recipe almost , hexactly. 

Being leavened with egg, they are moist and fluffy, fudgy and satisfying in a very-chocolate way. And there is the rub:  The chocolate element overpowered the hazelnut element. Also, like a lot of Brownie recipes, this one calls for coffee.  Generally speaking, a little coffee in a chocolate cake or brownie recipe isn't going to make it a mocha-flavored dessert.  Rather than flavoring the dessert, the coffee does something to enhance the chocolate flavor.  But in this instance, I could taste the coffee, which further overpowered the hazelnut flavor.  Maybe it is because I used cheap Tasters Choice instant coffee, because that was the only instant coffee I had on-hand.  (And, no, I don't drink Taster's Choice; it was a free sample.  I know, I know, lame chocolate in my first brownies, lame coffee in my second brownies... When will I learn that if I want a top-quality end-result, every ingredient must to top quality, too?)  In any case, I've dialed back the coffee from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon.

It was a great brownie, but in the end, I didn't see a reason to use $24 Frangelico when the flavor didn't come through.  I can think of better things to do with the rest of the bottle (read: drink it over ice).

Hazelnut Brownies
Adapted from Judy Rosenberg

Thick and fudgy, these are the perfect texture to use as a mix-in for ice cream.  Freeze, then use a sharp knife to cut into 1/2" cubes.  Fold about 3/4 cup brownie bites into 1 quart fleshly churned ice cream,  freeze the ice cream for 2 hours before serving. 

1 heaping cup hazelnuts (you want to end up with 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts)
7 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs (or 6 medium eggs), separated
1 teaspoon good-quality instant coffee or espresso powder
1/4 cup Frangelico* or water, or a mixture of the two (or use a shot of espresso instead of the instant coffee)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Roughly chop hazelnuts.  Toast on ungreased rimmed cookie sheet 5 minutes.  Stir.  Toast 3-7 minutes more until just golden.  Nuts may go from white to burnt in less than a minute, so keep an eye on them and be smelling for a nutty aroma. Let nuts cool. Decrease oven temperature to 325º.  Line a 9" square baking pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.  Set aside.  Then grind hazelnuts into a powder in a food processor (or coffee grinder--but don't blame me if it breaks).

2.  Meanwhile, melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler** over simmering water.  Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and let cool.

3.  Sift all-purpose flour and cornstarch together in a small bowl and set aside.

4.  In small bowl combine instant coffee with Frangelico and/or water.  Stir to combine well.  Alternatively, skip the instant coffee, and draw one shot of espresso.  Add Frangelico to make 1/4 cup.

5.  Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, 9 tablespoons of the sugar and the vanilla extract together until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds.  Scrape the bowl.  Add the egg yolks and beat on medium speed until blended, stopping once to scrape bowl.  Add the melted, cooled chocolate and beat on low speed to blend, just a few seconds. Scrape bowl.  Add the flour mixture and ground hazelnuts and beat on low speed just until blended.

6.  In a separate bowl, on medium-low speed, beat the egg whites and salt until frothy, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Beat until soft peaks form, about 30 seconds.

7.  Using a rubber scraper or wooden spoon, fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the brownie batter to loosen it.  Then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.

8.  Spread the batter in prepared baking pan.  Bake at 325º 30-35 minutes, until cake tester or toothpick inserted toward the middle comes out with moist crumbs.  Let the brownies cool in the pan for 1-2 hours.  Then lift out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into 1 1/2" squares with a sharp knife.  Brownies can be kept at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days.  If you plan to store them longer than that, wrap with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and store in freezer p to 2 weeks.

* A couple of my friends seem to agree that Frangelico tastes like Reese's Pieces.  According to its website, Frangelico is the original Italian Hazelnut Liqueur with notes of chocolate, coffee and vanilla. Either way, at 40 proof, it has the right amount of alcohol to be enjoyed over ice, without further dilution.

**For a makeshift double boiler, I put a little less than an inch of water in my smallest saucepan, then I rest my smallest Pyrex glass mixing bowl on top on it.  The mixing bowl should not be touching the water (which should be simmering, not boiling).  The point is to cook over low even heat.

Photo credit:  Jason Powers Photography

September 14, 2010

Peach Chutney

Well, making jam will have to wait for another weekend, because I used up all those peaches making peach chutney.  I wasn't going to do it this year, but my husband likes it and it makes a good Christmas gift.   As I mentioned in the posts about canning tomatoes, canning seems like a lot of hard work, but when I actually do it, it's not difficult, just a bit time consuming.  Most recipes for canning can be broken into manageable chunks, so I don't know why I sometimes want to avoid it.

If you haven't had chutney, be advised that it seems to be one of those things people either really like or don't like at all.  Generally chutneys are sweet, tangy sauces served over meats or vegetables. Sometimes made of tomatoes, or apples or whatnot, the favorite in our home is peach.

It is a simple process:  Peaches, onions and peppers cooked with sugar, apple cider vinegar, ginger, cinnamon and cloves until almost jammy. Serve it with pork or beef or curry. The aroma of this stuff boiling all afternoon is tantalizing, and if you haven't planned for it, you will find yourself seeking out something to serve it with that evening, so have something marinated and ready to grill.


I know I wrote that I wasn't going to share recipes for canning, just sources for trusted canning recipes, but here's the thing:  I've made large batches of this chutney three years in a row, and each year I struggle to find the scrap of paper that I jotted the recipe down on.  So I'm sharing it.  Please, if you aren't familiar with the canning process, read up on it and follow safe canning procedures.  I will trust that you've done that and will refrain from putting random canning tips in the recipe, such as "Be sure to use only perfect, unblemished fruits." and "Jars and rings may be re-used provided they are inspected and free from chips or cracks, but always use brand-new lids to ensure a proper seal."  I'll assume you've read up on those things...


Peach Chutney
adapted from
Makes about 5 to 6 pints.  I like to can this in half-pint quantities, because that seems to be the right amount to serve with an average-sized tri-tip or pork roast.

Because I like to give this as gifts, and because I have a reliable source of free peaches, I always prepare a double batch.  While canning recipes that call for pectin should not be doubled, this one is safe to double.  Just remember that because of the volume, it will take longer to cook down a larger batch.  Toward the end of cooking stir more frequently to prevent the concentrated sugars from burning to the bottom of the pot.

3 1/2 lbs firm peaches
1 1/2 cups golden seedless raisins
1 large white or yellow onion
1 yellow pepper
2 hot peppers - I use poblanos for a spicy-but-not-too-spicy chutney
1/2 cup crystallized ginger
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

1.  Chop peaches, onion, peppers and ginger into small pieces.  Peeling the peaches is not necessary.  Combine all ingredients, except pecans, in large, heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until thickened and jammy, so that chutney mounds on a spoon.  I find that it takes approximately 90 minutes for the chutney to reduce by almost a third.  Toward the end of cooking time, you will need to stir more frequently to avoid burning.  Stir in pecans, if using.

2.  Meanwhile heat and sterilize pint or half-pint jars and lids.  Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Seal and process pints or half-pints in simmering water bath for 10 minutes.  If you prefer, this can be frozen rather than canned.

September 7, 2010

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

For the longest time I didn't stock vanilla beans in my pantry.  Sure, I had vanilla extract, but I am not a huge fan of vanilla-flavored things, so I didn't think vanilla beans were a necessity.  I mean at $2.50 each, they are a bit pricey.  But at a recent family gathering we talked about making our own vanilla extract and how it was so easy and economical.  So I bought some vanilla beans for that.  I kept one aside for making those Browned Butter Peach Bars, and then my dad sent my some, so I've had a good supply to experiment with.  While I found the vanilla flavor a bit over-powering in the Browned Butter Peach Bars (I'm thinking of making those again but with a lavander-peach jam instead of the orange-peach combination), the vanilla in this ice cream is perfect.  Perfect.  This whole ice cream is perfect, if you like premium, custard-based ice creams, and boy, do I!  The texture is smooth and creamy. Immediately out of the churn, it was a soft-serve consistency.  A few hours and a few days later it is perfectly scoop-able.  The sweetness is just right, not cloying or overdone.  The vanilla is pleasant without being overpowering.  It is the perfect thing to serve atop a summer fruit dessert and the perfect background to all sorts of mix-ins.  (I chose brownies, because those brownies that I complained about a month or so ago, remember them?  They have a really pleasing, chewy consistency when frozen.  Of course, I had already run out of that batch when I made this, so I had to make a new batch of brownies.  This time I chose a Hazelnut Brownie, which we'll get to soon enough.)

Plan to start this ice cream the evening before you plan to serve it.  I know that seems like a lot of lead time, but if you plan ahead you can integrate the steps into your life and get it done without it feeling like a chore.

All summer I've shied away from custard-based ice creams for reasons:  not wanting to throw together a batch of merengues with the leftover egg whites, and not wanting to stand over a hot stove stirring the custard constantly for 10 minutes or more.  Maybe I've had some bad experiences with custards in the past, but when I started this one my mind went through a mental checklist: Whisk.  Check.  Rubber Scraper.  Check.  Mesh strainer. Check.  Egg yolks in a glass measuring cup.  Check.  Tall glass of water in case I get thirsty.  Check.   Something to read in case this goes on too long.  Check.  Thermometer.  Where is that thermometer?  Maybe I should dig it out.  Oh, but the heat is already on and I am supposed to be stirring constantly.  Wait...  Before I could even get through the checklist the custard had thickened.  I don't know why it happened so fast, except that when the custard part of the process starts the milk has already been heated with the sugar, and a vanilla bean has been steeping in the mixture for an hour, so it is still warm.

David L's Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 egg yolks (the original recipe calls for large, I used medium)
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat the milk, salt and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat.  Scrape vanilla bean seeds out of vanilla bean pod.  Add vanilla seeds and pod to milk and cover.  Let the mixture infuse for 1 hour.

2.  Prepare an ice bath by placing a medium size bowl or measuring cup (1 1/2 quarts) into a large bowl filled with some ice and water. Pour cream into medium bowl and set mesh strainer over bowl.

3.  In 2-cup glass measuring cup or small mixing bowl whisk together egg yolks.  Return vanilla-infused milk-sugar mixture to the heat.  Do not remove vanilla bean yet.  Heat the milk until steaming.  Then gradually pour some of the milk into the egg yolks to temper them.  This keeps them from becoming scrambled eggs when you mix them into he hot milk.  Stir at least half of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Then return pan to the heat and gradually pour the tempered egg yolks into the remaining milk, stirring gently as you do so.

4.  Heat the custard over low or medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens to coat the back of a spoon.  (Dip a spoon in the custard, then pull your finger along the back of the spoon, if the line where the custard was removed remains distinct, the custard is ready.)  Depending on the temperature of your stove, this may take as little as 5 minutes or as much as 20 minutes.

5. Pour custard through strainer into cream.  (You are removing the vanilla bean, as well as any scrambled-egg clumps.)  Use a spatula or whisk to gently stir custard in strainer and encourage it to strain through.  With clean utensil stir in vanilla extract and continue stirring to cool mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and let ripen overnight or up to 24 hours.

6. In the morning or afternoon of the following day, churn custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Twenty minutes in my Cuisinart gives it a soft serve consistency.  Pack in a quart size container (layering in up to 3/4 cup mix-ins, if desired).  Freeze at least 2 hours before serving for perfect scoopability.

September 5, 2010

Miso-Glazed Squash

Sometimes a quick stir-fry is incredibly satisfying, but sometimes it is incredibly boring.  I think the secret might be in the sauce.  If a trip to the Saturday morning farmers market has left me famished--and if I am not in the mood for eggs and potatoes--my go-to meal is a vegetable stir-fry.  In the summer it might consist of zucchini, onions, mushrooms and a little diakon radish with teriyaki sauce, but this weekend I picked up a hunk of some kind of deep orange winter squash and a big bunch of celery.  Oh, and I completely forgot to get onions; that is going to bother me all week!

I don't usually eat a lot of winter squash, but every fall I like to buy an assortment of squash and set them out as decorations.  Invariably, at some point I try to cook them and eat them.  Invariably, my husband complains that he hates squash, and, most often, I kind of agree.  But I still get sucked in.  And this week, one of the vendors I visit every week had these beautiful pumpkin-like squash pre-cut in approximately 1-pound hunks, so I decided to buy some to roast and cube to give to the baby.  But then, dinnertime rolled around and I didn't have anything specific planned.  And the squash was in the oven.  And my husband wasn't home to be bothered by my tofu habit, so I decided to make stir-fry.  Teriyaki didn't seem like the right accompaniment to squash, but miso goes well with pumpkin.

I am so tempted to say that if you don't like squash, this might not be the recipe for you, but you know, you might be surprised.  Ironically, my 14-month-old, who I had purchased the squash for in the first place, didn't seem to like it.  She's been a bit averse to new vegetables lately.  Luckily, I did enjoy the squash--it's vibrant flavor pairs well with the salty-sweet glaze--so I won't mind eating the leftovers that I had planned for her.

Miso-Glazed Winter Squash with Tofu

Makes 3-4 servings.
Miso is a salty, soy-based paste available in Oriental food stores and Natural Food stores.  Kept in the refrigerator, tightly covered, it will last for at least a year.  

To press tofu, lay cubes on double layer of a kitchen towel.  Fold towel over on tofu and press gently to absorb water.  This step helps tofu absorb seasoning and reduces splattering when frying.

To roast squash, cut in half, scoop out seeds.  Cut into large chunks, coat with a little oil and roast somewhere between 350º and 400º for 30 minutes to an hour, until somewhat tender.  It will finish cooking in the stir-fry.  I give a range in temperatures, because this is the kind of thing that can be done with something else.  So if you have something already in the oven, roast the squash at that temperature as long as it is in the range.  Of course, the squash will cook faster at a higher temperature and smaller chunks will cook faster than larger ones.

1/2 pound firm tofu, cubed and pressed
2 tablespoons frying oil, such as canola or peanut
2 or 3 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 pound deep-orange fleshed winter squash, roasted and cubed
1/2 - 1 cup frozen peas or pre-cooked edamame

2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon water

Hot cooked rice for serving
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish, if desired

1.  Lay tofu in single layer on a plate and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon soy sauce.  Let sit a few minutes to absorb seasoning.

2.  Heat oil over medium -high heat in large skillet or wok.  When oil is hot, add celery.  Stir-fry 2 minutes to soften celery.  Add squash and fry approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Don't stir too much, or you will break up the cubes.  Let one side brown before turning carefully.  Move squash to the side of the pan, swirl so that oil coats the empty side of the pan.  Add more oil if necessary.  Add tofu.  Again, allow tofu to brown on one side before turning carefully.  Cook tofu about 5 minutes total.

3.  Meanwhile mix remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce with miso paste, lemon juice, maple syrup and water in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. When tofu has browned to your liking, carefully stir in peas or edamame.  Cook 30 seconds, then add soy-miso sauce.  Let sauce bubble 30 seconds, then spoon stir-fried vegetables and sauce over rice.

September 3, 2010

Homemade Pizza I

Pizza.  Everyone loves it.  Seems as if most food bloggers have dabbled with it.  I must admit that when I first started this blog one of my goals was to find a go-to recipe for homemade pizza.  I've been making my own pizza for years, thinking it was more economical than restaurant pizza and appreciating that I had more control over the healthfulness and quality of the finished product.

Fridays are our pizza night. This started a few years ago when we lived in Kansas City with my husband's dear aunt and uncle.  Somehow the tradition of Pizza and Popcorn Fridays started and I think it was something that all of us looked forward to.  As the cook, it was easy for me, because when one makes a double-batch of crust every other week the in-between pizzas are incredibly simple to put together.  I'm sure the Mid-Westerners in the house looked forward to it as "the one night of the week when that crazy Californian isn't trying to stuff us full of vegetables."   If memory serves me correctly, I made two pizzas every Friday.  One had to be Pepperoni-Mushroom, but the other was whatever I wanted it to be:  BBQ Chicken?  Sausage with Caramelized Onion?

Honestly, I don't remember what recipe for pizza dough I used back in Kansas City.  Some time in the last year or so I discovered King Arthur' Flour's Now and Later Pizza Dough recipe, and I haven't looked back.

Well... until my daughter and I were both were not feeling well on a recent Friday.  It was the first time in years that we picked up a pizza at Round Table, and it was so satisfying, that I felt guilty for forcing my family to eat homemade pizza for all these years.  

Don't get me wrong.  This pizza dough is good stuff.  It has an earthy sweetness from the semolina flour and, depending on how long you allow it to rest, a wonderful, character-building tang.  My only caution is that you must make sure to stretch it out well, so that the final crust is not too thick and doughy.  That and, don't try to make it from memory.  I've tried this several times and I always seem to mess up at least one of the quantities, which, needless to say, results in an inferior product.  When made correctly, this makes a great, flavorful crust for a pizza, but I am not convinced that it is the best, so, please, if you have a favorite pizza dough recipe, let me know.

Also, great pizza depends not only on flavorful, crisp crust, but also on a good sauce, which must be thick enough to not make the crust soggy, and which must have an appropriate zest.  

And cheese:  it must have the right texture and flavor.  Lately I've found grocery-store mozzarella boring.

And toppings:   Pepperoni-Mushroom is the favorite combination in our house, and there are definitely differences in the qualities and spiciness of different commercially available pepperonis.

It seems as if the search for "the best" homemade pizza recipe may go on forever, and I suppose that is ok.

Now and Later Pizza Crust
doubled and adapted from King Arthur Flour
Semolina is available in Natural Foods stores.  It has a wonderful flavor, but it is a very practical ingredient as well.  Have you seen bread or pizza recipes that tell you to dust the pan with cornmeal or semolina?  At high temperatures cornmeal burns, semolina does not.  Makes 4 pizza crusts.

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 1/2 cups semolina
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning, crushed well*
2 teaspoons sugar*
2 teaspoons yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 olive oil
2 1/4 -2 1/2 cups lukewarm filtered water

*Original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons King Arthur Pizza Dough Flavor.  I have substituted Italian Seasoning and sugar.

1.  Mix all ingredients using enough water so that the dough holds its shape.  I like to do this in my stand mixer using the dough hook, but you could do it by hand as well (or in a food processor, if yours has a large enough capacity). This dough doesn't need to be kneaded for a long time, just long enough to moisten all the flour and form a stiff dough (a minute or two).

2.  Transfer dough to a greased bowl or pitcher, cover and let rise at room temperature 45 minutes.  Then transfer to the refrigerator and allow to rest and rise slowly 4 to 36 hours.  The longer the rise, the better the flavor of the crust.

3.  Divide chilled dough into 4 balls.  One at a time, stretch balls out into circles: 9" for a thick crust, 12" for a thin crust.  Set dough rounds onto parchment paper.  If dough is difficult to stretch, let partially-stretched dough rest 10 minutes and continue to stretch.  You could also use a rolling pin to roll the dough, but the texture of a stretched pizza crust seems to be superior (read: more craggy).

4.  Preheat oven to 450º.  Let dough rounds rise on parchment 30 minutes to 1 hour.

5.  One at a time, bake rounds (on parchment--no pizza peel required) on pizza stone (if you have one): 6 minutes for a thinner crust or 8 minutes for a thicker crust.  You don't want it completely baked, just partially-baked, enough to stand up to the topping and have a bit of a head-start on browning.

6.  At this point, you can let the crusts cool to room temperature, then wrap well in plastic wrap and freeze for up to a few weeks.  (Ideally remove crust from the freezer and allow to thaw before topping and baking, though I've had no problem topping and baking frozen crusts.)

Or, to bake right away:  Top with your choice of sauce, cheese and toppings and return to the oven (on parchment, but not on the pizza stone) to bake an additional 7-10 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly and browned in some spots.  Cool pizza at least 3 minutes before slicing with pizza cutter.

Pizza Tips
The sauce- should be fairly thick.  To sauce a pizza, use a large serving spoon to spoon room-temperature sauce onto the center of the crust.  Then use a circular motion to spread sauce out to the edges of the crust.  If you have an unseasoned tomato sauce that you feel is the right texture for a pizza sauce, rather than combining the sauce with seasonings (such as sauteed garlic and Italian Seasoning) on the stove top, sprinkle the crust with chopped garlic, parsley, oregano and rosemary, then top with sauce.  Or use a bottled, non-tomato-based alternative such as pesto or BBQ sauce.

The cheese- most cheeses taste good on pizza, but many (such as cheddar) are too greasy or (in the case of asiago) too hard and dry to be a pizza's primary cheese.  Until you are familiar with the textures, flavors and meltability of certain cheeses, use mozzarella (either fresh or regular, whole- or part-skim) for at least 3/4 of your pizza cheese.  Oh, and if possible, stay away from pre-shredded cheeses.  They are coated with a flour-like substance that can hinder their meltability.

The toppings-  in this part of the country, people tend to place their toppings on top of the cheese, but certain toppings may benefit from the protection that a layer of cheese can provide.  Garlic, fresh spinach and parsley are all prone to burning if exposed directly to high heat.  Precooked chicken may dry out if not protected by a layer of cheese.  Conversely, mushrooms, zucchini and other high-moisture veggies, might let off too much moisture if evaporation is stifled by a layer of cheese.  Therefore, those ingredients do better on top of the cheese.  Always distribute both cheese and toppings more heavily toward the outer edges of the pizza, as toppings are prone to slide toward the middle.

Most of all, experiment and have fun.  And please share your winning pizza tips in the Comments section.