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Nanakusa No Sekku (Festival of Seven Herbs) (draft)

13 Jan

I traveled with friends to Japan over the holidays and had a range of interesting meals, from many-small-dishes breakfasts to a few kaiseki-style set menus working through a formal progression of dishes, to excellent ramen in a museum, to dinners we cooked in a rental house in the mountains from the wide variety of product available in one of the markets.

We came home inspired to learn and try to periodically cook in this style, and with some special rice from the rural Noto peninsula where we’d taken a side trip.

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H read somewhere about Nanakusa No Sekku (the Festival of Seven Herbs), a meal traditionally prepared and eaten on January 7th involving seven herbs and rice porridge, and last weekend we took that as inspiration to do our own hybrid Bay Area version of that on the 7th.

We spent the afternoon before foraging for some of the meal’s traditional herbs in a park in the East Bay hills, finding chickweed and what we think was shepherd’s purse or at least a dandelion variant (top middle), as well as sorrel and miner’s lettuce (not pictured), but held off on foraging any water dropwort as there are many highly poisonous variants. And from our back yard / garden we collected young greens from daikon, mustard, shiso, and mizuna (all grown last summer from seeds or seedlings from Kitazawa Seed or Namu Farm):

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We cooked most of these (except the shiso, saved for a garnish) briefly and combined them with rice porridge (rinsed rice + water in a 1:8 ratio, brought to a boil and then turned down to a low simmer and steamed, covered, for about 45 minutes), grilled salmon (marinated in yuzu kosho (a fermented mix of chili peppers, yuzu peel, and salt– not homemade, yet) and then grilled on high heat skin-down for about 8 minutes, then briefly seared on the other side), a vinegar and Meyer lemon pickled purple radish, and some umeshu:

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It was a comforting meal, with a bit of challenging bitterness from some of the herbs but a reassuring buttery heat from the salmon.

Braised Radishes in Miso Butter… and Soba in Broth

9 Jan

Another day, another need to use radishes from the backyard ‘winter garden’. I’ve pickled so often I was looking for something new (and not everyone wants a acidic, fiery pickle as often as I do…), and browsed a few articles about braised daikon like this one on Serious Eats.

My very similar adaptation was pleasantly successful– a tender texture with some radish flavor but without the normal bite, and a ready vehicle for a rich miso+butter sauce:

  • Peel and roughly slice some thick winter radishes (I used a mix of daikon and a purple Japanese radish whose name I don’t know)
  • Simmer in water for about 30 minutes
    • I included a tablespoon of rice in a tea strainer in the same pot– copied from an article above though without really thinking what it would be doing– making the water starchier because ______?
  • Drain and discard the water and rice, then cover the daikon with broth** and simmer another 15 minutes or so until at the desired tenderness
  • In parallel, mix 1 Tbsp of miso paste, 1 Tbsp of butter, 1 tsp vinegar (I used a white wine vinegar I’d made), and a few tsp water and briefly heat on low to make a glaze, adding a little water to get the consistently, then cover the drained radishes and serve.
  • Delicious!

**And in this case, this was part of a dinner where we also made soba in broth:

Broth: a savory chicken stock from the last time we roasted a chicken + kombu + dried porcini mushrooms + celery + carrots + onions + the radish greens, simmered on low for about 3 hours, then strained and seasoned with salt, soy sauce, miso.

Into the Broth: Soft-boiled eggs, flower-cut carrots, roasted baby carrots, sautéed broccoli, and soba noodles (boiled in water and drained in cold water).

 

 

Quick Pickled Radishes w/ Lemon Zest

3 Jan

IMG_20180103_192851I’ve made quick pickles many times– usually just soaking thinly-sliced vegetables in vinegar, but this simple variant turned out especially well so I’m jotting it down.

I started with a daikon and some sort of purple Japanese radish from the winter garden:

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I sliced them thinly and tossed them with a few tsp of salt, massaging/mixing them with the salt again after 5 minutes. After about 10 minutes the salt had drawn a large amount of moisture out of the radish slices, and I quickly rinsed them and patted them dry.

I then covered them in a little white wine vinegar and Meyer lemon zest and let them sit another 20 minutes. Voila! A nicely supple texture (firm but not as crunchy as a raw radish), fresh and tart with minimal bitterness.

 

Cornmeal Pancakes

10 Dec

For a less traditional savory breakfast, I enjoy the polenta-like, 100%-cornmeal, ‘Johnnycakes’ style of pancake.

But for eating with maple syrup or a special occasion, I like a fluffy cornmeal-and-wheat-flour mix:

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From a little bit of experimentation, my current favorite recipe goes heavier on the cornmeal (50/50 mix with flour) for flavor and texture, and includes either buttermilk or some yogurt. For a small batch of about 7 pancakes (2 people):

Mix together dry:

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda**
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Then add and lightly whisk in:

  • 2/3 to 1 cup* buttermilk depending on your desired texture
    • I’ve also had success substituting a 50/50 mix of milk and greek yogurt when I didn’t have buttermilk  (you need something acidic beyond just milk to activate the baking soda)
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 T melted butter

Pre-heat a skillet on medium-low (especially if it’s large compared to the burner, to ensure more uniform edge-to-center heat), cook batter until bubbles start to pop through on the top and the bottom’s browned, flip, cook a few more minutes.

For extra credit and a really fresh corn taste, use fresh-ground dried flour corn you grew in your garden:

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And then cook over a wood stove in an off-the-grid cabin:

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* Side note: Varying the amount of liquid really changed the pancakes. 2/3 cup buttermilk made a thick, almost cornbread-like batter (shown in the image on the wood stove above), which resulted in a delicious, thicker, slower-cooking pancake part of the way to bread. We actually preferred the texture of this one even though it’s not a traditional pancake. On the other hand, 1/2 cup yogurt + a bit over 1/2 cup milk made a thin pancake batter that led to the pancakes at the top of this post– light, spongey, and fluffy (and faster-cooking).

** Side note: Some day I’ll read and experiment more to get to the bottom of the baking powder vs. baking soda question— it’s not clear to me why some recipes combine both baking powder and baking soda– if the recipe includes acidic liquid like buttermilk or yogurt, I’d think that baking soda should suffice, whereas if you’re using double-acting baking powder with any liquid, I don’t see why you’d also need baking soda…

Eggs with turmeric, cauliflower

5 Nov

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My go-to quick breakfast is eggs + whatever’s in the fridge, but this particular version turned out especially well and I may do it again. I cooked minced shallots and garlic in olive oil for several minutes, then added finely diced cauliflower and some turmeric for another maybe 5 minutes until the cauliflower was very soft. I pushed it to the side of the pan and scrambled the eggs next to it, then mixed it all together (plus some hot paprika powder from pepper I grew this summer, and of course, salt and pepper).

Growing Garlic, Making Pesto

4 Aug

This year I grew garlic in the back yard.

It started with just three heads of an heirloom hardneck garlic variety ‘Music’ grown and seed-saved year after year by my parents.

I stored the cloves in the fridge for a week before planting (in case that helps with vernalization in our mild winter climate– unclear), then planted them in a raised bed in January (about an inch down, 4″ apart):

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Three weeks later, they’d sprouted:

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By mid-spring every clove had grown into a healthy-looking plant:IMG_20170319_175001 (1)

In May the garlic started putting out scapes, these smooth, curving shoots with the beginnings of bulbs at the end. These could become the garlic flower…IMG_20170524_200132_599

But instead we harvested them, to leave the garlic growing underground and also to cook with:IMG_20170524_193715

They make a delicious, spicy pesto (with some parsley, olive oil, pepitas, parmesan, and salt) that we ate that night and froze (in an ice cube tray) for future meals:IMG_20170524_200536

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By early July, the garlic was showing signs of being ready to harvest– the tops were about half brown and dead:

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I picked a test bulb (each of the 12 cloves planted grows into a whole new bulb) and checked it out. Good external paper beginning to peel off:

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Pretty good internal form: individual cloves, each in a papery skin. Perhaps still a bit thin/moist? I decided to leave it another week or two.

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In mid July, I picked the rest:

IMG_20170708_203958H braided them and we hung them up outdoors to dry for a few weeks before moving them to the kitchen:IMG_20170709_205438 (1)

And at last, our first batch of basil pesto that used both basil and garlic from the garden:

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Hand-churned Strawberry Ice Cream

22 Jul

For years, I’ve been thinking back to the strawberry ice cream of my youth– made from strawberries picked down the road that day and painstaking hand-cranked by kids and adults on the front porch in a wood bucket leaking salty ice.

I finally had a chance to try to recreate it, at a 4th of July BBQ we threw for a few dozen friends and their kids, and it was all I remembered and more:

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If I’m going to make strawberry ice cream, the ingredients had better be good– so we took a day trip down to the U-Pick at Swanton Berry Farm to fill a flat with about 9 pounds of berries:

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I wanted to let the strawberries shine, so after some poking around online to see what others have done I decided to stick with a simple Philadelphia-style ice cream base (cream, milk, and sugar– no eggs). Since the strawberries will bring along a lot of water on their own (I pureed them and passed them through a coarse strainer to take out some of the thicker pulp and some of the seeds), I left out the milk and went with pure half-and-half.

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I also took a hint from the Serious Eats recipe and swapped in a little corn syrup (non-HFCS) for sugar, to reduce the sweetness and add a sugar that wouldn’t easily crystallize.

My final recipe, for 3 quarts of ice cream base (which churned up into a nearly-full 6-quart container of ice cream), was:

  • 4.5 lbs of picked-just-the-day-before strawberries, hulled, pureed, and strained (producing about 5 cups of strawberry juice)
  • 3 pints of Strauss half-and-half
  • 2 1/4 cups of white sugar
  • 1 cup of Karo light corn syrup
  • about 1 tsp of salt

I whisked these together, let them chill in the fridge overnight, then churned them surrounded by ice and many cups of salt*… and the end result was magical. Creamy, not too sweet, no ice crystals, and just the pure cold essence of a summer strawberry.

 

* Technical sidebar: The salt is there to lower the freezing temperature of the ice and help it melt (it’s really the phase change from solid ice to water that matters). Briefly: salt reduces the freezing temperature of water -> more ice melts -> large amounts of energy (heat) are sucked out of the surrounding environment during the phase change from ice to water. This cools the ice cream far more rapidly than just a cold bath of for example antifreeze (or pebbles, or anything without a phase change) at the same temperature would.

It also took me a while to find a good-quality hand-cranked ice cream maker– most of the ones for sale these days have plastic gears or are small KitchenAid-accessory ice cream makers that require you to pre-freeze a special container first (and I don’t currently own a KitchenAid). I wanted a solid, metal-geared (ideally, stainless steel) machine, both for the nostalgia factory, and to make 6+ quarts of ice cream in for a party in one go. I looked at used ice cream makers on craigslist and ebay, but finally found what I wanted through Lehman’s, an Amish supply company.

It took more elbow grease than I remembered (even with me expecting that to be the case)– perhaps 30-40 minutes of solid churning between three adults and three enthusiastic kids. But the result was worth it, 100%.