Sunday, January 31, 2010

Japanese Noodles with Shiitakes and Bok Choy

Mmm, the perfect lunch! When I lived in Hawaii, you could find any number of little shops serving Japanese ramen (or as they call it in Hawaii, saimin - no one knows quite where that name came from) and I'm certainly not talking about the 10-cents-a-pack stuff.  It comes with all kinds of stuff in it - BBQ pork, slices of hard-boiled egg, kamaboko fish cake, or yellow pickled daikon...  But here, if you see a Japanese restaurant, it's sushi or teppanyaki - they may have a decent udon noodle soup on the menu, but I can't think of a single place to get real Japanese ramen.

Sometimes I get cravings for this stuff, so I had to make my own. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to see the movie Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985). As they say in the film, one key is that the broth should taste really good - I don't claim to be any sort of expert, and it's been years since I've been back to Hawaii, but this super-simple formula hits the spot for me. I just use a little miso and a little bit of dashi, which is sold as Memmi, or Tempura Dipping Sauce, or any number of other names - just look at the label and if it contains bonito flakes, kelp, and possibly soy sauce and/or mirin, it's basically the right stuff. To find these ingredients, try an Asian market or natural foods store, although I was able to find a few of them at my regular grocery store.

For 2 people:
4 oz dried soba or udon noodles
~1/2 lb baby bok choy (pictured)
Generous handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
2-3 Tbs miso
Any other vegetables (try carrot, broccoli, maybe spinach or shredded cabbage instead of the bok choy), and/or hardboiled eggs, any thinly sliced meat, whatever you have around!

Boil water in a 2-qt saucepan and cook the noodles until they are tender. In another saucepan, bring 1-2 cups of water to a boil with the dried shiitakes and bok choy (and/or other veggies). Cook until the shiitakes are tender, then add vegetables and meat, and cook until they are done (veggies should be just tender). Finally, stir in the miso, and start adding Memmi until it tastes good. Add the noodles and serve!

Beet and Quinoa Salad simplified

I really love this salad! And since I've been making it more often, I had to simplify the recipe... 

For the dressing:
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 Tbs umeboshi vinegar
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp dried dill or parsley
Chives or green onions, if you have them

Combine 2 cups water, 1 cup (or more) diced beets, 1 cup quinoa, and cook just like rice (only shorter, 10-15 minutes). Spread on a baking sheet and cool in refrigerator. When cool, add 1 cup diced cucumbers (although it's still good without them), and toss with dressing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pumpkin Gnocchi

I first tasted gnocchi at the Stinking Rose restaurant in San Francisco (in a garlic cream sauce of course) when I was in college, and fell deeply in love with their creamy, delicate texture that melts in your mouth... that is, if they're done right. The packaged ones you can buy at the store just never have that perfect texture. Gnocchi are little dumplings, typically made with potatoes and flour, but they can include all kinds of other ingredients from walnuts to nettles! Now I order them anytime I see them on a menu, just on principle. My friends' restaurant, Vivace, recently started serving gnocchi, and they are absolutely perfect.

I have been trying pumpkin gnocchi recipes for a while now, trying to get one that works properly, and I think I've finally succeeded!  I wanted to use fresh cooked pumpkin or squash, rather than canned, because there's always such an abundance of beautiful winter squash from our CSA. Actual pumpkins, even the little sweet pie pumpkins, release so much water when you cook them that it is really tricky to use them for gnocchi.  You have to be careful with how much water the pumpkin releases, and the ratio of pumpkin to flour - if there's too much liquid or too much pumpkin the dough is sticky and falls apart in the cooking water, if there's too much flour they are tough.  Once I figured out the right squash to use, it was exceptionally simple and delicious! I've decided baked kabocha squash is the best bet for gnocchi, because it is very sweet and quite dry - when mashed, it has a texture similar to mashed potatoes.

There are a lot of pumpkin gnocchi recipes on the internet, and not all are good - the Food Network has one that is mostly just potatoes with just 1/2 cup pumpkin thrown in! Most recipes call for cooked pumpkin, and I'm sure they work pretty well because the texture would be consistent from can to can. But that's not what I was after. Here is the recipe I based mine on, although I am skeptical of how well it would turn out with just any squash, especially when they direct you to boil it, because I think it would turn out too moist. It turned out well, although I think I will keep trying for a lighter texture.

For gnocchi:
1 1/2 pounds kabocha squash (or 1 1/2 cups puree)
1 1/4 cups flour
1 egg yolk
Salt to taste, about 1/2 to 1 tsp

For sage butter:
1/3 cup butter
8-10 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, sliced

Cut the squash in half and bake, cut side down, about 40 minutes in an oiled baking pan, until tender.  Scoop the flesh out and mash with a potato masher while it is still hot. Stir in flour and egg yolk, just to mix in - don't knead the dough too much or it can become tough. With floured hands, roll teaspoonfuls into oblong balls and set them on a floured plate.

Boil a large pot of salted water and drop them in, no more than a dozen at a time. They are done when they float to the top (just a few minutes).  Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon and set directly onto the serving plate.

When the last batch is in the pot, melt the butter in a skillet, and toss in the garlic and sage. Let it bubble for a few minutes, until the garlic is golden brown, and the sage leaves are a little crispy. Drizzle the whole mixture over the gnocchi and serve. Next time I might try serving them with similar-sized chunks of parsnip, rutabaga or turnip mixed in, for even more winter veggie goodness!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pumpkin, Chard and Chestnut Rice

This is definitely my new favorite pumpkin recipe. All of a sudden, I'm a convert - I love rice! Until recently, I was generally uninterested in rice. I would never order a risotto at a restaurant, or rice pilaf as a side. I would eat fried rice, or steamed white rice with Asian food, but really never thought much of it.

Just lately, I've discovered the beauty of cooking rice in the Spanish style, with olive oil and lots of yummy stuff in it. I don't mean the soupy, overly tomatoey "Spanish rice" you get at Mexican restaurants... I mean rich, flavorful rice with interesting things in it.

At this time of year, chestnuts are available at a few places like Whole Foods and Asian grocery stores. If you've never had one, they are wonderful - chewy, with a rich, toasty nutty flavor! If you can't find them, this recipe is worth a try even without them. I might try using hazelnuts instead.

This recipe is adapted from Teresa Barrenechea's Cuisines of Spain. It took me about an hour to make, because you add the stock a little at a time while stirring. It calls for bacon, so if you're vegetarian, just leave it out and I bet it will still taste great (maybe add some leeks or onions instead). The key here is to use reasonably good stock, without too much salt, because it concentrates as it cooks.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 pound winter squash (any type of hard orange-fleshed squash)
1/4 pound bacon or salt pork, diced
6-8 chestnuts
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
6 Swiss chard stems
1 cup cooked chickpeas (you can cook them yourself or buy them in a can)
1 1/2 cups rice
1/3 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut an X through the flat side of each chestnut. In a small saucepan, cover the chestnuts with water and boil 5-8 minutes. Drain them, and while they are still warm, peel away the outer shell and the soft, inner brown membrane to expose the golden, wrinkled nut. Dice them and set them aside.

Peel the squash and cut it into about 3/4 inch cubes - I prefer kabocha or butternut squash because it is much easier to peel than an acorn squash with all those ridges! Remove the stems from the chard leaves and dice them. In the book, it only says "chard stems" so I just cooked up the leaves according to my usual recipe to serve as a side dish.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on medium-high, and add garlic, bacon, squash, chard stems and chestnuts. Stir and cook for about 10 minutes, until the bacon is browned. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the rice, chickpeas and wheat bran or germ. Mix well and cook a few minutes more, until the grains are translucent at the edges. Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time, stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. When all the stock is in, cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and cook about 15 minutes more. The rice will be tender and very moist but not soupy.

Next time I think I'll try it with brown rice! Although it will take longer to cook. I'll let you know how it turns out... here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cauliflower Pasta

Cauliflower is so beautiful and versatile. It has a mild flavor that goes well in lots of things - curry (aloo gobi is wonderful), veggie tacos/enchiladas, soup... but the cauliflower recipe I love most of all allows its subtle flavor to really shine. This is another one that Dave picked up from from Aunt Catherine. As far as we know, she may have just made it up on the spot, the time he had it. In any case, here's the recipe as we make it now.

1 pound linguine or fettucine
5 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp anchovy paste
2 cups coarse bread crumbs (preferably from smashing up a stale baguette or something, not store-bought)
1 small head cauliflower
2 cups fresh spinach or arugula
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan or other hard cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

While you are waiting for the water to boil, cut the cauliflower in thirds and slice it very thinly.

Mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the garlic and anchovy paste. Fry for 30 seconds, then add bread crumbs. The crumbs should soak up most of the olive oil and turn light brown and crispy as you fry them. Add the thinly sliced cauliflower and stir gently. Put the greens in a strainer and dip them briefly in the boiling pasta water. Drain and add them to the mixture in the skillet. The goal here is to just barely cook the cauliflower and greens. Add the parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and toss it all up with the pasta.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Minted Pomegranate Yogurt and Citrus Salad/Breakfast/Dessert

This is funny because I would never have thought to combine yogurt with citrus, or mint with citrus, but it is absolutely wonderful!  We have been getting tons of citrus fruits from Los Poblanos this winter - I have oranges just piling up, because they are just so much more work to eat than an apple.

We just had this for breakfast and it was the best thing ever!  Which is funny too, coming from me, because normally I'd say my favorite is corned beef hash.  The recipe is adapted from Ghillie Basan's Modern Moroccan cookbook.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp dried mint
1-2 saffron threads (optional)
2 Tbs honey
1 ripe pomegranate
1 red grapefruit
2 oranges

Mix the honey, mint and saffron into the yogurt. Warming the honey slightly makes it easier to mix with the yogurt (10-20 seconds in the microwave will do it). Seed the pomegranate and fold the seeds in with the yogurt. Cut the top and bottom off of each fruit and slice the skin off vertically, making sure to remove most or all of the pith. Then cut between the membranes to remove the segments (with oranges it is not so important to cut off all the membrane, but with grapefruits the membrane is pretty bitter so I always remove it).

Pile the yogurt on top of the citrus and serve immediately.  I don't think this would keep well, so eat it all at once!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Baked Apple French Toast

Mmm, perfect brunch food. And it includes fruit, so it's following the "half your meal should be fruit or veg" rule! Not easy, that one.  But I always seem to have apples around, so I came up with this from what I had in my fridge. Actually we have a ton of apples from earlier this fall when we went up to Dixon's Apple Orchard! Even though this looks sugary, it only has 2/3 cup for the whole pan.

3 tart apples, cut up into 1-inch chunks
1/2 a baguette or other white bread, cut up into same size chunks
5 eggs
2 cans of evaporated milk (or 3 cups regular milk, or powdered milk mixed up)
1/3 cup white sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs butter

Spread the bread and apple chunks evenly in a 9x13" pan. Lightly beat together the eggs, milk, sugar, salt and cinnnamon. Pour this mixture over the apples and bread, making sure that all the bread chunks get soggy. Combine the brown sugar and butter, either by squishing them together with a fork or by melting the butter and stirring. Sprinkle or spoon this mixture over the top. Bake at 375 about 50 minutes, until all the custard has cooked.