Wednesday, November 07, 2007

the reputation of russians

My boyfriend makes fun of me for owning about, oh, probably fifty kinds of tea at any given time. It's true. I hoard tea assortments, even though I pass in and out of love with certain tea blends. A week or two ago it was golden Assam, which I think is an Indian tea, and recently, a surprising favorite is a line of Russian teas.

Yes, the current favorite in my tea cup is Kusmi which was introduced to me by my Russian literature loving friend, whom, I had no idea, also advocated drinking Russian tea.

Checking out the Kusmi webpage, I was highly amused that my two chosen and beloved tea assortments were categorized as having a "gourmand" flavor.

I was pretty astounded from the onset, inhaling the complicated scents which wind about each other in the tea blend called St Petersburg. The level of sophistication is what the sticker price pays for ... the mixture of citrus fruits, red fruits, and caramel, all blended with the masterly touch of experience in one tea. Their announcement that their tea company is having its 140 year anniversary is fully supported by the quality of their tea. The tea speaks for itself. I had no idea tea could be taken to another level.

Tea and I go way back together. However, not as far back as Japanese toddlers, who swill cold Oolong tea with their afternoon snack, but lunches out with with my parents at the local Dim Sum restaurant gave me many opportunities to drink jasmine tea, and when I finally reached living in Tokyo, I was hydrating myself daily with my favorite ice tea -- Itoen's Jasmine and Green Tea blend.

It's curious how many of my tea favorites are introduced by other tea lovers. Another friend tipped me off to green tea with mint. Crushing a few fresh mint leaves in a pot of steeping green tea makes a superb accompaniment to lighter Asian fare.

Featured above is the Kusmi Spicy Chocolate, which I couldn't resist because of how much it sounded like Chocolate Chai, which another friend and I rhapsodize about. Chocolate and Tea. Tea and Chocolate. At first, I was afraid of liking the St. Petersburg more than the Spicy Chocolate -- like secretly acknowledging who is your favorite child, but I realized that I like drinking my Spicy Chocolate-like Chai, doubly strong, filled out with milk.

There are many more gorgeous Kusmi tins to collect (treasure!), and the wonderful tea hunt continues.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the great pumpkin hunt

The blog entry that took two weeks to write!

This is a story about a sugar pumpkin. Actually, it goes further back than that. One sunny autumn day, I took my bike and cycled to the other side of the city to buy a can of pumpkin puree to no avail. On another sunny windy day, I took my bike and cycled to the other other side of the city to try to buy a can of pumpkin puree, also to no avail. Dear reader, I now currently live in Stockholm, Sweden, and canned pumpkin is nearly impossible to find. As grumpy as an American is able to be severely inconvenienced by the lack of availability of canned goods, I went to the dearest fanciest grocery store at the main department store. Did they have canned pumpkin? No. But they did have the above sugar pumpkin which I snatched up. I did question the sign in the store that told me to microwave the pumpkin for five minutes. Microwave? Pumpkin? I feel very similarly about microwaving potatoes. Sure, you could, but should you?

I love autumn. I didn't grow up with autumn, but after four years living in New England, I learned to appreciate mulled cider and pumpkin everything. While I was grumpy at making my own pumpkin puree, I couldn't help but marvel at the rich orange color.

While shopping for allspice I picked up yet another pumpkin, but one from New Zealand. That sucker I intend for a savory pumpkin soup, but that bad boy is for another day.

After carrying around six pounds of pumpkin that day, I had to take a respite before figuring out how to make pumpkin puree. Which involves scooping, baking, more scooping, and then draining the pumpkin puree.

Ah, here we are finally at the batter phase. I read over two dozen pumpkin bread, muffin, cupcake, poundcake recipe to arrive at this one.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
makes about 20 cupcakes
preheat oven to 350 F

If you're noticing I'm using maple syrup more often it is because I bought two huge jugs of it to last me this year abroad in Europe. I think maple syrup is ambrosia -- nectar of the gods. These muffins make the best use of all the delicious spices and formerly exotic spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger.

1 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar
3/4 c salted butter
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 t vanilla extract

2 3/4 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 t ground cloves
1 pinch all spice
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger

2 c pumpkin puree or 1 15 oz canned pumpkin

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, add eggs and egg yolk, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl combine all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, spices. Mix the combined dry ingredients into the wet until well combined. Add pumpkin puree.

Bake in muffin tins. If you have not a full set, fill the empty ones with cold water. Bake for about 20 minutes. When pierced the implement should come out nearly clean. Ovens vary so much that one has to be pretty aware. Overbaking will dry out your cupcakes, and that is a less than desirable result!

Cool before frosting.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese
1/4 c butter at room temperature cut into small pieces
1 T maple syrup
1/4 c powdered sugar

Whip the cream cheese until fluffy, then add the butter at medium whipping speed. Fold in syrup and powdered sugar. Keep refrigerated.

I tried as much as possible to cut down on sugar, but as you can see, there is still quite a bit of sugar. The cupcakes have a wonderful tiny crumb and come out moist. However, I would definitely slot these cupcakes for sharing.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

a jug of maple syrup, and thou ...

BOOK REVIEW; Nostalgia for the Countryside Paired with Local Seasonal Fare

By Joy Hui Lin

“Cooking with Shelburne Farms” (Viking Group, $34.95) written by Melissa Pasanen with Rick Gencarelli strikes a resonating autumnal note.

The cookbook boasts of revolving around nine local Vermont ingredients. Lamb, maple syrup, and cheese are just a few of them.

Several things piqued my curiosity enough to agree to review this book. First, I admit any endorsement from Deborah Madison on a cookbook will catch my eye. While I spent a semester living in a vegetarian co-op discovering the wonders of homemade bread and soups rich with roasted vegetables plus the “joys” of whole wheat laden desserts, Deborah Madison’s recipes were often used to create these hearty dinners. Second, visions of pastoral Vermont pass through my mind with the deepest nostalgia. Third, the concentration on local eating is a pet food issue close to my heart.

“Cooking with Shelburne Farms” exemplifies this latest food trend. While there are many reasons to eat locally and seasonally the most convincing of the bouquet of reasons is that it simply tastes better.

I, myself, have been tossed into a quandary after a friend gifted us with garden grown tomatoes just a week ago. Each bite served to remind me of all the watery tasteless tomatoes I’ve eaten this year. Almost like a taunt.

However, let’s forget the tomato taunting, and focus on the beautiful Jersey cows. Previous to visiting Vermont, I had never seen such gorgeous cows with supple tan brown hides and extravagant lashes fringing their sweet brown eyes. “Cooking with Shelburne Farms” has wisely dotted their cover with these bovine beauties grazing on the rich green pastures which cover Vermont’s landscapes.

The recipes offered up in “Cooking with Shelburne Farms” are sprinkled with informative tips. For example, in a recipe about Shepherd’s Pie, they point out that steaming potatoes makes for firmer potatoes than boiled ones. This is a nuance that has escaped me since I grew up on eating rice. Also, the introduction of Shepherd’s Pie also notes that it is meant to be eaten with ground lamb, not beef. Apparently, the inclusion of beef makes a Shepherd’s pie instead a cottage pie. An error of which many have made, including myself. After their explanation, it dawned on me, of course, a shepherd shepherds sheep, not cows. Perhaps Cottage Pie should be called Cowboy Pie instead. I digress.

Trucking out to the countryside with this cookbook in hand, I was delighted to thumb through it and find a chapter on wild mushrooms replete with tips and recipes since I had been mushroom hunting that day. Does one need to go out into the countryside to appreciate this book? I don’t think so. Sometimes, city dwellers (myself included) need to open a page of a cookbook to create a memory of the countryside when it is not so easily accessible.

Moreover, the more I read through the recipes in “Cooking with Shelburne Farms” the more I am convinced of the steadfast practicality of the book. Nothing in the book lists anything that needs to be transported overseas in order to arrive at your dinner table. The recipes are rustic and hearty like “Braised Shoulder of Lamb” and “Maple Butternut Squash Soup”. They keep simplicity at the forefront to showcase the local produce and meats. When the meats and produce are themselves already tasty, the ingredients do not need overly complicated preparation methods -- which is the heart of the matter when it comes to local seasonal eating.

Also worth mentioning is the abundance of cozy types of baking recipes which include “Golden Raisin Scones” and “Chocolate-Sour Cream Cake.”

I especially enjoyed the brief vignettes into the local Vermont industries on pig keeping or maple syrup farms. My briefest concern is that the chapter introductions are printed in senior citizen sized font which startles and perplexes the eye. Why does it need to be that large? The reason escapes me.

What I most appreciate about “Cooking with Shelburne Farms” is its very modest proposal the entire book builds upon: eat local meats and produce, and local meats and produce will be good to you, too.

“Cooking with Shelburne Farms” has succeeded in its pitch to me. The reason I know this is because I’m filled with imaginings of burnt orange leaves falling from trees in Vermont, complete with an impulse to visit such a place as Shelburne Farms, and also, now, have a burning desire to make apple butter from the apples from the orchard.

Oven Roasted Apple Butter
adapted from “Cooking with Shelburne Farms”

Makes 1 ¼ c apple butter

5 lbs apples, cored, cut and peeled
½ c apple cider or natural apple juice
¼ - ½ c maple syrup depending on tartness of the apples, Grade B
4 whole cinnamon sticks
4 whole star anise, divide and tied up in 2 cheese cloth bundles

They recommend buying a good mill.

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large heavy, shallow roasting pan, toss the apples with cider and maple syrup. Distribute the cinnamon sticks and star anise Roast until the apples are very soft, about 30-45 minutes depending on the apple variety.

Pull out the cinnamon sticks and star anise and set them aside. Run the apples through a food mill or, if they were peeled, mash them roughly with a potato masher or puree them in a food processor or blender.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F and spread the mixture back into the roasting pan with reserved cinnamon sticks and star anise. Taste and stir in more maple syrup if desired.

Baked until a dollop of the apple mixture on a plate releases no liquid, usually 1-1/2 hours, but this can vary depending on your apples. Stir every 30 minutes, take care to move the sauce away from the sides of the pan. You will want to do this more frequently the longer you cook it.

Remove the cinnamon sticks and star anise and cool before storing in the refrigerator. Apple butter will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator or can be frozen for several months.

Monday, October 08, 2007

maple cinnybuns

One might notice, one bun already went missing before I could even snap a shot.

This is a whole afternoon project, but having homemade cinnybuns around is no small pleasure.

Must warn readers that this post has gratuitous bun shots.

Maple Cinnybuns

I tend to make small buns which have lots of filling because that one mouthful is blissful cinnamon sugar butter heaven. This recipe makes around 60? I'm not sure since they disappear so fast.

Sorry this is in international metric, since it's been adapted from a Swedish recipe. There are many international converters on the web, google "international converter."

900 g white flour
200 g white sugar
3/4 t salt
150 g room temperature butter (unsalted)
50 g fresh yeast for sweet dough
500 ml of whole milk

200 g soft butter
250 g sugar
4 T ground cinnamon
3 T or more of maple syrup (toss in some maple sugar if you have it)

You can use cake forms or muffin tins (nonstick) or muffin cups

1 egg for painting the tops

Some beginning pointer tips for the bun dilettante. The butter should be room temperature. Don't let hot milk kill the yeast. Freeze the buns directly after you bake them and then warm them before you serve them -- that way they taste best.

Put most of the flour in a bowl, and spare some of that 900 g for sprinkling over to see if you need more or less, or when you're rolling out the dough.

Add the sugar, salt, and butter a bit at a time, and crumble the fresh yeast.

Warm a little of the milk and then blend it with cold milk so it won't be too warm.

Either work the dough in a standing mixer for about five minute until the dough starts to pull away from the bowl. Or if you work by hand let the yeast foam a bit in the luke warm milk before mixing it in.

In a separate bowl, mix the filling. Let the dough rise 30 minutes beneath a kitchen towel. I normally set on the oven for a little bit, then turn it off before putting the dough in (it's my way of cheating on the "no drafts" rule)

After it has risen, divide the dough into 6, and roll them out to 1/2 cm thick rectangles. Spread the filling and roll them together. Cut them in pieces and use either the cake tins (I used springform). Let them rise again for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 225 C. paint the tops with egg wash and bake.

Bake buns for about 8-10 minutes.

With the muffin cups and tins it definitely only took 8 minutes, but with the stuck together buns (pull apart buns) in cake pans it took only a little bit longer (surprisingly) but tap on the buns to see if they're finished. They should feel finished, a bit like how bread sounds hollowish, but with not too much give.

I noticed first of all, that making cinnamon buns is a rather inexpensive (aside from the butter) and straightforward project. It's definitely a project meant for a calm afternoon. It is extremely important to freeze the buns right after you bake them. In the first moments when the bun is finished fresh out of the oven, that is the time to cram it into your mouth with a sigh of happiness. Wait ten minutes that same plush bun is now a hockey puck. I suppose someone really decadent could use the dry buns for bun pudding (a spin off bread pudding). Hm, that reminds me, it's time for some pumpkin desserts in celebration of fall.

I'm thinking pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cupcakes, and best of all pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce. Now, to go find some apple cider to mull ...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

food meme

This is a food meme. Feel free to publish your own responses!

1. What memorable experiences did you have at the table as a child?

I remember that after church every weekend we went out to eat Dim Sum or other Chinese food and my sisters and I once complained enough that we got to eat McDonald's while my parents ate Chinese food instead. As far as ar home, I think my mom got all her recipes out of American housewife magazines because some of the recipes started out with a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom, a pantry item I still am addicted to when recreating homey recipes my mom made. Also, my mom made us Kraft Mac 'n Cheese making me a fan of orange non cheese processed cheese for life. One of my most memorable experiences as a child was coming home on Thursdays, half days, where May and I would make lunch which consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches and canned Campell's chicken noodle soup. we'd cry dibs for making the soup because you only had to warm it. Sometimes we'd have to break into the house because our quite deaf grandfather wouldn't hear the doorbell. I don't know why they didn't give us keys! Also, deviled eggs were the first recipe I ever made.

2. How have your eating habits changed over the decades?

It was actually going to Amherst College that broke open fine culinary dining for me. I don't mean high dining, but I mean really well thought out food like the plethora of wonderful and unique restaurants in Amherst and Northhampton really widened my horizons substantially. It was at the college's international food dinners I learned to love love love chicken tikka masala and spinach and paneer dishes. While living for four years in Amherst, it made me realize that I had only been eating at chains when eating Western food, and that original restaurants were just a whole new level of better. So, effectually I went from eating Chinese food for dinner nearly every day to eating at Amherst's cafeteria (Asian food is not their specialty). Eating Western food all the time really didn't work well with me. I was eating so much less fruit (California is fruit mecca) and more pie. More cookies. More calzones. I probably won't eat that unhealthily again in my life. Lived at the Zu and started cooking for the first time in my life. Was always ambitious, at the very least. I remember my fellow Zu members being impressed with my Pad Thai, but being quizzical at my soy sauce eggs over rice (another homey dish to me). Now I think I've evened out to about half Asian and half other foods. If I don't eat enough Asian food, I get this weird malaise, as if I'm msg deprived or something. Maybe I'm just "umame" deprived. I tend to cook very ambitiously now that O and I live together and I cook less since he does weekend cooking. However, with O in my life, my big chunks of meat diet has rocketed through the roof, and it's still taking me major adjustments to maintain my diet properly while O eats three times as much food as I do, and pays very little attention to fruit and vegetables (boys, eh.) My mom always served us the leanest, healthiest foods which I think made us develop a taste for it. We didn't often eat fast food. Nowadays, I've boycotted all fast food, but I still get drawn into thinking I want a filet 'o fish from McDonken (this a Swedish nickname for the restaurant), but that's because I had my 5th b-day party at McDonald's and they' preyed upon my young consciousness.

I was initially skeptical of the organic movement, but am now a strong supporter of local eating. We try to eat produce only from Europe. No, it's not the 100 mile diet, but I just got a local grown focused Vermont cookbook and will make a strong plug for local eating here on my blog soonish.

3. If you cook, how did you learn?

I did try to learn how to cook from my mom, but it never worked. She's very controlling and apt to take over any cooking efforst in the kitchen, plus she adds soy sauce to everything. I made fettucine alfredo once and she did try to add soy sauce to the pasta sauce. Also, my mom doesn't work with recipes very much anymore since she knows everything by heart, so she's pretty useless for copying down recipes from. My sister and I have eked out a couple from her like the lasagna we grew up on that uses cottage cheese (cheaper less fatty option) instead of ricotta. As I noted above I started cooking at the Zu, a vegetarian coop situated off-campus where one had to cook with a partner a two to three course meal for thirty people every two weeks. When I was listless after graduating from college and living at home, I took refuge in cookbooks and cooked quite a lot. I have a more complex approach to food these days whereas my mom uses the leanest of everything, I'm not afraid to splurge with cream or butter or cheese for a heavenly experience. just like my maple cinnamon buns I made the other day (will post the recipe post haste), I don't make them often, so I didn't mind using a lot of butter. I read cookbooks like fiction.

I'm learning how to cook Arabic food just now. I would love to get into Persian also, and North African -- although many North African recipes are a bit too heavily spiced for me to get into. For some reason they don't seem to find that fine balance like Indian or Thai food.

4. In a crisis, do you pig out or starve?

I both cook and eat a lot when stressed out. Cooking relaxes me. I think because it's a banquet for the senses both in preparing the food and eating the food. Also, I think good cooking takes a great deal of bodily intelligence and intuition. Somehow, I thrive on that challenge.

5. Are you influenced by the Zeitgeist in your eating?

I don't know who the Zeitgeist is, is that wrong?

I'd also like to mention while I think I'm a good cook (I have to be since I'm a food writer) I often experiment and fail, but then I go back and tweak and see what's wrong. A lot of cooking failures stem from not understanding how each ingredient works -- meaning how is it best cooked and featured, and when it won't go well with what you've imagined. If any of you cook and often get disheartened, just know that there's a learning curve, and that cooking gets just more and more rewarding as you gather skills and gain experience, and then try to accomplish the next difficult thing, which is pretty exhilarating.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

oh ho morimoto

BOOK REVIEW; Less is More: an Iron Chef Impresses in Surprising Ways

By Joy Hui Lin

Riding the tide of celebrity cookbooks, Masaharu Morimoto’s cookbook, self entitled, “Morimoto, The New Art of Japanese Cooking,” (DK, $40.00) concentrates more on the famed Iron Chef’s reflected glory and than teaching the art of Japanese cooking.

The stern but exuberant Japanese born Morimoto indulges his every whim describing in great detail, accompanied by extensive modern and clean photography, techniques of classic Japanese food preparation to writing in earnest versions of his own favorite dishes.

Mr. Morimoto chooses an interesting subject in Japanese fusion. Japanese food which has been given five star treatment in the US., is wildly popular, yet few attempt to recreate Japanese restaurant food in the home. This book capitalizes on Japanese cuisine’s tendency to favor seafood with fresh and distinct flavors while Mr. Morimoto uses ingredients that range from the extravagant (lobsters and caviar) to the humble (rice and gyoza skins).

With the insistence of a passionate chef, Mr. Morimoto expounds on a number of areas of his expertise in Japanese food. He schools his American audience with strict edicts to not “dunk your sushi rice-first into soy sauce” and “Eat the pickled ginger between bites of sushi.” His entreaty to use quality ingredients is mentioned often through his descriptions which then seeps the book in no small amount of arrogance.

The cookbook begins with a rigorous review of techniques from preparing octopus to how to cut and create fancy bamboo leaves. The elaboration of such complicated techniques does, as it intends, awe and intimidate such as the delicate unfolding of a sheet of palest daikon. However, even more impressive than his razor knife skills are the incredible displays of gleaming sashimi and sushi pieces which would whet the appetite of any proclaimed sushi lover.

Throughout the cookbook Mr. Morimoto lays out his take on Japanese fusion in a refreshing manner. In one recipe he suggests pouring out the stock onto soup ingredients through a teapot capitalizing on his gift for creative presentation. Some recipes, however, are beautifully presented yet skeptically received, like his suggestion to serve chocolate dipped asparagus (Asparagus Pocky) for dessert.

As Mr. Morimoto mentions in the introduction, people ask him why he doesn’t prepare Japanese food, and this book does little to challenge that. His wide and varied recipes focus around mostly Chinese inspired dishes with a Japanese accent and key Japanese ingredients. His self aggrandized label of “The New Art of Japanese Cooking,” is more a carte blanche to take his favorite dishes and work them with some staple Japanese items rather than creating cornerstones of a new cuisine.

In a surprising turn, despite the uneven handling of workable recipes with recipes one only views as remote and only pleasing to the eye, Mr. Morimoto rightly targets the heart of good cooking. The last part of the book reviews different sorts of broth, stock, sauces, and flavored oils which are the platform of his better recipes which produce such clean and amazing tastes. I would have never guessed that a book put out by an Iron Chef more known for his fancy crowd pleasing presentations than basic instructional teaching would so neatly point out how essential it is to start from carefully crafted basics – even apart from all the exotic, expensive, and often hard to obtain ingredients (blowfish, even).

Recipes in the cookbook are described either succinctly with ingredients which combine very distinct tastes together which play harmoniously, or are overly complicated recipes with ingredients and/or techniques which are difficult to obtain or to learn.

As a wildly creative chef, Mr. Morimoto achieves moments of brilliance bringing the succulent flavors of the East and West together successfully in a bowl or on a plate like his Teapot Soup with Matsuke Mushrooms or his unique take on Mabu Tofu which includes the element of red miso in it. However, like most flights of fancy, there is much which goes awry like the first recipe of a sweetened eggy cake with shrimp flavor. There are too many frightful desserts to mention which no one but, I think, the very palate challenged will try such as Frozen Squid-Strawberry Candy, and Vanilla Ice Cream with Lobster Sauce.

Fans of Mr. Morimoto will find “Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking,” an eye catching coffee table addition as well as an in depth glance at Mr. Morimoto’s personal opinions and personality. For fans of Asian fusion cooking, this book can provide a point of inspiration, though I would forewarn most than most of the book is aimed at restaurant style cooking instead of more subtle beauties which can be produced without too much difficulty in the home.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

oh ho, tv!

I know a lot of you have seen this already, but if you haven't please enjoy!

Eating with Joy Episode 1: Thai Fusion

Sunday, June 03, 2007

the art of the sandwich

There are many perfect sandwiches in life. Most which, my sister claims, taste the best are the ones someone else has prepared for you.

As with the Vietnamese noodle salad, the beauty is still in the details for a stellar sandwich experience. Buy quality bread enrichened or sour with whichever grain combination you prefer.

The difference between American and Swedish sandwiches is that Swedish ones have something missing -- a top. Without the topper of another slice of bread the sandwich takes a European look to it. I'll admit it makes a lot of sense in terms of more concentration of flavor. It might even look like you want to take a knife and fork to it.

With little adieu, topless or not, these sandwiches rock my world:

Joy's Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Sandwich with Fig Jam Mayonnaise

slice of sourdough bread
1 t fig and walnut jam
1 t Japanese mayonaisse
thinly sliced red onion
slice of roast beef
1 T mild blue cheese (something creamy)
thinly sliced tomato
salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the tomato and sprinkle salt on it. Toast the slice of bread. While that is toasting mix the fig and walnut jam with the mayonnaise. When the toast is ready, spread the fig and walnut mayonnaise on it, spread the blue cheese, and then top with the slice of roast beef, sliced tomato and a sprinkling of thinly sliced red onion.

Joy's Favorite Roast Beef Sandwich a la American

slice of whole wheat sour dough bread
1 T cream cheese
minced garlic
thinly sliced tomato
thinly sliced avocado
roast beef

Mix the cream cheese with a tiny bit of minced garlic.

The sandwich structure is as stands: toasted bread, garlic cream cheese, tomato, roast beef and then finally avocado. I often sprinkle salt and olive oil over the top of the avocado. If a deli started to offer the "Joy Sandwich" I couldn't be more thrilled if they used this combination.

Kim's Favorite Vegetarian Sandwich, which is not only for Hippies

slice of white sourdough bread
sun dried tomato hummus
grainy mustard (honey mustard preferably)
fresh mozzarella sliced into thick slices
ripe avocado

When you assemble this sandwich make strong efforts to not let any of the ingredients escape and let your mind boggle a bit at the odd yet delicious assembly of ingredients!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

a westernized bun

Sometimes you just want some Bun (Banh)

My father's favorite cuisine is Vietnamese and I admit to being less than a fan until the past recent years when I discovered how perfect it feels to eat a plate of cold vermicelli rice noodles on top of a bed of salad, and other crispy vegetables topped with a nice grilled piece of meat.

The construction from top to bottom (assembly is important!):
Grilled Meat
Cold Vermicelli Noodles
Salad and fresh herbs & chopped nuts

Now, as they say "God is in the details," and this dish exemplifies how having carefully prepared all these different components will make for the best dining experience.

Cold Vietnamese Noodle Salad (Bun) with Grilled Chicken

3 chicken breasts filets
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil and 1 t salted butter

1/2 package vermicelli rice noodles

3 spring onions sliced diagonally into 1 inch pieces (keep in the fridge until serving)
3-4 fresh sprigs of coriander/cilantro roughly cut
3-4 fresh mint leaves roughly cut
3-4 fresh basil leaves (Asian or Italian)
half a head of lettuce chiffonade cut (keep in the fridge until serving)
4 slices of cucumber slice diagonally in 1/2 inch slices (keep in the fridge until serving)
2 carrots peeled and cut into slivers
1/4 c dry roasted and salted cashews or peanuts

3 T fish sauce
3 T sugar
6 T water
1 garlic clove minced (or pressed or microplaned)
juice of one lime
Sriracha hot sauce

I have cheated since I prepared this at home without a grill, I simply sauteed the chicken breasts. If you plan to use frozen chicken in any dish, it is vital the chicken is compeltely defrosted and each piece is individually dried. Dry meat is essential for good browning. Since I had sauteed many chicken breasts in one go, I personally did not season it for Vietnamese food, but a good splash of fish sauce, minced ginger, and dissolved palm sugar (brown sugar is a good substitute) wouldn't be wrong (this will lead to a more carmelized meat than simple browned chicken breast, delicious especially when paired with grilling and that nice smokey flavor). For all-purpose browned chicken breasts just sprinkle both sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper before frying. Using a good thick bottomed pan, heat oil and or a butter/oil combination suited to your preferences and when the pan is quite hot place the breasts in the pan. Chicken breasts are often overcooked and unpleasantly tough. This is avoidable with caution. The trick really is to take off the meat before it's done since the chicken cooks after you take it off the heat. Chicken breasts usually take about 20 minutes to cook entirely. Do not move the chicken breast once in the pan so that it will develop a nice crust, and then flip halfway through. In this case, overmaintenance is best until it becomes second nature to not overcook the meat. Take off the chicken breasts when whitish pink inside (still moist) and place on a plate. Wait five minutes and check if the meat is entirely white. We're looking for a tender moist result. If not, sautee for another two minutes.

While you are frying the chicken, boil enough water to cover the amount of vermicelli noodles you would like to eat in a large bowl. Half a package is usually more than enough for two people. Once the water has come to a boil remove it from heat and add the vermicelli noodles. The noodles should soak for about 15 minutes. Again, please check the noodles by eating one or two. I prefer them a little softer than al dente. When the noodle has satisfactory give, rinse them in cold water in a colander.

While the meat is frying and the noodles are soaking, attend to chopping the salad and vegetables as prettily as possible and sticking them back in the fridge to insure the more crispy salad possible. If your salad is looking wilted it might be possible to drench it in an ice water bath to bring life back into it (plug the sin, fill it with cold water, and then add ice).

Chop up the nuts roughly and reserve.

Lastly, mix the sugar and water together until the sugar is dissolved, add the lime juice and fish sauce and a squirt of Sriracha to give it an authentic color. This is called Nước chấm in Vietnamese.

When everything is ready for assembly, slice the chicken breasts nicely. Start with the salad, herbs, and vegetables at the bottom with a healthy sprinkling of nuts, then add the cold vermicelli noodles, and the chicken breast slices. Serve with the Nước chấm. Never one for subtlety, I usually drench the whole plate in the lime zingy Nước chấm and mix in extra Sriracha sauce since I like my food spicy.

Bun can also be served with chopped eggrolls (instead of Chicken) or grilled pork as well. Now I know how to make my own Nước chấm I think this will be regularly served on my summer menu.

Lastly, don't fret if you don't have all the herbs on hand, even being able to inclue one or two will still liven up this wonderful summer dish.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

bring us some figgy pudding

As many a cook exploring a new cuisine, there can be, of course, a wrench in the works. Many years ago, when I learned how to make handmade ravioli, I had tragically left half the pasta dough in the refrigerator, to the alarm of the dinner party I had assembled of 10 who were so hungry, and I was distressed at how little food actually came into being unaware that more pasta dough was sitting complacently in a fat little semolina lump being chilled.

A similar error came about the other day. Sticky Toffee Pudding in Warm Custard. It sounds brilliant doesn't it? On a trip to London last month, my friend and I stepped into a warm pub from out of the damp and chilly wintery mix night and shared this warm and comforting pudding.

Pudding is a word the British use interchangeably with dessert, more than what Americans regard as thick stirred custards flavored with chocolate or dappled with tapioca.

Winding my way through the local food hall stalls I ate a dried mini fig with its small seeds agreeably crunching against my palate. However, when I received my package of dried dates, I assumed dates and figs were similarly seeded.

You can imagine my alarm when I realized I had not "pitted" the dates as the recipe called for thinking it being akin to figs or blackberries where the seeds add texture, not the opportunity to perhaps chip a tooth!

Learn from my lesson and pit your dates, sticky as they may well be.

Individual Sticky Toffee Puddings in Warm Custard (the lazy way)

3/4th c pitted dates
1 1/3 c boiling water
1 c dark brown sugar
2 oz butter
3/4th c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
dash of vanilla
2 eggs

1/2 c cream
2 oz butter
1/2 c dark brown sugar

store bought custard sauce

muffin tins
immersion blender or food processor

Preheat oven to 400 F

Immerse the pitted dates in the boiling water and let soak for five minutes. While this is happening either take out a bowl or a food processor and cream the butter and dark brown sugar together, and then add the eggs and vanilla. Throw in the flour and baking powder and baking soda and mix making sure that all is combined. Once the dates have soaked for about five minutes use a food processor or an immersion blender to make them into a nice date-paste. Add the paste to the pudding batter and pour into muffin tins.

I have extraordinarily good nonstick muffin tins, but if you do not, either use muffin cups or butter and flour your muffin tins to make turning them out easier.

This is going to sound odd, but I ended up with eleven individual sized puddings using my muffin tins. If this happens to you as well, fill the empty cup with water (this evens out the heat in the oven).

Let the puddings bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. The moment the tops are firm, remove them from the oven.

Throw the sauce ingredients together and stir until all is melted and combined.

To serve, place each sponge (little cake) in a shallow bowl with a moat of warm custard sauce and pour the carmel toffee sauce on top of each pudding (about 2 T for each pudding).

Try not to melt entirely away with enjoyment.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

some of my favorite things

I'm not quite sure where the cross over began.

The flavors of these scrumptious snacks hail from Thailand, to me, but there is some yellow curry also in the Chinese cuisine. So, I took the best of both worlds and served these with sweet Thai chile sauce. I've always ate these beef and potato curry puffs which my mother's friend used to make from complete scratch. Turns out, that my strategms of making food fast which keeps it fun, but still delicious, extends to buying store bought pastry dough. There are times when you just want to eat a curry puff prontissimo.

This recipe also relies on having leftover potato. Hopefully, either steamed/boiled potato, or even mash. Yes, indeed, you can use mashed potatoes for this recipe.

I used yellow curry paste ready bought from the Thai grocery store, but I'm sure curry powder will also do the trick. The Thai yellow curry paste is a bit spicier than the usual powder I use.

Joy's Lazily Made Curried Beef and Potato Puffs

250 g minced beef
1/2 large onion minced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 heaped T of yellow curry paste (or powder)
2-3 cooked, peeled potatoes small diced
1 package of defrosted frozen pastry dough
1 t vegetable oil/olive oil

leftover corn or peas

First, take out the dough and separate the sheets so it defrosts faster. Or, if you're super prepared, leave it in the fridge for a bit before you start.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

I cannot emphasis this part enough. Fry the curry paste/powder before you add the rest of the ingredients. Why? Apparently this makes the essential oils come out from the paste/powder and makes for a more flavourful curry.

Over medium high heat, heat the oil and then add the curry paste or powder. Fry until fragrant, and be careful not to burn anything. Mash up the paste/powder for about a minute or two. Add the minced onion until the onion is translucent (and will be, of course, rather yellow), and add the garlic for a minute or two. Add the minced beef breaking it up well. Add the cooked potato to the mix. I added a 1/4 cup of water at the end to make it a bit saucy. (If you added mashed potatoes, you'll get more of a soupy like filling, but it still is quite delicious). Taste the mix to make sure that it has the right flavor. Adjustments that can be made are adding a teaspoon of sugar, or a bit more curry paste, or a bit more water if your mix looks dry, and of course you can add those leftover cooked corn kernels or green peas.

Taking triangles of pastry dough cut to whatever size you'd like the curry puffs to be. I suggest making them smaller because they do end up being pretty filling fare. Pinch all the edges. As evidenced in the above picture, I'm no curry puff maker extraordinare, but mine ended up looking rather samosa like. Heap as much filling as you can possibly get into a triangle and seal it all the way around. Perhaps do something artistic with the edges.

Place puffs on a baking parchment sheet and bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until you see that they've turned a nice golden brown. Let cool, and serve with sweet Thai chile sauce. These taste great out of the oven, but also can be a particularly satisfying experience eaten cold for a tasty snack!

You will probably have leftover filling, but I can vouch that it makes for a very delicious lunch with some steamed white rice. Lunch, and curry puffs. Perfect.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

how to do an easter brunch

Apologies again for the delinquincy! Out in the Swedish archipelago, I learned how to make the easier Easter brunch ever, albeit Swedish style.

A Swedish Easter Brunch

hard boiled eggs (1-2 per person)
fresh dill
steamed potatoes (or boiled)
gravadlax sauce
Swedish crispbread
European butter
a hard cheese västerbottens if you can find it, otherwise something medium sharp will do

I tried to paint my easter eggs with the Dalarna horse colors. The Dalarna horse is something Swedes made up to sell to tourists, but Swedes themselves own them to furnish their countryhouses.

If you can't find the gravadlax sauce, mix a piquant grainy mustard with some sugar and water until it's a sauce like consistency. Constantly taste the sauce while adding each teaspoon of sugar to insure it won't be too sweet!

Friday, February 16, 2007

A little fish delight

I have to admit that sometimes people are a little intimidated to cook for me, but I always appreciate it when they do. I was fortunate the other day that my friend made this dinner for me. Since it was so many mouthfuls of delicious I asked him if I could share it here. This soup is an amazing way to get many many vegetables into you at the same time. This recipe can be halved for a dinner for two served with a nice crusty bread.

(Yet another) French Fish Bouillabaisse with Saffron Red Pepper Aioli

3 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion roughly chopped
½ leek thinly sliced (make sure you wash it well)
3-4 small boiling potatoes
1 carrot peeled and diced
1 zucchini diced
3-4 celery stalks diced
1 red pepper diced
1/8 t crushed saffron
2 t thyme
2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes
½ c dry white wine or dry vermouth
***fish bullion or broth
1 lb peeled shrimp
1 lb firm white fish in small chunks
1/3 bunch of flat leaf parsley chopped

salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

2/3 c mayonnaise
3-4 fresh garlic cloves minced
1/2 t cayenne pepper
healthy pinch of saffron

Melt the butter and oil over medium high heat and add the chopped onion, leek and diced vegetables. Add the saffron and thyme and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and broth, breaking up the whole tomatoes with kitchen scissors in the cans before you add them. There should be enough liquid to cover all the chopped vegetables. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes with the cover on.

While the soup is simmering make the aioli. Mix. It’s fun seeing the small red flecks of saffron expand into the rich golden color saffron is so famous for.

Add the wine or vermouth and the fish and shrimp and bring the heat up again to cook the soup until the fish are just ready (depends how large the fish chunks are). Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the chopped parsley at the end and give it a swirl before serving. Enjoy! Tell me how it goes ...

*** fish broth or bullion is available made by Knorr, otherwise many Asian groceries have an assortment of shrimp or clam or general mixed seafood broth.

Monday, January 22, 2007

try this at home

Admit it. Most of us love these dumpling sort of treats. Most of us are acquainted with them through Italian stuffed pastas, and more than a few of us are acquainted also with the Asian sort of dim sum.

However, a visit to the local Japanese restaurant inspired some Swedish fusion ideas. Those little satchels are not your ordinary dumplings. However, one probably does not need to have Swedish leftovers in order to make these since the ingredients are familiar to most Western culture homes. It's almost like a shepherd's pie dumpling, come to think of it ...

Swedish Dumplings

Leftover roast 2-3 good hearty slices minced
1 cooked potato (any style, mashed, gratin etc.)
1/2 leek (be sure to rinse it well) minced
3 inch knob of extra sharp cheddar minced

1 large package of defrosted dumpling skins (gyoza or dumpling, not wonton)

1 t olive oil

optional: chives/garlic shoots/slim green onion shoots for garnish
food processor

Directions: There is a singularly easy way to make the filling, and it proceeds like this ... take out a food processor and coarsely chop each ingredient separately and put together in a bowl and mush together until all the ingredients seem evenly distributed.

If you're planning on making these as a fun appetizer, go ahead and make purses -- gather up the edges and squash together (the potato filling is great for this part since you need no water to seal them).

Place the dumplings in a nonstick pan over medium high heat with 1 t olive oil and heat for about 1-3 minutes checking the bottoms of the dumplings to see whether they're nice and golden brown. Then take 1/3 c of water and pour it into the pan and cover the pan with the lid leaving it slightly ajar and lower the heat and cook for about 5-7 minutes longer until the water has evaporated. Since the ingredients inside are already cooked, the only pressing matter is making sure the skins are well cooked and translucent.

For a nice presentation for a fancy appetizer tie with a chive or a garlic shoot and serve with a bit of warm gravy poured out in that very fancy way restaurants like these days (a very thin line of it) or that other fancy balsamic vinegar sweet sauce thing they like to daub plates with these days.

*Another option is to fold the dumplings shui mai style with an opening at the top and top it with a cooked pea which would make it an extremely charming shepherd's pie dumpling.

Have fun with your food!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

mmmm, butternut squash

Frightfully sorry. Undergoing a massive transition especially language-wise. As I've found, learning another language can quite deteriorate your mother tongue. Which is, of course, all the more reason to keep writing in English (as opposed to grammatically incorrect Swedish). Apparently, writing up recipes is contingent on how user-friendly I find my kitchen situation.

Unlike most of my recipes which I try to post, this one is neither simple or with a few easy ingredients. Make this recipe when you're feeling quite patient and the reward is even more delicious for the effort.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme Lasagna in Goat Cheese Garlic Bechamel

1.5 kg (3 lb) butternut squash cut in half with the seeds scooped out
olive oil
1 t fresh thyme or 2 t dried thyme
1 minced onion
4 cloves garlic minced divided in half
2 c milk
1 T flour
2 T butter
4 oz. soft mild goat cheese
1 bay leaf

1 c parmesan reggiano cheese grated
1 c ricotta
fresh lasagna pasta
100 g (1/4 c?) extra sharp cheddar in thin wedges

A few days ago, I went on the "great lasagna hunt" which is, not unsimilar to the "Great Pumpkin" hunt of Charlie Brown in its efforts. Butternut squash is a rarity here in Scandinavia, and I had remembered looking at a recipe on which used butternut squash. Then, I remembered a friend of mine had made some extremely delicious large butternut squash and thyme ravioli and the meeting of the recipes was quite natural with an extremely tasty result.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Halve the butternut squash(es) and scoop out the seeds. On a large baking pan on aluminum foil, place the squash halves cut side down and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme. Roast until very soft which is about 40 minutes. The flesh will be scoopable with an ordinary spoon.

In the meantime, grate the cheese and combine 3/4 of the Parmesan Reggiano with the ricotta cheese.

Then start on the white sauce. When I was growing up, I rarely ate white sauce with lasagna, but Swedes seem to love pouring both red and white sauce over the entire lasagna, but I think this is due to the no boil lasagna noodles, which I have never had success with on the first day. They tend to soften enough for the next day.

However, please try to find fresh lasagna noodles.

Over medium heat, melt 2 T butter and half of the garlic in a medium sized sauce pan. After about a minute, when the garlic is fragrant, add the flour and cook for about 3 minutes and then whisk in the milk and add bay leaf. After simmering the sauce until thickened for about 10 minutes, add the goat cheese and blend until smooth and remove from heat.

While the squash is still roasting, mince the onion and saute in 1 T of butter. Add the minced garlic. When the squash is ready, scoop it out (it should be extremely tender) and add it to the onion and garlic mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn heat down to 400 F.

In a 13x9 in lasagna pan or several smaller ones of aluminum (as I prefer for freezing purposes), construct the lasagna starting with the butternut squash layer, lasagna noodles, ricotta-parmesan layer, noodle, butternut, noodle. The topmost layer should have both ricotta-parmesan mixture and butternut and topped with the rest of the parmesan cheese and the thin wedges of extra sharp cheddar. Then, pour the bechamel sauce over entire lasagna.

Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes covered. Then uncover and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes and let stand for another 15 minutes after removing it from the oven.

Like I said, not for the impatient and ravenously hungry. This recipe can be broken down in steps -- such as roasting the squash the previous day, but as with most lasagnas, the most lavishly prepared are the most lavish for the tastebuds.

I'm trying very hard not to eat the last slice saved for my boyfriend.