Cook the Books: Untangling my Chopsticks~

2 01 2011

Cook the Books has us reading “Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto”  by Victoria Abbott Riccardi this time around.  I think I was hooked within the first paragraph of the dust cover.  I’ve been fascinated by Japanese culture since I first saw Shogun in the late 70’s…early 80’s.  I actually read all of Shogun after seeing the mini-series.  This, was a really quick read for me, because I could hardly put it down, and I had a bit of time off.  I do a lot of reading on Sunday Night, Spa Night…so a little jasmine in the air, and away to Kyoto we went…

I don’t live where I can acquire quite all the ingredients for a Kyoto style Kaiseki-ryori, but we did have a lovely multiple course dinner for New Year’s Eve, nonetheless.  We started with miso soup.  I was so tickled to actually find light miso paste!  I’ve looked before, and not been able to find anything but red, so this was delightful!  Although I couldn’t get kombu to make my own kombu dashi, I was able to acquire dashi no moto, so we were able to get close enough for the soup to taste like it should.  When we got to the bottom of the bowl, there was a treasure of 3 cubes of tofu waiting for us.

Next up was a raw fish course…kind of a sushi dish…where the rice is pressed onto a plate, then the fish is scattered onto the rice with condiments.  In our case, avocado and black sesame seeds.  The chopped tuna was dressed with a spicy mayo (sriracha and mayo with a few drops of sesame oil).  We scooped a whole quarter up into the martini glass to eat with chopsticks…

The next course was our grilled or broiled course…we didn’t have a fried course or a steamed course.  I had my eye on a steamed savory custard too.  Maybe another time.  I had also planned on tempura for the fried course, but over estimated my energy! LOL!

Next up was Chicken Yakitori…oh my!  Simply oh my!  I used only chicken thigh meat, but I could consider giving chicken liver a thought, mind you just a thoughtful taste, done this way.  The yakitori sauce is easy beyond easy, the meat marinates quickly, cooks quickly, and literally cooked while we were eating the sushi course (my favorite, but this one made a close 2nd!).  Don’t skip the green onion or leek.  It really adds something.  We had this with plain steamed rice and extra yakitori sauce. Mmmmm…..

Finally, we have the Shabu-shabu…on the platter from 12 o’clock around we have blanched swiss chard leaves, 1-2 is noodles, 3 is blanched leek leaves, 4-5 and 7-8 gourmet mushrooms, 6 o’clock is blanched carrot slices,  9 is blanched onion, 10-11 is noodles, at 12 o’clock below the swiss chard leaves are tofu cubes and in the center is thinly sliced beef tenderloin.  The sauce that accompanies this dish is a ponzu sauce, which is a lemony soy sauce.

The veggies were blanched or parboiled according to their density and cooking time.  The idea was to leave some cooking time, but not a whole lot.  The cooking broth would take on the flavors from the various bits and pieces of food cooked in the communal pot.  At the end of the meal, the noodles would be added to the pot, and finished in the steaming soup.  This was fascinating and warrants trying again!

All in all it was a quite pleasant way to dine, and a pleasant way to kill an evening!  To do a full scale Kaiseki meal would require a lot of forethought, planning and help to get it all to come together in the right time frame! LOL!  It just made me appreciate the concept that much more!

In the meanwhile, if you need a little trip to Kyoto, it’s much easier to pick up Victoria Abbott Riccardi’s book “Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto” and take a fantasy trip there…  She’s thoughtfully provided a few easy recipes as well!

Thank you, Rachel, for hostessing this event!  This was a great book for me!  One I won’t be parting with!  I’m snagged, hook, line and sinker, and looking for more Japanese recipes to stretch out a meal with.  I’m thinking this makes a lot of sense…little bits of different things…spread over different food groups!  I rather like that!

Cook the Books: Heat~

2 12 2010

This time around at Cook the Books we read Heat by Bill Buford.  I was kind of tickled by this selection as this was one of the first “foodie” books I picked up to read on my own.  I thoroughly devoured it the first time, so this time I was able to savor it a little more in a different way.  While Bill ricochets from one culinary adventure to another in search of his own culinary niche, studying, soaking up knowledge like pasta takes up sauce, I kept getting pulled back to one thing…”The egg is very important.”

If you study the 3 eggs in the first photo you might wonder if the difference is a trick of your eyes, due to placement of the eggs, or the lighting, perhaps.  No…one is actually elongated.  These aren’t McGrocery Eggs… They’re eggs from my happy hens.  I have Silver Cuckoo Marans and I can’t recommend them highly enough.  They’re grand girls!  Now the picture just above this paragraph shows a McGrocery Egg on the left (once in awhile, even I have to buy eggs if I need several all at one time) and a Happy Hen egg on the right.  The egg on the right is extremely fresh…it might be a day old already.  And look at that yolk…it’s almost orange!  I’ll tell you…that makes the prettiest Lemon Meringue pie!  But…back to eggs…and pasta….

This is my standard egg pasta from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking.  Her recipe makes about 3/4 pound of fresh pasta.  This time we’re making ravioli.  I use the regular pasta recipe, because I love the light texture of it.

My ravioli filling is an adaptation of Marcella’s filling for Cappellacci.  I had purchased and baked yams at Thanksgiving…except they were Asian yams and were very pale in color, but much drier and more sweet.   I thought at the time they would make excellent ravioli.  The flesh of the Asian yams was actually so dry that after adding parmesan and romano cheeses, and a bit of Italian parsley for color and a bit of complementary flavor, I needed to add both butter and cream to moisten the yams.  This is one ingredient that didn’t need any binder to take up moisture!

I have to agree that the egg is very important.  The very first time I made pasta, I used my own chickens’ eggs.  At the time, I had a pair of lovely Golden Seabrights, and their eggs were smaller, not Bantam small, but smaller than the large eggs I get today.  They were the absolute perfect size to go with Marcella’s recipe for pasta.  Her 1 cup flour to 2 eggs worked right on with those eggs, every time.  When I lost those hens, and these larger girls started laying, I was intimidated about pasta for awhile.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it work right with larger eggs.  I should know better though…it’s just like making bread.  You just keep working in more flour until you get that correct consistency, and then you stop.

The ravioli are served with a simple sage butter (2 Tbsp. unsalted butter heated until bubbling, drop in 10 torn sage leaves and cook a few moments; pour over cooked and drained ravioli) then sprinkled with kosher salt to taste.  All I can say is make sure you boil enough!  I didn’t and I was so sad!  I was also very glad that the rest were already in the freezer for another time.

Johanna…Great choice!  Thanks so much for hostessing us!  I had a great time with the read and with my dish!  Mr. Buford…Thank you for your insight into the back side of the culinary world.  It was a pleasure to learn at your apron strings…even when the apron was afire!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book!

Cook the Books: The School of Essential Ingredients~

19 07 2010

This session of Cook the Books had us reading The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, which is the story of a chef/cooking teacher who is as gifted at blending personalities as she is ingredients in her kitchens.  Each member of the class has some emotional demon to overcome, including our intrepid chef, and each finds an elixir of recovery within the walls of the restaurant kitchen.  While not wholly masterfully written, it was a captivating and fun read!  It broke into pieces easily read in bits and pieces…excellent beach reading, and yet, emotionally touching!

As always, we’re to cook a dish we’re inspired to from the book.  I had to pass on my main inspiration…clams don’t do fresh from the ocean in the mid-north-mid-Sacramento Valley of California in July.  Not when it’s 103° outside.  No “R” in July.  While that part might be gotten around the 103° temps are too factual.  We’ll take Curtain #2 Bob!

I loved the idea of the white cake, but again…it’s 103° – baking is pretty much out of the question.   Then, there was the Thanksgiving feast…there are two of us…a bit much.  I finally settled on the bolognese sauce, because I love bolognese.  It will cook quietly without a great deal of fuss, just asking to be stirred occasionally while it absorbs the various layers of flavor, layer upon layer, upon layer.  Slowly.  Ever so slowly.  It may be cooking all day, but not a raging hot heat…it’s a mild simmer, a bare simmer…

My choice for a bolognese recipe comes from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook.  I’ve made the versions from both The Classic Italian Cookbook and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and we prefer the “Classic” version.  The “Essential” version has more carrot, celery and onion than the “Classic” and there’s a difference in the order of cooking the meat in the milk and the wine.  I’m not sure that there’s a problem with changing the order of those two cooking processes, as long as the tomatoes go in last.  I’d love to give the recipe, but it’s copyright protected.  I can tell you that if you “Google” “Marcella Hazan Bolognese sauce” you’ll find both recipes very easily!  Well…the original is harder to find…so here: Classic Bolognese Ragu.  The recipe in Essentials is really unusually sweet…a bit sweeter than I was prepared for.  Not that it isn’t good…it’s really not like anything I’d ever tasted before.  When someone complained about the sweetness and said they liked this recipe much better, I had to try it!  I understood why!

This is a sauce worth developing patience for.  It clings like sexy satin…It has depth that is utterly seductive.  It has the qualities of a siren’s song…calling you back for just one more bite…just one…more…

As for me…I’d love to take a cooking class here!  I can only imagine what fun we’d have and what deep dark secret would somehow be exorcised from my past through cooking!  What a fabulous way to leave troubles behind!

Cook the Books: Eating for England~

16 05 2010

Our latest read at Cook the Books was Eating for England by Nigel Slater.  Eating for England was an amusing listing of British food items, the memories they evoked in Mr. Slater, and the history they might have.  While thoroughly interesting, it ran a bit dull if one truly has no association with said items.  I found I enjoyed most reading about the items I’d run across in other books…jam roly poly for instance…treacle tart.  It’s a really good book to read if you know you’re going to be interrupted a great deal. The recitation is quite broken up, sometimes an entry is no more than a paragraph.

Next…what to cook?  Fish & chips?  A syllabub?  Should I trifle with a trifle?  Roast a joint of beef and make Yorkshire pudding?  Steam a pud?  Attempt to create a Spotted Dick?  Bangers and mash?

After careful consideration I knew it came down to something like a syllabub.  I recall discovering a reference to syllabubs in a book I read as a child.  However “fools” are very similar to syllabubs, with no alcohol.  So a food it should be!  No comments please… *Ü*

I hunted for British ingredients, and I hunted for British recipes, eventually discovering The Great British Kitchen site.  What a great site this is to accompany our book!  I selected a recipe from their collection and adapted it for 2. While there, I found a lot of recipes I’d really like to try, and took note of those.

Mango Fool

Serves: 4

1 Large Mango, peeled
1 Tablespoon Lemon juice
1 Egg white, whisked
150 ml Whipping cream, whipped (5 fl oz)
Remove the flesh from the mango and purée three quarters of it. Chop the remainder and stir in the lemon juice. Fold together the egg white, cream and mango purée.

Put the chopped mango into the bottom of 4 glasses and spoon over the fool. Serve chilled.
This recipe works very well with canned mango pieces as well.

Tasting Notes~
Oh my…my…my!  This is light and airy, and just barely sweet.  It takes it’s sweetness from the mango purée.  The egg white and the whipped cream folded together make such a light and delicate combination when they’re put together.  The addition of the fruit softens the weight from the fat, making this a real food miracle.  This feels like it will be a wonderful summer dessert.  You can bet we’ll be having this again real soon!

Cook the Books Club~Like Water for Chocolate

31 03 2010

Not being terribly into soap operas, but really loving Mexican food, I stuck with this one.   It made for interesting reading on Sunday Spa Nights…even though I got very frustrated with the long-suffering characters.  It took me awhile to catch on that every time our protagonist was emotional while she was cooking the emotion was shared in the food she prepared for others…that got a little scary now and then.

I read through the recipes that were offered, and gave them consideration.  The closing recipe, poblanos stuffed and served with walnut sauce was the most intricate.  I found myself wondering just how do you remove the skin from a walnut?

As this was a quick read, I wondered and pondered throughout the month about what to cook.  In the end, there was a perfect opportunity to cook a meal for someone other than ourselves, and I spent a couple days in the kitchen working on the various meats that would go into the different items and that’s what I’m presenting for the group.

I had a piece of beef chuck I knew I wanted to cook down for shredded beef…and I had a pork butt I was going to cook for pulled pork.  The pulled pork cooks in a slow, slow oven over several hours…why not the beef as well?  I seared it on both sides and popped it into a cast iron cooker with a bit of onion, celery, carrot and water…just about 1/2 cup…enough to keep things moist.  While I was getting all of that ready, I remembered that I had a batch of little top sirloin steaks that needed to be cooked, so I put them in another casserole with a bit of adobo sauce and a chipotle pepper, cumin, carrot, celery and onion.  A slightly different flavor…one that could stand alone easier.  4 hours later, my house smelled phenomenal!!

On cooking day, I put together my sopa seca de fideo, refried beans, a sope filled with beans and shredded beef topped with shredded cheese, floutas and mini tacos.  It didn’t look like that much food until I sat down to eat it!  There’s a light dusting of parmesan cheese over the entire plate, and there’s shredded lettuce with tomato and avocado slices for a working garnish.  Hot pico de gallo was served at the table.  Oh my.  We each had to taste a bit of everything…and both of us decided the flautas and mini tacos will reheat!

Like Water for Chocolate was a fun read.  It wasn’t a book I’ll keep, in fact mine is already at it’s new home courtesy of Goodreads!  I’ve begun our next book, Eating for England.  Thanks for checking out my dish, and thank you to our organizers!!  You keep finding ’em, I’ll keep reading and cooking ’em!

Happy New Year~Roast Duck & Green Papaya Salad

3 01 2010

My New Year cooking got pushed off a few days due to a freezer shut down and needing to cook about 9 pounds of pork.  After making tamales, needing to roast pork for pulled pork or anything else wasn’t high on my list, but there it was nonetheless.   3# of pork went to pulled pork for sandwiches, another 3# went to Pork Bolognese (came out beautifully!), and there’s 3# of ribs I’m not sure are worth the effort due to freezer burn and age.  I’m thinking dog treats.  But…I”m really tired of pork right now!!  So, that I had planned roast duck for New Years was still a welcome idea.  I followed a recipe I ran across on line for 5 Hour Duck.  The sauce is incredible.  The duck was a little dry…I think I’d cook it at a slightly lower temp…more like 250°-275° next time.  But the skin was incredibly crispy and lacquered and ever so good.  What goes with duck?  Mandarin pancakes…or sticky rice.  Oh, but I love sticky rice.  It’s time to learn!  Something else is needed to balance things out…mmmm…green papaya salad! Som Tum!!  That’s good…all fingerish food, and all things that will go well together.   And you have to love a recipe that cooks with virtually no attention, except for the occasional turn for 4 hours!  Yes, it cooks for 5, but the 5th hour is a little more busy!

This is a meal that starts a day in advance though.  The duck needs to sit out in the fridge so the skin can dry overnight, and the rice needs to soak at least several hours, better overnight.  As soon as we got home with the papaya, rice and steamer, I put the rice on to soak.  Secretly I’m very excited. I love sticky rice.  I purchased a medium sized sticky rice steamer basket from a local Hmong market, along with 5# of sweet rice, and a green papaya.  They always ask if I have a recipe for Som Tum.  *Ü*

I should have gotten the steamer urn as well.  It’s oddly shaped, but it’s shaped that way for a reason I guess.  It looks like a spittoon.   But, the shape funnels the steam directly toward the rice in the basket.  I used a big kettle, and after 15 minutes, I concocted a collar to keep the steam focused on the steamer basket.  After an hour, the rice still wasn’t fully cooked, so then I covered the pot for the next 15 minutes, and that did the trick.   So the tricks seem to be: make sure the steam is directed toward the basket, a foil collar will work, and cover the rice for at least part of the cooking time.  I finally achieved singular, glossy, translucent grains that were chewy in texture and rolled nicely in the hand.  Yes! But that was during the final hour and resting period of cooking the duck!

The duck went in filled with aromatics…ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and some lemongrass because I had it handy.  It roasts at a low temp, 300° in her recipe, for 5 hours, being turned each hour.  The basting sauce goes on during hour 5 only.  What could be easier?

It was so easy, I managed a good hour long soaky bath while my duck roasted.   Sunday is my “spa bath” day/night, and I spend about an hour reading and whatever else I need to do aside from scrubbing my bodkin.  This week I finally picked up our Cook The Books read…A Taste For Adventure by Anik See.  Oh my gosh…how funny is this!  I’m reading about Som Tum and Anik See in Thailand, and I’ve got a papaya salad going in the kitchen!  This must be my dish! LOL!

I love green papaya salad.  There are so many little things that go into it!  It’s hard to imagine each of those things making such a difference, but they do.  I followed Anik’s recipe somewhat, as I actually had frozen dried shrimp, and thought that would add a slightly different twist on the salty aspect.  I also couldn’t get fresh Thai chiles so I used red pepper flakes to taste.   We have added palm sugar to our pantry now, and we had fish sauce and lime handy.  I had a bit of trouble getting the tangy balance right, and finally decided it was because the limes were too sweet.  I added a little more fish sauce and some rice wine vinegar for the sour, and that finally solved the imbalance.  I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, but I did have frozen dried tomatoes, so I added those to the salad, and they pounded up just fine, maybe better than raw tomatoes would.

Here’s the duck in all it’s glory~

I carved each of the breast halves off the frame along with their crispy skin, and served that with the sticky rice and the papaya salad.  The rice was in single serving plastic bags to keep it warm and moist until we needed it.  As I mentioned, the breast was a bit dry, but a little additional sauce solved that.  I have to admit that a piece of crispy skin wrapped around a little ball of sticky rice with a morsel of duck meat was pretty yummy.   The sweet-salty-hot-sour papaya salad was a great foil for the rich duck.  This was not at all a bad way to welcome in the new year…even if it was a few days late.

Whisking Mignons de Porc Arlonaise~

3 08 2009

Sometimes you can’t quite imagine the complexity of a dish by reading the recipe…even when you work at it.  This was one of those.  I admit, the oven temp of 425º really put me off while it was over 105º outside, but it wasn’t on very long…45 minutes tops, including pre-heating.  And it was so very worth it.  This dish just kept bringing surprises to the tastebuds and to the tongue in the way of textures.


This is basically a very uncomplicated dish with lots of little bits and pieces to do.  I think it’s time to either shake this house until I find my scale (originally gotten to weigh my pet corns***e, instead used to weigh baby chinchillas-NOT sn*** food!!).  This recipe called for ounces of things.  I know Alton Brown says the only way to bake properly is by weight…and I’ll bet I know why…  Either way, I needed to weigh the carrots, leeks, celery, turnips (withheld due to convenient memory loss), and mushrooms (substituted due to inconvenient memory loss).  I also neglected to buy small waxy potatoes. All I had in the house were large russets, which I cut into chunks and “tournéd” dutifully, albeit not 100% successfully.  I did end up with some relatively same sized little barrels, some of which actually did have 7 (woo-hoo!!) sides.  I know I spent a lot more time on mise en place, than I did on actual cooking.  For my dark beer, I selected an Oatmeal Stout from an in-state micro-brewery.  California has lots of little micro-brew pubs that are fabulous.  I have to recommend doing all the mise en place with this recipe.  Once you get started with the pork, it all goes very quickly, maybe 30 minutes cooking time tops.  Please note, I halved the recipe as much as I possibly could, and it worked pretty well!!

This would have been a good spot for a shot of the pork, nicely browned, just before it went to the oven.  I used a cast iron skillet, since it would hold heat nicely, disperse it evenly, and go in and out of the oven with ease.  The pork browned off nicely while my potatoes were simmering on the back burner.  The pork would be 15 minutes roasting, and the potatoes need to simmer 10 minutes then set until needed.  My first glitch hit when I realized my hubby had set the oven for 200º when he lit it for me (yeah, I know, they make ranges that will light themselves, which this was once upon a time…it WAS on the priority list until I HAD to buy a new fridge).  Oh well…heat down on the stove top, heat up in the oven, brown a little bit more, and it will balance out.  The cast iron holds heat long enough for the oven to catch up.  We need the roasting pan for finishing the dish, but we can start the sauce now.

Combine the vinegar and the sugar…what a fragrant start this is!  At this point, the sauce doesn’t belie what cuisine we’re cooking…it could be Asian…German…French…Californian…  I was afraid I’d over-cooked this phase.   The sugar reached an amber color just as the vinegar evaporated leaving me with a pot with an amber sugar sculpture in the bottom!  Bring on the beer!  It didn’t sputter as much as I anticipated, but it sure did foam!  The next steps involved reducing the sauce ingredients as they were added, taking the pork from the oven to rest briefly before reintroducing it to the cooking pan, now filled with a julienne of carrots, leeks and celery (and well washed and drained canned mushrooms).  If nothing else, this dish fills the air with aromas that will have your audience filled with anticipation.


Voila! Mignons de Porc Arlonaise!  The pork is so tender and full of flavor that this could easily be a special occasion dish, and yet it’s pretty straight forward and forthright.  There’s a little prep, but no baby sitting. It’s kind of all right there.  The sauce makes this dish.  This was our photo plate, and the sauce doesn’t show up well (and wouldn’t have on any plate I looked at save one and that one washed out the appearance of the pork), so I served up some sauce on the side as well.


This shot pretty much says it all.  All gone. Every bit of it.  I cut it back to 3 servings, and every morsel went away.  Yes, Jasmine (sheltie cross) got her share.  No veggies (leeks included), but she enjoyed her nibble of the pork medallions.   This is a serious “keeper” recipe.  Kayte mentioned perhaps a holiday meal…I’d agree.  Another success from Le Cordon Bleu at Home!

*Editor’s note….Yes, that’s a can of Little Friskies cat food on the back of the island; no, it was not included in the dish we prepared. I don’t know why it was still there.  It simply was, and I’m not photographer enough to see “everything” in my shot.  I’m a Foodie, what can I say…!