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Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Every now and again, my weekly stroll through the farmers market gets interrupted by a sighting of something extraordinary that makes me stop in my tracks and think, “holy shit!”. This week, it was yuzu.

Yuzu is something that I’d tasted all my life in a processed form, but had never had fresh. It’s in a lot of Japanese seasonings, most commonly the ponzu dipping sauce served with shabu-shabu and sashimi; and it’s apparently also commonly consumed in Korea in yuja-cha, a honey-laden tea meant to ward off the winter cold.

The ones I bought tasted basically like a cross between an orange (without the sweetness) and a lemon (but without the puckering sourness). A glance through Harold McGee indicated that yuzu is composed of a pretty considerable medley of flavor notes: limonene (citrus), pinene (pine), terpinene (herbaceous), linalool (flowery), sulfur (musky), terpenoids (spicy).

My parents used to impress upon me how hard it is to find fresh yuzu every time they’d crack open a bottle of Mitsukan ponzu (which doesn’t even have any real yuzu in it), so I was eager to snatch up a couple from De’Santis Bella Frutta and try them out. The first thing that struck me about them was their heady, perfumy scent. The second thing that struck me was, unfortunately, how breathtakingly expensive they are – $20/lb (??!!). But my curiosity got the better of me and I bought them anyway.

Now, given that I’d now spent $18 on only a few fruits, I was determined to use every last bit of them. I sent two home to my parents, and then got to work on zesting the rest. The fresh bits of peel work very nicely in tsukemono, where they added a warm citrus undertone to an otherwise mundane batch of salt-pickled turnips. I dried the remainder of the zest for ginger-honey tea, which makes for a nice, cozy brew for the crumby, rainy weather we’ve been having of late. I reserved the juice (of which there wasn’t terribly much) and minced the rind to steep in about 2 cups of soy sauce for homemade ponzu – which is also a great accompaniment for tempura or fried fish in addition to shabu-shabu.

All in all, a decent purchase from my favorite fruit vendors at the Heart of the City Farmers Market (they also sell at the Sunday farmers market at the Civic Center in San Rafael). Can’t wait to see what surprises they’ll have in store next time around! In the meantime, I’ll have to try some other yuzu recipes I’ve come across, like this pork cutlet with yuzu miso and shiso.

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I first came across this extraordinary-looking vegetable a couple of years ago at New York’s Union Square farmers market, attracted by its chartreuse hue and mesmerizing fractal pattern. A sign at the stand proclaimed it to be “romanesco cauliflower”. When I bought it this past week from the Capay Organic store at the Ferry Building, I was told it was a kind of broccoli. I’ve also seen it sold as Broccoli Romanesco, Roman broccoli and Broccoflower. According to Elizabeth Schneider’s exhaustive reference, “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini”, the consensus among plant breeders is that it’s a kind of cauliflower.

Regardless of what branch of brassica oleracea it most closely hews to, it’s delicious. It tastes like cauliflower, but with a distinct, pleasing nutty quality and a nubbly texture that sets it apart from both broccoli and cauliflower.

I cooked mine two ways – I blanched a batch of it just to see what the unadulterated taste of it was like; and I slow-cooked it in a variation of a recipe from Alice Waters’ new book. While it is very pleasant lightly cooked on its own, slow-cooking it turned it soft and meltingly velvety, which was a nice surprise.

Here are 2 ideas for what to do with this broccoli/cauliflower/whatever next time you can’t resist buying it:

Blanched Romanesco Cauliflower:

Bring 4 c of water to a rolling boil. Snap all the stems off from the central stalk and set aside. Then, quarter the stem crosswise. Salt the water; toss in the cauliflower and cover. Cook 3 minutes, or up to 5 if you prefer the end result to be a bit more tender.

Slow-cooked Romanesco Cauliflower:

1 head romanesco cauliflower (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3 medium cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp bacon fat (optional)
1/2 c vegetable or chicken stock

Cut the cauliflower into 1/4 inch slices crosswise, then mince. Mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil and bacon fat (if you’re using it) in a heavy-bottomed pan and sautee the garlic lightly. Add the cauliflower, stir to coat in oil, add stock, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid as necessary. Salt to taste.

This makes a really nice omelette stuffing, and is also great over angel hair pasta with bits of bacon or prosciutto.

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From top, clockwise: miso-pickled turnip greens, broiled salmon skin, stewed pumpkin, kinpira, Hakurei turnip pickles

As my last few posts attest, I’ve been on a bit of a Japanese food bender these days. Around New Year’s, I start to feel a little homesick for my parents’ cooking and start making things that I used to wish would disappear or turn into pizza when I was a kid. I started to have a hankering for the kind of foods my mom will often cook in big batches on Sunday to have for breakfast through the week, and the results were quite satisfactory.
Here are a couple of recipes:

Kinpira:
This dish is usually made either with burdock root or carrots (not both), but I like the combination of the two together plus a handful of hijiki seaweed.

1/2 lb burdock root
1/2 lb carrots
1/2 cup dried hijiki seaweed
sesame oil
soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup

Peel and slice burdock into matchsticks (about 3 inches long and 1/2 cm wide) and set in a bowl of cold water + 1 tblsp vinegar. This is to keep the burdock from discoloring. Peel and slice carrots in the same way. Submerge hijiki in cold water; drain when softened and about quadrupled in size.

Heat one tbsp of sesame oil in a frying pan. Add chopped burdock root and carrots, plus about 2 tbsp of soy sauce (or less, if you like your food less salty). Stir-fry about 3 minutes, then sprinkle brown sugar/molasses/maple syrup over the vegetables and add the drained hijiki. Stir-fry another 10 minutes. Done!

Stewed pumpkin:
For this batch, I used a small Jarrahdale pumpkin I got from Paradise Valley Produce the last time I visited. The standard squash to use is some sort of kabocha, which is sweeter and starchier than the Jarrahdale, which is somewhat bland but has a moister, more yam-like texture.

1 3lb winter squash or pumpkin (not a Sugar Pie or Cinderella, as these will not hold up in the stewing pot)
2 cups dashi or fish stock
1/4 c soy sauce
1 inch-long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly crosswise
brown sugar/molasses/maple syrup to taste
3 tbsp sake

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and veins, then slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch crescents lengthwise. Heat dashi together with the ginger slices until it reaches a slow boil. Mix in the soy sauce, sweetener (I say “to taste” b/c the sweetness of this dish can vary very widely) and the sake. Then, add the squash slices and turn heat down to a simmer. Simmer about 40 minutes, or until the squash is soft all the way through.

Note: I’m a little alarmed to find that health warnings have been issued in a number of countries (the U.K., New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong) advising people to avoid consumption of hijiki due to high arsenic levels. Not quite sure what to make of it – I’ve been eating it all my life and I’m not dead yet; on the other hand, the same could be said of a lot of things that aren’t healthy. Decide for yourself. Kinpira is just as good without it and I certainly don’t want to be accused to poisoning anyone with Japanese food!

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I love finding unusual vegetables and thinking of ways to cook them.

A jaunt up to the farm just before Christmas yielded a huge bounty of wild radish greens, which is both of one my favorite vegetables and also something I’ve never seen in a store or a farmers market, most likely because it’s a weed. It sprouts like crazy throughout the year, especially as it gets colder. If you have a garden, or have strolled through an area farm, you’ve probably seen it – it grows to about 3 feet and has little pinwheel flowers that are generally either yellow, white or lavender.

The plant looks very much like a taller, spindlier version of broccoli raab, which it also closely resembles in taste. It quickly grows tough and fibrous, so it has to be harvested when the tips are still young and tender, ideally before the flower opens and the inflorescence is just emerging from the stalk. I felt very lucky indeed to coincidentally be on the farm when this prolific weed was just entering the phase when it’s ideal for picking.

There are a couple of ways to cook it. It’s got a one-two punch of brazen mustardy bite plus an undertone of bitterness, which I think gives it character, but which could be off-putting to people who prefer their vegetables to be more demure. So a good way to temper it is to make tempura with it – this brings out the tender snap of the stalk, crisps the leaves and mellows the bitterness.

Another method is to stir-fry at high heat with a prodigious amount of toasted sesame oil, a dash of maple syrup or brown sugar, and about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce per pound.

A more traditional way to cook it is to use it in oshitashi – some recipes call for things like mirin, sake or sesame of some sort, but I like to just splash some soy sauce on it with a handful of katsuo flakes and call it ready. This is the plainest preparation of the green, one which doesn’t mask the bitter spiciness of the vegetable, and one that goes especially well with a nice rich fish accompaniment like the one below.

I was also delighted to come across some Scarlet Queen turnips at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the Eatwell Farms stand. I think it’s a shame that turnips are generally either neglected or reviled in American food because they require so little preparation to bring out their juicy sweetness. They’re best when they’re on the smaller side (i.e., not too much larger than golf-ball sized), as fresh as possible and not too mature. Sometimes you get turnips that have been sitting around in the ground for too long, and the mellow tenderness that make them so delicious has dissipated into a searing, nose-clearing mustardy taste.

My father used to have a batch of turnip pickles going whenever they were in season, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to replicate that out here. These turnips were especially nice because their festive reddish-pink blush added a bit of cheer to what’s otherwise a relatively drab-looking vegetable. I cut them into thin, half-moon slivers and layered them in a glass dish with a bit of yuzu peel, salt and kombu. Then I put some plastic wrap over them, weighted them down with a jug of water and waited an hour. I also pickled the greens in a similar fashion, but replaced the salt with light miso and added a tsp each of sake and mirin. Add some rice, miso soup and a protein of some sort and you’ve got a meal!


Clockwise, from top: hijiki brown rice, wild radish green oshitashi, pickled turnips w/ sesame oil, miso-pickled turnip greens, miso soup, sauteed wild radish greens, fried sand

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Which, for me, is this kind of thing:

Broiled mackerel with grated daikon, miso soup, brown rice w/ stir-fried hijiki and parboiled green beans with sesame seeds

That’s pretty much the sort of thing my mom always made at home – some kind of broiled fish, very simply prepared vegetables, miso soup and rice with a couple of rotating accompaniments like salt pickled turnips, sauteed lotus root, burdock kinpira, or stewed chicken.

I realize that probably sounds kind of weird, and certainly, it used to be a source of tremendous consternation to me that my mom never made me any “normal” food. This was especially true at lunchtime in elementary school, when everyone would take out their lunch boxes and start trading things like strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups and juice boxes feverishly.

Now that I’m older and don’t live at home, I get a hankering for that food every now and again, and thankfully, it’s really easy to make. I think some people find the idea of cooking Japanese food at home kind of intimidating because of all the unfamiliar ingredients, and the cultivated esotericism of the typical unsmiling sushi chefs encountered in Japanese restaurants. But it isn’t difficult to make a straightforward meal like the one pictured above:

Parboiled green beans with sesame seeds:

  • Cut the tips off a quarter pound of green beans
  • Drop beans into water that has reached a rolling boil; cook 2 minutes, or until the beans have about the give of the flesh on the tip of your index finger.
  • Remove from heat and plunge into ice water. Drain.
  • Dress with a dash of sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds – or just a dab of mayonnaise.

Hijiki stir- fry:

  • Submerge 1/2 cup of hijiki in cold water, set aside until it expands to about 3 times the original size; drain
  • Peel and quarter a carrot lengthwise; cut into thin, fan-shaped slices
  • Sautee the carrot slices in 2 tbsp sesame oil until semi-soft
  • Add the drained hijiki and continue stir-frying for about 5 minutes, adding 1 tsp brown sugar and 1 tbsp soy sauce (you can adjust to taste – I prefer less sugar than some people)

Broiled mackerel:

  • Set oven to broil
  • If using a whole mackerel, slit the fish from the tip of the jaw down the belly to the tail; scoop the innards out (Or just leave them, if you don’t mind fish innards. I find them kind of bitter.) Rinse and pat dry. Make two cuts on either side of the head to splay the body open like a book.
  • Salt lightly, then brush with any kind of cooking oil you want – safflower, soybean oil, sunflower, sesame, whatever.
  • Broil with cut side facing up for about 10 minutes, or until the meat on the inside browns – keep a careful eye on the fish so it doesn’t burn
  • Serve w/ finely grated daikon radish and a spot of soy sauce

I usually just cook my rice in a rice cooker, so I can turn it on and ignore it while I’m making everything else. Easy-peasy!

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Delicatas are probably my favorite kind of winter squash. They have the perfect texture, aren’t too moist or too dry and have a deliriously sweet taste that goes well with all things winter. The standard way of cooking them is to simply cut them in half, brush them with olive oil and then bake them until soft – at which point you can gobble the whole thing down, skin and all.

But that would be so easy. It wouldn’t require hours of baking, boiling, pureeing, fussing and mess-making in the kitchen. So I decided to try making delicata gnocchi. Now, I love gnocchi, but I absolutely hate it when they’re too heavy and you feel like you have a leaden torpedo of dough in your stomach from eating them. Here’s what went into the dough:

The meat from 4 roasted, seeded delicata squash and 3 baked russet potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Instead of adding flour to the dough until it became manageable enough to roll out and cut into pieces, I just left it as it was and used a spoon and a pastry spatula to spoon the dough up, divide it and drop it straight into boiling water. This I served with fennel sauce:

3 fennel bulbs, browned in a covered pan with 2 tbsp olive oil
blended with
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

I reserved some fronds off the fennel to mince and toss on top for an extra anise-y kick. As you can see, it wasn’t the most elegant meal, but it was damn tasty.

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My boyfriend picked up Jennifer McLagan‘s excellent Bones: Recipes, History and Lore a little while back and the cover photo of a couple roasted marrow bones, complete with parsley salad and marrow spoon had been taunting me from the kitchen table ever since.

While it is now terribly in vogue among a certain kind of gourmand to seek out the funkiest of meats (“duck fries”, i.e. duck balls, from Incanto anyone?), I haven’t laid a finger on anything more adventurous than chicken liver in ages. So we picked up some marrow bones from Drewes’, determined to give it a shot, and cooked them up the other night after a lengthy stay entombed in the freezer.

It turns out that they’re extremely easy to cook, but just require a little planning. Marrow bones must be soaked for 12-24 hours in a few changes of water to leech all the blood out of them. I’m not sure what would happen if you skipped this step, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. Who knows what old, mouldering blood trapped in a cow leg tastes like. Here’s what they looked like when they came out of the water bath, pale and bit ghostly:

You’d think that after having to soak the bones for ages, cooking them would also be a production. But it wasn’t. It took about 15 minutes in the oven at 450 for them to cook through – although in all honesty, we left them in for a little too long and the marrow started to actually melt and flood out of the bottom of the bones. So I’d recommend checking on them periodically and pulling them when you can put a toothpick into the center w/ no resistance.

Marrow is tremendously rich – it tastes kind of like a steak distilled into butter that’s made out of beef – so it’s a good idea to have some bread and something sharp and peppery or mellow and sweet to eat with it. We ate ours with rounds of toast, an arugula-fennel salad and roasted beet soup to cut through the fattiness.

And not to sound like a broken record here, but I’d also like to point out that bones are just about the cheapest thing you can get from your local purveyor of pastured beef. Some meat CSA’s even toss them in for free with your meat share. Of course, with all the high-end restaurants clamoring for them as well, that may not be true in San Francisco or New York.

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