Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Biscuit ビスケット

The word "Biscuit" is used differently in North America and the British commonwealth. In England, biscuit is either sweet or savory "cookie" or "cracker" and in North America, it is soft quick bread (made with leavening agents such as baking powder or soda or both).   In Japan, biscuit  ビスケット usually means a type of cookie like in England. When I was growing up "biscuit" meant  a round sweet cookie which was locally produced and called "saka-biscuit" 坂ビスケット. It was wrapped in a paper cylinder (such as the one in the picture to the left). This company is still making "biscuits" but they are not wrapped in a paper cylinder like the old days.

More recently, probably because of its popularity KFC in Japan has made, North American style "biscuits" (with some Japanese modifications) became popular.

When I first came and live in the US, I was quite impressed with an instant biscuit that comes in a cardboard cylinder from Pillsbury. (see first picture).  With a sharp whack, the cylinder pops open (something my wife liked to do when she was a kid). You get "freshly" baked biscuits simply by putting the dough from the cylinder on a cookie sheet and baking.

Digression alert: My wife told me that when she was little girl her mother sent her to the local corner grocery store to get somethings for dinner, one of which was a package of Pillsbury biscuits. She was holding a roll of the biscuits in her hand while waiting in line to check out. The line was fairly long and it was taking some time.  When she got to the cashier she accidentally dropped the cylinder onto the floor. To every one's surprise there was a loud POP and the end of the tube flew off. The biscuits shot out of the tube like from a canon. Apparently the heat from her little hand activated the leavening agent and the whack when it hit the floor broke the seal causing the dough, which was by then under considerable pressure, to shoot out like little doughy canon balls.)

I haven't had these biscuits for quite some time but when I was using them I thought they were quite good particularly just out of the oven. But once they got cold they became hard as a rock.

My wife used to make authentic North American biscuits from the scratch all the time but she has not made any for quite some time. So, when she saw this interesting recipe in the Washington Post, she had to try it.  We enjoyed them with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

The original recipe was "double ginger" flavor but she did not add any ginger.

For the biscuits (the recipe yielded a dozen rectangular biscuits):
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup cold regular or low-fat buttermilk, or more as needed

(The original recipe provided weights for the ingredients and generally when given a choice for baking, my wife thinks using weights is more accurate. But she discovered that the weights provided were nowhere close to the weight of the ingredient if measured by the cup then weighed on the scale. I could hear her muttering, "Don't they ever proof read their recipes or better yet try them out first?") 


Whisk together the all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, sugar, ground ginger, if using, and salt in a large bowl.

Use the widest opening on a box grater to grate the butter into the flour mixture, adding it a bit at a time and gently mixing it into the flour so it doesn’t clump up. Use your hands to make sure the butter is fully incorporated into the flour. Add the buttermilk; use a flexible spatula to mix until the dough holds together. If the mixture's still too crumbly, add up to 2 more tablespoons of buttermilk.

Lightly flour a rolling pin and a clean work surface. Transfer the dough there; use a light touch to shape it into a rectangle, then pull the far end of the rectangle up toward you and fold the dough over in half. Press down on the dough and repeat this step 6 more times.

Roll out the folded dough to a 1-inch thickness. Use the biscuit cutter to form a total of 10 to 12 biscuits; you can re-roll the dough once, but you might notice less height on those re-rolled biscuits after baking. For this reason my wife made the biscuits into a rectangular instead of the traditional round shape. This is because, as suggested by the recipe above, the round shape results in dough between the circles being left over. In order to use up all the dough these leftover pieces have to be re-rolled and re-cut. The extra working of the dough causes the biscuits to be less tender and flaky. The rectangular shape results in using all the dough with only one cutting (pictures shown below). Place the biscuits on a baking sheet.

Cover the biscuits with plastic wrap; freeze for 1 hour or up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Bake the biscuits (straight from the freezer, unwrapped; middle rack) for 12 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 8 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

There were two reasons my wife wanted to try the recipe. First the idea of using a grater to flake the butter sounded like a good technique. Secondly, freezing the dough idea was new to us and we were interested in  how this came out. The biscuits were not as flaky or as fluffy as my wife's usual buttermilk biscuits. They were good in there own right but nothing special. They did go well  with the scrambled eggs (I made mine into a small sandwich). Hopefully, my wife will make her original buttermilk biscuits again, soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ricotta filled Danish/rolls リコタチーズ入りデーニッシュ

This is my wife's Ricotta filled Danish which she made some time ago in quantity. We froze them and we enjoyed them for breakfast. They warm up very well in the microwave.

Unfortunately, we ate them all before we had a chance to write about them in the blog.  Recently, my wife made another batch with some alterations to correct some problems she had with the first batch. The picture below shows the second version of her ricotta filled rolls.

The filling stayed inside the roll this time  as shown below.

The major problem my wife had with the first batch of ricotta buns was that even though she followed the recipe the filling was too watery and it was almost impossible to fill the roll. The filling ran out and once it got on the edge of the dough, the bun could not be sealed. In desperation she resorted to using a small bowl (shown at the edge of picture #2). She put the dough into the bowl to form a cup #3. Then she sealed the top like she would a small pie #4. The end result is shown in #5 and #6. this was a somewhat unsatisfactory solution to say the least.

riccotta filled Denish composit

The below is her second attempt. She read a recipe on the internet for a "light and fluffy" cheese cake which used ricotta cheese that had been drained in a colander over night. She thought 'ah ha. Maybe this could work for my ricotta buns.' So she tried it again. 

Filling: 4 cups ricotta drained overnight
             2 egg yolks
             1/2 cup sugar
             1 tsp salt
             1/2 tsp almond extract
             1/2 tsp vanilla

          2 packages yeast
          1/2 cup warm water
          1/2 cup scalded milk
          1/2 cup sugar
          1/2 cup butter
          4 eggs
          1 tsp salt
          4 cups of flour (with more to make the dough the right consistency)

Dirctions for filling: This time she drained the ricotta by putting two layers of cheese cloth in a colander. She added a package worth of ricotta cheese, wrapped it in the cheese cloth, put a small plate on top and weighted it down with several heavy cans. She put a large plate on the bottom to collect the liquid that came out then put it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning there was about 1/2 cup of liquid that came out of the cheese. This time it was much thicker and easier to work with (#1). She added the eggs yolks, sugar, flavorings and salt and stirred until the mixture was smooth. 

Bread: She mixed the milk, sugar, salt and butter and heated it to scald the milk and melt the butter sugar and salt. While it was cooling she proofed the yeast. She added the milk mixture and yeast mixture to the flour and incorporated it. Then she added the eggs one at a time. She added additional flour 1/2 cup at a time until she obtained a soft but workable consistency (#2). She let it rise once them punched it down and assembled the rolls.

Assembly: She made rounds of dough weighing 2 oz each (#3). This time she could could just scoop the filling onto the center of the dough rounds  (#4) and pinch up the edges to seal (#5). The end result was a nice little bun (#6). She put them in a buttered pan and let them rise again (#7). She put them in a 400 degree oven for about 18 minutes. The final product is shown in #8. 

There is still a room for improvement in this recipe. Probably one more egg yolk is needed in the filling so that it will congeal better while baked. Because of the sugar in the dough, it tended to brown very quickly. It might be better to start with a 400 degree oven for maybe 5 minutes then lower the baking temperature  to 350F and cook a bit longer than 18 minutes? 

Both versions tasted very good. The sweet vanilla/almond flavor of  the ricotta filling was very nice. The bread was very soft and not too sweet. The ricotta filling made it pleasantly moist. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Seasoned rice and sake lees marinated cucumber 炊き込みご飯,胡瓜の粕漬け

One evening, I made a short Japanese course dinner for a visiting friend. Among the dishes we served, I made a type of seasoned rice which I served with grilled salmon. I posted a similar dish previously (scattered sushi cooked in Donabe). In this version, the ingredients that went into the rice was not pre-cooked. The next day, we had the rice that was left over from the dinner for lunch. I served it with my sake lees cured cucumber and garlic chives, tofu and egg clear soup.

For this seasoned rice or "Takikomi gohan" 炊き込みご飯, I used burdock root ごぼう, carrot 人参,  shiitake mushroom 椎茸and hijiki seaweed ひじき. I could have added more items such as abura-age 油揚げ and proteins such as chicken but I restrained myself.

When I made sake lees marinade, I mostly marinated fish but I also tried cucumber called cucumber kasu-zuke 胡瓜の粕漬け . This is my truncated version.

Since we have new tender garlic chives coming up in our herb garden, I made this classic clear soup with garlic chives, silken tofu and egg.

1. Seasoned rice (Takikomi-gohan) 4-6 servings:

Rice, 2 cups (by the small 180ml cup came with the rice cooker), washed, and drained.
Shiitake mushroom, dry, 4, hydrated by soaking in warm water for 2-3 hours,  moisture squeezed out and sliced into small strips. I reserved the soaking liquid.
Burdock root, 1/3, skin scraped off with the back of the knife, thinly sliced on the bias, cut into fine strips, immediately soaked in acidulated water (I used a splash of rice vinegar) for 10-15 minutes, washed and drained.
Carrot: 1 medium, peeled, sliced on the bias and then cut into thin strips.
Hijiki: I soaked dry hijiki in plenty of water. Washed them and changed the water a few time until they were hydrated (20-30 minutes). I drained and washed and set aside.

I placed washed and drained rice in the rice cooker and added the shiitake soaking liquid (through a fine meshed strainer). I added mirin (1tbs), sake (1tbs) and light colored soy sauce (1 tbs). I could have added salt but I did not since I could always add more salt after it was cooked. I added water to make the specified amount required (in this case, the water level mark "2"). I then added the vegetables into the rice. I turned on the rice cooker.

After the rice was cooked, I let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Using a rice paddle, I mixed the cooked rice and served. 

2. Cucumber kasu-zuke:

The formal way of making this dish, requires making salted cucumber or "shiozuke". I took a short cut. I coated the surface of the cucumber with Kosher salt and placed them in a Ziploc bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for several days.

Cucumbers, I used American mini-cucumber but Japanese cucumber would be the best, washed, I used the short cut method described above and let it stand in the refrigerator for several days.  The cucumbers look shriveled and the bag had a quite a good amount of exuded water. 
Kasu-doko,   This is the same one I used when I made "cod kasuzuke". I just placed the salted cucumbers into the kazu-doko. I dug it out after 3 weeks (below).

I removed the sake lees and washed.

The rice was quite good but my wife added a pat of butter. She thought the butter made it it much better. The cucumber was not like real kasuzuke but it had rather strong sake lees flavor and was qualified success.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Simmered Taro and bamboo shoot 里芋とたけのこの煮物

Before we started getting Sushi Taro's New Year's osechi box, I used to make a three tier osechi box myself. I filled the bottom layer with simmered vegetables and chicken dish called chikuzen-ni 筑前煮. The type of potato used in that dish is sato-imo 里芋  which was always available in my old Japanese grocery store. I see sato-imo at our new Japanese grocery store very rarely. The other day, when I was in our regular grocery store, I saw sato-imo which was labeled as "Malanga" and "Eddoe" (its scientific name Colocasia esculentafrom Costa Rica (#1 in the composite picture below). Taro is slightly different but the most common variety in the US. Common among these variations is that it is taste like potato but it is a thickened underground stem called corms. I am sure different cultures have different cultivars and names other than those I just mentioned but whatever the name, they appear to be essentially similar in texture and taste. Even in Japan, there is another variation of sato-imo called ebi-imo 海老芋 , ("ebi" means shrimp. It is long and curved resembling the tail of a shrimp). This is famous for its use in traditional Kyoto cuisine 京料理.  Actually, the one I got this time is more similar in shape to ebi-imo than Japanese sato-imo.

I made this classic New Year simmered vegetable dish. This time, I did not include any protein such as chicken.

I also added bamboo shoots or takenoko 竹の子, kon-nyaku こんにゃく, carrot and garnished with blanched snap peas or sugar snaps.

Ingredients: (for 10 small servings like shown in pictures above).
Taro (sato-imo): 10 (see directions below for preparation).
Bamboo shoot: one package, previously boiled and packed in a plastic pouch, cut into 4 pieces lengthwise, then the bottom thick portions cut into half inch thick cross pieces and the top cut lengthwise.
Kon-nyaku (Konjac): 1 cake, hand torn into small bite sized pieces and par-boiled and drained (#5).
Carrots: 2-3 large, peeled and cut in bite size ("Ran-giri" 乱切, cut on the bias as you turn 90 degree).
Bonito and kelp broth (3-400ml, enough  to cover the vegetables).
Soy sauce (I used light colored soy sauce or "Usukuchi" 薄口醤油).
Sugar snap peas: ends trimmed, blanched, for garnish

The classic Japanese satoimo is usually shorter than the one I got this time. This "Malanga" or "Eddoe" from Costa Rica (#1 in picture below) may more closely resemble "Ebi-imo" 海老芋. If this is more uniform rounder Japanese sato-imo, you could remove the skin by rubbing against each other in water which makes a nice rounded shape but I removed the skin by cutting off the top and the bottom and making hexagonal cylindrical shapes (making 6 faceted cylinders, a bit similar to making "tourne"). This is  called "Roppou-muki" 六方むき meaning six facet peeling in Japanese culinary parlance (#2, I now realized this one only has 5 facets!). 

I soaked them in cold water and washed them changing the water few times (#3). 

I made broth from a dashi pack (bonito and kelp), seasoned with sake, mirin and light colored soy sauce (#4). Some may add sugar and the amount of soy sauce could be variable depending on your preference. I made it more Kyoto style or "usu kuchi" meaning mildly seasoned. I added soy sauce in several increment as I tasted.

I placed the satoimo in the broth (#4) when it started simmering I added the carrot, bamboo shoot and kon-nyaku (#5 and #6). I let it gently simmer with a lid on for 30 minutes or until sato-imo is cooked.

This is a very subtle dish but has so many different textures. Sato-imo has very unique texture (creamy slightly viscous), which is difficult to describe.  The small serving in the picture is perfect for a drinking snack for us.  For a side dish eaten with rice, I will served at least twice as much and probably add more soy sauce and/or salt.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Savory cauliflower and spinach Panna cotta カリフラワーとほうれん草のパンナコッタ

My wife came up with this dish. How this dish evolved is kind of interesting. It all started when my wife spotted a recipe for English pea panna cotta . She really wanted to try it. So I was tasked to get several bags of frozen petite peas and some cream for the recipe. I forgot to get the peas and the cream. Then I used up whatever cream we had in the fridge to make lobster bisque. Not to be deterred, my wife chose to do some substitutions. We had a head of cauliflower which I already separated to florets and washed. We also had a bag of spinach. Since we had some previous experience making cauliflower puree, she proposed making "cauliflower and spinach panna cotta".  It turned out to be very good. I served it with watercress and blanched sugar snaps dressed with EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) and syrupy balsamic vinegar with freshly cracked black pepper.

All green and, perhaps, it would have been perfect for St. Patrick's day.

I decided to add more bright colors and made two kinds of sweet pepper coulis (red and yellow) and sweet vinegar marinated red radish slices.

I think I may have overdone it, this time. Maybe a little less red color would have been more "restful to the eye".

Ingredients(for Cauliflower panna cotta, about 8 servings):

Cauliflower, 1 medium head, separated into florets, washed.
Spinach, one bag, cooked in a covered pan without adding any liquid. excess moisture squeezed out  #2).
Onion, two, medium, cut into thin strips.
Garlic, two cloves with skin on.
Milk, enough to cover the cauliflower (#1)
Butter, unsalted, 3 tbs

1. Add the cauliflower, onion,, garlic, and butter to a sauce pan and cover it with milk. Simmer it until the cauliflower is cooked (#1, about 30 minutes).
2. Strain the cauliflower and milk mixture through a sieve,  reserving the milk (My wife figured adding butter will make the milk more cream-like).
3. In two batches, I placed vegetables in a blender and added enough milk to puree (with our blender on high speed, it took 30-40 seconds to have a nice smooth puree, #3 and 4). 
I added one of the garlic clover after squeezing it out of the skin in one of the batches. After tasting this batch, I did not add the garlic to the other batch.
4. I combined the puree in a bowl (#5) and tasted. I added few pinches of salt which made the sweetness of the vegetables to come out.
5. I sprinkled 3 envelopes of unflavored gelatin on about a half cup from the remaining milk (still hot) and whisked it to desolve and then added to the puree making sure all the gelatin was dissolved into the puree.
6. I poured the final mixture into small individual ramekins (#6).
7. Covered them with plastic wrap and refrigerated until set (several hours).

8. To unmold, I placed the ramekin in hot water for few seconds and also ran a thin bamboo skewer (or a thin narrow knife blade) around the edge and inverted on the center of the plate.

Ingredients (For sweet pepper coulis):

Red and yellow sweet pepper, 1 each
Shallots, 3, finely chopped and sauteed in olive oil until soft
Vinegar (I used rice vinegar) 4 tsp
Olive oil (EVOO) 4-6  tbs

1. I roasted the peppers in the toaster oven on broil mode, for about 20 minutes, turning every five minutes so that all the surfaces got slightly blackened. I immediately placed them in a Ziploc bag and let them steam for 10-20 minutes or until cooled down (#1).
2. I removed the skin, stem end and seeds (#2).
3. Cut it in small cubes (#3).
4. Place the #3, half of the shallot, juice accumulated in the bag, vinegar, and EVOO in a blending container (#4).
5. Using an immersion blender in high speed, blended into thin sauce (#5). If the consistency is too thick, you could add a bit of water. I tasted and added a pinch of salt.
6. I repeated for the yellow pepper to make red and yellow pepper coulis (#6).

Ingredients (For pickled red radish):
Small red radish, 3, top and bottom end removed, sliced into thin rounds (I used a Japanese mandoline).
Sweet vinegar, 1/4 cup (I took a short cut, and poured sushi vinegar from a bottle into a Pyrex ramekin with 2 tsp of sugar, and microwaved until the vinegar was warm and the sugar melted).
I immediately marinated the radish slices, covered with plastic wrap and let sit for a few hours. The red color leached out and the radish slices become a nice homogeneous pink.

This was an unequivocal success! This savory panna cotta has a nice light green color exactly like the picture of English pea panna cotta. We used gelatin instead of agar-agar suggested in the original recipe since we are not serving this to vegetarians. The texture came out just right without jello-like consistency but very creamy and also kept its shape. You can taste the spinach but if you were not told. you could not guess this is made of cauliflower.  Although I overdid with the second versions with sweet pepper coulis and marinated radish slices, the mixture of sweet sour flavor really worked. Next time I will use more discretion. We found another good way to use cauliflower.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sushi Burittos from Buredo 寿司ブリト

Sushi is very popular in US and can be found just about everywhere. But there is a wide range in quality and price; from "super market" sushi to "omakase". In addition sushi is undergoing a trans-formative evolution at the hands of this popularity. Unique sometimes outlandish, by traditional Japanese standards, sushi rolls have appeared and are extremely popular in sushi bars. Of course there is the grandfather of western-invented rolls, the California roll カルフォルニア巻き made with real or imitation crabmeat and avocado. Although not a native of Japan, it has apparently found a foothold and I hear that it is now generally available in sushi bars. (Although probably not in expensive traditional places). Recently I read some interesting articles in the Washington Post regarding something called  sushi burritos. It is a variation of burrito that is like a thick sushi roll that has not been cut into slices. It uses nori sheets with a thin layer of rice instead of a tortilla to hold together the ingredients rolled up in it. It is apparently taking off in a big way. One particular restaurant specializing in  sushi burritos just opened. It is called "Buredo" which was created and run by two Washingtonians as a healthy lunch alternative.  I don't think I would have gone there on my own to have a sushi burrito but a recent surprise party (I was completely caught by surprise) at work was catered from Buredo and gave me an opportunity to try out a sushi burrito.

It was quite a spread with all their regular menu represented. The picture below shows two different kinds; one is tuna and the other is vegetarian with tofu. The descriptions below are from their menu.

Hanzo (left 3 of the bottom and the second rows)
bright, fresh: yellowfin tuna sashimi, avocado, cucumber, pickled fennel, arugula, tempura crunch, lemon aioli.
Elle (right two on the 1 st and second rows and the rest of the rolls)
savory, sweet: organic tofu, arugula, roasted red pepper, jicama, green onion, black sesame seeds, garlic crunch, passionfruit miso sauce.

Pai Mei
smoky, creamy: salmon sashimi, asparagus, pea shoot leaves, pickled red onion, daikon, katsuo mirin crunch, toasted sesame mayo.

This is what I had.
umami, sweet: yellowfin tuna  and salmon sashimi, cucumber, pickled cabbage, green onion, tempura crunch, unagi sauce.

Since it was not sliced, it was a bit difficult to bite through the nori but the fish was quite fresh. The sauce was a bit on the sweet side. Despite the ethnic fusion/confusion involved they were pretty good. I can see why they are getting to be popular. At the same time I have to shake my head and wonder 'what is the world coming to? Is nothing sacred any more?'  Then I wonder if the sushi burrito will make its way to Japan soon and what kind of transformations it will undergo there. If it does I'll have to try it out.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hanami 2016 Day 2 花見 2016 二日目

The cherry blossoms will be over very soon but we squeezed in one more day of hanami.

Still cold but nicely sunny with blue sky.

As I mentioned, previously we have three cherry trees. The newer tree, which we planted, is quite spectacular in its own right. When in full bloom the branches look like thick bottle brushes of pink cherry blossoms as shown in the picture above. The cherry blossoms on the older trees are more old-fashioned, light pink, delicately ethereal and very elegant as shown in the picture below. The two types of tree usually bloom at slightly different times. This year it was a treat that they bloomed together. 

At least, for this hanami I had a chance to go to our regular grocery store and bought a few items to make more hanami drinking snacks. I realized the garlic chives ニラ have emerged in our herb garden. So I made this dish. I did not follow any recipe but it is chicken tenderloin encased in omelet with garlic chives. I served this with green beans sautéed in butter (in the same frying pan I cooked the chicken). On the side, I put ketchup and Sriracha (small amount).  

I removed the small tendon/sinew from the top of the tenderloins, seasoned with salt and pepper. I chopped garlic chive I harvested from the herb garden.

I mixed in with a beaten egg.

I dipped the tenderloins in the egg mixture and started frying in butter. I added more egg mixture and I turned the tenderloins over so that the omelet encased the tenderloin. I repeated this process until all the egg mixture was used.

I also made my usual chawanmushi 茶碗蒸しwith crabmeat and garlic chives. I also put in some ginko nuts 銀杏 (from a can), chicken tenderloin thinly sliced against the grain of the meat.  We used our cherry blossom cut glass sake cups.

Before steaming the chawanmushi I added the smaller chunks of crabmeat to the egg mixture to be cooked into the custard. After 10 minutes of steaming, when the surface of the custard was cooked enough that the crabmeat would not sink into the custard I added the largest chunks of crabmeat.

While at the market I also got a salmon filet. As usual, I removed the belly portion and made it into a drinking snack. This time I simply seasoned with salt and pepper and pan fried it in butter. I made sure the skin was nicely crispy. I served it with asparagus which were cooked in the same pan.

So we managed to squeeze in one more day of hanami.