Friday, May 27, 2016

English Pea panna cotta イングリッシュピーパンナコッタ

Previously, when my wife wanted to make this dish, we ended up making cauliflower-spinach panna cotta. This time, we made English pea panna cotta. It was based on a recipe in the Washington Post. As usual, we made some changes. The original recipe used agar-agar making it a vegetarian dish but, not being vegetarian and not having any agar-agar, we used powdered gelatin instead. We also infused this dish with fresh French tarragon as we do with our pea soup. Our panna cotta came out deep green; much deeper green than one in the picture contained in the recipe.

Instead of using cold sauteed vegetables around the panna cotta, I just placed watercress, thin slices of carrot, small cubes of tomato which were then dressed with my usual honey mustard dressing and fresh grinds of black pepper.

The pannacotta was smooth and creamy.

This time we made sure we had all the ingredients. We used frozen petite green peas from Hanover brand. (Over the years, my wife tried many different kinds of peas for various dishes and this is one instance when, generally, the frozen variety is better than fresh.  We even tried fresh peas which we bought at the roadside stands but they were too starchy. Among the frozen brands, she likes Hanover the best. I guess unless you grow the peas yourself, frozen are better than fresh. Oh-oh, maybe, I shouldn't give my wife ideas about growing our own peas).

Ingredients (about 12 servings using small Pyrex ramekins):
Frozen petite pea (Hanover brand petite pea, 12oz bag), 2 bags, thawed using running hot water.
Spinach, 2 bags, cooked without adding any liquid, turning occasionally, until well wilted. Let it cool down and squeeze out excess moisture.
Onion, one medium, halved and thinly sliced, sweat with olive oil until semi-transparent
Fresh tarragon, leaves removed and finely chopped (about 1 tbs)
Milk, we used 1% milk, added as needed while pureeing the peas (about 1/3 cup per one bag of frozen peas (#1) and also for infusing tarragon and dissolving the gelatin, about 2 cups (#3 and #4).
Butter, unsalted, 3 tbs
Gelatin, powdered, unflavored, 3 envelopes

1. Add half of the peas, onion, spinach and tarragon in the blender* (#1). We did this in two batches. Add milk and puree. Add more milk until peas are totally smooth and pureed (#2).
*Do not use a food processor. We learned that using a good blender in "Puree" mode gives the best result.
2. Heat 2 cups of milk with 3 tbs of butter and tarragon (#3).
3. Just before boiling, sprinkle powdered gelatin on the top and whisk to dissolve (#4)

4. Put the milk mixture through sieve and put into #2 in the picture above, mix well. Taste and season with salt.
5. Pour into individual small glass ramekins.
6. Refrigerate until firm (at least several hours).
7. Remove from the ramekin by passing a thin bladed knife around the perimeter of the ramekin, inverting the ramekin over the plate and use the tip of the knife held against the side to introduce air to the bottom of the ramekin. The panna cotta should drop onto the plate with a "plop".

This was an unconditional success! The panna cotta has nice deep green color with creamy texture and an intense fresh pea taste with a hint of fresh tarragon. The salad around the panna cotta was also great with some bitterness of watercress and slightly sweet and tangy dressing. We really liked my wife's original cauliflower puree spinach panna cotta, but this is definitely a nice fresh pea and tarragon flavor variation on the theme of panna cotta. This is a perfect salad/appetizer in hot summer season.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cauliflower puree with parmesan cheese パルメザンチーズ味カリフラワーのピューレ

This is based on a recipe that appeared in the Washington Post. I decided to make this since I had a head of cauliflower in the fridge which I bought a week ago. I followed the recipe exactly and it was not good. It had an unpleasant mealy consistency and was not smooth and creamy. We figured out why this was. The recipe calls for using a food processor. No matter how long your run the food processor, the cauliflower will not become smooth and creamy. Instead of a cuisinart you need to use a blender on high speed (puree mode). Once I fixed this, the end product was nice and creamy with good Parmesan flavor.

As suggested, I garnished it with finely chopped parsley fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and freshly cracked black pepper. 

The below are the original recipe with one important modification; instead of a food processor, use a blender.

1 medium head (2 pounds) cauliflower, cored and cut into 11/2-inch florets (7 cups)
1/3 cup low-fat milk (1 percent), plus more as needed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese, plus 4 teaspoons for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the cauliflower florets in a steamer basket set over a pot of boiling water. Cover and steam until the cauliflower is just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer the cauliflower to a blender along with 1/3 cup of the milk (I needed more milk, probably 1/2 cup total), the butter, the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the nutmeg; puree until very smooth.  Add extra milk a tablespoon at a time, as needed. Immediately add 1/4 cup of the cheese and pulsed just until the cheese melted and was incorporated.

When I first made it, using the Cuisinart as specified in the recipe, it was grainy and mealy. When my wife made cauliflower puree to make her cauliflower/spinach panna cotta, the cauliflower puree was really silky smooth. I initially thought cauliflower must be cooked in milk and butter as my wife did. But when we made English pea panna cotta, it became clear to us, the use of the blender made the difference. So I placed my previously made cauliflower puree into the blender and pureed it again. I needed to add a bit more milk but the end result was night and day different. Now the puree was nicely smooth, creamy and incorporated more air and became fluffy. This can be served warm or cold. I served it cold the second time with some good Spanish olive oil on the top. This made it better still. This can be eaten as a side vegetable dish, drinking snack or even as a spread for a cracker or a slice of bread. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Greek yogurt and olive oil ギリシャヨーグルトとオリーブオイル

We had some leftover salmon, so I made my salmon salad as a starter one weekday evening. The small dish consisted of slices of cucumber, wedges of tomato (skinned), salmon salad and my wife's homemade Greek yogurt with Spanish olive oil with freshly cracked black pepper.

The Greek yogurt with the fruity spicy Spanish olive oil (additional cracked black pepper on the top) was the best. This was Spanish olive oil we got on our recent trip the Pennsylvania.  I served this with flat bread crackers with sesame seeds.

The combination of yogurt and olive oil was a surprise. The yogurt seemed to absorb and accentuate the fruity grassy and peppery flavor of the olive oil. It made a wonderful spread. It tasted great either spread over the cucumber or cracker. We had noticed before how yogurt absorbed and accentuated the taste of mayonnaise when we mixed the two together as dressing for potato or cucumber salad. Using this combination we were able to get an intense mayonnaise flavor while using just a small amount. This same characteristic seems to have extended to the combination of yogurt and olive oil and it was a great discovery that we shall exploit extensively. We were drinking red wine for sure but were so blown away by the yogurt/olive oil we cannot remember exactly what it was.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Blanched garlic chives and stewed chicken wings ニラのおひたしと手羽の煮物

This is continuation of our spring garlic chives series making use of the garlic chives growing in our herb garden. This time I blanched them and let cool then dressed them with soy sauce, Japanese mustard, and sugar. Since I had some left over chicken wings simmered in black vinegar sauce, I removed the meat from the bones and served that as well.

I served this as a starter dish one evening.

This is not really a recipe. I just washed and cut the garlic chives into one inch long pieces and blanched them for a few minutes then let them cool down before using. The dressing is a mixture of Japanese mustard (from a tube), sugar and soy sauce.

Although in the past few garlic chive dishes, I complained that there was not enough garlic chive flavor in this one there was perhaps a bit too much. The garlic chive was also a bit chewy as well and my wife gave up on eating it. Since I made the dish I persevered and finished it. This dish requires some improvement.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Variations on parent/offspring bowls 親子丼バリエーション, TKGと温玉

Oyako-donburi 親子丼 or what is referred to as parent-and-offspring bowl is a classic dish in which chicken meat is cooked in seasoned broth with beaten eggs added and placed on top of cooked rice. The eggs should be semi-cooked (most recipes call for adding beaten eggs in two stages). Although I like it this way, my wife does not like under-cooked egg whites which she thinks gives the dish a slimy texture. When I saw this recipe for chicken steak and raw egg over rice (also known as "TKG" Tamago-Kake-Gohan 卵かけ御飯), I made a TKG version based on this recipe using a raw egg and, another version as per my wife's advice, using a Poached Egg on Rice ("PEoR").

The below is the TKG version. I also made a seasoned broth (see below) and moisten the rice with it. The chicken thigh was marinated in shio-koji 塩麹. The raw egg is, of course, pasteurized Davidson's egg.

I beat the egg well with a bit of soy sauce and poured it over the rice and garnished with thinly sliced scallion (I forgot take the final picture).

This is the soft poached egg version. I cooked the egg as I posted before with the yolk still runny.

My wife used her chopsticks to demonstrate the texture of the yolk for me.

This was a weekend lunch and I also made miso soup with silken tofu, abura-age (fried tofu pouch) and scallion.

I really enjoyed the soup and even my wife finished it (which is unusual).

Ingredients (for four): 
Chicken thighs,  4, deboned and excess skin and fat removed, marinated in shio-koji overnight (marination optional).
Eggs, four, Davidson's pasteurized or other salmonela-safe eggs, either poached or beaten with a bit of soy sauce.
Scallion, 4, thinly sliced
Seasoning broth, made of Japanese dashi broth (I used a dashi pack with bonito, kelp and "iriko" dried fish) and concentrated mentsuyu (or mixture of soys sauce and mirin) about 1:1 ratio warmed.

I cooked the chicken thighs with the skin side down on low heat without oil in a non-stick frying pan. I cooked them for over 15 minutes occasionally mopping up the fat rendered from the chicken using a paper towel.

Using a plastic or silicon spatula I carefully removed the chicken and turned them over (because of the shio-koji, the skin tended to stick).

I let it cook for 5 minutes and turned off the flame and let it sit for another 10 minutes to complete the cooking.

I put cooked rice in a bowl and moistened it with the seasoning broth, placed the chicken cut into strips on top of the rice. For the TKG version, I then poured beaten raw egg seasoned with soy sauce over the chicken. For the poached egg version, I placed the soft poached egg on the top. I garnished both with thinly sliced scallion. I knew my wife would need more broth so I served a bit extra in a separate bowl. She added more broth to her rice but mine was Ok. We liked this version of Oyako-don very much. Of course, TKG version has a slightly slimy texture from the egg white which was mixed with the rice but I enjoyed it. I do not even remember when the last time I had TKG. The PEoR version was excellent with silky yolk. The small pieces of cooked egg white mixed in added some nice texture to the rice. The chicken was tender and also had good texture. The skin did not really get crispy, unfortunately but had good flavor. Overall, we liked these two versions better than the classic.

The silken tofu is from our regular grocery store. According to the advertisement on the package it was mostly sold to make "smoothies" but, to me, among other tofu such as "firm" or "Extra-firm" versions sold, this is the best to use in miso soup like the one we had.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Asparagus with poached egg アスパラガスとポーチドエッグ

This was an impromptu dish I made one evening. This dish came about because I found Davidson's pasteurized eggs at our near-by gourmet  grocery store for the first time early in the day. (I was glad to find them in such a convenient location. Previously we had to go to another grocery store that was a bit far-away). Since I already had blanched green pencil asparagus prepared, I came up with this dish.

I poached the egg and it had a runny yolk (I could make it runny because I was using the Davidson's pasteurized eggs I just got).

Before eating, we just broke the yolk and used it as a sauce. I also served freshly baked baguette to mop up the yolk.

I first sauteed the blanched tops of the green pencil asparagus in butter seasoned with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile I poached the pasteurized eggs as I posted before.

I placed the asparagus in a small bowl and put the poached egg on top. I sprinkled a bit of Kosher salt on the top. This was a very nice dish, egg and asparagus are always a good combination.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bread, Olive oil and Wine パン、オリーブオイル、ワイン

BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze, Beer, Bottle) is a concept foreign to most Japanese. For that matter, I encountered a BYOB restaurant for the first time when I attended a professional meeting in Pittsburgh many years ago. I went to the restaurant which was in walking distance of my hotel. The weather was lovely and I was delighted to see diners enjoying wine and food al fresco. I got an outside table, sat down, and asked for a glass of wine. That is when I was informed that this was a BYOB restaurant. Being unfamiliar with the term they had to explain that they did not sell any alcohol. If I wanted some wine I had to "bring my own bottle" (BYOB).  The customers I saw enjoying wine had brought it with them. Somewhat at a loss as to what to do the waiter was kind enough to explain that there was a state run liquor store just 4 blocks away from the restaurant (how convenient). I walked there (quickly), got a bottle of decent red and came back to the restaurant to my table which they had kindly held for me. That was my introduction to a dining style rather common in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania is not alone in this custom. BYOB is reportedly permitted in 27 states and prohibited in 13 states in US. In the DC area, some restaurants may allow BYBO with conditions (only wines that are not on their wine list can be brought in, there is a limit of only 2 bottles per party or table, and a $25-50 corkage fee applies, etc). We learned that, in Pennsylvania, however, BYOB is very common and less stringent. Since we stayed in rural/suburban PA recently, we made a point of taking our own bottles of wine to the BYOB restaurants (and if truth be told, our own wine glasses too. Let's face it clearly wine tastes better drunk out of crystal than thick glass). 

One evening, we went to a BYOB Italian restaurant. The owner was very gracious. The food was excellent. When we commented on the good quality of the bread and the very green fruity olive oil served on the table, the owner having taken note of the crystal wine glasses apparently suspected he had some "foodies" on his hands so he brought out his special and very best olive oil which was from Spain (to our surprise, not from Italy).

We tasted the olive oil. It had a nice fruity, grassy taste with peppery spicy finish which lingered in your mouth for some time. We raved about how great it was with the bread and the wine. We never tasted anything like it before. He offered to sell us a bottle, and we snapped it up immediately. 

The olive oil is called "Family Reserve - Escribano Estate" with crush date of October 2014.

Quoting from importer's website;
"This year’s Family Reserve is made from Picual olives at our owners private family mill in Andalusia, Spain. Soraya Aguilar’s family mill produces early crush, super premium quality Picual for our stores every October."

"The green fruit, estate grown Picual olives are crushed very early, with an extremely low 8% yield (oil/olive) and milled at 17 degrees celsius."

"This year’s oil has a bright, sweet and fruity nose with sweet green fruit and clean feel in the mouth. Upon tasting, you will find notes of green almond, artichoke and grassy aromas finished by a clean, robust peppery finish. High polyphenol counts (more than 400) make this oil one of our most healthy."

After we got home I decided to bake my baguette to try this olive oil. I have not baked my baguette for some time. I got up early on Sunday to bake it. I served thin slices, with this olive oil with sprinkles of Kosher salt in the evening with a red wine.

I ended up baking two batches of bread using two different yeasts, which happened by accident not by design. The first thing I did was to proof the yeast. Since I have not baked for some time (my wife has been doing most of the baking). I grabbed a package of yeast and started proofing by mixing the yeast and a pinch of sugar in 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. After 5 minutes, it did not bubble up as I expected. My wife came downstairs at this point and asked me which yeast I used. I fished out the yeast package from the trash bin. This was Hodgson mill active dry yeast. This one is dubbed as "for all flours especially whole grain" which my wife uses for whole grain breads. She suggested to use Fleischmann's Yeast instead. I proofed that yeast and it bubble up within 5 minutes. I used this Fleischmann's for the first batch which are the two on the left (picture below). By the time I finished kneading the first batch, I realized Hodgson mill yeast was also vigorously bubbling up; it just took more time than the other yeast. So, instead of wasting the yeast, I made a second batch (the two loaves on the right). They came out quite different in appearance; the only difference was the kind of yeast I used.

Although they look different in shape both had a nice crust and the center had many irregular holes with good texture and tasted about the same. In addition to the baguette and olive oil, we also had thinly sliced Manchego and applewood smoked American cheddar cheeses. This called for a good wine and I decided to open 2005 Shafer One point five. When I opened the bottle, the cork almost disintegrated which was not a good sign. But upon tasting, the wine was just fine. From our memory of tasting, when it was released, it had all characteristics of highly extracted California wine with fruit forward with vanilla and chocolate. After 10 years, it had aged gracefully. There were brown hues at the edge indicating some age/oxidation. The fruits were more muted but added dark molasses/ dark chocolate flavors and smooth tannin. Tasting my baguette with this spicy and fruity Spanish olive oil alternating with Manchego and Cheddar, sipping good wine I thought  'if you have good olive oil, good bread, good cheese and good wine what else do you need'?  I also realized that, aside from the olive oil, all these food items are "fermented" or formed using the help of micro-organisms.  The Japanese equivalent of basic food items like these would be sake, rice and miso.