Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Colorful drunken tomato カラフル酔っ払いトマト

I have discussed this "drunken tomato" some time ago but it was not the main focus of that post. Since I found a bag of very colorful cherry tomatoes at the near-by grocery store, I decided to make drunken tomato. These are very colorful; red, green (ripe but green), brown (kumato), and yellow. I served the colorful drunken tomatoes in martini glasses with ice underneath to keep them cold.

I served this with a tiny bowl with salt (optional) and a toothpick. Of course some "juice" was also poured in.

The recipe is very simple.

Cherry or grape tomatoes: Skin removed by scoring the bottom and blanching in boiling water for 10-20 seconds. Transfer them to ice cold water and after they have cooled, remove the skin.

Marinade: Either vodka or gin martini or straight vodka, enough to submerge all the tomatoes. This time I made vodka martini with a splash of dry white Vermouth.

I just placed the skinned tomatoes in the martini and chilled them thoroughly in the refrigerator for at least several hours but over night or longer is better. The tomatoes absorb the martini and martini absorbs a tomato flavor.

This is the perfect to start to a hot summer evening. We like to dip the tomato in salt (lightly) before enjoying but this is optional.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Kelp caviar 昆布キャビア

Many years ago, we came across a "vegetarian" caviar. This was produced by a now-defunct company in the Los Angeles area and, If I remember correctly, was invented by a cardiologist. I am not sure what it was made of (probably seaweed like the current version we are showing here). We were rather impressed with the similarity in appearance and texture to real caviar. When we ordered caviar last time (from finecaviar.com), I noticed they also had "Kelp" caviar and ordered some along with other items. We served the kelp caviar on homemade blini, with homemade creme fraiche garnished with the green part of scallion (we did not have any chives).

This kelp caviar came in a 3.5 oz glass jar. This is said to emulate the appearance and taste of sturgeon caviar.

When I opened it, I noticed it had more liquid than real caviar or the previous vegetarian caviar we had.

I drained the kelp caviar in a fine meshed strainer as seen below. After which it looked more like sturgeon caviar. By itself, it tasted like kelp (of course this is made of kelp) and lacked the good "pop" mouth feel of real caviar.

However, when this was placed on top of the blini with creme fraiche (see the first picture), the kelp caviar tasted more like real caviar. This was certainly not bad for fake caviar and will be very handy if you have vegetarian guests. Apparently other vegetarian caviar products are also available. Although we must say we prefer real fish eggs and caviar, these vegetarian caviars are cheaper, available year round, keep longer, and taste better than you think. I got the idea for a future dish; serving salted kelp 塩昆布 on blini and creme fraiche which may taste similar to caviar although the texture maybe off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Melon bread /Sunrise bread メロンパン/サンライズ

My childhood memories growing up in Sapporo include a type of sweet bun/bread called  "kashi pan" 菓子パンor cake or sweet bread. Being a kid, sweet anything was preferable, although I did not particularly care for very sweet bread especially with a sweet filling. One of these is "Melon pan*" メロンパン. Where I grew up, Melonpan was a round bun coated with crystalized sugar called "zarame" ザラメ 粗目 but no filling. Much later, I learned that there are quite a few regional variations to this bread. There is one variation called "Sun rise" サンライズ. What I had in Sapporo appears closer to "Sunrise" bread but it was called "Melonpan".  I read several extensive discussions on this subject in  the food anthropology column (in Japanese) I follow.

* "Pan"パン means bread in Japanese which apparently was introduced by Portuguese missionaries and the Japanese word "Pan" was said to have originated from the Portuguese word "pão".  The Spanish word for bread  is "Pan" and French is also close "Pain".

In any case, my wife developed a taste for melonpan on a recent visit to Japan. Melonpan is generally not available here so since she really liked it, my wife decided she would have to make it herself if she wanted to eat it.  I looked for recipes and the only ones I found were in Japanese. I selected one in Japanese and translated it for her. After some trial-and-error, she perfected her Melonpan recipe. Hers are not as sweet as I remembered and she does not use sugar icing. I found myself really liking her Melonpan. She tried making it several times--making ones with and without cream custard filling.  She found that covering the entire "bun" with cookie dough was rather difficult to do. Based on the "sunrise" bread she now only covers the top of the bun with cookie dough. This accomplishes the same effect but with much less effort. She also found that she has to use more flour than specified in the Japanese recipe. She surmised that the flour must be slightly different. She also found that the instructions for assembly in the Japanese recipe were almost impossible to do. So she developed a different method which is much easier and has more reliable results. 

She does not brother with scoring the cookie layer or garnishing with sugar. It naturally creates a "dry earth" pattern which looks good to us. Both types of buns, with and without custard filling are good but we like the ones with custard filling.

She makes 10 buns at a time and she freezes those we do not eat immediately. They warm up nicely in the microwave.

I asked my wife to fill in the rest.

These buns are a labor of love because they involve a lot of steps but for devotees of melonpan these are wonderful.

Ingredients (10 rolls):

Bread dough
Bread flour  344 g (or 2 and 1/4 cup)
Dry yeast 1 and 1/2 tsp
Butter 8g(or 1/2 tbs)
Salt 1 tsp
Milk 50CC
Warm Water 150CC

Combine the milk, sugar, butter and salt. Warm the mixture to scald the milk and dissolve the sugar and salt and to melt the butter. Remove from heat a let it cool to room temperature. Proof the yeast in the warm water. Put half the flour in a mixer with a dough hook. Add the liquids to the flour. Mix adding more flour in small amounts until the flour reaches a smooth consistency and forms a ball around the hook. (as with all bread the amount of flour is variable. You may need to add a bit more flour to reach the right consistency). Knead in the mixer for 7 to 10 minutes. The dough should be very soft but not very sticky. Take the dough ball and put it into a bowl with a small amount of vegetable oil in the bottom. Coat the ball with the oil then cover and place in a warm place until doubled in size.

Cookie Dough
Cake flour 148g (1 1/4 cups + 2 tbs)
Baking Powder  ½ tsp
Butter 60g(or 4 1/2 tbs)
Sugar 50g
Beaten egg 25g
Melon oil (or vanilla essence)  3/4 tsp or to taste

Add the baking powder to the cake flour and put aside. Cream the butter and sugar. After it becomes fluffy and light yellow add the egg and beat until fully incorporated and fluffy. Add the vanilla and incorporate. Add the flour to the butter/egg mixture and quickly stir until just incorporated. The mixture should be soft and slightly sticky but should be firm enough to hold its shape and work with. If it doesn’t have this consistency add a bit more flour. I flatten the cookie mixture into a square sheet and wrap in plastic wrap. I put it into the fridge to cool completely.

Custard Cream 
Egg yolk (medium)  x2 (set aside)
Milk 200ml
Sugar 35g
Cake flour 26 g (or 3 tbs.)
Vanilla 1 tsp

Mix the milk sugar and cake flour in the top of a double boiler. When the mixture starts to thicken use several tablespoons of it to “temper” the egg yolks then add the tempered egg yolks to the heated mixture. Add the vanilla. Stir constantly until the mixture becomes very thick. Immediately remove it from the heat a put into a bowl. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming while it cools. Set aside until completely cooled.

The custard has to be thick enough to hold its form when cooled—about the consistency of soft butter (see picture 2 below).

After some trial and error and several disasters trying to follow the method in the Japanese recipe,  I came up with this method which seems to work best. After the dough has doubled, deflate it and divide into 10 equal pieces (I do this by weighing the entire ball then dividing it into 10 pieces of equal weight. (cover with plastic wrap to keep moist). I divide the custard into 10 equal weights the same way. (notice the cream has the consistency of soft butter.  If the cream is too soft or runny, as it was when I followed the Japanese recipe exactly, it will run off the bread and the edges can’t be sealed). I also divide the cookie dough into 10 equal weight pieces.

I divide the 10 equal weight balls of dough in half. I flatten them into rounds as shown in picture 1.  I place the pre-weighed cream on one of the rounds shown in picture 2. I take the second round and cover the cream. I crimp the edges to seal (picture 3). I then take the pre-weighed cookie dough put it between two pieces of plastic wrap and using a small rolling pin make a round large enough to cover the dough (picture 5). I put the assembled bun on a cookie sheet far enough away from any other bun so the sides don’t touch after they rise (picture 5). I let the 10 assembled buns rise until almost doubled.

  melon bread composit

I bake them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes until they are lightly golden brown. These buns are wonderful. They can also be made without the cream inside. The cookie on top really makes them. They are lightly sweet and the custard has a wonderful vanilla flavor. They are a bit of work to make but worth every mouthful.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cold simmered tomato 冷製トマトの含め煮

After the success of the cold simmered vegetables I made, I decided to make cold simmered whole tomato in the same broth. The quality of tomato is important for this type of dish but I did not have a good local or home grown tomato. The ones I bought recently at the grocery store looked and smelled like real tomato but it turned out they were from Canada. Our northen neighbor is not well known for producing early season tomatoes and this must have been a green house tomato. Nonetheless this was the best I could do. It was a small but reasonably ripe tomato.

I served it well chilled and garnished with a dab of wasabi and  "mitsuba" 三つ葉 (meaning three leaves) which I started growing in a pot on the window sill this year. The shoots are sill small and just started producing "three leaves" after two "sprouting" leaves.

Since mitsuba was quite delicate, I just soaked it in hot water (from our Instant hot water dispenser) for 10-20 seconds and then shocked it in ice cold water.

Broth: I reused the broth I had when I made cold simmered vegetables. It is a broth made from kelp and dried bonito flakes and seasoned with mirin, sake and light-colored soys sauce or "usukuchi shouuyu" 薄口醤油.

Tomato: This is rather small tomato from Canada. I scored the bottom and blanched it in boiling water for 20 seconds and plunged then into ice cold water and them removed the skin.

I was not sure how long to cook the tomatoes but since it was a fresh tomato, and I was not making stewed tomatoes and I decided not to cook too long. I placed the tomatoes in the cold broth on medium flame. As soon as the broth started boiling, I turned it down to simmer and cooked 2 more minutes. After, it cooled to room temperature, I placed the pan in the refrigerator.

The next day, I served this as a second dish for the evening.  I used our young mitsuba as a garnish. I also put a small dab of wasabi and the cold broth.

This was surprisingly very successful. The tomato was still firm but not raw. The tomato flavor was enhanced by the lightly seasoned subtle flavor of the broth. Conversely, the tomato flavor infused into the broth which was unexpected but refreshingly good. Served ice cold, this dish was the perfect way to eat a veggie on a hot and muggy summer day.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Naan ナーン

Although we almost never go to Indian restaurants on our own, my wife has been fascinated with the medley of spices and herbs in Indian cooking and we are making many different Indian-style curries which we have posted from time to time. I am a beneficiary of this and these curries are very convenient to have for weekday suppers (No more Japanese curry). We usually serve these curries with rice (often previously frozen rice). My wife occasionally wanted to have naan bread with the curry and bought packaged naan from the grocery store but it was terrible. So (inevitably) she asked if we could make it at home. I said "of course" and for the first time, we made our own naan.

We looked in my wife's Indian cookbooks and searched for naan  recipes on the web. The common ingredients in different recipes appear to be flour, yogurt, and three leavening agents (yeast, baking soda and baking powder). Next is to determine how the naan is best baked since we don’t have a Tandoori oven (yet?). After some exploration, we decided to use a hot cast iron skillet. We based our naan on the recipe we found on the web with some modification.

All purpose flour 4 cups
Baking powder 1 and 1/2 tsp
Baking soda 1tsp
Milk 3/4 cup (we scaled*)
Greek yogurt 1 cup
(For proofing yeast**)
Warm (105F) water  1/4 cup
Sugar 1/2 tsp
Dry yeast  one package or 3/4 tsp
(During Baking)
Melted butter (Half stick)
Kosher salt

Based on the original recipe, we were not sure how much kneading was needed. We decided to knead it like any other bread until the surface was smooth and developed an elastic dough ball.

*Scalding milk may not be needed and was not in the original recipe Although "scalded milk" is often called for in bread recipes, in modern era of Pasteurized milk, only possible benefits may be denaturing/inactivating some proteins/enzymes in the milk which may interfere with yeast fermentation and gluten development.

**For proofing yeast, the original recipe calls for 1/4 warm water and 1tbs of sugar but the amount of sugar, to us, is way too much for proofing yeast. I mixed in the dry yeast and let it stand for 5-10 minutes until it bubbled up. This time, beside sugar in the yeast proofing, my wife also added 1 tbs of sugar into the dry ingredients, which probably did not affect the final results in any way.

I mixed the wet into dry ingredients and mixed with a wooden spatula and then hand kneaded, adding additional 1/4 cup of water since it was too dry until dough formed and the surface smooth but a bit sticky. (For about 5 minutes. I did not knead to the extent of making other bread.) I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and then with dish towels and let it raise for 1 hour.

I floured the kneading board, and deflated the dough and cut into 8 equal portions. I made a ball by stretching the surface and pinching the cut surface of the dough. I let them rest for 10 minutes and hand stretched the eight pieces into a triangular shape (see upper-left picture below). I somehow thought this was the traditional form but taking my wife's suggestion, I will make rounds next time since they would fit into the cast iron pan better).The initial ones were rather thick since the gluten was not relaxed enough but, towards the end, I could stretch it rather thin. When we tasted it, however, we decided the thicker ones with a more bready central portion are better. So, the thickness of the dough should be about 1/4 inch but no less (as was suggested in the original recipe).

I brushed one surface with melted butter and sprinkled Kosher salt (upper right). I placed the dough, the buttered side down, onto the preheated (for 10 minutes to the point where it started smoking) cast iron skillet placed on medium flame (lower left). I put on the lid and let it bake 1-2 minutes until the surface started developing bubbles. I brushed on melted butter and sprinkled Kosher salt and flipped it over using a spatula (lower right). I cooked it with the lid on for another minute or two.

Naan composit

The amount of the ingredients above made eight naan. The result: Just wonderful! The butter flavor permeated the bread with a nice crispy surface and soft center. The yogurt definitely added to the flavor and texture. As we tasted, we learned that the dough should not be too thin (like pizza). A certain thickness (1/4 inch) creates the perfect combination of crispy crusts and soft center. For the first attempt, this was a resounding success. As soon as the first naan came out, we finished it quickly between the two of us while we were cooking the remaining bread. This time, we did not eat our naan with curry but as a bread for any dish this is wonderful.

Only further modification we may make is to add salt (maybe 1 tsp) to the dry ingredients. We did not know how much melted butter was needed and melted 1 stick this time but 1/2 stick would be enough.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Japanese-style meat balls 日本風ミートボール

This was not a real dish but I made this from extra gyouza stuffing. As usual, when I trim pork tenderloins, the trimming needs to be used some other way. One of the most common is to make it  into hand chopped ground pork to use in various dishes. This time, I made gyouza stuffing but after making more than 2 dozen gyouza I still had stuffing left. My wife suggested to make it into meat balls.

Gyouza stuffing: This time I added chopped cabbage, blanched and chopped stalks of broccolini, finely chopped onion, grated garlic, and ginger (amounts are arbitrary as I make it). I seasoned it with salt, black pepper, soy sauce, and dark sesame oil.

Using a small ice cream scoop, I made about 6 small meat balls. I placed them on a small cookie sheet and placed it in the toaster oven  (convection mode at 350F) for 20 minutes.

I was afraid the meat balls might unravel since I didn't use any binder but they kept their shape well. Since we had a lot of gyouza to eat, I just put the meat balls in the refrigerator for later use.

The following weekday evening, I decide to serve the meat balls. My wife suggested I serve them Italian style with marinara sauce. Since they had already been seasoned in Japanese style, I decided adding an Italian element would be an ethnic taste confusion I'd rather not contemplate.  I decided to go with a teriyaki-style sauce.

I first put the meat balls in a frying pan on low flame and added a small amount of sake and put on the lid so that the meat ball would steam a bit. When the sake almost evaporated, I added mirin and soy sauce (about 1:1 ratio, 2 tbs) and started shaking the pan until the the liquid almost evaporated and the sauce coated the meat balls (see below).

I served three each with sansho or Szechuan pepper powder 粉山椒.  For impromptu meat balls, this was not bad at all--I'm glad I went with the teriyaki sauce. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pickles Japanese style 日本風ピクルス

To preserve vegetables, Japanese usually salt them (with or without fermentation) called "Tsukemono" 漬け物. Although Japanese use vinegar and rice vinegar is the best kind of vinegar I can think of, "true" pickling appears not to be traditionally done. More recently, however, quick pickles appear to have gained popularity. Since I had leftover Japanese cucumber and daikon, I decide to make a quick pickle. Also since my wife mentioned that she liked "pickled" boiled eggs,  I also threw in some boiled quail eggs (from a can). (Pickled eggs are a Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy that my wife ate frequently as a child. They are hen eggs pickled and usually dyed red with the addition of beet juice to the pickling medium),

For color, I also added thin slices of carrot.

Recipe is rather simple. For the pickling liquid I used a Japanese sweet vinegar.

Sweet vinegar 甘酢:
Rice vinegar 300ml
Sugar 50g - 70g
Salt 1/2 tsp - 2 tsp

I placed the above ingredients in a small sauce pan, stirred to make sure the sugar and salt dissolved and let it come to gentle simmer for a few minutes. I let it cool down and kept it in the refrigerator. It lasts a long time (forever???). Depending on your taste, sugar and salt may need to be adjusted. In general, in hot summer, less sugar more salt and cold winter more sugar and less salt.

I added a few spices--thinly sliced dried Japanese whole red pepper (one, after hydrating to keep it from shattering when sliced), whole black pepper corns (4-6) and bay leaves (2)  to make a pickling liquid. I did not add any water because liquid exudes from the vegetables and eventually dilutes the sweet vinegar anyway. I cut the Japanese cucumber into small bite sized chunks ("rangiri" 乱切; cut obliquely as you rotate the cucumber in about 1 inch length), daikon in half inch cubes, and carrot thinly sliced and, boiled quail eggs from a can.

After a few hours in the refrigerator, it was ready. It was nicely refreshing and crunchy. Perfect for hot summer. We ate this as a starter with sake. My wife particularly raved about the quail eggs. They were nice little bites with creamy yolks lightly vinegar in flavor.

P.S. Later I made this using American mini-cucumber. Although, the Japanese cucumber stayed crunchy even after several days in the vinegar, the American cucumber became a bit mushy. I may have to try this with an American pickling cucumber if I can find one.