Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Indian-style spinach with fresh cheese curd ほうれん草とチーズカードのカレー

This was entirely made by my wife. It is good but the amount of work involved, especially making the cheese curds, require a bit more energy than we would like to expend. I will let my wife blog this.   This recipe comes from American Test kitchen. I was intrigued by the prospect of making my own cheese—it looked so easy in the recipe. For the cheese I used: 2 quarts of 2 percent milk, 2 cups buttermilk and 1/3 Tsp salt. I heated the milk to boiling, took it off the heat and stirred in the buttermilk and salt. I like it stand for about 1 minute (picture above #1). I then poured the contents of the pot into a colander lined with cheese cloth (picture above # 2, 3 & 4). When it cooled down to the point where I could handle it I squeezed the curd as hard as I could to remove more liquid. I then put the still wrapped curd between two plates weighted down with some cans (I used cans of beans). I found that I had to continue draining the curd overnight until it became firm enough to handle and cut into 1 inch size pieces (see picture below).

cheese curdFor the spinach sauce I used: One large bag of spinach (12 oz.), The leaves from one bunch of rapini (or broccoli rabe, actual recipe calls for mustard green), 3 tbs butter, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, 1tsp. ground coriander, 1tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 onion finely chopped, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tbs grated fresh ginger, 1 jalapeno pepper (seeded, deveined and chopped), 1 can of whole tomato (14.5oz), drained and chopped coarsely, 1/2 cup roasted chopped cashews (toasted in the toaster oven) and enough buttermilk to thin the sauce if it gets too thick. I wilted the spinach and rapini in a wok and squeezed out the liquid. I then chopped the leaves and set aside about 1/3 cup of the chopped leaves.
Then I put the butter in a skillet over medium heat and added the cumin, coriander, paprika, cardamom and cinnamon and cooked the spices until they were fragrant. Then I added the onion and salt and cooked until wilted. Next came the garlic, ginger and chili which I cooked until lightly browned and most of the moisture had evaporated from the pan (picture above left). Then I added the tomatoes and continued cooking until the moisture was gone (picture above right). I removed about half the onion mixture and set aside. The rest of the onion mixture as well as the 2/3 of the spinach mixture and 1/2 of the toasted cashews went into a blended and were pureed. I then added the pureed mixture back into the skillet and added the onion mixture and spinach mixture I had set aside. We added some additional hot sauce (Sriracha) to bring up the heat a bit. 

To serve: I cut the cheese curd into inch size pieces and gently folded into the sauce added a little buttermilk and gently heated it. I served it with rice and the remaining cashews sprinkled on top.

The sauce for this dish is fabulous. All of the flavors meld together and the addition of the hot sauce made the flavors sing with a pleasant heat. We ate the sauce and curd with rice. Then, we had the sauce for breakfast on toasted bread with a poached egg on top. We served it as an appetizer on crackers with smoked cheese. It is extremely versatile. I would make the sauce again but I would probably use a commercial product for the curd in the future. I would also try other types of cheese such as feta. It would probably work with tofu as well…my husband will probably say I am getting “too creative” again at the last suggestion.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Salt "koji" pickles 塩麹の浅漬け

I was told that “Shio-koji” 塩麹 is “all the rage” in Japan. Although preserving or marinating vegetables and fish in salt and “koji” is a very old technique, it appears to have made a big come back. I resisted jumping onto the band wagon, until I succumbed at the first sighting of a package of dried koji at the local Japanese grocery store.

Digression alert: Before fermentation can happen, complex carbohydrates or starch have to be converted to fermentable sugars. All cultures somehow figured this out to make alcohol. The most primitive form is to chew cooked grains and spit the masticated starch out into a vessel. Diastase in saliva will convert starch into sugar and fermentation can produce a primitive “jungle” beer.  For true beer making, enzymes formed during sprouting of barley (malting) is used to convert starch in the barley and other grains to sugar (“mash). The Japanese/Chinese figured out that certain mold (yes, “mold” called Aspergillus oryzae, which produce several enzymes including amylase) can convert the starch of cooked rice into fermentable sugar. Many Japanese food items are based on “Koji” to produce; sake 酒, chochu 焼酎, miso 味噌, and shouyu 醤油 (soy sauce).  But koji or cooked rice inoculated with this mold by itself can be used in different dishes. If this was used in pickling or “tsukemono” the vegetables, sugar will mostly ferment into acid (lactic acid by lactobacillus) rather than alcohol. Thus, it imparts sweet (sugar), sour (from lactic acid) and salty (from added slat) and additional “je ne sais quoi”  components from whatever develops during fermentation.When I was growing up in Hokkaido, there was a fermented and preserved condiment/side dish called “Nishin-zuke” 鰊漬け or Herring pickles (picture below) and my mother used to make it. Essentially, vegetable and filets of dried herrings were mixed with “koji” and salt and left to ferment for several months in a cold place (there were many “cold” places in winter in Hokkaido houses).

In recent years, “koji” is making a big come back especially as “shio-koji” in Japan as a magical marinade and meat tenderizer. Since I found dried “koji” in the near-by Japanese grocery store, I decided to prepare “shio koji”. After making “shio koji”, this is the first dish I made.

I used daikon cut into quarter circle (1/4 inch thick), cucumber (1/2 inch thick), radish (a kind called “French breakfast” which is small, elongated and a bit sweeter than regular radish with red and white color, cut into thin slices). The amount was totally arbitrary but I weighed the entire amount of the vegetables, and it was about 500 grams. The reason I weighed the vegetables was because the recipe calls for 10% of shiokoji to the weight of the vegetables. I just wanted to get the feel for what constituted 10%  of the weight. I mixed and kneaded the vegetable and shiokoji. The recipe said just massage the vegetables with shiokoji in a Ziploc bag and leave it in a refrigerator for half a day but I decided to use a “Tsukemono” pot with a plunger to apply pressure and left it overnight in the refrigerator until ‘water” came out and submerged the vegetables (or “mizu ga agaru” 水が上がる meaning the water is up).
You could see the fragments of rice kernels from the shiokoji attached to the pieces of vegetables. This is good but we did not think it was all that different from simply salted asazuke 浅漬け. This version adds a slight sweetness and some complexity to the taste. The addition of thinly cut kelp, red pepper, ginger to the simple salted version also can give a different kind of complex flavors to the asazuke. If you already prepared shiokoji, this is a good use for it but I would not make this dish with shiokoji just for the sake of making it.

Shiokoji preparation: I bought pre-made and dried koji and simply followed the instructions that came with the product. As I said you could get the koji mold ( from a home brewing place) and make koji from scratch. In Japan, I was told that a ready made shiokoji is readily available in a jar but I have not seen it sold here in our area. Here, I bought premade and dried koji (#1). I added the amount of water and salt as per the instruction which came with this (#2).
After a few hours, the dried koji absorbed the water and swelled up (#3). I left this container with a lid lightly sealed (with some gap to let the gas escape) on the kitchen counter (room temperature) for 9 days mixing it once a day (#4). It developed some viscosity with a faint slightly sweet smell and the rice kernels got soft and could be crumbled between finger tips easily (#4). I pronounced this “done”, put the lid on tightly and moved it to the refrigerator. According to the instruction sheet, this final product will last at least 6 months in the refrigerator. I suspect you will be seeing this in future preparations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stewed Cornish game hen 若鶏の黒酢煮

This is based on my wife's suggestion. This is a variation on the theme of "Kurosu-ni" 黒酢煮. Some time ago, I decided to preserve the simmering liquid by removing the congealed fat and straining it after each use. I adjust the seasoning by adding more black vinegar, soy sauce and mirin. Sometimes I also add water to compensate for evaporation. The simmering liquid became rich in taste and collagen and it congeals like jelly in the refrigerator. Since the simmering liquid has become a rather large amount, at my wife’s suggestion, I cooked a whole Cornish game hen stuffed with very small Yukon gold potatoes (or “potatolets”).

When I simmer various chicken parts in this mixture of black vinegar, mirin and soy sauce, I often cook root vegetable such as potato, nagaimo, and daikon. Potato can be a problem since a part of it can dissolve into the simmering liquid making it more difficult to strain. Since we found  small potatolets (the second picture below in the left), I decided to use them with the skin-on which prevents the potatoes from breaking up and dissolving.

I first stuffed the cavity of the bird with the potatolets and trussed the chicken in my usual way (leaving string long so that I can fish it out later more easily. This was not needed however--in the picture below left). I poured in the simmering liquid. Although the depth of the liquid was enough to completely submerge the chicken, the chicken floated up (in the picture below on the right). I used a silicon “otoshibuta” to keep it submerged and simmered it for 1 hours then let it cool down in the liquid. We did not eat this immediately. I put it in the refrigerator. The next day, I skimmed off the congealed fat that had formed on the surface but not much fat was present. I warmed it up on simmer for another hour.

stewed game hen composit
stewed gae hen with potato
I removed the chicken and trusses as well as the potatolets (in the picture above on the right).

The Cornish game hen was tender and the meat fell off the bones. The potetolets kept their shape but were soft and could easily be mashed to soak up the simmering liquid. The skin was also soft. This is a interesting way to cook and serve whole Cornish game hen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Beef stroganoff with bamboo shoot 竹の子入りビーフストロガノフ

This is a hybrid Western-Japanese dish that I concocted one evening. I had frozen Sukiyaki beef in our freezer which I decided to use before it got any more freezer burned than it already was. Instead of regular Sukiyaki すき焼き, I used about 1/3 for beef negimaki ねぎ巻き or beef scallion rolls. I suggested several dishes to my wife which were essentially Sukiyaki-like dishes to use up  the remainder of the beef. She challenged me to think outside the box and come up with something different. I also found a package of vacuum packed boiled bamboo shoots in the refrigerator which I bought few month ago.  This is what I came up with.
I was thinking of some kind of stir fried dish. This dish had morphed during the cooking since I changed my mind midway through but the end result was something akin to beef stroganoff.

Beef: This was what left of the sukiyaki meat. It was thinly sliced and previously frozen. I thawed it completely in the refrigerator over night (about 300 grams or about 10 oz). I seasoned it with soy sauce (1 tbs), mirin (1 tbs), and sake (1 tbs) I also mixed in potato starch or katakuriko 片栗粉.

Bamboo shoot: I quartered the bamboo shoot along the length and washed away the white chalky substance from the inside of the bamboo shoot. I then thinly sliced crosswise.

Onion: I had leftover onion (small, half) which I sliced into thin strips.

I added light olive oil to a frying pan on medium flame and sautéed the onion until soft. I then added the seasoned beef and cooked until the color changed. Next I added the bamboo shoot and sautéed for one more minute. Then I thought the seasoning was too close to Sukiyaki. I added Worchester sauce (2 tsp), chicken broth (3-4 tbs) and added florets of broccoli. I stirred and put on a tight fitting lid and let it braise/steam for 2-3 minutes. When I removed the lid, because of the potato starch, the sauce/liquid was slightly thickened. I added cream (3-4 tbs) and reduced it further to make a relatively thick sauce. I tasted it and adjusted the seasoning with salt and black pepper.

Since I did not have cooked rice or noodles, I just served this as is as a small drinking snack. Although it tasted OK, unfortunately, the broccoli was too crunchy for my wife’s taste. I get some points, however, for comeing up with this unique dish. The texture contrast of the beef and bamboo shoot and an interesting hybrid taste of the sauce were OK, however, I think, I will not make this dish again. I like a more traditional Japanese style seasoning (sweet and salty or “ama-kara” 甘辛) for thinly sliced beef.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Braised daikon green with deep fried tofu 大根葉と油揚げの金平

Last time I bought daikon 大根 at the Japanese grocery store, it had a very small amount of green on the top. Although I have posted a few similar dishes using daikon greens, this is another iteration. Since Catalina had fresh Bluefin tuna (we got the chutoro and toro portion), we were having a sashimi feast. For that, I made the usual daikon garnish. When you do "katsura-muki" 桂剥き or cutting thin sheet of daikon, the center portion of the daikon cannot be cut and becomes a leftover. So I used this leftover daikon as well.
In the picture below on the left is a small portion of the daikon green which I removed. I washed and then finely chopped it. I also sliced and julienned daikon, carrot (one small, I cut it in larger match sticks instead of regular julienne to give a crunchy texture) and julienned abura-age 油揚げ or deep fried tofu pouch (one small "inari" 稲荷 kind, as usual, I poured hot water over it to defrost as well as to remove any excess oil). These ingredients are lined up on the picture below on the right.
I put peanut oil (1 tbs) and dark sesame oil (1 tsp) in a frying pan on medium flame. I first sautéed the daikon green, daikon and carrot. I sprinkled Japanese one flavor red pepper flakes or "Ichimi tougarashi" 一味唐辛子 to taste. After a minute of so when the vegetables were coated with oil and slightly softened, I added the abura-age. I then seasoned with mirin (3 tbs) and soy sauce (3 tbs) and braised it until only a very small amount of liquid remained.

The seasoning was a bit on the strong side but would have been perfect as a rice condiment. But for a drinking snack, you may want to replace half of the mirin with water or sake and also reduce the soy sauce. The daikon green and carrot remained a bit crispy. In contrast, the daikon and abura-age were soft and absorbed the seasoning, providing an interesting texture contrast.

We had this as a small drinking snack with cold sake. Since we had this cold, the seasoning was just fine and not too strong.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sake steamed chicken breast with onion mayo sauce 酒蒸し鶏胸肉の玉ねぎメヨソース

This is continuation of “Mayolerマヨラー theme. The sauce may be considered as a variation of tartar sauce but with a twist.

Chicken: I just sliced microwave sake steamed chicken (one half breast for two servings). After I sliced it, I coated each slice with the semi-jelled liquid in the container where the sake steamed chicken was kept. This is a mixture of sake, protein from the chicken and flavors from ginger root and scallion with a slight saltiness. Coating with this liquid makes the chicken slices much nicer with a good mouth feel.

: I finely minced Vidalia onion (half medium) and mixed in with mayonnaise (2 tbs). I also added Sriracha hot sauce (1/2 tsp) and soy sauce (1/4 tsp).

I made a bed of baby arugula on which I placed the chicken slices. I put the mayo-onion sauce on the top. To make it more interesting, I finely cubed the jelled simmering liquid from the black vinegar soy sauce mixture I used to cook chicken thighs on the top as well.

The onion is just strong enough but not too strong and Sriracha sauce gives just good level of heat. The black vinegar jell adds a salty and sour taste which bursts into you mouth as it melts. The chicken is, as usual, very moist and tender.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hot smoked Arctic char 北極イワナの燻製焼き

As usual, finding the corresponding Japanese name for arctic char is not easy. It belongs to the salmon family (Salmonidae) and lives in cold lakes in the Canadian arctic and other places. They have to breed in pure water like any salmon; some are land locked some go back to ocean. The Japanese name appears to be “Hokkyoku Iwana” 北極イワナ.

The meat is pink in color and milder than regular salmon but more flavorful than trout. The closest I can compare it to is “Nijimasu” 虹鱒 meaning “rainbow trout” or “chippu or chip” チップ,  the name which was derived from how the native Inuit used to call it. The “Shikotsu” lake 支笏湖 near Sapporo is famous for it. the arctic char we find here is larger than what I remember of “Nijimatsu” and probably stronger tasting.

In any case, among the fresh fish displayed in the ice filled container at the local grocery store, the arctic char looked best. Other choices included, black bass, flounder, and red snapper. 
The arctic char we got was about 4 lb. I salted it a bit heavily inside. This was large enough that I need to use indirect heat. Although I should have used direct heat to make the skin crispy, the stifling heat and mosquitos made me just leave the fish in the Weber until it was done rather than frequently tending it. Again I used apple wood chips soaked in water. Using indirect heat in Weber grill with lid on, I cooked the fish for about 30 minutes. As you can see in the first picture, this fish is nicely hot smoked. The skin however, was too leathery to eat.
My wife was in charge of “dissecting” the fish. The belly parts are the best part, since it is fattiest, nicely salted and heavily smoked as you can see the picture below. The meat is somewhere between trout and salmon with pale pink color and the taste matching the color.
momokawa-diamond-sakeThe first night, we enjoyed the belly part with freshly cooked rice—it was really good! The next day, I used the remaining meat in a salad similar to what I make with cooked salmon. (The fish mixed with chopped celery, scallion, grated lemon rind, chopped parsley, lemon juice, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard). I used the salad to make an open faced sandwich on ciabata bread for lunch.

The 3rd day, I served the fish as part of a cold plate appetizer. I put a cold chunk of the Char meat (carefully deboned by my wife) on a plate with some smoked salmon and sliced cucumber. I included mayonnaise, whole grain mustard and lemon wedge for condiment and dipping. This was consumed on crackers.

For this, we switched to cold sake, the new batch of Momokawa Diamond sake. Compared to a few years ago, this sake has improved a lot but, to us, it is still slightly too sweet and lacking in the crisp fruity flavors we like. The overly yeasty flavor, which we encounter often with this class of sake was not present and it was quite drinkable with this arctic char/cold smoked salmon appetizer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beef scallion rolls 葱巻き

This is a classic home cooked dish, especially for bento boxes, as well as an Izakaya dish. It is also a very common item you will find in American Japanese restaurants. Since I had thinly sliced frozen beef for sukiyaki (#2 in the second picture) and it would not improve with time, I decided the time had come to thaw it.

Rolling thinly sliced meat, either beef or pork, around a core of vegetables or any cylindrical edible object (even a hotdog) is a very common Japanese technique.

It so happened that we were short of any vegetables except scallion so I made this scallion roll. The amounts are for three rolls perfect for two small servings (Picture above).

Scallion: I removed the outer layer, the root ends and green part of about a dozen scallions (#1).

Beef: This was thinly sliced beef for sukiyaki (frozen). I used 2-3 slices per roll depending on the integrity and size of the beef slice and 3-4 scallions in the center and made three rolls (#3).
With the seam side down, I seared the meat using a non-stick frying pan on medium flame with a small amount of oil (I used light olive oil) (#4). I seared all four sides and then added the seasoning.

Seasoning: This could be any store bought teriyaki-style sauce. I did not want to make it sweet so I used an equal amount of sake (2 tbs) and concentrated noodle sauce or “mentusyu” from the bottle (2 tbs). You could use mirin instead of sake to make it more classic teriyaki flavor (i.e. sweet). (#5).

I put a tightly fitting lid on the pan and steam/braised it for few minutes (#5). When the sauce was reduced, I remove the lid and moved the pan back and forth to roll the beef scallion rolls in the sauce to completely coat them(#6).

I sliced one roll into 4 pieces and served (the first picture). This is a rather mundane dish but my wife really liked it. If available, I would have used “Tokyo scallion” or “Naganegi” 長葱 but multiples of regular scallions is just fine and probably much more tender.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Umeshu Highball 梅酒ハイボール

I usually make plum wine or plum liquor 梅酒 every year from the harvest of our plum tree in the backyard. Because we had to transplant our Japanese plum tree last year (which required some severe pruning), I did not make plum wine in 2011. Then I found some batches of plum wines which I started 2010 tucked away in a cabinet. They were still in the jars with the plums. There were three jars; one made with brandy, two with vodka. The plums had been submerged for 2 years instead of the usual one year. Even the ones with Vodka looked rather dark. I tasted them and they all tasted just fine and looked nice and clear. So I quickly bottled it. I used empty sake bottles with screw tops.

After filling quite few empty sake bottles, a small amount of the Vodka plum wine remained and I put it in a small carafe for immediate consumption (on the right in the picture below).

Since it has been hot and muggy, I decide to serve this as a “High ball” (or Umeshu and soda). The alcoholic content of this Vodka and Brandy umeshu is rather high (40%), this is a perfect way to enjoy it.

umeshu hiball
This is the first time I left alcohol and plums together for 2 years but it appears the oxidation was accelerated judging from the dark color. The taste is also much mellower than I would expect from just bottled umeshu. This is perfect for summer days. This is a Japanese answer to Campari and soda. Within a few days, the umeshu in the carafe was has been rather hot summer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cold water melon soup with wasabi sauce 冷製スイカスープの山葵クリームソース添え

This is my wife's summery cold water melon soup. When we buy a whole water melon, even a miniature variety, two of us cannot possibly finish it before it goes bad. We eat some but what we can not eat, my wife often makes into a cold soup. This is a very refreshing soup and perfect for the hot muggy dog days of summer we are having.

We added wasabi cream swirls to the soup for a Japanese touch.
This is the easiest soup you could possibly make but you have to have a sweet and ripe water melon. We used a seedless melon but you could use seeded ones but you have to remove all the seeds. I usually remove the meat of the fruit from the rind and cut it into small cubes for the sake of convenience.

My wife just put the cubes of watermelon into a large stainless steel bowl and added butter milk* (enough but the amount is arbitrary)  and blended it using an emersion blender. She also added the juice from half of a lemon. That is about it. It makes a nice pastel pink color.

*Butter milk: I am not sure you can get buttermilk in Japan. I have never seen it but I lived there a very long time ago. Traditional buttermilk is a by-product of churning butter and cream from whole milk. The whey left after churning butter from milk is let to ferment and becomes “buttermilk”. The kind we can get at the grocery store, however, is “cultured” buttermilk in which a type of lactobacillus is added to milk to make it ferment. My wife actually drinks buttermilk and says she can identify the flavor of different brands. Me, I cannot touch the stuff (too acidic and strange tasting). It tastes awful to me but I love this soup.

Wasabi cream sauce: My wife originally concocted this; it is a mixture of grated wasabi (from a  tube), crème fraise and milk. Again, I never measure the amount but I aim for a nice saucy consistency and subtle but good amount of wasabi zing.

After I put the soup in a soup dish, I drizzled the wasabi cream sauce in circular motion and garnish it with chopped chives but if you have, fresh mint that would be better.

This is a such a wonderful cold sop for hot summer. Somehow the butter milk disappears cuts the sweetness of the watermelon and just adds a depth to the soup. The wasabi cream adds a zing to the refreshing taste.