Sunday, March 18, 2018

Unexpected early Hanami 予定外の早めの花見

A Nor'Easter (winter hurricane) tore through our area recently. Winds gusted in the range of 40 to 60 MPH. My wife was standing in the kitchen making a cup of coffee when a branch the size of a small tree split off our neighbor's white pine and crashed into our 30 plus year old cherry tree splintering the trunk in half. My wife who observed the whole thing said the branch did not fall but flew into our tree--it was airborne. The cherry tree died heroically. I would like to think it gave its life to narrowly divert the white pine from crashing directly into our house causing even more damage. Nonetheless this was very heartbreaking. Later in the day our neighbor's 60 foot Leland cypress joined it's collegue by crashing into our backyard taking out our back fence which like the cherry tree gave its life to keep the massive tree from hitting the house with even greater velocity than it did. At the end of the day; death toll--3 huge trees and a backyard so full of dead trees it was almost impossible to move in it.

We tried to see if we could save the cherry tree--it was such an important part of our backyard. It was central to out yearly hanami and shaded the deck from the sun in summer. But it was too severely damaged. We had no choice but to take it down and replace it with a 6 foot tall "young sprout". This was particularly sad because the tree would have bloomed in only a few weeks. We gathered up some branches and placed the cuttings in vases with the hope that some would bloom and they did.

These blooms were a much earlier hanami than we were expecting.

Since this was the last Hanami for this cherry tree, in its honor, we decide to do an unexpected early hanami. I quickly put together six kinds of otoshi dishes for the occasion. They were octopus sashimi タコの刺身 (upper left), cube of silken tofu with garnish of perilla and salmon "Ikura" roe or "hiyayakko" 冷奴 (upper center) and store-bought "Chinese-style" squid  salad (イカの中華風サラダ). On the plate (all heated up in the toaster oven) were store-bought fish cake, spicy tofu cubes, and chicken liver simmered in wine.

In addition, we had just recently received a very thin "usuhari" うすはり glass sake carafe and sake cups from Japan sold by ”Sake-talk"  through Amazon. Several years ago when we visited Japan, we got "usuhari" tumblers and we really like these thin glass vessels. In any case, we opened American brew Shochikubai Yamadanishki Daijinjou and poured it into the carafe.

It was a bit sad to see the remaining few twigs blooming in one last gasp of this valiant tree. We still have two cherry trees in our backyard which were there when we moved in. When they bloom in a few weeks it will provide some solice for the loss our beautiful tree. We will raise a cup of sake to its memory (and maybe pour a cup at the base of the young tree we planted as a replacement, just for good luck).

Update: My wife got the idea that we might be able to root some of twigs we salvaged from the downed cherry tree. We got some rooting medium and set up 5 pots (shown below) in the hope one of them would form roots. We know it is a "long shot" but how sentimentally satisfying it would be to propagate another tree from one of the twigs...we would have to name it Phoenix.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Flash un Kas (pastry rolls) appetizers

My wife was flipping through her old PA Dutch cookbooks looking for Fastnacht recipes when this one caught her eye. She was intrigued by the combination of cream cheese and butter and wanted to see what it tasted like so she came up with these pastry rolls called "Flash un Kas".

Ingredients for the flash un kas (pastry)
1/2 lb. butter
1/2 lb cream cheese
2 cups flour

First roll up:
Lebanon Bologna
Smoked mozzarella cheese
double glouster cheese

Second roll up:
mashed potatoes
gorgonzolla cheese

for the pastry: cream the butter and cream cheese together until well blended mix in the flour until the dough is smooth. Roll out the dough and put it in a square gallon size storage bag and push the dough until it fills the entire bag. (This will make the dough square in shape and easier to roll out). Chill thoroughly; overnight is not too long.

Roll out the dough into rectangles about 8 x 10.  In the first roll-up the filling can be placed several ways.

#1 put the bologna topped with cheese on the bottom edge of the rectangle and roll it up. Seal the edge and using a sharp knife cut into rounds #2. Put on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (We found that with this type of roll-up there is nothing to support the cheese at it melts and a lot of it ran out).

#3 spread the bologna over the entire rectangle and top with the cheeses grated. Roll up and again cut into rounds #4. Place rounds on cookie sheet. (With this type of roll-up the cheese is less likely to run out as it melts)

#5 blend the mashed potatoes and gorgonzolla cheese until it forms a smooth paste. Spread over the entire rectangle. Roll up the dough cut into rounds #6 and put rounds on the cookie sheet

Cook at 400 degrees until golden about 15 to 20 minutes. Pictures #7 to #10 show the rounds after they have been cooked.

All of these were very good. The potato and gorgonzolla ones were a surprise. They were probably the best of the lot. The potatoes absorbed the cheese flavor and made a nice texture with the pastry. The bologna had a nice strong smokey flavor that went very well with the mild taste of the pastry. This pastry is very versatile. It is easy to work with and has a mild almost sweet flavor.

Monday, March 12, 2018

PA Duch Fastnacht cake ペンシルバニアダッチ ”ファストナハト” ケーキ

Although my wife is not Pennsylvania Dutch, she grew up in rural PA Dutch country and has many food memories associated with traditional PA Dutch dishes. Fastnachts or donuts were ubiquitous and taken for granted in her childhood. As a kid and until just this year, she always thought  "fastnachts day" just meant donut day. She never realized that "Fastnachts day", was the same as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras i.e. the day before Ash Wednesday. Fastnachts were a way to use up the previous year's fat and sugar before lent.

(Digression alert: My wife told me, that while out "doing the rounds" with her father, he would occasionally stop at one of the old houses on main street of a nearby town for fastnachts. The residence was the local bakery. The living room of the house was the store front from which the baked goods were sold. The room was empty except for steel racks displaying the bake goods available that day. The kitchen of the house was where the magic happened. There was no counter or cash register. The baker, a portly man sporting a flour covered apron, would come out of the kitchen when they entered. They would point to the items on the shelves that they wanted and he would put them in a plain paper bag, take the payment and bid them a good day as they left with the goodies. And the donuts he made were certainly something for a kid to remember; particularly the creme donuts made with sweet rolls the size hamburger buns, cut in half with a full inch of sweet whipped cream filling and don't even get her started on the sticky buns).

My wife became sentimental about the fastnachts of her childhood and wanted to make some. She consulted her old PA Dutch cookbooks. The traditional fastnacht is a fried, potato based, yeast donut.  In our household division of cooking labor, I am chief-in-charge of frying. Although I am the one who introduced my wife, many years ago, to the concept, that you can make deep fried donuts at home, I was not keen on the idea of frying up two dozen large donuts which was the quantity the old recipes she consulted yielded. So, she compromised and in the same old cookbook found a recipe for "Fastnacht cake" and made that instead.

I forgot to take pictures when she removed the cake from the pan. So the cake was already cut by the time I took this pic. It has PA Dutch hallmarks of "crumb" topping.

The cake has yeast and potato in it. It is a cross between bread and cake.

1/2 cup HOT mashed potato (please note the recipe specifies HOT)
1 1/2 cup potato water. (my wife used 1/2 cup potato water and the rest milk)
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
4 cups of AP flour to start, adding more as needed to make velvety dough.

Ingredients and directions for rivels (Crumb topping)
Mix together 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour and 2 tbs. butter softened until the ingredients are completely combined and look like fine crumbs.

Put the hot mashed potatoes into the bowl of a mixer.
Beat in the butter, then the egg and a mixture of sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat until fluffy. Bloom the yeast in warm water.
Beat the yeast into the potato mixture. Alternately add the flour and potato water/milk beating well after each addition (#1). (While adding the flour my wife accidentally dropped the mixing cup into the mixing bowl while the mixer was on. The result is shown in #2; bent mixing cup and a shower of flour all over everything...not recommended).
If necessary add more flour to make a soft dough.
Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and satiny(#3).
Put into a greased bowl. Grease the top of the dough, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (#4).
Punch down the dough and divide into two portions. Fit each portion into a greased 8 x 8 x 2 in cake pan (#5).
Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with rivels (#6). Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (#7). Final product (#8).

This is typical of PA Dutch cakes-- baked like a pie with crumb topping. The texture, however, is unique and extremely pleasing. It is not really like a cake. It is moist and dense-- more like a pleasantly, not too, sweet bread. Despite the large amount of fresh nutmeg my wife used, it does not have a strong nutmeg flavor. My wife has never had this kind of cake before but we both really like it and are glad she "discovered" it. It is a perfect cake for breakfast.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Pork-Ricotta meatballs リコッタチーズ入りミートボール

I often make pork or chicken meatballs. I usually add eggs and panko to make them light and tender. Instead of frying, I usually bake them. I came across this recipe in the Wall street Journal. The original recipe was for lamb meatballs. Since I had my usual hand-chopped ground pork from the trimmings of pork tenderloin, I made meatballs with pork and my usual seasoning but added Ricotta cheese instead of bread crumbs. I served the meatballs with tomato sauce I made from fresh and skinned Campari tomato. I added blanched broccoli as a side.

My wife added some sweet potato Gnocchi she made some time ago and froze. She just cooked them simply in butter. This made it a complete dinner but I took the picture before the gnocchi was added so it does not appear.

For meatballs:
1 lb ground pork (I used  hand chopped trimmings of pork tenderloins.)
1/3 lb whole milk Ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, de-veined and finely chopped
3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and finely chopped
2 eggs
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For tomato sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
6 skinned fresh Campari tomatos, quartered  (I usually have this prepared over the weekend but when we do not finish them during the week, I use them to make tomato sauce)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 medium onion, finely minced
1/2 tsp each of dried oregano and basil
2 bay leaves
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
(Optional) 1/4 tsp baking soda (Although made form fresh Campari tomatos and the sauce is not too acidic I still add baking soda to further reduce acidity) and 1/4 tsp of sugar.

For meatballs:
Sautee the onion, jalapeño and shiitake mushroom in olive oil until the onion is transparent. Season with salt and pepper. Let it cool to room temperature.
Mix all other ingredients into the onion mixture (I was going to adjust the consistency if it was too soft by adding bread crumbs or flour but it was just right and I did not add them).
Using a medium size ice-cream scoop, make meatballs and place it in a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil coated with olive oil.

The green is from jalapeño pepper.

I cooked it in a preheated 350F oven toaster in convection mode for 30 minutes. The bottom became flat but that does not bother me.

For tomato sauce:
Put the olive oil in a deep sautée pan on low heat and add the red pepper and garlic.
When the garlic is fragrant, add the onion and sautée for several minutes on medium flame until soft and transparent, add the campari tomatos with its juice, add the oregano, basil and bay leaves, mix and simmer until the sauce is reduced to the consistency you like (30-40 minutes).
Taste and add salt and sugar (optional).  I also added the baking soda. It causes the sauce to start foaming.  Keep stirring and let it simmer further until all the bubbles subside.

Adding Ricotta and Parmesan cheese made the meatballs very tender and flavorful. This is definitely more high fat meatball but certainly good. I may make this with ground lamb and more closely following the original recipe some day. By adding my wife's gnocchi, this was a well balanced and satisfying dinner that goes so well with red wine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Japanese style beef steak salad 日本風ビーフステーキサラダ

This is a small starter dish I made from some leftover steak. Whenever (which is rather rare) we have beef steak, we usually do not finish it at the initial sitting and have leftovers for another meal. I usually make a carpaccio style salad dish from the leftovers but the amount of beef left this time was quite small. I decided to make a small Japanese style salad.

I garnished it with a chiffonade of perilla leaves and white sesame.

The sauce was essentially ponzu with some additions.

Beef steak, cooked medium rare, thinly sliced (we used leftover steak, the amount is arbitrary)
One small red onion, thinly sliced, salted, kneaded, and then soaked in water for 5 minutes. Finally with the moisture rung out.
Half an inch of daikon, peeled, very thinly sliced and cut into very fine julienne (like for sashimi garnish), soaked in cold water for 5-10 minutes.

1 tbs Ponzu sauce
1 tbs concentrated noodle sauce
1/2 tbs Yuzu juice (fresh is better but I only had the kind in a jar)
1/2 tbs roasted dark sesame oil

Perilla leaves, cut in fine chiffonade, I used one leaf per serving.
Roasted  white sesame seeds, sprinkled on top

Just mix everything except for the garnish, place it in a small bowls and garnish.

This is remarkably good dish. The perilla really made it. Adding the yuzu juice added nice Yuzu flavor. The red onion and daikon were very mild and added to the volume of the dish as well as their flavors and texture.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Maple and cranberry drumsticks メープル、クランベリー鶏のスネ肉

I bought a package of chicken drumsticks without any firm idea of how I was going to cook them. Then, I came across this recipe in the Washington Post. Since I had "figgy" cranberry sauce, I gave it a go. I served it as a drinking snack with my potato salad and coleslaw.

Since I scored around the bone, the meat shrank a bit to make a nice handle to grab and the marinade became sauce which clung to the surface.

2 pounds chicken drumsticks
4 tablespoons cranberry sauce ( I used the "figgy" cranberry sauce I made).
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage (may substitute 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage)

1. Use a sharp chef’s knife or cleaver to cut off the end, or ankle, of each drumstick. Discard them.
2. Place the drumsticks in a gallon-size zip-top bag, along with the cranberry sauce, maple syrup, oil, a four-finger pinch each of the salt and pepper, and the sage.
3. Seal and massage through the bag to coat evenly. Lay the bag in a glass or ceramic baking dish that is large enough to hold the drumsticks in a single layer. Let sit for 1 hour at room temperature, turning the bag over a few times, or refrigerate up to overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Open and pour the contents of the bag into the baking dish, arranging the drumsticks in a single layer. Turn to coat with all the sauce you can extract from the bag.
5. Roast (top rack) for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through, using tongs to turn the drumsticks about halfway through the oven time.

This is not bad but to us, this is a bit too sweet because of the figgy cranberry sauce and the addition of maple syrup. Certainly this would be a good finger food for a party.