Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ozoni (Japanese New Years Soup)


I know the picture of this soup isn't great. I had to take it with the camera on my laptop because I did not bring my legit camera home with me for Christmas. I made this soup the day after Christmas because I wasn't going to be with my family for New Years day. Since my grandmother passed away last year, that was the first year we did not do new years soup at her house. We wanted to bring that tradition back so I made it this year for them, and it was almost as good as my grandmother made it.

Ozoni is unique. No two soups will ever be the same because every region of Japan and every individual family has their own way of making it. In Tokyo region, clear both is more common whereas in Osaka, most people use miso broth. In contemporary Japan, they use a lot of chicken, shrimp, scallops or other more expensive ingredients. Our family came to the United States in the 1950s from a poor region, so we never got meat or anything like that in our soup. Ours was strictly vegetarian (except for dashi) because that's what you eat when you're poor. The shrimp and chicken came in at lunch.

More than that, our family was a family of farmers, not fishermen. It makes sense that our soup then uses more root vegetables than anything else. But no matter what, it seems like all soups have mochi, daikon radish, carrots and gobo (burdock root). I used lotus root instead because I could not find burdock root at the asian market that day, and my father likes lotus root better anyway. I made sure to do mochi exactly like my grandmother used to. She always did "age-mochi" where she put the mochi in a fried tofu pouch instead of boiling it directly in the soup. This was largely so she would not have to wash the sticky rice off the bottom of the pot, but now it's our family tradition.

There were a few things my grandmother did that I no longer do. I no longer use kamaboko (these horrible pink processed fish cakes) and I no longer use konnyaku (really gross laxative yam jelly). Of course, I'm biased. I'm sure some people like them...

Feel free to ignore the amounts of ingredients. It changes depending on your family (for example, my father really likes taro root and I really like lotus root, so there is always lots and lots of lotus root in our soup

Ozoni (my new recipe and tradition) serves 5ish.

Ingredients
  • 8 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1 4 inch piece of daikon radish, peeled and cut into circles
  • 1 4 inch piece of lotus root, peeled and cut into circles
  • 10 pieces of age (fried tofu skin)
  • 10 pieces of mochi
  • carrots, cut into circles
  • 1 bag frozen satoimo (baby taro root)
  • 1 pack tied kombu (they come tied like bowties from the asian market)
  • 1/4 head of of a large napa cabbage
  • Dashi
  • soy sauce, sugar, salt to taste
Directions
  1. Boil the fried tofu skin in a large pot for about 5 minutes to remove the oil. Cool the tofu in ice water and reserve the boiling liquid.
  2. Add dashi to your tofu water. If preferred, add instant dashi (can be purchased from the asian market) and extra water. Season with a little soy as desired (and I love MSG, but I understand if you don't). This is more of stew than a liquid soup, so just need enough liquid to boil your vegetables.
  3. Begin simmering the lotus root, daikon, taro root and mushrooms in your soup base. Cover with a lid for about 10 minutes
  4. While simmering, squeeze the liquid out of your tofu pouches and make a slit in one side. Slip a small piece of mochi into your tofu pouch and tie off with kampyo or close with small kushiyaki skewers. Add the mochi pouches to the soup.
  5. Add your carrots and kombu to the soup. The kombu is simmered in soy and sugar already, so it will give the soup a great sweetness. Adjust seasoning to taste
  6. At the very end, add your napa cabbage on top of everything else so it can steam for 5 minutes before serving. Simmer until all vegetables are tender.
Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Matcha (Green tea) icebox cookies with White Chocolate Chips


A while ago, I went through a phase of icebox cookies. They were easy and lasted as long as you wanted them to in the freezer. Just slice and bake when ready to eat these slightly sweet, slightly bitter cookies.

Matcha White Chocolate Cookie

Ingredients
  • 240 g flour
  • 15 g matcha powder
  • 150 g butter
  • 130 g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • handful of white chocolate chips


Directions
  1. Cream together butter, sugar and salt.
  2. Add egg yolks. Then sift in flour and stir in chocolate chips
  3. Shape dough into a log and refrigerate for at least one hour
  4. Preheat oven to 325. Slice, and bake for 15-20 minutes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ginger Cranberry Sauce



This isn't any different than a normal cranberry sauce recipe you'd find on the back of a bag of cranberries. However, I've always found that cranberry sauce too sweet and like to spice it up a bit with a few other flavors. I would probably put more ginger in mine next time, but I suppose it depends how spicy you like it.

The only downside of cranberry sauce: it makes me wish I could find cranberries in the store all year, not just in that glorious period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • zest 1 orange
  • juice from one orange + enough water to equal 1 cup
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 2 inches or fresh grated ginger


Directions
  1. Dissolve sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves and ginger together until simmering.
  2. Add cranberries and simmer for 10 minutes until they have popped. Remove cinnamon stick

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: How Italian Food Conquered the World - John F Mariani


Title: How Italian Food Conquered the World
Author: John F Mariani
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
Pages: 288


I went into this book expecting the brief history of Italian cooking in Italy and the proliferation in various forms throughout the world. Although a large part of the book dealt with the immigrant struggle and creation of "Italian-American" food, there did not appear to be a clear argument to tie the entire book together. 

I've never been a huge fan of Italian food. It was always too heavy with too many carbs, too much fat an too much of that ever present red sauce. Obviously, my first exposure to Italian food, like most Americans, was in places like The Old Spaghetti Factory and Olive Garden in my childhood. I've since eaten at wonderful restaurants like Quince and learned what Italian food can be (or rather, what it really is). 

i always knew that the heavy read sauces were never part of real Italian cooking. They came into being in the United States when the immigrant families began to slather meatballs and their Sunday "gravy" on everything because in the land of plenty, that was a possibility. I knew there was no such thing as "Italian" food until very recently because the variations between Naples, Sardinia, Rome, etc were so pronounced it was impossible to create a fully Italian identity. I knew there were supposed health benefits associated with Italian cooking that are all negated by portions of pasta and a single, beautiful slice of porchetta. 

Mariani does a good job of chronicling the history of Italian American cuisine, but the narration falters when discussing present day. He goes on tangents about the Sopranos and stereotypes associated with Italian Americans. Additionally, he discusses higher end restaurants like Marea in NYC but completely ignores places like Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill, which he gives on line to in a statement that it's not real Tuscan food (but what is?) I would have loved a whole chapter on Marea if he had been an eloquent writer of the most sensual food porn. If he had been able to make me salivate while reading, I would have been happy. However, as a nonfiction book, he left out one of the most crucial restaurants that changed the development and proliferation of Italian restaurants in present day. As much as I would love to eat at Marea, I can assure you that more people have dined at Olive Garden, and on a regular basis. It is the chain restaurants like that, and the inclusion of a pasta dish on every menu in every restaurant that really should be discussed. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sesame Nut Brittle




With christmas right around the corner, this is the perfect item to add to a last minute candy plate. It's an easy recipe with a wonderfully crunch, nutty texture. It holds up well through shipping as long as you keep it tightly sealed. Best of all, if you know a person with nut allergies, this mixed sesame seed brittle has the same great taste and texture, but without all the terrible allergic reactions and death.


Nut Brittle

Ingredients

  • 1 cup nuts or sesame seeds (preferably sesame seeds and almonds, a combination)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


Ingredients

  1. Cook sugar, water and syrup until it reaches soft crack stage and is a golden amber color (about 260 degrees)
  2. Add sesame seeds and almonds. Stir until coated.
  3. Add butter, soda and vanilla at the very end. Stir thoroughly and pour out onto parchment paper or silpat mat.
  4. Let cool completely before breaking into chunks

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bacon Walnut Stuffing: Great for Christmas or Thanksgiving




I realize this is a little late for Thanksgiving (the holiday when I made this dish) but it's a great stuffing that will be fantastic for Christmas as well. It's salty, nutty, crunchy and tart at the same time from a combination of apples, bacon and nuts. Instead of buying those packages of stuffing bread, it was cheaper to go to the Mexican market and purchase a loaf of cheap bread that I knew would go stale in a day anyway.

Bacon Walnut Stuffing

Ingredients
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 1 loaf stale french bread
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large carrots, cut into thin circles
  • 3 ribs celery
  • 1 spring fresh sage
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • 2 large cooking apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 hand fulls of walnuts
  • 1 can chicken stock
  • 1 cup chopped oyster or shiitake mushrooms


Directions
  1. Fry bacon to render the fat. Slice bread and allow to sit out and become stale or toast in oven until it hardens. Set bacon aside to try and drain off fat
  2. Fry diced celery, onion, carrot and mushrooms in a little bacon fat with the aromatics until tender. I saved most of the bacon fat for basting my turkey, but you can use as much asyou want for frying the vegetables. Add to bread with walnuts, apples and chopped bacon
  3. Pour chicken stock over stuffing as needed to soften slightly (but not too much)
  4. Pour into baking dish and bake in oven at 350 for 20 minutes or until heated all the way through
This post has been submitted to Yeastspotting

Book Review - Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain




TitleMedium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Publisher: Ecco, June 2010
Pages: 281


I first read Kitchen Confidential several years ago in the beginnings of my college years. I was an avid home cook, had never cooked in a real kitchen, and idealized the strage, dark world of restaurants he discussed. I was intensely interested and it seemed, to an extent, romantic. 

After some time I cooking in real restaurant kitchens, they are not as he described in Kitchen Confidential. You may have the maladjusted drug addicts, the over confident chefs, the unclean work areas and the incestuous relations between the cooks and the waitstaff and the most badass people in the universe, but you won't have them all in one place. More often than not (in my experience) the older chefs have reformed from the drug addled days of the 1980s and the younger chefs still treat the kitchen like their frat house. It's still a man's world but you're not expected the sear your hand on the planche to cauterize a bad cut mid-service. There will be a few of these moments, but they are not ubiquitous. 

While Bourdain seemed jaded yet energetic in his writings of Kitchen Confidential, he seemed both jaded and tired in Medium Raw. His fame has exhausted him and you can tell from his writing. You can almost hear him narrating each chapter during the commercial break of No Reservations. The chapters are disconnected and cover his life since writing Kitchen Confidential. His narrative style is still enjoyable, but it feels as if there is something missing. It can only be expected after years of writing, travel, television and the bullshit that goes along with it. It's good for what it is, but you'll be disappointed if you're looking for something with the original shock value of Kitchen Confidential.



Note: for further book reviews (food related and not). please see my goodreads account.
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