Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saba Hoedeopbap, Mackerel Fried Rice

I'm still thinking about that place, so I'm sharing one more recipe before I move on to more July 4th-ish things.  This meal's got a little more... fusion.  It's based on my love of Japanese saba rice (stir-fried rice with cured mackerel) and a Korean bipbimbop or hoedeopbap where cooked rice and raw fish and veggies gets thrown in a super hot bowl and topped with an egg yolk before you add sauce and stir it around as so it cooks through.

I was going to do a bipbimbop with a firm-fleshed fish, but they didn't have quite what I wanted at the counter and the Spanish mackerel looked shiny and fresh and I suddenly remembered how much I loved oily-fish fried rice -- it's like the seafood version of chorizo fried rice, and it's some very yummy, stick to your ribs, belly-filling goodness.  I figured combining with greens and a rich sauce bipbimbop-style wasn't going to hurt it any and extra crunchy rice bits could only make it better. [I was right!]

[Speaking of the sauce, I was going to use fish sauce as a component until I noticed the expiration date on mine (ew) but it turns out the primary ingredient is anchovy puree and I keep a tube of anchovy paste in my fridge to punch up pasta sauces... unless my little brother is watching.]

As for the cooking method, it was too hot in my tiny place to use my broiler to get the pot as hot as a real bipbimbop and I wanted to make sure my mackerel was fully cooked, so this variation uses two pans (plus whatever you use to cook the rice ahead of time).

Recipe: Spanish Mackerel Fried Rice

Friday, June 25, 2010

Simple Temaki [a.k.a. Japanese Tacos]

I've had some amazing Japanese food in my day.  I discovered sushi late in college and was fortunate to get an expense-paid visit to Tokyo when JG was working over there for a bit... though I think I was still too new to the cuisine at the time to make the most of my trip.  After moving to Austin, I fell in love with a modern Japanese place and even developed an unfortunate habit of of putting any raw thing in my mouth based on the things they [carefully and safely] served.  It was exquisite.

I learned the importance of toasting nori at this lovely place -- and that's the key to a tasty handroll.   The greatest thing about a hand roll is that it doesn't require skill as there is no rice shaping involved.  I also learned that the hand roll [temaki] is the Japanese equivalent of a sandwich with a similar origin story: a noble -- too obsessed with the gaming table to come away for a meal -- ordered his servant make him something he could eat with one hand.  It seems a little too close to the Earl of Sandwich story, but maybe it's a case of culinary convergence.

Temaki is the only sushi I'll make at home because doesn't require skill.  I don't want to spend the money for sashimi-grade fish for a weeknight meal, but there are times when I want that refreshing satisfaction of a sushi meal mid-week, and the hand roll hits that spot... plus they're fun to make:  All it takes are toasted seaweed sheets [nori], a bowl of vinegar rice and an array of sliced veggies, sauteed mushrooms for a meaty texture, and occasionally kani [fake crab sticks make from pollock that I find disturbingly delicious in a distinctly non-crab way].  You fill one corner, roll it up into a cone, and eat it quick before the nori goes soft. It's a casual week-night food at its best.

It takes a lot of practice to make true sushi rice look and taste right and involves lots of fanning and folding.  I've seen it done many times and I'm not even close to mastering it... but with a little tweaking I've created a brown rice version with the right flavor and a close enough texture for the at-home hand roll.

Recipe: Simple Temaki, Japanese Tacos

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Microwave Pasta!

It's been kinda hot here in Yankee Land.  Mock me if you must, but here's the thing:  Where I come from all houses are climate-controlled, and my attic here offers no respite.  In Texas, I didn't mind exercising in 100F+ weather*, but I kept the AC in my house at a comfortable 76F from late-April through early October.  Now when it's 85F outside, it's over 90F in my afternoon sun-drenched kitchen.  This can make cooking anything unpleasant when even my little toaster oven puts out an unbearable amount of heat.
Salads and hummus plates are my friends, but I like the act of cooking enough that I also see the heat as a challenge, which lead me to an amazing discovery:  You can cook pasta in the microwave! A pound of pasta cooks in 13 minutes, which isn't really faster than cooking it on your stove [~5 minutes for your water to boil+ 7-10 minutes cooking time] but it doesn't add any heat to the kitchen, and this I will take as an unqualified victory.
After it's cooked, I dumped it on top of some homemade frozen pesto cubes and sliced cherry tomatoes, let it sit until the heat from the pasta thawed the sauce, tossed in some fresh basil from the garden, and topped it with cracked black pepper and an extra drizzle of good olive oil. It's easy and it can be served at any temperature.

Recipe: Microwave Pasta

*No, not "dry heat."  Austin's relative humidity is usually between 70-90 percent, and the "heat index" is often 10-15 degrees hotter than the actual temp.  [Where I grew up further west, it was a dry heat, but the true temp was also 10-20 degrees hotter than Austin on any given summer day.] Boston's prevailing weather goes out to sea instead of drawing it in, and the humidity is less than 50 percent most of the time.  I still don't understand why people who find out where I'm from want me to agree that New England August is more oppressive.  I used to live in Houston** with window units, which in August is kind of like living inside someone's mouth... there's simply no contest. Just stick to your winters, people, you win every time.

**Houston is a great city with an amazing art scene and worldclass research institutes. Anyone who thinks it's a hole probably never got past the vast suburbs... but it was built on a swamp and I don't miss those summers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oven-Roasted Corn, Elote Asado

Elote asado, roasted corn, is a delicious Mexican street food and a favorite treat of mine. There were a couple elote stands near my house in Austin and they made trips to the grocery or hardware store so much more enjoyable [and I enjoy both].  The corn was on a big grill in the back of a trailer and they'd shuck the blackened husks to order and wrap it in foil, which is immediately opened and used as a little plate to dress the corn with the toppings set out on a shelf: bottled lime juice, a shaker of paprika, salt and pepper, and green can of dried parmesan cheese.  The lime juice goes on first and everything else sticks to it.  Some bites were spicier, some were cheesier, but all were enhanced by the mottled brown charring and the bright flavor of lime.

Since I moved to Yankee Land, I've come across a monstrosity at cookouts called "Mexican-Style Grilled Corn" [created by a test kitchen I otherwise love and respect] that involves oiling up the corn before grilling,  then slathering it with a gooey mayo/sour cream/cheese/lime juice paste.  It's not unpleasant to eat -- in a hearty gastropub kind of way -- but it's definitely more decadent than refreshing and not at all Mexican-style [as I know it].  I was served something like it at a well-regarded tapas restaurant here, so it might be Spanish in origin...?   I'm dubious.

At any rate my, version isn't muy auténtico either, but it's more in keeping with what I want to eat.  I can't have a grill on my fire escape, so I roasted my corn [in husk] in the toaster oven.  It worked great and it made my apartment smell like the elote stand... and that made me very happy.

Recipe: Indoor Roasted Corn, Elote Asado

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Garden in the Sky!

I had a nice big garden in Texas.  Here in Yankee Land, I have a fire escape.  Since I don't have enough space to plant real crops, I focused on a meal-enhancement garden -- herbs and sandwich fixings, plus a couple of squash and cucumber plants that seem ready to get unruly.  I'm rather excited.

I've planted totem tomatoes, cayenne pepper, butter bibb lettuce, aroooogula, everbearing strawberries, zucchini, cucumber, chocolate mint, English thyme, Genovese basil, Mexican oregano, epazote, Cuban oregano, variegated sage, upright rosemary, Greek oregano, Thai cilantro, lemon verbena, French tarragon, burnet, and a couple nasturtium varietals. 
I wanted French sorrel, but I couldn't find any at the garden store around the corner... and I'm kind of out of space since JG requested I keep the fire escape fire escape-able.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scallop Tacos, Two Ways

 Local scallops were on sale here in Yankee Land, so I picked up more than I needed for dinner [but not nearly as many as I wanted].  The first night I made a ceviche with lime/serrano/shallot and garnished with fresh corn and cilantro from my herb garden.  The next night I seared the scallops [one side only] and served them with sliced avocado, toasted pepitas, and roasted corn on the side.

The ceviche was so deliciously delicate in flavor that it might've been better if I'd used some of my lettuce as a wrapper instead of the hearty, store-bought tortillas... the seared scallops held their own and were phenomenal.

Recipe: Scallops for Tacos

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fragrant Mussels with Coconut Flakes

A friend saw my request for Indian recipes and directed me to the BBC's Indian Food Made Easy.  I had more coconut to use and mussels were on sale, so mussels with dry coconut was a no-brainer.

It was easy, as promised.  I made a half recipe, used quartered grape tomatoes, and didn't cook the mussels separately. Instead, I added 1 1/2 cups of water to the onion/spice/tomato mixture and threw in the mussels after it cooked down.

The recipe makes use of garam masala, an Indian spice blend generally containing ginger/cardamom/coriander/cumin/pepper/nutmeg/cinnamon that has quite a few recipe variations [like curry powder] and is usually added at the end of cooking because it's considered less robust than using the whole and/or freshly ground spices typical of the cuisine -- it's like using a shaker of "Italian seasoning," theoretically, Italian dishes should have varying amounts of basil/oregano/garlic/onion/lemon depending on the dish, but that shaker makes everything taste vaguely Italian in universal way. Garam masala varies widely depending on the producer and those made commercially tend to use more of the cheaper spices, but it's still a potent blend for my American palate and the resulting dish was delicious in a vaguely Western Indian (coconut/tomato/seafood/rice) sort of way.

We ate all the mussles and had a little brothy goodness left over.  I stirred in some leftover rice to soak it all up, and tonight we will have leftovers-fried-rice with Indian spices and mussel broth. I'm excited.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oops!... plus Chorizo and Egg Tacos

If any of you stopped by the end of last week/ beginning of this week, I was playing around with moving the site to its own domain and inadvertently lost it for a little while... Let's just pretend I handled it really well and didn't freak out at all, okay?
[I know almost nothing about web design but I feel like I should be able to figure out the basics... which hasn't worked so far.]

Let's focus on the positive.  Here's a little demo of the chorizo cubes in action:

The frozen [raw] cube in the pan over low heat

Break it apart as it cooks

Increase the heat to medium-high and pour in the egg

Swirl it around a bit

Dump it in a bowl

Serve on warm tortillas with optional garnishes

[I leave 'em plain for breakfast and jazz 'em up with avocado and pickled jalapeños for dinner.]