Thursday, January 17, 2013

Miso, umami, and those nifty Japanese

Umami is considered the fifth taste to go along sour, sweet, salty, and bitter.  It is more of an unctous, feel-good, yummy in my tummy kind of flavor.  To me at least.  The Japanese came up with the name for it (and maybe were the first to figure it out? Maybe?) and appropriately so since a lot of their cuisine is jacked full of L-glutatmate.  Miso soup, that piping hot sushi joint staple, is filled to the brim with umami ingredients, and yes miso is one of them.

I usually find it in paste form and it is simply mixed with water.  Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer for a few, taste, adjust, use.  It was the base of the sauce with the salmon dish pictured above. 

First get your pan really hot.  The test I like to use is to drop some driplets (those are baby drops) into the dry pan.  If the driplets bounce and dance around the pan I call it ready to go.  If they stick in one spot and boil; wait longer.  If they immediately vanish in a puff of smoke; I don't know what to tell you.  Next was some peanut oil and let this get nice and hot once again.  It should shimmer slightly.  My seasoned salmon goes in, presentation side down, and I turn the heat down to medium and don't touch it.  Let it get a nice, flavorful crust on the pretty side and do almost all of the cooking that way.  The salmon shouldn't stick at all.  If it did it means you're an impatient ninny-muggins and you didn't let the pan get hot enough.  Flip it for a minute or so and then I put mine into a low (180F) toaster over to keep it warm.  Back to the pan we put in minced garlic and ginger, stir, smell, and toss in sliced red pepper and mushrooms (shiitakes if ya got 'em).  When they are half done I put in my miso/water mixture, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce.  Then baby bok choy and clams go in with the lid on to steam the goodness in. 

When the clams have popped open it is time to plate din din!  I made a nice bed of the veggies, put the salmon on top (with some toasted seasame seeds and sliced raw scallions, arrange the clams, and sauced it up!  (Next time I am going to use smaller clams.  Count necks would be a good option.  These suckers were a little too big and chewy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Library requirements

In the two year hiatus of this blog more than a couple food books came into my collection. However two of them have become my daily go-to books for inspiration and direction; The Flavor Bible and Michael Ruhlman's Twenty. The Flavor Bible is a list of ingredients with a sub-list of all the ingredients that pair with the category. So if you have a random impulse to buy crayfish and don't know what to do with them... The Flavor Bible lists everything that top chefs from around the world say pair with crayfish. And, between font style and punctuation, it tells you the "strength" with which it pairs. When looking at crayfish it lists basil and also thyme with thyme being the stronger match. This book is a great resource for recipe formulation. I use it more than any other book in my collection.

Ruhlman's Twenty explores twenty fundamental ingredients and techniques to our cooking today. There is a brief, or not so, dialogue about the properties of the subject and then recipes follow. The best part of it to me is that it is all the basics. One topic he chose is water. Hard to get more basic than that. Don't be fooled into thinking the book doesn't offer you anything either. He sets the groundwork for you to go into culinary ga-ga land if you want.  Blogs need a photo it seems so above is obviously a hard boiled egg, also which is in Ruhlman's Twenty.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Building Blocks

Here at House Zube we are working to establish a good pantry collection. And not just dried pasta, canned thingies, and lots of vinegars and oils, but the freezer as well. I come from a Hunter-Gatherer background and a full freezer, and while I don't hunt anymore I can gather with the best of 'em. It's fun to wake up, want duck breast, and have some chillin' (get it!) in the freezer. My freezer pantry is being extended to more then just purchased protein too. I have decided to make more building blocks, to have on hand, for my cooking. For years I have been making big batches of chicken stock, freezing it into blocks, and storing for use as needed. Now I'm expanding. So far I have stock, some pork braising liquid,and soffrito (slow cooked onions and tomatoes in olive oil) put away for a rainy day. Today I am making Thomas Keller's mushroom conserva from Ad Hoc. You take a bucket load of mushrooms and steep them in hot, infused olive oil for 45 minutes and then keep them in the fridge for up to a month. And per usual for Mr. TK this recipe is about layering flavors so that the sum is greater than the components. -fast forward a couple of weeks- "Hmm, I want chicken and mushrooms tonight," you think quietly to yourself on the ride home. You could slice mushrooms and saute in some olive oil, maybe even add a little garlic or onion. Some thyme is always nice but you don't have any and its 7F outside your car. OR you could use the mushrooms that have been so lovingly bathing in the opulence of infused olive oil for the last fortnight eagerly awaiting the chance to adorn you plate! Personally I am in favor of option B. An hour of work (including steeping time) and I will have this rich, umami-packed "condiment" ready at a moment's notice. Sign me up please! 2 lbs assorted mushrooms (its January in Maine... I used cremini, shiitake, and button) 2 bay leaves 2 cups olive oil 4 thyme sprigs 1 rosemary sprig salt and pepper to taste 3 tbs sherry vinegar 1 teaspoon piment d'Espelette (fancy chili powder. I used guajillo. You could use ancho, cayenne, or just not) Yields around 3 cups. Heat olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary in a wide bottom pot (I used my dutch oven) to 170F. Add mushrooms, bring temp back up to 170F for 5 minutes. Cut heat and cover. Let it stand for 45 minutes. Package it up in an airtight container with the mushrooms submerged and put in the fridge for up to one month. That's it. It is that simple. Bonus feature is that when the mushrooms are gone you have some very nice mushroom-infused olive oil for vinaigrettes, bread-dipping, or whatever else tickles your fancy!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A buddy of mine has started a food blog.

Go read it. :) Carlisle Kitchen. Even if he does spell my name wrong...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Whip it! Whip it good...

As I have mentioned in the last couple of posts my current reading material has been to go back through Ratio and pick up on old inspirations. Well today we are like Devo and we're gonna whip it good.

We are talking about mayonnaise here folks, or as we like to call it at Chez Zube, food grease. And if you use your Sherlock Holmes' powers of deduction you realize that we are making it from scratch! This was one of those mystical miracles (and not Miracle Whip... yuck!) that I knew the basics of, but it still loomed intimidatingly in the shadows. Let's just say it has been conquered.

The great thing about Ratio is that it breaks recipes down to,well, ratios. The bare bones of what is needed is explained. Take for example vinaigrettes and how they all start with a base ratio of 3:1 oil to acid. You can then take that knowledge and go running willy-nilly into the gastronomic wilderness with the endless possibilities. Well mayonnaise follows that same rule of having a base ratio. 2:1:1. Two ounces of water, one egg yolk, and one cup of oil. All that is left is a bowl, whisk, and a shoulder with Lance Armstrong endurance! And like a vinaigrette once you have the base recipe down there is so much you can do to customize it. Acid, herbs, spices galore are simply begging to be whipped into this creamy concoction and how are you to deny them that?

Get your bowl out and I suggest a heavier one on a non-slip surface. We used a Pyrex bowl on a silicone pot holder. I say "we" because Wife Zube was an integral part of the process. I apparently do not possess Armstrong deltoids. Not yet at least. The chemical process that we are looking for is emulsification and according to Ruhlman room temperature ingredients do this best. So make sure to get your egg out of the fridge and separated with plenty of time to warm up. Into the bowl goes the two ounces of water, I squeezed a teaspoon or so of lime juice in, the egg yolk, and a pinch of salt. These were whisked together until completely blended. Next drip, literally, a couple of drops into the bowl while whisking. You'll be able to see it incorporate and become slightly frothy. Drip some more. Whisk some more. I added a tablespoon or so this way until I could see some substance to the mixture. Now the oil was added in a thin stream while I, or Wife, whisked our hearts out. We might have been a little over-zealous, but I didn't want my first hand-whisked mayo to break. The humiliation...

It only took a couple of minutes and a couple drops of sweat to yield a beautiful,shiny bowl of homemade mayonnaise. It was a nice little achievement. I know that at some point my attempts will fail and end in a sludge of broken oil and yolk, but numero uno was a smashing hit.

Your mayo will last for a week or so if you keep it free of garlic/shallots/etc so I took half and put it away for later. The half that was for dinner had cumin, coriander, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and more lime juice added in. If there had been any cilantro roaming around I would have wrassled that in as well. The reason for this southwestern flair was due to there being a skirt steak marinating in the fridge in lime & orange juice, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and cayenne. I thought a nice Tex-Mex style mayo would do quite nice by a fajita-marinated skirt steak. I was right.

Some family came over for late evening snacks and the skirt steak was broiled to medium rare and sliced thinly on the bias. Set out family style, it hit the spot with a dab of mayo. Meat and food grease. Yum. There was going to be a photo, but deliciousness was quicker then photography.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Melted Onion and Potato Gratin

Pop quiz hotshot (bonus points for naming the movie): What is better than a TK recipe? Two TK recipes rolled into one! Its easy math, awesome + awesome = more awesome! I alluded to this magical marvel in the new Twitter box to the right of where your eyeballs are looking at this moment. Ha, made you look! It is there though actually, I am just not sure about it yet. Maybe it will grow on me, sorta like a fungus...

Anywho, the recipes at hand are two Thomas Keller's that I mastermindedly melded. And the self-explanatory title clearly indicates which ones; melted onions and potato gratin. The melted onions have been used many times in the past and if I was better versed in HTML I would have a snazzy link for you to click to transport you within the realm of fond. However I am not snazzy, so you have to scroll. Ghetto I know.

Step One is the melted onions for the gratin. I inadvertently bought onions and Yukon Golds (he recommends russets for this dish. I'm sorry!) when we already had some. So now I was faced with the problem of what to do with my excess. Potato and onion are a classic combo, kinda like Mork and Mindy, Jekyll and Hyde, bacon and anything else ever. The neat thing about melting the onions, as I am sure you have all discovered on your own...right?, is that they get kinda creamy. Now when you hear potatoes, onions, and creamy you think gratin/casserole/baked dish jobbie. Or at least I did. So, make some melted onions and then see Step Two.

Step Two is potato gratin where we sneakily will slip in the onions near the end. But first take some taters, peel, and thinly slice 'em. If you don't have a mandolin go out and buy one and some Band-Aids. Everyone cuts themselves once. And badly. Slice your spuds to 1/8 inch-ish and it helps to slice them directly into cold water to prevent discoloration. My cooking vessel was a 9" Pyrex pie dish and ruined the day for about 5 small to medium potatoes. Next they were layered into a pan and covered with cream. Now TK didn't specify what kind of cream and I had a little of a two kinds. So my gratin got Half&Half and 2% milk. I'm thinking heavy cream would have worked best. Either way it is important to heavily season the cream. This is the medium that is going to season some very bland potatoes. Salt, pepper, and nutmeg are good choices. Simmer the pot of potats until the slices are just slightly not tender. Strain the cream out and reserve. This is also a good chance to taste the seasoning of the cream again. A step I forgot to do. (There is that foreshadowing again!) Now I splashed in(or gently ladled depending on your mood) enough cream to coat the bottom of the pan and laid a layer of potato down. Next a layer of melted onion. Rinse. Repeat. Make sure your final addition is a enough cream to pretty much cover the tater-onion concoction and then sprinkle on some bread crumbs. Bake in a 375F oven until the taters are fully tender and bread crumbs brown and crispy. Let cool, slice, and feast.

A little background on my night of making this dish. I worked all day on not much sleep and was dragging pretty hard. I came home with grand intentions of a full meal for Wife Zube (who was working until later) but only made it through the gratin before succumbing to the call of a comfortable chair. So, as the post photo indicates, we had this for breakfast and it was perfect. Underseasoned, but it went really well with a nice runny egg yolk and salt. Enjoy!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chinese style pork short ribs

Chinese takeout is a good idea until you get halfway through it. That lip-smacking MSG-laden goodness suddenly turns into a cornstarch paved highway to bloatedville. Even though your eyes are now glazed with that syrupy sauce that was recently a pure delight, you still keep eating yourself deep into the pit of "that was a bad idea". Sadly that is Chinese food as most Americans know it, including myself. At some point I am going to feast on authentic Chinese cuisine but until then I have to fend for myself.

I like Top Chef. That is my confession. It is also the extent of my reality television watching. I like to see what the chefs come up with (both good and bad) and to witness the guest judges "in person". When you see that many cooks coming up with two dishes a night per week for X weeks, there is bound to be some inspiration in the mix. A recent winning dish was Chinese style pork belly, pickled daikon radish, and watermelon "air". I didn't really like the overall dish or the winner, but Chinese style pork has me head over heels.

I got no belly, but I has me some short ribs. They are both fatty pork chunks that need long cooking, so that means we are green light on this mission! The only other ingredients are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and water. I have it all but hoisin sauce, but I know my local grocer carries a couple of varieties.

Enter main obstacle for recipe accuracy: hoisin sauce. I push my cart down the fancy food aisle looking for the Asian section (gotta love Maine) and then peruse my choices of hoisin. *sigh* Wheat in all. Wife Zube and wheat equals no fun. I like fun. Ok. Do I abandon my endeavour or keep on keeping on? Grr, I want my Chinese pork! I will make my own hoisin (or at least pretend to) and reap the rewards of slow-cooked porcine flesh!

So now I look up hoisin recipes on the internet, read a couple, and then completely ignore them. I'll just make some barbecue sauce and use some Asian ingredients (mainly Sriracha hot sauce)to make it Eastern. Should work out right? *quiet laughter in the background* Or maybe not. My Asian barbecue sauce was just downright weird. It didn't taste bad, just weird. Guess what? Didn't stop me...

I got the ol' short ribs browning in my trusty dutch oven while loving the sweet smell of pork and daydreaming of the end product. Once sufficiently browned I deglazed the pan with some chicken stock and poured in my soy sauce, imposter barbecue sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and water. Its looking pretty insipid despite the powerful flavors in the mix, but we charge on ahead irregardless.

I am going to take this short station break to point out, if you had missed it, the blatant tone of "hey this isn't quite right, but I am sure it will work out fine if I just close my eyes and keep on cooking like I got Chinese skillz". Nothing like foreshadowing eh? (<--- props to Honors English for that technique.)

Out comes the pot a few hours later and when I take the lid off I am pleasantly surprised. I have a nice darkly lacquered piece of pork staring up at me in a sufficiently thick sauce. Perhaps the close-your-eyes-and-cook-like-you-know-how approach worked?

We plated the pork up over garlic green beans and a rice/veggie combo. Drizzle some sauce, sit down, grab a fork and say, "Huh... kinda weird." Next time the main ingredient is hoisin sauce I am either going to find a gluten-free product or something else to cook. Zube's Asian Barbecue will not be going to market soon. Not bad, just weird.