Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Another Japanese-style dinner

Last night I made another Japanese-style dinner that came out pretty well, although I completely screwed up the tofu. How? I just bought the wrong kind. My Japanese reading skills leave a LOT to be desired, and I couldn't read the package when I bought it but it looked like your standard firm tofu. Firm was an understatement. It was so dense and heavy I could have used it as a weapon. Well ok, maybe not THAT dense but it was definitely not made for hiya yakko (cold tofu w/ ginger, green onions, bonito flakes and soy sauce). I saved the rest of it to make some sort of patty from- maybe I will combine it with some shrimp or canned salmon for later this week.

Anyway, here are the photos from last night. I should probably start using different plates since all of my dinners are beginning to look the same!
The aforementioned hiya yakko

Leftover tori dango to kabu

Sauteed zucchini

Buta kimchee (pork with kimchee)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Healthy Japanese Dinner

I've really been inspired to cook more Japanese food lately. It's healthy, nutritious and delicious. I recently bought a great cookbook called The Essentials of Japanese Cooking by Tokiko Suzuki. It not only contains all of the favorites of my youth, but very details explanations of techniques that really makes a big difference.

I'm excited to keep learning more about Japanese cooking in addition to honing the skills I learned from my mom. Hopefully I'll be making intricate Japanese meals in a year or so......

Here is dinner from the other night:

Tohbyo (pea shoot) salad with sesame dressing
Just a simple salad of pea shoots, lettuce and tomatoes with a bottled Japanese "diet" sesame dressing that tastes amazing.

Hamachi no kama (broiled yellowtail collar)
Yellotail collar sprinkled with a bit of sake and a lot of salt, broiled and eaten with grated daikon and shoyu.

Tori dango to kabu no nimono (braised chicken balls and turnips) These are chicken meatballs made with lean ground chicken, grated onion, chopped reconsituted shiitake mushrooms, diced carrots and seasonings. They are first poached in hot water before being added to kabu (Japanese turnips, very similar in flavor and texture to daikon) and simmered in a light broth of bonito stock, soy sauce, mirin and sake.
Gobo no kimpira (Burdock Kimpira) Julienned burdock root and carrots are sauteed in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sake and red chili flakes. I like to use a bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds for extra flavor. My husband and I could eat bowls of this, which would probably be ok since it is very healthy. I used pre-cut frozen burdock which works very well in this. Unfortunately after a long day at work, I hardly have the time to clean, soak and cut a whole burdock myself.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pizza Pizza!!

I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't like pizza. I also think part of the reason that pizza is an internationally loved food is because everyone has a different definition of what exactly "pizza" is.

For me, pizza means an ultra thin yeasty crust that's crispy on the edges and chewy in the center topped with a light layer of good tomato sauce, a sprinkling of fresh basil and some nice chunks of burrata cheese barely melted. For my friend E, it has to have a medium crust with loads of great pepperoni and chewy cheese- his favorite being the version at The Rainbow in Hollywood. He scoffs at the idea that smoked salmon on flatbread that's been coated with cream cheese, a la Wolfgang Puck, is even called pizza at all. Some people love deep dish Chicago pizza which, to me, is more like a meat pie than anything else. How anyone can eat more than one or two hunks of that is beyond me. And part of the fun of eating pizza is to seriously chow down, isn't it?

Speaking of being completely piggish (admit it, you love that segue), my husband and I ate both of the rather large (but THIN- we aren't total gluttons!) pizzas that I made last Saturday. It was my first attempt at homemade pizza dough which probably puts me years behind most of you, dear readers and fellow cooks. I've always daydreamed about making the perfectly flavored, thin pizza crust but I never actually got off my butt to try.....until I caught an episode of "Tyler's Ultimate" on the Food Network about the "ultimate" pizza. I was barely paying attention until I caught a glimpse of this stern-yet-cheerful chubby Italian woman pouring water into a bowl of flour. She kneaded the dough, put a bunch of gorgeous smoked tomatoes on it, ripped up nice chunks of mozzarella and some fresh basil on top and stuck it in the oven. The resulting pizza looked so utterly delicious, and Tyler, with gushing sincerely, exclaimed that it was "the best pizza I have EVER had in my ENTIRE life." I believed him. I was hooked.....I was on a mission.

After fruitless pleas to my husband to build me a wood-burning oven in our backyard, I focused my efforts on finding the best ingredients to make my truly authentic Italian pizze. I came back from a trip to Claro's armed with my Italian "00" flour (SO excited!!!), a can of Italian tomatoes (I wouldn't even know where to look for smoked ones), two bottles of flat Italian water and a bag of fresh burrata mozzarella. After picking up a huge batch of basil from TJ's, I was set. The one thing I couldn't find was fresh, cubed yeast. Honestly- I don't even know where to look for it at the market- and I call myself a baker. I'm an embarrassment to the bakers of the world, I know. I had to settle for my little pack of dry yeast instead.

The dough-kneading went quite well and it turned into a nice smooth ball after only a few minutes. I covered it with a towel, put it in a warm place and tried not to peek every five minutes. After about 90, it had risen but not quite as much as I had hoped. So I waited. I combined the canned tomatoes, chopped garlic, a few squeezes of both tomato and anchovy paste (btw, whoever invented the whole food-paste-in-a-tube thing is a genius! Now where's the chipotle paste in a tube? Where?) and some good olive oil to make the sauce. Checked my precious doughball again to see that it had only grown about another inch. So be it- I took it and rolled it out anyway- and it was very soft and pliable so I remained hopeful. I slathered it with my tomato sauce and put the basil and burrato on and carefully slid it onto my scorching hot pizza stone in the oven. I was giddy with anticipation.

I checked on it after about 15 minutes and saw that it still needed a few more. When it felt right, I pulled out my pizza. It looked nice and thin, the edges looked crisp and it smelled fantastic. Now the negatives- the crust didn't really brown at all and my poor burrata was melted beyond recognition into yellow/brown discs. Why? Because I didn't listen to the stern-yet-cheerful chubby Italian woman who made the best pizza Tyler had ever tasted!! She patiently waited to put the basil and cheese on her pizza until after she had baked it for an initial 10 minutes. She then pulled out the almost done pizza, put her toppings on and then slid it back into the oven for just enough time to let the cheese melt into smooth pools of white, not harden into lava rock like mine. I was guilty. I knew I should have listened to Italian Lady- and I learned my lesson.

Ok- so obviously the pizza was still completely edible. My husband poured the wine, I cut the pie and we dug in. Verdict? We LOVED the sauce to which of course I did not write down the exactly recipe but am fairly confident I could replicate again. The crust's texture was good- crunchy edge and slightly chewy middle. The main problem was a lack of flavor on the crust. There was no great bready flavor. You know how you could have two beautiful baguettes, and one will taste ok and the other just tastes like beautiful, fabulous bread? Well, my crust was the former. It looked like crust, chewed like crust but it just didn't taste like....well, much of anything.

So again, I implore you, dear readers and fellow pizza makers, to please give me some insight into what makes a crust delicious, golden and bubbly. What makes it taste wonderful? What makes a crust brown (besides heat)? Because I know that my urge to brush the edges with eggwash would have every single Italian grandmother turn over in her grave and converge onto my house. It would be Night of the Living Dead Italian Grandmas. And you know I hate zombie movies. And zombies.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sweet tooth? What sweet tooth?
Caramel Apple Pie

I've mentioned several times on this blog that I have a much stronger "salt tooth" than a sweet one. I love salty crunchy things and can usually resist the never-ending flood of office snacks which are almost always chocolate-based. Why doesn't anyone ever bring tuna sandwiches to share with coworkers? Where's the baguettes with French butter? I'd be all over it if they did (this also serves as a hint to any of my coworkers who read this blog!).

As much as I love cooking savory food, I find that my pastry endeavors are almost always more visually pleasing. They taste pretty great as well, and the whole process of rolling out dough, cutting cold butter into flour, melting chocolate, cutting out shapes and decorating cakes is so relaxing. I know some pretty fantastic cooks out there who panic at the thought of baking, but to me, it brings out a creativity that is lacking in my regular cooking. Although I would desperately love to have the aesthetic brilliance (and technical cooking skills!) of Chubby Hubby or J of Kuiadore, my savory food usually has more of a rustic vibe to it.

Since I've been forgetting to take photos over the last couple of weeks, I've decided to post some "greatest hits" so to speak.

A "greatest misses" collection is always in the works and will undoubtedly be posted soon!

hazelnut orange chocolate torte

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

...with sprinkles

Gâteau Basque

Gâteau Basque inside- pastry cream and jam

French Apricot Jam Tart

another angle

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Friday, February 10, 2006

An update.......

Just a short entry to apologize for not updating the site this week. There has been so much going on with birthdays (mine, my sister's and my best friend's!), out of town guests and the Grammy Awards (I work in TV) that I just haven't really had the time.

In the meantime, I wanted to post some photos from our dinner at The Water Grill in downtown LA that we had a few weeks back. It is widely touted as being the best seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, and we had enjoyed our previous visit a couple of years ago. However, the head chef left to open his own restaurant, Providence, which has probably taken over the title of Best Seafood in LA. Don't get me wrong- there was nothing bad about the food but I guess it just didn't make a huge impression. My husband had the chilled seafood platter and I had the butter poached lobster (sounds luscious, doesn't it?!) but neither were life changing. Also- what is with foam on everything? Although I appreciate the flavor that sauces give dishes, there is something quite unappealing about the way foam looks. I'm sure I will piss off gourmands the world over when I say that foam reminds me of spit, baby drool and the stuff that drips out of a bulldog's (let's call him Cujo) mouth when he barks too much. Why put a big pile of it on something as lovely as lobster? I'd like to stick with reductions, beurre blancs and jus that have not been pumped out of a canister please.

On that note, please enjoy the poor photographs of said foam and other Water Grill delights!
Aforementioned foamy dish....

Friday, February 03, 2006

Life without carbs?

...would be just horrible. If I can't have bread, I don't want nobody, baby. But I must admit, I'm quite surprised to learn that a couple of weeks without my yeasty friends aren't so awful. Planning meals that contain no "bad" carbs is not only easy, but thoroughly enjoyable as it stirred up some creative juices in me. The food has been healthy and frankly, extremely satisfying. Although I am looking forward to a slice of crusty French baguette topped with some pâté in my near future, the last two weeks or so of low- carb eating has enlightened (and hopefully lightened!) me.

Example of a low carb meal from this past week: Bruschetta Halibut, Oyster and Crimini Mushrooms Sautéed with Garlic and White Wine and a green salad.

Bread who?

Happy Anniversary

No, not Tuna Toast (since a few months isn't much to celebrate!).

To my husband, even though I'm posting this a day late, Happy Fourth Anniversary!

I took some photos of the flowers he sent. Not only are they gorgeous but check it out- there are a couple of food elements! The whole thing rests on a beautiful red glass cake platter and there are baby artichokes in the actual bouquet. Very foodcentric!