Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cold Soba Noodles and Veggie Tempura

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com
When I was a vegetarian, every time we would go to a Japanese restaurant for lunch or dinner, I would always order tempura vegetables.  I loved them, especially the sweet potatoes.  I was always curious how they cooked the vegetables perfectly encased in a crunchy, slightly fluffy batter.  Ohhh, and with the dipping sauce... om nom nom.  The eternal trick was always trying to bite a large piece of sweet potato or zucchini in half, after dipping it in the sauce, while tenuously holding it with your chopsticks.  And trying not to dribble the sauce ALL. DOWN. YOUR. CHIN.

Minds out of the gutter people.

Clockwise from the top: snap peas, sweet potato, shrimp,
mushrooms, and red bell peppers in the middle
I was so glad that tempura was part of the challenge this month because I may have never tried it otherwise.  Not nearly as hard as I anticipated.  (that's what she said!).

Great, now you've really got me going.

Moving on.

The directions in the challenge were spot-on and I felt that luckily, my chopstick-skills were up to snuff.

For the Soba:
12 oz Soba (buckwheat) noodles
2 qts water

1) Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling water, approx 7-10min, read the package.  Wow, that was easy wasn't it?
2) Once they are done, drain the noodles and rinse under cold water to cool and remove the extra starch.  Keep them in the colander covered by a damp towel until you're read to use them.

Mentsuyu (the noodle sauce):
2 C Kombu dashi (I just heated some nori in hot water and then filtered it, lazy me)
1/3 C soy sauce
1/3 C mirin (sweet rice wine)

1) Put mirin in a sauce pan and heat gently.  Add soy sauce and the dashi soup stock (or if you're lazy like me, the nori soup stock).  Bring to a boil.  Take off the heat and cool.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

1 egg yolk
1 C iced water
1/2 C flour, plus extra for dredging
1/2 C cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
vegetable oil, for frying
ice water bath, for the batter
cold, sliced vegetables/fish:

  • sweet potato, peeled, sliced and blanched
  • carrot, peeled, sliced
  • green beans
  • snap peas
  • bell pepper, sliced
  • mushrooms
  • eggplant, sliced
  • zucchini, sliced
  • shrimp, shelled

1) Place ice water in a mixing bowl.  Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (with chopsticks!) and blending well.  Add flours and baking powder all at once, mix with the chopsticks until loosely combined.  The batter should be runny and lumpy.  Keep the batter cold by placing it in the ice water bath.
2) Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan (320F for veggies, 340F for seafood).
3) Starting with the veggies, use your chopsticks to grab a veggie, then dip it into a shallow bowl of flour, then into the tempura batter.  Slide the veggie into the hot oil, trying not to overcrowd the pan and drop the temperature of the oil.
4) Place the finished tempura pieces on a wire rack or paper towel to drain. 
5) Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean.
6) Serve immediately with dipping sauce (recipe below)

Spicy Dipping Sauce:
3/4 C soy sauce
3/4 C scallions, finely chopped
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp English mustard powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste 
2 tbsp water

1) Put all the ingredients in a covered container.  Close the lid and shake the S^&T out of it until the solids (sugar, salt, mustard) are dissolved.  Add and shake in the water and re-season if necessary.

Serve the tempura and soba noodles for dinner.  Pat yourself on the back for making something that seemed so hard and was actually quite easy.  Pop open the special bottle of saki that you bought just for this occasion and make a toast.  To Soba!  To Tempura!  To Laura!

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    The Co-op's Online Revolution - From Food52

    Wow, today alone I have stumbled upon 2 articles echoing the sentiment I posted yesterday about the importance of knowing how to cook, knowing where you food comes from and knowing how its prepared.

    I've been a CSA member for years now and it is a source of pride for me (and envy for my friends, especially when I'm loaded with fresh fruits and veggies in the summer). Here, on food52's site, they list a number of new websites dedicated to helping those of us in urban environments get a little closer to sustainability by buying locally. They term it: "techno-locavorism."

    The Co-op's Online Revolution - Blog - food52 - food community, recipe search and cookbook contests

    Additionally, Martha Stewart just wrote an interesting article comparing "foodies" to "fashionistas." I don't completely agree with all of her points, especially the idea that the current push for sustainability/organic is simply "trendy" as her article subtly implies, but I still think that she makes a good point. I especially like the closing line,
    "Like the classic little black dress, good food and entertaining keep evolving, but never go out of style."

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Michael Ruhlman: "Cooking makes us, and keeps us, Human"

    I've been impressed and inspired by Chef Michael Ruhlman for a while now.  Not only is he a great chef, but he's also an incredible writer.  Today, I discovered that in addition to cooking and writing, he also has some very cool shit to say. 

    As a physiologist and diabetes researcher, I find his rant in this video fascinating and powerful from a "development of the human animal" and "diabetes epidemic" perspective.  As a cook, it makes me feel very, very special.  For those reasons and many others, I say, "Thank you for speaking out, Mr. Ruhlman!"

    Had Something to Say - Cooking from michael ruhlman on Vimeo.

    PS. The book he's talking about is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Harvard Anthropologist Richard Wrangham.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Barley Carbonara with Lentils

    The last time I made carbonara I made the same excuse, "I didn't feel like going to the grocery store."  The only difference this time was that I also didn't have any pasta... so f-it I say!  I'll just literally use what I have!

    What I have (serves 1; what? yup, I was alone for the night):
    1/4 C dried barley
    1/4 C dried lentils
    2 slices prosciutto
    1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    10 stalks asparagus, stems chopped, tips left intact
    1 small onion, diced
    1/4 C frozen peas
    2 egg yolks
    1/4 C fresh grated parmesan
    1/4 C light cream

    1) Cook proscuitto quickly over medium heat until crispy, then remove to a separate plate.
    2) Add olive oil to the skillet, then add the asparagus and onion, cook until soft, about 5min.

    3) Add the cream and let cook at a simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, then add the frozen peas and heat for around 5-10min. 

    4) In a small bowl, lightly beat the yolk of one of the eggs.  Add a small amount (a tablespoon at a time) of the hot cream mixture to the egg to temper it and prevent scrambling.  Then, add the egg/cream mixture to the saucepan along with the parmesan cheese.  Remove from heat.
    5) Add the cooked barley & lentils to the egg/cream mixture and cook over low heat until the sauce loosely binds the barley.
    6) To serve: Pour the barley and sauce into a bowl.  Top with the proscuitto and the yolk of one egg.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese over the top, and let your roommate take a hilarious picture with your dinner:
    For a vegetarian, she's really eyeing that proscuitto, eh?
    This was really good and incredibly filling.  All that fiber I guess.  I have to admit, the substitution of barley for pasta was less than ideal, as I really love the texture and silkiness of pasta in carbonara.  But hey, for a pantry-only meal?  Delicious.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Steak and Potato Salad

    Boyfriend and I had a pretty exciting weekend.  A couple birthday parties, a friend in town, etc etc.  Needless to say, we ate terribly and drank far too much.  I usually love to cook, even when I'm hungover.  I find it to be very therapeutic and relaxing.  But this weekend... no.  No energy to even think about cooking.  So what did we do?  The despicable.  Oh yeah.  You know what it is.  We ordered take-out for lunch both Saturday AND Sunday.  Was it Indian and Thai?  Chinese and Pizza?  Nope!  Sushi.  Both times.  FROM THE SAME SUSHI RESTAURANT.  Yeah.  We are officially celebrities at this place.

    So by the time Sunday night rolled around I knew I needed to change things up.  Try to force-feed some nutrition back into our bodies.  Not that sushi is bad for you!  Not by any means.... its just that a diet of rice, fish, and salt for 2 days starts to have a significant affect on a person.

    I've had a beautiful piece of beef tenderloin hanging out for a month in the freezer.  It is from my meat CSA, and the only reason its lasted as long as it has is because it is rare that I ever cook steak just for one person... and 5-6oz of steak isn't easily separated into 2 servings.

    But I finally figured out a way to do it.  Salad.

    For the Salad:
    6oz beef tenderloin (from my meat CSA)
    3-4 C arugula, washed
    2oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
    2 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
    1/2 tsp paprika
    salt and pepper, to taste
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 tbsp butter

    For the Salad Dressing:
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    1 tsp soy sauce
    2 tsp Dijon mustard
    2 tsp strawberry jelly
    2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    salt and pepper, to taste

    1) Preheat oven to 425F.
    2) Toss potato wedges with olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Roast in oven for 25-30min or until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.
    3) Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet over med-high heat.
    4) Add tenderloin to the skillet, and cook for 3min each side for med-rare (** this is assuming your steak is roughly 1 inch thick... cook your steak to your liking, please!)
    5) Let the steak rest for at least 5min, then slice it thinly on the bias.

    5) Mix the arugula with the dressing (literally, throw all the dressing ingredients in a tupperware and shake vigorously) and plate.
    6) Top the arugula with the potatoes and steak slices.
    7) Sprinkle the salad with gorgonzola (1oz per person).


    We drank a couple Harpoon IPA's with this dinner.  A perfect pairing?  No.  Available and fresh out of the "new" kegerator?  Yes indeedy-do!  This dinner was perfect.  It was all the flavors and textures of a "steak and potatoes" dinner, yet significantly more healthy.  I mean, the way it worked out, we each only ate 3oz of steak and a half of a potato... yet both felt as if we'd enjoyed an entire, high-class, steak meal.

    I now have a new appreciation for the concept of Salad-for-Dinner.  Learn something new every day :)

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