Monday, March 28, 2011

No WOW in these tomatoes, but OH, what soup!

While the Carrots with Lentils were yummy, this soup was incredible! The recipe is Suvir Saran's from his book, Indian Home Cooking. It's his mother's recipe, and delicious, hearty and warming. I've made a few adjustments - less onion, more carrot, some wine (leftover I'm trying to use up - I'm so not a drinker!) and soy milk - but otherwise follow the original pretty closely.

Why no wow? The WOW tomatoes are from the Big Island, and I picked up a bag on Wednesday from the Blaisdell farmers' market. I already had 6+ tomatoes at home, so I made this soup from them.
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups roughly chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup wine
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Italian or Chinese parsley, for garnish
You could chop the onion and carrot in the food processor. This is what I did, as it was used for another recipe. Saute onions and carrots in butter for 2 minutes, then add garlic and bay leaf and cook for a couple more minutes, Add tomatoes, sugar, pepper to taste, wine and water. Bring up to a boil, then turn heat down and cook for ten to 15 minutes. Add soy milk, heat through and remove bay leaf. Taste for salt and pepper, then puree with an immersion blender. Add more liquid if you want it thinner - water or soy milk.

OK, so you don't drink soy milk - use regular milk! No one notices that I use soy milk whether I make corn or clam chowder or mushroom soup - haha, fooled you! It's not milk, but it is delicious!

I served this with Italian parsley as a garnish, DH said he would have preferred cilantro.

Nevertheless, he loved it, and this soup was the star of the meal!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Not giving up a whole lot for Lent

About 3 weeks ago, the DH and I were in our local mini-mart, getting an ice cream treat to take on our evening walk. The two coeds in line in front of us asked if we were "observing"? No, we admitted, we were in there about once a week indulging!

We didn't ask what they were giving up, but many people refrain from meat, eggs and dairy for the Christian Lenten season. As we work to continue to be healthy, we're eating more fresh vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains - in other words, whole foods. At the same time, we find ourselves eating less meat - beef and pork - and chicken, and a bit more fish and shellfish. Also, lovely fresh fruit and vegetables cost less than meat and seafood. My friends tell me fresh fruit and vegetable spoil quickly, are tasteless or unavailable. I know it's harder for them to find fresh produce in the NE US compared to us, in Hawaii.

I am always looking for tasty recipes for vegetables and legumes, and I found 5 days worth in Martha Rose Shulman's NY Times series for the Lenten season. Here is one with carrots and lentils, that I prepared a few nights ago. In the left-hand sidebar, there are 4 other recipes for Lent, which all happen to be vegan.

In making the recipe, I also incorporated 1-1/2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses before I added the mint. If I make this again, I would increase the pom molasses by another 1/2 tablespoon. An option would be to add several tablespoons of balsamic vinegar - to your taste - or a squeeze of lemon before eating. Any of these would brighten the flavors. Too, I would substitute some of the water in the recipe with 1/2 cup of wine. I might also add eggplant for another texture variation. Also, the pleasure of eating this dish would be greatly increased with a dollop of goat cheese. Of course, it would no longer be vegan! To make this a complete protein, serve with 12-grain rice, as I did, or brown rice is fine, too.

While this was a satisfying dish, the star of the meal was the tomato soup, which I'll write about in the next post!

And we're not giving up the occasional ice cream treat!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New coffee in downtown Honolulu

I was running errands in the heart of Honolulu, on Fort Street mall, and I was running out of steam. I'd had a cup of coffee and just two bites of oatmeal with blueberries before I had to head out for a meeting, and to sign some papers. By the time I'd finished that and some other errands, I knew I needed sustenance! I'd originally planned on eating lunch, but it was a bit too early for that.

Then I remembered reading about Beach Bum Cafe in Biting Commentary, online at Honolulu Magazine. I wasn't sure where it was, but found it in the Executive Centre on Bishop Street near the escalators. The previous tenant there was Argosy University.

There was no one there when I peeked in the door, but the fellow came out right away. He was about to change the sign listing the coffees, so that made it a bit harder to choose. We moved past the espresso-related drinks and talked about the various types of Hawaii-grown coffees.

I'd tried Maragogype (yes, I already knew how to pronounce it!), Molokai Muleskinner and Waialua elsewhere, so I decided on Upcountry Farms Maui blend. As the owner, Dennis McQuoid, ground my beans and dripped my cup by hand, I learned more about coffee than I thought I could know! That not only was the grinding and roasting important, but the storage. Don't store your beans in the tractor shed!

Check Yelp for several coffee reviews, and Beach Bum Cafe's own website to learn about microbrews, and more.

How was my coffee? Before I even tasted, I could tell it was good - it had that rich, golden look that was dark enough but not muddy. The first impression was: smooth, the second: rich. Look elsewhere for the "bite" of typical Kona coffee. This was suave and quiet, not a rough, insistent coffee. And it wasn't tongue-burning hot. I'd go back for more. I only worry that in the time I was there - which coincided with the morning coffee break - I was the only customer. If you are a lover of good and different coffees, please check it out soon!

I also had a muffin made by Cake Works. It was big so I didn't think I'd be able to eat it all. But it was soft and good, more like a cake! So, no leftovers.

I'll be back to try other coffees, and learn much more than I imagined I could about coffee.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's been a sour month


Since the end of February, I've managed to use an ENTIRE bottle - 24 ounces - of Japanese rice vinegar.

Where did it go? I made adobo-style eggplant, salad dressing, shiso vinegar, and shiso juice.

We saw our neighbors on the sidewalk near home, and they asked if we'd gone to the farmer's market that night (Thursday). Yes, we usually make it an outing, and walk to and from for exercise.

Butch usually parks illegally and sends his wife to get food from the Kiba stall and the woman with tattoos all over her body. He says he eats the adobo or vinha d'alhos. What these have in common is VINEGAR! He says he loves it; the wife doesn't. Guess that's why he has to eat those elsewhere. She's Korean, but does use patis - Filipino fermented fish sauce. which is salty and pungent.

In the blog, Just Hungry, this post covers nanbansu, a vinegar sauce which is thought to have its origins in the influence of the Portuguese - perhaps they mean vinha d'alhos? I just read about the vinha d'alhos probably being the basis for SW Indian vindaloo. Aside from vinegar - or wine - these dishes all share garlic and pepper. Fascinating!

When I grow tired of eating my own cooking, we often go to either the Wednesday market at the city entertainment center, or the Thursday one at the church across from the neighborhood park. DH eats a variety of things at the Thursday market - hamburger steak, surf and turf, pasta. I make a beeline for the Thai booth with veggie pad thai and a variety of curries, sometimes stuffed chicken wings. That day they had sticky rice topped with 1/2 a mango - yum!

While I do go to the market for produce, there are only 2 stalls there, and I don't always find what I want. I did pick up some nice eggplant, though, and this is what I'll probably make with it:

Adobo-style eggplant
  • 4 to 5 long (Japanese) eggplants, sliced into 1x1-in. chunks
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons vinegar
  • Black pepper to taste
Brown eggplant in vegetable oil, put aside. Saute garlic, then add shoyu, sugar dissolved in vinegar and black pepper, stir and heat. Add back the eggplant and heat through. Adjust seasonings.

You can cook a small amount of pork - 1/4 pound, sliced into 1/4x1/2x2-in. strips - after you cook the eggplant. Return to the pan after you heat the sauce mixture.

If your eggplant is older and larger, or of the large oval type, you may want to salt, drain, wash and dry them before frying.

Do you like vinegar in your food? How do you use it in cooking?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do it again

And again.

I'm definitely getting better at it.

Wasting food, and recycling it, that is. Now there's less waste. The problem starts because I'm incapable of cooking for fewer than 4 people. When there were 3 of us, that meant there was often enough left over for 2 of us to take lunch to work the next day.

When it became just 2 of us, I could skip a night of cooking when there was enough to feed us again. Well, often that just gets old. And I do hate to waste food. Remember the nikujaga fail that turned into a save?

I've made soup out of leftover dal before, and recently did that again. I found a can of beets in the cupboard, heated it with some broth, hit it with the immersion blender and came up with a decent soup with the addition of choi sum leaves and adjusted spices.

Pork tofu is a very humble local dish made with sauteed onions, ginger, lean pork cut into strips, cooked with shoyu and a touch of sugar. Then add big cubes of firm tofu, sprigs of watercress and bean sprouts. Very satisfying served with hot rice, and I eat all the tofu I can get my hands on. I remember as a child, I could never get enough of the tofu!

There were plenty of pork tofu leftovers, and I heated some dashi and added them to create Pork Tofu Soup! Serve with lots of cilantro and green onions. I admit I'm sooo easily bored with leftovers that I have a compulsion to turn them into something else! Before we were married, I remember my father-in-law telling me I had a "sassy mouth" when I declined to eat the same thing two nights in a row. He was right. I need to at least skip a night. Or transform the leftovers into something sort of new!

A few nights ago, we ate a colorful meal of 12-grain rice with steelhead salmon simply seasoned and sauteed. To go with it, I found a slightly sprouty potato that I sliced and nearly cleared the vegetable bin of odds and ends. I sliced half a zucchini, a quarter of a red potato, onion, half a large carrot, half a red bell pepper, half a package of beautiful oyster mushrooms, a fist size hunk of red cabbage and a handful of yellow grape tomatoes. I sauteed these in olive oil plus freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.

The DH was groaning with pleasure over this! I admitted, it IS colorful, but he said, no, no, the TASTE! He can be very appreciative!

Well, this made WAY too many leftovers, which were made into a frittata tonight. I turned them into a pan and heated them, added 7 eggs (6 looked like too little!) beaten with some salt, turned several times until cooked through, then topped with shredded cheese.

Served with tomato and white nectarine wedges, The DH ate this with hot sauce and ketchup and a side of spicy poke with tobiko. I passed on the poke, and ate my frittata - naked!

But, of course, there are leftovers of this - enough for breakfast for one really  hungry person, or for two with toast and fruit!

Do you eat leftovers? Do you repurpose them, or just re-serve?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Food to soothe our souls

"Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite." - Auguste Escoffier

Days of destruction and sorrow have us wanting nourishment, comfort and warmth. This very simple - and original - version of Malaysian laksa served to take our minds off the sadness in Japan, if only for the moments it took to eat it. The heat and aromas of the ginger, curry spices and chili sauce are tempered by the sweet milkiness of coconut.

Quick and easy laksa
This is in no way authentic. Laksa is a Malaysian soup with many variations.

•    1 small onion, finely sliced
•    1x2-in. knob of ginger, sliced thin
•    1 spray curry leaves (optional but delicious)
•    1-2 tbsp. prepared curry paste
•    3 cups chicken broth or equivalent
•    1 can or less coconut milk, stirred
•    1-2 tsp. Chinese chili-garlic sauce
•    1 lb. 16/20 shrimp, peeled and cleaned
•    1 package Sun Noodle oriental noodles
•    Salt to taste
•    Cilantro and chopped green onion
•    Lime or lemon wedges
•    Bean sprouts

Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a soup pot at medium-high temperature. Add onion, ginger and optional curry leaves, and stir for a couple minutes. Add curry paste, stir and cook for several minutes until it starts to stick to the pot. Add broth and chili-garlic sauce, and increase temperature to high. Before it comes to a boil, add the shrimp. Before the shrimp are fully cooked, stir in coconut milk to your taste. Again, bring up to temperature but not boiling. Salt to taste.

You can either break up and add all the noodles to the soup, or microwave each portion of noodles for 30-45 seconds with a tablespoon of water, drain then add to individual serving bowls. Serve with cilantro, green onion, bean sprouts and lime wedges.

Note: prepared Indian curry paste contains ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and other spices. You could fry your own spices in oil instead. The Lee Kum Kee chili-garlic sauce comes in a jar. The noodle varieties are either udon or saimin (ramen-type). I use the ramen-type.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Looking back, it was RED

For last week and this one, the color RED has been the theme. There were fresh strawberries, raw beets with lemon, beet tops sauteed in olive oil with garlic, and red bell peppers in the Lightning Salad. Local tomatoes were simply sliced and topped with a grinding of sea salt and cracked black pepper.

The strawberries were sliced and a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of agave syrup added, eaten with oatmeal. Or, for dessert,  they were topped with 1/3 cup Tropilicious Haupialani sorbet (just a little over 100 calories). Yum!

The raw beets were peeled, then cut into matchsticks and tossed with flat leaf parsley and an easy dressing of lemon juice, a drop of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. These are just as good mixed with a commercial ume (pickled plum) dressing (like Pietro) with a handful of chopped cilantro. In fact, DH liked the second treatment better!

The bell peppers add sweetness to this original recipe. Why is it called Lightning Salad? When we first made this, from all the thunder we'd heard the previous night, no rain materialized! So we jokingly named this salad, with its touch of chili-garlic sauce heat, for the unstable weather. We eat this often when we find beautiful cauliflower we can afford.

Lightning Cauliflower Salad (makes approximately 4 cups)
  •        ½ head of medium-size cauliflower, trimmed and cored, sliced thin and into 1x1-1/2-in. pieces
  •        Small crown of broccoli, cut as above
  •         ¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced
  •         1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips
Combine the above ingredients, and toss lightly with the dressing below. Stir together:
  •         1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use light mayo)
  •         Heaping tablespoon or more Chinese chili-garlic sauce (like Lee Kum Kee)
  •         Juice of ¼ or more lime or lemon (to taste)
Please adjust dressing to your taste. You may want to add salt to the dressing, or more lime or lemon.

NOTE: this salad tastes much better LIGHTLY dressed, rather than heavily so. So, you may have leftover dressing. We've learned this by overdoing!

I totally forgot this red food: shiso. It's also called perilla, and it's related to mint. The green version, aoba, is eaten with sashimi, but the purple, aojiso, is what I picked up from the big farmer's market at the city entertainment center.

I recall my grandmother had a perilla shrub, but I don't remember that she ever cooked with it. Food for her was sustenance, but it was also love and medicine, so I have no doubt she may have been eating the shiso leaves raw, or making a tea from them.

The first thing I made was shiso vinegar - heated rice vinegar to which I added washed shiso, steeped and drained. It's a lovely pink, and I'll use it to make salad dressing. I added some leaves to salad, and also to the beet tops I sauteed - in both of these, the shiso flavor was very mild and faint.

With the last of the leaves, I made shiso juice. I boiled water, added rice vinegar and steeped. After 30 minutes, I strained the liquid, then added honey. It is quite concentrated, so to drink, I dilute this 1:1 with water, and add less than a teaspoon of agave syrup. If I were to do this again, I would replace some of the vinegar with lemon juice.

IF. For, while this is pleasant enough to drink - and it is a beautiful ruby color - in actuality, it had me looking around for the rice, ume and nori. I associate the same concentrated flavor and aroma of shiso so closely with umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), as it is used to color and flavor the ume, that I immediately want/need a musubi (rice ball)!

So, while I'll be finishing the shiso juice - which is like a prettier and tangier lemonade, I won't repeat making it.

Have you been eating your colors?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Before The Donald

Jacques Pepin was the Apprentice.

A kitchen apprentice. I remarked to the DH that success is usually based on two things: hard work and good fortune. Or, you can call it being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right people. Or, jus' no be sked (just don't be shy/scared - ask for help!) He worked hard in his mother's kitchens until the age of 13, when he asked to leave school early to start an (unpaid) apprenticeship.

Why do I read books? To learn and vicariously experience other times and cultures I can't otherwise. If I hadn't read this book I wouldn't have learned about the immense wood and coal burning stoves in French restaurant kitchens.
These had to be well-stoked, not too early or late to cook lunch, then re-stoked for dinner. This was the apprentice's first task. And the ovens in these stoves were like long tunnels with heat that reached up to 600 degrees(!) The only way to regulate the temps were to stack up trays and leave the oven door open. What a skill to know from experience what would work! How hot it must have been!

His hard work gets him promoted to different levels when he gets to Paris (his guts got him there), but luck gets him into the kitchen of the French prime minister, eventually Charles de Gaulle.

Guts take him to America, but fortune into working at one of the best French restaurants in NYC, Le Pavillon. And luck eventually gets him a job with Howard Johnson's. Why call this lucky? His French restaurant career didn't last (management!), neither did the restaurant and he got to know Johnson, as he was a customer of Le Pavillon.

His luck runs out later, but he overcomes that. For that, you will have to read the book, or ask me via comment or email!

I suspected, but wasn't certain of his humble beginnings. Why? In his public appearances, TV programs and writing, there is a respectful restraint and gentlemanly demeanor, tempered by a rough directness.

And hard work is needed to complete his education - he earns a college degree while working. I knew he could cook, I know he's written cookbooks, but I didn't know he could write a good story.

Jacques Pepin's memoir was published in 2003, which is the problem. I see that he is still filming cooking programs and teaching. He still has stories to tell. And his writing is well worth reading! Bonne lecture!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nikujaga FAIL

Well, almost!

A couple of nights ago, I made this after I talked to my born-in-Japan nail tech. We were talking about what kinds of vegetables we buy and eat. I told her I'd bought beets for the first time in a while, and enjoyed them raw, sliced into matchsticks, with a dressing of lemon and parsley, and  the stems and tops eaten later, after sauteeing with olive oil and garlic.

Potatoes were on her produce list, and I asked what she did with them. She said that nikujaga - potatoes and thinly sliced beef - was a staple of Japanese home cooks. Instead of beef, she uses pork, and I thought of the family-size tray of pork I'd purchased.

I pulled a portion out of the freezer, defrosted it slightly, and sliced the meat thinly and combined it with the rest of the ingredients - and it was a short list. I referred to Maki's Just Hungry recipe for ingredients and technique.

BUT, 45 minutes later, my potatoes - the small, red, waxy ones - were falling apart at the edges, and I still had much too much liquid! I tasted the pork and potatoes, and they were delicious. DH thought so, too!

After I'd put the leftovers away, though, I had over 2 cups of the liquid. All the rest of the night, I thought of how I might re-purpose this, as I hate to waste food.

As the broth is substantial, the first thing that occurred to me was soup with udon - except I don't like udon! There were Sun Noodle ramen noodles in the refrigerator, though - I use these to make jaja mein or a quickie version of laksa.

The next night, I thought of what might be good with the noodles and broth and decided on choi sum stems and leaves and poached eggs. Heating the broth in a saucepan, I poached the eggs right in the broth. Yes, the heat was low to medium so I avoided getting egg drop soup! I warmed the noodles with a couple of tablespoons of water in the microwave, then poured off the water. On top, I placed the rinsed, broken choi sum right in the serving bowls, and ladled the soup over it, serving with chopped green onions and cilantro.

DH loved this, but he likes anything soupy with noodles. I'm pickier, and thought this was too sweet.

Still, nikujaga SAVE!

Now, what am I going to do with the leftover whole wheat spaghetti with homemade basil pesto? I'm thinking frittata with onions and bell peppers. Any suggestions?