30 June 2010

The good and the bad

The good:

First tomato from the garden

The first Big Boy tomato from our garden. We have a couple dozen on this plant in various stages of ripeness, as well as a few different heirloom varieties and one Roma plant that is still quite green, so I'm hoping to have a steady march of fresh tomatoes for a decent part of the summer.

The bad:

I didn't have a chance to write the recipe for my dinner tonight, an old standard: dal (Indian lentil stew) with steamed rice and a boiled egg. Coming soon!

The ugly:

Spilling leftover miso all over my fridge. I've not yet committed myself to this blog enough to delay the cleanup and take pictures, so you'll just have to imagine the carnage. I managed to soak two shelves, the cheese drawer and a crisper.

27 June 2010

Of fish flakes and unfulfilled promise

I don't understand how a weekend with such promise can yield such mediocre results. After a lovely summer morning at the market on Saturday, I came home with big plans for cherries, for strawberries, for apricots. Out came the ingredients for clafoutis: boom. The cherries are bad. I don't know if it's due to all the cold and rain this spring up north, but cherries have been nothing but unfulfilled promise this year.

No matter, thought I—let's get to work with that half-flat of strawberries for a big batch of jam: foiled again. Some tricky farmer had layered beautiful specimens of late-season berries about halfway down—as far as I can pick through a box before I move from "thoughtful and concerned about her purchase" to "that, ahem, eccentric lady who fingers all the food"—leaving the bottom of the box with sad, slightly mushy, sometimes moldy individuals. A strawberry should never have such a lowly death.

All was not lost in the realm of summer fruit—I salvaged enough for a small batch of jam, and they are macerating in the fridge as I type. And the apricots, disappointing though their peers have been this June, are hanging out in the fruit bowl, fragrant and brimming with possibility.

Meanwhile, I contented myself with yet more Asian food for dinner:

I bought some dashi the other day when I was making tendon (tempura rice bowls), and there was a picture of a lovely little bowl of miso soup on the package. I set some seaweed to soaking, put some rice on, and 20 minutes later I had a meal.

Dashi is a Japanese stock most commonly made from kombu (a type of kelp) and dried bonito flakes. If I remember correctly, dashi was the first thing identified as tasting of umami, and that can't be a bad thing. While I normally like to make my stock at home whenever possible, the prepackaged stuff - I prefer the tubs of paste, very similar to demiglace, that live in the refrigerator - is pretty darned good, and a lot easier.

Super-Quick Miso Soup
Note: upon rereading, this post was unclear ... dashi is a stock made from kombu and bonito. The paste listed below is dashi-flavored miso (fermented soybean paste). If you have dashi on hand, which I sometimes do, you can replace the water with dashi and use plain miso. However, I like to keep dashi-flavored miso on hand for particularly lazy days.

1 qt water
3 T wakame (a type of dried seaweed)
1/4 C dashi miso (if using paste; usually about 1 oz of dry powders)
6 oz firm tofu, cut into half-inch cubes
1 scallion, finely sliced

Bring the water to boil in a a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, use kitchen shears to cut the wakame pieces into small bits. They expand a lot when reconstituted, so make them no more than 1/2" long. Place in a small bowl and cover with warm water for about ten minutes.

When the water is boiling, add the dashi and stir gently until completely dissolved. Add the tofu pieces and return the mixture to a boil.

When the wakame is a rich green color, drain and take a quick look to make sure you didn't miss any big pieces. Add, with the scallions, to the soup and heat for 2-4 minutes. Stir well before serving, as the stock will settle quickly.

Serve by itself, for a very light lunch, or with steamed rice and gyoza for a full meal. It's also a great way to fill out a meal of store bought sushi.

Serves 2-4

25 June 2010

Unforeseen circumstances

Due to unforeseen circumstances (read: I misplaced my camera), there will be no pictures of Larb today. In fact, the only picture that is at all food related and not ugly is this:

This is a blackberry clafoutis made in February or March of this year when I unaccountably found fresh, U.S.-picked blackberries at 99 cents for a six-ounce clamshell or some similarly ridiculous price. They were slightly bland, but dumped in an eggy, creamy batter, they were delicious.

Anyway... Larb. I wish I did have a picture; there's something magical about drab, poached pork playing dress-up with fresh herbs and spices. I toast my own rice, because I like to control the texture and the nuttiness. Also, mise en place is a must with this and many other Southeast Asian dishes - I like to use a big cutting board and have lots of little piles building up. It's fantastic with a fresh green papaya salad, but alas, no green papayas or green mangos were to be found at the market last night.

recipe: my own, adapted from a half-dozen different places

3 T long-grain white rice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes, plus additional for serving
4 T fish sauce (I use Squid brand)
3 T fresh lime juice
1 T palm sugar (I have a container of little balls of the stuff, and I use about one)
2 T bland oil, such as peanut or grapeseed
1 lb ground or minced pork
1 2" length lemongrass, minced, or one lime leaf, finely sliced
4 green onions, light green and green parts only, finely sliced
4 T minced fresh cilantro
3 T minced fresh mint
3-4 shallots, finely chopped

Toss the rice in a large, dry wok over medium heat. Toast, stirring regularly, until the rice is golden brown and your kitchen smells nutty - watch closely to for smoke. Cool in a mortar, then carefully grind the rice into small pieces. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Add the chile flakes to the mortar and grind to a rough powder to release their flavor, then set aside.

Mix the fish sauce and lime juice in a small bowl. Crumble about half the sugar into the bowl and mix well - you may need to chop it up if the sugar is really dry. Taste and add more sugar if desired.

Reheat the wok over medium-high heat. When nearly smoking, add the oil, whirl it around, and toss in the pork. Add 2-3 tablespoons water, if desired, and stir regularly, breaking up the pork as needed. When the meat is cooked through but not yet browned, remove from the heat and toss with the chile, lemongrass, green onion, and about 2/3 of the fresh herbs. Add about half the dressing and 2T of the toasted rice and toss again to mix well.

Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. You may want the rest of the mint or more sugar; you may want more dressing or just a splash of fish sauce. I always add more chile powder to mine, usually right at the table. I also generally add the leftover toasted rice to any leftover larb, as it loses a lot of crunch overnight.

Serve warm with sticky rice, lettuce leaves, and ideally a green papaya salad.
Serves 3-5

24 June 2010

Fashionably Late

Well, here I am, poking a toe into a sea of food blogs. I've been thinking about starting a blog for months - probably over a year, to be honest - and I've finally decided to get on with it and just dive in. Late to the game, I know - let's pretend that I'm fashionably late rather than embarrassingly behind schedule.

So, to begin: I'm Margie, and this is my blog. I spend many of my waking hours thinking about food, making food, reading about food, and writing, so it seemed a logical step to carve out a spot where I can write about food.

I hope that this blog will become a place where I can develop ideas, share my experiments, and hopefully learn from others in this corner of the internet. This will not, despite its somewhat misleading moniker, be a blog about desserts, or at least not entirely. I love sweets: cookies and tarts, crumbles and tortes, you name it. I'm sure I will share recipes, ideas, and probably failures from my dessert oven, but I also want to talk about curried cauliflower and potatoes, and stir-fried noodles in all their glorious forms, and Memphis smoked ribs, and, and, and ...

Suffice it to say that I love most food in most of its forms, and I will be talking about many different dishes, cuisines, and cooking styles. On that subject, I also have an idea for a long-term cooking/eating project, and I'll be posting details and thoughts about that soon.

And with that ... it has begun!

Coming soon: Pork Larb with Green Papaya Salad and sticky rice.