Friday, January 30, 2009

New Foods

Friday night was a night of food experiments, inspired by my friends on the food blogs. Sometimes you get in a rut (I'd been doing a lot of roasted vegetables lately...but's winter!), and sometimes you just need to break out. Friday night was breakout night.

First I had some kimchee. I had seen Aaron from Tea and Food blog about kimchee pancakes, and I thought -- I should try some kimchee. Had it in Korean restaurants many times, but have never had it at home. In the restaurants, it'd always seemed like little cubes of heavily spiced pickled cabbage. In the jar I bought of Sunja's Medium Spicy Kimchee from Whole Foods, it was more like Korean cole slaw. A stimulating first course. Pungent, bracing in its acidity and spiciness, and somewhat addictive. And it's hard to argue with healthy cabbage being a jar away in the fridge.

The main course was miso soup. Now...I've had miso soup loads of times in Japanese restaurants. A few little cubes of tofu and a few green seaweedy things floating around. Fine enough to take the edge off of hunger, but I was looking for something more. I hadn't actually cooked with miso for over 25 years. Heidi in 101 Cookbooks had a post not long ago about miso soup, which got it on the trusty shopping list, so that next time I was at the grocery, I picked some up and had some in the fridge, ready for when inspiration struck. That was a little while ago.

When I went shopping on Friday, I had in mind a simple sauteed shrimp with garlic, baby bok choy and scallions dish, to be cooked quickly. I had some frozen shrimp from Trader Joes already, and they were wanting to be eaten. As I started prepping though, I saw that miso in the fridge, switched gears, and made it into a miso soup:

Miso Soup
About 3 cups water
2 TBSP Red Miso
10 Medium Shrimp
2 stalks scallion, sliced/chopped
3 stalks baby bok choy, sliced/shredded
2-3 "stalks" of Dulce

Defrost the shrimp in cold water, and while your doing that, get the water boiling. Add the scallions and bok choy, and when they start to wilt, add the shrimp and dulce, and finally the miso paste.

The shrimp was succulent and tender. And as the soup cooled, the whole dish just exploded with flavor. This is definitely served best not searing hot, but allowed to cool a bit. The veggies were pleasantly tender too.

Seaweed and grape tomato salad
Notice that I put some dulce, seaweed in my miso soup. Pretty standard. Heidi from 101 had also posted recently about seaweed, which got me inspired again. Now...I didn't do anything like what she did, but I did have some seaweed in the pantry, and thought I'd use some Laver in a little salad of

grape tomatoes, halved,
lemon juice,
olive oil,
frozen cilantro -- a couple of can get these at Trader Joes

Let sit for a little bit so that the Laver softens, and eat. I'd had the frozen cilantro for ages, not knowing what to do with it...this was a good application. Tastes about how you would expect...very easy, very tasty.

Meyer Lemons
I first heard about Meyer Lemons when I heard about preserved lemon...the secret ingredient to give dishes an air of mystery. More on that soon. But, I'd heard about them again lately, I don't remember where, and then saw a big display of them at Whole Foods, and I figured I'd grab one to see what I could do with it. A little bit of browsing after the miso soup turned up this recent LA Times article, 100 things to do with a meyer lemon

The thing about Meyer lemons is that they're sweeter than typical lemons...not as sweet as an orange, or even a grapefruit...but sweeter. And their smell is intoxicating. I could've been happy just sniffing the meyer lemon for desert.

Well...I didn't do any of those things in the article yet, but did enjoy some Chinese Breakfast Tea with a little agave nectar and some Meyer lemon squeezed in. Perfect dessert. Just a little sweet, nice and tart.

I did buy a few more on my next trip, so stay tuned.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New toys

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Some new cooking toys arrived this December, and I finally had a chance to start playing with them. I've lived without a food processor for years. I had one, but it lived off the counter, down low in the cupboard, pretty much guaranteeing that it wouldn't get used. Plus it was over 25 years old, and the bowl was cracked. For the cost of replacing the bowl, I could get a brand new one...and, without a whole lot of research, decided to trust Mark Bittman's advice and get the 14-cup Hamilton Beach processor (well....Susan got it for me...thank you Susan!). And she also got me a nice little stone mortar and pestle. They both needed breaking in.

I had some ground lamb in the freezer, and it's been wanting a mission, so I had in mind something Greek or Middle Eastern...and I did some searching for inspiration. Chowhound had a couple of ideas, here and here. I took some bits and pieces from each, and created something that I'd say tasted something like moussaka, but without all the layering, and minus the white sauce that seems to be part of real moussaka. The lamb and the seasonings worked perfectly together, and the eggplant softened and soaked up all the flavor. I'm still learning to cook with eggplant.

Almost Moussaka

1 1/2 lb ground lamb
1 28 oz can tomatoes (diced, or whole, and process)
1 large yellow onion
1 medium eggplant
1/2 bag spinach
1 TBS garam masala
1 tsp whole cumin seed, ground
2 icetray cubes of roasted tomato sauce (made this past fall...and I can't find the recipe! You could use tomato paste, or some sundried tomatoes, or canned roasted tomatoes)
1 cup red wine
3 eggs

Brown the lamb, while softening the onions and adding the spices. When brown, add the rest of the ingredients (except the eggs), and simmer for about an hour...add the spinach until it wilts. Poke indentations in the top, and drop in an egg in each indentation. We had three eaters, so we used three eggs.

Serve over something starchy. We tried rotelli pasta the first night, and it was OK, but not spectacular (that's the picture above, with the egg). For the second night....Polenta! And it was perfect (that's the picture below). Mashed potatoes would work too...but Polenta is a lot easier, and I like it better anyway. Sop up the extra with some bread. (I tried my first "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" loaf....more on that experiment another time!)

I did find the eggs a bit extraneous. It was in one of the inspirational chowhound posts, and then I ran across eggs done like this in a bunch of Greek-inspired recipes. It didn't do much for me, and seemed like overkill.

Oh...back to the original title. I used the food processor for the onions and the tomatoes, and so far I'm happy. The cumin succumbed to the mortar (or is it the pestle) readily!

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