Friday, August 27, 2010

Momofuku Ginger Scallion Goodness

My favorite cookbook as of late is David Chang’s Momofuku – in this lovely volume Chang shares stories and recipes from his Momofuku restaurant family in NYC – namely Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, and Ko (the higher-end dining option).  I’m going to be spending a bit of time in the city this fall, so I’m really hoping to check these places out in person, as well as Milk Bar, the surreal and magical bakery tied to this delicious family.

I dabble in Asian cooking a lot, but I still have much to learn (hence why you don’t see it on here very often).  It’s not that the techniques are particularly difficult – it’s more so building the pantry, truly learning what flavor combinations make sense, acknowledging the differences between the different cuisines (Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc) and experimenting.  When I first started years ago, I was stepping way outside the box, since I was brought up on mainly Italian comfort food.  Now I have a much better handle on the flavors, but as I said I don’t claim to be an expert by any stretch.  Most of what I’m making is still rather Americanized, but it’s what my palate knows, and I’m very happy with it.

The first recipe I tried from Momofuku is really simple and ridiculously delicious.  It’s really two recipes, one for a ginger scallion sauce and one for quick cucumber pickles, and then a suggestion on how they throw these two things together with some noodles and other goodness at the Noodle Bar.  The thing I really like about this cookbook is that there’s lots of room to do whatever you want as you’re creating the dishes.  There’s no pressure from the author to go out and purchase exactly this kind of nori, and if you don’t then don’t try the recipe because it will be trash.  There’s room for you to fill in what’s local and fresh, or just what you happen to have, and still come out with something awesome by following the basic idea of the dish.  To quote Chang on this particular noodle dish, “Improvise to your needs, but know that you need ginger scallion sauce on your noodles, in your fridge, and in your life. For real.”

Momofuku Ginger Scallion Noodles
from David Chang and Peter Meehan's Momofuku

*These are the sauce and pickle recipes straight from the book - just a note that I halved both of them, because I was only cooking for two!  As they appear here they would be great for a dinner for four, or two with a lot of leftovers.

Ginger Scallion Sauce:

2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites, from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 teaspoons usukuchi (it's okay, that's just light soy sauce!)
3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar (just a note, I used champagne vinegar and it worked fine)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar and salt in a bowl.  Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed.  Best after 15-20 minutes in the fridge according to Chang, or up to a couple of days in the fridge.

Quick-pickled Cucumbers

2 meaty cucumbers, cut into 1/8-inch-think slices (Chang recommends Kirby, I just used whatever was in my garden and it was great)
1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon salt, or more to taste

Combine cucumbers with sugar and salt in a small mixing bowl and toss to coat.  Let sit 5 to 10 minutes.  Chang notes: if pickles are too sweet or salty at that point, rinse off the seasoning and dry in a kitchen towel.  Taste again then sugar or salt as needed.  Serve after 5 to 10 minutes, or refrigerate up to 4 hours.

Ginger Scallion Noodles (for 2)

*This is my version, based on what I had fresh and handy.  Chang's calls for adding toasted nori and bamboo shoots, and subtracting the peas.

4 ounces plain ramen noodles
1 cup Ginger Scallion Sauce (above)
1 cup Quick Pickled Cucumbers (above)
1/2 cup sliced scallions (yes more!)
1 tablespoon grapeseed or neutral oil
2 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup green peas (frozen or fresh)
Salt to taste.

Add oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high.  Add cauliflower and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender and dotted with brown.  Add peas to skillet for the final 2 minutes of pan-roasting.  Season with salt to taste, set aside. 

Meanwhile, cook ramen noodles per package instructions, then drain.  To assemble dish, toss ramen noodles with scallion ginger sauce, then top with more sliced scallions, quick pickles and cauliflower/pea mixture.  Don't feel like you need to use the noodle bowl proportions above - adding the components to taste will likely make you happiest!  Enjoy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Effing Disaster.

The picture above is a bit of a testament to my life right now!  I am running in so many directions at once lately, that I don’t even have time to make this cake, called the Busy Day Cake, turn out as it is supposed to.  Thankfully all the directions I’m running in are good ones, or the mini meltdown I had when I willfully destroyed this lovely cake would have been a lot worse!

Let me set the scene.  Oh no. It’s Friday.  That little “W” on my calendar means it’s a "Writing Day", which means I need to post…nothing I've made this week has been particularly photographable…hmmm…why did I pick a Friday? Especially the Friday before Bazaar Bizarre Summer Fair, which my small tee design business will be participating in.  I’ve been working from home/screwing around all day.  What’s easy to make that I have all the ingredients for that we can all enjoy tomorrow…Lottie and Doof’s Busy Day Cake!!!  Okay awesome.

So I mix up the cake, stick it in the oven, and head into the basement with my business partner extraordinaire to pick out some blank tees for last minute printing.  As we’re finishing up my spidey-cake-sense goes off…OH MY GOD WHAT TIME IS IT THE CAKE IS BURNING DOWN. I sprint upstairs. Oh no it’s too brown…(fight or flight takes over)…TOO GOLDEN BROWN!  Must get it out of pan to cease cooking process...then I black out and the next thing I know the cake is in several ragged pieces that could not even kindly be described as rustic.  Sigh.  Fallible, fallible me.

Somehow this cake is actually still quite delicious.  Here is a pic of what it SHOULD look like, on Lottie & Doof, because that dude does not mess around.  I also recently made this from his site, which was completely amazing, and I managed not to mess it up because hey, it’s a plate of tomatoes.

Hopefully you can achieve this buttery, magical…urm…easy cake without the drama.  I’ll bet you can.  All you need to do is pay attention and follow the simple directions.  I have in the past and it is a real treat…even the broken pieces taste like success.

Busy Day Cake

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan (or regular cake pan, this has worked for me in the past with this recipe).

Beat butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of bowl.  Add the flour in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour.  Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding the next.  Add the salt, vanilla, baking powder and nutmeg and mix until combined.

Spread the butter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top.  Bake until top is golden and tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving (seriously, or it will fall apart, which I sadly experienced.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Vegetarian Left Behind.

I always feel bad for my vegetarian friends where we’re out for dinner or at a cookout, party, etc…

“Oh hey Kate, are you enjoying the 5,000th plate of grilled vegetables you’ve had to endure in your life while dining out?”

“Kevin, how is that weird bowl of quinoa with unidentified wilted greens, and raw sliced tomato that were the only veg things on the menu at brunch?  Yum!”

“Well…the salad is vegetarian, Paul…Oh inside the to-die-for-looking puff pastry?  That’s beef wellington…Sorry…”

You get the idea.  Vegetarians often times majorly get the shaft when it comes to having interesting and varied dining options.  Some say hey, then be an OMNIVORE for crying out loud!  But really, I admire the choice to become vegetarian.  As I mentioned in a previous post I was veg for a while too, and since being seduced back into the world of meat still cook veg a lot. (Though at this point it would take a lot for me to give up my love of eating sweet, delicious animals.)  I’ve got a small collection of veg posts right on this blog as a matter of fact.

The point of all this rambling is that recently one of my bestest friends ever took the plunge into vegetarianism.  He’s an ardent lover of food and of cooking, and there is no freaking way in hell I would ever have him over for dinner and relegate him to eating side dishes, boring grilled veggies, etc (though he graciously tells me every time not to worry about him…AS IF!)

The recipe below is what I prepared for him on our most recent dinner rendezvous, taking advantage of fresh herbs and veggies in my garden – a fantastic vegetarian entrée from the pages of last year’s June issue of Bon Appétit.  A gorgeous polenta made with whole milk and veg broth serves as a pedestal for sautéed wild mushrooms, green beans and peas, all doused in a buttery melty leek and vermouth sauce...even my Dad, whose diet could be compared to that of a T-Rex with a sweet tooth, loved this dish much to his own loudly expressed disbelief.  Vegetarians…I’ve got your back with this one!  But my apologies to vegans…sigh.

Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas and Leeks
Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, June 2009
Makes 6 generous servings

3/4 pound green beans, trimmed (totally in season right now, so good!)
1 cup fresh shelled peas (frozen are okay too if nothing in your grocery/garden is looking decent)
4 cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 3/4 cups coarse polenta cornmeal (I'd highly recommend this over fine for this dish, but if that's all you've got just lessen the cooking time by half)
2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only, about 2 medium)
1 1/2 cups sweet vermouth (originally called for dry white but I used sweet and it was lovely!)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound assorted wild mushrooms, stemmed, any large caps cut into wedges (I used crimini, shiitake, baby bella, get the idea)
3 large shallots, sliced (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Blanch green beans for 1 minute in boiling water.  Add peas and cook until both beans and peas are crisp tender, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool.  Drain.  Cut beans on diagonal into 1 inch pieces.  Set beans and peas aside.

Bring milk and broth to boil in a large saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium.  Gradually whisk in polenta.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook until polenta is very thick, whisking almost constantly, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, combine leeks and vermouth in a medium saucepan.  Boil over med-high heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Gradually whisk in butter, allowing each addition to melt before adding next.  Add cream and whisk over very low heat to blend.  Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over med-high heat.  Add mushrooms and saute until almost tender, 5 minutes.  Stir in shallots, 1 tablespoon parsley, and thyme.  Saute until mushrooms are very tender, about 3-5 more minutes.  Add beans and peas, tossing to coat.

Rewarm polenta and spoon into serving bowls.  Top each bowl with a good helping of green bean mixture and a sprinkle of parsley.  Rewarm leeks over low heat, whisking, then spoon over green been mixture in each bowl.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Yes. This is another cookie recipe.

“Oh my GOD”, you’re thinking.  “ANOTHER cookie recipe?”

I mean…if you’re crazy.

Because honestly peoples, can there ever really be too many cookies?  There are generally never even ENOUGH cookies, never mind too many.  Delectable, magical, bite-sized bits of awesomeness fly quickly from table to hand to mouth and are never seen or heard from again.  This results in a general dearth of cookies that is plaguing kitchens, dessert trays, picnics and lunchrooms everywhere.  It’s a problem that we can combat. Together.  Let’s be brave, okay?  Take my hand (never mind that it’s coated with butter and sanding sugar).

As of late I’ve helped in solving the world cookie crisis by baking these amazing strawberry shortcake cookies.  How can this be done, you may ask?  How can the sweet yet puckery flavor of sugared berries ever be preserved and done justice in a baked good?  Where does the whipped cream come in?  How can this BE?

It's very simple my friends, is the answer to that.  These cookies are a lil slice of heaven, to be sure, and won’t run you too much time in the kitchen.  Shortcake comes together with heavy cream, and the sugared, lemoned strawberries are mixed right in!  Yes, it sounds crazy, but it also sounds genius, and tastes divine.  This is perfect when you’re looking for something foofy and summery to bring to a party (a two-year old’s ladybug-themed shindig, in this case), but that is portable and doesn’t need to be assembled.  Or you can just eat them all yourself, but technically that is not helping anyone’s cookie dearth but your own.

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies
from Martha Stewart Living, with my notes
Makes about 3 dozen

12 ounces strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (2 cups)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Combine strawberries, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.  Set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 7 tablespoons granulated sugar in a large bowl.  Cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (I used my seems less violent and annoying, and works just fine - I kind of hate pastry cutters).  Stir in cream until dough starts to come together. (At this point I added a couple more drops of cream just to ensure the batter was wet enough - use your own judgement there).  Stir in strawberry mixture. (This step will also obviously make the dough much wetter).

Using a tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spacing evenly.  Sprinkle with sanding sugar (or granulated, if that's what you've got), and bake until golden brown, 20-24 minutes (I baked mine for 22 and they were perfection...we all know our own ovens best).  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

These cookies are best immediately, or at least the same day.  The crispness you'll encounter on that first taste dramatically disappears with time, due to the fat and berry juice in the cookies.  They're still good after a couple days in an air tight container, but they are mind blowing within that first 8 hours or so... You can even eat them for breakfast (which I would of course know nothing about because I was totally eating...Cheerios?)