umami at home.

Today was supposed to be a really long day of work. One of those days where I wake up, leave the house at 5:45, go to Washington, work all day, and then get home around 9 or 10 at night.

But when Lorien, the PhD student and I, got to the field site, she realized that she had left the chamber of the LI-COR machine in her garage, and couldn’t do any of her respiration measurements, which were supposed to take 5 hours. Instead, we were left with two people to do what would have taken me three hours alone, and with twice the labor went even faster. End result, I was back in Eugene at a normal time and wondering what to do with myself.

I had anticipated being exhausted when I got home, and getting takeout. But with so much time I decided to cook instead, using a recipe from Rasa Malaysia, a blog devoted to not-too-difficult but reasonably authentic (I think) Asian cooking. And I discovered something amazing: you can make Chinese food at home which is twice as good as takeout, not too hard to cook, and not even very expensive. Hallelujah.

This dish has many great components. First of all, fresh egg noodles? Completely amazing! So good even compared to fresh Italian-style pasta. Wow. Secondly, the chicken, holy crap. Sweet and spicy and delicious, sticky in that Chinese-restaurant sort of way, and caked in sesame seeds. Finally, the vegetables are still somewhat crisp, not mushy and gross. I’m a huge fan of this dish and can’t wait to eat the leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Another great thing about this recipe is that once you get a few ingredients from your Asian market (which is way cheaper than a normal grocery store, I promise you), you’ll have them in your cupboard and it will make it even easier to cook up future feasts. I’d strongly suggest getting an authentic, rich soy sauce instead of the watery, salty, bland kind that is a staple in American cooking. You will discover that soy sauce is unbelievably tasty, and not just a way to salt your food. Ditto on the rest of the ingredients, really.

So I present to you, chicken and noodles for one, in your own wok. Enjoy!

Chicken and Noodles with Carrots, Zucchini, and Green Beans

Adapted from Rasa Malaysia

Note: I made three times the amount of chicken, and saved it in a tupperware. The noodles won’t reheat well, so the idea is that you can make a new batch of noodles and veggies the next night and throw the chicken in on top. Everyone likes having a few days worth of dinners (or lunches!) in the fridge!

Marinade and Chicken

1 boneless chicken thigh

1 teaspoon chili oil

1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Cut the chicken into small pieces and place in a bowl with all the other ingredients. Stir well so the chicken is coated and then let sit half an hour at least, or basically as long as you want

The Dish

Chicken and marinade, above

4 tablespoons canola oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped thin

1 small handful fresh egg noodles

1 medium-sized carrot

1/3 of one medium-sized zucchini

5 or so green beans

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

sesame seeds

Start by placing a wok over high heat with 2 tablespoons of the canola oil. When it’s good and hot, pour the chicken and the marinade sauce into the oil. Cook over medium high to high heat for ten or so minutes; the chicken will at first cook in the sauce, but then the sauce will begin to evaporate. When there is barely any sauce left, the chicken is turning dark, and the tips are just beginning to blacken, take the wok off the heat. Pour the chicken into a bowl. Let the wok cool slightly and then clean it out; there will be some sauce blackened onto it.

Next, rinse the egg noodles in a bowl of water several times, discarding the water after each rinse. Let the noodles sit in a bowl while you prepare the wok for them. Cut the carrots and zucchini into very thin matchsticks and the greenbeans in half each. Over medium high heat, warm the remaining two tablespoons of oil and then add the garlic, cooking until it is soft. Add the vegetables and stir, cooking for a minute or so. Add the noodles, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and water, and cook until the noodles have changed color and are cooked through. Put the noodle mixture in a bowl, place the chicken on top, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Channeling Christine Ferber.

When I was growing up, my mom would have dried apricots around the house. Sometimes she put them in “blondies”, the butterscotch brownies we made quite frequently (we did not want for dessert even then!). My take on dried apricots, at that point, was that they were kind of yucky. I would beg her not to put them in the blondies. I just wanted chocolate.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, when I was living in Morocco for a term. You would walk down the street on your way home from school and pass so many vendors: the guy selling camel meat, the fresh cheese attracting flies on its little shelf, the hot roasted seeds and nuts, the pastries, the dates, the olives, the fruit. And among those piles of fruit – really, piles – was, nestled in there, fresh apricots.

I was dumbstruck. What? Apricots were actually a fruit? I guess I had known that, if nothing else than from learning how to say them in foreign languages. But as a New England native, it had really never occurred to me that such a thing as a fresh apricot existed. I bought them up and ate them one after another, nom nom nom.

Then I returned to the U.S. and apricots were but a distant, tasty, memory. I kept eating dried ones, of course, but they aren’t the same.

When I moved to Oregon, I was elated that apricots might be part of my future again. We’ve had an awesome summer of fruit so far – strawberries, raspberries, cherries, you name it. I was recently making dinner with a friend who mentioned that he was going to pick blueberries over the weekend. I love picking, but I don’t actually like blueberries – I know, I know, I’m a freak. I told him as much.

“Well, what is your favorite summer fruit?” he asked.

After thinking for a little while – raspberries are so good – I said, with some trepidation, “apricots”.

I’m a lucky girl because Matt called me up from the blueberry farm while he was picking and said that they had flats of fresh Oregon apricots for sale, and did I want one? So he brought 17 pounds of apricots over to our house and my housemate and I split them. She dried some and canned some whole, while I was determined to make jam. Apricot jam is my favorite and I was envisioning needing a hint of sunshine once it gets cold and wet and horrendously depressing here this winter.

So I started looking up jam recipes and came across a foursome of recipes from Christine Ferber, who may or may not be the most famous jam-maker in the world. The recipes looked good so I dove in.

I wanted to make one batch that was just a simple apricot jam. It seems stupid to waste such good jam on sandwiches, but I do eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch pretty much every day and I’ve been stockpiling different flavors to keep my winter interesting. So far I have homemade strawberry, mixed berry-cherry, and this apricot.

The method for Ferber’s apricot jams is interesting – first of all, you don’t have to use pectin, which was nice. But secondly, she says to boil the apricots and sugar and lemon juice very briefly and then put them in the refrigerator overnight.

I was a little nervous about this step, because after all there isn’t much liquid involved: just apricots and sugar. How am I supposed to boil this? But I tried, and as the sugar melted it brought some of the apricot juice with it, and I was indeed able to bring the mixture to a boil. I stuck it in a bowl and forgot about it for the next 24 hours.

When I came back, there was tons of juice – I understood that “macerate” actually is a process which accomplishes something. The next step was to strain out the apricots and boil the juice until it reached 220 degrees. Then, I dumped the apricots back into the mixture and boiled them for five minutes before canning them and going through the whole water-bath process.

I tasted a little bit of the jam while I was canning and it was delicious – not too sweet, and very apricot-y. One thing I’d recommend is perhaps cutting the apricots smaller than half-pieces, depending on what you want to use the jam for! I’m really excited to have this ready for the winter.

Then: a second batch. The thing about Ferber’s jams is that while some are basic and delicious, others are incredibly fancy and gourmet. I was going to try one of the fancy ones, darnit.

I had a hard time picking – I really wanted to try nougabricot, which confusingly enough is a Quebecois jam using apricots, pistachios, and almonds. Where did they get this stuff? It must have really been a delicacy.

But in the end I went for a jam using apricots, orange zest, vanilla bean, and Gewurztraminer, a white wine. I couldn’t quite imagine how to eat nougabricot with its chunks of nuts. This other jam sounded more refined. So I went to the grocery story to pick up ingredients and quickly realized that I was going to spend more on a few jars of jam than I do on most dinners. I hesitated, but I had picked my jam and I was going for it. I sucked it up and spent nine dollars on a vanilla bean, grimacing a bit as I did (I stopped grimacing when I smelled it… holy cow, those things are amazing).

So: the basic jam recipe was the same, but with some added steps. It actually used a cup or so of dried apricots, which I cut up very finely and left to soak overnight in the Gewurztraminer. I ate one the next morning. Yum. The orange zest and vanilla bean went in with the fresh apricots, and the dried apricots were added in along with the fruit after the syrup had been heated to that 220 degree mark.

The jam smelled divine the whole time it was cooking. Our kitchen became a whole new place.

And as I was canning, I decided to leave out a little bit of jam for my housemate Laura and I to eat. I was dying to try this fancy invention. We scooped ourselves tiny bowls of vanilla ice cream and drizzled the jam, still hot, on top.

WOW.

I am not going to be able to put this on toast; it’s too good. It’s rich and it’s… BAM! It’s both strong and delicate, and kind of indescribable. I have never had jam like this before…. and okay, I am going to put it on toast, but it’s so good that it feels like a travesty. Ice cream was a perfect vehicle for the jam, which was completely worth the silly amount of money I spent making it.

The verdict here is that I am so excited to have two kinds of delicious apricot jam in my cupboard – and I still had enough apricots left over to munch on this week. I put them in oatmeal for breakfast and eat them for snacks… and for lunch… and for dessert. I’m a lucky girl, and I owe Matt big time for picking me up some of my favorite fruit.

I’m not going to post recipes since I didn’t adapt them at all – but you can find four amazing apricot jam recipes over at Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s blog, which is amazing, as a side note.

 

maiden voyage of the ice cream maker.

For months now I have been saying that I was going to buy an ice cream maker. It started in Florida, for obvious reasons – it was hot and I wanted ice cream, dammit. But there was always an excuse not to get one. In Florida, I didn’t want to have one more thing to pack in the car when I moved. Once I got to Oregon, it was oh, I’ll wait until my next paycheck. I had my eye on a model which wasn’t my ideal, but was affordable.

About two days before my birthday, two boxes arrived at my house. Boxes! Presents! On Tuesday morning when I finally allowed myself to open them, what did I find but a Donvier ice cream maker and a cookbook of ice cream recipes. My parents really do know me pretty well. The Donvier was the ice cream maker of my dreams: no fussing around with ice because you just freeze the canister, but still the charm of hand-cranking. Plus, it was the ice cream maker of my childhood and all of those happy ice cream memories. I was ecstatic. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

I began planning my first batch of ice cream pretty much immediately, but I was too busy to actually make it. The flavor was obvious though. My yard is overflowing with berries so it had to be a berry ice cream. I settled on loganberries, a giant hybrid of blackberries and black raspberries. The bush in the backyard has just started producing and the berries are gorgeous.

I used a recipe from the birthday cookbook – Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home – as the inspiration for my ice cream, even though I didn’t really follow a recipe. After all, you don’t find too many loganberry recipes. I had to adapt. Instead, I based my ice cream off of a roasted-strawberry buttermilk recipe. I also changed things up by using a custard base.

To start with, I roasted the berries in the oven with some lemon juice and sugar. Interestingly, as they cooked they lost a lot of their dark blackish color and became red again, like their unripe brothers and sisters. After ten minutes or so in the oven they were nice and soft and juicy, and I tossed them in the blender to make a purée.

Next I tackled the custard. Not to brag or anything, but custard is pretty straightforward for me at this point. If you’re in the habit of making it, it’s easy. I recently made a cake for the fourth of July, a layered Scandinavian berry affair with custard in between the cake layers. The recipe came from The Scandinavian Cookbook and it taught me a trick about custards – when you heat up the milk (or cream) the first time, without the egg in it, don’t let it boil! You don’t have to get it fully up to temperature – just pretty hot, so you can temper the eggs. For some reason, thinking about it like this made custards seem even simpler.

Finally, I had to put everything together. The recipe from Jeni’s suggested straining the berry mixture, but I didn’t have a strainer, so I just poured it in with the custard (I didn’t use it all, but the rest will go on top of my oatmeal for the next few days – so no complaints there!). Also in there: some crème fraiche and buttermilk for tang and lot of heavy cream. Mmm, cream.

After sticking the base in the fridge for a few hours, I poured it into the Donvier canister, which I had kept in the freezer for about 24 hours. It was all clean and tidy and ready for its maiden voyage.

Then I kept working away at my computer, taking a break every five minutes or so to churn the ice cream. The key with a setup like this is to not let it get totally frozen around the edges, where the cream actually touches the canister. If you let it get too hard, it will be very difficult to turn the hand crank, and you’ll have frozen ice cream on the outside and merely chilled cream in the center. You have to mix the ice cream so that it ends up a fairly homogeneous texture.

Like this:

The beauty of making your ice cream is that you can choose whether you want soft-serve or hard-serve. I prefer something in between, and that’s what I got. Another score for making things yourself!

When I took the top off of the Donvier, it just smelled like ice cream. You think of ice cream having a taste, but you don’t realize that it also has a smell. It does. It smells like yum, summer.

So it smelled good. Visually, it was a beautiful purple. The texture had a few seeds from the berries but not in an annoying way. What sense is left? Oh yes, it tasted delicious. Sweet, tangy from the buttermilk and crème fraiche, and a little bit sharp from the berries and their lemon juice. Not overpowering in any one direction, but just an overall lovely ice cream.

I hope some of you have ice cream makers and can churn up your own concoctions. I think that the technique on this one would work with any berries, and probably some other fruit as well.

With the maiden voyage successful, I’m looking forward to many more tasty ice creams in the future.

Pretty Purple Loganberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups loganberries

3/4 cup sugar

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/4 cup milk (I used raw milk)

2 teaspoons honey

2 eggs

2 tablespoons crème fraiche

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup buttermilk

Start by placing the berries in a shallow pan or baking dish. Preheat the oven to 375 and while it’s warming up, squeeze the juice of the half lemon over the berries. Sprinkle on 1/4 cup of sugar and stir the mixture so that the berries are coated in both lemon juice and sugar. Bake them in the oven for ten or so minutes. You don’t want them to dry up, so don’t overcook them, but you want them to be soft and the juice should begin to run out of the berries and accumulate in the pan. When you think they’re done, pour the whole thing into the blender and purée them for a couple of seconds – it won’t take much because they’re already pretty mushy.

Next, in a saucepan, whisk together the rest of the sugar and the cornstarch. Add in the milk, whisk well, and place over medium heat. Add the honey and stir periodically to make sure that nothing is burning to the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl, beat the two eggs. When the milk mixture is very hot but not yet boiling, slowly pour half of it into the egg bowl, whisking as you pour. Then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan again and keep whisking. Keep a close eye on the custard and whisk frequently; you will be able to tell that the mixture is thickening. Don’t overthicken because you don’t want the custard to become grainy; just let it get to the point where it is a loose pudding consistency. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, stir the crème fraiche and salt together. Add the still-warm custard mixture, then 3/4 cup of the berry purée. Finally, stir in the cream and buttermilk. Put the ice cream base – because that’s what you have now – in the refrigerator for a few hours until it is uniformly cool. Then follow the instructions for your ice cream maker and enjoy your icy treat!

Tomatogasm.

When I left the trailer this afternoon, I told my roommate that I was going to the grocery store and would stop and run on the way back. I’ll be out for a while, I said.

So when I popped back in 30 or 40 minutes later, she was surprised.

“Did you go to the store?”

“Yup…. it was the run I skipped,” I replied. “I just got so excited about cooking dinner that I had to come right back home.”

Before leaving for the grocery store, I had picked out a recipe for the evening. It was from David Tanis’s cookbook A Platter of Figs, and it was grilled halibut with Indian spices and yellow tomatoes (am I supposed to capitalize all that? grammar police?). You can find the original recipe online, including here; I originally stumbled upon it when Gourmet reviewed the cookbook.

So into the Publix I went, shopping list in hand. When I began wandering around and eventually made it to the fish counter, they had no halibut. In fact, they only had a handful of different kinds of fish. I am still somewhat in shock about this, since we live on the coast and everything. But anyway, halibut was not an option, unless I wanted to buy frozen. I did not.

But…. swordfish was on sale. Swordfish! And so I got some, promising myself to eat only half of the gorgeous-looking steak tonight and saving the other half for tomorrow’s dinner, because after all, even on sale, swordfish ain’t cheap.

I was so excited that I rushed back to the trailer and started seasoning my fish with a spice blend similar to that in Tanis’s recipe. It was actually a fairly complex dinner by my current standards: rice, fish, tomatoes, some spinach, and a yogurt sauce. That’s a lot of parts, but each of them was quite simple (especially the spinach: place on plate, put swordfish on top, done).

Immediately, things began to smell good.

“Damn, what are you cooking over there? Are you using herbs or something?” my roommate asked.

Ignoring the fact that I was using spices, not herbs, I nodded. “Coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel seed, nutmeg, cayenne….”

Her eyes got big.

But not as big as mine were when the fish and tomatoes came out of the oven. They looked good.

I brought the pan out to the picnic table, where I already had a plate set with rice and spinach. I put half the swordfish steak on top of the spinach, half the tomatoes next to that, and drizzled the whole thing with the yogurt sauce.

And it tasted just as good as it had looked and smelled.

While the swordfish was great, the real star of the show was the tomatoes. They totally stole the spotlight. Perhaps I should have rubbed more of the spice mix into the swordfish, although then it would have barely even tasted like fish anymore, and wasted a perfectly good steak. But the tomatoes were spicy, hot, interesting, delectable… I can’t think of enough words to describe them. They were still juicy, like a tomato should be, but the top edges had crisped up a little, too. On a side note, why are yellow tomatoes so much more exciting than red ones?

And the tomatoes drizzled with my improvised yogurt sauce, wow. The yogurt sauce was awesome. I’d eat it on its own, honestly.

In any case, I do not regret skipping my run today, because this was hands-down the best and most inspired meal I’ve cooked so far in Florida. The bar has been raised, plus now I have some spices in my cabinet, so I’d better keep using them!

Oven-Baked Swordfish With Spiced Yellow Tomatoes and Yogurt Sauce

adapted from/inspired by A Platter of Figs by David Tanis; serves two

1 6-oz swordfish steak (or two if you are particularly protein-hungry)

1 yellow tomato

olive oil

salt and pepper

cayenne pepper

ground cumin

ground coriander

turmeric

nutmeg

fennel seeds

1/3 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt

1 clove garlic

1 small piece fresh ginger

fresh parsley, cilantro, or mint

spinach, arugula or your favorite leafy green

3/4 cup white rice

First things first: place your swordfish on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a bit more olive oil on top, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Rub these in with your fingers so that they cover the whole top of the steak. Then, sprinkle on coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and nutmeg, in the following ratio: 2:2:2:1:0.5. Does that make sense? Then sprinkle on five to ten fennel seeds. You can use more or less spice depending on how strongly you want your swordfish to taste; it’s your call. With your fingers, rub all of these spices into the top of the swordfish steak. Then, I rubbed a bit of additional turmeric and cumin onto the sides of the steak. Let this sit, preferably in a refrigerator for a couple of hours, but at least for a few minutes while you make some of the other dinner components.

For instance: boil 1 1/2 cups water and add the rice to it. Turn down to low and let simmer.

Next, cut the yellow tomato into eight to ten wedge-shaped pieces, removing the tough core. Place the pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with a small amount of olive oil. Then, add equal parts coriander, cumin, cayenne, and turmeric. The tomatoes should be a bit more spicy than the fish itself. Stir until all of the wedges are evenly coated with the spice and oil mixture, then arrange around the swordfish on your baking sheet.

Bake at 450 degrees for 7-8 minutes, or until the fish is only barely pink or no longer pink in the middle. I’m not a master fish-cooker. I went for no longer pink. Also, my oven is a piece of crap, so I really can’t vouch for the 450 degrees part.

While the fish is cooking, mix up the yogurt sauce (also, check on the rice to see how it’s doing). Chop the garlic and ginger very finely and toss into a frying pan which has been sitting on medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Let sit ten seconds, then shake the pan to move the garlic and ginger around. Cook another 10 seconds, repeat process. After 30 seconds of cook time, remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, cumin, and parsley or other green herb. Add the garlic and ginger mix along with any olive oil left in the pan, and stir thoroughly. Place back in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

To assemble the meal, put some rice on each plate and a small bed of spinach. Place half the swordfish on top of the bed of spinach, and the tomatoes on the side. Drizzle yogurt sauce over the fish, spinach, and tomatoes. Enjoy!

What To Do With Too Much Bread.

I made this bread pudding almost a month ago now. It was tasty then, but I was in the midst of a cooking spree and didn’t have time to write about it.

What made me remember it now?

Last night I went out to dinner at The Bee’s Knees in Morrisville, which is much classier than its website might suggest. In fact it is an extremely nice, really cool restaurant. We ate a couple different things which were all delicious, but one thing – wow! It was a baked pear, topped with local brie melted into a gooey puddle of goodness, drenched in warm maple syrup, and served with excellent crusty bread. How could four ingredients make something so amazing? And why had nobody thought of this combination before? We ate the pear as an appetizer, but afterwards we didn’t need dessert. It was, well, incredible (so was the fish special, but that’s another story).

That pear has very little in common with my bread pudding, but what I thought was, simplicity. Sometimes you need to choose a few very good ingredients instead of a lot of very good ingredients. I remember a frittata which I used to make. Originally, it was a mushroom-leek frittata. I thought, this is really good; more must be better. So I started adding more and more of my favorite vegetables. But it didn’t get any better. It didn’t get worse, exactly, but the mushrooms and leeks were enough to make that dish sparkle.

I thought that this asparagus bread pudding was something like that. The asparagus is enough to make a fantastic bread pudding. But the more I thought about it, I realized that even though this is easy to whip up, it’s not actually that simple. There’s the bread. The asparagus. A shallot and some mushrooms. Cheese. Eggs and milk to hold everything together. Not too complex, but compared to the pear, it’s far from simplicity personified (or dish-i-fied).

It’s a great bread pudding, though. And you don’t often think about bread pudding; or at least, I don’t. But you should – it’s an excellent half of a meal. Think about it. Make this one. You won’t regret it.

Savory Asparagus Bread Pudding

Adapted slightly; from Hands-Off Cooking by Ann Rolke via Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks

4-5 slices of white(ish) sourdough bread

3-4 slices of whole wheat multigrain bread, especially nice if it’s a little nutty

3 cups milk

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

a dash of pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried dill

1 bunch of asparagus

6-8 crimini mushrooms, or the darkest mushrooms you can find without spending a fortune

1 shallot, sliced thinly

3/4 cup finely grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare grease tart dish, or some other baking vessel, to cook the pudding. Then start chopping up bread. Cut all the slices into 3/4 inch cubes, although varying the size a little bit makes things more interesting. Put all of the bread in a large bowl and mix it up so the white and multigrain cubes are evenly distributed. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, and seasonings. Pour it over the bread and stir so everything is evenly coated. Finally, chop the asparagus into small (1-inch?) pieces, chop up the mushrooms, and slice the shallots. Toss all of these things in with the bread, and the pour the entire thing into the tart pan. Stick in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, then take it out and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Return to the oven for 15 or so more minutes, or until it’s quite brown and crispy-looking.