Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Any blogger with a Blogger account has been dealing with the Big Transition from old Blogger to Blogger Beta. As of today, Blogger Beta is "the new normal" and this blog finally got to switch over. I am overjoyed about the ability to tag posts, which means I'll be doing a lot of retroactive tagging to old posts (oh, goody, housekeeping). This will diminish the SevenSoy index a great deal, but I think the bibliographic posts will remain on the index. I also look forward to tweaking the template.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cook's Illustrated does soy sauce

Disclaimer: none of the soy sauces in this photo were reviewed by Cook's Illustrated.

When I saw that the January/February 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated had an article featuring soy sauces, I admit it, I got excited. Still, the first sentence of the piece indicated that I might not be the target audience for the article: "Most of us have rarely given soy sauce a second thought, using it as a kind of liquid salt." I suppose naming one's food blog after soy sauce doesn't qualify as rarely giving it a second thought (let alone keeping at least seven different varieties on hand).

Cook's taste-tested 12 soy sauces (or 11 soy sauces and La Choy's simulcrum of soy sauce based on hydrolized soy protein, if you prefer); two were Chinese soys while the others were Japanese-style soy sauces (four of them tamari). The sauces were tasted straight, served with warm rice, and used as an ingredient in teriyaki sauce.

Rather than easily crowning the single best soy sauce, the Cook's testers found that different soy sauces excelled at different applications. The ones with the most complicated and subtle flavor profiles did best when tasted straight and were recommended for use in dipping sauces. Simpler soys with stronger flavors held up better when cooked, however. Two soy sauces won the "Recommended" rating: Lee Kum Kee's mass-produced tabletop soy sauce and Ohsawa's traditionally-produced nama shoyu. Lee Kum Kee's sauce won the rice and teriyaki tests, while Ohsawa won the plain tasting.

Soy sauces tested, other than the ones previously mentioned, were:

Eden Organic Naturally Brewed Tamari Soy Sauce
Eden Organic Shoyu Soy Sauce
Eden Organic Traditionally Brewed Tamari Soy Sauce
Kikkoman All-Purpose Soy Sauce
Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Organic Soy Sauce
Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Tamari Soy Sauce
Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce
San-J Naturally Brewed Tamari Premium Soy Sauce
San-J Organic Shoyu Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce

The article is a pretty good introduction to soy sauce, especially for those who haven't given it much thought before. Those who've already started stocking a range of soy sauces so as to be appropriately equipped for whatever Asian cuisine they happen to be cooking on a given night may find it a bit elementary.

I have to admit that the heavy emphasis on Japanese soy sauces with a couple of Chinese soy sauces thrown in took me aback. It's not quite like comparing apples and oranges, but they aren't interchangeable, at least not when cooking Asian food. On the other hand, comparing an assortment of soy sauces ranging from Japanese shoyu to Chinese mushroom soy to Indonesian kecap manis really would be comparing apples to oranges to bananas. The best rule of thumb is still to use a soy sauce that hails from the same country as the dish you're cooking (or is at least made in the same style; it would be silly to disallow Kikkoman's soy sauces from Japanese cooking if they happen to come from Kikkoman's Wisconsin plant).

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's December

And what, pray tell, does that mean? Two things in food blogger-dom:

It's time for the Food Blog Awards, again. Nominations are open until midnight EST on Friday, December 15, so nominate your favorite food blogs for some recognition.

Then there's Menu For Hope III, a fundraiser that's fun, too. This year's beneficiary is the UN World Food Programme, so go have a look at the prizes and give as generously as you can.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chicken thigh donburi

Thanks to this post over at Nihon no Ryori, I realized that though I have loved chicken donburi for a long time, I've never made it with chicken thighs; I've always used breast meat. That seemed like a challenge, so the other night I gave it a go.

I used my usual method for making chicken donburi (or oyakodon), with the exception of using chicken thigh meat and turkey broth rather than dashi for the stock (no dashi in the house; I need to do something about that). When all was said and done, it was surprisingly different in flavor from my usual chicken donburi. Where the chicken breast version is sweet to the point of blandness (the flavor seems to concentrate itself in the broth-soaked rice), here the meat was as flavorful as the sauce. The strong flavor had a strong salty component, too, which I didn't expect. It wasn't bad, by any means, but it was so different from what I'm used to that I think I'll need to get used to it.

It was a worthy experiment, however. It's always good to see an old favorite dish through new eyes, and often hard to do because a cook (this cook, anyway) tends to get into a routine.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jeffersonian wine

Just a quick note, but I stumbled across this post on Vinography while scanning the RSS feeds. Thomas Jefferson as wine geek? What's not to love? (especially if you like history and fancy a glass of wine now and then, like me)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Return to Clinton Diner

I guess my announcement that I was back and blogging was a bit premature. I didn't want it to go this long without updates, but life can sometimes interfere with one's best-laid plans. But then, sometimes a really fabulous meal can interfere with life (or what passes for it), which is why I started this blog in the first place. Saturday night's meal was one of those occasions when I was imbued with a desire to blog the food as I experienced it.

I was gadding about with The Lurker and Perfect Tommy this weekend (as is often the case). Dinnertime found us heading back across the Delaware River into Jersey, a perfect time to think back on the Clinton Station Diner. Even though I had breakfast in what seemed to be the middle of the night the last time we visited this diner, I perused the menu enough to know that I wanted to order "real food" from this place someday.

Someday turned out to be last Saturday. As we pondered our choices, I decided to go for something on the light side; some fish and chips seemed to be the ticket. A little less expensive than the other entrees (like chicken marsala) that I wasn't in the mood for anyway. No biggie.

Well, when the platter arrived, I realized my "mistake." Slabs of fried fish were piled on top of a bed of mixed greens, side by side with the "chips" or fries, heftier and darker than regular french fries. An enormous expanse of food stretched before me. Well, diner portions do tend to be big...then there were the obligatory sides!

When I bit into the fried fish, I almost attained nirvana. The batter was crisp and light, and had a flavor that immediately brought tempura to mind. Within the crisp coating, the fish was perfectly done, slipping out into perfect slabs of fork-tenderness. (Golly, did I just write that? That's food porn!)

A lot of leftovers came home with me that night (not that I'm complaining), but that's the first time fish and chips has ever reminded me of tempura. I may need to up the ante next time I go back and order a longtime favorite like chicken marsala or prime rib. This diner is that good.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back again

Well, I missed this blog's second birthday yesterday on the 12th, but I'm back now. Vacation was nice, but I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of food blogging. Better yet, now I (finally) have a digital camera, so hopefully that will add something to the posts.

This image is of a mitsuba seedling. The garden didn't do all that well this year (on the other hand, The Deacon's garden didn't do well either, so I think it was a bad year for gardens in central Jersey), but the mitsuba continued to thrive. Great stuff.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Temporary hiatus

Well, lots of things are currently going on at Sevensoy Central. I'm starting a new job and also have some other projects that need to be dealt with. As a result, I'll be taking a bit of a vacation from Seven Kinds of Soy Sauce. Blogging will recommence in October. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a photo of my donabe, taken with my brand-new digital camera. Until then, happy cooking and eating!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Char siu

Char siu is Chinese marinated and roasted pork. It's traditionally considered to be something that you buy rather than making at home, because few people in China had ovens. When I'm in the corner of the Asian supermarket that is near the lunch counter, the tempting aroma of char siu is overwhelming.

Marnie Henricksson has a recipe she calls "Chinese Roast Pork Tenderloin" in Everyday Asian. The last time I read through the cookbook, it caught my eye.

The dish starts with a marinade. The ingredients are a third of a cup each of hoisin sauce, rice wine and soy sauce; a tablespoon of ketchup; two minced garlic cloves; and two tablespoons of light brown sugar (I used palm sugar). Henricksson recommends marinating the pork for one to three hours, but I let it go overnight.

In a 400 F oven, bake the tenderloin for 20 minutes, while boiling and slightly reducing the marinade on the stovetop. Remove the meat from the oven, baste, then return it to the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat. Since I was using a relatively small hunk of boneless country ribs, I let it go for 10 minutes. The key is to let it go until it has a deep red color and some toasty browned bits. Simmer the remaining sauce for three minutes and let the meat rest for five minnutes before slicing.

Since my boneless country ribs were presliced, the meat dried out more than it would had the meat been in one unsliced chunk. That was a bit disappointing. However, the sauce was a terrific smoky barbecue type sauce, the kind of thing I'd happily slather on grilled meat (assuming I lived in a place where I was allowed to grill). The sauce was rather garlicky, too; the bits of minced garlic clung to the sides of the meat and imparted their toasted flavor to the dish. Not at all bad, but a little bit goes a long way. No wonder this meat is used to pep up flavors in Chinese cooking.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rice-stuffed game hen

I love cooking Cornish game hens but once I start eating them, I remember how much work it is to disassemble such a small bird. A couple of nights ago, I tried another game hen recipe, this one from the Frugal Gourmet's original cookbook.

Frug called this "Game Hens with Lebanese Dressing." The dressing is really stuffing; "dressing" makes me think of salads. The recipe is written for four game hens; I cooked one hen and halved the stuffing ingredient amounts. First off, you saute half an onion (sliced) in a tablespoon of butter until the onion is just starting to brown. I discovered that my butter was all played out, so I used olive oil instead. Once the onion has browned, add half a cup of rice, a cup of water, some pine nuts (1/16 of a cup, if you really want to halve the recipe precisely), quarter of a teaspoon each of allspice and cinnamon, and salt to taste. As this cooks down (I let it go until most of the water was absorbed), it looks dirty from the spices, but I suppose it really shouldn't be called "dirty rice."

Anyway, once the stuffing is done, pack it into the cavities of two game hens (if you have one, like I did, you can just use the rest of the stuffing on the side). Set the oven to 325 F and cook for an hour. Frug recommends serving the hens split in half, but I didn't do that.

The stuffing flavor was rather subtle, but nice. The spices and pine nuts added sweetness but not in an excessive way. The chicken juices made their way into the rice as well. Most of the skin was done to a paper-like brittleness that was very chewy; I probably should have brushed the skin with something (honey would've been good, and would've fit with the other ingredients) to keep it a little more moist.

All in all, it was a little something different in terms of roasting a bird, and very simple.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dithering quesadilla

I've been dithering about making quesadillas for a while. I pulled out How to Cook Everything and Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home and compared their quesadilla recipes. I dithered over the exact amounts of ingredients, the exact technique (use two tortillas or fold one over?). I thought about making them for breakfast, then was unable to motivate myself to get out of bed to chop the ingredients up.

The real problem was that I'd never made anything like quesadillas before, and I knew it was going to be a bloody mess in need of massive tinkering. Since I'm a perfectionist at heart, that was ample excuse to postpone quesadilla-making. Until today, that is. Today I made one for an afternoon snack.

I laid down one tortilla in an oiled skillet over medium heat. Then I added grated cheddar cheese, chopped onion, chopped button mushrooms and salsa. I topped the assemblage with another tortilla and toasted the quesadilla for two minutes. Then I flipped it and toasted it for three minutes. When it was done, I slid it onto a plate. I didn't follow Bittman's ingredients exactly, but I did follow his method of assembling the quesadilla.

Well, it was a revelation. Some of the filling squeezed out between the tortillas and the bottom one was a little soggy from the combination of the ingredients and the oil in the pan. I didn't care. It tasted terrific. When I finished it, I was sorry I hadn't made another, but of course I hadn't done that because, well, what if I didn't like it? It never fails.

I wouldn't call this authentic Mexican cuisine (not by a long shot) but I am glad I overcame my quesadilla dithering.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Corn on the cob

It's that time of year again. When I drive around the area, I see cornfields full to bursting of tall cornstalks, their tassels waving in the wind. Although I live in a part of New Jersey that has more than its share of McMansions, townhouses and condo developments, some of the local farms are in farmland preservation programs. When one drives local roads, one has to be alert to the possibility of encountering a tractor tooling along the road like a tortoise. I'm sure others find that an inconvenience, but I don't. I think of it as something that adds value to the neighborhood.

There are farm stands scattered about of course, but in this area, even supermarkets sell corn and other produce from local farms. Yesterday I was at the supermarket and saw some corn from a farm in Monmouth Junction. After some hesitation (my corn-boiling pot is on the small side), I succumbed and got five ears.

Once upon a time, my dad told me the perfect length of time to boil corn. As I recall, this was in response to a Garrison Keillor monologue where Garrison divulged his perfect length of time to boil corn. My dad's response was, "Oh, no, absolutely not," or words to that effect. Maybe it was a cultural difference between Minnesota and Michigan (where my dad grew up). In any case, I wrote dad's recommendation on a piece of paper and promptly lost the paper. It's probably still here somewhere, stuck in a box full of other random pieces of paper.

So there I was last night, with two husked corn ears and a pot of boiling water, trying to remember the magic formula.

The ears themselves were a study in contrasts. They were a mix of white and yellow kernels. One was as regular as a city's grid street plan, while the other's rows wandered crazily across the ear. I'm tempted to say one ear was Midtown and the other was Downtown, in the oldest part of town, but comparing corn ears to the New York City street plan seems so wrong, in so many ways.

Parenthetical note: I really need to get a digital camera. That way this post would've been adorned with a photo of cornfields and another of the two husked ears in all their contrasting glory.

I thought the magic number was either seven or eleven minutes, but eleven seemed too long, so I plunked the corn into the pot and went for seven. I suppose I could ask my dad for the magic formula again, but that would be too easy. At the end of seven minutes, the corn came out of the pot, steaming hot. I applied the butter and waited for the corn to cool off a little. I've been trying to reduce my butter intake lately, but I splurged for this meal. I know there are lots of other good things you can put on corn, but corn on the cob with butter is the way I grew up doing it.

When I bit into the first ear, I knew I'd chosen correctly. It was perfect.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The latest version of sesame noodles

I wrote about my fantasy of the perfect bowl of sesame noodles in this post some time ago. Last night I looked at the available ingredients in the cupboard and fridge, considered my lack of desire to cook, and decided to try Mark Bittman's "Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce" from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner.

Bittman's sesame sauce consists of half a cup of sesame paste, a tablespoon of sugar, quarter of a cup of soy sauce, a tablespoon of rice vinegar and a tablespoon of sesame oil. Combine these ingredients; season with hot sauce, pepper and salt to taste; then pour over cooled, previously-cooked noodles. Garnish with sliced scallions.

Once I prepared this version of sesame noodles, I felt I was getting closer to the perfect fantasy, but the real sticking point that was bringing me crashing back to earth was the sesame paste. Even a smooth paste seems to have a bit of grittiness (if only a subliminal grittiness), and it really is astonishingly close to peanut butter. In addition to Lala's suggestion of using cashew butter instead of sesame paste, I may start trying sesame sauce mixes with a bit of sake or mirin to smooth things out and sweeten them up. Clearly the only thing that will do is for me to concoct my own version of sesame sauce.

On the other hand, the leftovers are on the docket for dinner tonight, and I expect they will be more than adequate for that purpose.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Packing an Italian lunch

Sometimes (especially when I feel particularly cheap), I like to make my own lunch to bring along on birding trips. The best method of doing this is to cook dinner the night before and make sure plenty of leftovers are available. Not only does this mean there's one less thing to deal with in the morning when I'm trying to get myself on the road, it also means that if dinner disagrees with my stomach, I can put together Plan B for the trip. Intestinal issues are bad enough when you're at home; when you're on a birding trip and may be miles away from a pit stop, they can be catastrophic.

My birding pal The Lurker, like many, just packs a sandwich or two when he feels the need to brown-bag it. You might ask why I don't bring a sandwich. For some reason, I just don't make them for myself any more. I used to pack them frequently when I worked in New York City. Of course, these were the most boring sandwiches you could imagine: two slices of generic bread and some lunch meat completed the picture. Sandwiches just don't excite me, I guess. Besides, something like Thai fried rice seems to do a better job of keeping me going during the day.

Yesterday we went off to Delaware in search of shorebirds at Bombay Hook and the avian celebrity of the moment, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I knew I wanted to pack a lunch, so I picked out a simple pasta recipe from Anne Casale's Italian Family Cooking, "Linguine with Shrimp." However, I didn't get to cook it until yesterday morning.

I didn't follow her ingredient proportions exactly because I was just cooking lunch and not wanting leftovers for a change. I sauteed three sliced scallions in a blend of a quarter-cup each of olive oil and butter for two minutes, then did the same with some garlic for a minute and a half. Then, in went the peeled shrimp, which I cooked over high heat until they turned pink. Then I turned the heat to low and added a few spritzes of lemon juice and a teaspoon of torn basil leaves; once this was heated through, I added half a teaspoon each of white pepper and salt, stirred a few times, then poured it over spinach fettuccini. By the end, the scallion bits were fairly brown and the sauce was rather oily, so I minimized the proportions of those ingredients when I dished it into my lunch container. I did add more sauce than I would normally, just to keep the pasta moist while it traveled around in the morning. The kitchen smelled wonderful, but it was time to run out the door.

Lunch found us at a Wendy's in Smyrna (along with everyone else in the county, it seemed). While my accomplices in crime waited on line to get their fast food, I started sampling my lunch. It was quite good; one unexpected thing I enjoyed was that the shrimp had cooked long enough to get a few little crispy brown bits on their edges. That made them extra tasty. When Perfect Tommy finally arrived at the table, carrying his Wendy's salad, he was able to guess the ingredients in short order. Later on, he suggested adding grated parmesan to top the dish, which sounds like a nice addition in the future. By the time The Lurker got to the table, my lunch was all gone, which meant that I wasn't the last one finishing my meal for a change.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Raw cacao

Last week, my pal The Dancer stopped by to pick up some educational reading before her imminent trip to Iceland. Since I've always been a fan of Nordic climes, I've accumulated a pile of books on various Nordic topics. What I didn't expect was that she would present me with an envelope of raw cacao beans (shelled and flattened, apparently). I opened the envelope, sampled one and staggered back from the recoil of its flavor force.

Once I recovered, I stuck them in an empty jar that had once contained Paul Newman's salsa. A few days later, I opened it, took a whiff and staggered back from the aroma. This raw cacao is strong stuff.

When I told Perfect Tommy about what I'd scored, he told me I could make my own chocolate. I regarded this with suspicion since the idea of making sweets summons up images of molten sugar, hot pans and potentially nasty burns. Seeing my look of aversion, he followed up with the suggestion that I could just keep them in the jar and show them off to sundry guests as a curiosity. This sounds much safer, at least until I find some recipe that I'm willing to work with.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Singapore fried rice

It was time for yet another variation on fried rice. Singapore got the nod this time, thanks to a recipe for "Shrimp Fried Rice" from Terry and Christopher Tan's Shiok!. Stir-fry some chopped garlic in vegetable oil; then add two eggs, let nearly set and chop them with the edge of the spatula. Toss in the shrimp (shelled) and stir-fry for two minutes, then add the cooked rice, one tablespoon of Chinese light soy and half a teaspoon each of black pepper and salt. Stir-fry about three more minutes until everything is cooked through. Pickled chilis are the suggested side dish.

This ended up much like Thai fried rice, even though the Singapore recipe adds the eggs sooner and doesn't beat them ahead of time. The one problem with the final dish was that the chopped garlic burned, so I'll have to be more careful next time. I also added more pepper than necessary, which didn't help.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Going Italian

Ah, Italian food. Whenever I get a little tired of fish sauce or soy sauce, I can just readjust my attention to tomatoes, basil and garlic. Rather than noodles, I can have pasta. Olive oil goes into the pan, not peanut oil, and one sautes rather than stir-frying. Well, ok, maybe the differences between some of these things are judgement calls, but Italian food is a good way of satisfying myself when I want "normal" food.

The first recipe I cooked from Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks Dinner was fettuccini carbonara. I thought it worked out well, but there were a couple of things I wanted to tweak. I got my chance to do that recently when I used Bittman's recipe for "Pasta alla Gricia," which is the base recipe from which the carbonara recipe "deviates." The interesting thing was that my tweaking didn't make any difference. I substituted regular olive oil for extra virgin olive oil because I thought the extra virgin olive burned and gave the carbonara a bitter undertone. Apparently the oil was not the culprit, because the pasta alla gricia had the same taste. Perhaps I cooked the pancetta too hard and too long? Pasta alla gricia is a simple dish (which is what attracted me to it on the night in question); cook the pancetta and pasta, combine them, then serve after stirring in some Pecorino Romano cheese. This was the first time I'd cooked with Pecorino Romano cheese and that, too, seemed somewhat bitter to me (though I'm the first to admit I'm not the world's biggest cheese fan).

The other night, I was looking for another simple pasta recipe. This time I used Anne Casale's Italian Family Cooking. I settled upon "Bucatini with Plain Tomato Sauce," although I used spinach fettuccini for it as well (it was the pasta I had in the house). For the sauce, one slowly sautes half a cup of chopped onion in a blend of two tablespoons each of olive oil and butter until soft but not brown. Add two large garlic cloves, halved, and again saute until soft but not brown. Add a 28 ounce can of crushed concentrated tomatoes, one and a half tablespoons of minced fresh basil, half a teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and let simmer, partially covered, for about 25 minutes. Casale recommends lots of stirring during these stages of sauce creation, but I stirred only occasionally and it didn't seem to hurt the end result. After the 25 minutes are up, let the sauce rest for an hour before cooking the pasta. I just cooked the pasta and dumped the sauce on top of it, although Casale gives slightly more involved directions for how to combine pasta and sauce.

This was very tasty. The sauce was mild and tomatoey (just what you want this time of year) and was very easy to make. The onions give it a bit more depth, but still make it sweet rather than spicy. This would be easy to tweak in various directions, as well. There was plenty for leftovers the next day. With results like this, I'm definitely emboldened to try Italian cooking on a more consistent basis in the future.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Falcon Ridge food 2006

Last weekend I attended the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Last year, I critiqued some of the food (both bought on the midway and brought from home) in this post. This year, things were much the same, with a few alterations.

Most noteworthy was the absence of Myron's Number 1 Yakitori, my favorite food vendor at the festival. I was counting on his iced jasmine tea, pork dumplings and yakitori to get me through the long weekend. Darn! However, in a sort of "bad news, good news" scenario, Asian food was represented at the festival this year by a Thai stand called Thai Jasmine selling satay, noodles and rice. The satay was large pieces of chicken on long skewers, bigger than Myron's typical chicken skewers. The satay sauce was very mild, but there was an assortment of condiments available to doctor one's food; I went for the sri racha sauce. Mmmm. I also tried their pad Thai noodles, which were very tamarind-y but otherwise unassuming in flavor. Again, there was a generous portion by traditional Falcon Ridge midway standards; portion sizes seem to be increasing.

Other stands I visited included Sunflower Farm (slab of pizza), Angelo's (shrimp in an basket with cocktail sauce) and the Berkshire County 4-H Fair Association (ice cream). The 4-H stand was loaded with fascinating-sounding ice cream flavors, but the only one I got to was the ginger ice cream, which I have been longing for since last year (really) because I didn't get a chance to try it then. It was rich and mild, creamy with little bits of ginger scattered through it.

I streamlined my selection of food brought from home because of the things that didn't get eaten last year. I expanded the rice cracker selection with arare wrapped in nori seaweed; for some reason, the nori gives me a little pick-me-up on hot days out in the field. In the ultimate salty snack category, I brought some Bugles. I brought an assortment of teabags, as usual; the sencha was what I ended up drinking, which is probably no surprise. I also packed lunch for Thursday (the first day of the festival); that was leftover Sichuan spaghetti.

Food-wise, I survived the festival pretty well. There were no major headaches or dehydration (thank you, Gatorade). The weather helped some too, as a slow-moving cold front took its time going through the area. This led to clammy, misty conditions and occasional rain showers, but the advantage was that we didn't spend the entire four days baking in the sun. So it turned out pretty well (though I wouldn't have said as much during the Saturday afternoon downpour, when I was drenched, sleep-deprived and seriously annoyed).

Can't wait until next year!

Hijiki and mushrooms

Yesterday, I was in search of something light for lunch. Braised hijiki seemed like a good start, but I didn't have any abura-age on hand. What I did have was some sliced button mushrooms. I ended up using the normal recipe for braised hijiki, just substituting the mushrooms for the abura-age and sake for the mirin (I had some leftover sake, too).

This turned out to be such an easy and appropriate twist on the classic recipe that I'm almost embarrassed I didn't think of it before. Sliced button mushrooms, like abura-age, absorb liquids and concentrate flavors in sauces. Substituting sake for mirin made the sauce less sweet, which isn't always a bad thing. I poured everything over jasmine rice, which sopped up the sauce better than noodles would have done.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tea matters

A few days ago I blogged about some nifty teabags from Shirakata Denshiro Shoten. Well, of course I forgot to go into the reason for the pyramid-shaped teabag. I admit that I was so thrilled by the notched tag designed to be latched onto the rim of the teacup that it clouded my priorities. In any case, the teabag design is so that tea leaves can circulate more freely in the teabag. This is supposed to allow larger tea leaves to be used, and a taste more similar to that of loose tea.

I don't know if it's the teabag design or just the fact that this is good-quality tea. I've been careful brewing it, too; normally, I have a bad habit of letting my teabag steep until the cows come home. In any case, these teas are very nice indeed. The aroma of the steeping tea perfumes the kitchen. The sencha (plain green tea) has a wonderful extra sweetness that reminds me of some green tea candies I've tried. The roasted aroma of the koujicha is good, too, but I find I prefer the sencha. Now, even though I already have genmaicha, I want to try this maker's genmaicha. Judging from these other two teas, it should be worth it.

My other recent tea adventure involves a visit from The Dancer last week and a trip to the Asian supermarket. We both splashed out on goodies, one of which was a big bag of Thai tea mix. I don't know how many times I've strolled down the tea aisle before, but I never saw this mix on previous trips. Either I've been really inattentive, or this is just one of those little stocking mysteries the Asian supermarket is prone to.

Once we got back to my place, there was no question that we were going to make a batch of Thai iced tea. We followed Nancie McDermott's instructions in Quick and Easy Thai. She recommends boiling four and a half cups of water, stirring in 3/4 of a cup of the Thai tea mix and removing it from the heat to cool. She also advises adding 3/4 of a cup of sugar at this stage, stirring to dissolve it, but we opted to add sugar to taste later on.

Once the tea cooled a bit, we strained it and poured it into two big plastic ice-filled cups (we didn't wait for it to cool all the way because we were impatient). Then we added sugar and evaporated milk to taste (McDermott suggests 3/4 of a cup of tea and three to four tablespoons of evaporated milk per glass). The straining process ended up being messy and I think we'll handle it more elegantly next time (if only to spare various kitchen equipment from the prodigious staining qualities of this mix once it has steeped). It didn't matter, though; it tasted just like it does in a Thai restaurant. Mmmmm. The Dancer doesn't drink caffeinated tea often, so this very strong brew gave her a good buzz. I was rather wakeful that night, too, but I don't know whether to blame the tea or general life distractions.

When it was time for The Dancer to go, we split the tea powder. The only thing I wish is that I had a recipe to make a glass at a time; on the other hand, maybe the thing to do is brew the tea in quantity, stash it in the fridge, and then dole it out as necessary, just adding the milk (and sugar, if wishing to add it later in the process) when serving.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Soy sauce and fish sauce

Soy sauce and fish sauce are not often found in combination. I've seen the occasional comment recommending a substitution of soy sauce for fish sauce, but it seems to me that if you want to cook Thai (say) and can't find fish sauce, you should pick another cuisine to cook. Both sauces add salt to a meal, but their other aspects are so different that they are not interchangeable.

I recently got some of Lonely Planet's World Food guides. (My series overview for Food, Bound can be found here.) Though these books are mainly travel guides, they do include recipes. I was reading the World Food guide to Thailand when I stumbled across a recipe for "Kung Phat Khing" or "Prawns Stir-fried in Ginger." It looked tasty and simple, and it called for a combination of soy sauce and fish sauce. According to the guide, it's a Chinese-style dish adapted to Thai-style cooking. Because it looked so delicious and simple, I grabbed the book and took it into the kitchen for a really off-the-cuff brunch.

Stir-fry some chopped garlic and ginger in vegetable oil until golden. Then add three tablespoons chicken stock, one and a half tablespoons fish sauce, one tablespoon soy sauce and half a teaspoon sugar. Cook until bubbling, then add eight large shrimp (shelled), eight straw mushrooms and two scallions (sliced into two and a half inch lengths). Add a sliced hot chili at this stage for more heat, if you like. Stir-fry until the shrimp are opaque, then serve.

I made minor substitutions of porcini soaking water for the chicken stock and sliced button mushrooms for straw mushrooms. The final result was very tasty. The combination of the fish sauce, soy sauce and porcini water gave the sauce an extra savor of a quality that I usually find in beef stir-fries.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Creaky chicken

Last night I had dinner with LaLa at Ya Ya Noodles. Perfect Tommy has been raving about Ya Ya's "creaky chicken" lately; it seems to have become one of his favorite treats for dinner. Thus it was that both LaLa and I were eager to try it. We decided to share two entrees between us; LaLa's choice was "soft tofu with winter mushrooms."

The creaky chicken has a hot and spicy asterisk next to it in the menu, but despite the occasional tinge of chili heat, it was not that spicy. LaLa was somewhat puzzled because she said it was the same as the chicken and ginger she'd ordered from Ya Ya the last time she'd eaten there. Despite those quibbles, we found that that it was, indeed, quite delicious. The thin slices of ginger added some bite to the rich savory sauce. The chicken morsels were perfectly done, moist and tender.

The soft tofu with winter mushrooms was also excellent. This dish had the classic "wok hay" smokiness; the tofu chunks were velvety soft and melted in one's mouth, while the mushrooms were juicy. They were dressed in a light brown sauce, thinner and milder than the creaky chicken sauce.

It was a great dinner out. It's probably just as well I don't live closer to Ya Ya Noodles, because then it would become a serious temptation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Nifty teabags

The last time I wandered through the Asian supermarket, I sauntered down the tea aisle. One thing that caught my eye was an assortment of teas from Shirakata Denshiro Shoten in Japan. I passed on the genmaicha (green tea with rice, a wonderful blend), since I'm still working through a batch I bought in Rockefeller Center, oh, too long ago. I ended up picking the "houjicha" (roasted green tea). The box was almost a cube (in contrast to the oblong tea boxes that are the rule in these parts). It was a little pricey. But it was worth it.

Well, yes, the tea itself was quite good. But the teabag design was what I found fascinating about this tea. The teabag has what is called a pyramid design; rather than having the top and bottom edges of the teabag being aligned, they are turned at 45 degree angles to each other, so that from the side, the teabag looks like a triangle (or pyramid, if you prefer) (look at the website above for a photo).

But it gets better. There's a notch in the paper tag attached to the teabag. Now, this might seem insignificant to you, but I'm one of those people who is always trying to fish the teabag tag out of the boiling hot tea (and burning fingers as a result). Maybe it's something about my pouring style, who knows. In any case, when I saw that these teabags had a notch so that you can attach them easily to the rim of your teacup, I was sold. And it even works in real life, too! At last, the tea-drinking experience need not be tainted by burned fingers. I hope this innovation catches on, and soon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Soy-simmered fish

Yesterday I decided to try a recipe I've had my eye on for a while, Mark Bittman's "Fish Simmered in Spicy Soy Sauce" (from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner). The simmering solution I came up with was one-third of a cup of Chinese light soy sauce, two-thirds of a cup of water, seven scallions sliced into two-inch lengths, one dried chili and two teaspoons of sugar. Bittman advises the cook to vary the proportions of soy sauce and water based on how salty the soy sauce is. Since Chinese light soy is very salty, I added more water.

Once the solution was boiling, I added a flounder fillet that had not completely thawed out from its sojourn in the freezer. It was a little long for the big skillet, and rigid while it remained partly frozen. As a result, turning the fish over to cook both sides was an adventure; I have to say that it was a miracle more of the simmering liquid didn't end up all over the stovetop and the floor. I cooked the fish until it was done, and flaked beautifully when a fork was applied.

In a theme that has been evident in my recent cooking attempts, the fish was tasty but too salty for my taste. The next time I try this, I'll use a different type of soy sauce and probably taste the simmering solution just to make sure. The dried chili did not add any detectable heat to the sauce, so next time I'll probably add some hot bean paste or hot chili paste to the sauce. The scallions turned out bitter, for the most part, so I think I'll substitute shallots next time. Finally, some chopped ginger would be a great addition to this dish.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Salt mine 2

As noted in the previous post, what was once challenging cooking has now become somewhat routine. Simply recording the results of recipes has also become somewhat routine, in terms of this blog. I continue to ponder how to shake things up a bit, but in the meantime, I'll blog a few more dishes in an effort to catch up.

The next "salt mine" dish was "Lemon Grass Chicken with Chilli" from Ken Hom's Hot Wok. This called for marinating some chicken thigh meat in a combination of two stalks of lemongrass (crushed and chopped), two tablespoons chopped garlic, half a teaspoon black pepper, two tablespoons fish sauce and two teaspoons sugar. Once this has marinated for 40 minutes or so, stir-fry the chicken and marinade ingredients in a tablespoon of peanut oil until the chicken is golden. Empty and drain the pan and reheat it without wiping it out completely. Once it's hot, return the chicken to the pan, along with two teaspoons fish sauce, one teaspoon sugar and one teaspoon chili powder. Stir-fry for three minutes more, then serve.

This came out quite salty, possibly because of the extra fish sauce content. There was nothing wrong with it, but it didn't thrill me, either. It's sort of a generic southeast Asian stir-fry, simple and relatively quick (apart from the marination). I suspect that I've cooked enough other meals using many of these ingredients that this one didn't quite step out from the crowd. Maybe a little tinkering and/or some other ingredients could give it more of its own personality.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Salt mine

I hate to say it, but sometimes cooking Asian food seems downright routine. I know that there are all kinds of nooks and crannies of Asian cuisine that I have yet to explore (most deep-fried dishes, cooking with Chinese preserved vegetable, making kimchi, making dumplings, steaming most things, to name but a few) but I guess I've fallen into a rut. I love to stir-fry. It's so quick and simple. But I guess that humanity does not live by stir-frying alone. I love to learn new things, so I guess it's time to start pushing the boundaries and giving myself challenges more often.

In the meantime, I've recently cooked a couple of dishes that fell well within the boundaries of things I've tried before. Both were more chili-laden than normal, but that wasn't a problem.

First up was "Shrimp with Roasted Chili Paste and Fresh Basil" from Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai. This is practically Thai convenience food, even in Thailand. All you have to do is stir-fry some chopped garlic in oil, then add the peeled shrimp and cook until they turn pink. Add three tablespoons of roasted chili paste or nahm prik pao (I used Maesri's), two tablespoons of fish sauce, a quarter of a cup of water or chicken broth (I used the broth) and a teaspoon of sugar. Continue cooking for another minute or two, then add a cup of fresh basil leaves. Toss, garnish with sliced red chilis and serve.

There really is nothing more to this dish than whipping up a fast sauce for some spaghetti. I'm sure you can make your own nahm prik pao, but using it out of the jar creates an experience more like heating some store-bought pasta sauce and doctoring it with a few extra ingredients. My Thai basil plants are not yet ready to supply copious amounts of leaves, so I used Spicy Globe basil from the garden instead. The end result was a thick and flavorful sauce. Like most things involving shrimp, this meal had its finger food moments as well.

The saltier dish from the salt mine will be considered in the next post.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Index changes

I've been pondering making some changes to the index for Seven Kinds of Soy Sauce. I think the ingredients categories have gotten so big as to be unworkable, although I do want to keep the vegetarian category. I'll also keep the categories for countries and cookbooks. One problem is that I can no longer change time and date of a post in Safari, which means I can't ensure that countries or cookbooks sort alphabetically. I did look at the interface in MS Internet Explorer, however, and that does still give the ability to edit post times and dates. I guess it's some sort of Safari-Blogger glitch.

So look for changes in the index soon.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Chicken broth and button mushrooms

Two meals, both involving homemade chicken broth and sliced button mushrooms. One turned out uninteresting, the other flavorful. It's amazing how you can cook with the same ingredients and arrive at totally different outcomes: it's sort of the antithesis of convergent evolution.

First, the unassuming meal. I made jasmine rice according to the instructions on the package, just substituting chicken broth for water. In addition, I scattered sliced button mushrooms on top of the rice, along with fresh rosemary and sage. I hoped this would lead to a flavorful rice along the lines of pilaf. What I got was bland rice (apart from the moments when I bit down on rosemary or sage). The chicken broth and the aroma of jasmine rice cancelled each other out. Forgetting the lesson I had previously learned from a bland pilaf, I didn't add salt as a pick-me-up. On the other hand, button mushrooms are considered a bland-flavored mushroom. What does it say about this dish if the button mushrooms were one of the most strongly-flavored components? They were steamed on top of the rice, and the steaming brought out every nuance of flavor.

Another night, another dinner. This time, I decided to have a pork chop with miso sauce and pasta on the side. Mark Bittman's "Pork Cutlet with Miso-Red Wine Sauce" recipe (from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner) has become a go-to recipe for me. The recipe is simple, which means that it's easily adapted to different ingredients. I've cooked it with pork and chicken, different varietals of red wine, red and white miso, sherry and, now, chicken broth.

Fresh from the chicken-broth rice debacle, I worried that the sauce for the pork chop would be uninteresting. Luckily, I was wrong. Perhaps the process of cooking down the sauce by half before adding the miso helped. Even before the miso was added, the sauce tasted deep and savory, almost like a beef broth. The miso added (as is its wont) a further layer of winy complexity to the sauce. The mushrooms took on the flavors of the sauce, then concentrated them further. My only knock against this incarnation of the miso sauce is that it was a little too salty, probably because I seasoned the pork chop with salt and pepper before searing it in the skillet. That's easily corrected. Once the sauce was done, I poured it over the pork chop and a pile of spinach fettuccini on the side. It vanished shortly after it hit the plate.

Thank you, Mr. Bittman. The next time I visit my parents, I know your recipe will provide a template for at least one home-cooked, delicious meal.


Once upon a time, there were two little pea plants. They lived in a clay pot with an errant maple seedling and some cilantro. It was an old and venerable clay pot that had been enjoyed by many previous plant inhabitants.

As spring wore on and slanted toward summer, the pea plants got bigger. They seized upon splinters from the deck railing to shore themselves up and steadfastly ignored the bamboo pole that had been put into the clay pot expressly for their use. They put out more and more tendrils. They climbed over the errant maple seedling. Finally, two little blossoms (one on each plant) made their appearance. There was much rejoicing.

The night the blossoms began to show, there was a furious thunderstorm. Other plants had to be rescued from the pounding rain and winds, but the pea plants stood fast. The morning after, they were still there, unbloodied and unbowed. All seemed well.

Then, after a trip to the Asian supermarket, the gardener looked onto the deck and gave a cry of rage. Something had dug up the dirt in the venerable clay pot! The gardener rushed outside to confirm the sad news. Yes, some evil creature had dug deep into the dirt filling the clay pot and totally uprooted one pea plant. The other still seemed rooted, but both pea plants were sadly wilting, their hopeful little blossoms now seeming like a cruel joke.

There were no muddy pawprints to point toward a culprit. Was it the neighbor's cat? Was it a wandering squirrel? Was it a Barn Swallow digging up mud for its nest? It wasn't a rabbit or deer, because they're not inclined to climb up to a deck. But what was it?

All I can say it that it's a good thing I don't own a gun. Hell hath no fury like a gardener whose garden has been tampered with. Thank you for allowing me to vent like this. Now back to our regularly scheduled food blog.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Nasi goreng

The Asian fried rice tour of 2006 continues here at SevenSoy Central. A few nights ago, I turned my hand to Indonesian fried rice, or nasi goreng. Parenthetical note: I'm typing this post in MS Word before posting it on Blogger, and MS Word insists on automatically changing "goreng" to "goring." Me, I like to type words and have them stay the way I typed them. I guess it's a control thing.

Anyway, back to nasi goreng. Nasi goreng is the Indonesian method of using leftover rice to create a meal. It seems as though all Asian countries have their own versions of fried rice, i.e., a meal reusing previously-cooked rice. Thai fried rice has really captured my affection because the use of fish sauce adds a bracing quality to the dish. It ends up being very clean and simple, and puts the emphasis on the ingredients. On the other hand, if there's a Japanese version of fried rice, please enlighten me! I can't remember coming across such a recipe during my Japanese cooking excursions. The closest thing I can think of is salmon tea rice, which is not the same thing at all.

There's a recipe for nasi goreng here at Indochef, but I used a recipe from Ken Hom's Hot Wok. This presented the interesting proposition of an Indonesian dish being adapted by a Chinese-American chef for his book (UK edition), then being further adapted by a Swedish-Scottish-German-English-American who had some Indonesian ingredients on hand. Hom recommends hot bean paste to supply the spicy heat for this dish; Indochef goes for fresh chilis or sambal. The soy sauce component of the meal is Indonesia's ketjap manis, a thick sweet soy sauce; Hom substitutes a tablespoon of oyster sauce and two teaspoons of Chinese mushroom soy sauce. I just used one tablespoon plus two teaspoons of ketjap manis.

The meat for this version was a combination of chopped chicken thigh meat and shrimp; one thing I like about Hot Wok is its tendency to use chicken thigh meat in stir-fries, rather than breast meat. Breast meat is an obvious choice that I've opted for many times, but thigh meat adds more flavor to the dish. My default chicken stir-fry meat has changed from supermarket breast meat (well, ok, I am a Bell and Evans partisan) to chicken thigh meat fresh from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market.

Enough backstory; the recipe is roughly as follows. In some peanut oil, stir-fry some chopped garlic and ginger, a chopped small onion, chopped shrimp, a tablespoon of shrimp paste, and salt and pepper to taste. After two minutes, add the chopped chicken and stir-fry for another two minutes. Add the rice and cook for three more minutes. Add the ketjap manis and a tablespoon of hot bean sauce and stir-fry for two more minutes. Finally, add two beaten eggs mixed with two teaspoons of sesame oil. Stir-fry for a minute, plate and garnish with scallions and fresh cilantro.

The consistency of this version of fried rice was thicker than Thai fried rice; you could almost shape it into patties by the time it was done. The hot bean paste got lost in the final dish; the chopped ginger was more successful at spreading some heat throughout the food. Since the shrimp was one of the first ingredients added to the pan, it was leaning toward being overcooked by the time the meal was ready for eating. As expected, it was even better as leftovers for lunch (and dinner) for the following day. I finally got to use some cilantro out of the garden, too, which was nice.

Speaking of the garden, I planted some Black-seeded Blue Lake green beans (courtesy of mom) about a week ago. They popped out of the dirt Thursday and since then have seemed intent on world domination.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Garden update 05.19.06

The lemon thyme has died, but there are two seedlings in the pot. Time (sorry) will tell what they are. The sage looks a bit peaked, but new green leaves are sprouting along the stems and from the roots. A cluster of new mitsuba seedlings has popped up in a pot where I planted seeds from last year's mitsuba plant (which is still going strong). There's also a mysterious something else in the mitsuba pot. Last year's lettuce seeds have less germination power this year (no surprise) but a few seedlings are growing. Last year's spinach seeds seem to have more oomph, with no fewer than four seedlings putting out small spinach leaves. Two pea plants are quite feisty, looking for a foothold on anything available. The supermarket cilantro is starting to bolt, but it still hanging on; I planted some more cilantro seeds from last year in that pot in an attempt to keep cilantro coming on. I planted the green bean seeds in an indoor pot today; they'll go outside in a week or so. I also planted some shiso and holy basil in indoor pots today.

In other news, last weekend's World Series of Birding taught me that whenever I was getting tired (I was awake for close to 48 hours straight this year), a hit of chicken fried rice or donburi did the trick of rebalancing the blood sugar levels and waking me up.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Homemade ramen

Ah, ramen. It's the epitome of a fast, cheap meal. Like every other impoverished student, I ate plenty of it during my college years; I've eaten plenty of it in the years since, as well. These days, I tend to prefer the Westbrae flavors that can be found at health food stores, but sometimes you can't say no to Nissin's version; it's right there in the supermarket. Of course, the Asian supermarket has a whole aisle of ramen and ramen-like products; the variety is so staggering that I've never truly explored that section of the store (although once I bought a Vietnamese instant pho bowl that tasted great but gave me major indigestion).

The funny thing is that ramen is a quick, convenient meal even if you don't resort to a prepackaged version; just take some chukasoba noodles, broth of some sort and some toppings, and you're set. You can even make the broth from scratch if you're really into it; I've got a recipe for that but haven't tried it yet because it requires hacking up meat bones, something for which I lack the equipment.

Yesterday I was perusing one of my cookbooks. I'm tempted to call it new, but I bought it a few months ago; I just hadn't cooked from it yet. It's called Masterclass in Japanese Cooking and was written by Emi Kazuko. Masterclass is essentially an anthology of recipes from different chefs (most but not all Japanese) which ranges from traditional dishes to cutting-edge gourmet fare. Some dishes have photos showing the cooking process step by step; these are the so-called "masterclass" recipes. There is also a long introductory section which introduces Japanese cooking, describes Japan's regional culinary specialties and defines commonly-used ingredients. It's a big coffee-table sort of book illustrated with lovely photographs of appetizing food. I find it intriguing because of the variety of dishes included in the book.

I decided to make "Ramen with Mushrooms" or Kinoko Ramen for this cookbook's maiden voyage in my kitchen. First off was soaking some dried mushrooms for an hour to reconsistute them; I used shiitake and oyster mushrooms soaked in two cups of water each. Towards the end of the soaking time, I also soaked some dried wakame seaweed. Then it was time to cook the chukasoba noodles, drain them and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process.

Stage two was making the ramen broth. This required putting the mushroom soaking liquid in the big skillet along with two cloves of peeled and crushed garlic and a 3/4 inch piece of peeled ginger, which I quartered rather than crushing. These ingredients were simmered for five minutes; then the aromatics were removed and six tablespoons of shoyu were added to the pan. I stirred a bit to combine the ingredients, then added the noodles and cooked them through. When it was hot, I removed broth and noodles to a serving bowl.

After cleaning out the pan, it was time to stir-fry the mushrooms (shiitake, oyster and fresh button mushrooms, all sliced) in a bit of peanut oil for a couple of minutes. Once they were done, I added them and the wakame to the bowl of ramen. Lunch was served.

I made a few minor alterations to the recipe (four cups of soaking liquid rather than five, a different assortment of mushroom types, did not season with salt and pepper at any point). The result was a substantial bowl of food which happened to be vegetarian and also used ingredients I had on hand. I have no doubt it was healthier than buying prepackaged ramen with who knows what additives included. It tasted better, too.

If you're hungry for more ramen content, check out The Official Ramen Homepage and

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Not a mint julep

I'm not as involved with horse sports as I used to be (maybe I should make that "obsessed by") but I do at least try to make room for Kentucky Derby Day. This is a challenge because Derby Day is generally a week or two before the World Series of Birding, when birds are starting to arrive in earnest and scouting time is at an ever-increasing premium. This year, however, I managed to do my scouting in the morning and headed home afterward for the race and a good meal. Both race and meal turned out better than I could have hoped.

The meal was "Roasted Cornish Hens" (or hen in this case) from Ha Roda's A Vietnamese Kitchen (see my book review for Food, Bound) here. This was a simple marinate-and-roast recipe; the main quirk was covering the hen with foil during the roasting process in order to keep it moist and to contain the marinade flavor.

I took a small roasting pan, lined it with foil and put the thawed hen inside. The hen was marinated in the pan for three hours, with a turn of the fowl every hour. The marinade was composed of three tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce, two tablespoons hoisin sauce, a tablespoon of chopped ginger, two tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar, a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce, a teaspoon of chopped garlic, quarter of a cup of water and a sprinkling of cracked black pepper.

After the marination was done, I pulled the hen out of the fridge to sit at room temperature for half an hour. Then it was time to set the oven to 350 degrees F, add the hen and roast for 40 minutes. After baking for 40 minutes, I pulled the hen out, brushed it with a solution of one teaspoon honey and one tablespoon water, turned the oven to broil and returned the hen to the oven for 20 minutes, uncovered.

I've roasted Cornish game hens before, but this was by far the best result (not that the others were chopped liver, either). Maybe it was because the hen was covered with foil for the roasting part of the program. The meat was moist but not underdone; the skin was brown but not too crisp. The extra marinade pooled around the hen but did not burn during the baking process; I poured it off and saved it. This was very tasty and I'm sure I'll be making it again. Actually, I think "delectable" is really the word. It was one of those meals that works out so well it earns a place in the gallery of red-letter meals.

Enhancing my enjoyment of the meal was the result of the race. As I said above, I haven't been paying as much attention to horse sports in recent years. As a result, I hadn't realized that Michael Matz was now training racehorses. I remember Michael Matz as an Olympic show jumper and member of the U. S. Equestrian Team. He was a favorite, partly because he started riding relatively late and did not come from the stereotypical horsey family with tons of money. He gained further note by his actions in the wake of a plane crash in 1989, when he helped three unaccompanied children from the plane, then went back in to pull out a baby. Most of the country didn't know who he was before the crash, but it was nice to learn that he was a good human being, as well as being a good rider. You can read more about Matz's history in this article from The Blood-Horse.

Life went on and I became a birder (albeit a birder who casts lingering looks at any horses we may pass while on birding trips). I hadn't thought about Michael Matz recently, but that changed when I turned on the Derby broadcast and discovered that he was Barbaro's trainer. Normally, I wait for the post parade to pick a favorite. Not this time. If Michael Matz had a horse in the race, his horse was my rooting interest.

Barbaro went on to win the race in decisive and downright elegant fashion. The field was widely considered to be very strong, so that made his victory even sweeter. In the wake of that, probably the skimpiest TV dinner would've tasted like dinner at a gourmet restaurant. Luckily enough, I had a meal that was far better than that.

I love it when life comes together that way, even if for a brief shining moment only.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A stir-frying series to watch

I haven't blogged this week yet because I haven 't done much cooking worthy of note. Money is going to be tight again, so I'm half-seriously contemplating a series on "Cooking Asian on a Budget." And no, that doesn't mean stocking up on ramen.

But I didn't post to complain about my life, I posted to draw your attention to the second installment in a series worth watching on another blog. Barbara Fisher's blog Tigers and Strawberries is always worth reading for her knowledgeable and often opinionated posts on food and related topics. Barbara has just posted the second in her series on stir-frying technique, a post on stir-frying chicken in a wok. The first post, a more general overview of stir-frying in a wok, can be found here. When I read this sort of post, I feel like I should be doing more with my blog than just chronicling what I cook and what's growing in the garden, but it's hard to imagine outdoing quality work like this. I guess all bloggers have their own niches and that's what gives the blogosphere (even a focused section of the blogosphere like the food blog universe) its variety and interest. But it still makes me want to do more with this blog. Oh well, I suppose I'll add that to the list of things to ponder.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rejiggered Sichuan spaghetti

Sometimes laziness has a payoff. I've been cooking Sichuan spaghetti for a while, and pretty much sticking to the original recipe from Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients. But the other night, when I cooked dinner later than normal, I left a few of the extras out and wound up liking it even better.

All I did was stir-fry some ground pork in peanut oil until it changed color, then added four tablespoons of Lan Chi's Soy Bean Sauce with Chili and stir-fried some more. When done, I dumped it over some Chinese egg noodles. No extra chopped ginger or scallions, no sugar added to cut the hot sauce, no sesame oil tossed with the noodles, nothing.

This minimalist presentation threw the spotlight onto the meat and the hot bean sauce, and both were up to the challenge. In particular, this meal provided an opportunity to enjoy the complexity and depth of the sauce. The earthy flavor had a sort of wininess to it; the fermented beans were oddly reminiscent of not-too-sweet chocolate. Of course, it was lip-tingling hot as well. It was a rich savory meal that prospered, rather than wilted, from cutting out some of the extra ingredients. It was even better the next day after sitting in the fridge.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mushroom noodles

It seems like I've been living high off the hog lately (or at least been eating too much beef), so last night I went vegetarian. I topped some egg noodles with mushrooms and sauce. I sauteed some sliced button mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until they were cooked through, then added half a cup of water, and shoyu and mirin to taste. This cooked down into a sweet sauce not unlike that in simmered hijiki with abura-age, a similarly light vegetarian dish. There was no recipe involved; it was just a matter of taking available ingredients and doing something simple with them.

I should insert the usual comments about tinkering with the seasonings because the sauce was a little on the sweet side, but I did find it tasty, and it served its mission of being a light yet satisfying dinner.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More herbs

The season of danger has arrived; the potted herb plants have arrived at the supermarket. After agonizing over the candidates yesterday, I succumbed to temptation and brought two plants home. One is a Spicy Globe basil, with a nice lemon fragrance. The other is cilantro, which will require careful repotting. Of course, once I brought the cilantro home, I realized that its foliage resembled a tiny seedling that has mysteriously appeared in the big clay pot. I guess I planted some cilantro seeds in there on a whim and forgot all about it. Oops. Some gardener I am. Then again, given my total lack of success with cilantro last year, I'm not expecting much.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Turkey cutlet and purple mushrooms

No, they weren't some crazy controlled substance. It's just that sliced button mushrooms turn purple if you cook them in a red wine sauce.

Easter isn't one of the big holidays in my house, but it does provide an excuse to cook a nice meal. I pulled a turkey cutlet out of the freezer, thawed it and cobbled dinner together. I drew on Mark Bittman's recipe for "Sauteed Chicken Cutlets with Quick Sauce" for inspiration (the recipe can be found in How to Cook Everything). The main impulse for the meal, however, was my idea of what might work; the recipe served as a useful sounding board for my ideas rather than the blueprint for the dish.

I began by melting some butter in the big skillet. Then I seared the cutlet on both sides over higher heat. I lowered the heat and sauteed the meat until it had cooked through but still had a bit of pink in the middle. I then set the oven to 200 degrees F and put the cutlet inside on a baking sheet to keep it warm while I made the sauce. Better underdone than overdone at this stage, according to Bittman.

Some more butter went into the skillet and then I sauteed the mushrooms until they had darkened. Then the wine (Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon) went into the skillet along with some chicken stock (half a cup each). I added salt and pepper to taste, as well as about a teaspoon of crushed fresh rosemary. In the initial stages, the sauce tasted somewhat thin, but as it cooked down, it got more intense in flavor.

In the meantime, I had cooked some spinach fettuccini. As the sauce reduced, I pulled the cutlet out of the oven and put it on the plate along with the fettuccini; it had produced some juice while sitting in the oven, so I added the juice to the skillet. That did the trick of adding a little something extra to the sauce's flavor. I let the sauce reduce a bit more, then poured it over the cutlet and the pasta.

The most startling thing about the result was the intense purple color of the mushrooms. It was the sort of tint you'd expect from a bottle of food coloring. Then again, anyone who's ever tried to get a red wine stain out of fabric might be forgiven for thinking that that's precisely what red wine is. Despite the brightness of the color, the flavor was less intense than a previous red wine sauce I've made using Zinfandel; no surprise there, I suppose. Next time I try something like this, I might add some balsamic vinegar or lemon juice for a more complex flavor.

The cutlet itself had a nice crisp browned coating but was tender and just slightly moist inside; just the right consistency. Its plain flavor made a good foil for the sauce and pasta. It made a fine meal for a special occasion, and wasn't half bad as a dish cooked mostly off the cuff.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Garden update 04.18.06

First off comes the news that my part of New Jersey has moved from USDA Hardiness Zone 6 to Arbor Day Foundation Hardiness Zone 7 (a warmer zone). See the Arbor Day Foundation's map of Hardiness Zone changes between 1990-2006 for more details.

The weather has warmed up around here enough that most of the plants have been put out onto the deck. My tender tropical sage seedling is still inside, as is the rosemary plant. Meanwhile, a couple of lettuce seedlings are poking up. No spinach has been heard from yet, so I planted more. One mitsuba seedling is growing. Oddest of all is the seedling in one of last year's Thai basil pots, which looks suspiciously like Thai basil. Since this pot sat out on the deck all winter, a tropical seedling from an herb such as Thai basil should not be growing in the pot, but there it is.

Meanwhile, some of this year's new plants have arrived, if only in seed form. I ordered seeds of green shiso, upland cress and holy basil from Nichols Garden Nurseries. In addition, they sent me a free packet of carrot seeds (Scarlet Nantes variety) for the Garden Writers Association Plant a Row for the Hungry initiative. Given my novice gardening skills, I'm not sure how many carrots I'll really be able to contribute to the neighborhood soup kitchen, but I'll give it a go.

When I was on Cape Cod for the holidays, my mother gave me some Black-seeded Blue Lake bean seeds. I need to set up some sort of framework before I plant them, but my mother says they're a good variety that's very easy to grow. I hope so, since I haven't done the bean thing before. I've also planted some peas from last year, so we'll see if they produce anything.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Citrus shrimp

With the current holidays, I was looking for some excuses to cook a few special meals. I've been looking for something a little different, not just another variant of fried rice (though that has served me quite well lately, and I have more leftover jasmine rice waiting for its shot at the fried rice big time). Thursday night I decided to go to southeast Asia via Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. The recipe in question was "Shrimp Cooked in Lime Juice."

This is a quick stir-fry. After stir-frying a teaspoon of chopped garlic and red pepper flakes (to taste) in the cooking oil, you add a mixture of half a cup fresh lime juice, a quarter of a cup sugar and a tablespoon of fish sauce. This should be blended beforehand and added to the pan as a unit. Once the sauce reduces by at least half and has become syrupy, you add the peeled shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are pink, adjust the seasoning, and serve with cilantro for a garnish.

I quickly ran into trouble when my fresh limes turned out not to be terribly juicy. I managed to get a quarter of a cup of juice out of four limes (I guess they just weren't ripe enough) and added water to get the desired half a cup of liquid. As a result, the sauce was not as sour as it should have been; it had a light, sweet citrusy flavor instead (almost like candy).The red pepper flakes quickly scorched in the cooking oil and added none of their heat to the final meal; perhaps real fresh or dried chilis would be better than powder in this sort of recipe.

That said, the shrimp were tasty and there was enough sauce to flavor the jasmine rice, but not so much that it turned soupy. If I try this again, I'll make sure I have the requisite amount of lime juice on hand, and I might play with the seasonings to make the flavor more complex. I think a bit of tamarind would be an excellent addition, for example.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

East meets west

Last night I continued my ongoing series of Thai fried rice meals by trying what can only be described as a fusion dish: Canadian bacon fried rice. Although Canadian bacon (or what we USA-ites call Canadian bacon) is not the first thing you think of when you think of Asian food, using it for flavoring in fried rice fits well with this dish's basic philosophy. After all, the meat is intended to give some extra flavor to the rice, not to be the meal's focal point. Some sliced Canadian bacon (or any part of the bacon-ham family) works well in this role.

The only problem is that I had intended to save some for lunch before today's planned hiking trip. Alas, it was so tasty I ate it all last night.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Another day, another blog

Before I got into cooking, I already had a long history with the first great love of my life: books. I started reading early, and have never stopped. I usually have multiple books going at once; some of the current entries include Through Asia by Sven Hedin, Prints and People by A. Hyatt Mayor, My Famous Evening by Howard Norman and Some of the Dharma by Jack Kerouac. Writing stories, telling stories and reading stories have been abiding joys in my life, even when other things weren't going so well.

When I got into cooking, I discovered a whole new category of books to read, and to make it even better, many cookbooks rise beyond the purely utilitarian into the realm of good wordsmithy, or even literature. Well, now there's a blog devoted to food and books about food. It's called Food, Bound and it's part of the WellFed family. Better yet, I will be blogging for Food, Bound; I'll be reviewing cookbooks and cooking test recipes from them, which isn't that different from what I do here at Seven Kinds of Soy Sauce.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Smug about stew

The other day, when I was making oxtail stew, it was a warm sunny spring day. It was the sort of day when one questions whether stew is necessary at all. After all, stew and warm weather are not known as one of the great "perfect together" combinations.

Today started sunny but cool, clouded up, and now is raw, rainy and brisk. Now I can reheat my stew leftovers and feel downright smug. Ah, spring.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pasta sauce comes from a jar

Well, that's my attitude. I can buy Newman's Own marinara or vodka sauce and have a lovely meal. But I'm trying to change my ways. It really doesn't take any longer to cobble together a homemade sauce than it does to open a least, if you pick the right homemade sauce.

Last night's pasta of choice (as it often is) was wide egg noodles from the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers market. The brand is Mrs. Miller's Homemade Noodles. They're very addictive, even though I know I can make my own. I was out of bottled pasta sauce, so I figured, why not throw together some of my own?

I sauteed some porcini mushrooms and sliced chicken breast in olive oil. When the pan started getting dry, I added the porcini soaking water and some crushed fresh rosemary. When the chicken seemed done, I fished the solids out of the skillet, then cooked the remaining sauce down some. To add a little sweetness to the juice, I also added about a tablespoon of mirin. The result still tasted much more of porcini than of mirin. All in all, rather tasty but not too rich. The chicken breast was bland, as is its wont (that's why I've been using chicken thigh meat more lately). Fit Fare had a good post about livening up chicken breast recently. Maybe the next time I try this sauce, I'll add some marination to the recipe. In the meantime, I'll just inhale the aroma of simmering oxtail stew drifting from the kitchen to perfume the entire condo. Mmmmm.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Asian telephone: third call

Time for another round of my neglected game of Asian telephone. This time, the carryover ingredient from round two was sesame oil, and I went from Singapore to China. Thanks to Ken Hom's Hot Wok, I threw together a hot stir-fry he calls "Stir-Fried Garlic Pork."

Want heat? You've got garlic, you've got hot bean sauce, you've got scallions. Together, they ramped the dish up to the point that I had flashbacks to the last time I had steak sha zha jiang. The heat was raw and garlicky, like Chinese barbecue sauce. Whew.

First you slice up some pork and marinate it in a combination of one tablespoon Shao Xing rice wine, two teaspoons sesame oil and one teaspoon cornstarch. The recommended soaking time is 20 minutes, but I ended up letting it go overnight. Hom's original recipe has a step where the pork is stir-fried before the other ingredients and removed from the wok, but I omitted that. I just stir-fried three cloves of garlic, three chopped scallions and two teaspoons hot bean sauce in peanut oil for about 30 seconds. Then I added the pork and marinade, one tablespoon each of light soy, water and sesame oil; and one teaspoon each of Shao Xing wine and sugar. This I cooked for five or so minutes, then I poured it onto some leftover jasmine rice. Whew. Hot hot hot hot hot. But not in a bad way.

So, the potential ingredients for the next Asian telephone call are garlic, Chinese hot bean sauce, scallions, pork, Shao Xing rice wine and Chinese light soy sauce.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Khmer-ical food

Another meal, another country. To an untraveled American of a certain vintage, the word Cambodia summons up horrible images of southeast Asian wars. But Cambodia is a place that people call home and cook in. My current source for Cambodian recipes is Alford and Duguid's Hot Sour Salty Sweet, an excellent cookbook for those who seek regional trends in cuisines. The Mekong River is the book's backbone as it curves from China past Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The book is full of travelers' stories, gorgeous photos and excellent recipes. I'm not a fan of the big coffee-table genre of cookbook, but this is an exception to that rule. I hope I don't wind up spilling fish sauce on the pages someday, but I suspect that the authors would be delighted if that happened. As pretty as the book is, it's grounded in real travels and real cooking. This is not one of those cookbooks that are all glitz and no substance.

So, as a way of expanding my culinary horizons, I decided to cook the recipe for "Khmer Stir-Fried Ginger and Beef." It's recommended as part of a rice meal due to the beef gravy that is a collateral result of the cooking process. The ingredients are minimal: half a pound each of sliced lean beef and julienned young ginger, three tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil, three to four smashed garlic cloves, two tablespoons fish sauce and two teaspoons sugar. Stir-fry the garlic in the oil until golden, then add the meat and stir-fry until most of it changes color. Add the remaining ingredients and stir-fry "until just tender."

This meal was an object lesson for those who unplug the phone while they're cooking. The Lurker called while I was in mid-stir-fry mode. Normally, I'd call him back, but something in me wanted to live dangerously, and besides, we were cobbling together Plans for the following day. Since Plans are a rare and fragile commodity among our lackadaisical crowd, one really needs to seize the moment when the mirage of planning appears on the horizon. So I did the "shoulder holding the phone up to the ear" trick and continued stir-frying. I thought I carried it off pretty well, until I got off the phone, decanted the stir-fry onto the jasmine rice and realized that I had forgotten to add the ginger to the pan!

There was only one thing to do. I turned the burner back on, called the skillet back to active duty and stir-fried the julienned ginger in the leftover juices for a couple of minutes. Not the desired method, perhaps, but it did the job.

It really is essential to use young ginger for this dish. Its relatively mild taste means that you can use half a pound of it and not be overwhelmed by spiciness. Other than that, what you get is ginger and beef. It's a minimalist dish, where the quality of the ingredients makes a difference. I'm tempted to play with a few tasteful embelishments, but even without those, it made a pile of tasty simple food. You can't argue with that.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Signs of the season

Late this afternoon, I planted the first new things in this year's container garden. I planted some lettuce, some spinach and some mitsuba. We have a bit of a warming trend forecast for the next few days, so I decided to go for it. I would've planted the lettuce sooner, but the nights have been quite cold for the last week or so. As I rearranged dirt in the pots on my deck, I heard the Wood Frogs sounding off in the creek, another sure sign of spring. Wood Frogs, along with Spring Peepers, are the first frogs that start calling in the spring hereabouts.

Yesterday I made Thai fried rice with chicken thighs. I've been using Nancie McDermott's recipe from Quick and Easy Thai, which really is quick and easy. I love the clean taste of the fried rice; there are few ingredients apart from chopped onion and garlic, meat, fish sauce, beaten egg, sugar and jasmine rice (of course). Last night I didn't even use the chopped scallions. As the meat stir-fries in the pan, it leaves some fond (the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan), but the rice sops it up so that it adds more flavor to the finished dish. The chicken thighs were by far the most assertive part of the dish, almost in an unbalanced way, but when I had the leftovers for brunch this morning, it all tasted good. Thai fried rice really is an excellent way of dressing up leftovers without a lot of effort, and winding up with a tasty meal. It's also an excellent lesson in the "less is more" style of cooking.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Liquor = sauce

Sometimes, I think the best thing about alcohol is that you can cook with it. "Sauced," of course, can mean that one has had too much fruit of the vine. On the other hand, fruit of the vine (or its relatives) can also help make a phenomenal sauce.

Well, ok, so last night's sauce wasn't phenomenal. I picked up a mix of fresh "gourmet" mushrooms at the supermarket (shiitake, oyster and crimini) and decided to make a liquor-based sauce and pour it over spinach fettuccini. The sauce template I used was Mark Bittman's miso-red wine sauce; it is proving to be a very flexible base for sauce improvisation. I used up the last of my vermouth (3/4 of a cup) and added 1/4 of a cup of cooking ch'ongju to eke out the required one cup of liquor for the sauce.

I tasted the sauce as it was cooking down and thought it wasn't sweet enough. In went a tablespoon or so of sugar, and then, after another taste, a tablespoon or so of mirin. That did the trick. I poured the sauce over three thin pan-seared pork chops.

It's not that it was bad; I'm sure plenty of people would've enjoyed this extemporaneous sauce. But it didn't quite do it for me. The final result had almost as bright and aggressive a taste as some candies have; the combination of the sweet liquor blend and the deep wininess of the white miso resulted in too much going on, tastewise. The mushrooms picked up the flavors strongly; delectable, if you like that sort of thing, but too intense if you don't. I guess that the next time I try something like this, I'll go for the "less is more" approach.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hijiki and pretzels

A while back, I blogged about chicken hijiki noodles. That dish consisted of somen noodles simmered in chicken stock and garnished with hijiki. Thursday night I took chicken, hijiki and noodles and wound up with something different.

It was hardly rocket science; I just took the traditional recipe for hijiki simmered with abura-age and substituted sliced chicken thighs for the abura-age. Once the chicken had simmered for ten minutes, I removed it from the skillet and cooked the sauce down to taste. The reduced sauce thickened just a bit without the aid of anything like cornstarch; the flavors intensified as well. The final result was rather sweet; if you want a sauce that isn't so sweet, reduce the amount of sugar you add to the shoyu broth. Adding some seasonings (such as herbs of your choice) to the broth would probably give an interesting dimension to the sauce.

I served the finished dish over wide egg noodles from the Pennsylvania Dutch famers market. The chicken pieces almost seemed glazed from the sauce (possibly due to the high sugar/mirin content) and they had a sweetness similar to the sweet chicken teriyaki I remember from Iroha. The dish had a nice contrast between the luxurious sweetness of the sauce and the earthier tones of the hijiki and the chicken thigh meat.

Most of the solid components of the meal were gobbled up Thursday night, but I was left with some sauce. That got called into play yesterday on a scouting trip for the World Series of Birding with The Lurker and Perfect Tommy. As we drove up and down Rt. 130, vainly searching for a Chik-fil-A for lunch, I finally weakened and pulled out my "bag lunch;" a plastic container of jasmine rice sopping up the remaining chicken hijiki sauce. I was just finishing the rice by the time we finally located the Chik-fil-A; I tried not to feel too smug (probably unsuccessfully).

For dessert we visited the Pennsauken Mart pretzel shop. This time we had to wait a few minutes for pretzels to come out of the oven (along with other hopefuls). When the pretzels finally arrived, the fellow who put them into the brown paper bag for me warned, "Be careful, they're hot." Boy, were they! They were fresh out of the oven and too hot to touch without a towel or other protective device. Perfect Tommy admonished us not to close up the paper bag, lest the steam get trapped inside and condense on the pretzels. When we got back out to the car, a perfect plume of steam was emanating from my pretzel bag (but it was a cold day). I held off as long as prudence indicated, but as soon as I could, I started on that first heavenly pretzel. They really are great birding food.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cutting the heat

I know that beer is a popular beverage when one encounters hot and spicy food but I may have found an alternative. Tonight I made Sichuan spaghetti but wasn't in the mood for beer. Instead, I had a glass of apple cider from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market. It was amazing. The cider practically eliminated the burn from the Sichuan spaghetti almost immediately.

Maybe an apple a day keeps the capiscin away too? Nah, it can't be that easy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Yakisoba out of the bottle

Cooking yakisoba these days is about the quest for the perfect sauce. I've come up with some pretty good versions (just check the index for some past attempts) but none of them quite have that beefy, just a bit greasy goodness I remember from Dosanko.

Walking down the aisles of the Asian supermarket is perilous for a sauce lover. There are bottles and bottles of all kinds of sauces, all gleaming with a come-hither luster. All of them promise wonderful meals: savory meat and noodles, lightly stir-fried veggies gleaming with just the lightest veneer of sauce to add flavor to the dish without drowning it. Who knows which bottle holds the secret? They all whisper their promises, while the cold voice of the conscience admonishes that homemade sauces without preservatives are really the best. The temptations increase in the Japanese aisle, where the sauces are not only tempting in their own right, but often come in beautifully designed little vials that would not be out of place in a well-appointed wizard's cabinet of potions.

So I thought to myself, 'Why not try a bottled yakisoba sauce? Maybe it'll hold the perfect sauce secret.' I came home with a bottle of Otafuku Yakisoba Sauce, which also advertises itself as a suitable garnish for stir-fried veggies, hamburgers, noodles and fried rice. The lengthy ingredient list includes some potentially scary stuff (high fructose corn syrup, MSG), extracts from much of the animal kingdom (oysters, chickens, pigs, fish, scallops, shrimp and yeast into the bargain) and fruits and vegetables (everything from peach to garlic).

I followed the recipe on the bottle wrapper (yes, this is a bottle that comes in a plastic wrapper). Due to a glitch in preparation, I wound up with both chicken breast and shrimp ready to be cooked that night. Mixing meats like that is more of a southeast Asian thing, but I decided to go with it. Maybe it would lead to a yakisoba as big as the Ritz. I doubled my allotment of chukasoba noodles to make sure the proportions of meat to noodles were correct.

I stir-fried the shrimp, chicken and some sliced button mushrooms and onions in a bit of vegetable oil about five minutes, then added the cooked chukasoba and heated it through. Then I added a third of a cup of the yakisoba sauce and cooked everything for about three more minutes. I served it out onto plate and tucked in.

It wasn't bad, but it left me a little disappointed. I'm starting to think that one of the components of my perfect yakisoba sauce is beef juice, so the absence of beef from this yakisoba posed a problem. The bottled sauce itself had a sort of sweet-and-sour fruity note that can be found in things such as Chik-fil-A's polynesian sauce. So there I was, eating a home-cooked meal and thinking of fast food. Not the desired impression, to put it mildly. Then again, I probably eat more fast food than I should. It wasn't bad, it made great leftovers and a "brown-bag" lunch for a couple of days, but I think I prefer my fumbling homemade attempts at the perfect yakisoba sauce. Cook and learn.

Not that that means I'll ever be immune to the siren song of the sauce bottles at the Asian supermarket.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Garden musings 1

When I started the blog, I posted regular garden updates. Somehow, all that fell by the wayside. Maybe I was too ambitious, trying too many different things in my first real year of gardening. I certainly didn't end up harvesting homegrown lettuce for salads every night, which was a disappointment. Now spring is looming, however, so that means I have to plan for this year's garden. Let's see what the verdict was on last year.

Asian greens - fodder for Cabbage White butterflies. This year I think I'll stick to buying them at the Asian supermarket.

Bergamot - did ok for a while, then was taken down by a whitefly infestation. I might try some of last year's seeds to see if any of them still have some punch.

Cilantro - did not want to play at all. This will be another supermarket item this year.

Hot peppers - another failure. (I sense a trend here)

Leaf celery - hey, it's still alive! Not only that, it's flourishing pretty well. I just need to use it more in cooking.

Lemon thyme - hit hard by the whiteflies, but I cut it back severely over the winter and it's now coming back, albeit somewhat hesitantly. I love the strong flavor of the tiny leaves, so if I can't keep this plant going, I'll probably pick up another one. I'd also like to try some other sorts of thyme, of which there are many.

Lettuce - my main lettuce pot was initially seeded too thickly and I didn't have the heart to thin the seedlings, so none of them did much. Once I planted seeds more sparsely in other pots, they grew bigger. Inconsistent watering led to sometimes bitter flavor. I'll try lettuce again this year, but I think I need to work harder to ensure its success.

Mitsuba - finally, an out-and-out success. The mitsuba has grown well and abundantly, and reseeded itself to boot. I was also able to save seeds from last year's seed heads. This year I'll test whether it really is hardy in Zone 6 by planting a pot to be left outside come the winter.

Orange mint - also badly hit by whiteflies, also severely cut back. Being a mint (unfazed by just about anything), it's recovering nicely, though I think it's just about outgrown its current pot. I also planted a runner in another pot which, after an iffy start, seems to be regrouping and thinking about world domination, as mints will do.

Peas - one wonderful sweet peapod and that was all she wrote. I want to try some more peas this season (which means I'd better hurry up and order them!).

Rosemary - a supermarket herb plant that has survived. It's hard to balance the extremes of too much and too little water, but it's started putting on new growth lately. Probably my most-used culinary herb, next to the spearmint.

Sage - hanging in there, which is more than I can say of the variegated sage (R.I.P.).

Scallions - the neighbor's cat has an unfortunate taste for scallions, so they're not going back out on the deck any time soon. Another lovely thought that will be a supermarket purchase this year. I still have scallions growing, but they're so tiny and threadlike after nearly a year, it seems rather pointless.

Spearmint - cut back, bouncing back happily, frequently used in tea. A success.

Spinach - another success. This did really well for me early last season. I want to plant even more of it this year.

Thai basil - did very well until those whiteflies showed up, and persisted pretty strongly afterward. I was able to save seeds from last year's crop, so I'll be planting it again this year. And lots of it.

Tomatoes - the plant that survived last winter gave me a few tomatoes but nothing much. I have seeds from it, but I probably should've planted them already. I'll probably just get a tomato plant at a garden center this year.

Tropical sage - I finally got around to planting some of this late last season. One tiny little seedling has poked up and not expired yet. If I'm lucky, it'll still be around in the fall, when western hummingbirds come to call in New Jersey.