Sunday, May 01, 2011

SevenSoy Central's garden on May Day

I still have this illusion that I can raise some of my food in my own container garden. Although the idea that one can raise chickens and bees on one's deck has gained traction and press, my container garden has had only intermittent success since I started it in, oh, 2005-ish or so.

So, here's this year's cast of hapless characters (so far: new characters will be introduced throughout the season):

From previous years:

Spearmint (lanky and in need of a trim, but still going strong, as mint will do. Originally from Well-Sweep Herb Farm).
Orange/bergamot mint (see above, although I'm not sure where it originally came from; both mints came to me via cuttings from my mom).
Tropical sage (not a culinary herb, but one must keep the hope of attracting rare hummingbirds in the fall alive. Originally from seeds from a yard in Cape May County noted for attracting said rare hummingbirds).
Rosemary (also in need of a trim, but younger than the mints. Originally from Stults Farm, just last year).

Brand-new celebrity guests:

Mioga ginger.
Vietnamese mint.

(both shipped in as live plants from Nichols Garden Nursery last week)

Just planted, aka the curse of unlimited potential:

Kaiware/daikon sprouts (the first crop has already been harvested and the next is on the way).
Green shiso (sprouting).
Snow peas (sprouting).
Red shiso.
Mustard greens.
Napa cabbage.

(the seeds for all of these came from Nichols Garden Nursery and Kitazawa Seed Co. Some seeds were packed for this year and others were for last year, but I never got around to planting them. So far, last year's seeds are looking pretty feisty.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An oldie but a goodie

I have been doing a lot of cooking from Mark Bittman's books lately. How to Cook Everything covers a huge range of food and delivers easy, non-fussy directions (a big plus when a hopeful cook is making something for the first time). I think my favorite Bittman recipe of all time comes from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, however. The original title is "Pork Cutlet with Miso-Red Wine Sauce," but since the first time I cooked this dish (immortalized in this post), I've varied the fluids (white wine, sherry, beer, chicken stock, various mixtures), the miso (depending on the other ingredients, white miso may be a better choice than the red miso called for in the recipe), and the meat (turkey or chicken work equally well, though I think beef would be pushing it). Not only is it a good recipe in its original form, it lends itself well to mixing and matching different ingredients.

Last night I made it again. This time I seasoned and pan-seared three chicken cutlets in extra virgin olive oil and removed the cutlets from the pan to rest. Then I added a sliced onion and some smashed and minced garlic to the pan, following them with some sliced baby portobello mushrooms. After sauteeing all of this for a bit (until the mushrooms were sweating), I added a cup of white wine with two tablespoons of red miso dissolved in it and cooked everything down for a bit. Then I added the chicken cutlets and their juices. I was planning on serving this with spinach fettuccini, so when the pasta was done before the sauce, I just drained it and then added it to the pan too.

As usual, the end result was a rich and delicious meal that tastes like something from a fancy restaurant, but which takes so little effort to put together that it's an ideal weeknight dinner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The joy of tomato pie

Last night The Deacon and I had dinner at De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies. Although I've had tomato pie (Trenton's contribution to the pizzaverse) before, this was my first time at De Lorenzo's, which is universally agreed to be one of the exemplars of the genre.

We ordered a large pie with sausage and mushroom for the toppings. The crust was thin, almost cracker-like. The first layer was cheese, then came the tomato-based pizza sauce, then finally our chosen toppings. Some of the pie's slices were triangular, others rectangular.

As expected, it was an excellent tomato pie. The chunks of sausage, in particular, were wonderful; they were peppery and juicy with good char. Although I initially assumed that we would be taking some home (since it was a large pie and neither The Deacon nor I are blessed with huge appetites), we managed to polish the whole thing off while we were at the restaurant. I think that this was because the pie, with its thin crust and relatively light amount of toppings, wasn't as bulky as a standard New York-style pizza (never mind one totally overloaded with cheese and toppings).

I've been experimenting with making my own pizzas lately (more about that in a future post) so enjoying a real Trenton tomato pie gave me even more ideas for my own kitchen adventures (not that De Lorenzo's has anything to worry about on that front).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Remixed braised hijiki

I'm a big hijiki fan. Looking back over this blog's archives turned up numerous posts about hijiki, generally about the classic Japanese dish of braised hijiki (or some alteration to it). Recently I've been fond of braising hijiki with somen noodles, but I've had some baby red potatoes hanging around the kitchen lately. Then there was the lone shallot seeking a better fate than dwindling away into obscurity in SevenSoy Central's allium bin.

So I remixed braised hijiki a bit.

After hydrating the hijiki (which is sold dried in Asian markets), I let it dry on a paper towel. I heated some vegetable oil in a skillet, tossed in the sliced shallot and fried it over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds. I added the hijiki to the skillet and turned the heat down to medium. I fried the hijiki and shallot for a minute more, then added the thinly sliced potatoes and cooked for about three more minutes. Then I added the fluids: a cup of water, three tablespoons of shoyu, two tablespoons of honteri and a tablespoon of sugar. My standard recipe for braised hijiki uses three tablespoons of sugar, but I figured there was no harm in reducing the amount of sugar. Then I let everything simmer.

It took a little while, since the heat was at medium and I hadn't pre-cooked the potatoes in any way. By the time I gave in to impatience, the potatoes were still fairly crisp and there was a bit of sauce that had not reduced. No matter. The dish had a toasted flavor that was probably partly due to the initial sauteeing and partly due to the flavor of the shoyu. It wasn't as sweet as normal braised hijiki, of course, but the toasted  flavor more than made up for it. It was just sweet enough.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Little things can mean a lot

There's a lot to be said for a tried-and-true dish that requires no deviation from the method, but a lot of tweaks may go into that recipe beforehand. Take braised hijiki. My original version of this dish was the standard version of frying and braising hijiki (a type of seaweed) in a sweet shoyu broth with abura-age (recipe here). Then I hit on the idea of using somen noodles to sop up the broth rather than abura-age (recipe here).

The other night, I was in the mood for hijiki somen, but wanted to do something a little different. I cooked it in my nonstick wok, with honteri, and noted how the starch from the somen thickened the dish (along with the sugar from the honteri). Then I decided to add a few drops of sesame oil.

This was a winner. Braised hijiki is a sweet dish, but the sesame oil adds a smoky savory undertone. Just a few drops do not permeate the dish with sesame flavor (sesame oil can overwhelm a dish), but still add a certain not-so-sweet undertone that can add depth to a sweet dish like braised hijiki. Tweak, tweak.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ants climbing a tree

Ants climbing a tree is one of those Chinese dishes for which I have any number of recipes but have never gotten around to making. I finally decided to give it a whirl, using the recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make, so a week or so later, I made a variation of it which I liked even better.

The method is simple, one of those methods that can easily be adapted to other ingredients once you've mastered it. Essentially, this dish is a noodle dish: rice noodles garnished with some ground meat and some sauce. That's it. It's the epitome of Asian noodle dishes where the meat is a seasoning, not the main ingredient.

Dunlop's version uses thin bean thread noodles (often labelled as "vermicelli") and ground pork. Soak the noodles in hot water for about 15 minutes while you season a quarter pound of ground pork with some salt and a teaspoon of Shao Xing rice wine. The meat marinates briefly as the noodles soften. Dunlop calls for a quarter pound of the noodles but I just used a prepackaged bundle of them; you can often buy bean thread noodles in bags containing several of these coiled bundles. As a result, my ants (ground meat) were probably undersupplied in the tree (noodle) department, but it seemed to work anyhow.

Drain your noodles and stir-fry the ground meat until it is browned in some peanut oil and a teaspoon of Chinese light soy sauce. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of hot bean paste and continue to stir-fry until the aroma of the bean paste is evident. Then add 1 2/3 cups of chicken stock and the noodles to the meat and sauce. Add half a teaspoon of Chinese dark soy sauce, season to taste with Chinese light soy sauce and salt, and bring to a boil.

Chicken stock digression: I used homemade Chinese chicken stock for this dish and it added a lot to the end result. I follow Bruce Cost's recipe from Asian Ingredients, which is extremely simple. I like to add a lot of ginger to my chicken stock and I was happy to find that the ginger flavor came through in the completed stir-fry, not overwhelmingly but as a warm undertone. I should also note that I used 2 cups of stock (I freeze my stock in 1 cup amounts, so it was more convenient that way) but since the liquid is cooked down at the end, it doesn't matter.

Once the ingredients are boiling, let simmer until the liquid has been absorbed by the other ingredients. Garnish with scallions and serve. The result is a spicy, intensely-flavored bunch of noodles with bits of ground meat scattered throughout.

When I returned to this recipe for the second time, I decided to change it up a bit. I followed the essential method given above, but I used wider rice noodles rather than bean thread noodles, and I substituted hoisin sauce (Koon Chun Sauce Factory brand) for the hot bean paste. I found that I liked this version even better; the combination of the hoisin sauce and the homemade chicken stock led to a very savory but not overly hot sauce, and the rice noodles sopped up the sauce and became extremely savory themselves.

In the end, it took me too long to get around to making ants climbing a tree, but now it is sure to become one of my go-to recipe models.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I've been on a teriyaki kick lately. My basic recipe for teriyaki sauce is the one that Hiroko Shimbo gives in her book The Japanese Kitchen. Of course, you can find teriyaki sauces with all manner of ingredients in the aisles of your local supermarket, but Shimbo's more traditional version only uses shoyu, mirin, sake and sugar. Using her amounts of 1/2 a cup of mirin, 1/4 a cup each of shoyu and sake, and two tablespoons of sugar gives enough of a yield for two separate teriyaki entrees, but you could also make your own desired amount simply by using two parts mirin, one part each shoyu and sake, and sugar to taste. The ingredients are simmered together: first the mirin and sake over low to medium heat, then the shoyu and sugar are added. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, then continue to simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes. It's important to use drinking sake in this recipe, since the salt in cooking sake will throw off the flavor. I also prefer to use a dry sake in this sauce, since the combination of the mirin and the sugar makes it very sweet. A sweet sake style would be overkill.

You can use this as a simple sauce to dress some meat (as I did with a baked salmon steak the other night), but Shimbo's own teriyaki recipe pan-fries chicken in the sauce (with some orange juice). I ended up adapting her recipe for a small steak (since the steak came out of the freezer, I don't remember what cut it was, but it was probably something in the top blade vicinity). I pan-seared the steak in some oil over medium-high heat, then added the sauce. The sauce bubbled up at first, so I reduced the heat and basted the meat with it; I also turned the steak a few times. Ideally, one would remove the steak and let it rest while the sauce sopped up the fond, but I was feeling too lazy for that step.

When I cut into the meat to check its doneness, it was rarer than I wanted, so I solved that problem by the inelegant but effective expedient of slicing the steak, then turning the meat over in the sauce till it cooked through some more. It would have been ideal to serve this over rice, but since I didn't, I used the leftover teriyaki sauce (now augmented with beef juices and fond) over some udon noodles the following day. My pan-searing technique obviously needs more practice, but this is pretty simple, a nice way to make a special treat for a weeknight (especially if you have already made a batch of the sauce; it'll keep for about a week in the fridge).

I used the second half of that batch of teriyaki sauce for chicken a few nights later; I just simmered some chicken thighs in the sauce, turning them until they were done. Even though these were skinless chicken thighs, by the time they were done they were nicely glazed from the sauce. I can only imagine how good skin-on chicken thighs would look! The next time I do this I'll probably cut the chicken into more consistently-sized pieces so they cook more evenly. Other than that, I really can't complain.

You also can use this teriyaki sauce recipe as a base for for your own variation on the theme. Those bottles in the store can look awfully tempting sometimes, but I think it's more fun (not to mention cheaper) to make your own.