A Bowl of Ramen

September 11, 2010

I spent the entirety of last weekend hunting down, searching out, prepping up, and roasting/simmering/cooking away ingredients to make this delicious bowl of ramen. Which I finally put together and enjoyed this weekend.

In this bowl there is ramen broth (pork necks, chicken legs/wings, carrot, onion, konbu, dried shiitake mushrooms, bacon, scallions), tare (chicken backs, sake, mirin, low-sodium soy sauce, black pepper), udon noodles, nori, scallions, bok choy, fish cakes (AKA: narutomaki), bamboo shoots, and pickled shiitakes (dried shiitakes, sugar, low-sodium soy sauce, sherry vinegar, fresh ginger).

Wow. I am certainly link-happy today.

The recipe for this bowl of deliciousness came from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. Every recipe that I have tried in this cookbook has been excellent. He spares no details. If you follow his suggestions, you will be eating well.

School Pics

September 11, 2010

Well, school has begun.

My section at the Iowa Culinary Institute  had its first “Gourmet Dinner”.

I remember serving at these dinners a year ago and wondering if I would be able to turn out food as delicious and beautiful as I saw…and I think we did alright.

This was the menu:

Amuse Bouche:

Soba Noodle Fork with Summer Brunoise & Copperwell Sauce

Appetizer:

Roasted Scallop with Braised Oyster Mushrooms, Poached Quail Egg, Pea Puree & White Wine Nage

Soup Course:

Sweet Corn Cob Soup with Crab, Chive Biscuit, Créme Fraîche & Corn Cob Syrup

Fish Course:

Olive Oil Poached Salmon, Tomato Chutney, Leek Fondue, & Caper Berries

Intermezzo:

Watermelon Lemonade Granite with Compressed Watermelon & Mum Petals

Entrée:

Beef Tenderloin with Duck Hash, Pickled Cherries & Grainy Mustard Jus

Dessert:

Sawdust Pudding, Orange Cookies & Alize Berries

Here are a few shoddy pictures I captured with my iPhone. In all the hubbub and frenzy or service, I didn’t get shots of the amuse bouche, soup course I now have the soup course below, or the completed dessert or entrée course. I’ll have to be more diligent next time!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

To Brighten Your Fall

September 7, 2010

We have entered fall here. Glorious, wonderful, robust, rustling Fall!

When it comes to autumn, its all or nothing for me. Summer is so lazy and slow and steamy and long, that when fall finally shows it’s face, I celebrate it with as much pomp as I can muster, so it will be sure to stick around.

For instance: last week I made this year’s first batch of chili, then, a few nights later, I simmered this year’s first pot of stock, then this weekend I picked up this year’s first butternut squash from the grocery store, and, finally, I made this year’s first bunch of caramel corn. Just one of these events alone should be proof enough that fall has arrived, but all four?  Yes, the fall has indeed arrived and I am welcoming it with open arms.

Here is the caramel corn recipe. It’s probably the same one your grandma or your great Aunt Edith made every fall when you were a little tyke. Nothing new-fangled or fantastic, just regular, old, delicious caramel corn. If you are more reluctant than I am at welcoming the fall, I hope this is a nudge of fall inspiration for you!

Caramel Corn

Yield: 10 cups

1 package plain microwave popcorn (or 1/2 cup stove top popping corn)

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup salted peanuts, chopped

Preheat your oven to 250° F

Get your ingredients ready and in place. Any time you are dealing with caramel, its important to have everything in place and ready to go, because once the train leaves the station, it picks up speed and doesn’t slow down for you to get things in order.

Line a rimmed baking-sheet with parchment or a silpat liner if you have one. Butter or mist with cooking spray a large bowl for mixing the caramel and popcorn.

Pop the popcorn in the microwave according to the package’s instructions, or on the stove top if using loose popping corn. Once it has popped, be sure to pick out every “dud” kernel (the ones that didn’t pop), no one wants to chomp down on a tooth-cracking kernel! Dump the popped popcorn into the prepared bowl. If you popped the corn on the stove top, be sure to season with salt to taste.

In a 1-2 quart sauce pan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Whisk often until the mixture reads 250° F on a candy thermometer (about 3-4 minutes).

Once it has reached the desired temperature, remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla well. The caramel will begin to foam slightly. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and gently fold together using a rubber spatula. Be sure the caramel is evenly distributed over the popcorn.

Now, stir in the peanuts, and transfer the gooey caramel corn to your prepared lined baking-sheet.

Pop the sheet pan into the oven and cook for 1 hour, stirring/turning the caramel corn every 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven, cool for 10-15 minutes, gently break up, and eat!

Happy Fall everyone!

Summer & a Pork Loin

August 31, 2010

Oh my! Good intentions gone awry!

Well, the last week and a half didn’t quite turn out the way I had hoped as far as posting on my blog was concerned. I had intended to write about whatever churned out of my kitchen this week, or perhaps about another trip to the farmers market. But  food rolled out of the kitchen before my camera could be found, and the farmer’s market was only a pipe dream at the beginning of, what turned into, a wonderful last week of summer. The fact that the week was such a perfect book-end to summer is helping to alleviate my guilt.

My brother-in-law, the handsome Jake Ward, descended on us from Shakopee for his last week before school began. And what a fun time we had.

He arrived on the 22nd with John (my dad-in-law–who left promptly the next day) and spent the week going to work with Aaron, eating whatever I could scrounge up, and playing video games into the wee hours of the morning with the very willing Aaron. Also, not once, not twice, but three times we went disk golfing–and I loved it!

Disc golfing always seemed tedious and painstaking (who would want to inaccurately toss an object across a field or through the trees at a small chain-linked receptacle? Tedious!), however, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t seem to mind the fact that I couldn’t throw a frisbee in the intended direction. Or that I had to hunt down said frisbee after every inaccurate throw. It was just nice being outside in the sunshine.

Jake and I both knew that the end of the week meant the beginning of the school year, so we both absorbed it in our own way: Jake, by spending it with Aaron, playing video games, hanging out with Aaron at work, and sleeping in when he got the chance; Me, by going for long walks and bike rides outside, catching up on blogs and books, gardening and cleaning, and getting accustomed to going to bed and waking up early.

So, the week, though busy, had a sort of order to it that my personality craves. (All which will most likely go to the wayside once school kicks in full-swing  and homework accrues.)

At the end of the week, my mother-in-law, Brenda, came to pick up Jake and take him back to the reality of Shakopee and high school.

Saturday night, our last night with Jake and our only night with Brenda, I made a hearty pork loin with a dijon cream sauce, roasted asparagus, homemade sourdough, and sweet watermelon slices.  I will share with you the pork loin recipe, which Aaron found in Stéphane Reynaud’s French Feasts cookbook, because I think it is a great dish, and perfect for the coming cooler months.

Pork Loin & Dijon Cream Sauce

I have deviated slightly from the original recipe, for better or for worse. In the original, Stéphane recommends using white port, we used a tawny and it turned out beautifully. Also, he suggested cooking the pork loin for 30 minutes after the addition of the port, another 30 minutes after the addition of the stock, and a final 30 minutes after the addition of the cream. The first time I tried the recipe, I did precisely that, and the pork loin turned out quite dry. The second time around, I pulled the pork out, as instructed below, and cooked the sauce for a shorter period of time (because I was impatient once the pork was finished!).  I noticed no big difference in the sauce, and enjoyed the pork much more.

2-3 tablespoons butter

2-3 pounds pork loin

2 shallots, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2-2/3 cup port (I used a 10 year tawny)

11/4 cups stock (beef or veal)

11/4 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

Salt & Pepper

Heat a heavy pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add butter and brown the pork loin on all sides. Then add the shallots, cooking for only a minute. Next add the garlic. Deglaze the pan with the port, scraping up the bits of flavor on the bottom.

Cover, adjust the heat to medium, and cook for 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of your pork loin, until the pork loin is just done (about 145 degrees F). Remove the pork loin and allow to rest. Mean while, add the veal stock, and allow to simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes. Then stir in the cream, and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes, being careful to keep the sauce to a simmer. While the sauce is simmering, slice the well rested pork against the grain, on the bias into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick slices.

Finally, stir in the dijon mustard, taste, and season the sauce. Place the sliced meat in the sauce, and remove from heat.  Dish up and serve.

I loved this ladled over slices of sourdough, which soaked up the sauce very well.

Simple and satisfying.

I have a friend who has often been heard saying:  “A chocolate in each hand is a balanced diet.”  If I were to have a similar motto, it would read, “A caramel in each hand…”

Resisting a homemade caramel is not something I do well. I can deny myself almost any sort of baked good or chocolate (if I have to), but caramels are another matter entirely. They are my crack cocaine. And I don’t ever just want one. No, I want one in each hand.

Bearing in mind this deep affection affliction, I decided it was about the right time of year to make my own caramels (as if there could be a wrong time of year).  Here in Iowa, the temperature has dipped into the 70’s for the past few days, making the thought of standing over a boiling pot of sugar bearable.

Though school started this week, last week found me looking for something to do. I had vegged-out and slept in about as much as I could handle over the last 3 weeks, and my well rested mind had grown restless (ironic, eh?).

I don’t know what part of my mind thought it would be a good idea to have a complete batch of caramels lying around the house. Certainly not the disciplined part. But here I am with a brick of Treacle & Créme Fråiche Caramels sitting on the counter, begging to be an afternoon snack. And, boy oh boy, what a great snack they are. Slightly bitter, but also tangy due to the créme fråiche, and oh so chewy. Yum.

I love this recipe, which I found from reading Dan Lepard’s weekly column in the Guardian. Check out his caramel making tutorial here, or check out this where he shows the process with fabulous pictures, it helped me get over my fear of burning sugar.

Without further ado, I give you Treacle & Créme Fråiche Caramels:

Treacle & Créme Fråiche Caramels (taken verbatim from Dan Lepard)*

1 cup water

150 g white sugar

150 g light brown or muscovado sugar

75 g unsalted butter

200 ml crème fraîche

75 ml treacle (molasses)

1/4 tsp salt

scale

2 quart heavy-bottomed pot

wooden spoon

pastry brush

parchment paper lined dish/pan/tin

Number one, did you get all your ingredients weighed out? All of them? Even the salt? Because once this train starts rolling, you aren’t going to have time to pull out the scale and make sure you have “75 grams” of anything.

And did you line a tin or a pan with parchment? Because you certainly won’t have time to do that once your caramel gets underway.

Don't mind the window sill under the dish...this is the best lighting I have!

Do you have everything ready to go? Good.

First things first, pull out a very heavy-bottomed pot that is at least a 2 quart (8 cups) capacity. The one I am using is NOT a 2 quart capacity, but it is the best I have for the job. Every time I make caramel with this little pot, I watch my life flash before my eyes…and have to continually remove it from the heat so the molten caramel doesn’t end up on my skin. If you have a bigger pot, things will go much more smoothly and quickly for you.

Add your sugar and water to the pot. (Dan’s article recommends less water, but I burned 3 pans of sugar, before I found out it was easier to use a little more water to dissolve and melt the sugar. The excess water evaporates as you caramelize the sugar.) Place the pot over medium heat. Watch the sugar mixture, if it boils before all the sugar has dissolved, the caramel will want to crystalize on you, becoming crunchy rather than chewy. Once the sugar has dissolved, the heat can be turned up to a boil. This is not a project you should ever walk away from, constantly be watching the sugar, once it begins to caramelize, it can burn very quickly.

You want to develop a lot of flavor by allowing the caramel to reach a deep reddish-brown. If crystals begin to form on the side of the pan, wet your pastry brush and wipe down the sides of the pan, the crystals should melt away.

Once you have developed the reddish-brown color (and flavor) you are looking for, remove the pan from the heat and add your butter. Once the sputtering has calmed down, return to the heat to make sure the butter is completely melted, then add your molasses and your second measurement of sugar, stirring to incorporate. After those two are completely melted in, again, remove the pan from the heat to add your créme fråiche and salt. Then return the pan to high heat, stirring or swirling the pan to ensure the caramel doesn’t burn. It was at this stage I had to constantly remove the pan from the heat so the caramel didn’t boil over, if you have a larger pan, just let it boil away.

Monitor the temperature of your caramel with a candy thermometer. You will want your caramel to reach 260 degrees F for a soft set chewy caramel, or 266 degrees F for a firm set chewy caramel. I did somewhere between the two (263 degrees F) and was very happy with the consistency. (If you instead want this caramel to be poured over ice cream or another dessert as an all-purpose caramel sauce, only heat to 235 degrees F.)

When you have reached your desired temperature, turn off and remove the pan from the heat, stirring the caramel to rid of bubbles. Once it is smooth, pour into your prepared parchment-lined dish of choice and allow to cool completely for a few hours. After it has completely set, remove from the dish and cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes (or whatever size you prefer) with a sharp chefs knife.

Lastly, only make these if you have a group of friends with which you can share. Because they are dangerous. You will only intend to eat 1 or 2, but then suddenly, 5 or 6 will be missing, and you will be feeling the strong urge to do some vigorous cardio. Just some words of wisdom. Enjoy!

*Dan gives a variety of options for ingredients if you want to switch up the flavors. Experiment with different sugars, fats, and creams. Just be sure to start the batch with plain white sugar, it is best for developing deeply caramelized, yet not scorched, flavors.