Friday, February 25, 2011

Brussels Sprouts and Pear Pasta with Balsamic Reduction

I love vinegar.  I think vinegar is very important part of the salad dressing.  It really change the characteristic of the salad depends on which vinegar is used.  I keep at least 4-5 different vinegars at home.  Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white balsamic vinegar with fruits infusion, rice wine vinegar, Chinese black rice wine vinegar are in my refrigerator right now. 
I change the type of vinegar for the salad depends on the main dish.  I would use red wine vinegar if I'm cooking creamy tomato sauce pasta which has natural sweetness.  I rather have some strong tartness for the salad.  But For anchovy pasta, I'd use balsamic to balance out the harshness.  Sometimes I mix the vinegars, or mix with citrus.
For years I was buying very reasonable balsamic vinegar at a super market.  It was alright.  But when I double the budget for the balsamic vinegar, it really tasted so much better.  It brought my salad eating experience to the next level.

I bought nice looking Brussles sprouts thinking to bring to the Sunday dinner at my father in law.  But He was cooking hamburgers that day so I ended up not bring them.  Therefore, I had quite a lot of Brussles sprouts on my hands.  
I decided to venture a little bit.  I roasted the sprouts and pear in the oven and mixed with thin spaghetti and balsamic reduction.  That sounds a little too sweet, so I curved sharp parmesan cheese to tie everything together.

*Brussels Sprouts and Pear Pasta with Balsamic Reduction*
1/2 lb. pasta of your choice
8~10 Brussles sprouts
1 pear
2 table spoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
As much parmesan cheese as you wish to use

< 1 > Cut the Brussles sprouts to half, and slice pear to thin pieces.
< 2 > Mix with 1 table spoon olive oil in a baking pan and bake it 15~20 minute at 400F.
< 3 > Cook the pasta to al dente.
< 4 > After the sprouts and pear is roasted and pasta is cooked, mix them with the other table spoon of olive oil and salt & pepper.  Serve it on a plate and curve the parmesan cheese onto the pasta.
< 5 > Sprinkle balsamic vinegar reduction all over and it's ready!

*Balsamic Vinegar Reduction*
Just boil down balsamic vinegar to the half of original volume.
You might want to start it when you start boiling the water for the pasta.

I personally think Gorgonzola will be nice instead of parmesan.  But any sharp cheese will bring the sweetness of the vegetable, fruits and the reduction together.
This dish is very light and has spring feeling...  I think it will be a nice complement with pork or duck.

So I have about 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar reduction left.  It comes in handy.  I drizzled it on onion and liver the other night.  I'm going to drizzle it again on beets and goat cheese salad tonight.

I made the salad with baby spinach, arugula, cherry tomatoes, blood orange, and emmental cheese pieces for lunch.  Instead of making salad dressing, I sprinkled salt, pepper and olive oil.  Then squeezed half of a lemon over and served it with a balsamic vinegar reduction on side.  it was nice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Simple Anchovy Pasta

This is the dish my father cooked a lot.  I guess he liked cooking this because it is so easy to cook and tasty.
All you have to chop is the garlic.  I remember him teaching me how to cook it before I left home.  It became my husband and daughter's favorite dish with some modifications, but I actually prefer the way my father cooked because it's so simple so you can taste anchovies.  Yes, I love anchovies.  I always have them in my pantry.

*Anchovy Pasta*
2 cloves garlic 
 2 Table spoon olive oil 
7-8 fillets anchovies
Salt and pepper to taste
Your choice of pasta 200g
Dried red chili pepper optional

< 1 > Start boiling the water for the pasta.
< 2 > Heat the oil on a large frying pan and cook the sliced garlic.
< 2 > When the garlic is golden, put the anchovies in.  They will break up to small pieces as they are cooked.
< 3 > If you are using a red chili pepper, please put it in the pan.
< 4 > After boiling the pasta al dente, sauté everything in the pan and put salt and pepper.

I used anchovy syrup that I recently bought instead of salt.  I was so excited to have it after ordering it on line.  But as soon as I received it, I started to suspect that it might be very similar to fish sauce from south Asia.  So I called my daughter in to the kitchen and we did the taste test.  The difference is significant.  The fish sauce is much much saltier.  But the undertone of the fish is very similar.  
Considering the fish sauce is 1/5 of the price of the anchovy syrup and 10 times more volume is packed in a bottle, and taste very strong... which means I can dilute it, I probably won't buy the anchovy syrup again.  Yet, it is nice to have this around to use as little essence.  It also looks really nice on the kitchen counter.  But my daughter makes me put it away because it reassemble to maple syrup too much and she is afraid to make mistake of eating it with her French toast.

When I cook anchovy pasta for my family, I chop one big vidalia onion and cook it with the garlic.  That's how J likes it.  He also puts a big scoop of sour cream at the table.  I feel like it is turning into a different dish, yet it tastes nice, too.
But I have to admit that I enjoyed this pasta tremendously in the afternoon as my father cooked it.  He didn't use the dried red pepper in it, but it was a nice touch.  I realized by writing the recipes on my blog that lots of the dishes that I loved as a child have become J and my daughter's favorite dishes...which is really nice.  We came from completely different back ground and now lots of the past is incorporated into their lives, too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I love Omelets!

Since J is trying to avoid as much as gluten possible, although he eats my tarts and sweets.....  I cook omelets often for breakfast.  I sometimes feel like it's too rich to eat eggs and cheese in early morning, but I definitely enjoy eating them for weekend brunch or lunch.  
My mother cooked very simple omelet with mozzarella cheese.  That was only omelet I was used to besides Japanese rice omelet.  So when I tasted other omelets with vegetables in, it really gave me new possibilities.

I love tomatoes.  I love avocados.  I like both of them in my omelet.  Sometimes I don't even bother to put cheese in since avocado is pretty rich.  But sometimes I do.  I had a nice block of  Emmental so I decided to use it.

*Tomato and Avocado Omelet *
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
1 tea spoon cooking oil
1/2 small tomato
1/2 abocado
1/8 cup cheese

< 1 > Whip eggs with salt using a fork while heating the oil in a frying pan
< 2 > Cook eggs until the surface is half cooked.
< 3 > Put cheese and vegetables and cover.  Cook for 1 min.
< 4 > fold it to half and serve.

My father can whip eggs so beautifully with a pair of chop sticks.  His eggs would be very light yellow with tiny consistent bubbles covering the surface.  I was always impressed to see how he does that as a child.  He told me to put a middle finger between the chop sticks so they are separated.  I've tried and tried, and am still trying, but it doesn't come out pretty like his.  But it's for a omelet...  I think it's good enough.

We had a great breakfast in the nice little diner in Vermont last year.  I love Vermont for its great dairy products and maple syrup.  They seems to be proud of what they make, too.  Even small town has a few stores that sells local works of artists and craftsman.  All the restaurants we visited were very creative and delicious.  I was so glad to be able to visit Vermont while we lived in North East.
I encountered this omelet in Vermont.  I thought it was a little weird to put radishes in a omelet.  But I ordered anyway because I didn't feel like having heavy omelet with sausage or cheddar cheese in it.  And I loved it!  It gives such a clean refreshing taste.

* Radish and Goat Cheese Omelet *
2 eggs
a pinch of salt
1 tea spoon cooking oil
2 radishes 
2 table spoon goat cheese

< 1 > Whip eggs with salt using a fork while heating the oil in a frying pan
< 2 > Cook eggs until the surface is half cooked.
< 3 > Put cheese and vegetables and fold.
< 4 > Cook for 1 minute and serve.

There are so many different things we can put it a omelet.....  I've even seen banana on a menu somewhere.  Yet I am not sure it really work, I will continue to think up more interesting combinations.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Steamed Chocolate Buns

I remember making steamed buns in the home economics class in elementary school.  We had the class once a week.  We made aprons, or small bags.  we embroidered them.  We cooked simple dishes.  I remember making English style finger sandwiches.  Japanese curry.  Both girls and boys had to take the class.  A few mischievous boys created a new dish of cream and strawberry sandwiches with sprinkles of mountains of salt and pepper.  They nearly froze their fingers off by competing who can tolerate touching ices longer.  The teacher was frustrated, but the cooking part of the class was everybody's favorite.
Chinese style steamed buns were always available in the winter.  It smelled so nice.  I love the aroma of yeast.  But the steamed sweet buns that we cooked in the class didn't require yeast.  The ingredients were more like the ones for muffin or cake.  But instead of baking, we steamed.  I guess it was easy to do so in Japan around 30 years ago because normal household didn't have a oven.  The people might have had the special compartment for grilling fish, but not the oven to bake cake and such.  
So it is more like a steamed cake.  It's popular because it doesn't require much fat, and all you have to do is mixing the ingredients so young children can participate in the kitchen, too.

So remembering the memories, not having enough butter and eggs to spare for sweets today, yet thinking about my daughter coming home starving everyday, and how she loves chocolate and it is almost Valentine's Day, I decided to make steamed chocolate cakes ...or buns.

*Steamed Chocolate Buns*
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1table spoon of vegetable oil or melted butter
1/2 cup whole milk

< 1 > Start boiling the water for steaming.
< 2 > Put the all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and mix with a fork.
< 2 > Pour oil and milk in the bowl and mix.
< 3 > Divide the dough to 6 cup cake mold.
< 3 > As soon as the water is boiling, place the buns on the steamer and steam them for 10 minutes.

It's very dense cake but not really rich....  I used less sugar so my daughter can put a spoonful of Nutella on it.  

When I was thinking how some people prefer the steamed cakes since they feel guiltless to have sweets that don't contain much fat nor eggs, my phone rang.  My husband who just had his blood checked out was calling me.  He told me that his cholesterol level came out really great.  He even have high level of good cholesterol.  He is following the diet of omitting gluten as much as possible, but not worrying about eating organic animal fat and coconut oil.  Actually, to conventional eyes, it almost seems like he is consuming excessive fat.  
But he is doing better than the time that he was eating low-fat diet.  So he probably wouldn't touch these buns unless I put a chunk of good cultured butter from Vermont.

Monday, February 7, 2011

So I got 10 Meyer Lemons

I went to a market and found Meyer Lemons were on sale.....10 for 2 dollars.  I just couldn't pass the deal so I picked 10 of them not knowing how I am going to use them.

I had left over tart dough at home so I decided to use the recipe that I use for Key Lime Pie filling for the lemons.  It worked great!  I felt like I need some fruits for decoration, so I used blueberries.  
I must tell you that I always preferred cakes to tarts.  I felt like tarts are too much like cookies.  I liked the softness of cakes and cream on it.  But recently, I DO love tarts.  I realized how versatile they are.  You could use any fruits on it, cooked or raw to really enjoy the season.  As for the cream, I can make custard cream, pastry cream, almond cream, or citrus cream like this depends on what I have and feel like it.  I feel like the tarts suit everyday life more.  I still like cakes though!

*Meyer Lemon Filling For 9 inch shell*
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice 
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks

< 1 > Mix the all the ingredients and bake at 325 F in the shell of your choice for 15 to 20 min.

I made 3 4-inch tartlets so reduced the ingredients to half.  A store bought graham cracker pie shell works great for this recipe, too.  You can substitute lemon or lime for the same recipe, but that case, you might want to serve with whipped cream since it will be quite tart.

They were quite delightful.  But I didn't describe what kind of tartlets they are, my husband J was pretty surprised with the tartness.  I'd been making tartlets with custard cream a lot recently so he thought these were the same things.  They look quite similar.
But as he realized that it was Meyer lemon cream, he enjoyed it a lot.  My daughter who loves anything sour was very happy too.  I made coconut whipped cream with whipped cream and coconut milk to serve with the tartlets as desserts.  That was nice combination.

OK, tart filling didn't use too many lemons...  instead it created egg whites left over.  I would usually use them for Financiers but my challenging spirit was rising in the afternoon.  Therefore, I decided to dare try making Macarons.
There are some sweets I consider that I'm not experienced enough to bake.  The macarons were one of them.  But I do have egg whites, and I do have lots of nice lemons to make lemon cream for it.  I just had to do it.  

Well, the result is....  I made the dough too runny so except for few really small ones, they didn't turn out to be a perfect circles.  The texture and taste, J liked it a lot.  My daughter didn't like it.  I, myself.... confused.  
I've only had macarons once in Tokyo a year ago.  They were from a brunch of reputable French pastry shop and tasted great.  But details are far away in my memory.  I guess I need eat them again in order to know what I am after.  Yet in this small town by the Appalachian mountains, it's impossible to find one.  I must put macarons on the list of the things that I must eat in Japan when I visit my family next month.

Yes, the macarons didn't consume the lemon too much either.  So I made lemon cake in Bundt mold to take to Sunday dinner at my father in law's house.  

I also made Greek lemon potatoes at his house to go with Lamb chops.  Now 3 Meyer lemons are sitting in the bowl waiting to be squeezed.  What I am going to use them for today?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Financier Friday - Choco-Coconuts

So I made these financiers thinking about my daughter's preference.  She is practically a chocoholic and she likes coconut flavor.  I wasn't really sure if coconut flakes and chocolate work that well together, but I realized that Mounds is tasty and that is only candy bar that I actually like.  So I went ahead to try.

I am new to baking so I won't go into the details of how they are cooked.  But these were really great!  Very rich in Chocolate flavor.

I replaced 50% of almond powder with coconut flakes.  And I also omitted 1 table spoon of butter and used 2 table spoon of milk chocolate.  I reduced amount of flour and replaced with cocoa powder.

She grabbed one as soon as she came home.  She ate one, two, three..... OK, too much.  But I was happy that she liked these.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Easy Thai Noodle Soup

Hot noodle soup is great on the cold winter day.  Makes me warm and very fulfilling.  Lots of Japanese like Chinese noodle soup called Ramen, but I never got into it.  I don't miss it somehow.  I prefer to have more South Asian noodle soup for some reason.  I think I like cilantro and absolutely love the Sriracha sauce with it.

*Ingredients for 2 servings*
One side of chicken breast with bone
4 cups water
1 clove garlic
1 1-inch piece ginger
1 cup coconut milk
4 table spoon of fish sauce
7 oz of dry rice noodle
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/4 sliced red onion
Cilantro for garnish

< 1 > Boil the chicken breast in the water with garlic and ginger.
< 2 > When the chicken is cooked, take the chicken out to let it cool.
< 3 > Cook rice noodles according to the direction on the package.
< 4 > While the noodle is cooking, put the coconut milk into the chicken broth and taste with fish sauce.
< 5 > Put the cooked rice noodles in a bowl, top it with the shredded chicken, mung bean sprouts, sliced onion.
< 6 > Bring the soup to boil and pour it over the noodle and toppings.
< 7 > Garnish with cilantro.

If you like to put some cooked vegetable such as green beans, carrots, snow peas, or snap peas, cook them in the broth for a couple of minutes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2 kinds of colorful dressing

I usually like to eat salad simply with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  I change what vinegar I use depending on what I am serving as a main dish, or I might put pressed garlic, though.  But I sometimes make these dressing because they are tasty and look colorful on a table.

*Red Dressing*
1/4 Red Onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tea spoon dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

< 1 > Chop the onion.
< 2 > Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend.

*Green Dressing*
1/2 Avocado
1 cup parsley leaves
2 table spoon olive oil
Juice form 1 lemon
2 table spoon white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

< 1 > Chop avocado to small pieces.
< 2 > Chop parsley randomly. 
< 3 > Put everything in the food processor and blend.

I usually make them separately but they look pretty good together....  I used jars to serve at the table so everyone can serve themselves and if there is leftover, I just put the lid back on and keep it in the refrigerator for next day's lunch.

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