Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beet Top and Potato Pie


This is a somewhat unimaginative picture of a thing I have posted about at least once before, but June is the season for using up random produce, because that is what there is. On the other hand, this pie was very tasty, and I have eaten it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on several different days and it was equally good for all occasions. (I do wish I had remembered to add cheese. You can top it with some slices of brie if you want. Strongly recommended.)

 You will need:

1 recipe of crust for a 2 crust pie. I like a half whole wheat and half white flour recipe for savory pies. Mine is

1 cup AP flour
1 cup wheat flour
2/3 cup butter, cool but not freezing
3/4 tsp salt, or a bit more if you use unsalted butter
6 tablespoons cold water

Cut the butter together with the flour & salt until the butter is no bigger than peas. Add the water and mix gently just until it forms a raggedy ball, then refrigerate it until you need it.


2 russet potatoes, medium sized
the tops off of 4 moderately small beets
a clove of garlic, crushed
a chopped onion
salt and pepper
plenty of butter

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Cube and boil the potatoes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the leaves. Start by thoroughly rinsing them. No matter how well the beets have been washed, little gritty things will have gotten stuck down in the stems near the beet crowns. Coarsely chop the leaves, keeping the stems separate from the leafy parts.

Saute the onion in butter until it's transparent. Then add the stems because they take somewhat longer to cook than the leaves. Add the leaves last and cook until tender. Mix everything together with the potatoes. Bash the potatoes up until they are not too big, but not totally obliterated either. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Roll the crust out into an 18" circle. If it's uneven and raggedy that's fine. Pile the filling up in the middle and flatten it out until there's about 5 or 6 inches of crust around the outside. Fold the extra crust loosely up around the filling and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is as brown as you like it. If you can stand to, let it get browner than the picture. The crust is fine if you don't, but I think it's even better if it has more crunch. I was impatient. As usual.

Beets are a twofer. You can think of them as just a variety of chard that you grow because they have this bonus knobby part on the bottom which you can eat later. Possibly the reverse is true- somebody didn't care for the knobs, so they just started growing the kind of leaves that doesn't make any knobs. I didn't know this about beets until I started cooking them regularly, and then the appearance of the leaves tipped me off. Then I started to wonder what made people stop eating the tops as a regular thing- one time a vendor asked me at the farmer's market if I wanted him to cut the tops off my beets and I said no, eating the tops is half the reason to buy them whole, wasn't it? He agreed, but said that some people still didn't want the leaves. Seems to me that if you're going to buy a mess of greens, you might as well just buy beets with tops on them, and get two dishes out of them for the money. At a guess, eating beets at their smaller, newer stage, is a thing that people have started to do again relatively recently. A lot of farmer's market shoppers probably had parents who never looked at a beet before it went into a can, and if you buy a large beet that has been allowed to grow for a full season, the leaves will be pretty tough and unappealing. So, yeah. New beets are tasty, and the tops are good for eating.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Agedashi Tofu


There is a cart at 10th and Alder that does a fantastic job of making this dish. I still haven't got the method right for the crunchy/chewy batter they do, but this is close.

I had to look up what agedashi is, and apparently, 'age' means fried, and 'dashi' is broth or stock. So, fried tofu in broth. Which doesn't explain what it tastes like at all. The brown sauce is indeed based on dashi, but it isn't the watery bland stuff the english word 'broth' leads you to expect. In this case, it is an intensely flavored sweet-salty-savory condiment.

1 lb tofu
glutinous rice flour
oil for deep frying

1 cup dashi
sesame seeds
fresh grated ginger

You may be able to buy dashi ready made, but I don't know. I went to Fubonn and got a box of these things that say they are 'katsuo dashi packs'. What they are is a thing that looks like an extra large tea bag full of dried fish and kelp flakes. The box has instructions for making the broth- in this case you throw a bag into 3 cups of boiling water and leave it for 5 minutes. Take out the bag, add 1/2 cup light soy sauce and a tablespoon of sugar. Simmer it for a couple more minutes and that's it.

Heat about 2" of oil in a pan until you can see the convection currents moving the oil around.

Cube the tofu and roll the pieces in the rice flour until they are thickly coated, then carefully drop them in the oil. Fry them until the outsides are crispy- they won't get very brown. Drain them briefly on paper towel, then serve them on rice  topped with a generous splash of dashi, grated ginger and sesame seeds.

What's about the beans? I just battered some green beans and fried them. I figured that if i was going to have an almighty mess in the kitchen with the frying oil, and the rice flour, and whatnot, I might as well make some tempura to go with my fake Japanese food. Mix about equal parts flour and cornstarch with enough water to make a very light batter, add a dash each of salt and pepper and dunk in the beans. Fry them until the batter is crunchy and as brown as you like.

You know, this turned out all right, and I'll probably make it again to see if I can improve it, but rather than fuss around with my sketchy instructions, you should just go to 10th and Alder get an order of it at the cart called Samurai. It's really quite amazing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mexican Wedding Cookies


I keep thinking that the name for these things is probably apocryphal. I don't have any reason to think that, but I do. I think it about Italian Wedding Soup too, but I don't like Italian Wedding Soup, so I don't care. These cookies are excellent though, so I worry that I am calling my delightful little cookie nubs something that an actual Mexican person might roll their eyes at and think 'Stupid gringos, what do they know from Mexican weddings, anyway?' Never mind.

It is a super easy recipe. I followed it exactly. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I got it.

2/3 cup (65 grams) nuts
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 (30 grams) cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

more powdered sugar for rolling the cookies in

Toast the nuts lightly. Put them in a processor with a couple tablespoons of the flour and process them until they are finely ground, but haven't turned into paste.

Beat the butter and powdered sugar together. Beat in the vanilla and salt, add the nuts and remaining flour and beat until combined. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Pre heat oven to 350. make 1" balls of dough and place them 2" apart on cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool for about 5 minutes. While they are still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. Place the sugared cookies on paper towel to cool. Ta da! Cookies.

Things to know:

1. Do use butter that is at room temperature. If it is too cold it will be hard to beat, and if its too warm, it will separate and the texture of the cookies will be hard.
2. Be gentle when rolling the cookies in sugar. They are very delicate and will crumble up if you bash them around.
3. I used walnuts. Some people don't like walnuts, because they have those slightly bitter papery husks, but these cookies are very bland by nature so I wanted the hint of astringency to balance it out. I bet hazelnuts would be good, or pecans and rosemary. Or pine nuts and orange zest. Hmmmm....
4. They will absorb a great deal of powdered sugar. Don't be shy, go ahead and smother them in it.
5. If you have a scale, do use it. The volume of powdered sugar in particular is highly variable, so the most accurate way of measuring it is by weight. 30 grams is 30 grams whether you cram it into a quarter of a cup or fluff it up to occupy a third.
6. The recipe says to use unsalted butter, so I did, because I actually had some. But next time I will probably like salted butter better, because once the cookies cool down, the savory contrast of the dough with the sugar coating flattens out a bit.

These are really lovely things. The dough is only mildly sweet, so the sugar coating isn't overpowering, and they are astonishingly delicate in texture for something that has such a high proportion of butter and nuts, and no leavening. I think this is partly due to the powdered sugar (which contains cornstarch) in the dough, but mostly to the behavior of butter itself. In the U.S., butter is legally required to have something like 83% milk fat in it. Which means that out of 1 cup of butter, a little less that 1/5 of it is actually water and milk protein and whatnot. That isn't enough to toughen the gluten in the flour, but it is enough to create a teensy bit of steam during cooking so that the starches fluff up a tad and the escaping water vapor creates a slight leavening effect. The result is a cookie that holds its shape just until you bite it and then dissolves with a slight crunch.

I think they're superb. I ate them instead of toast for breakfast today.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Yardlong Beans


I went to Fubonn on Memorial Day in spite of the weather. It makes a very nice bicycle adventure in good weather, and a slightly chancy but still enjoyable one in less nice weather. I got some of the usual stuff, but I also got a jar of powdered ginger drink, a box of dashi sachets, a very ordinary orange soda pop with the most remarkable Japanese packaging, a box of preserved plums that are too icky to eat, and because I am trying to branch out from the tofu and broccoli rut, I got a can of braised gluten and a pack of yardlong beans.

I was skeptical about the beans being actual beans. Once I cooked them and the beans popped out of the pods it became apparent that they really are just that, albeit a tad spooky looking. I like green beans in any case, but these are somehow particularly good. They are more tender than any western style of green bean I've eaten so far, and they have a more subtle bean flavor.

a handful of yardlong beans
half an onion, sliced quite thin
teaspoon minced fresh ginger
sesame oil

can of gluten tidbits

oil for cooking

Remove any little stems left in the beans, then cut the beans into manageable lengths. Put a skillet on medium hot with some oil and a pinch of salt. When the oil starts shimmying in the pan, throw in the beans and stir them around to coat them with oil and get them good and hot. Add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover it to trap the steam. When the water is evaporated, add the onions and ginger, and a little more oil if needed. Stir until the onions are brown, then add the tidbits. Stir until heated through, serve with rice, and hot sauce if you like it.

Nothing special going on here as far as technique, but the ingredients are a change of pace for me. The beans are one thing, the gluten thingummies are another. Dad used to call them vegetarian abalone, and they are also called seitan. Whatever you call them, I called them disgusting when I was a kid. I'm not sure about them now. They are squishy and chewy, and I don't know if they actually have a taste of their own, because if you buy them in a can they are packed in broth and oil.They aren't precisely fibrous, or sticky, and they are a little spongy, hence their ability to absorb flavoring agents. But they do go very well with yardlong beans, so there's that.