Oysters and Point Reyes and Elk and Elephant Seals and Cows and Seagulls and Crabs

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Oysters at the seashore, at the oyster farm they were raised at.
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Miso Soup with Clams (Kai no miso-shiru)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recipe: "Miso Soup with Clams (Kai no miso-shiru)" from "The Sushi Experience" by Hiroko Shimbo.
Rating: Great! I like that the clams flavor the stock so that no bonito flakes are needed to make the broth.
Status: Made twice.
Yield: 1/2 the recipe makes enough for soup for 2 people; use 1/2 pound of clams.

Additional Notes:

You can also soak the konbu (kelp) in the water overnight if you want to help extra more into the water. The kelp will be slimy if you have soaked it for the optimal amount of time. I recommend removing the kelp once the broth comes to a simmer, just before you put the lid on, since kelp can give an overly strong odor to the broth if it is boiled.

The first time I made this, as soon as each clam cooked through and opened up, I plucked it out of the broth and put it in the soup bowls so that the clams would be perfectly cooked and not over done. The second time, I forgot, but I think it is a good idea.

I didn't strain the soup because it didn't seem to have much sand from the clams in it.

The miso soup should be dissolved in a bit of broth before you mix it into the soup, otherwise there will be clumps of miso that will be hard to dissolve.

Nigiri Sushi

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Recipe: Primarily from "Master Recipe for Sushi Rice", "Sushi Vinegar Dressing", and "Battleship Sushi (Kodomo Gunkan)" from "The Sushi Experience" by Hiroko Shimbo. Also used "Nigiri Sushi" and "Sushi Rice" from "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" by Shizuo Tsuji as reference.
Rating: Great.
Status: Made several times.

Sushi Rice:

First make sushi rice.

Cut the Fish:

With the knife slanted to the left, cut the fish at a steep angle towards the left.

Mold the Rice:

Make a "tezu" (hand-vinegar) out of 2 tsp rice vinegar and 6 Tbsp water which will be used to moisten your hands to keep the rice from sticking to you.

Moisten your fingers with the hand-vinegar and rub your palms together so that they get moistened to. Pick up about 1 1/2 Tbsp rice with your right hand, and lightly squeeze your fist around it. Rotate the rice so that all sides get evenly squeezed. Pick up the fish with your left hand, and use your right index finger to spread some wasabi on the underside of the fish (keep the rice in your fist). Place the fish on top of the rice, and gently squeeze to make the fish stick to the rice. Serve immediately.

Here is a video of Hiroko Shimbo demonstrating how to make nigiri.

"Battleships" (Kodomo Gunkan) are nigiri sushi which is wrapped with a 1-1/4 inch thick strip of nori to help keep loose ingredients (such as crab, uni, or natto) in a compact bunch of top of the rice. Many nori sheets come pre-marked with lines down them every 1-1/4 inches; so to make battleships, there is often no need to measure--just use scissors to cut down the prescored lines. The nori strips will most likely be a bit longer than you need; trim the excess away after you wrap it around a rice ball shaped for nigiri, and then add toppings.

Uni nigiri is usually made with a small strip of nori enclosing the rice ball and the uni.

Salmon, hamachi, and uni nigiri:

Crab salad (Kodomo Gunkan) "battleships": Dungeness crab with sriracha mayonnaise (sriracha mixed with kewpie mayonnaise and optionally sesame oil):

Below is natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) "Battleship Sushi (Kodomo Gunkan)". They make impressively long sticky strands whenever you try to take a spoonful, but actually they don't taste sticky. They mostly just taste like beans.

Mushroom Egg Custard Soup (Kinokozukushi Chawanmushi)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Recipe: Modified from "All-Mushroom Egg Custard Soup (Kinokozukushi Chawanmushi)" from "The Japanese Kitchen" by Hiroko Shimbo
Rating: Tasty. I like that this recipe only requires a few ingredients for the filling.
Status: A keeper. I will make this again.
Yield: 4 to 6 three-inch ramkins or Japanese custard cups. Each one can be a side dish in a multi-dish meal or can be a light breakfast or snack.

I choose to make this chawanmushi because it only has a few ingredients in the filling, so it is quick. You can usually pick out individual mushrooms to buy, so this recipe is also inexpensive to make since it uses only a small handful of mushrooms.

Shizuo Tsuji comments in "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" that "Chawan-mushi is one of the few Japanese dishes eaten with both chopsticks and a spoon. Even though the egg completely sets in steaming, the stock and juices released from various ingredients make the dish a little soupy. In fact, this dish is regarded by many as a soup and is often served as a soup course. In cold months it is brought to table piping hot, and in summer it is very good chilled."

handful of mushrooms (about 1 cup chopped)
1/4 cup water for soaking any dried mushrooms, or 1/4 cup dashi
1 Tbsp neutral oil
2 tsp mirin
1/2 tsp soy sauce
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions
1 3/4 cup primary dashi
3 large eggs
1 tsp salt

If you are using any dried mushrooms, then rinse them to remove any particles on them, and then soak them in 1/4 cup warm water for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are rehydrated. Squeeze the excess water out of the rehydrated mushrooms, and save the soaking water. If you aren't using rehydrated mushrooms, then increase the dashi by about 1/4 cup.

Mince the white and light green parts of the scallions. Reserve 1 Tbsp for garnishing.

Remove any stems that are tough from the mushrooms and discard or save for another use (such as making mushroom broth). Cut all the mushrooms into 1/3-inch cubes. Heat oil in a saute pan over high heat. Add the mushrooms (don't stir yet) and cook for 1 minute. Stir once. Add the mirin, shoyu, stir, and cook for 1 additional minute. Stir the ground black pepper and the scallions (except for the scallions reserved for garnishing). Remove from heat and set aside.

Break eggs into a medium bowl and beat lightly. The eggs should not be frothy and the surface should not have bubbles or foam. Add the dashi and the mushroom soaking liquid (if using). Add 1 tsp salt. Add the mushrooms.

Fill 4 to 6 three-inch ramkins or Japanese custard cups 80% full with the egg-broth mixture, distributing the mushrooms evenly.

Fill the bottom of the steamer with water, and heat until the water is boiling. Add the cups into the steamer; they should not touch the boiling water. Steam over high heat for 2 minutes, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. The temperature inside the steamer basket should be about 195 degrees for the rest of the steaming period. I tested my temperature with an electric thermometer and my pot stayed between 190 - 198 F; checking the thermometer is a good way to verify that you are steaming correctly. Steam on medium-low for 13 minutes or more, until clear liquid runs out when a chopstick is inserted into one of the cups. The cups will still be very jiggly, and only lightly set.

Remove the lid from the steamer, being careful to not drip water from the lid on to the custards. If you have to replace the lid, then wipe the water off the lid first before replacing it.

Garnish with the reserved scallions. Serve immediately while the custard is hot (you can keep it warm for a few minutes if necessary in the steamer with the lid on), or chill and serve cold. If serving cold, then I like mine drizzled with 1/4 tsp sesame oil, and 1/2 tsp soy sauce. Serve each custard with a small spoon.

Additional notes:

For the mushrooms I used 6 brown button, 2 large shitake, and 4 dried Chinese black mushrooms which I soaked in warm water until they were rehydrated.

Use primary dashi because it is more flavorful than secondary dashi, and since the eggs have so few ingredients, using flavorful ingredients is important.

Shizuo Tsuji comments in "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" that if you need to adjust quantity then "the seasoned stock mixture should be 3 times the volume of beaten egg, so apply this ratio of 3 : 1 in adjusting this recipe to the number of diners."

You can substitute chicken broth for the dashi (though I haven't tried it yet). If your chicken broth is salted, then reduce the salt accordingly. Shizuo Tsuji comments in "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" that chicken stock is just as good as dashi in chawan-mushi; it is not just a substitute.

You can use any filling ingredients that you want; they should be cut into small bite sized pieces, preferably about 1/3 inch cubes. William is especially sensitive to having the filling cut small in egg custard. The last time I made egg custard, he told me my greens needed to be cut smaller and that it is hard to eat when they are large.

Chinese Fondue (Chinese Hot Pot) for New Year's Eve

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Happy New Year everyone!

In my family, Chinese fondue or hot pot is a family affair; everyone helps out. We usually all go to the grocery store together. My mother prepares the sauces and a simple stock. Kelly and my mother arrange all the ingredients and set the table; this year David did too. My dad pours champagne and slices all the meat, though this year he had help since Kelly and William tried out the new machine. I take photographs and help with random tasks (this year I made dessert). And then we cook the food together in the boiling soup pot at the table as we are eating.

My mother's focus for this meal is using the freshest ingredients possible. This year, the scallops and shrimp were especially good; the scallops were expensive but she says that she doesn't mind paying for them as long as they are indeed fresh and tasty. She also buys good quality steak, pork, and chicken breast. We freeze it until it is rock solid, and then my dad uses a meat slicing machine to make slices (they must be thin so that they cook quickly). The old machine one finally stopped working last year, so we got a new one this year, which is shown in the picture below. They prefer this over buying pre-sliced meat, since they can choose a higher quality cut. They prefer leaner meats, which my mother proudly points out that at the end of the night, the broth has hardly any rendered fat floating on top of it. Even though it isn't fresh, we always have fish balls because that's my sister's favorite. Ingredients that can be cooked for a long time such as napa cabbage, fish balls, mushrooms, and tofu are placed in the pot and can be taken by anyone. Ingredients that cook quickly or can be overcooked are cooked by each person, in their basket to keep track of them.

The stock is just water boiled with some scallions, ginger, black mushrooms that were soaked in cold water until soft, and salt; usually she also adds some extremely diluted broth to give more flavor. A hot pot is filled with the stock and raw ingredients are placed all around. This dish is usually eaten in winter because a lot of water evaporates and makes the room warm, cosy, and steams up the windows of the dining room. Extra stock or hot water should be kept at a low simmer on the stove, so that the hot pot can be replenished when it gets low. We also always add sliced napa cabbage to the pot during cooking; this flavors the broth more, and it is nice to pluck out vegetable pieces to eat as you are waiting for something to cook.

To make this dish, you do need some specialized equipment. Some sort of electrically powered or portable pot is essential, because you need to keep the soup stock hot in order to cook ingredients at the table. In my house, the hot pot is actually an electrically powered frying pan that is set to an appropriate temperature to keep the soup hot. The small handheld wire baskets (presumably available at an Asian cooking supply store) are usefully to cook ingredients in and to fish out ingredients floating in the broth. Chopsticks are useful; I prefer having one pairs of chopstick for eating, and one for touching raw ingredients and the shared broth, though the rest of my family just uses one. A meat slicing machine is optional since you can buy pre-sliced meat at Chinese grocery stores.

Each ingredient can be seasoned by the diner just before eating it with some provided sauces. The two sauces (a coconut curry sauce and a salty brown sauce) that my family always uses are described here.

The amount of food here was nearly the perfect amount for six people. We finished off nearly everything except for a few slices of pork--where "we", as my mother comments, are six people and four little dogs. Yes, she really does cook some extra meat (usually the pork and chicken which people tend to eat less of), cut it up, and feed it to the dogs. We soak some clear noodles in cold water during the meal, so that at the end of the meal a soup and noodle dish can be eaten, flavored from the ingredients that everyone has been cooking and a small dash of the leftover sauces. Nearly everyone was too full to have much of the soup or clear noodles at the end of the meal, though it is my favorite so I had two bowlfuls.

This year had the prettiest table, the most people, and the best pictures. Previous year's pictures can be seen here: 201120062005.

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The two dipping sauces for the Chinese Hot Pot (also called Chinese fondue) that my family uses are:

Salty Brown Sauce: Put many Tbsp of the solid part of Chinese BBQ Sauce (Bull head brand by Haw-Di-I Foods) into a medium-hot saute pan (try to get as little oil as possible). Heat until fragrant (this should take only a minute or two). Turn off heat, and add enough soy sauce to make a slightly drippy mixture (should be much less then BBQ sauce, maybe only a Tbsp or two, depending on how much BBQ sauce you used). You do not want to burn the soy sauce, so don't cook the sauce much after the soy sauce has been added. The sauce should taste salty and slightly strong, since it will dilute slightly when ingredients are dipped into it.

Curry Coconut Sauce: Shake one can of coconut milk, and remove the top. Place several Tbsp of curry powder in a medium-hot small saute pan (optionally you can add a small amount of oil with the curry powder). Heat until fragrant (30 seconds or so). Pour the coconut milk into the pan. Bring the sauce to a low boil. Optionally mix a few tsp of corn starch in a little bit of cold water, and add a few spoonfuls to the hot sauce to thicken it. Let the mixture boil for a minute and check the texture; keep adding the diluted corn starch and boiling until the sauce has thickened. The sauce should be a little thicker then curry usually is, since soup water from the cooked ingredients will dilute the sauce. The sauce should have a smooth texture; you do not want the coconut oil to separate from the coconut milk the way you would for a Thai curry so you should only cook the curry sauce briefly. Add salt or soy sauce to taste (usually we use soy sauce).

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