Friday, April 27, 2012

Post 84: Squash Carbonara and more - Mrs. Haraguchi Grew Butternut Squash in the Backyard

A few seasons ago, Allison's mom presented me with a butternut squash grown from her own backyard... and I had no idea what to do with it.  Mrs. Haraguchi's suggestion was to roast it, but there's only so much roast squash a guy can eat! By the way, it was a huge butternut squash... huge.  So I planned out two dishes with this grand gourd... a squash and bacon pasta carbonara and a squash and sweet potato Japanese curry.

To make the carbonara, I roasted one half of the butternut squash.  I brushed the top with olive oil and tossed some salt and pepper over the top.  After rendering the bacon, I tossed in the pasta noodles with eggs and heavy cream, making sure not to overheat the pan.  If the pan is too hot, then the eggs will curdle, and the pasta will taste like tofu has attacked it.  While tossing all of the ingredients together, I added cubes of the roasted squash and garnished it with fresh basil at the very end.

Japanese curry is relatively simple to make using the box of concentrated cubes of curry.  Rather than using the usual Idaho potatoes, I substituted sweet potatoes and fresh butternut squash in for the starchy base.  I cut a high quality beef into cubes and browned it along with onions, garlic, celery and carrots.  After adding in the appropriate portion of water to curry cubes, I added in the starches and canned corn.  When serving, spoon the curry over a bed of steamed rice (brown rice if you're feeling healthy), and garnish with toasted sliced almonds.  This is definitely a unique take on the traditional Japanese curry.

With all of my remaining vegetables, I made a vegetable soup.  It isn't the most exciting of soups, so I amped it up with some... bacon! Bacon makes everything more exciting, doesn't it? And to add even more oomph to the soup, I spooned in some pesto to the base... and I also made sure to include the celery leaves (not just the stalks) because they smelled so fresh and aromatic when I first got them.  I also added in cherry tomatoes as an interesting twist. 

I was pretty amazed at the amount of food that I made with just one homegrown butternut squash.  Next time I am going to attempt making a butternut squash panna cotta that I saw on Iron Chef America.  But until then, thanks so much for the squash, Mrs. Haraguchi... let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120604

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Post 83: Lobster Rolls - Aunt Li Had A Pair of Lobster Tails

Auntie Li had a pair of lobster tails, so I made them into lobster rolls... without taking any pictures.  So I went out and bought some more lobster, made some more lobster rolls... and took some pictures along the way.

This time I brought home two live lobsters from 99 Ranch.  At $9.99 a pound, it wasn't too bad of a price considering the season, but at a combined total of 11 pounds, the two live lobsters went way above and beyond my budget.  As a struggling yuppie (not only am I no longer young, nor do I live in an urban community... I am far from professional), it hurt my wallet.  But when the lobster rolls were ready to be eaten, the hurt became a paradoxical painful pleasure that was simply beyond description.

The most common way to tell whether or not a lobster is fully cooked is by checking the color of the shell.  Most people will say that a lobster is done once its shell is bright red.  But when cooking a King Kong lobster like this one (its full body barely fit onto my 18 x 24 cutting board), sometimes the meat in the middle isn't always fully cooked even when the outer shell is red.  Many sites that I read suggest to boil lobster for 10-12 minutes per pound, so that was the recommendation that I followed.  I had one big ass lobster.

To the mayonnaise I added minced garlic, finely chopped red onions, black pepper, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Toward the end I tossed in just a pinch of chopped basil, a hint of olive oil and just a few drops of butter just for that seafood essence.  The amount of mayo to add to the lobster tail meat depends on personal preference, but I would suggest to make sure each chunk of chopped tail meat is well coated by it.

And in case you were wondering what kind of bread pairs best with lobster salad, it's got to be the softest rolls on earth... King's Hawaiian.  Just an extra squeeze of fresh lemon, and you've got yourself some pretty dreamy lobster rolls.  And for the many, many friends who thought I was making lobster sushi rolls... these are, in essence, lobster salad sandwiches.  I got good laughs from the many, "You're going to make sushi?" comments.  The lobster rolls were rich from the mayonnaise but light from the lemon and basil.  The sweetness from the bread brought out the seafood saltiness of the lobster.  Oh me, oh my... they were delicious.

Oh, and I had a whole bunch of potatoes lying around, so I made a skillet of cheesy bacon potatoes while I was at it.  I tossed in a handful of chopped Serrano peppers for that nice spicy kick.  This was the best breakfast skillet sans eggs... and eaten at midnight.  Take that, Denny's.

Thank you Aunt Li for employing me to cook those lobster tails the first time.  Thanks to my roommates for enduring the ever squeamish task of boiling a live 5.5 pound lobster with me... twice.  Flashbacks of that scene from Julie & Julia appear.  Many extra thanks for my awesome cousin for shelling lobster meat with me for hours... literally.  Until the next gift of food, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

This post features photography by Monica Han.

ML - 20120407-08

Friday, April 13, 2012

Post 82.2: Tsuke Udon - Mr. Lee Brought Fresh Udon from Japan, Part 2

One more pack of fresh Japanese udon left... what shall we do with it?

How about following the instructions on the package of noodles?

The instructions in the package suggested that the noodles be served tsuke style, which meant that the noodles should be dipped into sauce or broth rather than having the sauce or broth poured over the top of it.  I've only ever had tsuke style udon in Japanese restaurants before, so I thought it would be fun to make it at home.  Ken approved.

Ken and I strolled through Mitsuwa to see what kinds of ingredients we could add to the udon.  We picked out a package of beautifully cut pork belly on skewers.  I also picked up some more honshimeiji mushrooms.

I made a quick marinade of soy sauce, ponzu, minced garlic, sesame oil, and salt and pepper.  It didn't have to sit long because the cuts of pork belly had high fat content, which would already give the skewers a large dose of flavor.

After boiling the udon and tossing it into an ice bath, I placed them in a bowl as the foundation for our skewers, soft boiled egg, and other ingredients.  The mushrooms were blanched in the dashi broth that came with the package of noodles, and they were quickly removed from the hot liquid and placed on the bed of noodles.  The soft-boiled egg was cooked to the point at which the white was solid but the yolk was still runny.  Awesome.  A quick chop of green onions made for a nice touch of color and a refreshing crunch for some texture contrast.

The tsuke, or dipping, broth was served just above lukewarm.  It was just salty enough to coat the udon with a tingle of flavor.  The grilled pork belly skewers provided the rest of the pizzazz of flavor.

A Japanese meal without miso soup just isn't a Japanese meal at all, so I prepared a miso soup with cubes of mini tofu and ribbons of seaweed.  It doesn't take more than five minutes for that soup.  All in all, it was a simple meal, but a good amount of time was required for the delicate preparation.  Thanks again to Ken and Mr. Lee for the chance to cook with fresh Japanese noodles.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

This post features photography by Ken Lee.

ML - 20120325

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Post 82.1: Yaki Udon - Mr. Lee Brought Fresh Udon from Japan, Part 1

Ken's dad recently returned from Japan and brought with him some fresh udon from a local noodle shop in Tokyo... and I was fortunate enough to be around when Ken wanted someone to cook them.  Who, me? Me cook udon? Fresh udon? Well, who am I to say no to this request? I love noodles! Especially Asian style noodles... and it's been a long time since I've cooking anything special.  Lucky me.

Besides submerged in soup broth, one of my favorite ways to have udon is stir-fried or yaki style.  Yaki udon is a stir-fried noodle dish.  Some may even say that it's the Japanese variation of Chinese chow mein.  Instead of the commonly used thinner, Chinese yellow egg noodles, though, yaki udon uses the thicker, more doughy udon noodles.  It makes for a very luxurious tasting dish... one that allows the eater to swivel the silky texture of the noodle around the plate or in the mouth for complete enjoyment.

The first thing I did was to make sure I had a good amount of mushrooms to work with.  Since I was cooking with Japanese noodles, I decided to go with a duo of Japanese mushrooms, a well known Shiitake and the more honored honshimeiji mushrooms.  I soaked the Shiitake mushrooms in a cold water bath, and cut the bottoms off the honshimeijis to give them a proper cleaning.

The next step to make julienne some vegetables.  Carrots, celery and spring onions made for a very colorful trio of vegetables that added vibrant color and freshness to the stir-fried udon.  When stir-frying, the spring onions get added at the bookends of the cooking process.  It is added first when the oil first coats the wok to infuse some of the onion flavor in the cooking lubricant, and it is added again at the end of the cooking process as a garnish.

When eating yaki udon, I've usually had it prepared with thinly sliced beef from the fattier areas of the cow.  It get prepared with white or brown onions that are caramelized to give the udon the rich taste that we so desire.  I haven't quite mastered that method of cooking noodles, so I sliced up some pork instead.  I used the hind leg meat of the pork, and marinated it with just a bit of soy, ponzu, sesame oil, and rice wine.

While stir-frying all the ingredients together, I made sure to season the dish every step of the way.  First, the vegetables... next, the meat... and finally, the noodles.  I topped it off with sesame seeds and the freshly sliced spring onion (green onion).  I can't say it was the most traditional of Japanese noodle dishes, but I definitely did my best with it.  Thank you Ken and Mr. Lee for allowing me to do some justice to those fresh Japanese noodles.  Itadakimasu!

And just for fun I made a kimchi fried rice with soft boiled egg on top.  More details on that to come another day.  But for now... happy eating! Did I mention that there were two packages of fresh udon? Heh, heh, heh... more udon on the way! Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

This post features photography by Ken Lee.

ML - 20120316