Friday, April 29, 2011

How did Lent affect my cooking this year? It's too soon to point out any permanent changes, of course, but I have noticed a couple things.

Aside from giving me the chance to practice working with Indian and Korean ingredients, I think the main thing is that falafel has remained in my regular rotation. It should really be a staple for everyone who's comfortable with deep-frying, as much as fried chicken and French fries are.

Dan dan noodles, too - although they're usually made with a small amount of meat, because I practiced making them during my meatless Lent and had them for lunch so many times, I now think of them as - and are satisfied by them as - a meatless dish. Again, a new staple - I just made a fresh batch of black sesame sauce.

And on top of that, it seems noteworthy that when I did a quick "essentials only" trip at the supermarket this morning, I walked out with two packages of tofu and no beef.

(Mind you, one of those packages of tofu is for mapo tofu, with ground pork.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

1: coconut, 2: red velvet, 4: hummingbird


The third-best cake is obviously poundcake, because you can toast it. (Buttermilk-huckleberry poundcake, in this case.)

Good luck to everybody dealing with tornadoes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011



The jaboticaba is a very cool fruit. Sure, it looks like grapes there, but look at this photo from Wikipedia:

See, the fruits grow directly on the trunk of the tree. And although the skin is thick and slightly tannic like a slipskin grape (fox, Concord, muscadine), the inside is soft and custardy, and similar to lychee or mangosteen in flavor. The seed is soft, a little bitter, a little mealy - certainly something you can eat if you want, and that's not going to break any fillings.

When eaten whole, the fruit is somewhat grape-like in flavor - the skin tarter and more tannic than the sweet innards, everything kind of balancing out. Alternately you can pop the innards into your mouth for something more tropical-tasting. You can see the innards in some of the burst fruit here, before I washed and sorted them:


The skins can be dried and used to make tea - it's not bad, though not very strong flavored unless you use a lot of them, or maybe I should be boiling the skins instead of just steeping them.

The fruit starts to ferment pretty quickly, even in the refrigerator - this is why there's been no attempt to sell jaboticaba on a wide scale in the US. (That, and the trees grow slowly, so it's a long time before you get a useful amount of fruit from them.) In fact, when I tried to candy some of the fruits using the usual method - soaking them in a sugar syrup and increasing the concentration of sugar every day while the fruit absorbs it - I wound up instead with a container full of slightly carbonated jaboticaba wine.

So with the candying failed, what did I do with these other than just eat them? Jjam and Jgin, of course.

Jaboticaba jam, jaboticaba gin

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Green almonds

There's a chance you've followed along in the blog in previous years and thought "hey, where can I get that stuff?" - so I thought I'd point out some things currently in season:


Green almonds (currently in their first stage, the one you can eat raw/whole)

Stinging nettles

There are other places selling some or all of these things - I've pointed you to the places where I buy them, there's no affiliate fee or free stuff or anything involved for me. My experience is that you often get the best deal on eBay or Local Harvest, if only because online stores tend to require overnight shipping, and generally I think the much cheaper Priority Mail is perfectly fine.

I recommend all these things, though green almonds are too expensive by mail order to be worth it except as a "try it once" sort of thing, unless you turn out to really love them. If you live somewhere where green markets or farmer's markets might carry these things, or maaaaybe a Whole Foods or the like, give it a shot - there are reasons why they're not commonly carried, though. (Ramps and nettles aren't domesticated; nettles are possibly impossible to carry in a normal American store for liability reasons; green almonds are highly perishable and have a very short shelf life since they continue to harden after they're picked.) Farmers markets are your best bet if you live where these things grow.

Bizarrely, I don't seem to have a post on ramps, one of my kitchen staples. I'll rectify that this year. Here are my posts on green almonds and nettles.

These things have brief seasons, so get a move on if you're interested in any of them. Likewise, if you buy them, plan your next few meals around them or preserve them right away, because they're not things you can leave in your fridge for a few weeks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

kabosu, yuzu, sudachi

This entry is about free stuff. Check out the free stuff policy here.

Marx Foods sent me three bottled citrus juices to play around with: yuzu, kabosu, and sudachi. I wanted to try sweet, savory, and cocktail applications with all three.

What I figured out pretty quickly is that the question here is not just "what can you do with these juices?" - it's "of the things you can do with these juices, which of them really show off the individual character of each juice?" And that list is much shorter. After all, even out of season it's pretty cheap to pick up some fresh lemons or limes - so there's no reason to use an expensive bottled juice in a dish where all you're going to taste is a little acidity. Just like you aren't going to put porcini mushrooms in chili, you don't want to use sudachi juice in a pitcher of punch with eleven other ingredients - it's not going to stand out.

Let's talk about the juices themselves first. Each of them, while more acidic than orange or grapefruit juice or anything else you'd drink a glass of, is noticeably less acidic than lemon or lime, and I had to correct the first things I made accordingly. I happen to have citric acid on hand - it's cheap enough, you can throw some in the dishwasher to make your dishes cleaner, and Amazon carries it - so it's easy for me to adjust acidity, and using citric acid to do so instead of lemon or lime juice preserves the original flavor. All of the desserts in particular benefit from a pinch of citric acid - it really brings out the flavors of the juice.

But I needed to try them straight, even if they're not meant to be drunk that way. A quick breakdown of the juices - first how the label describes them, then how they tasted to me.

Kabosu juice

label: "flavors and aroma of LEMON with accents of MINT and MELON"

me: a definite herbaceousness which I think is what they're calling mint - basil was what came to mind for me, though, because it certainly has none of the menthol of mint. I taste more navel orange than lemon, just tarter. This is the least tart of the three, to my palate - I didn't think to pick up pH papers to actually check acidity, but tartness is really the balance of acidity to sugar, I think, so a really objective measurement would have to measure Brix too. And I'm not picking up a refractometer.

Yuzu juice

label: "flavors and aroma of ORANGE, LEMON, and TANGERINE"

me: yuzu is really its own flavor. How would you describe lime, after all - "like lemon, but sharper"? The closest analogues to yuzu for me are lime and grapefruit, not orange or lemon. This is one of my favorite fruits - it's really terrific stuff.

Sudachi juice

label: "multiple flavors and aroma of LIME with accents of PEPPER and CUMIN"

me: I understand the pepper in the aroma, I guess, but I don't get cumin at all. Lime, though, yes. This is a less tart lime with something a little spicy and vegetal going on.


Kabosu bars

Kadosu bar

I made kabosu bars, for instance, using a regular lemon bar recipe, with about 25% more juice in order to really focus on the flavor. They were still too flat-flavored, so I included some citric acid in the confectioners sugar on top, and that did the trick.

Is it good? Yes.

Does the kabosu make a difference? Yes. You can definitely tell these aren't lemon bars.

Yuzu pie with huckleberries

Yuzu pie, huckleberries

A key lime pie - 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 3 egg yolks, and 3/4 cup juice blended together and baked for 20 minutes in a Graham cracker crust - with yuzu juice instead of key lime, a little citric acid added (critical when there's all that sweetened condensed milk), served with huckleberries on top.

Is it good? Absolutely delicious.

Does the yuzu make a difference? Hugely. You would easily be able to tell one citrus juice from another in side by side tasting, since nearly all the flavor comes from it.

Yuzu pudding cake

Yuzu pudding cake

This type of pudding cake separates into two layers as it cooks - a light cake on top and a pudding underneath it. For some reason the top blackened very quickly, but doesn't taste it at all. I used yuzu juice and a hit of citric acid in place of the Meyer lemon juice called for in this epicurious recipe.

Is it good? Yes.

Does the yuzu make a difference? Less than in the pie, but yes, definitely.


All of the cocktails use a pinch of citric acid with the juice.

Hemingway daiquiri with yuzu

Yuzu Hemingway daiquiri, frozen grapefruit

A Hemingway daiquiri has a little grapefruit juice and a little maraschino liqueur added to the standard daiquiri. I used yuzu juice and a touch of citric acid in place of the lime juice, and served with frozen grapefruit segments.

2 oz rum
.75 oz yuzu juice
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grapefruit juice

Is it good? Pretty good but pretty sweet.

Does the yuzu make a difference? Somewhat. The maraschino drowns some of it out.

Kamiyama Bitter

Sudachi orange bitters cocktail

I based this on the proportions of the bitters-heavy cocktails I make a lot, where cocktail bitters like Angostura or Peychaud's are used in place of a base liquor. Donn's Mix is a cinnamon-grapefruit syrup sold by Trader Tiki.

1 oz Ango orange
1 oz Trader Tiki's Donn's Mix
1 oz sudachi juice
1/2 oz blanco tequila

Is it good? It's not bad. It might be better with regular Angostura bitters.

Does the sudachi make a difference? No. There's a definite citrus flavor, but between the bitters and the cinnamon, you'd be hard pressed to identify this as sudachi instead of any other citrus.

Peacock Room

Yuzu Corpse Reviver type cocktail

I've been wanting to play around with Pimms in things other than Pimms Cups, so this was a good opportunity. This is vaguely like a Corpse Reviver #2.

absinthe rinse
1 oz Pimms
1 oz yuzu juice
.75 oz Cocchi Americano
.75 oz gin
a couple Coca-Cola-infused cherries (optional)

Is it good? Yes. The spice of the Pimms works well with the Cocchi, the cherries, and the yuzu.

Does the yuzu make a difference? More than the daiquiri, so it's a step in the right direction - but not quite there yet.

Taketa Sour

Black raspberry mezcal, St Germain, kabosu, chartreuse

I didn't want to combine maraschino with these juices again, so made something similar to a Last Word, with the more subtle St Germain instead of maraschino, dialed-down Chartreuse, and black raspberry infused mezcal.

1 oz St Germain
1 oz kabosu juice
.75 oz black raspberry infused mezcal
.5 oz Chartreuse
pinch citric acid

Is it good? It's quite, quite good. The best drink so far.

Does the kabosu make a difference? Yes and no. There's a definite pronounced citrus character despite the strength of the other flavors. I'm not sure it's notably different from what you would get from lime, though.

Kabosu gimlet

Kabosu gimlet-like cocktail

So I dialed it back to basics - focus everything around the juice.

1.5 oz gin
1 oz kabosu juice
.75 oz simple syrup
.5 oz douglas fir eau de vie

Is it good? Yes.

Does the kabosu make a difference? Yes. You're definitely tasting kabosu here, not sudachi, not yuzu, not lime or lemon.


Sudachi Faux-Dobo

Sudachi adobo wings

Marinate chicken in 1/2 cup sudachi juice, 1/4 cup soy sauce, tablespoon pepper vinegar; bake until very well cooked, transfer to stove top, add 1/4 cup sugar.

The idea here is to make something similar to adobo - vinegar and soy sauce - but with citrus juice. There's no added citric acid here.

Is it good? Yes. The sauce is the perfect offset to the richness of chicken thigh and the gelatinousness of long-cooked chicken wings.

Does the sudachi make a difference? More than I thought it would. Adding too many other ingredients - the garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves traditionally used in adobo - would have muddied the waters too much.

Sudachi chicken and potatoes

Sudachi chicken and potatoes

This is kind of fiddly.

Brown a stick of butter: simply heat it until it foams, stops foaming, and there are a lot of visible brown solids. Let cool somewhat.

Blend the brown butter with 6 peppadews, 3 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of sudachi juice, and 1 cup of chicken broth.

Bake chicken in the resulting sauce for at least an hour (at about 375-400), until the sauce has visibly reduced. Remove the chicken, add small whole potatoes to the broth, and cook for another hour so that the potatoes soak up the sauce. Transfer chicken, potatoes, and sauce to a larger shallow pan and cook for an additional half hour in order to crisp everything up.

Is it good? Yes. Rich, with the slight spice of the peppadews and the tartness of the juice offsetting the richness.

Does the sudachi make a difference? It's not entirely lost but would be no worse with lemon.

Kabosu Fried Chicken

Spicy kabosu sauce
Spicy kabosu chicken

Make a sauce of about 2 parts Kabosu juice to 1 part Korean red pepper paste, with a little bit (1-2 Tablespoons) of brown butter, a litle sugar, and a little cornstarch dissolved in cold water. Heat the sauce until it thickens.

Lightly bread and fry pieces of chicken and then toss them in the sauce.

Is it good? It's delicious - spicy, tart, and sweet. Awesome junk food/bar food.

Does the kabosu make a difference? Yes, although the spicier you make it, the less you will notice the specific citrus characteristics.

Spicy cod with kabosu

Cod with fermented black beans, chiles, ginger

Stir-fry together sliced Korean green chiles (mild to medium), grated ginger, soaked and crushed fermented black beans or storebought black bean sauce, a little Thai chile paste, a little cornstarch dissolved in cold water, and a few tablespoons of kabosu juice until the sauce is noticeably tart.

Sear chunks of cod and then add them to the sauce to finish cooking. Serve with rice.

Is it good? Very tasty.

Does the kabosu make a difference? Not really - any source of acidity would be the same.


Mango, kabosu juice, black sesame

Mango slices with kabosu juice and black sesame seeds.

You can use the juice as a condiment by itself, of course - sprinkling it on fried fish, raw greens, cucumber and onion, kimchi and sesame seeds, fresh fruit, and so on. You can also use it in vinaigrettes. However, unless you're serving it with something very bland - a simple green salad, maybe - you're not going to pick up many flavor specifics. While this is one of the most common uses of these juices in Japan - as well as in ponzu sauce, yuzu juice with soy sauce - the fruits are also cheaper there.

They'll come forward better added to tea. I didn't think lemonade-type drinks quite worked - the flavor seemed too diluted.

All in all, what are these juices best for? I would definitely make the faux-dobo again, which was not only one of the tastiest things I made but something that showed off the flavor well. Cocktails that really focus on a citrus juice as the main flavor - such as a whiskey sour, gimlet, or sidecar - all work well, but any more complicated flavors will drown out the nuance. And desserts work well across the board.

Bottled vs Fresh. I've never had fresh kabosu, but I've had fresh sudachi and fresh yuzu several times and cooked with them extensively. Is there a difference? Sure. It's similar to the difference between fresh lemon juice and a good bottled brand, though more care seems to be taken here than with most supermarket lemon juice. You do lose some flavors because you get none of the oil or the flavor compounds that disappear with age - but you're still getting real yuzu and sudachi flavor, not some imitation extract. I noticed no real difference in the desserts between the fresh and the bottled. The difference is only really notable in beverages - cocktails and tea. Even so, fresh yuzu is hard to find, only available for a brief part of the year, and costs a lot - as compromises go, bottled yuzu juice is a good one.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kimchi is a lot like sauerkraut. Both start with cabbage (or whatever) and salt, and ferment the cabbage through lactic fermentation. Kimchi generally goes in the fridge to slow the fermentation after a few days, with older kimchi being reserved for cooking rather than eating raw; sauerkraut is fermented for weeks. Kimchi is usually seasoned more heavily than sauerkraut, although not always.

Once in a blue moon you see fennel sauerkraut on a restaurant menu - or in your grandmother's house, I don't know - and I thought, well, how about fennel kimchi instead. I actually left out most of the kimchi seasonings, though, using only salt, sugar, and Korean red pepper flakes - the idea was to get a lactic-fermented fennel, slightly spicy, that would work with anything you'd usually pair fennel with, and so I didn't want too much in the way of garlic, ginger, or seafood.

Thus tonight, fennel kimchi pizza:

Fennel kimchi pizza

Sunday, April 10, 2011

a comanche hot dog, the old russian volkswagen, canadian whiskey

Most of the New World crops are actually native to South or Central America -- corn, chocolate, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes ... the potato, which is now a key part of northern New England cooking and a major cash crop, didn't even arrive in Maine until the 19th century. (The potato chip was introduced almost as soon as potatoes became a common American crop.) One of the ones we CAN claim for our own, we named ...

... the Jerusalem artichoke.


It has nothing to do with Jerusalem, or artichokes. The French call it the topinambour, apparently after a Brazilian tribe that doesn't have anything to do with it either. You'll often see it as a sunchoke now, but it also isn't a sunflower. You may as well call it a monkey egg, or a Dutch banana.

Sunchokes - let's call them sunchokes - haven't caught on all that much, but they make their way into cuisine here and there - sunchoke relish ("artichoke relish") in the South, sunchoke soups here and there, a salad or two. They're probably the best-tasting tuber outside of King Potato himself, and unlike almost every non-potato tuber, they're not excessively starchy - they damn near fall apart into this velvetty puree after a short roasting.

But they store inulin instead of starch, see, and humans can't digest inulin, but the bacteria in our guts can, which leads to "a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body," like with beans. I don't know if it's something you adapt to in time - beans don't give me any trouble, for instance, because I eat them often enough.

Anyway, also unlike potatoes and most tubers, sunchokes are perfectly good to eat raw. They're very crisp raw, but best peeled, and peeling these knobby little guys can be a pain in the ass. So you might want to roast or boil them, either of which will bring out a rich, nutty flavor. Honestly, they pretty much taste buttered straight out of the oven - the ones here were just roasted plain. It's no wonder people have been pureeing them for soups.


I have typed all that after eating the sunchokes, and prior to being sure if I'll suffer any effects or not. Best leave this here unposted for a while, just to find out. ... dot dot dot ... No man, it's all good. Maybe eating a lot of beans does immunize you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kimchi arancini

Kimchi arancini with black sesame sauce.

I used this recipe for six-minute risotto, but I don't think I would use it again for risotto for arancini - the risotto I got did not seem very starchy and even after over 24 hours in the fridge it was quite soft and difficult to form into balls. I made three, and one of them fell apart while frying - I wouldn't want to work with those odds when making more.

(The "kimchi arancini" is just the risotto, as mentioned, cooked with chopped kimchi, garlic, and ginger, chilled, mixed with egg, formed into balls, battered, and fried. I'm testing out the concept before tackling jambalaya arancini after Lent.)

Friday, April 8, 2011


Black sesame dan dan noodles, roasted asparagus

Black sesame dan dan noodes, roasted asparagus.

For the life of me I cannot find sesame paste. Before you run to the googles, I have followed many many links, and they all lead to tahini - which isn't the same thing as the sesame paste used in Chinese cooking. Tahini is made from unroasted seeds, Chinese sesame paste from roasted seeds; the taste difference is huge.

So I whizzed black sesame seeds and roasted sesame oil in the Magic Bullet, and got not-quite-a-paste - it's fine particles suspended in oil. Maybe the Cuisinart would do a better job, but I'd need to make a big batch, which would use up all my sesame seeds (and what do I do if all my sesame seeds aren't enough?)

Anyway though - it's still good! It's just not the real deal.

This batch of dan dan sauce had a higher ratio of chile heat to Szechuan peppercorn, unintentionally - I'll add more Szechuan peppercorns to the sauce before using it up. Speaking of which, a trick if you don't like getting little Szechuan peppercorn husks adhering to your tongue and the roof of your mouth like little suction cups: after grinding the peppercorns, sift them through a strainer.

Black-eyed pea falafel

Substitute canned black-eyed peas for soaked chickpeas, substitute turnip greens for parsley and cilantro, and add a little extra flour to make up for the peas being canned, and boom - black-eyed pea falafel. (Pictured here with comeback sauce.)

jo jo taipei

More Boston eats, photos courtesy of Caitlin. We ordered in from Jo Jo Taipei, a Taiwanese joint.


The star of the meal: bean curd sheets with edamame and mustard greens. I'm always interested in seeing how various cuisines put greens to use, and I'd never had bean curd sheets before. This was seriously delicious - very few mustard greens, as you can see, just enough for seasoning, and the edamame were perfectly cooked.

szechuan dumplings

The other star of the meal: Szechuan Cho-Show, "spicy wontons with sesame paste." So good, but the sauce is certainly spicy.



Taiwanese-style pan-fried dumplings. Seemed pretty much the same as other dumplings! But they were good.



Fried eggplant pockets filled with pork. I didn't have them, but Caitlin said they were good.



Glutinous rice sausage! So cool. "Will it be vegetarian?" we wondered. It was - the sausage filling is glutinous rice with nuts and spices (definitely some cinnamon, not sure what else). Really really good and unexpected.



The innocuously named "fried steamed buns." Steamed, fried, and then topped with sweetened condensed milk and peanuts - peanut butter doughnuts! Sort of.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saturday we went to Mr Bartley's for burgers, in Harvard Square. The place has always been famous, but even moreso since being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and at 1pm on a slightly chilly day with intermittent rain, the line was down the block. But the wait wasn't nearly as long as it could be - staff handed out menus, and then carried folding chairs up and down the line, took a seat, and took everybody's orders, so that once you got OUT of the line, you had your meal in 2-3 minutes. And man, they pack everyone they can into the place - we got jumped ahead in line because everybody ahead of us was a larger party, and they put us on a two-top next to the ATM machine, which we could only get to by other people getting up from their seats so we could get around them.

Not everybody bothers getting a system like that going when they face regular crowds - I've been in shorter lines outside Applebee's after church that took a lot longer to get through, followed by long waits for service once you're inside. The line probably dissuaded a lot of people who might well have gotten their food faster if they'd stayed and braved the line instead of trying their luck someplace else.

Mr Bartley's

This barely hints at how crowded it was - wall to wall people, many of them at the large communal table.

Here's the important thing and why we'll go back: it was probably the best burger I've ever had in a restaurant.

It's certainly the best burger I've had in sixteen years. Sixteen years ago the Blue Flame closed in Northampton, Massachusetts - my favorite burger up to that point, and it's been long enough that I can't compare the two.

The menu goes on and on with burgers named after politicians and Boston athletes, though inside another menu lists burgers simply according to (single) topping, so ultimately you can order a burger with any combination of toppings you like and they'll figure out the price.

Scott Brown

I got a Scott Brown - grilled onions, jalapenos, bacon, American cheese, and at my request an addition of cheddar cheese.

People's Republic of Cambridge

Caitlin got the People's Republic of Cambridge - coleslaw and Russian dressing, with added cheese.

The patty itself is the star here - ground chuck, which has more flavor than round or sirloin. 7 ounces, which is just about right. I don't like burgers that are too big. An ounce shy of half a pound, at 85% lean, is on the big side by my reckoning, but on the other hand, with too small a patty the toppings would overwhelm the burger. It's just right. I mean, I had bacon, jalapenos, and onions, and I could easily taste the beef. The patty had a well-defined crust even though I ordered (and received) mine rare.

The onions are worth mentioning, because - and I never thought this would stand out enough for me to make this pick - they're the best grilled onions on a burger I've ever had. Not caramelized. Not just sauteed. Cooked on a flat-top, I'm guessing, on high heat so that they're charred in places but still have a firm texture. A burger with nothing but these onions and a bun would still be an amazing hamburger. Assuming they come out that way every time, I'll order the onions on every burger I get here.