Green Tea Chocolate Bark

Posted by on Tuesday Apr 7th, 2015

Mostly, when menu planning, I give dessert an exemption from a dinner’s theme. So long as the sweet fits the balance of the meal–airy after something heavy, rich in the wake of something light, or easy after a main that requires full attention–there’s no imperative to seek total authenticity in terms of nationality or style or tradition.

That’s why I surprised myself when, tasked with bringing dessert to a sushi-and-soba dinner at a friend’s, I fixated on green tea flavors and couldn’t dissuade myself once I’d begun. On the Wednesday before, I ordered a supply of matcha online and started to brainstorm.

My mom helped. My first idea was a green frangipane tart with apples or pears. She bested me with a matcha meringue pie. I spent a lot of time picturing an emerald-hued coconut custard filling topped generously with swirls of billowy toasted meringue. I bookmarked the best coconut custard recipes. But then I wondered if I wanted to hide the green color, rather than show it off. And, would my friends endeavor to cut and eat a whole slice of pie after dinner on a Saturday night? After more reflection, the matcha pie seemed overwhelming and hard to transport. I stored the concept away for an afternoon barbecue at our place.

After cycling through cookie concepts and ice cream ideas, I ended up where I should have started: with my irresistible, addictive, and delicious old friend, chocolate bark. In addition to tasting great and looking charming, bark is an accessible dessert, meaning that even those who claim they didn’t leave room will try some. Like mini cupcakes, bark wants you to acquiesce, and saying yes is as easy as nibbling on piece after piece–far less daunting than cutting into a meringue pie. 

Six months ago, we moved (two blocks) to a new apartment. Between the beautiful afternoon light and the roof deck where I’m about to plant radishes(!), we marvel each day at our NYC real estate luck–no matter that we hike up five flights to reach our nest and now cook on an electric stove.

The kitchen, though, didn’t have a microwave when we got here, nor an obvious place to install one, so we decided to try nuke-free living for a while before we committed any counter space to the gadget. Six months in, we barely miss the ability to melt cheese in a heartbeat. That’s not fully true. But still, though there’s more patience needed to reheat leftovers or make oatmeal, and more dishes dirtied in the process, I’ve loved the exercise in not depriving foods of texture and never sticking my spoon into steaming soup to find that the center is cold.

Here are my notes and tips from a half year of microwave-free cooking and eating.

Reheating Leftovers

Stovetop heat is bottom up, so the key to getting your leftovers good and hot throughout is to capture some steam, creating an oven-like situation in your pan. Note, by the way, that we don’t have a toaster oven either. This is all about stovetop and oven.

For pasta (sauced or plan), I like to add some olive oil to the pan. If I’m looking for crispy edges, I cook over medium heat, turning every so often. If I want sauced pasta to get a little soft, I cover the pan. See also: Fried Noodles, Spaghetti with Red Sauce & a Fried Egg.

Extra rice dries out in the fridge, making it the perfect candidate for use in fried rice or rice pudding cereal.  I used to love being able to make rice in advance for dinner parties, then heating it up til it was fluffy and hot in the microwave. I’m still working on an exact replacement for that situation, but it definitely involves some extra water. I have been experimenting with a bastardized Persian rice, where you melt butter in the bottom of a pot, then add the leftover rice and some splashes of water, reheating the whole thing very slowly til the rice is moist again and the bottom has a crust. Also, if you know you’re going to eat your rice with curry, for example, store them in the fridge together–the sauce will prevent the rice from drying out, and then you can reheat in a covered pan over low heat all together.

I always skipped the microwave for pizza anyway. I’d rather eat it cold than soggy! You can reheat pizza in the oven (at a high temp, for a very short time), but if you don’t want to preheat for just a slice or two, grab a big enough pan and set it over medium heat. When it’s hot, add your slices and then cover the pan with any lid that even remotely fits. This will create steaminess inside. When the bottom crust is crispy and the cheese is melted, you’re ready. This is also how I make open-faced grilled cheese toasts.

Hi readers. I’m currently on my way back from vacation, so from afar, I’m delighted to introduce this post, by Carly Diaz, one that’ll transport us to the kitchens of Korea. It’s a recipe for gyeongdan–Korean sweet rice cakes–and a story about learning to love them. 

The first time I tasted sweet red bean paste, I nearly choked. It was the summer of 2006, the air was thick with humidity and the sound of cicadas. Everywhere around me were bright lights, loud music, street carts, and hired girls dancing in front of an electronics shop as part of the grand opening celebration. I had recently moved to Seoul in a post-graduation flurry and planned to spend the next 12 months writing, applying to grad schools, and teaching English.

In my defense, I was given the bean-filled pastry and told it was the Korean-version of a cream-filled doughnut. Instead of a light cream, I received a mouthful of thick beans. And not just any beans. Sweet beans. It would not be the last time that an unfamiliar taste heightened the sense that I was in foreign territory. That first taste of sweet red beans marked the slow transition of the unfamiliar to the familiar. Over the next year, the wholly unfamiliar world of South Korea would become one that I navigated with relative ease, one bite at a time.

In September, during the Korean harvest festival Chuseok, I was confronted with the sweet red bean paste again when I received a box of songpyeon. The traditional moon-shaped Chuseok dessert is made with sweet rice flour and filled with the paste. I nimbly took a bite and found that I liked it. It wasn’t the kind of confection I had grown up with, but there was something about the sticky rice cake and the subtly sweet, earthy, protein-y richness of the red beans that appealed to my acclimating taste buds.

Making Ramen at Home

Posted by on Saturday Mar 28th, 2015

There’s been a lot of fuss about ramen this winter. As the bowls of Japanese noodle soup have made their way into the mainstream, via a lot of new restaurants, the never-before-seen availability of fresh ramen noodles at Whole Foods in NYC, and the appearance of crazy fusion creations on menus, there’s been a lot of interest in the dish. Also some backlash and serious reflection.

But at bottom, everything ramen chefs and noodle makers have told me about ramen leads me to believe that trendiness doesn’t really matter. If you want a comforting meal that you could eat every day, look to ramen and be fulfilled, belly and soul. If you’re like me, you’re never going to go out for ramen every day. And that’s why I put together this beginner’s guide to making the soup at home.

We ate ramen every day for at least a week as I was testing broths and toppings. I loved that. We’ll do a ramen week again soon. This works not just because it’s a comfort food, but also because the more you cook ramen, the better you understand what you want your bowl to be. If you want to get into it, read my full guide over at First We Feast.

Most of the time, I don’t deep fry at home. This isn’t a problem. I figure if I eat French fries at restaurants and baked potatoes here, I’ve achieved a balance I don’t need to upset. And then, once in a while, I fry potatoes at home and remember: oh, this is wonderful.

So the delight I took in some recently fried fries did not beg the question of whether frying at home is hard (it’s not). Rather, it made me think about if homemade chips are worth the $10 of oil I need to fill up my pot to deep fry them. And that’s when we have to talk about reusing oil more than once. To do so, you simply strain out all the particulates that have gotten into your oil. I did so twice, first through a strainer, and then through a strainer lined with a paper towel. The idea is to get out any organic matter that might spoil. With “naked” and battered foods, there’s not a lot of residue to strain out; with floured or breadcrumb-covered chicken or zucchini, there will be more. I stored this cleaned-up oil in a jar.

After straining, I had yet another object cluttering my kitchen, though: a jar of used oil. So, I kept frying. Yes, after the French fry meal, I went on a short but steady fried food bender. It mostly involved battered banana fritters with chocolate sauce, which I cooked up fresh for guests after we’d eaten our main, not the kind of entertaining I usually do. Apparently my jar of oil was stretching my boundaries.

Once I’d used the oil five times or so, I disposed of it (responsibly! not down the drain). I’d eaten my fill of homemade fried food for the time being, the oil was spent, and the jar no longer had to crowd my countertop. It’ll be a while before I make French fries again, but when I do, I’ll make them often–just for a couple of weeks.

P.S. One of the few fried recipes on the site–Fried Chicken Salad with Buttermilk Dressing.

Kitchen Stuff: The Digital Thermometer

Posted by on Friday Mar 20th, 2015

In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary tools, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too. You can see the whole “set” here.

How I try to keep the specialized kitchen equipment to a minimum! One of the items I was strictest about for as long as I could remember was the thermometer. We won’t have one, I promised myself anytime I read instructions for checking the temperature on the inside of your roast beef. And then Alex and I researched one to get my mom for a gift for a very specific reason–grilling outdoors in the summer, after the light is gone, when it’s impossible to see what color the inside of your chicken is. We got her the ThermoWorks Thermapen.

Not long after, I committed. And I’m happy I did. The thermometer itself is tiny, so storage really isn’t an issue. It takes the guesswork out of cooking meats like the garlicky pork loin I’ve been obsessed with since October. You can stick it into hot oil for a reading, should you decide to make French fries. And you can finally make those finicky candies you’ve been eying, like marshmallows and caramel. The Thermapen gives accurate readings quickly. It’s cute, easy to clean, and, as I already told you, small enough for a small kitchen.

Here are a few ways you’ll use your digital thermometer:

Winter’s Panzanella

Posted by on Wednesday Mar 18th, 2015

I hesitate to admit this when I’m about to tell you to summon summer with roasted tomato panzanella, but I haven’t found as much displeasure in the weather this winter as I ordinarily do. New York City is the proud provider of freezing cold sunshine, and I have a hard time frowning on sunny days or during Prospect Park’s especially beautiful winter golden hour, even when the sun forgets it’s supposed to heat as well as brighten. We visited Lake Placid in January, which put cold into perspective and also reminded us that snowshoeing is a reason to leave the house, I discovered rosemary & fennel seed tea and expanded my mastery of textile arts (crochet, macramé), Alex got into mixing Manhattans, TV got better and better, and we braised a lot of meat. Winter! For two more days until spring!

In this spirit of optimism, I’ve been ordering the most unusual local vegetables I see on Good Eggs, like romanesco cauliflower and sunchokes, in an effort to celebrate what little the frigid ground can produce. It works out okay, or at least the crucifers and roots aren’t fatal to my outlook, so long as I splurge on herbs, too or dollop everything in green sauce.

That’s how I ended up with a lot of basil hanging around. I had opened up a can of whole tomatoes for these roasted oysters, and I roasted them without their juice, but with a lot of olive oil and salt. The oily juice I stored them in seemed like it really wanted to be soaked up in stale bread the next day, and then it hit me: a winter version of the epic summer salad was staring out at me from the fridge. I tore up some mozzarella (just the regular supermarket kind), marinated shallots, and poured balsamic vinegar. And then I cracked on an egg onto my plate of rich panzanella.