Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ragu ragu ragu

Ragù Bolognese is something for which you don't really need a recipe - but the first time it does really help. For me it boils down to "cook aromatics, meat, and liquids for a long, long time." That may or may not be authentic, but it sure is delicious! Traditionally this ragù uses a mixture of meats, but ground beef is what we had, so we went with that. I believe beef, pork, and veal are all acceptable.

2 T butter*
2 T olive oil*
1 pound lean ground beef (we used 90%), thoroughly defrosted
0.5-1.0 pounds tomato passata - puréed, peeled tomatoes
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 glass dry white wine (optional)
1 cup milk
1 cup water or chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy, nonreactive pot (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat -- when the butter has melted, add the onion, celery, and carrot. Add a pinch of salt and cook until they are soft (usually 10 to 15 minutes). Lower the heat if the pot starts to scorch. Add the ground beef in one layer to brown (and turn up the heat!). If you have too much beef and a small pot, add 1/3 or 1/2 of the beef, brown it, move it to the side, and add some more. When all of your beef is browned...

Add the wine, if you're using it. Keep your nose out of the pan to avoid hazardous alcohol fumes, and stir around the pan to deglaze any brown bits that may be there. If you're not using wine, don't worry - tomato is a great deglazer too. Add the milk, tomato, and water or stock, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Start with half a pound or so of the passata, and add more to taste as the ragù heats up. When it boils, reduce the heat and simmer the ragù for at least two hours, but more if you can. 3-4 hours would be great. As the sauce simmers, the fat that you started with (and any that is rendering from the beef, hence why to use lean meat) will rise to the top, giving you a rather ugly oily layer at the top of the pot. Skim off and discard as much of this as you want.** It's really not that flavorful, and the sauce doesn't need it for mouthfeel.

The ragù is done either when you want it to be done (it's almost impossible to overcook this), or when the beef has broken down and mixed with the liquids into a state somewhere between solid and liquid. I know you're supposed to use long pasta (specifically, tagliatelle) for ragù Bolognese, but we here at FBTS just don't like long pasta that much. You could say we have issues with it. So we didn't use it.

*What's that, you say? Butter belongs in French cooking, not Italian? Actually, northern Italy (including Bologna) uses quite a bit of butter. I think this is partially due to French influence and partially due to the climate not being so great for olive trees. For example, a classic Piemontese dish (from much closer to France than is Bologna) is ravioli dressed with sage and melted butter. No olive oil there!

**If you want to avoid the fat-skimming, drain 1/2 to 3/4 of the fat before you add the beef, and you should be good to go.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Attack of the food bloggers!

Food posting has been slow recently due to the impending FBTS duet recital (this Wednesday!), and the fact that I can't post any pictures right now because I lost the USB cord that lets me put my pictures on my computer. So, in place of an actual food post, I leave you with this picture:

Because we make good food here at FBTS. But sometimes, Asriel just gets very, very hungry.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The bounty of late summer

This is the time of year when the farmer's market is stuffed with vegetables. It gets to the point where I have a hard time choosing what to buy, because everything looks so amazing. But I knew that we wanted caprese this week, so I went for (among many other items) the tomatoes and basil, and fresh mozzarella from the Italian grocery next to the market.

First up we have beautiful Juliette tomatoes. They look like Romas, and I was told that they are similar - Juliettes also have (comparatively) low water content, so they should be great for oven-drying. I got a bucketful.

For caprese, you definitely need some basil. This is some of the prettiest basil I've seen all summer - huge, bright green leaves, and what an aroma!

Fresh mozzarella is expensive (around 11 dollars a pound), but so worth it! It's not chewy at all - it's soft, light, and incredibly fresh tasting. It really tastes like the milk it comes from.

Put all of this delicious food on a plate, and here you go! This eventually made its way onto what passes for a bagel here in KC, and made for a fantastic lunch.

As I told gingerrose tonight over dinner, I'm always conflicted over whether I prefer summer cooking or winter. I usually lean towards winter - I'm a stew kinda guy. I love meat, beans, roasted and braised vegetables, all that great stuff that comes with winter cooking. But sometimes you just can't resist summer's fresh bounty.

One last item: this morning at the market, I saw some peppers I'd never seen before. They were long, somewhat wrinkled, and the same dark green of poblanos. I inquired, and was told that they were called pasillas, were slightly spicy, and had a sweet, smoky flavor. I promptly bought several, and was even given two bright red serranos for free by an extremely friendly farmer. He told me that atypically, this year his red serranos were very sweet, and I should give them a try! I'm very much looking forward to it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vietnamese corn salad

Corn is one of those things that does not keep well in the fridge. It won't exactly go bad, but it just doesn't taste the same when you take it out again. Nope, corn has to be eaten as fresh as is humanly possible - it might be the ultimate seasonal food (although that could also go to tomatoes). Thus, the farmer's market is the logical destination, and ours has been absolutely brimming with corn for the past several weeks. We're talking pick-up trucks stuffed full of ears here. Of course, it's also a tricky thing to buy (you can't see the condition of the corn before you buy it), so getting those good ears is a matter of trial and error. We lucked out this week (although of course I didn't take any pictures) with six beautiful ears of a cultivar called "Montauk". We boiled two for corn-on-the-cob, and made the rest into Vietnamese corn salad - adapted from Viet World Kitchen's recipe.

I would have taken a picture, but it really just looks like a pile of corn. I promise.

Four ears of as-fresh-as-possible corn
1-2 fresh red chilies (we used Thai, but I'm sure cayenne work fine), seeds removed and chopped
1.5 tablespoons or so of dried shrimp (shrimp paste works too, or you can just use extra fish sauce), chopped
Fish sauce to taste
2 small onions or a few scallions, chopped

Use a large knife to cut the raw corn off the cobs, and scrape out all the remaining pulp and juices. Discard the cobs. Heat a few tablespoons of neutral cooking oil (not olive) in a large pan over high heat, and add the chilies, scallion/onion, and dried shrimp when it starts to shimmer. Stir-fry this mixture for 30-60 seconds, or until everything's aromatic and the scallion/onion becomes transparent. Turn the heat down to medium, add the corn, and stir everything together. Cook until most of the juice evaporates and the corn is cooked through - add the fish sauce until there's a nice balance of salty, sweet, and spicy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Drying tomatoes

I love sun-dried tomatoes. They have all sorts of flavors that regular tomatoes just can't compare to - they're slightly bitter, very earthy, and have much more pure tomato flavor than a regular (80%+ water) tomato does. However, sun-dried tomatoes are very expensive. I can get regular tomatoes here for $2-3 per pound at the farmer's market, but if I could find sun-dried tomatoes anywhere for sale (which I can't), it would easily be several times that. Solution: dry my own! The oven works brilliantly for this. Simply slice your tomatoes through the middle (not through the stem connection), turn your oven to about 200 degrees, and put the tomatoes on a baking sheet or roasting pan. (Make sure to use parchment paper!) After 8-12 hours, they'll look like this:

I could have kept going, but by then it was about 11:30pm, and I had to go to sleep soon. These took ten hours - they weren't as dry as sun-dried tomatoes usually are, but they were chewy and delicious and homemade! We here at From Bach to Stock have a serious penchant for do-it-yourself cooking adventures: our current project is vanilla extract*, if that says anything. Here's another picture of a beautifully shriveled tomato.

I love how the skin deflates as the water evaporates. Several of these tomatoes were chopped up and thrown into baingan bharta the other night. There are no pictures of that, as I was too busy making sure my eggplants didn't burn up in the oven...although also, baingan bharta isn't really that pretty.

*We're infusing vanilla beans into a bottle of Bacardi. After two days it's already turning brown and smelling like vanilla! I've been told it takes several weeks to properly mature, though. I can't wait!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

baking updates!!

First of all, greetings from Asriel's and my cozy new apartment in Kansas City! I've been here for a few days, and we are so happy to be here and together and cooking in the same place. :-)

But this entry is actually about the whole month before my move, which was a big month for baking for me! The kitchen at my house is mostly my mother's territory, so I'm usually busy enjoying her food instead of cooking and/or baking on my own. But this month I had several opportunities to get back into the kitchen!

First up: cookies! I went to visit Asriel and his family while he was still at home in New York, and I wanted to bring them a gift that would hold up in the heat (so: not flowers), since I had a 4-hour bus ride and then (though I didn't know it at the time) a brisk walk from Penn Station to Grand Central, and then a train ride! Flowers would not have been so happy by the time they got there. Also, the present needed to say "happy belated birthday" to his father, "congratulations on your concert" to his mother (the concert was one of the reasons I was visiting) and "thank you for having me" to everyone. With a task like that, the answer was definitely cookies. :-)

I used Baking Bites' recipe for Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip cookies, and they seemed to be a big hit! They were also well-received in my family--I gave half the cookies in the recipe to Asriel's family and half to mine, and they were eating them for days afterwards. Not that my friends didn't try to sneak some away--when I went to lunch a little while later with my best friend, I noticed her suspiciously sneaking around my kitchen looking for the cookies. :-P And more of my friends began asking me to make them cookies when I related the story of my successful baking experience. I didn't get to complete any more baking commissions, though. Maybe when I come home!

I did, however, make an apple cobbler for my church's annual picnic! The mix itself was actually from a package, which I won playing BINGO at church (don't I just have the most exciting life?), so it could have been more from scratch, but came out deliciously. I think the recipe on the back of the box called for one can of apple pie filling, but I used two because I wanted it to be particularly apple-y and delicious. I heard it was, but I didn't get to taste it because by the time I was done eating it was all gone! A good sign, I'd say. It even got the seal of approval from my preteen friend Paul, which is high praise considering he just makes fun of me most of the time and rare is the time when he compliments me on something. :-P

Here's the cookie batter waiting to be baked into brown sugar chocolate chip cookies!
The finished cookies.

The finished apple cobbler! I was very pleased with it--things from packages can sometimes be a little sketchy, but this came out very well.

More happy baking and cooking updates later!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

KC restaurant reviews: A tale of three Vietnamese restaurants

First, the background: tonight I was going to check out New Peking, a Chinese restaurant in Westport I had heard was pretty good. The menu was not encouraging. It looked like a somewhat-overpriced American Chinese restaurant I could get back home, or probably anywhere for that matter. Instead, I decided to go to Mimi's Vietnamese Cafe, a restaurant I'd passed last time I was on 39th St. While I was there, I realized that it was the third Vietnamese place I'd been to in KC, and to emulate one of my favorite blogs, Eating Asia, decided to review them all!

First, Mimi's. While at the other two places I'd had pho, here I decided to try bun rieu ($8.15, but including the 10% tax) instead. The menu claimed it was a soup with chicken broth, chicken/crab/shrimp fritters, stewed tomatoes, rice noodles, and garnishes. Well, the noodles were overdone or precooked; the fritters were more or less chicken meatloaf; there was no plate of herbs to accompany; and it wasn't spicy even though I'd asked for it as such. It was more of a generically Asian chicken soup - tasty enough (except for the noodles), but not particularly Vietnamese. I'm beginning to think that most of the ethnic restaurants in the more popular areas here are not good. Clearly digging into corners is required - like the next place on my list!

I've been searching for Korean food in KC since I moved here. It was everywhere in Ann Arbor, so it's hard for me to adjust to a town that doesn't really have any. I thought I'd found my answer in Kim Son, up near the City Market. However, I arrived there and discovered that it was actually Vietnamese. I tried it anyway!

Kim Son's pho ($6-something, I think) was a pretty immense portion of flavorful beef broth, served over thinly-sliced steak, onions, and rice noodles, with a good big plate of herbs and bean sprouts on the side. Just the way it should be. The meat was excellent - it was obviously raw before the hot broth was poured over, as it came out very pink and quickly darkened. The rice noodles were chewy and the right width for pho. A delicious added bonus was a bowl of smoky chopped chilies in oil with garlic. I don't know if it was lajiao you or something else, but it added a fantastic earthy spiciness to the dish and definitely set it apart from the other bowls of pho I've had before. And of course, Kim Son is a bit off the beaten path - it's at 3rd and Cherry, right by the bridge that carries MO-9 over the Missouri.

Last (but the first I tried here) is Hien Vuong. It's inside the City Market complex, next to a bunch of other restaurants. It's also the smallest of the three, but they have some pretty quick turnover so it's always easy to get a table. And it's the cheapest! Just $4.50 for a bowl of pho, if memory serves me right. They have all the goodies - meat, noodles, herbs, sprouts, sriracha, hoisin, and some other kind of delicious chili sauce - but the real star here is the broth. It's just slightly sweet, but doesn't throw off the other flavors of the dish, and has an amazingly complex flavor that's hard to describe. It's beefy, well-spiced, and pretty addictive, to be honest. The portion is the smallest of the three, but that says more about the other two restaurants - this is still plenty of pho for one meal.

Mimi's Vietnamese Cafe/Saigon 39 - 1806 1/2 W. 39th St. (between Bell and State Line)

Kim Son - 315 Cherry (Cherry and 4th St., actually)

Hien Vuong - nominally 417 Main St., but it's really on the west wall of the City Market)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I've been reading about this dish called adobo for several weeks, and then last week I couchsurfed with some wonderful people in Dayton, and they made bison adobo for dinner. Well then, of course I had to try it for myself! Adobo is a Filipino dish of meat braised in soy sauce and vinegar, and it's pretty damn delicious. Pork is probably the most common meat to use, but I had bought some chicken thighs earlier in the week, so that's what went in.

Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish - that's the meat waiting to go back into the sauce. If I remember tomorrow, I'll take a picture of everything on my plate.

Meat - I used about a pound and a quarter of bone-in chicken thighs
Vinegar - I combined balsamic and red wine, but I would have used rice vinegar if I hadn't dropped my bottle on the floor the other day *grumble grumble*
Soy sauce - I combined regular soy sauce and kecap manis to counteract the vinegar with some sweetness
Black pepper, cracked or ground - grinding it will save you the trouble of picking out peppercorns in the finished dish
Bay leaf
Onion, thinly sliced - I used one, but two would be better
Garlic, minced - four or five cloves

In a Dutch oven or other large pot, quickly brown the chicken on all sides, then add the garlic and onion. When the onion softens (just a few minutes), add the vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaf, and black pepper, bring to the boil, and then simmer until the meat is cooked through. Reduce the sauce until it thickens slightly, and serve over rice.

Believe it or not, that's the basic recipe. I went further and fished out the chicken, then cut the meat off the bones and diced it into bite-size pieces, then added it back to the reduced sauce to glaze it. I just didn't want to be bothered with slicing meat off the bone while I was trying to enjoy my dinner!

As I noted above, I only used one onion tonight, but it gets so deliciously caramelized while simmering in the sauce that I'm definitely using two next time. The only problem with this dish as I made it tonight is the saltiness, brought on by all that tasty soy sauce. Next time I'm going to slice a potato and add it with the liquid, as I'm pretty sure potatoes can be used to absorb salt and then discarded.


Something else that I don't have a picture of is a great broccoli stir-fry that I made a few days ago. I used garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and doubanjiang, which is a Sichuan paste of fermented broad beans and chilis. The brand I have is Ming Teh, and it is pretty fantastic stuff.

Broccoli stir-fry
Heat a wok or cast iron pan (I don't have a wok) over high heat, and add about a tablespoon of oil - something with a high smoke point, like peanut or canola or corn. When it shimmers, add some minced garlic and ginger, and a couple tablespoons of doubanjiang. Stir-fry for about a minute, then add broccoli florets and stir-fry for another two minutes or so, until it's coated in the sauce. Turn off the heat, toss with a bit of sesame oil, and eat!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

quite old photos

Hello again! It's been crazy busy these past couple months, as evidenced by the lack of activity on the blog. But first, out with the big news: I, uh, graduated from college last week! :-) I've now got a shiny BA in Music and am ready to go out and tackle Real Life (starting with getting a job, my lack of success at which has lost me no small amount of sleep over the last month or so).

However, I do have pictures! They are from the first Easter dinner I made without my parents, which I was worried was going to be one hopeless mishap after another (I am still very much learning how to cook), but ended up being extremely delicious. Cooking this dinner was a team effort between myself, my sister Sarah, and my friend Alex, and the group dynamic may have contributed to nothing going horribly, horribly wrong. We made lamb chops with glazed apples, a salad, and garlic bread. Yum!

Lamb chops looking delicious as they cook. The recipe called for 1-inch thick chops, but the store didn't have them so I got 2-inch ones and improvised tastily.

Apples getting ready to go in with the lamb.

The finished products--salad, lamb with apples, and garlic bread. Success!

LAMB CHOPS WITH GLAZED APPLES (recipe courtesy of my mom and wherever she got it)

4 lamb loin or sirloin chops (each cut about 1" thick)
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
2 medium cooking applies, cut in wedges
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

(About 30 minutes before serving)

Slash edges of lamb chops. In 12" skillet over medium heat, in hot butter or margarine, cook chops until browned on both sides and of desired doneness (about 15 minutes). Place chops on platter. In same skillet, in hot lamb drippings, cook apples until tender, stirring from time to time. Stir in remaining ingredients; heat just until brown sugar is melted, stirring constantly. Arrange apple mixture around lab chops. Makes 4 servings.

Things are going to continue to be busy here, both with the aforementioned job search and real life hitting me in the face, and also because I'm spending the next month making preparations for a very special and exciting event. :-) And, if you're like my friends, teachers, and everyone else who's asked me what my move out to KC really means, calm down--your fearless bloggers are NOT getting engaged. :-P Believe me, if you've answered that question as much as I have, you'd put a disclaimer on the blog too. We are, however, very excited to not be writing these posts from a literal thousand miles away anymore.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stir-fry/Steamed Asparagus

Two weeks ago at the market, I bought some asparagus, and was told that it was the last harvest of the season. I wasn't surprised, as it wasn't the best-looking asparagus ever (a bit thick), and was also the only bunch I saw in the entire market. Well, that was apparently false, as this past week there was asparagus everywhere. At least five farmers were selling it, and it was all the beautiful thin kind. So I bought some. Last week I sauteed mine with ginger and new potatoes and it was delicious, so I decided to try a variant on that today.

I don't know if "stir-fry/steaming" is a real technique of any sort, but that's my name for what you do when you first stir-fry a vegetable, then add a small amount of liquid and cover the pot to let it fully cook by steaming. I debated just using water, but I wanted to infuse the asparagus with some flavor, so I added just a bit of soy sauce and vinegar.

1 small bunch thin asparagus (twelve to fifteen stalks)
1 small piece ginger, minced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
Light soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Heat about one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pot until shimmering, and add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for about thirty seconds, and add the asparagus. Stir-fry for another minute or two, then add about a tablespoon of soy sauce, a dash of rice vinegar, and just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot evenly. Cover the pot, turn the heat to medium-low, and steam for three or four minutes - this happens pretty fast. When the asparagus is as tender as you like it, uncover the pot, turn the heat back to high, and cook until the water boils off. Serve with rice!

Speaking of rice, I bought some new rice at the Chinatown market. It's a short-grain black rice called Gao Den, so my guess is it's Vietnamese. I tried making a batch today - I had no idea what proportions to use, so I tried six ounces of rice and ten ounces of water. That was a little too much water, since it was done in 25 minutes and there was still water in the bottom. I'll try nine ounces of water next time. The rice turns the cooking water an amazing dark purple, and the rice is delicious - not sticky as I thought it might be, but slightly nutty and flavorful.

No pictures of either yet, but some may be forthcoming if I can persuade myself to take them before I devour everything. :)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Three Cups Swiss Chard, Modified (plus extra pictures)

A couple of weeks ago, I read a recipe for Three Cups Chicken on Appetite for China. It looked quite tasty and easy, so I saved it for future reference - it's a Taiwanese recipe that involves braising chicken in equal parts sesame oil, rice wine, and soy sauce. Then today, I picked up some great-looking red chard at the market, and was fishing for a way to season it up. I decided to try the three cups seasoning, although I remembered it as using rice vinegar instead of rice wine. So I tossed some ginger and garlic in a hot pan, then added the chard to wilt it quickly, added soy sauce, vinegar, and oil, covered the pan for about ten minutes, and the results are below. It was delicious! The vinegar taste balanced out by the slight sweetness of the sesame oil, and the soy sauce just added a slight earthiness to the whole dish.

This next picture is of a quick stir-fry I cooked up last week when I needed dinner on short notice. I don't remember exactly what was in it, but it was definitely at least onions, green onions, cilantro, garlic, and some seasoning sauces.

On to baking! These are some beautiful corn muffins I made, based on my mom's recipe. Here's my version:

1 cup AP flour (160 grams)
1 cup or 190g cornmeal
1/3-1/2c or 100-130g sugar depending on how sweet you like it
2-3 tbsp or ~70g vegetable oil
1 egg
1c milk or water (~240g)
2-3 tsp baking powder (12-18g)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Beat the egg and mix with the oil and milk/water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until they're just combined - lumps are fine. Don't overmix. Fill six muffin cups evenly and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on the consistency of your oven - start toothpick-testing at 20 minutes.

Up next: scones! This is a recipe I made just as Baking Bites' recipe described*, so go there and check it out! They were fantastic - slightly crumbly but moist, and very peanut-buttery.

*One addition I made: I stirred an extra tablespoon of peanut butter in after adding all the liquids. It made for an almost-swirl of peanut butter in the finished scones, since it wasn't completely incorporated, and it was a very good flavor boost.

The last recipe is matzah brei! The recipe I used is almost ridiculously easy, and here it is:

Two pieces matzah
One egg
Brown sugar (optional)

Crumble the matzah into small pieces and soak in cold water for a few minutes. It should be soft but not disintegrating. Drain the matzah by picking it up in clumps and squeezing as much water as possible out of it. Beat the egg and combine with the matzah, using a fork to mix them together evenly. Heat 2 teaspoons or so of butter in a pan and add the matzah-egg mixture, then pat it evenly into the pan with a spatula. You're trying to end up with a matzah brei cake like in the picture below. Slicing the cake into the pieces in the pan will make it easier to flip - brown the cake on both sides and you're done! Garnish liberally with brown sugar and salt. :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

All about the ingredients

I've been noticing a sort of informal debate on the food blogs I frequent regarding ingredients and technique. Some fall on the side of technique: it doesn't matter what you start with, but if you use the right techniques it'll be delicious. Others take the other position: it doesn't matter how you cook it, but if you have the right ingredients it'll be delicious. Perhaps neither extreme is really accurate, but this blog certainly lies on the "ingredient" side of the spectrum. By "ingredients" here, I really mean flavorings, sauces, and spices, as for me they define what I eat. Basically every dish I make has onions, but some have turmeric, some have soy sauce, and some have lemon juice. To give you an idea, here is the list of the contents of my spice cabinet, from the common to the exotic.

Black pepper
Dried red chilies
Sesame seeds
Mustard seeds
Paprika (three different kinds, in fact)
Soy sauce
Lemon juice
Sesame oil
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Chili powder (this one has chiles, onion, garlic, cocoa, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves)
Rice vinegar
Star anise
Five-spice powder - a Chinese spice mix of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, black pepper, and fennel
Sichuan pepper
Doubanjiang - salty fermented bean paste
Dark sesame paste - like tahini but using unhulled sesame seeds
Piri-piri grinder - dried birdseye peppers mixed with salt and lemon zest
Chili-bean sauce - chopped chilis mixed with fermented black beans in oil
Sambal balado - a chili paste with shallots, tomatoes, and garlic
Kecap manis - thick soy sauce made with palm sugar
Douchi - fermented soybeans
Belacan - block of fermented shrimp paste
Shrimp paste in oil

Obviously, I cook a lot of Asian food; there's quite a bit of Indian food in my kitchen as well. All of these spices and sauces give me a huge variety of dishes and tastes to choose from, even when I use the same base ingredients (onions, garlic, carrots, celery, red peppers, some other veggies) most of the time. Every time I go to one of the ethnic groceries I frequent around here, I'm on the lookout for something new and interesting to try. Since I often get cravings for starkly different cuisines, it's great to have all those options - last weekend I made goulash with good Hungarian paprika, and just tonight I sautéed up some vegetables with kecap manis and sambal. Who knows what I'll do this weekend!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cabbage, two ways

Argh! Another month has gone by, and FBTS languishes by the wayside. I suppose that's what happens when you have a recital, a band trip to the CBDNA conference in Texas (which was fantastic!), and then a paper to write when you get back from Austin. But we're back, with more delicious ways to make...cabbage?

Cabbage often gets a bad rap, blamed for stinking up the house. I'm here to tell you that it can be a subtle, crunchy, and delicious vegetable, as long as it's cooked properly. "Properly" in this case mostly means "not for too long" - the odors start to arise when it's cooked for too long.

But last week when I woke up on Sunday, I realized that there were no groceries in the house (as we had returned from Austin by bus late Saturday night), and I had also missed the local farmer's market. So off it was to get groceries at Thriftway for the first time in weeks, if not months. Just on a whim, I picked up a cabbage, figuring it was cheap and could make a nice stir-fry. Little did I know! Cooking shredded cabbage over relatively low heat with a couple tablespoons of olive oil gets rid of most of the pungency, and gives you a crunchy, slightly sweet, delicious veggie! The "two ways" up top is just different ways of spicing it, as I used the same cooking method both times.

The first way is Indian-style, more or less. To prepare the cabbage, first cut it in half through the root end (I used one half for each flavoring style) and cut out the core. The core is much more pungent than the rest of the cabbage head. Then put your cabbage half face-down on a cutting board, and slice it into strips about a quarter-inch wide. Thinner would also work, but I wouldn't go wider.

Now, flavorings! Garlic is important. Chop three or four cloves of garlic and set it aside for a moment. Put 2T or so (I didn't actually measure anything) of olive oil into a large skillet and set it over low heat. Add an anchovy and mash it up - when it starts sizzling, it will dissolve into the oil. Add a pinch of cumin, a pinch of mustard seed, a dried chili or two (optional), and your garlic, and cook them slowly until the garlic is getting soft. Add the cabbage and toss with a pair of wooden spoons to get everything coated with oil, then just let it cook. If the pan's getting dry you can add a bit of water. If you used chilies, make sure to fish them out when you're done.

Style two is more Indonesian than anything else. No picture, but it looks the same as the first version except that it's a bit more brown (for reasons that will be revealed shortly). It starts the same way: chop three or four cloves of garlic, heat 2T of olive oil, add an anchovy, etc. This time you can use belacan if you want, but last time I tried that my apartment smelled like a fishing pier for the next day or two. It has a much deeper flavor, though.

Add a teaspoon or so of sambal balado (it's potent stuff), and a drizzle of the real magic: kecap manis. This wonderful stuff is Indonesian sweet soy sauce - it's made with palm sugar. Regular soy sauce won't quite substitute, but if you have good brown sugar on hand adding some of that might do the trick. Molasses could work too. The flavor is an intense combination of sweet caramel and saltiness, but it really mellows out with cooking. Stir that around for a second and add the strips of cabbage. Cook the same as last time - add water or more sambal or kecap manis if you think it needs more flavor. The end result this time is slightly sweet, not too salty, but with a wonderful depth of flavor that's the closest I've gotten to a "restaurant" taste so far. This definitely calls for more kecap manis experimentation!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Title of the blog...

The title proclaims "stock," and so we shall have stock! As it turns out, vegetable stock is unbelievably easy to make by hand. The picture is not my best work, but it's difficult to take pictures of transparent objects! I tried taking a picture of the stock still in the pot, and I couldn't see the color - it looked like water. Next time I make it I'll try some more things and see what I can come up with.

The ingredients for vegetable stock are vegetables (root vegetables are best), water, and just a bit of spices. I used three onions, three carrots, a clove of garlic, five small radishes, and a pinch of whole black peppercorns. I just sliced all the veggies into large pieces (I smashed the garlic with the flat of my knife), covered them in the pot with water, and simmered it for about an hour. Voilà: stock. The radishes gave the stock a slight pink tinge which isn't visible in the photo. I've read that you should be careful with vegetables in the mustard family (turnips, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower), so I only used a few radishes, but the stock isn't too pungent or off-flavored. I didn't measure the amount of water I used, but I ended up with about five cups of stock. If you want more, just use more vegetables!

Now that I had stock, I needed something to do with it. Homemade stock only lasts a few days in the refrigerator, so barring soup, the only thing I could think of was risotto! I figured it would taste much better than if I used water or canned stock. Besides - my stock didn't have any salt. (There's no reason to use any - just add it later if you end up making soup.)

There was some exceptionally beautiful asparagus at the market this morning, so I took a chance (hoping it was asparagus season) and bought it. I also had some arborio rice from Wild Oats, since I'd been planning to do risotto at some point. There are many, many ways and theories of risotto, but I subscribed for this attempt to the "stir infrequently" method, and the result was wonderful. Don't let anybody tell you risotto is difficult - patience is required, but there are no tricky techniques here.

1 cup arborio rice
1 small bunch fresh asparagus (I didn't get it weighed, but my guess is between 3/4 and 1 pound)
1 small onion (1-2 shallots are even better, if you can find them)
6 small radishes (nontraditional, but I have to use them up!)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
olive oil
Parmiggiano or other hard Italian cheese
1 dried shiitake mushroom (you'll see...)

Wash and trim the asparagus, and slice it into small pieces. You'll want to slice smaller pieces at the thicker end, and longer pieces at the tips. Mince the onion or shallot and radishes.

Blanch the asparagus for 2-3 minutes in simmering water, adding the thicker pieces first, everything but the tips thirty seconds later, and the tips another thirty seconds after that. Taste a couple pieces for doneness - when it's almost as tender as you want, drain in a colander and plunge the asparagus into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking.

Bring the stock to a bare simmer. Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a wide pot over high heat, and add the onion/shallot, radish, and a pinch of salt. Stir often and cook for about five minutes - if it shows any signs of browning, turn down the heat. Add the arborio (you may need a bit more oil also) and saute for a few minutes, until the rice is turning translucent.

Add enough stock to just cover the rice, and turn the heat down to low. Repeat when it's almost all absorbed, stirring every few minutes. Keep adding stock until the rice is tender but slightly chewy (or however you like it) - this should take 20-30 minutes depending on your rice and your stove. You probably won't need all the stock. Add the asparagus and stir to combine, then add about 2 tsp of butter and 1/2 cup of grated Parmiggiano, and stir that in.

You may be wondering what that shiitake mushroom is doing on the ingredients list. This is definitely cheating, but if you crave even more umami flavor than the Parmiggiano can give (as I do), get out your microplane and grate some shiitake powder over the risotto. Try it over one bowl first, just in case, but it really elevates the flavor.


Regarding the other half of the title: there isn't any Bach involved, but I am performing my first Master's oboe recital a week from tomorrow. If by some happenstance there are any Kansas Citians reading this blog, I would be honored if you would come see and hear me perform several fantastic 20th-century works for the oboe, as well as a Baroque quadro sonata featuring one of my studio-mates. Don't worry, this isn't the scary kind of 20th-century music. The recital will be at 5pm on Sunday, March 15, in Grant Recital Hall at UMKC (5200 Holmes, KCMO).

I should have known better...

I miss Italy.

Asriel and I met on a trip to Italy, where we lived for 4 months in apartments, played music all day, and traveled extensively. I miss it a lot. And sometimes, in spite of myself, I still forget that I'm not there.

There should be some glaring signs that I'm back home in America. For instance, when I walk down the street these days I don't get run over by cars driving on the sidewalk because the streets are so narrow. There aren't old Roman ruins and other historical artifacts everywhere you look. I no longer have time for everything in the day (oh, how I miss those slow days in Italy). I can't pay 8 euros each way to get on a train that takes me 4 hours away to almost the Italy/France border. I no longer have wine with dinner every night, and dinner no longer takes me 3 hours to eat (or, maybe it does. No matter where in the world I am, I've always been a slow eater).

I can no longer walk 5 minutes from my apartment and see this:

And, of course, the food here (or, more precisely, the dishes that pass for Italian-inspired food here) really get me down. Don't get me wrong, I don't walk into restaurants (especially the chain restaurant I went into today) expecting authentic Italian food. Who would? But sometimes I just...forget...that I'm not in Italy.

One of the things that makes you really shake your head and say "Toto, I don't think we're in Italy anymore" (if you had a dog named Toto. I don't. But I digress.) is when you go into a restaurant and order a panino. I'm sorry, you order a panini. Despite the fact that "panini" is a plural, and a single sandwich is a "panino", it's called "panini" here. Today I wandered into a Panera and did just that. I ordered a Tomato and Mozarella panini. The menu informed me that it had tomato, basil, and mozarella on it--reminiscent of a caprese sandwich in Italy. The menu also said it had some kind of "sundried tomato pesto" on it, but I disregarded that in my mind. Already visions of Italian caprese panini were dancing through my head--nothing more than a gigantimous slice of fresh mozarella, with some tomato and basil slapped on top, between slices of delicious bread. What could be better? Forgetting that I was currently standing in an American chain restaurant, and not one of my favorite Italian cafes, I gleefully ordered it.

I came abruptly back down to Earth when I started eating it. Was it tasty? Sure. Was it anything remotely like the Italian version? Of course not! I had forgotten that I wasn't in Italy once again, and now instead of my fantasy caprese panino, I was eating some sandwich with melted cheese and a large quantity of some kind of sundried tomato paste (see: "sundried tomato pesto").

I miss you, Italia.

The first glimpse of the faces of your bloggers! We took this picture probably less than a week after meeting, on a walk in the hills near our apartments.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

From peppers to belacan

This is what happens when the real world takes over: I end up with a dozen or two pictures on my camera that I haven't even transferred to my computer yet, let alone put up here. So here we go!

A beautiful red bell pepper, just begging to be char-grilled, sliced up, and devoured. With a gas stove, you don't even need charcoal! Just put the pepper down on the metal, grab a set of tongs, and fire it up.

The same pepper, about ten minutes later. I would have gone further, except that it was starting to drip pepper juices onto my burner and into the stove, which wasn't such a good idea. After it's nicely charred, I just ran it under cold water and rubbed off the skin. The other option is to put the pepper in a paper bag and close it (which steams it), wait until it cools down, and then get the skin off. But I didn't have a paper bag on hand.

Scallion pancakes, ready for the oil! While perusing Farmgirl Fare's recipe backlog, I came across an entry involving an overload of scallions. Buried in the comments was a very tasty-looking recipe for scallion pancakes: a simple flour-and-water dough, kneaded and mixed with scallions, torn-off pieces rolled into pancakes, and pan-fried.

The results were delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture until I had already taken a bite out of one. They weren't quite as stretchy as restaurant scallion pancakes, but I have a feeling that came from not using as much oil in the dough--I just brushed it with oil once, instead of every time I folded the dough.

From Appetite for China, I got a recipe for pan-fried green beans. I took the liberty of replacing the dried shrimp with belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste), since I couldn't locate dried shrimp at the Asian market. I also got to use my brand-new mortar and pestle! I mashed up some garlic, ginger, dried chilies, belacan, sambal balado, and doubanjiang into some sort of unholy pan-Asian spice paste, but it was fantastically delicious when I stir-fried it and mixed in the green beans. My apartment did smell a bit like a fishing pier until early this morning, but it's absolutely worth it for belacan.

There are plenty more pictures to come, including cookies and homemade bread!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Long time no see!

Predictably, once school has started up and asriel and I got busy with work and recitals (and job applications and planning the coming year and Yours Truly's impending college graduation), posting has dropped dramatically. However, I have still been busy! Here are some pictures I took over the past month or so:

That's 3-pepper pasta (the three peppers are just red, green, and yellow bell peppers).

The Epic Cake, which needs no explanation. (It's archaeology-themed!)

Closeups of the Epic Cake.

The aftermath of dinner.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Pizza is wonderful and versatile stuff. Pizzeria pizza is one thing, but homemade is a totally different beast. You can top it with virtually anything, it's fairly quick and extremely easy, and it's also delicious. Tonight I made pizza courtesy of Farmgirl Fare's pizza-dough recipe. The dough is simple - flour, water, salt, and yeast. Mine barely rose in two hours, but it did rise after splitting it into pieces, and quite a bit more in the oven.

The topping: caramelized onions, grated Parmigiano, and olive oil. I cheated on the onions and pulsed them in a food processor instead of slicing or grating. I processed the first one too much and ended up with puréed onion, but the next three were a lot better - I ended up with coarsely grated onion. 40 minutes or so in the frying pan, and they were brown and getting crispy. I pulled the dough (mostly using gravity) into a nice oblong pizza shape, added plenty of onions, added some cheese and olive oil, and put my pizza into a 500-degree oven for about 13 minutes. I got lucky - I caught it seconds before the onions would have been charred. I somehow got a fantastic crust on the bottom, which I didn't expect - considering that I used a roasting pan and parchment paper, not a baking stone.

Time to make dough: 10 minutes
Time to rise: 2 hours (making the onions goes in here)
Time to proof: 10 minutes
Time to bake: 10 minutes

I started at about 4:45 and was eating at 8. The best part is that I have a partially-baked one that I'll finish baking for dinner tomorrow night, and two more rounds of dough in the freezer. Now I just need more toppings...

Fractured Prune

Recently, my housemates and I found out that our local branch of the Fractured Prune, a Maryland doughnut chain, was going out of business! So, like the true college students we are, my entire house (plus my roommate's boyfriend) got up at 9:45 this morning, piled into the car, and headed out for a doughnut our pajamas.

Fractured Prune is mostly based in Maryland, but also has other locations in Delaware, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. They make specialty doughnuts in lots of interesting flavors. Most of us got a kid's meal, because you got two doughnuts and that was mostly what each of us wanted (my roommate got a dozen so we would have some left over for the next few days). I got a Chocolate Covered Cherry doughnut (with cherry glaze and mini chocolate chips), and a French Toast doughnut (with a maple syrup glaze and cinnamon sugar). My favorite, despite the awesome chocolate-y flavor of the Cherry doughnut, was the French Toast one. Cinnamon sugar on doughnuts brings warm fuzzy feelings into my heart.

My roommate's boyfriend took a couple of pictures on his phone, so they may be posted on here later. Meanwhile, a fond farewell to the Lusby branch of the Fractured Prune...

Friday, January 23, 2009

dirty dishes


A person's desk can say a lot about them. Unique insights about a person's personality, interests, and organizational skill can easily be gleaned from taking a look at their desk. I chose to take this picture at one of the times when my desk was at its most disorganized--right after I had finished unpacking after coming back to school. Since I hadn't had time to organize my desk yet, my stuff got to lie out in all its glory.

"So, what does this have to do with food?" you say. Well, apart from gathering useful information about my love of Audrey Hepburn movies (that's an Audrey Hepburn dvd collection in the back behind the books) and Scrabble (beside the movies you'll see the travel Scrabble set) and the propensity of my best friend to give me unicorn-themed gag gifts (in the back right corner of the shelf, behind the chocolate-themed tear-away calendar), my desk inevitably becomes the what's what of What I've Eaten Recently based on the collection of dirty dishes. Since I frequently eat in my room, and am responsible for doing my own dishes, I usually get scatterbrained and let them pile up on my desk for a few days. Because of that, you get dishes which used to contain(left to right):
-a plate of chocolate biscotti (black plate in the front left);
-a bowl of seeded grapes;
-leftover lamb saag (top of pile);
-a pancake (bottom of pile);
-a glass of milk (purple cup);
-the excess from when my roommate opened a bottle of beer and it overflowed (cup behind the purple cup);
-some kind of dessert-y fluff my roommate made (flowery container).

As a final note, underneath all the plates is an oven mitt with penguins on it, a belated Christmas gift. That is all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pictures from Sunday: ropa vieja

This wonderful-looking steak is a big slab of skirt - usually used for fajitas. I used it for ropa vieja. The recipe I used called for simmering the steak until it was just about falling apart. I didn't go that far (though maybe I should have), but it was still delicious. I got to shred it with my fingers! Pulling it into little pieces is lots of fun. Plus the steak is locally-grown and bought (Pisciotta Farms), always a plus.

Stocks and broths are pretty amazing. Two or three hours previous to this picture, this was just water. Plain old tap water. That skirt steak above, combined with a couple onions, some cracked pepper, and a touch of salt, made this delicious beef broth.

I was thinking "beans" - but I got distracted at Wild Oats by these black-eyed peas. Definitely not beans (hence the name - I didn't realize they actually were peas until I tasted a raw one), but still excellent. The rice is brown rice from the Chinatown Food Market.

Obviously I need to fool around with my camera settings - or maybe get a tripod so I don't have to use the flash - but this is the shredded skirt steak simmering away with some onion, garlic, and the broth that it created from its cooking. I had a pretty busy Sunday - this was about 3.5 hours from start to finish.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bollywood Masala!

Well, it's my second day back at school, which means that I haven't had time to go grocery shopping. So, as a celebration of the new semester (and a way of compensating for the fact that we have no food that's not chocolate, Jello, or expired), my housemates and I went out for dinner tonight!

The place we chose was a pretty new Indian place, Bollywood Masala. Asriel and I went there with my sister back in October, right after it opened, and we were really blown away by the food. This time was just as good. I got lamb saag, which is a lamb dish with spinach and spices. Of course I have no real memory of what everybody else at the table got. If I want to be a total blogger I'll have to start taking notes. And pictures. But the saag was amazing--nice big chunks of meat, and tons of spinach. It also had a nice lingering spicy flavor. We started the night with garlic naan, and ended with another kind of naan that I don't remember the name of, but it had cherries on it. And of course, they give you plenty of food, so I have enough for leftovers for tomorrow's lunch!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I have discovered why my mapo tofu wasn't as good as it should have been! I didn't use chili bean paste (otherwise known as doubanjiang) - I used chili black bean sauce. NOT the same thing. Next week at the market: resuming the search for doubanjiang. I will succeed yet!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Barbecue in KC

Barbecue in Kansas City is a Big Thing. This is the first place I've lived that has BBQ as a cooking tradition, so I am definitely not qualified to compare different styles of 'cue, but I've been to a number of BBQ places around the city - I think I'm qualified to compare those, at least.

There are several categories going into this review/comparison: price; crowded-ness; quality of the meat, sauce, fries, and beans; and general ambience. "Meat" here isn't going to include ribs, since I haven't tried them at all four shops I'm reviewing yet. First up is Jack Stack!

Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue
This is the most (well, only) upscale of the four restaurants I'm looking at. It's also the only one that's a sit-down, order-at-the-table restaurant. As you would expect, it's also the most expensive. Ultimately, the sit-down experience wasn't worth it. The sauce was excellent - not too sweet or salty, but very flavorful and a bit spicy. The beans were probably the best I've had - very obviously homemade, with slivers of meat floating in them. They had a very smoky flavor, and the beans had great texture and flavor. However, the meat was not great. At the time I thought the burnt ends were excellent, but later discovered (see below) that they were not - they're too tough and not "burnt" enough. I have a feeling they weren't real burnt ends.

The saving grace of Jack Stack is the take-out shop next door. Meat and side dishes by the pound (or other measurements) are available, as well as sandwiches. This is where I (well, gingerrose) discovered their pulled pork, which is excellent - far beyond any of their other meats I've tried. It has the right texture - much like ropa vieja in a good Cuban restaurant. It's tender, stringy, and just has that great pulled-pork mouthfeel. They also sell their excellent beans by the pint, quart, or whatever you want - that's probably all I would go back for.

Arthur Bryant's BBQ
Now we're bringing out the big guns. Arthur Bryant's is one of the two original BBQ shops in KC - Wikipedia says it's the oldest one. The decor is sort of 50s-diner-meets-sports-bar - Formica tables, with a TV (usually showing the Chiefs) in the corner, and paper towels and barbecue sauce on the tables. It seems a bit pricey at first, but only until you realize that one sandwich (about $11 including fries) comfortably feeds two people. At least, two people with the size and appetite of me and gingerrose.

Onto the food! The only thing to get here, as far as I'm concerned, is the burnt ends. They are just amazing - one of the two best meals I've had in Kansas City (the other being a bowl of pho from Hien Vuong). The burnt ends are perfectly cooked - very well done but not dry (because of all the sauce), a bit chewy from the caramelized outside, stringy and fork-tender, and utterly delicious. Their sauce - a bit salty for me, but not sweet and quite spicy - adds to the flavor. The fries are very good - a little oily, but hand-cut, crisp, and tasty. The only thing not to get is the beans - I don't know if they're from a can, but they sure taste like it - sweet and uninteresting.

Oklahoma Joe's
Oklahoma Joe's is located in a gas station. Don't let this stop you from going there! Most people I've met here tell me this place is the best in KC. The lines attest to it - gingerrose and I went here for dinner last Friday at about 7pm, and waited 20 minutes or so to order (and it looked like it was going to be worse). The prices are certainly right - about $5 for a good-sized sandwich, and another $2.50 or so for a big bag of fries or a side of beans. The listed specialty is pulled pork, although the ribs look phenomenal (and everybody seems to have them at dinnertime), so I'm going to give them a shot next time I'm there.

I can't really put OK Joe's above Arthur Bryant's in meat or sauce. The pulled pork is good, although they don't sauce it much on a normal sandwich - they seem to have a variant including more sauce and slaw, which I'm going to try soon. Their sauces are too sweet for me, but they have a nice level of spice. The fries, though - fantastic. I'm not sure if they're hand-cut, but they're crispy and not greasy, and they have a great spice mixture (probably salt, paprika, and something else) that's sprinkled on. Plus they're served in a paper bag. What's not to love? The beans are also very good - definitely homemade, with chunks of meat and I think vegetables floating around. If you like good value, ridiculous decor, and killer fries, this is the place for you.

Gates Bar B. Q.
This is the other "original" KC barbecue joint. It's my favorite for a quick lunch or dinner, as it's the closest to home and school, and one sandwich (again burnt ends, about $7) is about two meals for me. The decor is something resembling a trolley car - it almost looks like they took an old one and built it into the building. It's not quite as grimy as Arthur Bryant's, but this seems like a very "local" place in comparison - you're expected to know what you want as soon as you walk in the door.

I can't give the food a full review because I haven't tried their beans or fries, but the meat and sauce are both fantastic. I usually eat the sandwich with a knife and fork, just cutting pieces off (bread and all) and munching on them. The sauce goes really well with the meat - not very sweet, but very flavorful - and the sandwich is well-sauced. The second half is even better the next day, when the sauce soaks into the bread a bit. The meat is not quite as amazing as at Arthur Bryant's, but is still very, very good, and the added convenience means I go here more often - it's walkable from school, which no other BBQ shop is.


Ultimately, Arthur Bryant's is my favorite, just because of the transcendent quality of their burnt ends. Their only problem is that they give you a ridiculous amount of food - next time I'll probably take it out and eat some at home, then save the rest for the next day.

Best meat: Arthur Bryant's
Best sauce: Arthur Bryant's (but Gates gives them a close run)
Best fries: Oklahoma Joe's (AB in a close second)
Best beans: Jack Stack (OK Joe's in a close second)
Best value: Gates BBQ
Best location: Gates for convenience, OK Joe's for silliness

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

PBJ pictures

A container of homemade peanut butter, looking startlingly like store-bought peanut butter.

Two halves of a delicious sandwich - my typical lunch around here.

Half of gingerrose's sandwich.

Lunch: peanut butter, jam, bread (sadly not homemade), and sweet potato fries (coming soon!).