Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sudden craving: Buttermilk biscuits

I've been having some weird cravings lately.
Like last night, I had the urge to fry up some bacon and eat small pieces o fit with banana slices & peanut butter. (Think the Elvis, without bread)

Today my friend Nanako is coming over to bake tarts with me.
We've been seeing each other once a week for a month now, going to each other's houses and trying out different baking projects.

Usually, the dilemma is - what to have for lunch.
Most of the time we both just eat whatever, then meet up.
But smelling the baked goods on a half-empty stomach ends up in dangerous snacking..and then a ruined appetite for dinner.

So I decided today would be a little different - I'll have freshly baked buttermilk biscuits ready for us to feast on, before we get going on the main baking event.

I know, buttermilk biscuits is not exactly a substantial nor healthy meal. But I have a cup of buttermilk leftover from making homemade butter so I need to use it somehow!

It's based on the "White Lily Light Biscuits" recipe here.
I didn't have any cake flour or self-rising flour on hand, so instead I used the standard Japanese hotcake mix.

It turned out a little sweeter than biscuits should be since there's sugar in the hotcake mix, but you're going to put honey or jam on it anyway, so whatever..right?

Buttermilk biscuits a la hotcake mix

2 cups hotcake mix (any brand is fine, just make sure it contains a rising agent)
1/4 cup butter, straight out of the fridge
about 3/4 cups buttermilk (you can use regular milk too)

Preheat oven to 500 F.

1. Put the hotcake mix in a bowl. Have the butter cut into small pieces, and cut the butter into the flour to create a course crumbly mixture.
2. Add buttermilk little by little, just until there's no loose flour at the bottom of the bowl and you can lift the entire mixture with your hands.
3. Gently knead on a lightly floured surface 2 or 3 times.
4. Shape into a mound about an inch high, cut into biscuit shapes, and place on a pan with the biscuits touching each other.
5. Bake for 8 min, or until golden brown and a toothpick will come out clean from the center.

If you made large biscuits, it may take longer than 8 minutes to cook. If your biscuits are golden brown but still gooey in the middle, just place a piece of foil over them and pop back into the oven for a few more minutes. It may be easier to make 6~8 small (1.5~2in diameter) biscuits than 4 large (3 in diameter) ones.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quick lunch: Spicy Szechuan-style noodle soup

I couldn't decide which recipe to post today, so I'm picked one of my own (few) original.

The flavor I was aiming for is the noodle soup you can get at Maratan in Shibuya, Tokyo.
I love that place - they only have a few items on their menu, but you know what they say: stick to what you're good at.

You go in, pick whatever ingredients you want in your soup (veggies, meatballs, mochi, cheese, etc), hand it to the chef and tell them how spicy you'd like your soup to be (1~5 with 5 being the spiciest). My spice-loving hubbie ordered an 8 once (you can go over level 5, it's just 50yen extra per level) and the soup was BRIGHT red.

"Ma" (麻) means "numbing," and "ra"(辣) means "spicy." Oh, and for the record, this is Chinese food, not Japanese.

The reason they call it "numbing spicy" is because they use Szechuan peppercorns. If you try one, you'll know what I mean, because you'll feel a distinct numbing feeling on your tongue. Personally, I really like this type of spiciness, because it's not as painful as others (like bird's eye) and it also has a floral aftertaste.

But enough rambling. Here's my version of the spicy noodle soup:


1 (or more) cloves garlic
4 slices thin-sliced pork (or however many slices you like, of whatever meat)
1~2 cups chicken + pork neck-bone broth (recipe will follow - but any broth is fine)
1 packet soy/shirataki/rice/glass noodles (more on this later)
veggies of your liking (I used bok choy & nameko mushrooms)
1~2 dollops Guizhou black bean chili sauce
1 green scallion, chopped
soy sauce, to taste
salt & white pepper
szechuan peppercorns

1. Heat oil (I use olive oil, but sesame is good too) and a few grinds of salt in your wok/pot over high heat.
2. Toss the garlic (minced or pushed through a garlic press) in, and once fragrant, add your pork slices. Try to make it one layer, or lay them so that you're maximizing the surface area touching the wok. If your garlic burns at any point, remove and discard.
3. The pork will cook fast. Flip the slices as soon as they start turning white. Once there's only a little pink showing, add the broth to the pan.
4. Once the broth boils, add your noodles (if you're using rice noodles, you may need to soak them in warm water beforehand - just follow package instructions). Add veggies.
5. Taste, and add soy sauce. A second before you're done cooking, add the scallions so they lose their raw bite, but stay crunchy.
6. Add the chili sauce and a few grinds of szechuan peppercorns. Serve immediately.

Chicken & Pork neck-bone broth recipe

Bones of 1~2 small chickens
1 bag (about 1lb) Pork neck bones*
3~4 cloves garlic
1 green scallion or leek
1~2 stalks celery
1 carrot, broken in two
1 medium onion, sliced into halves (keep the skin on - this gives the broth a nice golden color)
handful peppercorns
couple pinches of salt
any bits of leftover veggie that you won't use anyway

1. Toss everything in a slow cooker and bring to a boil on high.
2. Turn heat to low and let cook overnight or 8 hours. (basically, forget about it)
3. Strain the liquid into a bowl or tupperware and chill in the fridge until a recipe calls for it.
(a layer of fat will form at the top - feel free to keep or remove)

*You can get chicken and pork neck bones at most Asian supermarkets.
If there aren't any Asian supermarkets near you, just go to the butcher section of your local supermarket and ask if they have any. You can also use leftover bones from your pork chop steaks or roasted chicken.

** If you'd like more precise directions, Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries has a great recipe here.


Shirataki noodles

Soy noodles

Like most Chinese wok cooking, it goes FAST. Cooking time for the above is probably a total of 5 min or less. So it's a good idea to have all your ingredients ready and within arms reach.

If you're not on a low carb diet, feel free to use egg, rice, or glass (bean) noodles. You may want to stay away from udon, soba, or Italian pasta in order to maintain the authentic flavor of the dish.

Shirataki or soy noodles are precooked and only need to be heated, but if you're using raw or dried noodles, make sure you pre-cook them before adding to the broth. You can also place precooked noodles directly in your bowl, and pour the hot broth over it. That way you can avoid having soggy, over-cooked noodles (yuck!).

You can get the Guizhou black bean chili sauce at any Chinese or most Asian supermarkets. If you can't find it, you can substitute using regular black bean sauce & standard chili sauce or dried peppers. Just a word of caution: Guizhou black bean chili sauce is not gluten-free. So if you're highly sensitive towards gluten, please don't try it. I've been able to find gluten-free black bean sauce though. Just make sure to check those labels!

Szechuan peppercorns can also be bought at any Chinese supermarket. What to do with all those peppercorns? I usually keep them in an airtight container, and grind however much I need at a time. They're great on any stir-fry, when you need a little kick. Don't forget to add them when making mapo tofu too :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rolled/Stuffed Cabbage a.k.a. ロールキャベツ

Japan is all about food. And not just Japanese food.

Japanese people love every kind of cuisine - as long as it's not too spicy, that is.
Where Americanizing a certain cuisine means upping the sugar and grease, Japanizing a cuisine means making it less hot and less spicy.

But that doesn't mean is less tasty. I've had French people tell me that French food is better in Japan than it is in France.


There are several European dishes that are so popular in Japan, that you could call it a 'Japanese dish.' Or maybe 'Japanized European dishes.'

First, you have the omelette-  "omuretsu" in Japanese; hamburg steak - "hambaagu"; and then you have rolled cabbage - "rooru kyabetsu." There's plenty more, like custard pudding and such, but I'm keeping the list short for simplicity's sake.

All of these dishes have somehow been Japanized so to speak..or rather, Japanese versions of them were created. Take "omrice" for example - it's omelette but with chicken rice wrapped inside. Or Japanese-style hamburg steak, where instead of demi-glace or tomato sauce, it's topped with shredded daikon radish and ponzu. I'm not exactly sure what's so Japanese about this stuffed cabbage dish, but it's one of those family favorites :) Hope you enjoy it.

Rolled/Stuffed Cabbage, Japanese style

For the rolls:
1 head of cabbage
a little less than 1 pound of meat (beef, pork, veal, buffalo, or your choice of red meat)
1 egg
1 medium onion
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground clove (feel free to replace allspice + clove with 1 tsp ground nutmeg)
salt & pepper to taste

For the sauce:
2, 3 cups stock (water + a consomme cube is fine too)
1 tomato
1 tbsp demi-glace sauce (you can substitute with oyster sauce)
1 tbsp ketchup (I use the organic stuff from Whole foods - tomato puree works too)
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp tarragon vinegar (cider vinegar or white wine vinegar is fine as well)
2 tbsp wine (red or white either is fine, dry vermouth or sake works too)

1. Fill a small pot with water and boil. While waiting for the water to boil, mince the onion and prepare a large ice bath.
2. Carefully* pry the leaves off of the cabbage (6~8 leaves) and plop one at a time into the boiling water. Add a pinch of salt to the water to bring out the color of the cabbage. *Try to remove the leaves so that it's in one piece, and there are as few rips in it as possible.
3. Once the cabbage is translucent or pliable enough to roll, remove from the water and dunk in the ice bath. Once cool, transfer the cabbage leaf to a sieve to let any excess water drain off. Repeat.
4. While you are waiting for the cabbage leaves to boil, put the meat, egg, and spices into a medium bowl. Saute the minced onion with a bit of salt and olive oil until the onion is translucent and slightly browned.
5. Let the onion cool, then mix together with the rest of the stuffing ingredients.
6. Divide the stuffing amongst the cabbage leaves and roll each cabbage leaf into a small package by folding in the sides and rolling up. Secure the roll with a toothpick or silicone band as shown in the image.
7. Heat olive oil in a large pot (large enough to fit all the stuffed cabbage in one layer), and sear the stuffed cabbages on both sides.
8. Once the rolls are browned, add all the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to low, and let simmer for about an hour. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cook it for just 15 minutes under 15lbs of pressure instead.