Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cauliflower, Fennel and Almond Soup

Spring has officially arrived, but the Bay Area is cold again this week. This year is strange indeed. So I made soup again. Cauliflower and fennel are not very popular vegetables among Americans, from what I can tell. However well I cook them, they are often left untouched, whether it is in soup or a salad, or cooked as a side vegetable. Anyway, this soup is delicious and it has been successful on the menu. Fennel's licorice taste is toned down by using almond milk. If you do not want to use chicken stock, use vegetable stock or more water and/or almond milk instead.

I don't normally drink wine with soup (water is best), but if you must...
Try a dry or semi-dry fino-style sherry, or a low-alcohol Riesling (bottom, right corner of p. 2).

Cauliflower, Fennel and Almond Soup
Serves 4-5

1 head of cauliflower, cleaned and sliced
2 heads of fennel, cleaned, core removed, and sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup dry white wine (e.g., un-oaked Chardonnay)
½ cup water
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 ½ cups light chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
¼ cup whole almonds, chopped (for garnish)

In a pot (3 ½ - 4 quart) melt butter with oil, and saute the onion until soft (about 3 minutes).
Add cauliflower, fennel, garlic, white wine and water. Add up to 1 teaspoon of salt (depending on how much is in the stock), stir well and cook the vegetables for 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Add the almond milk and chicken stock. Cover and cook about 10 more minutes over medium-low heat. The vegetables should be tender and fragrant.

Remove from heat and puree the vegetable mixture with a hand-held immersion blender (or in a standing blender*) until smooth (caution, the vegetable mixture is hot).

Add heavy cream and adjust seasoning with additional salt and white pepper.
Sprinkle chopped almond as garnish. Serve with a good baguette.

*Note: Be careful when using a blender. Allow the hot vegetable mixture to cool 4-5 minutes before blending, and remove center cap of the lid so the hot air can escape (otherwise it might explode on you!).

Monday, March 19, 2012

KITSUNE UDON -- Japanese White Wheat Noodles in Soup

Udon are very popular noodles in Japan, but particularly in the city of Osaka to the south. In the Tokyo area, Soba (buckwheat noodles) are more popular, as well as soups made darker with more soy sauce. I grew up in Tokyo, but Osaka-style soup is lighter and more delicate to my taste, plus I find it easier to digest than typical (Italian-style) pasta and soba noodles. 

KITSUNE means fox in Japanese, and it is used for the name of fried tofu pouches, the color of which looks like fox fur. This style of tofu is also used for Inari sushi (aka "fox pockets"), popular among children, with the sushi rice stuffed inside the tofu pouches. Inari sushi also has sugar added, which makes it sweeter (probably why kids like it).

Paired with green tea, this udon soup is relatively low in calories and fat (only what remains in the tofu after rinsing).

KITSUNE UDON, Japanese White Wheat Noodles in Soup
Serves about 5-6

1 pound Japanese Udon noodles (dried white-wheat noodles)
2 quarts Dashi (Japanese stock or light vegetable stock of your choice)
1 bag (12 ounces) cleaned baby spinach, blanched and squeezed (to press out the water)
1 package usu-age, fried tofu pouches (2 pieces)
3 tablespoons Mirin (cooking sake)
2 tablespoons low-sodium/light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

Shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili seasoning)

Wakame seaweed and/or Tororo Kombu seaweed (optional)
Cooked shiitake mushroom (optional)
2-3-ounces fish cake, e.g., Surimi, sliced (optional)
2 stalks scallion, sliced fine (optional)

In a large pot (5-6 quarts) of boiling water, add the noodles (just like cooking spaghetti).
Once water returns to a boil, reduce heat and continue cooking about 10-12 minutes, stirring noodles occasionally to make sure they do not stick together, particularly during the first few minutes.

Meanwhile heat the stock and season with the Mirin, half the soy sauce and pinch of salt. Cook for a minute and keep the soup warm.

Cooking KITSUNE:
Cut fried tofu pouches the size you prefer (about 2 inches wide). Put them in strainer and under hot running water to wash off the oil for 10 seconds. Place the tofu in a medium saucepan, add 1 cup of the stock and the additional 1 Tbsp soy sauce, plus a pinch of salt and the sugar. Cook the tofu over low- medium heat about 10 minutes.

When the noodles are done (not al dente, they should be on the softer side), drain the water and distribute the noodles to individual serving bowls. Pour the seasoned stock, spinach and cooked tofu on top of noodles.
Garnish as desired. Serve with a few dashes of Shichi Togarashi.

Note:  For information about Japanese ingredients and stock making, check this wonderful site:
Also another great blog you can see how to make traditional Dashi stock step by step:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tomato Soup, Quick Homemade

Tomato soup and rustic country-style bread is the perfect quick meal for me, especially on a cold rainy day, like pretty much all of this week. Then again, I always like soup... any kind of soup, anytime. Asian style, European style and of course creamy Boston-style clam chowder. Soup is soothing, sates the appetite and is easy on the stomach.

Once, a long time ago, an old Chinese friend told me that drinking too much soup makes a person very emotional. That is why he and his family do not eat soup very often. I was so surprised when he told me that, as I had never heard such a story, and soup is so common in the daily diet, along with rice, for almost all Asian people. They are accustomed to and enjoy it whether the weather is cold or hot. I remember he told me that his father had a strict military background, and he was trained to not consume much soup, for discipline reasons. I still don't know whether the story was true. I eat soup often. Maybe that is why I am a bit emotional, particularly about good food and wine.

Tomato Soup with Rustic Bread
Makes about one quart (4 cups)

1 can (28 ounces) whole plum tomatoes
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 stalk celery, diced (optional)
1 small carrot peeled, diced (optional)
2 cups light chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt and freshly grated pepper
a pinch of chili pepper (optional)
¼ cup heavy cream
 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or basil for garnish (optional)

In a medium-sized sauce pan (3½ to 4 quart) melt olive oil and butter over medium heat. Cook onion and other vegetables (if you are using) a few minutes, until soft. Add garlic and season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour in whole can of the tomatoes, chicken stock and the bay leaf. Bring the mixture to boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Place a lid over the pan and simmer about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree the tomato mixture with a hand-held immersion blender (or in a blender) until smooth. Whisk in heavy cream. Serve with thick pieces of good, lightly toasted rustic bread.

Note: I recently enjoyed the “Organic White Cheddar Cheese & Roasted Garlic Filone” from Trader Joe’s, and “Onion & Asiago Rustic Bread” from Whole Foods Market. These are very good choices to go with soup. I slice up the unused bread (1 inch thick), wrapped with baking/parchment paper then in a plastic bag, and store it in the refrigerator for the next few days or freeze it for "emergency bread."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin -- the famous, delicious, and fairly easy French apple tart -- is another recipe we made in this week's cooking class. I used Golden Delicious apples but Granny Smith also works well. In my opinion, French people tend to like a softer texture for fruits and vegetables, so they cook a little longer than I normally do. 

Tarte Tatin
For two 6-inch or one 10-inch cast iron pan
Serves 6-8

For the dough:
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted ("sweet") butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons ice-cold water, or as needed

For the filling:
4-5 Golden Delicious apples (or Granny Smith)
juice of one lemon
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream as accompaniment if desired.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and toss together. Add the butter using your fingertips or two knives, and cut the mixture until crumbly. Add the water, and working quickly blend the ingredients with floured hands and pat the dough into two smooth flat cakes (or one if using 10-inch skillet). Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour. You may instead process the dough using a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 5-6 times with one-second bursts to break up the butter, then add the ice water, pulsing a few more times until the dough holds together. If the mixture is too dry, pulse in more drops of water.

Core, peel (optional) and halve the apples lengthwise; cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges, and toss in a bowl with the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Preheat oven to 375 F. In two skillets (or one large 10-inch) melt butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the remaining sugar and cook until the syrup bubbles and caramelizes to a brown color. Remove the skillet(s) from heat and arrange apple slices in a neat pattern on the caramel. At this point you may return the skillets to the stove to cook the apple 5-6 minutes more, but normally I don’t do that because I like a little firmer texture.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thick and a little larger than the diameter of the skillet(s). Place the dough over the apples, pressing the dough lightly on the top and the edge of the skillets. Cut a few small steam holes on the top of the dough. Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20-25 minutes.

Unmold the tart(s) by placing serving plates on top and flipping it/them before the caramel cools/hardens. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Well, we made Chocolate Souffle, Madeleines and Tarte Tatin in the class this time. The cherry tomato pizza in the picture is one I made as a snack for everybody while we were working.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Madeleines, Meyers Lemon Flavor and......

Madeleines -- from my baking class a couple days ago. My cooking class is a participation class. I don't just show them ... they get to do it as I tell them how, so I can enjoy a cup of tea and watch them work ;-). But of course I get my hands in there and we work together. I do all the photography, but they really enjoy doing the styling (not my forté).

Madeleines (with berries*)

Makes about 15 Madeleines
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
5 tablespoons (75 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup (100 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk or beat the egg and sugar until frothy. Add the cooled melted butter, blending well. With whisk, or mixer on low speed, add the flour, baking powder, lemon zest and vanilla until blended.
Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside at room temperature to rest for 1 hour, or 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375º F (190º C).
Butter and flour the Madeleine molds. Whisk the batter for a moment to remix, and spoon the batter lightly into the molds, filling the batter three quarters full. Add berries if using.*

Bake until the cakes are risen and golden, about 10-12 minutes.
As soon as the Madeleines are done, carefully remove them from the pans onto a wire rack to cool.

*Note: We used Meyer lemon and also made fresh blueberry and  raspberry Madeleines by putting 2-3 berries in the batter of each Madeleine before baking. Serve with sprinkled powdered sugar or dip 1/3 Madeleine into melted chocolate and let cool/set. That's how everyone in the class really liked it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Fresh Raspberry Sauce

We've had very mild weather in San Francisco/Bay Area and also very little rain this winter (but we seem to be catching up on that this week). However, Spring has arrived already. The big plum tree in my backyard has lost most of its white flowers, but the rosemary bush is still full of tiny purple flowers. They not only look pretty but smell really good! In the Bay Area, we sometimes forget about the different seasons. We don't really have a true winter here, although it is always wetter than summer. The supermarkets have many different fruits and vegetables available all year round, which can make us forget that there really are four seasons -- at least for growing produce. That is why I like to go to a local farmers market for fruits and vegetables -- where I can feel and taste the seasons.

Anyway, I found very nice raspberries this weekend even though it is not really raspberry season yet. So I decided to make this chocolate souffle cake in my cooking class yesterday.  It is very light, but full of chocolate flavor if you use chocolate containing more than 65% cacao. You may also use potato starch, instead of wheat flour, to make it a "gluten-free cake."

Wine: I think this cake is good with a Muscat dessert wine (e.g., Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from France's southern Rhone region), or a late-harvest Riesling.

Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Fresh Raspberry Sauce
One 8 or 9-inch tart. 6 to 8 servings

Preheat the oven to 325º F (145º C)
Baking time about 22-25 minutes.

4 tablespoons almond or canola oil
12 ounce bittersweet chocolate (preferably 72%)
4 ounce (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons flour or potato starch
4 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

1 cup (5 ounces) fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoon dark rum
2-3 tablespoons water

For making sauce:
In a small saucepan, mix berries, sugar, corn syrup, rum and water together. Cook over medium heat about 5-6 minutes and set aside to cool a few minutes. Press through a sieve (to remove the seeds) and chill.

For the cake:
1.      Grease lightly a 9-inch spring-form pan with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Line pan with a sheet of baking paper at the bottom and brush the oil on top of it.

2.      In a medium-size bowl, combine the chocolate, butter, remaining oil and sugar. Place bowl inside a larger pan containing about 1-2 inches of simmering water (or in a microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave), and stir well until the chocolate, butter and sugar have melted. Add flour or potato starch and mix with a whisk. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Set aside.

3.      In a clean and dry bowl, whip the egg whites until firm. Fold them lightly into the chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake immediately for about 22-25 minutes. The cake should be soft in the center. Let the cake cool on wire rack about 15-20 minutes and invert on a large plate. It should still be lukewarm. Serve with fresh raspberry sauce. 


Apple Tart, Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin is a great chef, whom I respect very much. I always enjoy his PBS show and still learn a few tips from the show almost every time I watch, even though I have cooked professionally with great chefs for many years. His classic training, impeccable work experiences, and extensive knowledge of food/culture/history make him one of the truly great chefs of today. His recipes are great for home cooks as well as pros, expend little on frills, but always bring good results and are a joy to cook. I own many of his books and videos and never get tired of reading them again. In fact, his books and videos are important references for my work.

This simple, yet delicious recipe is from his mother's unique dough making.

Beverage to accompany:  apple cider, black tea (e.g., Earl Grey), or a semi-sweet or sweet Madeira or Marsala.

Maman's Apple Tart (makes one tart, 6-8 servings)
Adapted from Jacques Pepin's biography, The Apprentice, My Life in the Kitchen.

For dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, broken into a small bowl and beaten with fork
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons hot milk

For filling:
4 large golden delicious apples (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, broken into pieces

For the Dough: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put all the dough ingredients except the hot milk into a mixing bowl. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to combine. Add the hot milk, and stir until well mixed. Do not overwork. The dough will be very soft. Place it in a 9-inch pie plate (or fluted metal quiche pan), and, using your fingers and a little flour to keep them from sticking, press dough into the pan until it covers the bottom and sides.

For the Filling: Peel, core and halve the apples. Cut each half into 1 1/2-inch wedges. Arrange the wedges on the dough like the spokes of a wheel. Sprinkle with the sugar, and top with the butter pieces.

Bake the tart in the middle of the oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Serve it lukewarm.

Note:  His original recipe states to preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake for about 1 hour. I reduced both temperature and time on the recipe. My house oven may be stronger than his. Also I did not use vegetable shortening, but a total of 6-tablespoons butter for above photograph. I like to serve this apple tart with a little sweetened whipped cream.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Soba Noodle with Yakitori Chicken

A couple months ago I saw this dish in New Hope 360's Delicious Living magazine and thought it was a good way to introduce my friends to Japanese buckwheat noodles. I grew up in Tokyo, which means I ate soba noodles a few times a week. In most seasons, they are normally served in a bowl with clear dashi (seafood broth made from dried bonito fish and kelp seaweed) topped with shrimp tempura (my favorite). But in the hot summer, they are served cold (no broth) and dipped in a slightly sweet cold sauce made from soy sauce, mirin (cooking sake) and dashi. Japanese don't eat soba the way it's prepared in the DL recipe, but I think it is definitely a good version for my American friends. It's basically Japanese-style "grilled chicken pasta," and I thought I would enjoy it too. Yakitori means skewered grilled chicken. In Japan, there are many Yakitori-only restaurants or pubs where they cook different parts of the chicken, including liver and heart... all served on skewers. These places are normally inexpensive, and, like sushi bars, the chefs grill food in front of you over the counter. It's great fun to watch, and the irresistible smell fills the air inside and out to the street. Yakitori is traditionally paired with hot sake in winter and cold sake or chilled beer in summer.

Wine recommendations:
White: Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc (see page 2 of link), Pinot Grigio.
Red: Grenache (see p 2).

Soba Noodle with Yakitori Chicken
(Serves 4)

Recipe is adapted from Delicious Living magazine, January 2012

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into1-inch pieces
8 small bamboo skewers, pre-soaked in water
4 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
4 teaspoons honey, divided
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
8 ounces soba noodles
2 cups snow peas or cut asparagus, blanched
4-5 scallions (white and green), sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound button, cremini or shiitake mushroom
1 (about 1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, for garnish

1. Preheat grill or broiler. Thread chicken onto skewers, leaving a bit of space between pieces.
Season lightly with salt and peppe.
2. In a small bowl, mix 2 teaspoons soy sauce, honey and 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Brush chicken with the mixture liberally. Grill or broil for about 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through.
3. While chicken is cooking, bring a large pot of water (about 4 quarts) to boil and cook noodles al dente,  about 5-6 minutes.
4. Heat remaining sesame and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook scallions and mushrooms until tender and lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and snow peas; stir for 1 minute. Add remaining soy sauce, honey and drained Soba noodles, and stir well. Season to taste with black pepper and soy sauce. You may add a little chili pepper if you like.
To serve, divide noodles among four plates and top with Yakitori chicken.