Rolling along with Japanese cooking

My final international cooking class was last week. Japanese cuisine was the the evening’s theme.

I have to admit, this was the class I wasn’t too sure about. I like Asian food, but I tend to choose Chinese over Japanese dishes. I equate Japanese food with seafood, another dish I’ll eat, but it isn’t my favorite.

Good news for the night — we weren’t working with raw fish. Even better news — we had two sticky rice dishes.

I love rice.

My cooking partner and I tackled the vegetable sushi rolls first. Considering thr trouble I had rolling the tamale husks last week, I didn’y have a lot of confidence rolling sushi, but it was a lot easier than I thought. I triumphantly shouted “I made sushi!” when I finished.

I really did. I’ve been cooking with half of the people in the class for the past month. We got to know each other pretty well. If you have ever considered taking a cooking class, I highly recommend it. I didn’t expect to love the experience as much as I did.

SUSHI

  • 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups short-grained sushi rice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 4 sheets toasted nori

FILLINGS (choose 4)

  • 1 kirby cucumber or 1/2 regular cucumber, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and cut into matchsticks • 1(4-inch) piece daikon, peeled, and cut into matchsticks (or red radishes)
  • 1/2 firm-ripe Hass avocado, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise, sprinkled with lemon juice
  • Soy sauce

A bamboo sushi mat makes the procesds easier, but it isn’t necessary. We didn’t have one in class and it worked just fine.

For the rice:

Mix together vinegar, sugar, and salt. Rinse the rice in colander and drain. Put the rice and water in medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to very low and simmer, tightly covered. Cook until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat (don’t uncover) and set aside for 10 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and transfer it to a large bowl.

Add the vinegar mixture and toss with the rice, using a wooden spoon. Spread it out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Fan the rice continuously with a fan or magazine until cooled. Cover the rice with a damp towel.

To assemble rolls:

Place the sushi mat with the slats running crosswise directly in front of you on a clean work space. Lay a sheet of nori shiny-side down and lined up with the closest edge of the mat. Lightly moisten fingers with water, and evenly press about 1/4 of the rice onto the nori, with 1 1/2-inches uncovered at the far edge. Line up the fillings about 1-inch from the closest near edge, evenly across the rice. Leave 1-inch of rice uncovered at the far edge.

Beginning with the near edge of the mat, tightly roll up the nori, rice, and fillings into a cylinder. Firmly tug on the rounded mat over the roll as you pull on the far edge of the mat to tighten the roll. Open the mat, dab unsealed edge of nori with a bit of water and roll the sushi forward to seal. Transfer the sushi to a plate and cover with damp paper towels. Repeat with remaining rice and fillings.

Cut each sushi roll, crosswise, into 6 to 8 pieces with a sharp wet knife. You will need to wet the knife after each cut to keep the nori from tearing. Serve with bowl of soy sauce for dipping.

My pretend kitchen

I had my first culinary lesson in my international cooking series last night. This is, hands down, the best birthday present my husband has ever given me. Some people might not think cooking for nearly 3 hours after working for 9 as an enjoyable way to spend the evening, but I had such a great time that I woke up this morning in a great mood!

We studied French cuisine last night and made four traditional French dishes: Pear Clafouti (a custard and fruit dessert); Apricot Chambord Brie (appetizer); Chickan and Sausage Cassoulet; and Duck A L’Orange.

I have cooked French foods before. Chicken Elegante is one of my favorite recipes and I finally tackled Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon this past year, but French cooking as a while can be intimidating. The dishes themselves sound so involved. Duck A L’Orange? Really? Chef Daniel wanted us to make that our first night out?

Here’s the thing most chefs won’t tell you. French food, at least the French food I made last night, is very simple. It is quality ingredients and basic techniques that result in a delicious dish.

We tackle Italian cuisine next week, but already I’m planning to make Chicken and Sausage Cassoulet for dinner soon. It turns out the boy likes it. Who knew?

PEAR CLAFOUTI

  • 1 tbsp softened butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 cups pear slices
  • 1 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch by 9-inch baking dish or 9-inch deep dish pie round with the softened butter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and salt until it forms a smooth, thin batter. Spread 3/4 cup of the batter onto the bottom of the prepared baking dish and bake it for 2 to 4 minutes. Watch the batter closely and remove it before it cooks completely. It should just start to thicken and set when it is removed from the oven.

Transfer the dish to a heatproof surface and arrange the pears in a fan pattern over the hot batter. Pour the remaining batter over the pears and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar over the finished calfouti and serve it warm.

Loving a legend

I love the movie Julie & Julia. It is one of those movies I can put on and have in the background as I cook or clean or answer e-mail. I’ve seen it enough (though not as often as this guy) that I don’t have to give it my complete attention, but I still know what’s going on.

My husband bought me a Dutch oven soon after Julie & Julia was released because I expressed an interest in making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon. I (now) use my Dutch oven a lot, but it wasn’t until this past Friday that I finally got around to making boeuf bourguignon.

It took me four hours. And at least eight pans. Plus all my sharp knives.

It was so totally worth it.

BOEUF BOURGUIGNON

Stew Ingredients

  • 6 ounces bacon, solid chunk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups red wine (a full bodied wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy or Chianti)
  • 2 -3 cups beef stock (Simple Beef stock is posted on the site, unsalted and defatted)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed (you may choose to add more)
  • 1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dred thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh

Braised Onion Ingredients

  • 18 -24 white pearl onions, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 sprigs parsley

Sauteed Mushrooms Ingredients

  • 1 lb mushroom, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut off the rind of the bacon and reserve. Cut the bacon about ¼ inch thick, 11/2 inches long. Simmer the bacon and rind for 10 minutes in water. Drain and dry, and keep warm on a plate.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven and warm over moderate heat. Sauté the lardons for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry off the pieces of beef and sauté them, a few at a time in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Once browned, remove to the side plate with the bacon.

In the same oil/fat, sauté the onion and the carrot until softened. Pour off the fat and return the lardons and the beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.

Toss the contents of the casserole with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the flour. Set the uncovered casserole in the oven for four minutes. Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for 4 more minutes.

Lower the heat to 325 degrees and remove the casserole from the oven. Add the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs and the bacon rind, and bring to a simmer on the top of the stove.

Cover and place the Dutch oven in the oven, adjusting the heat so that the liquid simmers for two to three hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms and set them aside till needed. For the onion, if using frozen, make sure they are defrosted and drained.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and add the onions to the skillet. Sauté over medium heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions about so they brown as evenly as possible, without breaking apart. Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs, and cover. Simmer over low heat for about 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Remove the herbs and set the onions aside.

For the mushrooms, heat the butter and oil over high heat in a large skillet. As soon as the foam begins to subside add the mushrooms and toss and shake the pan for about five minutes. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.

To finish the stew: When the meat is tender, remover the casserole from the oven and empty its contents into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it (discarding the bits of carrot and onion and herbs which remain in the sieve). Distribute the mushrooms and onions over the meat. Skim the fat off the sauce and simmer it for a minute or two, skimming off any additional fat which rises to the surface. You should be left with about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Taste for seasoning, then pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

If you are serving immediately, place the covered casserole over medium low heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Serve in the casserole or on a warm platter surrounded by noodles, potatoes or rice and garnished with fresh parsley. If serving later or the next day, allow the casserole to cool and place cold, covered casserole in the refrigerator 20 minutes prior to serving, place over medium low heat and simmer very slowly for ten minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

Recipe courtsey of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking


Parlez-vous Francais?

I grew up in a house of eight people, the second of six kids. As expected, there was very little my siblings and I agreed on, especially meals.

My mother told us many times our kitchen was not a restaurant. We either ate what she made for dinner or we didn’t eat.

It’s sounds worse than it was. Usually ‘not eating’ meant having a bowl of cereal or a sandwich we made ourselves instead of the family meal. There was the wheat macaroni incident, though, that resulted in my older sister and I sitting at the kitchen table for an hour, as we both refused to touch it.

Apparently we had pushed our mother to her limits that day.

There were some meals, though, that everyone loved. Spaghetti (although mom did have to make non-meat sauce for my older sister and my dad when they went through their vegetarian phase). Tacos. Roast chicken. Turkey. Hamburgers. Steak. Pizza. Chicken Elegante.

Yes, our family would be fans of a French dish.

Chicken Elegante is not nearly as difficult as the name would suggest. It’s basically herbed chicken in a white wine sauce, served inside a crepe. I learned to make it when I was 12 and make it at least once a month for my family now.

My daughter loves the crepes and loves the chicken, but won’t touch the sauce. My son won’t have anything to do with any of it.

I need to adopt my mom’s ‘The kitchen is not a restaurant’ mantra.

CHICKEN ELEGANTE

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (roughly 1 lb.)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp tarragon
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 16 crepes (recipe below)

Melt butter in a large skillet. (You can do this on the stove top, but my mom always used an electric skillet for this recipe, so I do, too. I like that I can better control the temperature.) Add garlic. Stir. Before garlic burns, add wine and chicken broth. Add chicken, pepper, parsley and tarragon. Cook on medium low until chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken from the skillet and slice into bite-sized pieces. Keep warm.

Turn up heat to skillet. Add heavy cream. Stir. 

Whisk egg yolks together in a small bowl. Add some of hot cream mixture to temper eggs, then pour into the skillet. Whisk continuously for a few minutes. Sauce will thicken. (You might need to get someone else to do that for you as you assemble the crepes since this recipe is best served hot! My husband used to be my whisker. Now it’s my daughter.) 

To assemble crepes, place some of the diced chicken in each crepe. Add some sauce. Roll up the crepes, then pour more sauce over it. A salad or steam asparagus is the perfect side to this dish.

BASIC CREPE RECIPE

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Whisk eggs and salt together. Add flour and milk, alternating one cup at a time and whisking each time. Add melted butter last. Stir. Refrigerate for one hour. 

To make crepe, heat a crepe pan (A small skillet works fin if you don’t have a crepe pan). Lightly grease. Measure about 1/4 cup batter into pan. Tilt pan to spread batter. Once crepe has lots of little bubbles, loosen any edges with spatula. Flip crepe over. This side cooks in seconds. Slide crepe from pan to plate. And start the process again.

A tip! My first crepe is always a bit of a mess. The process becomes easier as the pan adjusts to the heat. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you time to get the knack of it. You will soon and it is worth it.

Bon appetite!