Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe: Miso Soup with Sizzling Rice

Last night I needed something quick and tasty and if possible, never-seen-before on my table (just for fun). I had tofu so miso soup was a natural choice: I always have the basic ingredients in various cupboards, and I try to keep the miso itself in the fridge.

What I didn't have was something new or extra in mind to add to it or go with it. I don't usually put rice in miso soup. It did sound easy, but also a little boring. That's when sizzling rice came to mind.

I've never made sizzling rice but I've enjoyed it in Chinese restaurants. So I looked up a recipe online. And so this meal was born. (I didn't know it yet, but that recipe wasn't a good one - more on that later.)

Here's the recipe. At the end I'll tell you what didn't work, and then what happened and then how to fix it:

1 strip of kombu, rinsed quickly
1/2 cup or so dried shiitake mushrooms. I bought sliced ones, but whole ones will work.
1 quart cold water
3-4 T miso, whichever flavor you favor - for a gluten-free recipe avoid miso with barley
1 pkg soft tofu, rinsed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (more or less)
2T mirin (or to taste)
2T tamari soy sauce - for a gluten-free recipe use wheat-free tamari
3-4 choy sum (small bok choy type plants) or 2 baby bok choy or other green. Spinach would do.
1/2 cup medium grain white rice - I use a brand of CalRose rice, used in sushi. Other kinds might work.

Put the water in a 2-qt pot and add the kombu and mushrooms. Bring it up to a simmer (little bubbles at the edges) but don't let it boil. Take it off the heat and let it sit while you do something else. It can sit till nearly cool, or for hours.

Remove the kombu and put it in the compost bucket
Slice the mushrooms if they aren't already sliced, and put the tough stalks in the compost bucket. Return the sliced mushrooms to the pot.

Turn on the heat. As it starts to get hot, stir in the miso by placing it in a strainer, lowering the strainer into the kombu broth, and stirring the miso around in the strainer. The idea is to get rid of lumps and anything else that stays in the strainer.

Don't let the broth boil.

Add the greens. I prepare the choy sum by cutting off the stems at the base of the leaves (one cut). Then I separate the leaves from each other and rinse them off, then add them to the broth.

Put the tofu in a flat dish and heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes. You don't want it to chill the broth.

Add the hot tofu to the pot, add the mirin and tamari, stir gently, and taste. Adjust the seasoning. Keep the broth hot just below the boiling point.

So far so good. Now to the sizzling rice.

Heat 3/4 cup oil in a wok or frying pan. Toss in a piece of rice and if it sizzles, add all the rest. Stir it around till the rice begins to brown. This takes a good 5 minutes, but watch it closely - burning does not improve it.

Ladle the soup into wide bowls, then add a portion of rice. This recipe will make 2-4 servings.

Now to the difficulty and the solution:

When I did this last night, the rice never did cook enough. And it didn't stick together at all, as it does in restaurants. So after the first serving I took all the rice we had been avoiding in our bowls, heated up the oil again, and added them. While they browned (better than before) they began to stick together. They looked and smelled like sizzling rice! I served them on our second bowls of soup and they were a welcome addition, crispy, tasty, complementary.

So from now on I'm doing it this way:

Before adding the tofu to the broth, measure out the rice and add enough broth to cover. Once the soup is heated, heat up the oil, strain the rice mixture back into the pot, and add the rice to the hot oil. It will splatter a bit. Cook until the rice turns opaque, then brown. Finish the soup as before. Serve a portion with each bowl of soup.

This was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly filling. The choy sum was lovely. The rice floated in crunchy little islands and was a great touch!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The end of March...

Yesterday John planted asparagus and artichokes in the beds he'd prepared. We haven't done artichokes before, but are hopeful. We don't know if we can get them to winter over, but at least their roots will be bigger each year if they do. According to this article we should be sharing one big choke by August!

Then little ones will grow and we'll have a few more to enjoy.

We planted 3 plants. It may not be enough! We've got to wait a good 4 months or more to find out.

The asparagus won't be ready for a couple of years. We have a few plants that are ready to harvest this year, planted in 2007.

Otherwise, it's all preparation for a delicious future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


We just received our dirt. We've been getting ready, as much as possible, for it to come. First we made garden boxes for it to go into. And then we had to remove the junipers so the truck could get into the yard. (We wanted to get rid of those junipers - more about that in another post.) And we had to take down a part of the fence to give the truck access to the backyard.

That was a lot to do just to get a load of dirt dropped off! But now it's here, all 13 yards of it. It's part-way into the yard, but some of it overlaps the fence line.

Immediately we started shoveling. We started by filling up the garden box that has been waiting for it. Ten wheelbarrow loads later, it was part-full, maybe a third full. This box is 16x4x1 in dimension, or 64 cu ft. That is about 2.3 yards of the 13.

John likes to move it by the wheelbarrow, but I prefer carrying one shovelful at a time the 20 feet uphill from the pile to the box. We tend to count things around here, and I can tell you I did 80 shovelfuls. At first I did 20 and took a break. The third time I did 40 shovelfuls. The wheelbarrow holds 10 shovelfuls.

See, I'm getting more fit already! I like it ever so much better to get my exercise from real work than from a dedicated exercise session: it seems so much more meaningful!

I'd say the box is now 2/3 to 3/4 full. Big improvement from those shovelfuls! I should be able to plant tomorrow!


By the way, this soil is a mixture of composted local heavy-metal-free sludge from a small town nearby, sand, composted chicken manure, and ...  I don't remember the rest. It seems very sandy to me, certainly more than we're used to. We'll see how that is. Even though it has the manure, we may need to add more compost just to boost the organic and water-holding content.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recipe: Pipian Rojo

This ancient traditional sauce has as many variations as the number of cooks who have made it over the past 8000-10000 years. Here's one to try:

Soak 2 ancho or other dried chilis by covering them with boiling water and letting them sit for 15 minutes.

Put in a blender:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh pumpkin or squash seeds, cleaned of pulp
1 cup veggie or chicken broth
the soaked ancho chilis
1/2 tsp salt
juice of 1-2 limes (depending on size)

Whirl it all up in the blender till a thick uniform paste forms. To use it, add more broth and stew a chicken or game in it until cooked. Serve over rice or with steamed tortillas. Or use it to flavor soups by stirring the paste into the soup broth for flavoring. I haven't tried it with bean soup, but it sounds like a perfect combination.

There are infinite variations, so have fun with it. You can find dried chilies in most groceries.

Pepitas - 2 recipes, several variations

Pepitas are a traditional food that has been eaten for at least the last 10,000 years. You can cook pepitas, which are the healthy seeds of squash and pumpkins, in the oven. But my favorite way uses a cast iron skillet and takes only about 5 minutes.

You can buy pumpkin seeds, which are very similar to squash seeds, in bulk at the store. Or you can wash the pulp from the seeds of a squash you are using in another recipe, dry them thoroughly, and proceed with the recipe.

Quick Pepitas

Start with 2 cups of pepitas (or you can make less but I warn you, these are addictive)
Pour them into a hot cast iron skillet and stir until they start to pop. Pour them out onto a plate, paper plate, or several layers of paper towels. They will be hot! Sprinkle them with salt, let them cool down, and enjoy them as a snack. Or run them through a spice mill as a coating or topping.

Quick Pepitas with Tamari (These are unbelievably tasty and satisfying.)

Start with Quick Pepitas. After they start popping, turn off the heat but leave them in the pan. Immediately add 2-3 tablespoons of tamari soy sauce and toss them around in the pan to coat them all. Before the tamari dries and burns, remove them from the pan onto a plate. Let them cool and serve.

Baked Pepitas

After cleaning the pepitas, toss them with a few tablespoons of olive oil and some salt, and roast them in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about 40 minutes in a 325 degree oven. Don't let them burn! Cool and eat.

Baked Pepitas variations.

Oil but don't salt the pepitas, but otherwise follow the recipe for Baked Pepitas. When the pepitas come out of the oven and are still hot, put them in a heat-safe bowl and sprinkle with ONE of these:

Cinnamon sugar (about 2 parts sugar to one part cinnamon)
Garlic salt
Chili powder, with or without salt. Or chili powder with a bit of sugar. Or chili powder with a bit of sweetened cocoa mix.

Or serve the Baked Pepitas mixed about half-and-half with raisins.

Recipe: Squash Custard and variations

This recipe is super-simple and amazingly healthy and satisfying. And I've included a few tempting variations. And by the way, I've tried them all.

Basic recipe. This recipe makes a lot of custard, because I find it disappears very fast. Good for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

4 cups cooked squash. (Make your own for the tastiest cooked squash. I LOVE buttercup squash for this.)
4 eggs
2 cans coconut cream or coconut milk, not light (You can make your own following this recipe)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

Stir the sugar into the squash. Beat up the eggs until frothy and stir them into the squash until it is well-blended. Add the coconut milk and blend it in. Butter a baking dish (13x9 will work for this recipe), pour in the custard mix, and bake at 325 for an hour, or until the center is just barely set.

Variations. You can combine any of these for even more variations:

Spicy: Mix 1 T (or more) pumpkin pie spice into the sugar before mixing the sugar with the squash. Or just use cinnamon. Or use cardamom.
Tropical: Stir the liquid in one can of crushed or chunk pineapple into the mix after adding the coconut milk. When blended, stir in the pineapple. This will take a bit longer to bake adequately.
Very Mainstream: Replace the coconut milk with whipping cream. Or whole milk. Or non-fat milk if you must.
Honey: Replace the sugar with honey. Don't replace the sugar with any artificial sweeteners!
Ginger: Chop candied ginger until it is about the size of a kernel of corn. Add up to half a cup before baking.
Chocolate chip: I don't actually like this much. I feel the chocolate is too indelicate for the squash. But I have made it and you might like it: Add 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate bits before baking.
Fake creme brulee: Sprinkle the top lightly with granulated sugar before baking.

Serve any of these with whipped cream or ice cream, warm or cold.