Monday, November 30, 2009

Homemade noodles featuring fresh squash juice

Homemade noodles featuring fresh squash juice? Squash juice? What is this, Harry Potter all of a sudden? Do I have house elves working in my kitchen? Seriously? Squash juice? And isn't it pumpkin juice? But isn't pumpkin a squash? Wait, wait, wait... squash juice noodles... you can't be serious.

Wrong. I'm serious. Look!
Here's (some of) the squash juice, specifically butternut and golden acorn squash... looks like pumpkin juice:
Here's the resulting lump of pasta dough:
"Double-double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble!" Here's the finished shaved noodles!
Nice and orangish, huh? Believe me... they were surprisingly good too. The squash flavors came through, sweet and a bit nutty with that nice, obvious taste that is only squash, but they weren't overpowering. They made a lovely accent to the chewy, doughy noodles.

Surprisingly enough, the "pumpkin juice" was stunningly good as well. It was a test of will to keep myself from drinking a glass of it, but that's probably because I used small, vibrant squash from my garden this summer that were amazingly sweet. Specifically, I got about two cups of juice from one small butternut squash and one full-sized golden acorn squash (interestingly enough, neither of which were planted intentionally -- they grew out of an old compost pile!).

To make this, you need some special equipment: a juicer (like the Jack Lalanne Power Juicer, e.g.). These are well worth the investment, considering the potential! Once obtained, it couldn't be easier... and if you get some small, sweet pumpkins, then you can entertain your Harry-Potter-crazy kids (or yourself...) by making yourself some authentic, super-healthy, fresh pumpkin juice sometimes (sweetened with some apples if needed with little extra effort or expense). You don't even have to peel the squash as long as you wash it really well first, though you certainly could. You probably do want to seed and gut it, though.

The rest of the recipe, which could use juices from essentially any veggies you wanted (carrots, beets, spinach, or parsley seem like other interesting pasta choices, as is potato and sweet potato, which I've tested), is simply to replace some, most, or all of the water in a recipe of homemade pasta with the juice you make. In this case, I replaced the entire cup of water for a three-cup pasta with the squash juice. In case you don't know how to make these noodles, see here for a recipe or read the summary of this recipe below! The noodles, incidentally, can be used as I typically use them, in Asian fare since that's how I learned about them, or in place of whatever usual noodles you put into a pasta dish. Click on the labels (to your right): noodles, pasta, and Asian for lots of ideas on how to use these noodles. I've read good things about doing lasagne this way and look forward to testing it out, probably with veggie noodles.

In case you want things to be specific, here's the actual recipe I used for these noodles:

  • 3 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted;
  • 1 cup of freshly made acorn and butternut squash juice;
  • A pinch of salt;
  • Elbow grease.
Add all of the ingredients except the grease in a bowl and combine until mixed. Once the mixture starts to become a dough, add elbow grease by kneading the dough until it is smooth and has a nice texture. Carefully with a very sharp knife shave the noodles from the ball of dough directly into boiling water, pulling and pinching the last few (or all of them if you get frustrated enough). Boil for about 3-5 minutes after the end of the shaving until the noodles are all done. Drain and use like pasta.

Oh... since I mentioned it above... if you get a juicer and get all excited and juice potatoes or sweet potatoes, for whatever purpose, don't drink it. It tastes pretty bad and seems to make me feel quite ill every time I try it. I don't think it's a good thing to do.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Pork Cubes with Garlic, Mushrooms, and Carrots over Shaved Noodles

This was another dish that my wife thought was just about perfect. My opinion is that the reason is centered in that I'm getting better at making the noodles.
The trick, really, is not overdoing the pork. Pork gets very dry very quickly when it's overcooked. Of course, it has to be cooked through, so don't underdo it either!

Ingredients:

  • One 3-cup recipe of shaved noodles (see below);
  • About a pound of pork chops, cut into half-inch cubes;
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, halved and sliced into quarter inch strips;
  • Two full-sized carrots, cut into two-inch boards and then halved;
  • About ten white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered;
  • Four or five cloves of garlic, crushed (first) and minced;
  • Approximately 1 inch of fresh ginger, minced;
  • 1-3 tsp (to taste) hot sauce;
  • 1-2 tbsp (to taste) soy sauce;
  • 1-2 tbsp canola oil;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste.
Directions Summary:
Start by putting a pan of salted water on to boil (for the noodles). Then prepare all of the vegetables and the meat. Set ingredients aside while preparing the noodle dough. When the dough is ready and the water is boiling (or very close to it!), heat the oil in the wok over high heat. Add all of the vegetables except the ginger and garlic and salt them. Then stir fry them momentarily. Shave the noodles into the boiling water, pausing occasionally to flip and stir the veggies, removing them from the pan when the onions start to caramelize. Set the vegetable mixture aside and add the pork to the hot wok. Season it with salt and pepper, and once it sears on one side, begin to stir fry it. Drain the noodles when they begin to float, after approximately five or six minutes in the boiling water. When the pork is nearly cooked through, add the hot sauce, toss the meat, and then add the vegetables back in. Add the soy sauce and mix thoroughly. Finally, either serve (traditional style, see below) or add the noodles to the pan and mix well.

Shaved Noodles:
To make shaved noodles, use a firm dough, approximately 3 to 1 (by volume) of flour to water, depending on the thirstiness of the flour. I add a pinch of salt and, in particular, King Arthur brand all-purpose unbleached flour. Combine the ingredients, mix until it starts to form a dough, and then knead well for 10-15 minutes (longer for chewier noodles, shorter for less-chewy noodles). Then, after the dough rests for a moment, use a very sharp knife to shave slices off the ball of dough directly into the boiling water (like this, only mine are shorter, probably thicker, and not nearly as professionally done... also, my pot is a lot smaller as is my ball of dough). When the dough ball gets too small to continue this safely, pinch it thin and pull/tear the noodles off by hand. Cook them until they float (usually 4-6 minutes after the shaving ends).

Traditional Style Serving:
Put some noodles in each of several bowls (one per person). Then, place a serving dish or the wok (with heat protection) full of the fried dish in the middle of the table. Condiments can be set nearby, if they're desired. Each person can spoon some of the fried dish into their bowl as they want and eat it directly that way, the whole family sharing in the meal process in an interesting, different, and somewhat more intimate way than we're used to in the West. Chopsticks, of course, enhance the experience!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sweet Potato and Apple Cream Soup: An Unlikely Thanksgiving Post

Of all of the things that I could talk about on Thanksgiving, like poultry of some kind (turkey, goose -- I really wanted to make goose -- chicken (capon, anyone?), or duck -- I really, really wanted to make a roasted duck), I choose to talk about sweet potato cream soup? Am I serious? Yes. Because it was crazy good and something different and interesting. Plus, my mom beat me to the punch and cooked pretty much everything else last night, leaving me with a few sweet potatoes and a "do something with these... if you can!!!" challenge. Thanks, Mom.
"Wow, Jim, that's really, really, really, really good soup, and that's coming from someone who doesn't like sweet potatoes at all!" That was my mom's reaction to this stuff. Like I said, it was crazy good. So how did I do it?

It started with my small pile of sweet potatoes: five small ones, as I would reckon them, all of the orange variety. I peeled them and chopped them into roughly three-quarters-inch cubes and dropped them into some cold water. On a whim, I added a red delicious apple (the only kind I saw at Mom's house, though I would have preferred Granny Smith for this), peeled, cored, and cut up similarly. That water got boiled until the sweet potatoes were nice and soft.

Once it was done, I drained the pot and put all the solids back into the pan with about half a stick (2 tbsp.) of butter, probably 12 oz. of whole milk, a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon of good cinnamon powder, and a quarter of a cup of brown sugar. I also added a tablespoon of whiskey (by which I mean "bourbon" since I'm from the Southeast) because it's the holidays. After a few minutes of cooking on medium, I whipped out the immersion blender and blended it until it was quite smooth (this could be accomplished in a regular blender as well). Then I ran it through a relatively fine chinois to make it nice and smooth, putting it into a clean pan over medium-low heat.

To finish it, start off by adding 2 more tbsp. of butter and stirring it through as it melts. Then taste it. It should not taste flat. If it does, you probably need another pinch of salt to wake up the flavors and a little more cinnamon, sugar, and/or butter (or why not a little of all of them?). Use sugar to your desired level of sweetness. For what it's worth, I would have garnished this with a small dollop of marshmallow fluff right in the middle of the bowl, and, of course, it is served hot as a wonderful starter for a good fall (or any time!) meal. Oh.. and as much of the sweet potato could be substituted out for squash as you'd like. It would still work wonderfully!

Summary of the recipe:

  • Five small sweet potatoes or the equivalent, peeled and cut into cubes;
  • One apple, peeled, cored, and cut into cubes;
  • 4 tbsp. (half a stick) of butter;
  • 12-16 oz. whole milk, depending on desired consistency;
  • A pinch of salt;
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon powder;
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. whiskey or bourbon.
Summary of directions:
Boil sweet potatoes and apple until sweet potatoes are quite tender. Drain. Lower the heat to medium and add the sweet potato mixture, half of the butter, and the rest of the ingredients back into the pan. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, and then blend until smooth with an (immersion) blender. Strain (and press) the result through a chinois or fine mesh strainer into either a clean pan or back into the original. Discard the pulp (or use it somehow else?). Add the remaining butter, adjust the flavors, and serve hot with an optional garnish of marshmallow fluff or fresh crema.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cafe du Monde French Roast With Chicory Latte

I've been gone, working like crazy, for a couple of weeks, left off with a bunch of articles about beverages, and I come back with another article about something good to drink? Yes. That's me. Ask my wife: I love beverages (and often am carrying two or three or four around with me) -- only sometimes alcoholic ones. There's been a bunch of surpassingly good food, but unfortunately I've been too busy to jot down how I did what I did with it. No worries, though... there will be more!
So, this is really a post about a few beverages, though not the ones in the picture. Those are both the same and only one of the the things I'm about to talk about. As you can see, I used the Cafe du Monde French roast coffee and chicory, and I followed my normal plan to use my Aeropress to make a latte (which I've been referring to as a fake "cappuccino" but realize now that I use too much milk to justify that term).
That basic recipe again? Sure:

  • Four scoops (? tablespoons, I think) coffee, usually fresh and whole-bean as opposed to this pre-ground kind of stuff;
  • 12 oz. freshly boiled water (for the Aeropress, only about 10 oz gets used and it should be cooled to around 180-190F before using) or approximately four largish shots of espresso (or equivalent);
  • 8 oz. whole milk with 2 oz half and half, heated to just below scalding and then put in a blender on high for about twenty or thirty seconds;
  • One tablespoon turbinado sugar, divided into two equal amounts, one in the coffee and the other in the milk;
  • A dash of premium vanilla extract in the milk.
How does it come out? Well, alright. I think if you're a die-hard Cafe du Monde coffee with chicory lover, it's probably quite good. I'm not. I like the little bit of variety of the chicory, but personally, I don't like that much of it at once. So... how can I "fix" this?

Two options:
  1. Only use 1 scoop of the Cafe du Monde stuff and 3 scoops of my favorite freshly ground whole-bean stuff: quite good... surprisingly good... almost better than usual with just that little bit of chicory flirting in the background;
  2. Add caramel and cocoa to make it a turtle mocha-latte... superb! I used just a dash (half teaspoon or so) of the Rieme caramel syrup (also mentioned here) into the coffee and a heaping tablespoon of Ghiridelli unsweetened cocoa powder into the milk while it heated up, almost like making really weak hot cocoa.
If you are into experiments, give it a try. It's a bit of a shame that I can't get the Cafe du Monde stuff in a whole-bean and roasted chicory-chunk variety, but I'm sure the freshness wouldn't be terribly awesome (or could that also be possible in this advanced day and age of essentially instant shipping abilities??).

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