Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Visit to Miyabi 45th

The IT Guy in my life recently decreed date night once a month.  Pretty good idea as these things go.  The boy genius can now be left at home for such a thing, so the whole baby-sitter (“Kid-sitter MOM!”) headache does not come up.  The kerfuffle of getting out the door has lost some of the ‘fuffle.  I’m amenable.

One problem.  And it is admittedly a confabulation of White Whine and my own madness, but I really don’t like to go out to eat unless it is something I can’t make at home (due to knowledge or equipment or ingredient access), or is so time consuming and/or complicated I would never do it.  So regular run-of-the-mill roast chicken, pasta, steak, house salad and undercooked bread pudding keep me out of a large number of restaurants due to eye-crossingly tedious ennui. 

But, I live in Seattle.  Darnit.  One of the best food crossroads of the world.  And full of experimental restaurants, fusion – both good and horrific (Irish Cajun???), home cookin’ of the Pacific Rim, and now burgeoning with flavors from India (there are a lot of flavors from India), the troubled but lemon and garlic laced Middle East, the spice laced Fertile Crescent, and the tantalizing but so far elusive Western side of Africa.  Now this is stuff I don’t know how to make.  Look here! 

Ta-TA New American!  I’m lookin’ old world.  And to that end, the first restaurant the new rule took us to was Miyabi 45th.  A Japanese/French Fusion joint.  (2208 N 45th St, Seattle, WA In the heart of the Wallingford restaurant row.)
“WHAT?”  you say.

Yet it is a pairing that works surprisingly well if you stop and think on the food sensibilities of both cultures.  The French obsessiveness with appellation controlée or the awareness and protection of the characteristics of a given food item, makes them a perfect match with the Japanese love of exacting (might I say obsessive?  c.f. Jiro Dreams of Sushi) standards.  Both have fastidious and precise food preparation techniques that seem excessive, but prove to be essential to their unique taste.  Neither culture is much in for heavy flavoring or spicing, depending instead on the ingredients and exacting preparation to determine the flavor.  All said – there is much to be said for an aesthetic in common. 

And it all comes out as a wild success at Miyabi 45th.

We started out with Oysters.  There were 4 types.
3 varieties were cold water, 1 was not.
I bet you can tell from the shell size.

We knew we were on to something great when the oysters were excellent and tasty, enhanced by a yuzu mignonette, and were so darn visually appealing after they had been eaten.

There was so much baffling temptation on the menu, we went Omikaze.  (That’s functionally Japanese for “Tasting Menu”, but with the extra twist of no printed menu, Chef Decides!  ) 

The meal started with a superb proof that French/Japanese fusion may sound crazy, but boy does it taste good.  Foie Gras Tofu.  
The sample I had of this dish earlier, got me in the door.
It is flavored tofu, but instead of a chalky or silken-slippery texture it somehow has that silky, fatty, melting texture of foie gras and a mysterious, rich flavor that while not exactly foie, convinces you that it is luxury.  Served as an amûse , yet presented with definite Japanese style it convinced both of us we were in for the goods.

The roasted shiso peppers with spicy mayonnaise were a refreshing follow up.  The bitterness of the green pepper (these are 90 out of 100 times not spicy at all, but you occasionally get a fiery mutant) is completed by the sweet/savory of Japanese Mayo, with a lemony spicy twist.
love this plate!

And then the dish we nearly stabbed each other over – Uni Tartare.  Uni over beef tartare, real, freshly grated wasabi standing in for the horseradish.  Just dizzingly spectacular.  All I can say is the taste lived up to the presentation.
Notice the hands hiding each other back!

And roasted sardine.  Tender on the inside, crispy on the outside.  Nom.  
Oh, if you get one of these, cut along the back-bone, and slide the knife along the ribs to lift off the whole side.  You’ll look like you know what you are doing.

Stop for a little beefy soup.  The broth so rich in flavor, the tongue obviously with a trip through a skillful pressure cooker.  It fell apart like the tenderest best cooked brisket.  And the accompaniments took it the rest of the way to excellent.  Impeccable clear both, incredible cooked tongue, so very French, and Japanese flavors supporting the whole show. 

The duck hearts in place of snail in the traditional escargot preparation?  I was a big fan.  The sizzle of the butter, and the ridiculously garlicky panko crumbs – I’ll be back.  And the duck hearts had that same earthy-chewy experience as the snails.

We were blessed with a bowl of the famous house-made tender soba.  Nope… no picture.  It pretty much looks like a great bowl of noodle soup.  The extra exceptional part about it - the noodles.  If you've never had fresh soba noodles (I hadn't) they bare only the most passing resemblance to the dried kind.  So tender and flavorful - the buckwheat taste shines through and becomes an essential part of the flavor.

Our “pre-dessert” was a stack of blinis, crème fraiche and ikura (salted salmon roe).  Pretty to look at, and worth chasing down every last egg, smear of cream, and consuming the shreds of shiso leaf.  I give the Japanese sensibility of the plate’s style points way over the French on this one (the actual physical plate, not the plating).

And for dessert, another one of those – well, never saw that coming – moments.  Purple mountain yam “cheesecake”.  No cheese at all, but the texture was cheesecake.  The taste was exotic sweet potato.  Not too sweet, and very Japanese at the end.

And fulfilling both my requirements – all sorts of things I don’t know how to do, and plenty I would never take the time to do.

Oh Miyabi 45th may you get the devoted clientele you deserve.  (Along with me.)

P.S. Completely LOVE the plates.  One of those little things that makes the whole thing that much better.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Dangers of the BBC – Masterchef: the Professionals

Over on BBC they have a version of Masterchef that has nothing to do with Gordon Ramsey, has no parting shots and is all about the development and testing of professional chefs.  These are the people you watch to be impressed.  Forget comparing myself to them.  They’re better.  They’ve trained for this and it shows.  Well, mostly.

There are the skill tests.  They are presided over by the awesome and formidable Monica Galetti (this woman knows how to use an eyebrow!)  These are things I can do if I go look it up in Julia Child, or Boston Cooking School cookbook or Brillat-Savarin (Old School Stuff),  but not in the 8 or 15 minutes that the chefs have.  Quite often, and to our vast entertainment, they can’t either.

Some are clear shows of the culinary divide between here and London – Uni is not a thing there, but over here us lowly home cooks are taking on the Sea Urchin.  This was a particularly painful episode to gasp and giggle through.

And then the challenge was Crêpes Soufflé.  The boy saw that, and said, “Can we make that?”   Next thing I knew I had the dynamic duo making a soft meringue with crème patisserie  and crêpes,  All I had to do was warm up the oven and break out the bottle of tayberry syrup I’d been saving for something good.  (And help with the cleanup, but that’s neither new, nor exciting.)

But this is what we got out of it.

Here’s how: 
(Fortunately we didn’t have to do it in 15 minutes, and neither do you.)  I've simplified things a bit by leaving out the crème patisserie, and substituting powdered sugar, because these won't have to sit around and need "stabilization" from the crème.

And what do you do with extra egg yolks?  Crème Brulée, Sauce Bérnaise, Hollandaise, or something similarly luscious.  Or gingersnaps.


Make these 1st.  Make tons, separate them with wax paper (or similar) and freeze for later use.

Ingredients: (you can easily make 1/3 of this recipe if you want to go small)
1 C flour (instant blending if you have it)
2/3 C cold milk
2/3 C water
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs melted & cooled butter (+ more for the pan)

blender or large bowl and whisk
non-stick pan
large, non metal flipping spatula
plate for stacking crepes
(optional - wax or similar paper for storing crêpes) 

All the ingredients in the blender.  Go until smooth (or whisk until same result is reached)
Let it sit in the refrigerator for 10 min - 48 hours.  This will let the flour swell up and make sturdier crêpes.  (If you don't have time, it'll still work, they just might tear).

Place about a tsp of butter in the pan over medium high heat.  (Putting the butter in the cold pan helps you keep from overheating an empty pan!)  When the butter melts and then sizzles, then subsides, the pan is ready.  Spread the butter around.  Then while tilting the pan to spread the batter, add 2Tbs - 4Tbs of batter.  Enough to cover the bottom in a thin layer.  Cook about 1 minute, or until lacy brown patterns form on the bottom.  Flip and cook about 30 seconds.  Place on the plate.  Continue through the batter and make a stack.  

These can be used right away.  Refrigerated, or separated and frozen in a zip top bag.  Until you're making crêpes every day, don't be afraid to fuss with times and temperatures until you have it exactly right!  And then when you change cook tops and pans, you'll have to futz around all over again.

Soufflé Part
prepared crêpes (see above - 2 per person)
1 egg whites per crêpe (you can get away with 2 egg whites for 3 crêpes)
2 tsp powdered sugar per eggwhite
fruit syrup (optional)

cookie sheet
silicone baking mat/parchment paper/greased cookie sheet
large flipping spatula
large bowl
soft scraping spatula
mixer with whipping attachment

Separate the eggs.  Set the yolks aside for something else.
Place the egg whites in a large, very clean bowl/bowl of a stand mixer.  Start beating the egg whites on a slow speed, until they are bubbly.  Turn up the speed a bit, and sprinkle in the powdered sugar carefully - so it doesn't fly around.
Continue to beat the egg whites until they won't fall out of the bowl if you flip it over (semi-stiff peaks).  

Heat the oven to 350˚F.
Place the baking mat/parchment paper on the cookie sheet.
Lay on crêpe flat on the cookie sheet.  Use the soft spatula to spread a layer of egg white on half the crêpe (about 1/2" to 3/4" inch thick).  Fold over (half moon shape).  Spread another, thinner layer of egg white on half the crêpe again.  Fold over again (triangle shape).  
Repeat with as many as you want (6 is a good number for a cookie sheet).  Pop in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the egg whites puff up or "soufflé."


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Nan-e Nokhochi - Persian Chick Pea Shortbread

I love a cookie that is great in it's own little right, and is also an expression of it's culture.
This one is also one of those bonus dishes that happens to show how eating the way you need to or want to is easy.  Simply change cultures to find one that matches your dietary needs.

These turn out to be grain free and vegan.  The fact that they have generations of tradition behind them  is part of what makes them a winner!  How much of a winner?
These are made for the Persian New Year (Nowruz), and the cause of many a child’s tummy-ache as they are blissfully overindulged in.  But, since we are older, wiser, and in communication with the very boring Spirit of Consequences (poor guy never gets out and lets loose), we are capable of tempering our desire for sweets with some realistic restraint.  Mostly.

These Persian delights are light, and melt-in-your mouth crumbly. A darn authentic treat from The Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij.

Nan-e Nokhochi
Besan Shortbread - studded with pistachio slivers
(besan is "chick pea flour")

Orange Flower Water

However her recipe calls for rose water.  The western palate tastes this as SOAP!  Blame the
Victorians?  Blame the great-grandmothers?  For whatever reason it rarely comes across as, "yummy".  So I decided to give these a half turn to the west.  Orange.  But not fully Western Orange.

I replaced the amount of rose flower water with 2/3 orange flower water 1/3 orange extract.  The original cardamom, I left in place.  The result?  Magic.

The one thing that makes these cookies delicious but difficult is the fact that chick pea flour is NOT gooey AT ALL.  It holds to itself just about as well as corn flour does (masa harina,  often known as the familiar brand "Maseca").  Crumbly.

These cookies are from Cafe Leilee
in the Bay Area

This means while the cookies are crispy, melt in your mouth wonders, they shatter if roughly handled and are tough to get out of the cookie cutter.  The traditional shape, a four leaf clover is easy to push out with your fingers.  I didn't have one of those cutters - so, I made due with some others.  However, the little butterfly was too small to push well, so I had to make a little butterfly cardboard cutout to successfully free the cookies from the cutter!

Used the end of this spatula to push the cookie out
(and there at the bottom pare the slivered pistachios)

With this little cardboard cutout

perfect cookie

This worked so well, I made one for all the shapes.

So at last… here's the recipe:

1 C canola oil, ghee or coconut oil (or your favorite oil)
1.5 C confectioners sugar
4 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp orange flower water@ (optional – but excellent!)
1 tsp orange extract
3.5 – 4.5 C roasted chickpea flour (besan)* - finely ground

ground pistachios or pistachio slivers for garnishing

stand mixer or large mixing bowl and whisk
half sheet pan or cookie sheet (2)
plastic wrap
rolling pin
parchment paper or silicone baking mats or grease the cookie sheet(s)
sifter or a sieve
cookie cutter (clover leaf is traditional**)
(cardboard, scissors)†
cooling rack

Combine the oil, sugar, cardamom, salt, and orange flavorings in the mixing bowl.  Mix for 2 minutes – until it is white and creamy.
Add in 3C chickpea flour, mix for 1 minute.  (Use oiled hands for this if not using a mixer).   If the mixture is still sticky, continue to slowly add flour until the mixture is no longer sticky.

Line a baking sheet with a baking mat/parchment paper or lightly grease it.  Place the dough on it and knead it with oiled hands until it is soft and pliable.
Cover one baking sheet with plastic wrap, lay the dough down, cover with another piece of plastic wrap.  Pat to a rectangle about ¾” thick, using the rolling pin to even it out.  Place in the refrigerator for 1-24 hours.

 Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator.  Slide it off the baking sheet onto the counter.
Heat the oven to 300˚F.  Line the baking sheets with baking mats, parchment paper or lightly grease them.
Unwrap the dough, cut out the cookies.  Place on the cookie sheets.  They don’t really spread, so 1” apart is plenty.   Decorate with a slivered pistachio (If using ground pistachios, sprinkle those on as they come out of the oven.)

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the base of the cookies are a slightly darker golden color.  Leave the cookies on the pan, and place it on the cooling rack.  Let them firm up before moving.  They are crumbly and delicious because of it!  So handle a little more gently than normal cookies.

Extra Info!

@ In case you were wondering, the original flavoring was 1Tbs rose flower water.  Both flower waters are available at Middle Eastern and Indian markets, and occasionally baking supply stores.

*Chickpea flour or besan is easily found by the large bag-full in Middle Eastern and Indian markets, and sometimes in the Bulk section of grocery stores.   If you can’t find already roasted chickpea flour, you can do it yourself.  Spread all of it out on a half sheet pan, or do it in two batches in a 9”x13” pan.  Heat the oven to 350˚F.  Roast the flour for 20 minutes.  Stir and roast for 20 minute intervals – stirring each time.  As you start to smell “toast” reduce the intervals to 10 minutes.  When the flour is a mustard yellow and smells thoroughly toasty.  You are done. 

Alternately you can stir it over medium-low heat in a cast-iron skillet with a spatula or whisk until you get the same result.  One method is slower, but requires less hands-on.  This method is faster, but needs all of your attention.    

** Not owning a clover shaped cookie cutter I did circles, hexagons, diamonds and butterflies. 

†I was having a hard time getting them some of the cookies out of their cutters without cracking them.  So I cut a matching, but slightly smaller cardboard shape.  Pressing the cardboard spread out the pressure, and the whole cookie came out undamaged.  I think I might have made the dough to thin.  Keeping it thicker next time might help too.