Kitchen X

Welcome to Kitchen X – the experimental chop-shop, the room of a thousand inaccurate measurements. Not for the faint of heart is this gruesome compilation of culinary mash-ups.

Mystery Muffin

I actually don’t feel like I’ve been cooking that much lately – I’m so used to making cookies all the time, I guess, and I haven’t made any (at home) for almost a month. Still, In September I managed to make pretzel challah rolls and kimchi jjigae pulled pork. They were supposed to be eaten together, but I think that rice is better suited to pulled pork than the soft and chewy challah. Next time I’ll try a crusty sourdough. I made the bread using this recipe. I loved all the little helpful comments, and I even used her tutorial for making little knots out of the dough. Though the knots were easy to make in concept, shaping was still the hardest part of the process. The dough did not want to be anything but a blob, and it kept shrinking back to its original form. Maybe I needed to let them sit longer? At any rate, once shaped and allowed to rise a bit more I gave them a bath. I ended up using my cast iron frying pan, which was just large enough to hold a small braid. Yup, that’s right, I jumped the gun like usual and doubled the recipe so I could make two small loaves for myself and take the rest to work. This turned out to be just the right amount. If I make it again I’ll double it but just make knots. I liked them better than the loaves – they tended to come unbraided once cut.

The kimchi pulled pork doesn’t have a recipe. Really, I just wanted to get rid of the last bit of kimchi before it grew legs and walked out of my fridge. I had eaten all the cabbage out of both containers so the only thing left was radish and juice, and I’m not really thrilled about radish. Picky, picky. Kimchi jjigae is the traditional use of the kimchi dregs, being kimchi soup. It’s supposed to be made with old kimchi, and I always figured it’s what I would make with the last bit of mine. I always think of kimchi as cold and crisp (ah! just thinking of it makes my mouth happy!), but I really love it hot. Kimchi and thick slabs of ham, toasted on a slab of crusty bread with some lovely melty cheese . . . . Hmm, now I’m hungry again. Anyway, for this concoction I rubbed the pork shoulder with a conglomeration of garlic, garam masala, korean crushed pepper (I still have a huge bag leftover from my kimchi making escapades), and brown sugar. I pureed everything in my little pint-sized food processor and then rubbed it on the meat. This mixture smelled so incredible that I almost didn’t have the heart to do anything else to it. However I was strong and seared the shoulder with the onions and garlic the next day, adding the kimchi and the juices (if you remember, I made both white and red kimchi and I added the juices of both) and sticking the whole pot in the oven until fork tender. Yum. It’s spicy enough to make my nose run, but it’s a spice you can’t really taste. And the leftovers are amazing with some rice and a bit of coconut milk. Instant Korean flavored curry. Being gauche, I asked one of my coworker’s to smell it and she assured me that there was nothing unappetizing in it’s odor, so I feel safe eating this around other people too. I’ve got some leftover in my freezer, which I’ll either eat on a rainy day or turn into meat pies.

And now that you’ve gotten this far, I guess I’ll explain the muffins. These are the savory carrot-onion muffins from Makiko of Just Hungry-Just Bento fame. I’ve made these before (in Japan, no less) and liked the idea of having both a savory bread and a bit of extra veggies on hand in my freezer. Yes. I am part squirrel. And yes,  I doubled the recipe (in my defense, Makiko writes small recipes. Like really, I’m going to dirty a bowl just for ten muffins?). I also frankensteined it up. First, my oil measuring was a little slapdash (I had extra in the pan so I poured it into the wet ingredients . . . . ). Then I realized it called for walnuts, which I’m all out of. I thought, “Hmm, miso would be a good substitute, right?” 1 and plopped a generous spoonful of white miso into the batter. But that didn’t seem nutty enough, so I added a giant pinch of flax seed as well. Then I realized I had sunflower seeds. Seeds are just small nuts, right? So in went a handful of those. The result is really pleasant. The miso makes the faux-maple syrup really pop, but also adds extra umami – the same effect you would get by adding cheddar cheese to the batter2. The random addition of flax seed really helped the texture of these too, since they’re eggless. When they first came out of the oven the insides were still a little gooey and they tasted like a really thick meat pie. So good! Once they cooled they lost that gravy like center, but they’re still amazingly delicious. The best part is they don’t muffin top, which means they fit in my toaster for convenient defrosting.

Not sure whatthat white haze is in the photo. This photo was taken the morning after they were made, so the muffins were cool at this point.

Better than gold ingots in the bank.

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  1. The pumpkin-miso muffins are on the same page as the carrot ones, so that’s probably where I got the idea
  2. Which now I totally have to try

Final Products

The picture of quiche caught my eye and and held it, showing it off.  “Look at yourself,” it said, “I’m all the things you want.”

I was paging through the vasts collection of Cooks Illustrated that my father had given me, looking for the biscotti recipe that I had used only a few months ago. Keeping an eye out all the while for a recipe for custard or pudding or something that would use up all the eggs and milk I had on hand, something I could pour the whey into, that unwanted byproduct of a paneer experiment. And then, suddenly, there was the quicehe. Eight eggs and 3 cups of dairy. It was exactly what I wanted. Still, as I made my way into the kitchen, I worried. Two cups of onions. Why do I never have onions around? Bacon – had this house ever had bacon in it? I couldn’t remember ever eating it here. I glanced at my fridge, seeing its insides by memory. My mind, always anxious to clean out and make room for new opportunities, whispered into my ear. “The kmichi, the kimchi. It’s over four months old now. You’ve got to find a place to use it. You know you’ll never get around to making kimchi soup – not with a flatmate to be considerate of.” Kimchi had as much flavor as onion – as much as bacon too. Though I thought of it as cool and crunchy, my favorite application of it was actually on grilled cheese. Preferably with some kind of crusty bread, broiled in the oven. Maybe with thick slabs of ham. Next to that I did primarily eat it cold, for breakfast.

I rustled around in my freezer for some spinach and came across a ball of pie crust. Perfect. And so the quiche was begun. The pie crust was rolled out and stretched to fit the cake pan. It was much too small, but I stuck it too the edges here and there and put a plate on it to keep it from puffing up. Into the oven it went. I started to close the door and the edges collapsed onto the plate. Two seconds to decide what to do, three to lift the plate up with butter knives and then put it back down over the sides. The bottom was really all I needed for a crust. I mixed the eggs and the milk and the fatless whey together and wondered if this would work without the heavy cream. I added in the potato starch and the nutmeg and the crushed korean red pepper in lieu of cayenne. I chopped the kimchi. I pulled out the cake pan with it’s golden crust and dumped out the shredded cheese – packets from the freezer stowed to keep them from going bad. I shoveled in the kimchi and spinach, started pouring the egg mixture. It was not all going to fit. How much could I get in? I poured a little and stopped. A little more. A little more. Feeling recklessly nervous I lifted the pan into the oven. One small river of liquid teared over the edge onto the hot oven door. Instant scrambled eggs. I tried to scrub it up with cloth and sponge while the whole time the pan kept weeping in one solid streak. I put a cookie sheet under it, the one I didn’t like. The rimless one.

Idiot.

The egg pooled and diverged and spilled over onto the oven’s bottom. I snatched out that pan and replaced it with the one I used as a tray. Then I closed the door and turned on the vent fan. The smell and the noise drove me upstaris. Twenty minutes late I came down and switched out the pans. The pool of egg was temptingly yellow, with brown, ugly edges. I dug into it with a fork – custard perfection! So delicately flavored. So well balanced. Now I mourned the half cup of egg mixture I had poured down the drain, to keep myself from the temptation of adding just a wee bit more.  I finally sighed, knowing that whatever its past this quiche would be just fine.

Later – when I pulled it out and, impatient again, cut it whille still burning hot and marveled that it did not weep or fill the pan with liquid, and then sat and ate, in forty seconds flat, one peice and ran down the stairs to get myself another – that’s when I wondered how  I could be so silly as to think anything could ruin quiche. Not half frozen spinach, not kimchi, not the smell of burning eggs mixed with the smell of freshly baked chocolate cookies. Quiche was a wonderful metaphor for life, I decided, exhausted but justified. No matter what goes into it, life is a precious thing, and only sad when it ends too soon or, worse, passes by you with only a whiff of heaven and the sight of a buttery-gold crust.

The Off-putting Pickle of Process

The thing that I dislike most about the whole creation problem is that, somewhere along the way, things always seem to reach some dreary head of confusion and frustration. Stitches drop, skeins tangle, the hard ball doesn’t form – something happens which interrupts the so called creative flow and forces one to look at the thing squarely, with the eyes not of a artist but an assessor. This is where, lamentably, I fail in the whole art-process. Even in cooking, I’m not the best at slowing down and thinking it through. I want the experience of making to be as beautiful and uplifting as the end product is (theoretically) going to be.

I now love Korean hot peppers. I'm not always this shallow.

 

Enter Kimichi.

 

 

Kimchi has a pretty bad rap, and for good reason. On it’s best days it smells like wet dog. Luckily, I have a deficient nose and a natural2 curiosity about fermented foods. I tried it, I liked it, I put it on my to-do list. Two Mondays ago I finally got around to crossing it off. It was a bit of a production to produce, mostly because I decided to make both the more recognizable napa cabbage kimichi and the less spicy (and smelly) radish, or water kimchi. The other reason? I doubled the recipes.

Being a masochist can also confuddle the artistic process.

The bowl situation at my house being what it is, doubling the recipe involved a lot of shifting, washing, and moving. But by the end of the very long but emotionally satisfying day I had two large glass jars of water kimchi and one huge, plastic pretzel tub of gloriously red stuff 1 . Then I put them out of the way and forgot about them.

Red Stuff

Red Stuff

In fact, I wanted to forget about them. I was sick of the smell, and the idea, and washing my hands yet again. It was a relief to know that, even if they didn’t turn out – which, I figured, was highly probable given my lose interpretation of the recipe – at least I wouldn’t have to deal with them today. So I shoved them in the back of my mind, washed my hands for the final time, and pretended the whole thing had never happened. The process had been fun, even enjoyable, but now that I had worn myself out I had to come face to face with the fact that what I had produced was foul smelling and liable to go bad because I hadn’t used enough salt or something.

I’ve just started eating the cabbage kimchi in earnest now. It’s good (but still pretty rank). My favorite application? Avocado and kimchi sushi. The radish kimchi has a wonderful first impression – but I’m afraid the after taste still needs some mellowing out. It’s not bad, I just don’t like it, so we’ll see if it eventually gives in to what ever bacteria are preying on it.

More so even than eating it, my favorite part of this whole affair is knowing that I was able to make something so very alien to the part of the world I live in. I didn’t succeed because I’m smart, or talented, or able to see to the heart of the problem and come up with a logical solution. I succeeded because, miraculously enough, when you throw a little of this in with a little of that, something happens quite apart from you and me and voila, kimchi! Making kimchi was enjoyable because it was so physical – cutting, kneading, spreading. It took a little tenacity, and a bit of impulsive grit, but before either of these could be completely exhausted the lids were screwed on. Was it still a mess when I was done? Yes. Was I confident it would turn out? Quite the opposite, actually. And yet look, beautiful miraculous perfection. If I only I could put my knitting down once in a while only to later find a completed sweater in its place.

Yes, the floor does have the best lighting

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  1. natural is a word which here means innate, as in “I was born with it.” Though I can understand why some people might think the love of fermentation an unnatural thing indeed
  2. a tub which I had saved for the purpose sometime last spring. It’s hard to break a habit that is so very useful

Bento with a Friend

This post is brought to you by a new friend

Get the picture?

He’s a little shy, and there were twenty inches of fingerprint grease on the mirror, so I’m afraid this blurry little picture is all your going to get of our new companion. I’m still learning about him myself and haven’t even picked out a name for him yet. What do you think? He’s on “loan” to me from my brother, who has a nicer, bigger camera now.

Thanks to our new and nameless friend I was able to snap a photo of this rare sight:

Heavily edited for your protection

Fish, rice with umeboshi, broccoli, and Spring Soup

Yes, an actual bento. I take packed lunches with me to work everyday, but even when it’s good food and well thought out, I somehow never seem to be ready to put it together until the last minute, and then there’s no time even for pretty. I’m trying to combat this, because it really is more lazy thinking than anything else, and to do so I have been adding to my freezer stock. Is it strange that I love the word stock? The idea of laying away, storing up, putting down – all of these just seem so romantic to me somehow, and preforming them gives me a feeling of contentment like warm honey in my soul. This must be how farmers feel about their freshly sown fields, or knitter’s about adding to their stash. Deep down inside, every human being is part squirrel.

The stock item in this photo is the green soup. It tastes like spring, but not much else. It’s celery and cucumber with a bite of lime and an avocado’s worth of creaminess, yet despite the fact that the first bite brings with it the promises of May, I can’t say I’m impressed. It’s not bad, but it’s so unmemorable that I’m always surprised to taste it and find it’s not bland. This picture is of Monday’s bento. I’ll be eating the soup again today with spicy lentil balls 1. My mom helped me bake this concoction, and I have about 5 dozen of them in my freezer now. With a little cheese, these spiced beans make the soup into something that actually taste like a meal.

 

 

 

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  1. In case you’re curious, I doubled this recipe, omitted the sesame, and used white rice because I didn’t have any brown. I didn’t have any coriander either. Doubling the recipe had the unintended side effect of surpassing my pot’s capacity, and I ended up having to cook it down in two batches. I don’t think I ever did get it to the correct dryness. When  I defrost these in the microwave they tend to crumble into soft clumps. Guilty confession:  I had them for breakfast this morning with a little honey and two fried eggs.

Footnote on a plan

My appetite has been completely squashed.

Yes. I’ve been reduced to punning. Punning is more fun than pureeing. In case you’ve ever wondered how much puree you can make from a five dollar farmer’s market gourd – a fairly pretty blue “sweet meat,” bought with an eye for its cuttable flatness more than for its shade. There was a simply exquisite slate blue, of a different variety, but it was dangerously egg shaped – the answer is over twelve cups. Ugh. Just the thought of orange makes my over-licked fingers cringe reflectively.*

On the bright side, the bright green side, I now have pumpkin-miso muffins, which I’m sure will taste great once I can face them again. And I have frozen pumpkin custard.

The heart plummets at the thought.

I have also done a more thorough job of cleaning the kitchen than any of my family could ever have expected*, and I have bathed for over an hour with Bram Stoker’s Dracula – which I am earnestly enjoying. Would it be too redundant to say I’m enjoying it with great delight? The prose is hilarious, the meals described do not involve squash, and though only twenty-some pages in, I have already been surprised quite a few times. It’s not at all what I was imagining, and it will be most difficult to pace myself and finish it near halloween.  Especially since I have another squash, already cut, on a plate in my fridge, waiting to be simmered.

 

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* I’ve never claimed to be some paragon of cleanliness, but more than once today the idea of washing my hands again has nearly made me throw them up in the air in surrender. Hopefully the squash stains will come off the walls.

* As Stoker writes “Despair has its own calm.”