April 19, 2008

Recent food discoveries: granola and cheese

No, not granola and cheese together. Just two new foods I've discovered recently.

First, the granola: 18 Rabbits Veritas granola, containing hazelnuts, walnuts, and cacao nibs. The perfect way to realize that desire to eat chocolate for breakfast while still having something sort of healthy.

Second, the cheese: a Spanish blue cheese called Valdeon. It's very intensely "blue" flavored without being excessively stinky or sharp on the tongue. The woman at the cheese counter at Whole Foods described it as a blue cheese that you could just slice up and eat in chunks. I put it in a salad with spinach, black beans, tomatoes, red onion, avocado, lemon juice and olive oil, and it was good.

Posted by spaceling at 09:17 AM

July 27, 2007

Sun Du Bu

Back when I was in graduate school and living in Berkeley, I used to eat Korean food quite a lot. Back then, my favorite dish was bibimbap - basically a big bowl of rice, topped with an assortment of raw, cooked, and pickled veggies, and a bit of meat or maybe tofu. You topped it with spicy sauce, mixed it together with chopsticks, and ate.

Since I started trying to eat a lower glycemic-index diet, enormous bowls of rice don't feature in my meals as much, and I haven't ventured into many Korean restaurants lately. Which is a shame, because I've been missing out on my new favorite Korean dish: sun du bu.

Sun du bu (which apparently means "soft tofu") is a hearty soup made with, well, soft tofu. I tried it this evening at the slightly oddly named Tofu & Box restaurant on N. First St. in San Jose. They have 4 kinds of sun du bu: seafood, mushroom, vegetable, and one other that I forget (probably some kind o meat?). I had the vegetable (carrots, zucchini, and onion), medium spicy.

Shortly after I ordered, the server brought me one of those weird iceberg lettuce salads with the creamy pink dressing that you always get in Asian restaurants, and a dish with an egg in it. I shook the egg gently, deduced from the sloshing sound that it was uncooked, and ate my salad.

Then a boiling hot bowl of red broth filled with chunks of tofu and vegetables arrived. The server picked up the raw egg and cracked it into the soup. I let the egg poach and the soup cool to a safe temperature, and ate some of the accompanying side dishes that came with the soup. (Cooked spinach, shredded pickled daikon, some kind of cooked or pickled bean sprout, and kimchee. And, of course, rice.) Based on what I've now learned by googling "sun du bu", I think you're supposed to actually stir the egg into the soup to thicken it, but I liked my poached egg.

So, what I ended up with was tofu and vegetables in a spicy broth with a poached egg. What's not to like? I think I could probably eat this stuff every day.

Posted by spaceling at 10:35 PM

July 21, 2007

Mango Nectarine Update

I've now eaten 3 of the 4 mango nectarines that I bought, and I have to say: meh. They continue to smell heavenly, and they have a very nice firm texture that would make them great for cooking, but their flavor, while pleasant, is just a bit watery. It doesn't have the intensity that I'd expect from the scent.

The firm texture, and the fact that a couple of the nectarines have a bit of green near the stem end, suggests to me that maybe they were picked a bit too early, before they were fully mature. (Russ Parsons does a great job of explaining this in How to Pick a Peach - basically, peaches and nectarines will continue to ripen after picking, but once they are removed from the tree, they pretty much have all the sugar and flavor they're ever going to develop. Pick them too early, and you're going to get an underflavored fruit.)

Posted by spaceling at 05:42 PM

July 15, 2007

Mango Nectarines

I discovered a new type of fruit at the supermarket today: mango nectarines. They look like largish apricots, but the skin is a pale yellow rather than orange, with a bit of green on what I assume are some of the underripe ones. They smell divine - an almost floral scent, very like a mango.

This blog post was the most informative source that a quick Google search turned up. They're not related to mangoes - they must be some kind of complicated stone fruit cross (apricot/nectarine? apricot/nectarine/plum?)

The ones I got aren't quite ripe yet, so I don't know how they taste. I'll report back.

Posted by spaceling at 10:44 AM

July 13, 2007

Fresh Bamboo Shoots

So, I had a go at cooking a fresh bamboo shoot today. I've heard it said by those in the know that fresh bamboo shoots are incomparably superior to the canned ones. So I picked one up at 99 Ranch, and consulted A Cook's Guide to Asian Vegetables on how to cook it.

A bamboo shoot is a vaguely conical thing covered in a husk of tough outer leaves. I peeled off as many leaves as I could remove with my fingers, and removed the rest with a paring knife.

The book recommended placing the bamboo shoot whole in a saucepan, covering it with water, and bringing it to a boil. Then you drain off the water, cover it with fresh water, and repeat the whole procedure two more times. This apparently removes the hydrocyanic acid that makes the bamboo shoot bitter. Then you cover with water for a final time, and simmer "until the shoot is tender". I simmered the shoot for an additional ten minutes, and then sliced it up and added it to a stir fry for the last couple minutes of cooking. (The other ingredients of the stir fry were shiitake mushrooms, red bell pepper, firm tofu, snow peas, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil.)

Is it incomparably better than canned bamboo shoots? I don't know about that. The texture is nicer - the bamboo shoot retains a bit of a crunch, in a way that's almost similar to water chestnuts. The flavor is still very mild. I don't think I'll feel at all bad in the future about using canned bamboo shoots if I'm pressed for time, or if they're all I have handy, but preparing the fresh shoot is easy enough that I'll probably do it again the next time I plan on a stir fry.

Posted by spaceling at 09:18 PM

June 23, 2007

New Use for Torani Syrup

So, I've discovered a new use for Torani flavored syrups besides flavoring your coffee - stir a splash into oatmeal or yogurt to sweeten and flavor it.

I've been doing this with sugar-free almond syrup, but I might try a few other flavors soon.

Posted by spaceling at 09:42 AM

June 15, 2007

Osmanthus Tea

At work, they've started providing us with funky organic tea bags in addition to the half-dozen flavors of Bigelow tea that we've had. This includes a white tea with omanthus flowers that is pretty nice. I don't usually like white teas because they often don't taste like much of anything. This one tastes like osmanthus. What does osmanthus taste like - I dunno, a bit like jasmine but sweeter and less piercingly floral.

I seem to recall Peet's carrying an osmanthus tea that was very nice, but I was looking at their website just now, and can't find it. If you should come across any, it's worth trying.

Posted by spaceling at 07:40 PM

May 13, 2007


I cooked teff for the first time last week. Interesting stuff. Fans of Ethiopian food might recognize teff as the grain that is used in making injera, the spongy flatbread that is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine. (And maybe sometime when I'm feeling brave, I'll buy some teff flour and try making my own injera.) But teff can also be cooked as a whole grain. Teff grains are very small, so it cooks up with a consistency very similar to cream of wheat or polenta. It has a mild nutty flavor, without any of the tanginess that injera gets from being fermented.

My first use of it was essentially as a substitute for polenta. (I got this suggestion from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking, though I didn't precisely follow her recipe.) I cooked up a batch and topped it with an improvised ragout of tomatoes, mushrooms, and Italian sausage. I loved it, Mr. Spaceling was not entirely enthusiastic. (About the teff polenta. He ate two helpings of the ragout.) I think the teff polenta would be even better prepared according to Swanson's suggestion of spreading it out in a thinnish layer to chill, cutting it into wedges and grilling them, but that involved more time than I had for a quick weeknight supper.

A slightly more traditional use of teff is as a breakfast porridge. I reheated some of the leftover cooked teff with milk and cinnamon, and then stirred in some fresh blueberries. Wow. Really nice.

The basic method for cooking teff: use 3 parts water to 1 part teff. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the teff has reached the consistency you like.

If you can't find teff in your local grocery store, you can order it from Bob's Red Mill.

Posted by spaceling at 05:52 PM

January 31, 2007

Rutabaga Stories

I recently bought a couple of rutabagas on a whim recently. We used to eat rutabaga quite frequently when we lived in Massachussetts when I was a child. At some point, it stopped appearing on the family dinner table. (Probably when we moved to Florida. There is something fundamentally un-Floridian about a rutabaga.) I probably haven't eaten rutabaga for more than twenty years, and I can't say that I missed it for most of that time. I didn't dislike it (I think I've yet to meet a vegetable that I didn't like), but it was never a particular favorite.

But I've gotten more interested in cooking root vegetables lately. (Because not much else is at its peak in the dead of winter.) So I picked up a few rutabagas. I ended up using both of them in soups, one of which was very successful - I'll post a recipe as soon as I finish writing it up. The other was just okay - the basic concept was sound, but the seasoning needed a little work. I think the flavor of the rutabaga works well in soups - it tastes something like a cross between a carrot and a potato, and if you cook it in a flavorful broth, it soaks up the flavors and becomes really meltingly delicious.

While I was slicing up the rutabaga for soup #2 last night, I tasted a bit of it raw and was surprised to discover that I liked it. I think it would be great with hummus.

The rutabagas I've gotten recently seem to be paler yellow and slightly milder in flavor than the ones I remember eating as a child. I wonder if the flavor difference is because my taste buds have changed, or because growing conditions are different.

I was also surprised to discover that rutabagas have very little vitamin A, which implies that their yellow coloring comes from something other than beta carotene. I wonder what it is?

Posted by spaceling at 11:08 AM | TrackBack

January 06, 2007

My First Hachiya

For those completely unfamiliar with persimmons, they come in two types: astringent and non-astringent. The astringent type, of which the most common example is the 'Hachiya', is bright orange, sort of acorn-shaped, and is unpalatably bitter until it is allowed to get very soft. (A process called bletting.) The non-astringent type, of which the most common example is the 'Fuyu', looks like a squat, squarish orange tomato, and can be eaten while still relatively firm.

I'm a big fan of Fuyu persimmons. They're sweet, and taste sort of melon-like, without whatever quality it is in melons that I dislike. (It is my secret food shame - I can't stand most varieties of melon. I want to like them, but I just don't.) It's an easy fruit to make a pretty presentation out of - lately I like to make thin slices and fan them out on a plate as if I'm presenting a fruit sashimi.

Many serious persimmon lovers have told me that while Fuyus are nice, they prefer the flavor of Hachiya persimmons. So, I finally got over my fear of bletting, and purchased a couple of Hachiya persimmons at the market. I put them on the counter and waited for them to get soft.

And waited. And waited. I think it took about two weeks. Some online sources said that the persimmon should feel 'like a water balloon'. I didn't let it get quite that jiggly, but it was very soft all over when I finally cut it open, scooped out the flesh with a spoon, and ate it.

And...I don't quite get what the fuss is about. It tasted like a persimmon. (There was certainly no hint of astringency, so at least I got it ripe enough.) If anything it was less intensely flavored than the best Fuyus that I've had. (I'm perfectly willing to believe that this was not the best Hachiya obtainable.)

I still have a second one sitting on the counter. I expect it will be ready in a day or two. I might puree it with yogurt to make a smoothie or something, which might be kind of fun.

Persimmon season is just about over as far as I can tell, so I probably won't get another chance to experiment with hachiyas until next year. Maybe then I'll figure out what the secret is.

Posted by spaceling at 05:39 PM | TrackBack

October 04, 2006

A Veggie Burger Even a Carnivore Could Love

Recipe for a quick weeknight supper: cook two frozen Boca burger patties in a skillet. Place on whole wheat English muffins, top with crumbled bleu d'Auvergne cheese while the patties are still hot. Serve with green salad and steamed cauliflower.

Putting bleu d'Auvergne on a Boca burger veggie patty seems vaguely ridiculous, like drinking champagne with Twinkies. It tastes soooo good, though. (The bleu/Boca, I mean. Not champagne with Twinkies. I've never tried champagne with Twinkies. If anyone out there has, let me know how it works.)

Posted by spaceling at 09:19 PM | TrackBack

September 24, 2006

A Perfect Day for Sablefish

The other day, I was at the supermarket, and stopped by the fish counter to see if there was anything new and interesting. There was: a large sign proclaimed "Catch of the Day! Locally caught black cod!". Said black cod was actually labelled "butterfish" inside the fish case. And the fish is really most properly called "sablefish", since there are other fish called butterfish, and it isn't a cod. Whatever you call it, I bought some and brought it home.

I'd never cooked sablefish before, but I have eaten it, most memorably in Nobu's famous miso-marinated "black cod". While that is a really delicious preparation, it calls for marinating the fish for three days before cooking, which was more elaborate than I was going for. So, I pulled out Mark Bittman's Fish cookbook, and consulted it for advice.

I considered poaching the fish, but decided to go really simple and just broil it. Upon inspection, the filets proved to have pin bones, which I was unable to remove with a pair of tweezers. I gave up, and decided we could just pick them out.

I seasoned the fish with salt and pepper, broiled it six inches from the heat for about 7 minutes without turning it over, and squeezed a bit of lemon on it before serving it with sauteed swiss chard and whole wheat couscous with roasted red peppers.

Bittman says that if sablefish were more readily available, we'd eat it all the time. I have to agree. The fish was moist, delicate, and decidedly buttery in flavor. (I'd used no oil or butter in the preparation.) This despite the fact that I think I actually may have overcooked it slightly. The pin bones proved to be easy to pick out of the cooked fish, so they weren't a problem either.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program gives California-caught sablefish only their "Good" rating, rather than their "Best" rating, because the California fishery is not as well-managed as the Alaskan fishery. Alaskan sablefish gets a "Best" rating. So, while I can feel ecologically pretty good about my purchase, my slight smugness at being able to buy locally caught was somewhat misplaced in this case.

So, if you see black cod/butterfish/sablefish at your local fish counter, check it out!

Posted by spaceling at 11:50 AM | TrackBack

August 20, 2006

Recent Food Discoveries

Some recent food discoveries:

Posted by spaceling at 04:06 PM | TrackBack

May 29, 2006

Recent Food Discoveries

Sorry to go so long without an entry. Life and work (and lots of work) have been conspiring to cut down on my blogging. I'm going to post a few quick notes on some recent food discoveries.

Not precisely a food discovery, but I'm am thrilled that blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and blackberries are now appearing. I would cheerfully live on low-fat yogurt and berries.

Posted by spaceling at 09:40 PM | TrackBack

April 29, 2006

Chinese Flowering Cabbage

So, it turns out that I was incorrect in my earlier entry when I said that I thought that gai lan was the Chinese name for Chinese flowering cabbage. Gai lan is Chinese kale. Chinese flowering cabbage seems to be most commonly called choy sum, though I've also seen choy sum applied to what I would call bok choy. The nomenclature of the Asian greens is very confusing.

Choy sum looks a lot like a kinder, gentler broccoli rabe. (In fact, some sources seem to indicate that choy sum is broccoli rabe, but I'm dubious.) It has thinnish stalks with lots of long, rounded leaves, and little clusters of closed buds that look like tiny, loose broccoli florets. The odd bud here and there has opened into a yellow or white flower. (I got the kind with white flowers. Next time, I'll grab some with yellow flowers and see if there is any difference.)

I cooked my choy sum very simply. I cut off the ends of the stems, and then cut everything into 1 and a half inch lengths. I heated oil in a pan until it was really, really hot, and then dumped in the choy sum and stir-fried it for about 5 minutes, until it was cooked through but still bright green and slightly crunchy. Then I seasoned it with a bit of salt and pepper. (I ate some of the leftovers the next day with soy sauce, and I'll admit, it tastes better with soy sauce.)

How does it taste? Somewhere between broccoli and asparagus, with a hint of cabbage-y flavor. I loved it. Mr. Spaceling, who is less than fond of vegetables in the brassica family, allowed that it was not poisonous.

I recommend trying it out if you're looking for a simple vegetable side dish that's more exotic than broccoli, and less expensive than asparagus. You'll probably need to go to an Asian supermarket, or to a farmers' market that to find it, though.

Posted by spaceling at 04:35 PM | TrackBack

April 23, 2006

Dealing with Fresh Fava Beans

Fresh fava beans are a fair bit of work.

First, like most other beans or peas, you have to shell them. (I say "like most other beans or peas", but I confess that, even in my newfound phase of culinary exploration, I mostly buy my beans canned and my peas frozen, because even though I'm very excited about getting in touch with my food and eating less processed food, I'm even more excited about getting dinner on the table before midnight most nights. But I digress.) Shelling them is kind of fun. A fava bean pod looks sort of like a peapod on steroids - it's about 6 to 10 inches long. You slit open the pod with a thumbnail, and it's got the fava beans nestled in cottony fuzzy white stuff inside, and you pull them out. Repeat. It's a lot like shelling peas, which is kind of fun if you have a couple of friends to do it with. (I didn't have any fava bean shelling buddies. Maybe next time.)

But then fava beans, unlike other beans or peas, have a tough skin on the outside of the bean that you have to remove. To do this, you blanch the beans in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then drain them and run them under cold water. Then you can make a little slit in the skin with a thumbnail (clearly, when dealing with favas, you've got to be careful not to trim your nails too short), if the skin hasn't split already from the blanching, and pop the fava bean out.

This is fiddly, slippery work, and the tips of your fingers get all wrinkly, and your giant pile of fava bean pods ends up producing what seems like a rather small pile of bright green bean halves. By the time you're done, you will really be wondering if fresh favas could possibly be worth it. And then you taste one. Yes, they're worth it. They're sort of like one imagines really impeccably fresh peas ought to be. They're sweet, and slightly green tasting. (They're completely unlike canned favas, which seem to still have the skin on the outside, and have a very starchy texture.)

I made a variation on this Farro and Fava Bean salad from Epicurious, because I had some farro that I thought probably needed to be used up. I used lemon juice instead of vinegar, substituted some steamed asparagus for the peas, and used bottled roasted red peppers in place of tomatoes. And spinach instead of arugula. Because that's what I had on hand. It made a nice light lunch with a little shaved parmesan on top. Which is good, because I think I have enough for lunch for the next week.

I do think that the next time I cook fresh favas, I'll make something that shows them off to better advantage. They got a bit lost in the salad.

Posted by spaceling at 12:41 PM | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

Bhutanese Red Rice

I like brown rice. It's nutty, it's chewy, it's a source of whole grains. We all know how important whole grains are, right?

What I don't like about brown rice is how long it takes to cook. Most varieties take 40 to 50 minutes. Most nights, dinner doesn't take me 40 to 50 minutes to make. And even when it does, I'd need to be sufficiently organized to start the rice first. Since I'm the queen of winging it in the kitchen, I don't make brown rice as often as I might want to. (This is also why I don't make barley - another favorite grain of mine - all that often.)

There are a couple of brands of quick cooking brown rice out there - as far as I can tell, they're partially pre-cooked. I tried one brand, and thought it was kind of yucky. I'm told that Trader Joe's sells pre-cooked frozen brown rice that you can just toss in the microwave. Sometime when I get organized, I should just cook up a batch of my own, dole it out into single servings, and freeze them.

But, yesterday, I discovered an alternative that only takes 20 minutes to cook. Bhutanese Red Rice. It looks like a short-grained brown rice, but with a reddish tint to it. It really does cook up perfectly in only 20 minutes, and has a nice chewy nutty flavor to it. I just cooked it plain, but next time, I'm going to try this pilaf recipe here.

Posted by spaceling at 01:06 PM | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Pickled Brussels Sprouts

I discovered a new food item that I'd never had before yesterday - pickled Brussels sprouts. At our usual Friday afternoon happy hour kind of thing, there was a relish tray with a bunch of standard pickled things like artichoke hearts, dill pickle spears, olives, little sweet peppers, mushrooms, and then there were these sprouts. As far as I can tell, they were cooked very lightly (perhaps just blanched) and marinated with vinegar and red pepper. They were crunchy and spicy and cabbage-y and delicious.

I don't really know why I found the idea so surprising - pickled cabbage is quite a standard item, and Brussels sprouts really are just a tiny cabbage.

I don't think they were a big hit overall, though. I didn't see anyone else eat one.

Posted by spaceling at 09:30 PM | TrackBack