Saturday, February 21, 2015

just noodling

Say you’ve got some scallions and garlic, a bright lime, some roasted sesame oil, maybe some sesame seeds, and perhaps some cilantro. What do you do? Add them to some soba noodles for an exuberant version of Sesame Noodles!
Could this be the first time I’d noticed the buckwheat goodness of soba? Could it be that I’d never had them before? Because I was very impressed. They were both silken and strong, as well as flavorful.
Soba is the gray/brown Japanese noodle made of buckwheat and water and it is literally the word used for buckwheat. The traditional recipe for cooking these noodles is to bring a big pot of water to a boil, plunge the noodles into it, and when it comes to a boil again to keep adding cold water each time to keep them at a simmer.
I brought a pan (I use a rather deep sauté pan for this) of water (but not an exorbitant amount) to a boil, plunged the noodles into it and cooked them over a medium heat for 6 minutes, then plunged them into a pan of cold water to cool them off but not make them too chilly. When I was ready, I drained them and tossed them with the ingredients above, adding maybe some salt and perhaps a small brunoise (tiny squares) of jalapeno. I took them as an appetizer to one of our Fridays@Five get-togethers and we all looked like birds, dangling those beautiful strands down our gullets.
The reason I was bothering with those noodles at all was because of a recipe I’d seen in Seven Days by one of their new food writers, Hannah Palmer Egan, for a Daikon Miso Noodle Bowl. I was particularly interested in the simple miso broth she made with 4 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of red miso paste, a scant handful of bonito flakes, and ½ of a medium daikon radish that had been peeled and thinly sliced. The water is brought to a boil, the miso paste whisked in, then the bonito flakes and daikon are added, the pot is covered and it’s boiled over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. She went on in some detail and I did follow that recipe that can be found in their January 6 issue and it was very good but I’ll leave that up to you.
For those times when you just want a broth to add your own things to, this is a good basic one and you don’t have to boil up a chicken. I add some sesame oil, some garlic, and maybe an egg and it fulfills my afternoon hunger. Or supper. Or even breakfast.
An egg? My Facebook friend, CrescentDragonwagon, detailed a quick soup that she was having for breakfast when I questioned her about it. She had said, “…miso soup, with grated fresh ginger, minced garlic, scallions, tofu, a poached egg, a little cooked brown rice… this is what called my name.”
Ah, I said, and do you boil the water and then add miso and bonito flakes. She reminded me that she was vegetarian and so skipped the bonito flakes, “And yes, I bring water to the boil, today adding a few chunks of fresh ginger, then poaching the egg in it, then pouring a little water onto the miso paste to dilute it, then pouring the whole shebang into the diluted miso.” Sometimes she would add grated ginger and sliced shiitake mushrooms. But, one should remember that, “The egg yolk of course should still be on the runny side when it gets poured into the bowl, because the minute you pierce it with the spoon it flows into the hot broth and cooks further and the whole thing enriches quite wonderfully.” WOW. Egg yolk porn.
When I made my first miso broth the other day I dug out a white plastic container of Mitoku Organic Yamaki Barley Miso that I’d bought at Sunshine Natural Foods in the last century sometime and had never tried. It was a shiny mahogany color of clay-like consistency, and I thought – hey, now or never. Absolutely delicious. Now I am on a hunt for it. If any of you know of it or where it can be found, please let me know. Otherwise, a fascinating array of misos can be bought at the Co-op. 
So those are some ideas for soba noodles and miso broth, and now I want to talk about udon noodles and this is why: Saturday, which was Valentine’s Day you will remember, I stopped after the Farmers’ Market at Green Mountain Fresh on State Street to get some fish for Leo’s supper: He brings me flowers and I make him a nice dinner (which I do every other day, too, but I make a bigger fuss about it on Valentine’s Day). They had fresh chopped clams and I thought that we had not had clam spaghetti in a long time and we do both love it. And I thought that it would be especially good with soba noodles and I was sure that I had another package at home. Yum. I was hungry already!
Long story short, once home I found I did not have soba noodles, I had udon noodles and I was certainly not going back into town, so udon noodles it would have to be. And though I did not know what to expect, these turned out to be as silky and strong as the soba noodles, without, however, the nice buckwheat taste.
I cooked them up in the same way I did the soba and then I dumped them into a pot of cold water just as I had the soba, and they warmed the cold water to a comfortable level while I made the clam sauce, which was simply some white wine poured into the bottom of a sauce pan, some chopped garlic added to that, cooked until just a scrim remained then adding a stick of butter to melt over a very low heat and when it was melted I poured in the lovely chopped fresh clams and their juices and warmed the whole thing. In the meantime I chopped a lot of flat-leafed parsley and stirred that in. In shallow soup bowls I swirled the cooled udon noodles, spooned the hot clam sauce over and sprinkled that with grated parmesan cheese. 

I’d lit candles to illuminate Leo’s beautiful bouquet and we dug in, twirling our forks against a soupspoon and slurping those silken noodles and chunks of clams into our mouths. A crisp massaged kale salad bright with lemon proved the perfect foil.

Friday, February 06, 2015

oh sugar!

Remains of avocado with lime and panna cotta, so good forgot to take a photo
After all of this sugar – Marshmallows, for goodness sake??!! – I have been forced to get serious about deleting carbohydrates from my diet. Yes, sugar. Yes, white things like bread and flour. But also carrots and potatoes and, well almost every civilized thing you can think of, like rice, certainly pasta, oatmeal, in fact all grains – gone, gone until... well, gone. When we can begin to fit into our pants again we may begin to add things back – a raisin here or there, half an apple, because no, you are not eating fruit right now. Fructose is sugar.
You eat lots of non-starchy vegetables, like cabbage and broccoli and Brussels sprouts and turnips, and piles of salads, and eggs, almost any meat, almost any cheese. Fish. Thick cream in your coffee instead of half and half. Fat. Fat is your friend. On your fork, not on your body. And after a few days
cheddar crisps
of this? You are not hungry.  You aren't hungry because you've gotten rid of your sugar cravings. Possibly you are not hungry because if you were you would need to chow down on some more cheese. More Cheese? No, thank you very much. You do love cheese but enough is enough, especially without crackers or bread.
Except. Want something crisp? How about some pan fried cheese – now there’s an idea. Or baked.  Slice some cheese, lay slices on parchment paper, well separated, put them into a 350° oven for 20 minutes or less – until they are melted and golden and crisp. Some kinds will become pocked. Let them cool and eat them like crackers.
The potential problem with this way of eating is that, if you allow sugar or more than a very minimum of carbohydrates (25, say) into your mouth, your body will deposit all that fat you've been eating on your hips. You are aiming at burning fat and you will not burn it if carbs are available. I think of dockworkers and the foreman who yells at them, “Hey you wit da fat! Store it on the hips, in the belly, around the liver until we need it. And hey, we only need it when we don’t got carbs to burn.” Fat, stored in your body, around your organs, is a very unhealthy situation.
So. Are you hungry? How about an avocado, cut in half, pitted, salted and peppered, and olive oiled and garlicked. Spooned out of the shell into your mouth. Wonderful lunch. There are 21 grams of fat and 2 of carbohydrate in an avocado. Perfect for our purposes. Delicious, too, and satiating. You probably won’t need anything more, but if you do, you could have some cheese. Novel thought.
You notice we didn't count the calories in that lunch? They are irrelevant, that’s why.
This kind of eating is so effective, and delicious, is much easier to stick to than many others except that everywhere you go someone’s thrown some sugar into the salad dressing or added some flour to the sauce or coated the meat or fish with it.
And that brings up the second potential problem with low-carb eating – your cravings will return if you are careless about carbs. Let’s face it, carbs taste good and once you let them in you want them more and more and more. I just re-read that sentence, and really? It’s not that they taste so good, it’s that they’re so addictive. We just got an email featuring a luscious looking piece of pork but it was entitled Sweet and Savory Overnight Pork.
So we followed that back and found the recipe and it’s based on one by Jamie Oliver for pork with fennel seeds – nothing unnaturally sweet about that – except that the mother who sent us the recipe changed it to make it more attractive to her little girl, “I wanted something less Mediterranean and more barbecue, so I stirred together a thick paste of chopped garlic, brown sugar, maple syrup, mustard...” See what I mean? That little girl is being taught that everything should be sweet. Leave the damned sugar out of it, let the natural sweetness come through. And in roasted pork there is a great deal of a umami taste that’s even better than sugar sweetness.
We guess this could be called the third problem with this kind of cooking – that we are bombarded with carbohydrate ideas,  so unless we stick to plain, one-item things like meat and cheese and eggs, it’s hard to come up with an idea. Difficult but not impossible – you just have to think outside the box.  I've been using lemon juice and zest on everything. Yum. Citrus without the carbohydrates.
The other day I emailed a friend who happens to always be looking for something sweet but without sugar. Lots of things taste sweet when you don’t eat carbs –  Leo’s breakfast sausage the other day just about knocked me on my ass. Heavy cream in my coffee is wonderful. Very dark chocolate – say 85%? – becomes quite enjoyable. I suggested, in that email,
“How about: Whip some heavy cream. Whip in coconut manna and fold in grated very dark chocolate. So very few carbs.
“Hmm, wondering about adding some gelatin to make it pudden'y.
“Whaddya think?”
A word about coconut manna. It consists of the whole, ground, dried coconut. It is delicious and delivers a nice sweetness with very few carbs. For a tiny sweet snack I’d been embedding a shard of chocolate in a teaspoon of the manna. It was enough. Another thing that’s good in small quantities and helps to assuage sweet toothes is tamarind paste concentrate, or a miso broth. Stevia makes a good, natural sweetening agent. I like to keep little bowls of seeds and spices handy to dip a finger in to. Tiny tastes to keep your palate satisfied. I told you – we’re thinking outside the box.
So I gave the cream thing  a try and what I came up with was rather bland and, I thought, a little rubbery, but a good mouth feel and very satisfying. My friend, whom I’d given a little bowl, added something I’d never heard of – English toffee drops. We finally figured out it was Stevia under the name of Wisdom Natural, Sweet Drops, Liquid Stevia Sweetener, English Toffee. It comes in 2 fluid ounce dropper bottles. Stevia is a plant. It is definitely the best of the artificial sweeteners because it is not artificial, not manmade of chemicals. It grows as an herb and it is very sweet. Some people find it overpowering, but i quite like it in small amounts.
To my original recipe, I added another cup of cream, a bit of salt, and some stevia – or you could use the drops –  and this is it – very easy and quick and satisfying.   
Coconut Panna Cotta
·         4 tablespoons cold water
·         1 packet gelatin
·         3 cups heavy whipping cream
·         2 tablespoons coconut manna
·         1 teaspoon vanilla (or other flavoring)
·         ½ teaspoon stevia or  up to 24 drops of Wisdom Natural English Toffee
·         tiny pinch of salt (to bring out the flavor)
·         ½ ounce (or so) very dark chocolate
·         cinnamon (optional)
Grease 6 small (1/2 cup) bowls with butter or oil or even PAM.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the cream over low heat, whisk in the coconut manna and vanilla, and when it is very warm, take it from the heat, whisk in the stevia (or drops*) and salt and then the softened gelatin. Whisk very well. You may even beat it for a few minutes to make it a bit thicker, then pour into the bowls. Slice the chocolate very thinly with a sharp knife and it will break into thin shards. Sprinkle each bowl with a good number of those shards, then chill for at least 4 hours. Sprinkle a little cinnamon over it if you like before eating.

The title of this little piece is Oh Sugar! It should, of course, be No Sugar! Give it a try.
panna cotta