Friday, August 30, 2013

New Chapter: Chez Shinae

After two and a half years of working out my issues and blogging (mostly) food here, I am letting the sun set on the ridiculous hungry chapter of my life and starting afresh

HERE.


But as with any chapter of a book, this blog will remain for context and perspective. :)

Still serving up the food along with some other stuff I hope you'll find entertaining and/or enlightening at the new place.

I hope you'll pull up a seat and join me. :)

shinae

Monday, August 26, 2013

Purple Grape & Plum Jam

Ever since I discovered that I could make a small batch of strawberry jam with just fruit, sugar, a little lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, that I wouldn't have to sterilize jars for (if it was to be consumed within a couple of months) or make enough to feed an army in the process, I haven't looked back.

And when berries or other jam-able fruits are on sale or clearance, I take advantage of the savings and make a jar or two of super fresh and intensely flavored jam for less than I would pay for store bought product with added water, corn syrup, starches, or any number of other thickeners or fillers.


I hope that doesn't come across preachy as much as encouraging and inspiring. Because as a parent who's seen much more hectic days while juggling career and family, I totally get why we buy jam at the store. I'd still be buying some jam at the store if I didn't have as much time at home as I do.

But I really do think you'll be so pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make delicious jam at home. And with the slightly thinner texture of a no added pectin recipe, it's totally adaptable and delicious not only with toast and PB&Js, but yogurt, ice cream, cheesecake, layered in a trifle, mixed with warmed Maple syrup as a flavoring... So many possibilities.

But enough of this soft sell on making jam at home... :P

Last weekend, I bought what I thought were Concord grapes on clearance at the market and realized upon coming home that they were Niabells. Turns out they're not all that different. Slightly smaller fruit size and thicker skin, but very similar flavor.

And on a second grocery run, black plums were on sale, and they were deliciously fragrant in the market so I had to bring some home.


Then as I was thinking about jamming the grapes, it occurred to me that ripe plums taste quite similar to ripe purple grapes - candied, fruity, and musky - and could make a great augmentation to my grape jam seeing as I only had 1 pound of grapes.

Turns out it worked just fine and resulted in a double batch of an overwhelmingly grape-y tasting jam with a delicate and harmonious hint of plum.

That said, a little caveat. If you've never made jam before and this particular one intrigues you, I recommend using seedless Concords if you can get them so you don't have to trouble with peeling or removing seeds. If you use seedless Concords, you can skip the peeling and seeding steps.

Another note: Many Concord grape jam/jelly recipes don't make any mention of removing the seeds, so it's very possible that you can have a great end product leaving the seeds in. But having grown up eating Concord grapes (which are very popular with Koreans), and accidentally biting into their seeds and tasting their acrid bitterness, I didn't feel like taking chances with my first batch of grape jam.

One more note: If your standard or expectation of grape jam or jelly is something like the Welch's so many of us grew up on, you have to use a dark purple table grape like Concord or Niabell. Regular red and green grapes just don't have that same musky, candied flavor.

PURPLE GRAPE & PLUM JAM
Makes roughly 32 ounces.

- 1 pound Niabell or Concord grapes, peeled and seeded
- 1.5 pounds ripe black or red plums, washed, seeded and cut into 1/2" cubes
- 2 cups sugar to start
- a pinch of salt (about 1/16 of a teaspoonful)

1) If you're using seeded grapes, peel and seed them. Peeling these grapes isn't like peeling red or green grapes. You can just squeeze them with the stem end facing away from you, and the entire pulp will separate from the skin. As for seeding, I opted to just dig in with my fingers to halve the pulp and remove the seeds, grape by grape. There are other ways to remove them, but none I've tested for this purpose, so I'm not comfortable suggesting them at this point.




2) With the seeds removed, run the grapes through a food processor for 20 to 30 seconds to help break up the skins a bit.




You can also use a stick blender or regular blender, but if you're using a regular blender, you'll have to constantly scrape down the sides with a paddle or spatula, making sure it doesn't touch the blade, to feed the blade and keep it going because you don't want to add water and dilute the grapes.

3) Put your plums, grape puree, sugar and salt into a large saucepan (or deep saute or stock pot or Dutch oven - whatever you have on hand that works), give it a few good stirs, and put in on medium heat, uncovered, until the mixture starts to gently boil and bubble. Once it does, keep it at that heat for a minute. (This should take 10 to 15 minutes.)




4) Then turn the heat down to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. At this point, if you don't care for chunks in your jam, get a potato masher and give the plum chunks a thorough mashing. If you don't mind the chunks, no mashing necessary.


5) Simmer an additional 25 to 40 minutes, depending on how thick and concentrated you want the jam, stirring every 10 or 15 minutes and ensuring that the heat never gets so high that you can scrape fruit solids off the cooking surface.

Low and slow is the key to jam. Once you've reached that initial gentle boil, you almost can't ruin the jam by turning the heat down too low, but you can easily burn the solids and the sugars by leaving the heat a little too high for a little too long. If you're unsure, always err on the side of lower heat and just let the jam go longer to get to your desired consistency.

This is also a good time to taste for sweetness and see if you'd like to add a little more sugar. Remember to cool your sample completely so you can accurately taste for sweetness. Things tend to taste sweeter when cooler. If you add sugar at this point, let it go an extra 5 to 7 minutes to make sure to melt the sugar completely.

6) When the jam is a very thick and syrupy, you can turn off the heat or let it go a few minutes longer for a thicker consistency before turning off the heat. Keep in mind the jam will continue to thicken as it cools.

7) Give the jam 15 or 20 stirs to release some heat and enable it to cool faster. Cool completely before transferring to a thoroughly washed and dried lidded container. Glass or plastic, doesn't matter.


Enjoy! :)

shinae

Friday, August 23, 2013

2-Step Layer & Simmer Pasta Sauce & Little Kitchen Efficiencies...

If y'all knew how many times I have to watch the "Snacks" episode of Blues Clues just to get a post written, you'd take pity on me. You really would.

And yes, I just said that after my post about first world problems. :P

But moving right along...


Sometimes we become so entrenched in an established practice that we don't stop to think how we could improve on it, or if it's efficient given our circumstances.

Take boiling pasta, for instance. We're so indoctrinated in the necessity of boiling a huge vat of water to cook one small package of pasta that it seems for many of us heresy, or impossibility even, that we could start our pasta in a cold, shallow pool of water and cook it to a perfect al dente in less time than it takes to do it the other way, with less waste of water and energy, and still have plenty of pasta water to help along the sauce if need be.

But it totally works.

Some people will swear up and down that they can tell the difference, and it's possible a very small percentage of them might actually be able to, but most of us can't. And just think about that most of us multiplied by all those gallons and BTUs. This is no insignificant culinary efficiency.

And take braising versus stewing in many instances. A friend and I once discussed The 4-Hour Chef's claim that the difference in result between braising (i.e., searing the meat first and then stewing) versus just stewing is so imperceptible to most people that the searing step is really not worth the trouble most of the time. Which is not to say that it never is, but there are occasions for everything...

As someone who'd been indulging in a lot of slow food for the past couple of years at that point, I bristled at the notion that the extra time, care, and love I put into perfectly searing and browning all the sides of all the pieces of meat I was about to stew was mostly for naught. But even then, I kinda knew it was true.

Not that it was completely wasted. I often enjoyed listening to the sizzle of the sear, seeing its beautiful browned finish, and feeling present, happy and patient in the making of a meal to share with my family and friends. And yes, tasting that little difference in depth and richness that comes from the fond that results from searing.

But I'd stewed before, and I'd braised before, and I'd be lying to say there was a noticeable difference in people's appreciation and enjoyment of the two different preparations that result in strikingly similar dishes.

Well now that I have a very active one year old who needs me to focus that presence and patience elsewhere, I have to weigh the benefits of 3 to 4 minutes per side times 2 to 4 batches, the noticeable and unnoticeable oily splatter that needs to get cleaned up at some point (I have a splatter screen, and I use it, but the finest particles still manage to escape and cause gradual grime throughout the kitchen), and the mostly imperceptible difference all that time and effort makes to anyone but me against everything else I could be doing with that 15 to 30 minutes of my life.

And at this phase, for most occasions, the ROI just isn't high enough.

Which led me to think about another similar cooking thing I do regularly - sauteing or sweating aromatics for slow cooked sauces, stews and braises - and how I could save myself a little time and mess while still achieving the desired flavor.

So I tried this 2-step layer and simmer pasta sauce experiment last night to see if I could forego the sauteing/sweating step and still coax the same caramelized and developed flavors by placing the ingredients in a certain order and adding fish sauce for that extra umami kind of oomph that we get from fond (not unlike putting anchovies in your pasta sauce).

And according to the family, the experiment was a success. I'd have to agree. By the end of the mostly hands-off 45 minute cook time, we had a rich, delicious pasta sauce with well rounded and well developed flavors.

And I saved myself 5 to 7 minutes of both time and focus, as well as the extra peripheral mess caused by sauteing. Which doesn't sound like a lot in an isolated incident. But if you have small children running around, you know that 5 to 7 minutes can be golden. Not to mention that applying these kinds of little efficiencies consistently across the board wins back many more minutes throughout your life.

2-STEP LAYER AND SIMMER PASTA SAUCE
Serves 4 to 6

- 3 Tablespoons to 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 an onion, very thinly sliced
- 2 ounces of some kind of cured pork product, chopped *optional (I used leftover coppa, but you could use bacon, prosciutto, pancetta, salt pork...)
- 5 cloves garlic, rough chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 28 oz. canned tomatoes including liquid (crushed is good, but I usually buy whole tomatoes and just crush them by hand right into the pot)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, depending on how tart your tomatoes

Layer all the ingredients in your pot, in that order, place the pot on the burner with the lid on askew, and turn the heat to medium until the sauce comes to an active simmer for 2 minutes. This should take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes depending on your pot, stove, and the temp of your ingredients.



Oops. Forgot the oregano 'til the end. :/

At that point, lower the heat to medium low, give the sauce a few good stirs, replace the lid askew, and simmer for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally - every 10 to 15 minutes or so. If you can scrape solids from the bottom of your pot when you stir, you need to turn the heat down just a tad. If you keep it at that heat, you're likely to get some burnt sauce by the end, and as you might already know, a little burn can contaminate EVERYTHING.

(How do you know if you've scraped solids off the bottom of the pot when the sauce is opaque? Firstly, make sure to stir in such a way that you're scraping the bottom of the pot with your spoon or paddle. Then as you're taking the spoon or paddle out, check to see if solids cling to the bottom edge as opposed to sauce just sliding off the surface.)

Placing the oil first followed by the aromatics and herbs is probably the most important step in layering because you want the oil to cook the aromatics and bloom the herbs as it heats up, developing the sugars in the aromatics and releasing the essential oils in the dried herbs.

Leaving the lid askew is also important because evaporation is key to reducing the water content and intensifying the flavors in the sauce.

Most of the active time is in the minimal knifework and occasional stirring, and you're really pretty much free for most of the cooking time to focus on other things, knowing you'll have a really delicious pasta sauce to look forward to, with no one the wiser that you didn't saute the veg first.

Mads chose fusilli for our pasta last night, and the last of the leftover fresh mozz balls in the fridge thrown on top did not hurt at all.



Served up right in the French oven in which it was cooked. Another little kitchen efficiency.


Hope you enjoy (the sauce and your little bit of extra time!),

shinae

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Solving #firstworldproblems...

Since my last post, I've been giving a lot of thought to my first world problems.

I'm ambivalent about the term because on one hand, what other kinds of problems do we first world dwellers have but first world ones? On the other hand, I get it. At its best, it smacks us back to perspective when we want to whine about things we know we shouldn't.

Because non-first world problems are truly staggering and humbling in comparison.

How to illustrate first world problems with a pic...
Well, it's kind of like having blue skies smiling at you
and thinking they're raining on you instead, I guess. :/

There are still many places in the world where most of the people don't even have the remotest opportunity to enjoy electricity, running water, septic systems, shoes on their feet, clothes on their backs, a roof that doesn't leak or a roof at all, one reliable meal a day, much less three, not for themselves and not for their children...

Just imagine for a moment how unkind we would think life if that became our reality.

And yet so many people in those places still manage to face life with gratitude and a smile, simply for the chance to live it.

Not that I don't think there are surly ingrates among them, though we like to romanticize that there aren't. But the knowledge that there are people who have it so much harder than I do, without any reasonable expectation that their situations will improve, who choose to see riches in their poverty and be grateful for them, should not be anything less than transformative.

As a woman who's been well fed, well clothed, well sheltered, well loved, well educated, well employed, and well situated throughout most of my life, with the choice and ability to change my situation if I desired to, I have hit the fucking Powerball.

In terms of having my material, spiritual and emotional needs met, I am no poorer than the wealthiest first world human - only the brands are different. Or maybe not.

While third world people struggle with infant mortality and starvation and diseases we don't even remember, I suffer from a first world kind of amnesia that frequently makes me forget the fullness and greatness of my blessings.

Realizing this doesn't mean that I'm going to shame myself out of the pleasures of first world living. To have won the jackpot and then to sit on it for guilt that others have not would be a waste of my good fortune.

But it does mean that I am going to make a conscious effort to be all the more grateful and joyful in all of my first world privileges and to realize in each moment of each day...

- From the first flush of the morning; to the hot water shower; to the first drip of coffee; to the garden I tend for pleasure and the free running clean water with which I feed it; to the happy, healthy albeit groggy faces of the husband, children and wiener dog who appear to me one by one, in their own time, after I've been awake for hours listening to music and indulging my love of words; to my never empty refrigerator; to the washer and dryer that keep our clothes clean and dry with the press of a button; to the TV on which I indulge my less than admirable viewing habits; to this laptop and the wi-fi that enable me to connect with so many people... to ALL OF IT -

...how incredibly blessed I am to be able to rely on just those things, never mind the rest, which is so much more.

And it also means that I am going to make greater efforts every day to share my blessings with others and earn some of this wealth I've inherited simply for being a child of the first world.

I think that might be a good first step toward solving my #firstworldproblems.

shinae

Saturday, August 17, 2013

On Choosing Beer, Sushi & Happiness...

If you've been with me over on G+ this past week, then you know I've hit a patch of general fatigue, restlessness and malcontentment from working at home while being a stay at home parent. And I think those patches are just part and parcel of the overall human condition, but that are perhaps magnified or protracted by the stay at home parenting thing.

Not that some of us can't be really and truly fulfilled in that career path alone, but that a lot of us choose it for the time being because it is the path that makes the most sense for our families, even if we have the option to do it differently.

beer +

Actually, come to think of it, I've taken the other option in a past life too. I've worked full time with others caring for my children while I was at the office, and I can say that the same frustrations arise when your desire to be a present parent butts up against pretty much all your other non-parenting desires and ambitions.

Add to that the general fatigue of having a little one who still keeps odd hours that are not compatible with your own odd hours, and you are bound to have moments. Moments in which you would like to escape your life for just a few moments. Not that you don't love your life. And not that you're not grateful. But just that you're frustrated. And because against your better and sound judgment, it feels like there is nothing to be done to change your situation.

To make it worse, a piece of you wants to wallow in that frustration until it wells up in your chest and makes you want to cry in a big, pathetic heaping pile of self shitty pity.

The truth is, sometimes, there really is nothing to be done to change the situation right then and there. Sometimes, in order to be good, happy, healthy and fulfilled human beings, we have to commit for a time to things that frustrate us because it is truly the best for everyone, self included, in the long run. Sometimes, without giving up on ourselves and our dreams, we have to have patience for our temporary situations because we realize that they are serving a very good purpose.

sushi =

And sometimes the only good thing to be done in those moments when you can't, and perhaps shouldn't, be trying to alter the root cause of your frustration, is to choose to allow some totally unrelated but totally accessible thing to make you happy in the moment and to make the necessary wait less painful.

It only took me 15 minutes of straight bitching, moaning, whining and downloading to The (Very Empathetic) Man after he asked what he could do for me to stop and look in his eyes long enough to see his genuine desire to help me through the moment by doing something, anything, to make it better. And to realize that nothing I was doing was helping or allowing him to help me and partner with me, through this piece of our life together.

It was only after speaking the same frustrations and annoyances aloud in several different words and crying into the dishes that I was so fucking sick of washing and running out of different ways to express the same nowhere leading negativity that I realized how tiring, and frankly tiresome, I was being. To both of us.

But I didn't want Dean to take Izzy off my hands while I left the house. I'd missed him all day. And I didn't want him to take over the dishes because my irrational compulsion to finish them, because I'd started them, wouldn't let me let him do the dishes. And in the end, I don't really want to go back to work in an office right now. I love being home with Izzy, and I'd be a fool not to cherish a second chance to cherish one of my children in a way life had not allowed for before...

But the road to Impossibly Unhappy is paved with those kinds of can'ts and wont's. And before you know it, you've set down so many stones, you're practically there.

So I had to pick something, anything, in that moment, and allow it to make me happy. And perhaps more importantly, to allow Dean to make me happy.

Beer and sushi.

That's never not made us happy.

And Dean was truly happy to oblige.

And I was happy.

For the beer and the sushi of course.

But mostly for the choice I made to let the beer and sushi and Dean make me happy. ^^

happiness ^^

shinae

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gingered Fig Jam & Finding Better Focus...

Every once in a while, I look up from G+ to realize I've left the blog unattended for too long.

Like today.

But posting on G+ is a lot like checking in at the office every day, while blogging is a lot like freelancing. The freedom and free flow of freelancing is nice, but when you're working at or from home, you need ritual, accountability, and instant contact with other human adults.


Well, I do. Specially now that my constant companions are a one year old and a wiener dog who are engaging, enlightening and amusing in their own ways, but no substitute for peer interaction.

The past few months have been totally mundane in most ways and totally extraordinary in others. Through many days of career fatigue, from both the working and parenting perspectives, I've somehow managed, or perhaps was forced, to be still enough to allow a broader and deeper scope of purpose to appear to me.

Because in all honesty, this focus on food was starting to stifle me a bit. Not that I haven't always loved food. Not that I don't love it now. And not that I won't always love it. Because I have, I do, and I will...

But spending pretty much every day of the last two years producing food-related content has made me realize that this is not all I'm about. More importantly, it's not all I was meant to do. And I really do believe we each have a true calling that awaits us when we're ready to recognize and accept it.


As we all are, I'm a human being on a journey - to be a better version of myself than I was the day before, and to leave Earth a better place than I found it. And to endeavor to do that with a sense of joy, humor, fun, intelligence, humility, integrity, passion, compassion, sensibility, balance and gratitude, in a full expression of my own uniqueness, and within my means, whatever they may be at the moment.

The food has been, is now, and always will be, a great vehicle for sharing this journey with others because it's such a huge part of all our lives. And by sharing the food, I've been able to create a little hub of commonality in this little corner of the interwebs where more than a few of us have come together to break bread, relate, cooperate, commiserate, laugh, co-conspire and co-inspire one another to improve our lots in big and little ways.

The privilege and honor of having been able to build this platform has been weighing heavily on me - in a good way - and has strengthened my resolve to make the best use of it possible while being true to myself.


Which is why I've been working harder to make each post matter - whether it be to share a recipe to make our days more delicious, or to remind us of a great song we haven't heard in a while, or to share a pearl of someone else's wisdom or the beauty of their words, or to inspire thought and discussion about issues that affect our lives, or to help preserve Earth for our kids and their kids and their kids' kids, or to magnify all the good little things to be found in each day, or just to elicit a little chuckle, or better yet a hearty cackle, to make the day go faster.

And I really do hope it shows.

This doesn't mean that I'm swearing off all self indulgent vents or Bravo TV related posts or that I'm not going to dispense the occasional GFY when I think it's called for...


But it does mean that I'm really trying to make this little hub in this little corner of the interwebs a better place than it was yesterday. I want you to come for the food, and stay for the community, the laughter, the little things, and a sense that we can all cooperate and commiserate while making some thing, any thing, better today than it was yesterday.

Like if you don't have any of this scrummy Gingered Fig Jam sitting in your fridge at the moment, you could make this today, and your tomorrow will certainly be better for it. (Well, if you love figs, that is...)

GINGERED FIG JAM
Makes roughly 16 ounces
Takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes depending on the water content of the fruit, the weather, and how thick you like your jam.


- 1 pound very ripe Mission Figs, stemmed and quartered
- 3/4 cup sugar to start (you may like it sweeter - I tend to like my jams a little less sweet than the average storebought)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons maple syrup or honey
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- a pinch of kosher salt (a little less than 1/8 teaspoon)
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger, depending on how ginger-y you like things. I find 1 Tablespoon to be subtle but easily detectible.

Since I don't can for long storage, I don't go through the usual canning sterilization rigamarole. I just wash a lidded bottle or plastic container with dish soap and hot water, thoroughly rinse and dry, and place the cooled jam in the container for refrigeration. It should keep at least a couple of months that way.

1) Place all the ingredients but ginger in a large saucepan, give them a couple of good stirs and place on medium heat until all the sugar melts.

2) Let the mixture come to a very gentle boil for 2 minutes or so before giving the jam a few good stirs and turning the heat down to not quite medium low.

3) Let the jam very gently simmer and reduce (that means barely detectible movement on the surface with the very occasional slow bubble), uncovered, for anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes, depending on how thick you like your jam.

4) At the halfway mark (about 20 to 25 minutes into the simmer) mash the jam with a potato masher or a fork to the desired consistency, and stir in the ginger. Continue to simmer another 20 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally - every 10 minutes or so should be good.

Never let the heat get so high that you can scrape solids from the bottom of your cooking vessel. This will result in an oddly iron-like flavor to downright burnt flavor if the heat is way too high.

4) Give the jam a taste, remembering that it'll always taste slightly sweeter when thoroughly cooled than it does warm. If needed, add a little more sugar or maple syrup or honey for sweetness, a tiny bit of salt if the sweetness still tastes flat, or a teaspoonful of lemon juice if you want a little more tartness. Let the jam cook another 5 minutes after you adjust the seasoning, cut the heat, give it a few good stirs, and let it cool thoroughly, uncovered (you don't want condensation to water down your jam, which will also make it more likely to spoil faster), before putting it in a container to refrigerate.

Enjoy with yogurt, over cheesecake, with cheese and crackers, or cranberry orange scones, among other things.

And thank you so very much for the privilege of sharing my journey with you. :)))

shinae

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How Many Eggs Does it Take to Make an Omelette? (Oh, and this Garlic Gold Stuff is Pretty Good...)

We're on the last day of fridge cleanout, and the only proteins left in the house are #eggs and chorizo. And I haven't made a proper breakfast for +Dean Robinson in a while so I decided to make him this quick and easy 2-egg omelette filled with Mexican chorizo and raw milk Jack.



Underneath, a bed of greens including spinach and arugula, which always play well with omelettes. On top, the last fresh tomato in the house and some Garlic Gold - little toasted organic garlic nuggets in organic extra virgin olive oil - that I was asked to sample and review.



The Garlic Gold is great stuff for people who love the mellower, rounded flavor of roasted garlic with the added surprise element of crunch. A little goes a long way, and I can totally see also using this in bread dips, salad dressing, on top of pasta and stir fried Asian style noodles, among other things. (BTW, I didn't get paid to say this, and my general policy is not to make paid endorsements, and if I don't like something I have sampled, you won't hear about it, just FYI.)

More info on the product: www.garlicgold.com.

Also, lots of omelette recipes call for 3 or more eggs. I think that's overkill for one meal. 2 eggs is perfectly filling for us most days, and easily carries us through to lunch.

shinae