The LAST recipe; Buns and Rolls

Hamburger buns topped with minced dried garlic and onion

No, this isn’t the last recipe I’m posting. But it will very likely be the last recipe I post for buns and rolls. This dough fulfills all of my requirements for rolls and buns. Soft, flavorful, and adaptable. I’m not looking anymore (unless one of you comes up with something better and shares it with me!).

A sandwich without bread isn’t a sandwich; it’s random ingredients piled atop one another. Sure, you could put it all in a tortilla or a lettuce leaf and roll it up, but that’s not a sandwich! It’s a wrap! I have nothing against wraps, except that they’re missing the bread. Bread defines the character of the sandwich. Crusty French bread. Sliced artisanal loaf with all those holes and crannies. Soft Kaiser rolls. Hoagie buns. For classic PB&J or grilled cheese sandwiches at two am, store bought white bread is the only option, in my humble opinion.

In my search for the perfect sandwich vehicle, I’ve made quite a few rolls and buns over the past year or so. Most recipes gave an acceptable bun, but I wanted more than just acceptable! A tight crumb that’ll stand up to mayo and ketchup and thousand island dressing, melted cheese and juicy burgers, but oh so soft and fluffy. I think I’ve found the ultimate bun.

I’ve made hamburger buns and dinner rolls with this recipe. Both were unqualified successes! I haven’t tried hot dog buns yet, but I’m certain that they’ll be consistently delicious. I’m thinking of actually making a loaf of bread with this dough.

I offer two versions here; the straight version and the tangzhong version. Tangzhong is a water roux (although in this recipe it’s a milk roux). A portion of the flour and liquid are whisked together over heat until a pudding-like consistency is achieved. This is added to the dough, and helps make the dough softer, and also increases the shelf life of the rolls or loaf by a couple of days. (It doesn’t retard mold or bacteria, it just helps to slow the staling process.) I strongly recommend the tangzhong method; you get a couple extra days of freshness for about 10 minutes work! But consider the bread you’re making; the tangzhong method is not well suited for more artisanal breads. It’s best used for sandwich type breads and rolls. If you’d like to know more about tangzhong and how to convert recipes, the folks at King Arthur Flour have got you covered with this article.

Finally, the only way to get consistently sized buns and rolls, is to use a scale! This recipe will make 8, 10, or 12 buns, depending upon how big you like your burgers. Weigh the dough and divide accordingly. It will also make 18 dinner rolls. I like to use half the dough to make 5 buns, and use the other half for 9 rolls. Compromise doesn’t always hurt! Depending on the size and type of bread you’re making, cooking times will vary. If you’re using a thermometer to check for doneness, the internal temperature of the bread should be between 200°F and 210°F. if you’re not using a thermometer to check for doneness, why not?

Dinner rolls, before baking
Just out of the oven!

Super Soft Dough for Buns and Rolls

Ingredients

  • 360g warmed to 100°F – 110°F Subtract 220g for tangzhan, if using
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup (60g) melted butter
  • 2 tbsp plain whole milk yogurt substitute sour cream if desired
  • 2 tsp instant dry yeast tsp, or one envelope
  • 440 grams all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting and kneading Subtract 44g for tangzhong, if using
  • 1 1/2 tsp (9g) kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp (25g) sugar
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • Egg wash: beaten egg with 2 tbsp water
  • Optional toppings: Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, dried garlic, dried onion, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Steps

For tangzhong, if using: In a small saucepan, whisk together the 44g of flour and the 220g of water until smooth. Heat over medium low heat, whisking constantly, until roux has a pudding-like consistency. Add the roux to the bowl of a stand mixer and allow to cool.

  1. Grease a large bowl
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, salt, and ground ginger. Whisk to combine
  3. Add the sugar and the yeast to the warmed milk and mix. Let stand 5 minutes until yeast is activated and foamy
  1. Add the egg, yogurt, and yeast/sugar mixture to the stand mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until fully combined
  2. With the motor off, add the flour. Restart the motor and mix on low until ingredients are fully combined.
  3. With the motor running, slowly add butter, continuing to mix until butter is fully incorporated.
  4. Knead on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes. Dough should be smooth, a little sticky, and very elastic. Turn the dough onto a floured workspace and form it into a ball
  5. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to prove in a warm draft-free place until it’s doubled in volume, 45 to 90 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk egg and water together for the egg wash.
  7. Form the rolls, buns, or loaves, arrange on a baking sheet prepared with baking mat or parchment paper, cover with a damp lint-free towel, and allow to rise until nice and puffy, 30 to 45 minutes.
  8. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle with toppings if desired.
  9. Bake until the tops are golden brown and the internal temp is between 200°F and 210°F. Time will depend on the type of bread you’re making. Hamburger buns are about 10 to 15 minutes, dinner rolls a bit longer, and about 30 to 40 minutes for dinner rolls arranged in a 9″ x 9″ dish.

So, you’ve got the bread! Now make some burgers and fire up the grill! Or make a chicken salad and load your bun up with it. Fried shrimp and remoulade po’ boys, anyone?

This blog is not sponsored and generates no revenue from ads or affiliate links. If you’d like to make a donation to help me maintain the blog, donations will be gratefully accepted at PayPal. And please! Leave a comment! Just say “hi,” or let me know if you’ve tried out any of my recipes!

Until next time, foodie friends! Remember: Sing like like no one’s listening, dance like no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon appetit!

THE BEST, NOT-VERY-SECRET COOKIE HACK

I was flipping through past posts, and I noticed that I’m rather deficient in dessert. Perhaps because I’m not really a dessert person? Unless the meal is very special. If dining at an upscale French or Italian restaurant, I may order dessert, but that circumstance is a rarity!

And there seems to be a lot of creaming. Creaming the sugar and the butter, creaming the cream cheese with the sugar. That whole creaming thing and I don’t get along.

My favorite dessert is a delicious homemade milkshake. But one can hardly publish a “recipe” like that; even people who can’t boil water can make a shake at home!

So, cookies! Cookies can be as easy or as complicated as you care to make them. For instance, in my cookie hack, there is no creaming of butter and sugar! The hack is certainly no secret; google it and you’ll get literally hundreds of hits. And the hack is………. boxed cake mix.

This isn’t an ad for Betty Crocker! They were on sale!

TA DA!

Okay, perhaps the fanfare is overdoing it. Boxed cake mixes are so, well, PTA bake sale! But they’re convenient – all the dry ingredients pre-mixed. There are lots of flavor choices – spice cake, lemon cake, carrot cake, German chocolate cake, the list stretches long! And they’re not expensive, rarely have I seen a box of cake mix for over $2.00, and one box can yield as many as three dozen cookies, depending on the size you make your cookies. (That’s enough for one PTA bake sale, right?)

Here is the basic recipe for boxed cake mix cookies. No attribution is possible as this recipe, with very little variation, is posted all over the Internet.

BOXED CAKE MIX COOKIES

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box (15.75 oz) cake mix, your favorite flavor
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, light or dark
  • 1/2 canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • Optional: your favorite add-ins. Keep them at about a total of 1 1/2 cups. More than that and the dough won’t come together.

Steps

  1. Prepare baking sheets with baking mats or parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients, including your add-ins, making sure the add-ins are evenly distributed.
  3. Add the oil and eggs and stir until everything well-incorporated. I find it easiest to use the handle of a wooden spoon. Not as much surface to which the dough can stick.
  1. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for thirty minutes to an hour. If you’re wanting to refrigerate the dough for longer, place it in a zippered gallon freezer bag, press out as much air as you can, and tightly close the zipper. Refrigerate for up to 48 hours.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Remove chilled dough from the fridge. Form cookies by measuring a packed, even tbsp, and rolling in your hands to form a small ball. This is much easier if both the tablespoon and your hands are lightly oiled.
  1. Place the balls at least 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once. The cookie edges should be just starting to brown lightly. (see note)
  1. Remove from the oven, and allow cookies to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheets before transferring to a cooling rack.
  2. Store in an airtight container or zipper bag.

Now, for my personal favorite!

I hope you didn’t think I’d try to pass off an ubiquitous, generic recipe, then head for the literary hills! What kind of a blogger would that make me?

Up until today, my favorite variation on the basic boxed cake mix cookies was German Chocolate cookies. One box of German chocolate cake mix, add 2 tbsp of dulce de leche (see note) to the ingredients. Add-ins: Sweetened coconut flakes, semi-sweet chocolate bits. Reserve some of the coconut flakes in which to roll the formed cookies.

That was my favorite. Today, I made “sunflower cookies,” and they’re my new favorite! They’re yellow and sweet and lemony, with raisins representing the sunflower seeds. I also added oats, because the dough needed a little more structure. The supermarket didn’t have lemon cake mix, so I used butter yellow cake mix. Here’s the recipe:

SUNFLOWER COOKIES

Sugary Lemon Cookies with Raisins

Ingredients

  • 1 box lemon cake mix, or 1 box butter yellow cake mix
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup canola oil (vegetable oil works just fine)
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • Zest from 2 large lemons, divided
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned or quick cooking.) This is breaking my rule of 1 1/2 cups of add-ins, but I don’t count oats, they’re more for structure than flavor, and if you let the dough rest for more than an hour, you can barely tell that the oats are there!
  • 1 tsp pure lemon extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, for the lemon sugar

Steps

  1. Make the lemon sugar: mix together the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and half of the lemon zest. Rub the mixture gently between your fingers to release the oils from the zest. Spread in the bottom of a pie plate or other flat container, lightly cover with a dry paper towel, and set aside to dry.
  2. Prepare baking sheets with baking mats or parchment paper.
  3. Mix all the remaining ingredients together until well-combined and no dry cake mix remains in the bowl, and the add-ins are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If refrigerating longer, up to 48 hours, place the dough in a zipper freezer bag, press out as much air as possible and seal.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil your hands and a tablespoon measure.
  2. Use a slightly rounded packed tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Make a ball and flatten it very slightly with your thumb.
  3. Roll the balls of dough in the lemon sugar, coating the top and sides of the cookies, but not the bottom. Arrange the balls on baking sheets, 2 to 3 inches apart.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, until the edges and the sugar topping start to brown, rotating the tray(s) once halfway through. (See note)
  1. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on the tray(s) for 10 minutes before gently transferring to a cooling rack.
  2. Store in an airtight container or zipper lock freezer bag.

Notes

** Dulce de leche is caramelized sweetened condensed milk. It’s sold in Latin-American markets, and is a delicious, sweet condiment that has all kinds of uses, from topping ice cream to filling crepes. It can be substituted with caramel sauce. But all you need to make it is a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, a deep pot, lots of water, and two to three hours. Bring a deep pot filled with water to a rolling boil. Remove the label from the can of milk and place it sideways in the boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for two hours (for a runnier sauce) to three hours (a more solid, darker sauce), checking the water level every so often (it’s VERY important that can remain completely submerged!). Remove the can and place in a bowl of cool water. When you can handle the can, open it and transfer the contents to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to a week.

** I like my cookies very soft, because of dentition problems. So no nuts or seeds, and I generally underbake the cookies just a bit. Add one or two minutes to the baking time for crispier cookies.

These cookies are decidedly not healthy, although the oats provide some good nutrition and fiber. Cookies aren’t supposed to be healthy! I don’t use sweeteners like Stevia, but I imagine that you could sub out the sugar if you’re concerned about the amount. Avoid using liquid sweeteners like agave nectar or maple syrup; they’ll cause the cookies to spread, and will burn faster than sugar. And keep in mind that natural sugar subs, like Stevia, are much much sweeter than sugar!

I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as Mark and I do! And, as you can see, with a little inspiration, the basic boxed cake mix recipe has nearly limitless variations. Let me know what you come up with! Comments are welcome!

Remember: Sing like no one’s listening, dance like no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon appetít!

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Many thanks for following and reading!

A Writer’s Lament (and a Yummy Pasta Bowl!)I

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve updated Little Kitchen Miracles. I have a very good reason. Writing a food blog is expensive! If one is writing a cooking blog, one must not only develop recipes, those recipes need to be tested. Not just once, but several times. And that takes money, unless one has a source for free ingredients, which I do not. If one were writing a restaurant review, one would need to dine at the restaurant several times to try out most of the menu items and experience the service on different days, and even at different times of the day. And that takes money, too. Quite a lot of money actually, unless one were reviewing MacDonald’s (even that’s not cheap these days).

I don’t have any money! I haven’t had a good-paying job in years, because I’m my husband’s sole caregiver; it’s a twenty four/seven job with no wage. I was delivering groceries for several months last year just to make ends meet, but then my car broke down. And then I contracted pneumonia. So I’ve been “robbing Peter to pay Paul” for several months now. I do bake our bread; it’s cheaper than store-bought. We eat a lot of beans, rice, pasta, and tinned meats. I actually had Spam for the first time a few months ago! (It’s actually not bad).

So there’s my sad story. I’m hoping that I’ll have a job soon. I’ve wanted to cook for a living for some time, but it would be somewhat ironic if I ended up flipping burgers at a fast food joint! If you’d like to support this blog with a contribution, your generous gift will be gladly accepted at PayPal!

Now, onto happier things! I got a two pound bag of skinless salmon fillets a few days ago. Not great salmon, but good enough. And I do have a bunch of pasta, too. And several ingredients that are key in Asian cuisines. So I came up with the following. It’s kind of an amalgam of the three Far East cuisines; Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, with a bit of Thai thrown in for good measure. It serves two, or one for two meals, and it’s easily increased to serve more. The dashi and the tare can be made a day ahead. Many of the Asian ingredients have become available at local supermarkets. And you can also find them all online. I used spaghetti, because I prefer the texture of al dente pasta to ramen noodles, but ramen could easily be substituted. This is comfort food for me!

Sorry this pic is so blurry!

ASIAN SPAGHETTI WITH TERIYAKI SALMON

Teriyaki Salmon and Tare

  • 2 skinless salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 2 inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced and smashed
  • 1-2 dried red chilies optional (substitute a few drops of chili oil or a tsp of hot sauce like Sriracha if desired

1. Bring the soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and chilies(if using) to a gentle simmer over low heat.

2. Add the salmon fillets and poach, turning several times, until salmon is flaky. Remove salmon and set aside. Strain tare through a fine mesh strainer and set aside

Dashi

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 large piece dried kombu
  • 1 tbsp dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
  • 5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms

1. Place the kombu, the katsuobushi, and the shiitake in a microwave safe bowl.

2. Cover with water, and microwave for 4 minutes.

3. Let stand for 15-30 minutes

4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, pressing solids gently with a spatula or wooden spoon. Reserve mushrooms, discard the other solids.

Spaghetti Bowl

  • 1/2 pkg spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine, cooked to package directions
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 medium yellow or sweet onion, halved and thickly sliced, about 1/4 inch
  • Reserved shiitake, thinly sliced
  • Reserved tare and dashi
  • Prepared salmon
  • Sesame oil to drizzle
  • Nori and kimchi furikake for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat.

2. Add the onions and sauté until translucent.

3. Add the shiitake and vinegar and sauté until vinegar is is gone.

4. Reheat dashi in microwave until boiling.

5. Add a tbsp of dashi to the bottom of two soup bowls.

6. Divide the pasta, the onions and shiitake between the two bowls.

7. Flake the salmon and add to bowls, gently toss with tongs.

8. Add the hot dashi, drizzle on some sesame oil to taste, and top with furikake and nori to taste. Go crazy with the nori and furikake if you want, but be careful with the sesame oil; it’s a very strong flavor!

So there it is, until next time! Remember: Sing like no one’s listening, dance like no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon apetit!

Parties, Picnics, and Pubs

This my fiftieth post! What better way to celebrate than with foods you can take to a gathering, be it a party or a picnic or a potluck. I’m afraid you you you won’t find any pub food here (I couldn’t resist the alliteration!), although a plate of tatsuta age would be a welcome accompaniment to a nice cold bottle of Sapporo beer!

You know those recipes that call for “poultry seasoning,” or “taco spice blend.” You never know what’s in those spice mixes, and if you buy the prepared ones, you’re apt to get a lot of salt in with the herbs and spices. Plus, those premixed things aren’t tailored to your taste. What if you want more garlic, or less (which is more problematic), or you find a flavor that’s just disagreeable to you?

I’ve added a page to help you out. You’ll see it in the right sidebar of every post. Click on it, or tap, and you will find a comprehensive list of spice mixes and their ingredients. Just for kicks, I added some very exotic blends, too. Maybe they’ll inspire you! If you don’t see one of your favorites, let me know and I’ll research it and add it to the list. In other words, contact me!

Today’s Menu

Tatsuta Age: Fried Chicken Bites

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The Japanese have many varieties of fried chicken. The most well known is probably chicken katsu, chicken cutlets breaded with panko and pan fried, served over rice with katsu sauce, or curry, and sometimes a fried egg.

Tatsuta age is probably my favorite Japanese fried chicken. “Age” means “fried” in Japanese. The meaning of “tatsuta” seems to be less clear. It can refer to the autumn colors to be seen along the Tastuya River, and it seems there was a Princess Tatsuya who was also associated with autumn and its colors. A long marinade in soy sauce does color the chicken slightly red. More importantly, it flavors the chicken beautifully, and the potato starch coating is oh so light and crispy. It doesn’t absorb much oil, and it stays crispy even after it cools, making it the perfect fried chicken for a picnic.

You could use white meat for this recipe. It will cook faster than the thigh meat and will dry out very quickly if you’re not careful. You can also sub corn starch for potato starch. Do not confuse potato “starch” with potato “flour.” You might find the results, well, disagreeable!

Ingredients (feel free to double or even triple these!)

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken thighs, 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, or a combination, fat trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces. To ensure even cooking, keep the bites as uniform in size as possible. Don’t obsess and start weighing the pieces though!
  • Equal parts:
    • Soy sauce
    • Sake or dry sherry
    • Mirin
  • Optional:
    • Grated garlic
    • Grated ginger
    • Grated onion
    • Spicy “oriental” mustard
    • Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • Potato starch or corn starch for dredging. I recommend potato starch.
  • Peanut, canola, or other neutral, high smoke-point oil for frying.

Method

Drying the marinated chicken pieces well, and waiting to dredge them until you’re ready to drop them in the oil is crucial! Dredging the chicken and letting it sit will cause the potato starch to clump and get gummy. Not yummy!

  • In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, the sake or sherry, the mirin, and any of the optional additions you choose to use.
  • Place the chicken pieces in a plastic zipper bag. Pour the marinade into the bag over the chicken. Press the air out of the bag and seal.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours.
  • Drain the chicken, discard the marinade, and arrange the pieces on two layers of paper towel. Cover with two more sheets and lightly press to dry well. Place the chicken in the fridge until ready to fry.
  • Place a cooling rack in a rimmed baking sheet and line with paper towels.
  • Heat 2” of oil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven to 350°F.
  • Put the chicken pieces in a small bowl and sprinkle with potato starch. Lightly mix with hands until all pieces are coated.
  • One piece at a time, remove the chicken from the starch, shake off the excess and place in the hot oil. Do not crowd. Depending on the size of your pan and the amount of chicken you’re frying, you may need to do this in batches.
  • Fry, turning the pieces often with a spider or pair of tongs, until the pieces are golden and the internal temp is 185°F for the thigh meat and 165°F for the breast meat.
  • Remove the chicken pieces to the paper towel-lined cooling rack

To serve, arrange the chicken bites on a platter over lettuce. Garnish with chopped hot peppers and a squirt of Japanese Kewpie mayo. I like to slice pickled hot chilis, dredge them in the potato starch and give ‘em a quick fry. Or serve with dipping sauces; spicy mayo mix, Thai sweet chili sauce, ranch or bleu cheese dressing and a small shallow dish filled with a salt/pepper mixture. That’s actually my favorite; I love salt and the black pepper really adds some zing and brings out the flavors of the marinade. Or drizzle the pieces with salsa, cover with shredded cheese, and place in the oven until the cheese is melted. The sky’s the limit, folks! You could even make these part of a taco bar!

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Pizza Monkey Bread

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Something always seems to go wrong when I make these! It usually has to do with the pan I bake them in, the oven temp, or my portioning the dough into balls. This time it was the pan. I thought I knew exactly where my bundt pan was. It has apparently been moved. I only discovered this at the moment I was set to arrange my little garlic blobs in it. I know, mise-en-place fail! I had to jury-rig a pie plate with an upside ramekin in the center. The overflow was almost alarming! But they tasted great!

These are great additions to a party table. If you’re bringing them to someone else’s party though, keep in mind that these are best served right out of the oven. If your hostess is okay with it, you could take the assembled but unbaked bread to the party and bake it there; not counting preheating the oven, the baking time is fairly short – twenty to thirty minutes. Alternately, par-bake them, about 10 minutes, and finish them up quickly at the party.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe pizza dough. Or store bought, or pick up some from your local pizzeria, about a pound.
  • 1/4 cup or more of olive oil, plus olive oil for brushing
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan/Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling.
  • 1/4 cup pepperoni, finely diced, or cooked sweet (or hot; up to you) Italian sausage, very finely crumbled. Dice if necessary.
  • 1 cup cubed (about 1″) Monterey Jack cheese
  • Flour for dusting the cheese.
  • 1 tsp each dried oregano, dried thyme, and dried basil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • pinch of red pepper optional
  • Marinara sauce, pizza sauce, or pesto dip for dipping

 Method

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F
  • Put the cheese cubes into the freezer. You don’t want the cheese frozen, just cold, so it’ll melt a bit more slowly during baking.
  • Whisk the herbs, the garlic powder, and the onion powder, and the 1/4 cup olive oil until thoroughly combined. When you assembly the monkey bread, you’ll need to stir the mixture frequently to make sure the bites get coated with all the flavors.
  • Lightly grease a tube pan or a bundt pan or a cake pan with an oven-safe lightly oiled ramekin placed upside down in the center. But we know how that turned out
  • Turn the pizza dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
  • Press down lightly to degas. Divide the dough into two equal-ish pieces. Cover one piece with a damp lint-free dish cloth, and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to shape it.
  • Roll the first piece out until it’s a large rectangle, about 13” x 9”.
  • Lightly brush or spray the surface of the dough with olive oil.
  • Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the dough. Then spread the pepperoni. Using your rolling pin, gently press the cheese and pepperoni into the dough.
  • Starting at the top, roll the dough into a long log and pinch the seams and ends closed.
  • Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.
  • Cut the dough rolls into roughly 1 1/2″ pieces. Don’t worry about exact uniformity.
  • With your hands, form each piece into a ball by pulling the top of the dough to the bottom, and tucking it into the center until you a have a smooth little orb. Twist the bottom closed.
  • Take the jack cheese cubes out of the freezer. Dredge them lightly in some flour. Press a cheese bite into the center of each ball and pinch it to seal the cheese inside. Some of your balls will leak. That’s okay, it adds to the appearance.
  • Dip each little bite in the oil and herb mixture. Arrange the balls randomly into tube or cake pan. After each layer is arranged sprinkle with the cheese mix.
  • Cover the dough with a damp dish cloth and set aside for 30 minutes or so. The monkey bread should have gotten puffy, but may not have doubled in size.
  • Brush the dough one more time with the garlicky olive oil and sprinkle very lightly with coarse sea salt, if desired.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. The internal temp should be between 190° and 200°F. I strongly recommend using an instant read thermometer to check your bread. A browned crust may turn out to be “fake news” if the top browned too quickly, and that “tap the loaf to see if it sounds hollow” thingthat I just never got! If you think the crust is browning too quickly, lightly tent the loaf with aluminum foil.Remove the bread from the oven to a cooling rack set in a baking sheet. Brush it one more time with olive oil.
  • When the bread has cooled enough to touch comfortably, turn it out of the pan onto the serving plate. Start tearing! Serve immediately, with a bowl of your favorite marinara sauce, pizza sauce, or pesto sauce (or all three!) for dipping.

These don’t keep very well, and should be eaten on the same day they’re baked. If you do need to reheat them, brush them with a little oil, wrap them up on some foil, and heat them in a 300°F oven for five to ten minutes.

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Sweet Potato Burritos

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This hardly qualifies as a “recipe.” Besides the sweet potato, your choices are limited only by your own imagination. These are pretty large. They’re not really finger food as presented, but I think they’re quirky and tasty enough to find their way onto a party’s grazing table.

I really have to apologize for the photo of this dish. I wasn’t paying much attention when I was halving the sweet potato; it was too late when I realized I was cutting on the wrong vector (the wide side instead of the narrow). So my skins were split, and didn’t make that nice little boat shape. They were quite delicious, though!

Ingredients (for two, as a light meal)

  • 1 medium sweet potato, halved lengthwise
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, or other cheese or cheeses of your choice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 can beans. I like black beans. They add contrast to the dish.
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped. Reserve a tablespoon for garnish
  • Lime, avocado and sour cream for garnishing

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Brush the cut sides of the potato with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Place the potatoes, cut side down, on a foil covered baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the flesh is very, very soft.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool until you’re able to handle the potato halves comfortably.
  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Carefully scoop the flesh from the potato halves, taking care not to rip the skins. Place the flesh in a bowl.
  • Broil the potato skins 6″ from the heat until crispy and just beginning to char. Remove from oven and let cool.
  • Add the cheese, the spices, and the cilantro to the bowl with the flesh and fold to combine.
  • Spoon the filling into the crispy skins, top with extra cheese if desired.
  • Place the skins back into the oven and broil until cheese on top starts to bubble.
  • Serve hot with a salad and some good Mexican bread.

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Canned Tuna Ceviche

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Recipe adapted from SkinnyTaste.com

I was going to present you with a great ceviche recipe, raw fish and all. Then I had two epiphanies: I live in the middle of the desert, nearly 300 miles from the nearest coast. This makes sourcing fresh, sashimi grade fish tough. And being so tough to source, it can be prohibitively expensive, even in small amounts. And while it’s said that lime juice “cooks” the fish, there’s a reason for those quote marks! Lime juice changes the texture of the fish so it resembles cooked fish, but it’s not really cooked! Shelf life is not too long, even in the fridge.

Then I came across this recipe, which I tried with both canned tuna and canned salmon (also surprisingly not cheap, if you buy quality, but not as dear as fresh fish) with very satisfying results and none of the raw fish worries! So, with no feelings of guilt or failure whatsoever, I present you with the “ceviche for the masses!”

Ingredients

  • 1 good quality can of tuna or salmon, drained. Pacific Wild is my favorite brand. It’s a little pricey, but the fish are all “pole-and-line” caught, packed immediately into the cans with some sea salt, no added water or oil, and then quickly heated just once (most canned fish is cooked twice) and canned. The species of fish and where it’s from are listed on the can. Albacore is higher in mercury than skipjack, but it’s flavor is cleaner. If you use salmon, it’s best to get Pacific salmon, which is usually wild caught.
  • Optional add ins
  • Par-cooked shrimp, octopus, or squid, or if you’re feeling generous, lobster or crab. If you’re Bill Gates, both! Dice any additional seafood into very small pieces
  • About a quarter cup of each:
    • Diced red or yellow onion
    • diced green or red bell pepper
    • seeded and diced Roma tomato
    • seeded and diced cucumber
  • 1 pepper of your choice, finely diced. If you like a bit of a kick, jalapeño or Serrano, seeded with ribs removed, em>are good choices. If you like, you can leave out the pepper altogether and just hit it with a dash of hot sauce to taste.
  • The juice of about 5 limes. Invest in one of those yellow citrus pressers, really!
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

  • In a medium bowl, mix the drained fish gently with about a tbsp of the lime juice. If you’re using additional seafood, increase the lime juice to 2, or even 3 tbsp. Refrigerate while you prep the veggies.
  • Add the diced veggies to the marinating fish and mix well. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed.
  • Toss in the cilantro and mix to combine, being oh so careful not to break up the fish too much.
  • Add the remaining lime juice.
  • Chill for at least an hour to let the flavors meld

Use a slotted spoon to plate this, as ceviche sitting out, soaking in its own juices, is unappealing. If your creation will be sitting out for a while, do present it on ice! It’s not raw, but it’s still fish! As for how to serve it? The world is your can of tuna, baby! Use it as a filling for little hollowed out cuke boats. Fill endive or radicchio leaves with the ceviche as a rather elegant “wrap.” Any ceviche would be welcome at a taco bar, too. Bake some wonton skins in muffin tins til just crisp, and fill the cups to brimming with citrusy seafood! Ceviche also lends itself well to Japan, or at least American Japanese restaurants; it’s delicious in an unorthodox sushi roll.

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Skillet Upside-down Cake

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Every party needs a dessert, right? Upside-down cake is so retro, and so easy! And you can use any type of fruit; no need to confine yourself to the cliche of pineapple rounds perfectly arranged concentrically with a perfect little maraschino cherry nestled in each. Make yours an explosion of berries, or use stone fruits; peaches, nectarines or plums. A warm cinnamon apple upside down cake is the perfect finish for a Sunday brunch, or a coffee go with after a sit down dinner. Or a sweet nosh with the bridge game, if you want real retro. (Note to self: learn how to play bridge, teach Mark, find another couple that knows how to play and set up a date. Then bake a Bananas Foster upside down cake. Whew that was a long note to self!)

Ingredients

Batter

  • 1 1/2cups AP flour
  • Baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Topping

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter or light brown sugar. You can use dark brown sugar, but the molasses flavor will be more pronounced.
  • 2 to 3 cups sliced or chopped fruit. If using frozen fruit, do not thaw; the fruit will keep its shape and consistency better.
  • 3 – 4 tbsp chopped fresh herbs optional

Method

  • Whisk the flower, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  • In another bowl, using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on low speed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and continue beating until the eggs are incorporated ant the mixture is smooth.
  • Add 1/3 of the flour mix, and stir with a wooden or nylon spoon to combine. Add 1/2 cup of the milk, continuing to stir. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk. Flour should be the last ingredient you add.
  • If all of this feels like too much work, make the batter in your food processor. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and set aside. Process the butter and the cream until pale yellow and smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as necessary. Add the eggs and process on low until combined. Add the milk and flour in the order indicated above, and process briefly, until just smooth.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Heat a 10″ oven-safe skillet, preferably well-seasoned cast iron, over low heat. You can use a 9″ skillet, but you may find you have extra batter.
  • Add the sugar to the melted butter in the pan and stir briefly to distribute.
  • Arrange the fruit tightly in a single layer on top of the sugar layer.
  • Spoon the batter on top of the fruit. Spread and smooth with a spatula.
  • Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the “top” of the cake is golden and toothpick or wooden skewer inserted comes out clean. “Clean” means no wet dough sticking to the toothpick; a few sticking crumbs is okay.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a cooling rack very briefly, just a minute or two. If you wait much longer, the cake will be very difficult to un-pan.
  • Run a sharp, thin knife around the perimeter of the cake to loosen.
  • Invert your cake plate over the skillet, then in an dramatic sweeping gesture, flip it over. Remember, the skillet is still very hot; use pot holders or kitchen towels! And make sure you do it in front of an audience, if you’re quite confident the cake will come out in one piece.
  • Carefully remove the cake from the skillet, and scrape up any fruit bits that are stuck to the bottom; add them to the top of the cake.
  • Serve the cake slightly warm or at room temperature. Store wrapped in plastic wrap or an airtight container. The cake will keep for several days. Or more likely not. It will more likely disappear!

My Fiftieth Post!

My thanks to all of you, dear readers, for stopping by and taking a look at my latest obsessions. Can you tell which of the above recipes is my current fad? Ah, I smell a contest! Unfortunately, I currently have nothing of value to offer as a prize (no, you may not have my Le Creuset cast iron enameled Dutch oven!). I get my inspiration for cooking from many sources. You all are my inspiration for writing, though.

Please take note of the two different ways you can contact me; click or tap the “contact me” link in the right margin, or leave a public comment in the space below. I would so love to hear from you. About anything at all! And of course I’d like to know if you’ve tried any of my recipes, and how they came out for you, or how you tweaked them. I’d particularly like to know if your dish didn’t come out as expected. I’ll work with you to figure out what went wrong, and fix it for next time.

So, my friends, until next time, say it with me:

Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating. Bon appétit!

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Ohayo Gozaimasu! Breakfast in Osaka

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the title of my blog. I hadn’t raved or ranted in quite a while (not on my blog, anyway), Little Kitchen Miracles not only reflects the content of this blog better, it is the “brand” that I’ve finally decided upon. Let me know what you think of it, if you even noticed.

Today’s Recipes

This post started out to be a quickie about dashi, Japan’s ubiquitous all-purpose broth. Then I thought “what is dashi used for, mostly?” The answer that comes to mind, of course, is miso soup, although dashi is used in so many more recipes. And while miso soup is usually present at every Japanese meal, I’ve come to find it very satisfying as a hot breakfast liquid, light and refreshing. So there you go. Instead of a short, sweet post on dashi, you’re getting a long, involved, many times edited post about asa gohan, literally “morning rice.” I hope it inspires you to try a Japanese breakfast yourself!

I really couldn’t speak to what they’re eating for breakfast in Japan these days; I left in ’98. And people don’t generally go out for breakfast, unless they’re busy “salary men” who stop at a coffee shop for some butter jam toast and a cup of coffee. The really best place to get breakfast in Japan though, is at the high end hotels. Most of them serve a spread that Caesar’s Palace would envy, and the buffet is usually split; one side is everything you need for a Japanese breakfast. You’ll find the sausages, bacon scrambles, and breads and cheeses on the European side.

It took me a while to get used to dejeuner aux japonais. I think the salt fish was the most off-putting at first, even though I’m quite used to bagels with cream cheese and lox in the morning. And I missed bread; rice was somehow just lacking (it took a while for me to realize the rice was meant to be eaten with something). Soup in the morning was a bit odd, too, especially salty miso soup. But I found myself coming to enjoy it more and more, and one day, I was at one of those high end hotels and found myself going more to the Japanese side than the European side!

The sparsest breakfast in Japan will consist of white rice, with perhaps a cherry red, very tart pickled plum (they say it’s good for digestion). Pickles to go with the rice, and a bowl of miso soup. That’s the bare minimum. There’s usually a piece of shiosake, grilled or broiled salt fish. More elaborate breakfasts might include a little baby salad with lettuce and thinly sliced onions dressed with a simple rice wine vinaigrette, or Japanese macaroni salad, and if you’re feeling extravagant, a few pieces of seasonal fruit. Tamagoyaki, a rolled omelette, is a nice addition too, but I was never able to master the skill, so I settle for a soft boiled egg.

Finally, a cup of Japanese tea, ocha, to round out the meal. Coffee seems a bit heavy-handed for such a light breakfast, and fruit juices don’t enjoy the same popularity in Japan as they do in the States and Europe. We’ll investigate tea a bit at the end of breakfast, er, the post.

So, are you ready? Let’s make another small kitchen miracle, and start the day off right!

Dashi is Japanese soup base, like a stock or a broth, but it’s more delicate in flavor, and makes a clear, subtly nuanced broth that’s gets its earth flavors from dried shiitake mushrooms, and the ocean accents come from kombu, dried kelp, and katsuobushi, dried and shaved bonito flakes. When I say “ocean accents,” I mean ocean, not fishy. When I smell a good dashi, I’m transported to the seaside, not the fish market. Dashi is the perfect foil for miso soup and Japanese egg drop soup, or mix a bit onto your scrambled eggs, and top them with a bit of nori. It can be used in okonomiyaki, for a really authentic potato pancake. And it’s a great poaching liquid for seafood.

Dashi

Ingredients

  • 4 cups filtered or spring water, plus more as needed.
  • 1 3 – 5″ square of kombu.
  • 1/4 ounce katsuobushi (omit for vegan version)
  • 1 leek, dry outer leaves removed. Remove the root tip, and cut about 2″ from the stem.
  • 4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, whole is best, but sliced is fine.

You can add to this list. Or delete from it. You can even either omit the katsuobushi or the kombu, but not both! Shiitake is not a traditional ingredient in dashi, but not unheard of. Sometimes, I like to add lemon rind, a slice of ginger, a halved garlic clove, maybe a few Szechuan peppercorns, any or all of the above. Lemongrass is very nice, sometimes. In some regions in Japan, they’ll add a bit of meat to the broth. And if you’d like to enhance the ocean-like aroma and flavor, throw in some shrimp shells if you have any saved. (You don’t? Tsk tsk.) Traditionalists may frown on you; NO SOUP FOR THEM!

Method

  • Add all of the ingredients except the katsuobushi a medium sauce pan
  • Bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat.
  • Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for thirty minutes. Add more water at intervals if necessary.
  • Remove the broth from the heat and add the katsuobushi. Stir, re- cover, and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
  • Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to get all the liquid, and discard the solids. I use a cheap white men’s handkerchief. I get ’em two for a dollar at the drugstore dollar aisle. Then Mark throws them in the garbage, thinking they’re paper towels!
  • Store in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container, or freeze for up to three months. Freeze it in ice cube trays, transfer to freezer zip bag, and any time you need some, pop out a few cubes…
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Soup

  • 2/3 to 1 cup dashi per person
  • 2 to 3 tsp white or yellow miso paste per serving

Additions

  • sliced green onions optional
  • Nori strips optional
  • Firm silken tofu, pressed and cubed optional
  • Agedofu, fried tofu strips optional
  • Small steamed clams optional

Place the miso paste in the bottom of a soup bowl. Bring the dashi to a simmer over medium low heat. Do not boil. Stirring, slowly add the dashi to the soup bowl. Add your choice of toppings. Unused dashi can be kept warm on the lowest heat setting for seconds.
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I mentioned above that I found rice for breakfast to be be odd. That’s because rice is basically tasteless. You’re supposed to eat the rice with something; a bite of pickles, a sliver of fish. You can top your rice with furikake too. It comes in little shaker jars in a variety of flavors. And I sometimes like to mix in a bit of krill marinated in soy. Krill are tiny little fish packed with calcium. I get them frozen at the Asian market.

You’ll need Japanese short-grain rice, the kind they use to make sushi. And water. That’s all. I use a small amount of rice, as I’m only cooking for two.

  • 3/4 cup short-grain rice
  • 1 cup spring or filtered water

Wash the rice several times with tap water until the water runs clear. You can do this right in your saucepan. Fill the saucepan with water and let the rice soak until the grains are opaque white, 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse. Add the filtered water to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for an additional 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
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Pickles complete the triumvirate of a Japanese breakfast. Breakfast is not complete without the three. Even prisoners, who may only get dashi as a soup, will get pickles with their rice!If you’re lucky enough to live near an Asian supermarket, you have access to a nearly limitless variety of pickles. Buy the smallest bags of the ones that look the most interesting to you, and mix and match them. If you like a little heat in your breakfast, a bit of chopped kimchi, which has become widely available in national supermarkets.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Onions

These “pickles” are easy and fast, ready to eat in about a half hour. They’re not really pickled, but they’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week. These pickles also make a great addition to a ham and Swiss sandwich with Kewpie mayo! On rye, please!

Veggies

  • 1 English cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, halved again and thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 3″ piece of dried kombu optional
  • 1 or 2 dried red chili pepper optional

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
  • 1/2 cup filtered or spring water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp sake optional
  • 3 tsp grated ginger optional
  • 5 or 6 Szechuan peppercorns optional

Place the sliced cucumber and onion in a colander over a bowl to catch the water. Sprinkle with about a tsp of the salt. Toss gently with your hands. Repeat 2 more times, and then set aside for 1/2 hour. Rinse under running water and empty the mix onto a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towel. Gently wring the excess water from the veggie mix, then spread the cucumber mix, the kombu, and chili pepper in a flat, shallow non reactive dish, like a glass cake pan. Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a 2 cup microwave safe bowl, and microwave at full power for 1 minute. Pour the hot liquid over the veggies. Let cool for 10 minutes, then cover with a clean towel or three layers of heavy duty paper towel. Place a dish on top to keep the veggies submerged. Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready for use. If you let these sit overnight, they’ll be delicious, but very different in flavor and texture from the freshly made product.
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This is by no means difficult, but it is a bit time consuming, as the fish needs to cure at least overnight, and is much better after thirty six to forty eight hours.You really don’t need the best salmon for this, although really good salmon is always a treat. I buy a pound of frozen, wild-caught skin on Pacific fillets, usually two to a package, and thaw them in the fridge.

  • 1 lb salmon fillets with skins on.
  • 2 tsp Japanese sake.
  • Salt equal to 5% of the weight of the salmon (550g x 5% = 27.5g).

Blot the fillets dry. Brush or sprinkle the sake on the flesh side of the fish and let stand for 10 minutes. Starting on the skin side, start spreading the salt. Turn and liberally salt the flesh side, and repeat on the skin side. Wrap the fillets tightly in 2 or 3 layers of paper towel and place flat in a covered container with a strainer on the bottom, to let the liquid drain (those refrigerator freshers are perfect). Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, and no more than 48. Keep in mind that the longer the salmon cures, the saltier it’ll be. I like it salty!

At this point, it’s up to you how to cook it. Basically bake, broil, or grill. Don’t use much oil, if any. I prefer the broiler. Cook using your preferred method until the meat is solid pink and solid to the touch, about 135°F (after you take it out, there should be enough residual heat to finish the cooking). Whichever method you use, start cooking the salmon with the skin side facing the heat, to get it nice and crispy. Turn the fillets carefully when the skin begins to crisp.

For those of you with an aversion to seafood in the morning (especially salted seafood), feel free to sub a small piece of teriyaki chicken breast.
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As I mentioned, I’m no good at making tamagoyaki. Kind of embarrassing! So if I serve egg, I’ll fall on a soft-cooked egg, all runny in the center, scrambled eggs, or a one egg plain omelet. I sure I don’t need to give you any directions on how to cook the latter two, but a lot of people struggle with soft cooked eggs. I have a foolproof way to cook them, every time!

Soft cooked eggs

In saucepan big enough to hold as many eggs as you’d like to make (up to 4. If you make more, I’d suggest cooking them in batches) with 3/4″ of water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Using a slotted spoon, place each egg carefully in the pan; the water won’t cover the eggs. Cover the pan and cook for exactly 6 1/2 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain, and cool under running cold water or with a quick ice bath. Peel carefully and slice lengthwise into quarters when ready to serve (if you want to keep them warm, place them, unpeeled, into a bath of warm water.

A sliced hard cooked egg works well, too. Add a drop or two of Tabasco or other hot sauce, or a light sprinkle of Japanese shichimi togarashi, a piquant and spicy blend of seven spices and herbs.
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I really debated on whether to suggest a simple salad with lettuce and sliced onions, dressed with a simple rice vinegar vinaigrette. But that seemed too similar in its flavor profile to the quick pickled cukes and onions. So I opted for the less traditional “mac” salad, of which there are two varieties: the Japanese mac salad and the Hawaiian mac salad. The difference is that the latter contains milk and vinegar, and is a bit more flavorful than the Japanese version. This is not like your mom’s picnic mac salad. It’s creamy, almost unctuous, even served cold, and the vinegar gives it a pleasant tang. The allspice will give your salad a savory touch that no one will be able to guess at. Since Japanese breakfasts are typically very low fat, a little scoop of this rich salad is a nice contrast. Just don’t pile it on!

Hawaiian “Mac” Salad

  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise I like Kewpie, the Japanese mayonnaise, for its complex flavors. Best Foods or Hellman is fine though. Hawaiians are about evenly divided, but they all agree that Miracle Whip has no place near a Hawaiian mac salad!
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 tbsp grated yellow onion
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup diced cooked ham substitute seafood, if you like
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 rib celery, diced

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni, reduce heat slightly and cook for 15 minutes, or until very soft. Hawaiians call it “fat.” Drain the pasta, return it to the pan, add the vinegar and toss . Let rest while you make the dressing. Mix together the mayo, milk, sugar, salt, allspice, and grated onion, and whisk to combine. Pour half the dressing over the pasta and mix well. When the salad has cooled, add the rest of the dressing, the ham, carrots, and celery, and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
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There are as many varieties of tea in the Far East as there are coffee in the West. Maybe more. Tea is consumed at every meal, and in between. The Japanese tea ceremony is known worldwide as a delicate and refined ritual that people study years to master, although frankly, I never got the whole tea ceremony thing, and matcha, the neon green, thick, frothy tea that’s served reminds me of something a Klingon might take as a potion during a cleansing ritual for battle. The stuff tastes bitter and awful!If you’re gonna go for Japanese tea for your breakfast, I’d suggest one of these four varieties: My favorite is genmai cha, it’s got toasted rice and popcorn in it. Yes, popcorn. Hoji cha is darker and nutty. Sencha is pretty much the Earl Grey of Japan, and exactly what you’d expect to taste if offered a cup of green tea. There are many different grades of sencha. The king of Japanese teas is gyokuro cha. Chinese teas are tasty for breakfast, too. Try oolong or jasmine, one of my favorites! Several of these teas come in handy teabags, and many are available at national grocery stores. I’d also like to introduce you to a great website, should you like to purchase your teas online. The website is very well-designed, and the pricing is very reasonable. Visit The Tea Spot for a wide variety of teas, both Oriental and Occidental.
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Gochisousama deshita!

That basically means “thanks for the meal.” I don’t usually write about food with a “healthy” theme, although I do write about healthy food. I’m of the mindset that healthy eating is all in the portion control. “Enough is as good as a feast,” as Mary Poppins would say. But a Japanese breakfast is very healthy. Lean protein, a bit of veggies and a little starch. The variations are endless. And delicious.

All of the Japanese ingredients in these little recipes can be found in Asian markets, or on the Internet. Amazon has got it all! Many of them can also be found at your local supermarket.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by, dear readers. I’d truly like this to be a “live” blog, so if you have comments, questions, corrections, or even critiques (keep ’em civil), I not only welcome them, I encourage them! Let’s talk about food! Please do contact me, or leave a comment on the site!

So until our next kitchen adventure, I bid you adieu. Stop in anytime! And remember, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon apètít!

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Broth, Stock, or Soup? Tonkotsu Ramen Soup

I’ve neglected you for far too long, dear readers, and I apologize profoundly. I’ve been dealing with health issues. And, this is exciting (for me, anyway) – I’m writing a book! A cookbook of course. Actually, it’s a series of cook booklets, each one dealing with a single subject. Flat breads and pizza will be the first published. I had an idea of how time-consuming writing a cookbook is, but I underestimated the effort and amount of time. And now I really know what writers’ block is. Stay tuned! Since I’m self-publishing I can choose the price of my booklets, and I can also offer promotions (like a free e-copy) to whomever I please. And that means you!

I’m sure you all know what ramen is. It’s thin noodles in a savory broth, accompanied by (usually) a slice of meat, some veggies, and a soft, or hard boiled egg (the egg is usually soft boiled then marinated, but that’s for another blog). Sometimes, the egg is added raw and allowed to poach in the hot liquid. The soup is most often flavored with either soy sauce, miso, or just salt. Oh, did I mention it’s usually accompanied by an ice cold Japanese beer. Yea!

The island of Kyushu has its own take on ramen, though. Famous throughout Japan, but not nearly as well-known here in the States, tonkotsu ramen uses a soup base made with pork bones, chicken bones, fatback, and seasoned with garlic, ginger, green onions, and shiitake mushrooms. It’s boiled, covered, for hours. Not simmered, boiled. The action of the rapid boiling emulsifies the pork fat into the soup, making it creamy and silky. Whenever I have tonkotsu ramen, I barely notice the noodles or toppings.

Which brings me to a literary conundrum. Is this a stock, a broth, or just soup? In Western cooking, stock is made with bones and no flavoring; broth is made with meat (but can include bones) and it’s flavored. I found this quote in Food and Wine magazine:

According to Heddings, “Broth is something you sip and stock is something you cook with.” Stock is used as a base in sauces and soups, but its role is to provide body rather than flavor. Broth, on the other hand, is designed to be flavorful and tasty enough to simply drink by itself, which is why the additional salt is so important.

So is this a stock, a broth, or a stand-alone soup? Honestly, I have no clue! My version doesn’t use just bones, the bones are attached to ham hocks. There’s no mirepoix, which both stocks and broths traditionally have, but it is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and green onions. It can be used in a recipe, or it can just be “sipped.” I’m thinking that, since it incorporates elements of both stock and broth, and can be eaten on its own, it’s probably actually a soup.

I researched several tonkotsu recipes, and they’re all pretty similar. Some are more labor-intensive than others. All take hours to make. Pork bones, chicken bones, and pork fatback are the standard ingredients. It’s usually seasoned with garlic, ginger, and onions or green onions (or both). Other ingredients vary among the recipes; tonkotsu recipes in Fukuoka are guarded as if they were state secrets, like gumbo in Louisiana.

I made this on a whim, though. The local supermarket didn’t have pork soup bones. They did have smoked ham hocks, though. I wasn’t about to cook a chicken just to get the bones. And there wasn’t any fatback, but they had very fatty salt pork; the fat is what makes the soup creamy. So I bought the ham hocks and the salt pork, and to make up for not having chicken bones, I used boxed chicken broth. Oh, and the ham hocks were smoked, something that is apparently verboten in the “haute ramen” world. So I really can’t call this “authentic” ramen soup. That said, put a couple of days aside, days where you’d just like to binge-watch reruns of Law and Order, finish that book you started last summer, or rearrange your closet and drawers, and let’s make some ersatz tonkotsu soup!

Tonkotsu Ramen Soup

Equipment

  • A large, heavy, lidded Dutch oven, preferably cast iron, or a stockpot with a tight-fitting lid. I’d recommend no less than a seven quart Dutch oven.
  • Good potholders. The Dutch oven gets screaming hot, and it’s very heavy, so you’ll need one for each hand if you plan on moving the pot during cooking.
  • Your preferred utensil for skimming scum.
  • A fine mesh strainer and some cheese cloth. Kitchen tip: go to your local drugstore and look in the dollar aisle. They usually have packs of two men’s cheap, thin handkerchiefs. Unlike cheesecloth, the hankies are reusable and their weave is smaller than cheesecloth. And they’re only a buck!
  • A bowl, large measuring measuring, empty bottle, or a pitcher. You don’t actually need this, but it saves you from having to transfer the heavy pot from the stove to the sink and back again

 

Ingredients

  • 2 to 4 pounds ham hocks. Frozen is fine, and the smoked ham hocks I used added a unique flavor, but you don’t have to use smoked
  • 1/2 pound fatback or salt pork, cut into roughly 3″ squares
  • 1 bunch of green onions, sliced into two inch lengths
  • 10 or so large shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves separated and smashed
  • 1 3″ finger of ginger, sliced into rounds
  • 2 cups less-sodium chicken broth or stock. If you have a chicken carcass, don’t use any broth or stock, just the carcass. You may want to opt for the stock, which is not as flavored as the broth. Homemade would be great, but store-bought is just fine. If you’re using salt pork, reduced sodium is important!
  • 1 cup of sake or Chinese rice wine
  • Water. About enough to fill a swimming pool!

 

Method

This is easy. It’s barely worth the effort of writing a recipe! But it takes sixteen hours, and you’ve got to babysit it, to make sure the liquid doesn’t get too low.

  • Place the ham hocks in the Dutch oven and cover with cold water. Not ice water, just cold water from the tap is fine.
  • Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. The bones and/or hocks need to be blanched to remove remaining blood, which can give the broth an unsettling color.
  • Remove the hocks to a bowl or strainer, and drain the pot. Give it a quick wipe.
  • Clean the hocks under cold running water, making sure to rid them of the remnants of blood and marrow.
  • Return the pot to the stove and add all of the ingredients. Add enough water to completely submerge the hocks.
  • Bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot as tightly as you can, and reduce the heat to medium low. The soup must remain at near-constant vigorous boil to emulsify the fat.
  • Check the soup for the water level every 45 minutes to an hour. Add hot water as needed. Continue for 12 to 16 hours. If you start in the evening and want to go to bed, heat your oven to 300°F and put the pot, covered into the oven. When you wake up, return the pot to the stove, bring it back to a boil, and resume the previous night’s check-the-water routine.
  • After 12 to 16 hours, remove the pot from the heat. Let it cool a bit so you’re not messing with boiling hot liquid.
  • Remove the hocks with tongs and discard.
  • Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer lined with a double layer of cheese cloth, and dispose of the solids. If you want to remove the fat that didn’t emulsify, chill the broth and skim the congealed fat from the surface. This isn’t strictly necessary if you’re actually making tonkotsu ramen; the fat will re-incorporate into the soup when you boil it for the ramen, and produce lovely little flavor beads of fat in the soup.
  • Store the soup in the refrigerator for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to three months.

 

If you used either smoked ham hocks, salt pork, or both, your final soup will be a bit salty. You can concentrate the soup, and then add a few tablespoons to a saucepan with water for your ramen to dilute the salt. And traditional tonkotsu is much lighter in color, almost milky, but that doesn’t affect the taste at all. Me? I’m going to add some gelatin to it so it’s solid at room temperature, and use it with a bit of seasoned ground pork to make Shanghai soup dumplings. But I haven’t made them yet, so I’ll share the recipe with you later; I’m sure you’re a bit tired of all my bread recipes!

As always, thank you reading! Comments, suggestion, tweaks, corrections and critiques are not only welcome, I encourage them! The wonderful thing about blogging is that you can communicate with your readers and they can communicate right back. I wonder how differently Mark Twain’s works might have been different had he had access to the internet! You can also contact me here I hope you’ll drop me a line! (Little Kitchen Miracles is the main title of my series of cook booklets.)

In the meantime, enjoy your soup, and remember:

Sing like no one’s listening, dance like no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

 

Bon apetítit!

Look! In the Oven! Is it Pita? Is it Naan?

No! It’s flatbread! The term “flatbread” is an umbrella term for many different kinds of bread, from all over the world. The main subdivisions are leavened and unleavened. Leavened flatbreads include naan, pita, and of course, pizza! Unleavened flatbreads are more cracker than bread, as they contain no yeast, although some might use a chemical leavening agent like baking powder. Think matzoh or chapati. Note to self; is bread leavened chemically pareve? Can they be consumed on Passover? Do I care?

I love leavened flatbreads. Naan, in particular, and pizza eternally. Naan is a pain to cook, though, because of the high heat it demands. I’d suggest just buying it. Stonefire makes regular, garlic, and whole wheat naan, and it’s becoming widely available at supermarket chains. Brush a little ghee (clarified butter), or olive oil on, throw it in a warm oven for a couple of minutes, and voila! The perfect accompaniment to nearly anything. Or, use it to make pizza! A flat bread by any other name, right?

The problem with homemade naan is that as it cools, it gets stiff and brittle. It doesn’t keep well at all as far as staling is concerned. Much as I love it, because of the nuisance quotient, I’ll relegate naan to Indian restaurants and supermarket packages.

Today, I offer an alternative to naan. It’s very similar to naan, but it’s thicker, puffier, and more pliant, even after it’s cooled, as long you don’t stretch it too thin when you knead it. It makes a great sandwich, a quick pizza, or just for dipping in hummus or tzaziki. Feel free to add a half teaspoon of garlic powder to the dough for extra flavor, but not more, as garlic affects the action of the yeast. And it’s pillowy soft, which gives my poor, aging dentition a break. My favorite thing about this bread, though, is that its so easy! Mixing the dough takes twenty minutes at most, with only a one-hour rise time! You do have to cook each round separately, unless you have a skillet or griddle the size of a small state, but the cook time is so short for each round, that you’ll have a nice batch of flatbread ready for lunch in no time. No preferments, no rising in the fridge for hours or overnight. You can literally make this bread on a whim (as long as you have the ingredients on hand, of course).

I still don’t have access to my stand mixer. We moved back here nearly two years ago, and my beautiful beater is still in a box in the garage somewhere. So I’ve adapted this recipe for Hubert, my trusty bread machine. But, if you’re using a bread machine, the only cycle you’ll use is “mix,” or whatever the corresponding cycle is.

In about two hours, you can have pillowy soft bread rounds sitting hot on the counter, ready for your dressings, toppings, fillings or dip. Let’s get to it!

Skillet Flat Bread

I adapted this recipe for Hubert (my bread machine). If youre using a stand mixer, or your hands, its not hard to reverse-engineer it. And I don’t do volume measurements any more, and I won’t apologize!
 As you can see from the formula, this dough is really wet. If it got any wetter, it’d be batter. But otherwise, its not much different from any other standard bread formula. The difference is in the order of ingredients, and there’s only one rise (and a rest at the end).
  • Combine the water and milk and warm briefly in the microwave. You’re looking for 90°F to 100°F. Add it to the bread pan with the sugar, the yeast, and about a third of the flour. Set the machine to “mix” and engage.
  • After about two minutes, add another third of the flour and the salt. Continue mixing for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until the dough comes together. Add milk a teaspoon at a time if the dough is too dry, or a pinch of flour if the dough is sticking to the sides. But you knew that, right?
  • Restart the “mix” cycle if you knead to (pun intended), and start adding the oil in small amounts, a teaspoon at a time, waiting until each teaspoon is incorporated.
  • Turn the dough out onto an oiled surface, give it a few turns and form it into a ball. Put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn it in the bowl to make sure the whole ball is coated, cover with plastic wrap and, (shall we say it all together?) place it in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour. (Amen.)
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead a few times. Separate the dough into twelve equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Spray or brush the balls with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let them rest for thirty to forty minutes. The dough will be very sticky. Instead of adding flour, lightly oil your hands.
  • One ball at a time, press each ball into a flat disc, then roll out to about 1/8” thick, 6” diameter circle, don’t make it too thin, it wont stay soft and pillowy. I really suggest partially rolling it, then finishing the shaping as you would a pizza. Place each round on a piece of paper towel and keep covered while working the rest of the pieces.
 
  • Heat a skillet, cast iron is best, on medium high heat, turn on your kitchen fan, open the doors and windows, and if you can, disable your smoke alarms! Spray the pan with a neutral flavored, high smoke-point oil. I like coconut oil.
  • Place a round in the skillet. When it starts to bubble, wait a moment more, then flip it with a spatula or tongs. It will bubble again. Remove the round to a paper towel lined plate and cover it with another paper towel. Or use fancy linen napkins that you kyped from an expensive French restaurant! I get cheap, flimsy handkerchiefs from the local dollar store. They take the place of cheesecloth too, when I’m straining soups or broth.
  • Repeat for each round, spraying the pan with oil for each round. You may find it necessary to remove the pan from the heat occasionally, to avoid excessive scorching. A few charred spots are actually desirable, though.
My husband and I devour this bread; we use it for dip (super for hummus or tzaziki!), sandwiches (think pulled pork ot chicken), last-minute pizzas, or just as a side for dinner or a salad. Conceivably, you could roll the dough very vey thin, and use it for a thin crust pizza!
Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, tweaks, or corrections. If you make this lovely bread, let me know how it turned out! Or just say “hey!”
I’ve been very “bread-centic” lately. Again, no apologies, I think I’ve found my passion! But I do promise a non-flour, non-yeast recipe in my next post!
Thank you for reading! And remember: Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening,  but cook like everyone’s eating!

Thanks again! Bon appetít!