Friday, September 21, 2018

Shrimp Rolls.

Shrimp rolls.
So versatile.
So many flavors and textures.
Visually appealing.
Palate pleasing.
So good!

Let's start with the fillings.
These vary every time I make these rolls,
but here's what I had on hand today.

Top cutting board (clockwise from top left): 
 green onion
green beans
Chinese cabbage 

And yes.
I'm putting green beans in the rolls.
Because I have them.

Bottom cutting board:
water chestnuts
cooked shrimp
aromatic herbs - basil and mint

The green beans need a bit of prep-work
before they go into the shrimp rolls.
I nuked them in a little water
for a couple of minutes,
then I sautéed them in some sesame oil
and added sesame seeds.
Slice them lengthwise to use in the rolls.

Also ...
You'll need some sushi rice
which I cooked according to package directions,
then sprinkled sushi vinegar over it
before fluffing it up with a fork.
And ...
some spinach and mixed greens from the garden

Have all ingredients prepared.

Now, I'm ready to roll!

You'll need rice paper.

Place rice paper sheets in warm water
until just pliable.
Maybe 20-25 seconds.
Not too long, else they'll disintegrate

Place paper on board and start filling.
I start with some greens and sushi rice.

Then I add some shrimp.

Then an assortment of julienned vegetables.

Resist the temptation to overload.
The paper will split.

Add some aromatic herbs.
Basil and mint.

And start rolling.
After a full turn,
tuck in the ends and continue rolling.

Like so.
Ahhh...  the advantages of a misspent youth.

Each one is a little different.

Some of my papers are triangle-shaped.
Keep on rolling.

Roll until you've used up everything.

Slice rolls diagonally and serve with dipping sauces.

Sauce #1:
1/4 cup honey
1 TB rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 TB dice cucumber
1 TB sliced green onions
1 TB toasted peanuts, chopped
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes (to taste)

Sauce #2:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 TB sesame seeds, toasted
1-2 tsp sriracha sauce (to taste)


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Use Your Noodles!

I live to serve my little vegetarian.
And I'm getting good at it.
You won't even miss the meat here.

I had assorted vegetables in the fridge.
I had linguini in the pantry (artisanal at that).
And I had the makings of a highly flavorful sauce.

For the noodles:
Cook linguini according to package directions.
You want al dente.
And save some of the pasta water.

For the sauce:
2 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch cube fresh ginger, minced and juiced
(I run mine through a garlic press, scraping the pulp into the pan.)
1 shallot, minced
3 TB sriracha suace
1/4 cup Tamari sauce
1 TB rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 TB mirin
1 TB cornstarch 
 1 cup vegetable stock
In a small saucepan, heat sesame oil over medium heat.
Add in garlic, ginger, and scallion
and cook, stirring for about a minute.
Add in sriracha, Tamari, vinegar, sugar, and mirin.
Dissolve cornstarch in a little of the stock
and pour into the pan.
Cook, stirring, until thickened,
then gradually stir in the rest of the stock.
Heat through and let thicken.

For the vegetables:
The vegetables here are up to you.
I happened to have broccoli, zucchini, and snow peas,
so that's what I used.
 You could go with carrots, bok choy, celery, squash,
to name a few.

Cut broccoli into florets and cube zucchini.
Trim snow peas.
In a medium skillet over medium high heat,
 heat about 2 TB sesame oil.
Add in the broccoli and cook, stirring,
about 2 minutes.
Add in zucchini and snow peas
and cook another minute, stirring.
Salt to taste.

For the assembly:
Add the linguine (with a little of the pasta water)
to the vegetables.
Pour in the sauce and heat through.
Serve with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Now, about that pasta.

 I’ve made my own pasta for years.  I don’t like boxed pasta.  It tastes like the box – like cardboard.  It’s amazing how four simple ingredients – flour, water, eggs, and salt – can somehow combine at home and then at a factory and produce two entirely different results.  That said, let me introduce you artisanal pastas.  I used the imported artisan Italian pasta from Fresh Market.  It is vastly superior to domestic, factory-processed pasta.  This pasta is not made by individual artisans by hand, but it is made in small batches in a semi-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.  In the manufacturing process, the pasta is extruded through bronze dies, as opposed to the modern, faster, and cheaper method of using slick Teflon plates. Bronze die-cut pasta produces a pasta with a more textured, rougher finish, making the pasta superior at gripping the sauce. The pasta is also very slowly dried, again resulting in a coarser surface to which the sauce can better adhere. All this gives the pasta a more complex flavor.   One is able to cook the imported pasta to that perfect degree of toothy tenderness – al dente.  In addition, the pasta swells considerably, meaning it will go farther, pound for pound, than domestic, American-made pasta.  Plus, there’s the flavor!

When you cook pasta, if you’ve been straining it into a colander and letting the pasta water go down the drain, then you’ve been doing it wrong.  Stop immediately!  Save that liquid gold.  By liquid gold, I mean the pasta water.  Do not drain the water into the sink.  Save that starchy, salty, cloudy liquid.  When you cook your pasta, stop just short of al dente.  Add a bit of the pasta liquid to the sauce in which you’ll be finishing off your pasta and it will combine luxuriously to create a silky, smooth emulsification.  The starch in the water allows the pasta to absorb the sauce as it finishes cooking, infusing the pasta with flavor.  It’s a beautiful marriage between the noodles and sauce - a sauce that your pasta will eat up.

This was delightful.
Got a thumbs up from my little vegetarian,
so Rosie is happy.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


 You should make your own hummus.  I'm here to tell you how.

One day, one of my little Hawthornelets showed up with a tub of grayish matter from one of the local supermarkets.  And he proceeded it.  It was "hummus," he said.  Well, I guess it was and it wasn't.  Sorta like Schrödinger's Cat.

I tried it.  I didn't like it.  Then, like so often, I started thinking, which in and of itself is not all that bad a thing - only when I start acting on it can it go south.  But I digress.  So's I said to myself, "Self?  You can do better than this.  You can make this ...  palatable!"  So I did.

Since then, I've made hummus many times.  And, like so many things I make, there is no set "recipe."  I never measure any more.  And it's never quite the same, but it's always good.  I can give you guidelines and tips, but you've got to take it from there and run with it.

First, what is hummus?  Hummus is a Middle Eastern dip/spread made out of:
sesame seeds
lemon juice
olive oil
All done up in a food processor.  Start with the basics, then add in your seasonings.  It can be bland as white bread.  Or it can be amped up to, dare I say, sophisticated levels of flavor.  It's up to you.

First, I want to talk about the chickpeas AKA garbanzo beans.  This is the main ingredient, so don't skimp here.  Use DRIED beans.  NOT CANNED.  (I never use canned beans, so don't even get me started down that road.)  To get a velvety smooth, creamy consistency in your final product, you need to try two little tricks:
  The first trick is baking soda.  Soak your dried chickpeas in water with baking soda added to it.  If you have time, soak the beans overnight.  If not overnight, a few hours is better than nothing.
  My second trick - peel the chickpeas.  Every last one.

For the garbanzo beans/chickpeas:
Yield:  1 cup cooked beans

 1/4 cup dried garbanzo beans
 baking soda
 kosher salt

 Rinse beans, then cover with an inch or so of water and add a teaspoon of baking soda to the pot.  Stir to dissolve.  Let sit overnight or, at least, for a few hours before cooking.

What does the baking soda do?  It raises the pH, making the beans more soluble.  That means they're going to cook quicker.  The baking soda helps in breaking down the pectin in the beans, softening the skins, giving you a head start on the peeling.  Actually, a lot of the peels will disintegrate and be sloughed off during the simmer, so you just need to give the beans a thorough rinsing.  It all works to yield a creamier hummus.

After the soak, rinse the beans again and return to the pot.  Cover with water and stir in a teaspoon each of baking soda and salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Watch the pot, skimming off any of the scum that rises to the surface.

Simmer for about 30-45 minutes, then drain beans, rinsing off any skins.  The beans are not done yet, but they're ready to be peeled.  Peel each and every chickpea.  I use a paper towel and squeeze gently to pop the bean out of its skin.  The skin will adhere to the paper towel.  You want to do this peeling BEFORE the beans get too soft from cooking.  If you simmer too long, you'll get mushy peas and they'll be impossible to peel.

Put the peeled peas back in the pot, cover with water, and continue simmering until the peas are very tender.  About another 30-45 minutes or more.  I don't think you can overcook at this point, so don't obsess over it.
Drain chickpeas.

This is what the peas look like after the first simmering.

You can see that the skins are already starting to slough off.

Individually peel the rest of the garbanzo beans.
Those are cooked chickpeas on the left, dried beans on the right.
Now, set the cooked and peeled chickpeas aside and start on the tahini paste.

For the tahini paste:
The next ingredient in hummus is tahini paste, which is simply toasted sesame seeds processed with a little olive oil and some kosher salt to perk it up.

Evenly spread out about 1/2 cup sesame seeds on a baking sheet.
Toast until lightly browned. 
I left the packet of raw seeds in there so you can see the difference in color.

Now, about those sesame seeds.  You can go to the baking aisle and buy them in the spice rack, but don't do this.  You'll be paying way too much, as in 2-3 times more than necessary, depending on brand.  Go to the Hispanic section and buy the little plastic packets - 1 1/2 ounces - for 79¢ each.
1/2 cup is 2 of those little packets.

In a mini-processor, process the toasted and cooled sesame seeds with a neutral olive oil until the mixture is smooth.  I used about 1/4 cup of Extra Light Bertolli Olive Oil.  I don't want the olive oil flavor to overpower the sesame seeds so I use a neutral oil.  Also, I want more of a pourable tahini, not a paste, so I ended up using 1/4 cup of the oil.  Add a tablespoon of oil at a time, processing as you add, until nice and smooth.

I'm making more tahini than I need for the hummus.  I'm only using 1/2 for the hummus, but I made extra just in case.  Remember to taste test!  You can always add in more tahini if you like. It's up to you and your taste buds.

 And I have an idea for the leftover tahini, so don't worry about it.

Process toasted seeds with a neutral oil until smooth.

Like this.

Now make the hummus:
1 cup cooked and peeled garbanzo beans/chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup+ liquid (I used both some water from the drained peas and some neutral olive oil.)
2 garlic cloves
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin
kosher salt, to taste

Process the garlic cloves and lemon juice.
Add in the chickpeas and keep processing.
Add tahini and process.
Add olive oil and water and process until super smooth.  There's always a little water left in the bowl with the cooked chickpeas after I've drained them.  I use that along with enough olive oil until I get the consistency I want.
Add cumin.
Taste test and season with salt and more cumin, if desired.
Process.                                                      yt
Take your cooked and peeled chickpeas.
1/4 cup dried chickpeas = 1 cup cooked
Those are the dried on the left, cooked on the right.  They plump up a lot.

You want the texture smooth and scoopable.
This looks good.

For processing with the hummus, I always use a neutral olive oil, my go-to oil being Bertolli's Extra Light.

When I'm serving the hummus, I always make a well in the middle and pour in a really flavorful oil for dipping.  My current favorite is Corto extra virgin olive oil.  
I don't think this particular oil is available in stores on the beach, so I'd recommend going to an olive oil store, like Outer Banks Olive Oil, and taste test before you buy.

Now comes the fun part - the tarting up.
Make a well and pour in some really good extra virgin olive oil.
Then grind some pepper in the well.
Some toasted sesame seeds if you like.
Then sprinkle on some cumin.  Some red pepper flakes.  Some togarashi, which is a spice blend of red chiles, black and white sesame seed, nori, poppy seed, and orange and lemon zest.

Now, there are lots of other accoutrements you can serve this with.  I'll get into those later.
But first, you've got to have something to scoop the hummus up with.
I like to make my own scoops.

Stack flour tortillas and cut into wedges.

Pour some oil onto two large baking sheets and put a couple pats of butter on each.
Place in oven and heat to 300°.
When the butter is melted, take the tortilla triangles and dredge through the oil/butter mix, both sides, and place on the sheets.  Cover the sheets with the wedges.  Sprinkle with cumin and cayenne and/or togarashi seasoning.  Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate trays and bake about 10 minutes, until wedges are crisp and lightly browned.
Cool on racks.

And serve!

Now that you have the basic recipe for hummus, use it as a starting point for your take on this Middle Eastern staple.  If you prefer more or less garlic, lemon, or tahini, then simply adjust.

After you've got your hummus, there are all sorts of toppings to consider:
feta cheese
Kalamata olives 
jalapeno peppers
caramelized onions
artichoke hearts
pine nuts
pomegranate arils and walnuts
sundried tomatoes and basil
cayenne peppers
roasted garlic

It's like a smorgasbord!
 Pick and choose your flavors.

 Remember I said I doubled the tahini sauce?
Here's what you can do with the leftover:

 Steamed Broccoli with Tahini Dip
2 TB tahini paste
2 TB lemon juice
1 TB apple cider vinegar
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine first three ingredients, then whisk in olive oil.  Season to taste.  Top with additional toasted sesame seeds.
Serve with steamed vegetables.