Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies

I think this blog may need a new name, since I don't seem to talk about vegetables all that much. Right now, I am not going to break this trend, because I just want to take a moment to admire these cookies.


They're chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies, a Martha Stewart recipe that I found here. I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt (because the recipe didn't call for any) and I skipped the 20-minute chill after shaping the dough (because I got impatient). In retrospect, I don't think the salt was necessary, although it didn't make the cookies too salty. The thing is, molasses has a fair amount of potassium, which tastes salty. So next time, I'd leave out the salt. As for the 20-minute chilling time, it seemed perfectly fine to skip that, even if you're not in a hurry.

I found the cookies to be exactly what it says on the tin: chewy, chocolatey, and gingery, with a little bit of crispness from the granulated sugar coating. These are not subtle cookies, but that's what I like about gingerbread anyway.

Also, they came out looking pretty much exactly the way they're supposed to. They didn't spread out too much, the top cracked, the sugary coating was still visible. I've made plenty of batches of delicious cookies that looked wrong, so this was kind of a moment of triumph.

Okay, so there's that. Next time, I will definitely write about vegetables. Probably.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oatmeal-lemon-chocolate-chip cookies

A few weeks ago, when I was in LA, my great-aunt gave me a bag of lemons for my mom. This is what the front of the bag looked like:


Things I love about this: 1) There was a picture of happy dancing teeth on the bag. 1a) Happy dancing teeth with sunglasses. 2) Someone felt the need to write LEMONS on the bag of lemons. 3) This person also felt the need to cross out the happy dancing teeth before writing LEMONS.

The last of the happy dancing teeth LEMONS got used in a batch of cookies last week, when I got the need-to-bake-cookies itch. We were watching a movie about Leo Tolstoy, and I kept getting distracted by cookie ideas. Something with chocolate, but not just chocolate chip. Oatmeal chocolate chip with cinnamon? Seems too wintery. Oatmeal chocolate chip with lemon? I like oatmeal, chocolate, and lemon; surely this will go well. (The movie was interesting enough. I was just multitasking, which is a nice way of saying "distractable.")

Despite the lack of forethought that went into these cookies, they were really tasty, confirming my instinct that it's hard to go wrong with oatmeal and chocolate. They are chewy, slightly lemony, and very chocolatey. If you like the combination of chocolate and citrus, I think you'll like them.


Oatmeal-lemon-chocolate-chip cookies
Adapted from the Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies recipe from a Quaker Oats lid
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1.5 cups granulated sugar (see note below)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp molasses
1 generous tbsp lemon zest (I used two lemons)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the sugar and butter until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater, then add the eggs, vanilla, molasses, and lemon zest. Beat until smooth and scrape down the bowl and beater again.

Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and rolled oats) to a separate bowl and mix well.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chunks.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving room for the cookies to spread. Bake until golden brown on the edges and set in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack.

Note: The original recipe calls for 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. I substituted white sugar plus molasses for the brown sugar because I was nearly out of brown sugar, and I think this made the cookies chewier. Either way will work.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vegetarian kimchi 1.0

Okay, I am not very good at the food blogging thing. I completely forgot about taking pictures of the Korean tacos and kimchi potato salad that I wrote about last time. But I did make some fishless kimchi, and I do have some photos of that to put up, which is more interesting anyway.  Like this one:

The color got a little muted when I uploaded this picture.  Trust me, in real life, it is BRIGHT red.

Looking up recipes for kimchi can be intimidating because everyone has their own way of doing it. Some recipes make it sound easy, some get mystical and cult-like about the benefits of kimchi making, and some are just completely intimidating ("People who say they got it down after the first couple of attempts are either a) lying, b) geniuses, c) don't really know what good kimchi tastes like or d) have low standards and expectations."). After getting rather overwhelmed, I finally decided to just do it, which is a strategy that I should probably employ more often in life.

All of the recipes had certain ingredients in common: napa cabbage, uniodized salt, water, gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), garlic, green onions, ginger, and almost always fish sauce. Many of them also used onion and Korean radish, and some used dried salted shrimp. Some of the recipes called for a paste made of mochiko (rice flour), water, and sugar (or Asian pear); the sugar is supposed to help start the fermentation, and I think the mochiko is for texture. A couple called for an acidic ingredient, like vinegar or lemon juice.

The methods were more straightforward. First, you need to cut the cabbage into pieces and salt it, either by brining it or by coating it with dry salt, to inhibit the bad microbes and encourage the right kind of bacteria (Lactobacillus) to grow. Then you blend up everything else into a paste, usually using a food processor, and coat the cabbage leaves with the paste. Sometimes the cabbage sections are left intact (in which case they're sliced into bite-size pieces before serving) and sometimes they are chopped into pieces. You pack the whole mixture into a jar, leave it at room temperature for 24 hours, then put it in the refrigerator. And that's it.

Ultimately, I picked the intimidating recipe (from Eat, Drink, Man) because it was very specific, and I halved it so that I would only use one cabbage. I also tweaked the ingredients a little, mainly to avoid the fish sauce, since the point was to make vegetarian kimchi. I used gochujang (red pepper paste) instead of fish sauce, since I think it's more interesting than soy sauce (a substitute that I saw in a couple of places).

Kimchi, trial 1
1 napa cabbage (about 1300 g)
a lot of sea salt
1/4 cup mochiko (sweet rice flour)
3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
1/2 bulb garlic
1.5 oz ginger
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 bunch green onions, white parts whole, green parts sliced into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup sugar

I cut the cabbage in quarters lengthwise, rinsed it briefly, and thoroughly sprinkled it with salt.

I let it sit for about 4 hours, turning it over after 2 hours, then rinsed it three times. After doing this, it was way too salty, possibly because I used fine sea salt instead of coarse sea salt. Obviously, kimchi is supposed to be salty, but it shouldn't taste like eating a salt lick. So I soaked it in clean water for about an hour, changing the water periodically, which made it a lot more palatable.

I cooked the mochiko and water over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it bubbled, then stirred in the sugar. In the food processor, I blended the garlic, ginger, and the white parts of the green onions into a paste. I combined this with the mochiko mixture, then mixed in the green parts of the onions, the gochugaru, and the gochujang. I also added a bit of the liquid from the purchased kimchi to make sure there were some good bacteria in there, but I don't think this is strictly necessary. I let this mixture cool.  I was still trying to un-salt the cabbage, so there was plenty of time.

I cut the cabbage into strips and mixed it with the mochiko-garlic-gochugaru paste so that the cabbage was completely coated, then put everything in a big glass container.

(Sorry about the somewhat funky picture. It was the middle of the night.)

I put the jar into a plastic bag, then put the bag into a tupperware container, which I left in the garage for 24 hours. I checked it periodically and right around the 24-hour mark, I finally saw some bubbles. Then I put it in the fridge and went away for the weekend. When I came back about four days later, it was noticeably bubbly and starting to get sour.  Today, about two weeks later, more than half has been eaten and the remaining kimchi is definitely sour.

So what did I learn from this experience?

First of all, there was the salty cabbage problem, which was probably my fault for using too much salt and the wrong kind of salt. I read that the cabbage stays crunchier if you use dry salt instead of brining it, and my kimchi does indeed have a good texture. But I think brining would give you more control over the salt level, so that's what I'll try next time.  In any case, it showed that a) it's a good idea to taste the salted cabbage, and b) overly salty cabbage is not a dealbreaker if you soak it in plain water for a while.

Second, I thought the kimchi tasted pretty good even before the fermentation got started, which surprised me because I'm not a big fan of raw cabbage.

Third, this stuff has a powerful smell to it, more so than kimchi from a store. It's like driving through Gilroy during garlic season. There's a reason why my kimchi is stored in a tightly sealed jar wrapped in two plastic bags.

(Also, speaking of learning things: if I were a teacher, I would totally have my students make kimchi. The process of making kimchi, even more so than most cooking, is full of examples of scientific concepts that I learned in much less interesting and tasty ways: osmosis, diffusion, pH, lactic acid fermentation, gas laws, symbiosis... Yes, I'm kind of nerdy.)

Overall, this was a really satisfying project that I'd like to do again. It's possible that I don't know what good kimchi tastes like, or that I have low standards and expectations, but I really liked this kimchi. Also, I gave some to my Korean friend and he didn't laugh at me (very much) when he tried it, so I'll count that as a win.

Some references:
Eat, Drink, Man's kimchi page
Kimchi and Kaktugi from
Heidi's Kimchi Recipe
Closet Cooking's kimchi
The Paupered Chef's kimchi contest results

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Korean tacos and kimchi sweet potato salad

On Monday, I decided that I was going to make spicy Korean tacos, which I've been wanting to try since they became super trendy like a year and a half ago.  Since I don't live in LA, nor do I have the patience to track down the Kogi truck anyway, making them myself seemed like my best option. In order to do this, I needed to acquire some gochujang (red pepper paste) and some vegetarian kimchi, and I decided that it would be a good excuse to find a Korean grocery store. (I like going to grocery stores. Yes, I am weird, news at 11.) And that's how I ended up wandering around in Hankook for at least half an hour, probably more like forty-five minutes. I may have lost track of time a little bit.

There were many kinds of gochujang. I'm not sure you'd find that many kinds of ketchup in a standard American grocery store. I wanted a container the size of an index card box (do people even use index card boxes anymore? suddenly I feel old), not a five-gallon container, which narrowed it down to a couple of varieties. They were the same brand and their ingredients were very similar, but one of them had some additional seasoning and slightly less sodium. Beyond that, I'm sure the packaging explained the difference quite clearly to people who can read Korean, a category that I definitely don't belong to. I ended up choosing the plainer one, more or less at random. When I opened up the container, there was a plastic flap on the inside that said "NO!" along with a bunch of other Korean writing.

I think it probably says something like "NO! MSG" or "NO! artificial ingredients," but it could say "NO! don't use this as an ice cream topping" or "NO! dilute! dilute!" with equal accuracy, and I would not know the difference.

There were also many kinds of kimchi. In addition to the jars and packets of kimchi, there's a section of the store that sells prepared food in bulk, like the salad bar at Whole Foods, and a large proportion of it is kimchi. But for all that, it turns out that there is no such thing as vegetarian kimchi. It all has shrimp and anchovies, kind of like all Vietnamese food has fish sauce. (I swear I've seen kimchi that is just cabbage, salt, and red pepper...but it might have been Japanese kimchi, and Japan is the country that decided it was a good idea to put corn and mayonnaise on pizza, so.) Anyway, after I'd looked at about fifteen different kinds of kimchi, I finally found a package that did not list anything fishy in its English ingredients. The problem here is that products sold in the US have to have an English ingredient label, but sometimes the translation is...loose. In this case, after I'd gotten home, I realized that there were cute little icons on the front depicting cabbage, peppers, garlic, ginger, shrimp, and fish.

Sigh. I used it anyway, because I'm the worst vegetarian ever.  (I'm a vegetarian mainly because I object to how animals are treated on factory farms, not because I feel a deep mystical connection to animals. As such, in situations where I have to choose between eating an animal product or wasting food, I tend to believe that eating the food is the lesser evil.) In any case, next time I'm making my own darn kimchi.

The tacos probably made my non-existent Korean and Mexican ancestors spin in their graves, but they were pretty good (and also INCREDIBLY spicy). I modified the recipe by just cooking the tofu with the sauce, rather than coating it with the sauce and then deep-frying it. This made me feel all health-conscious, but honestly, I'm sure I would have liked the deep-fried version better.

I also made kimchi sweet potato salad, omitting the mayonnaise (because I can't stand it) and the bacon (because so far, there are no pigs made of vegetables), and that was pretty awesome. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for both sweet potatoes and kimchi, but I think they do actually work well together.

I'll add pictures of the actual food to this post tomorrow.

Update: I clearly flaked out on taking pictures, but I did make My Own Darn Kimchi, which you can see over here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

summer salad number one (peaches, tomatoes, and shiso)

This salad, which was part of dinner tonight, reminded me why I like summer.

It's a four-ingredient salad:

1. super-ripe peaches
2. tomatoes (these were green zebra tomatoes, which taste like...tomatoes)
3. shiso, a fuzzy Japanese herb with a flavor that is hard to describe
4. a drizzle of olive oil

I've also made this with peaches, tomatoes, and basil. There, the combination of tomatoes and basil is expected, and the peaches are the unusual element. Tonight I wanted to use basil in another dish, so I decided to try shiso instead, and now I'm completely intrigued by the concept of combining shiso and fruit. Who knew?

Hooray for summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Raspberry brownies

In lieu of my usual verbose introduction, I will just say this: if you like chocolate and raspberries, you will like these brownies. They're thick and moist, and they have a definite raspberry flavor. It's a little time-consuming to strain out the raspberry seeds, but it is definitely worth it. No photograph, once again, but you know what brownies look like, right?

Raspberry brownies
adapted from Fine Cooking and words to eat by

To substitute semisweet chocolate for unsweetened chocolate in this recipe, use 4 oz. semisweet chocolate and reduce the amount of sugar by 1/4 cup.

4 oz. (8 Tbs.) unsalted butter, plus some for the pan
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1-1/2 cups sugar
Scant 1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4-1/2 oz. (1 cup) flour
2 Tbs. natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
12 oz. frozen raspberries
optional: about 1/2 cup chocolate chips to sprinkle on top

1. Put the frozen raspberries in a small pot over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has broken down and the volume has reduced somewhat, 20-30 minutes.

2. While the raspberries are cooking down, place an oven rack on the middle rung and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan (so that the parchment will stick), then line the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.

3. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double-boiler or in the microwave. Cool slightly, then pour into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated.

4. Pour the cooked raspberries through a strainer to remove the seeds. Use a spoon or a spatula to force as much pulp as possible through the strainer; this should yield about 1/2 cup of raspberry pulp. Discard the seeds and thoroughly stir the pulp into the chocolate mixture.

5. Add the flour and cocoa powder to the chocolate mixture and stir until just incorporated.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the top, if you like. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs, 35-45 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool, then cut into squares.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lychee lime granita

Hello, internet! I haven't forgotten about this blog, contrary to all appearances. I've just had a combination of lack-of-inspiration, lack-of-actually-cooking, and lack-of-photogenic-food in the last few months. I still don't have any food photos, but I do have a super-easy summery recipe. And I swear I won't wait three months before I post again.

I don't have an ice cream maker, so granita is my homemade frozen dessert of choice. This is a little surprising because descriptions of granita tend to make it sound completely uncompelling. Its Wikipedia entry says it is a "semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings", and I think I've read that "granita" means "grainy" in Italian. Mmm, grainy. But once I got over my skepticism and tried making it, I discovered that it was a perfect light dessert. It's also incredibly easy to make: you just have to make a syrup, put it in the freezer, and remember to stir it up every half hour or so. The final product is something like shave ice, but with the flavoring in the ice instead of poured over it.

Recently, I was inspired to make granita by this recipe on the Pioneer Woman Cooks (possibly the only vegan recipe I've ever seen there), plus a giant bag of limes that we got for about a dollar. Instead of making a syrup, I used the syrupy liquid from a can of lychees, because I love lychees even though they look like what you'd get if you applied a melon baller to a raw chicken breast. They have a unique, sort of floral flavor. You could use another kind of canned fruit syrup, but I'm pretty sure that you can buy canned lychees at Safeway, even though they're an exotic fruit. If not, I think they're definitely worth a trip to an Asian grocery store.

Lychee lime granita
Two notes: 1) I have to be annoyingly imprecise here because the lychee can was not an American standard size, and I don't remember exactly how big it was. But the exact proportions aren't too important. If it tastes good before you freeze it, it'll be fine. 2) In the past, I used a glass pan to freeze granita, which was fine except that the granita tended to freeze onto the sides. This time, I accidentally discovered that this is not a problem if you use a plastic container, like a reusable ziploc food storage box.

1 can of lychees (about 20 oz.)
3-4 limes

1. Drain the liquid from the lychees into a freezer-safe container and reserve the lychees. Juice three of the limes into the container, then taste the mixture. Add the juice from the fourth lime if you like.

2. Cover the container and place it in the freezer for about an hour. Remove the container from the freezer and stir the granita with a fork to break up the ice crystals, then return it to the freezer.

3. After half an hour, remove the granita and scrape it with the tines of a fork, using a raking motion. Continue to scrape the granita every half hour until it is completely frozen (2-3 hours, depending on the size and shape of the container). If it hardens too much to scrape easily, which may happen if you store it overnight, just let it warm up a bit.

4. Serve with the reserved lychees or other fruit.