Monday, February 14, 2011

Daring Cooks Challenge: Soba & Tempura (and Sushi too!)

This month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was right up my alley. We love Japanese food! The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and For the official recipes provided, visit the Daring Cooks.

Like any challenge, I like to put my spin on things too. In addition to the soba noodles and tempura, I decided to make some sushi to complete the meal. After a trip to the grocery store for ingredients, I spent a good 3 hours in the kitchen putting together a spectacular Saturday night dinner.

One of the things I’ve learned for big cooking projects with multiple dishes and steps is to take the time to create a game plan before starting. Otherwise things can get messy and out of control. Here is a quick overview of my process:

-Read through the recipes and take note of the prep and cooking times
-Decide what components can be made ahead of serving time and what has to be served immediately
-Create a schedule for cooking the meal (for example, chop first, make sauce next, and fry food last)
-Organize the ingredients by dish
-Take out all the measuring spoons and cups necessary for the recipes (nothing worse than finding out the one you need is dirty when you’re at a crucial moment in preparation)
-Take out the pots, pans, cutting boards, and utensils you will need (no digging through the cabinets with dirty hands)
-Turn on the TV to a good movie or put on your favorite music
-Start cooking!

For this challenge, my schedule was as follows:
1. Pour a delicious glass of wine

Thanks for the great wine Central Bottle!

2. Make the sushi rice
3. While the rice cooks, make sauce for the soba noodles and julienne vegetables for sushi and toppings
4. Blanch sweet potatoes and boil bean sprouts
5. Cook noodles and chill
6. Assemble, roll, and cut sushi
7. Plate noodles, garnishes, sauce and sushi
8. Ask hubby to clear and set the table
9. Make tempura, try not to burn myself
10. Serve dinner
11. Enjoy the meal and another glass of wine!

And now here’s a look at what I made! No recipes in this post, visit the Daring Cook’s link for the recipes for the challenge. But be sure to read through the end for a look at some vintage Good Cook Doris photos and a great story about the last time I made sushi at home.

Soba Noodles with Vegetables
The hubby loves noodles, not just macaroni and cheese. I usually don’t order noodle dishes when we go out because they are one-pot dishes. I love side dishes too much. So I let him choose the soba noodles. There were 5 different types of soba noodles at the store! He selected wheat and buckwheat noodles. Nothing too much to report on cooking here, I followed the directions on the bag and watched carefully to prevent overcooking. I made a simple dipping sauce combining vegetable stock, soy sauce and mirin. For extra flavor and saltiness I added a dash of fish sauce to top the noodles, I honored the challenge and kept it simple. We added julienned cucumbers, carrots, chopped scallions, and bean sprouts. The dish was simple, fresh, and delicious!

Vegetable Tempura
After frying, I found a penguin (my favorite animal!)

This was surprisingly simple to prepare. I chose a small assortment of my favorite vegetables to fry: sweet potatoes, green beans, and shitake mushrooms. For fun, I added a few carrots to the mix. I used raw vegetables, with the exception of the sweet potatoes. I blanched them until just tender.

Timing was everything for the tempura. I got everything ready and fried the vegetables just before we sat down to eat dinner. As with any fried dish, it is important to set up the assembly line and rack for the fried vegetables to rest.

To ensure the batter stayed light and airy, I placed an ice pack in a large bowl and then a smaller bowl on top to mix the batter (we don’t have an ice maker, I had to improvise). I used my trusty kids’ chopsticks to mix up the batter until just combined. I also don't have a skimmer, so I use my stainless steel potato masher to scoop fried foods out of the pot.

The dredged and battered vegetables took a 1-2 minute dip in 320 degree vegetable oil and emerged golden brown and perfectly crispy.

Homemade Spicy Salmon Rolls
The last time we made sushi was in September 2002. We had graduated from college in May and I had moved to Florida. The hubby was still in Boston and we were doing the long distance thing. One of our favorite things to do when he visited was go out for sushi. There was one place, Yoko, in West Palm Beach that we visited on Saturday nights of our weekends together. The owner, Yoko would sing karaoke along with the music videos on a huge big screen TV. If you’ve seen the pictures of the hubby and me, you’ll notice we are not large people. But we have an uncanny ability to consume obscene amounts of sushi.

One particular night at Yoko we placed our order for the Crazy Cat Roll (our favorite) and assortment of other rolls and nigiri, and excitedly awaited the free spicy noodle salad they served before the meal. We watched the waitress walk over to the sushi chef and present him with our order. He read the order and then said something to her. She pointed at us and he looked over with a look of disbelief on his face. He looked down at the order, back at us, and then back at the waitress. Then the waitress came back and told us that the chef wanted to confirm that we really wanted to order so much sushi. We assured her that yes, we did intend to order that amount. She walked back to the chef and relayed the message. He looked at us, shrugged his shoulders and then started rolling. I’m pretty sure he gave us even more rice than usual, but we couldn’t back down and ended up cleaning our plates and leaving completely stuffed.

So when we decided on another visit to make sushi at home, of course we made too much! I was living in my grandparent’s condo when I first moved there and we used her pots and pans. I remember the rice being really hard to make and extraordinarily sticky. When I asked the hubby if he remembered making the sushi, he said “Man that sucked, you can quote me on that. My hands hurt so badly after rolling all of that.” With that in mind, I present you with the pictures from September 13, 2002. You can see we gave up rolling. There is an uncut roll of sushi and two plates of rice with julienne vegetables artfully placed on top. You will also notice one of my grandmother’s favorite flea market finds hanging on the wall – the bag lady! This lovely lady has a porcelain face and an empty skirt into which you can stick grocery bags.

I’ve had the sushi rolling set in the cabinets for the past 8 years, but haven’t used them until this weekend. I was feeling confident and decided to make spicy salmon inside-out maki. I pulled out the “Easy Sushi” book from the back of the bookshelf and reminded myself how to roll properly. This time the rice came out perfectly (thanks to a little confidence and a foolproof recipe from Alton Brown). I mixed smoked salmon, mayonnaise and sriracha for my spicy salmon mixture. With the rolling station set up, I got to work. By pure luck, the package of nori I picked up was pre-toasted and ready to roll right out of the package. Two sheets, cut in half, made just the right amount of sushi for dinner and leftovers.

The Meal
With all of the dishes prepared and plated, it was time to eat! The meal was simple, clean, and flavorful. It was almost like eating out at a Japanese restaurant! The hubby’s cousin Becky got us a beautiful set of Japanese dishes for our wedding and this was the perfect opportunity to use it. Thanks Daring Cooks for such a fun challenge!

And thanks to the hubby for his help! Photographer, moral support, and chief dishwasher.

An added bonus? Lunch the next day! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

When He Fends For Himself: Using the Oven

Welcome back to another addition of "When He Fends For Himself". With wifey back in school for the semester, I'm back on my own one night a week. Since she's been taking classes for a year and half, being alone one night a week is not a shock to the system. I actually planned ahead and got a package of Wild Mushroom Lasagne from Vic, The Pasta Man (Fior D'Italia Pasta and Cheese), at the Russell's Garden Center winter farmers market in Wayland, MA. I've had his ravioli before and was excited to try something else of his. Knowing that the lasagne was frozen and would take while to heat up, I didn't dilly dally when I got home. I immediately got to work.

I chose to heat up the lasagne in the oven because even though it would take longer than the microwave, I knew it would end up tasting better. This is the first time I had to do anything with the oven for "When he fends for himself" so I'll walk you through my turning on the oven routine. The first thing I do is open up the oven to make sure nothing is in it. This is a product of my childhood. When I was about 10 there was a potato in the back corner of the oven that no one noticed for about a month. Have you ever heard of twice baked potato? Try twenty times baked potato. I remember the way it looked and felt when it was finally removed and am scared to have that be repeated.

 I also, always, turn the oven to 350. Why? Because everything can cook at 350. In my vast experience, no other temperature has been needed.

I let the oven pre-heat and in the meantime placed foil in a small casserole dish and set the lasagne on top. Once the oven was at the required temperature I put in my frozen dinner and ended up checking its status about every 10 minutes.

 After 30 minutes, a quick taste test revealed a done lasagne and dinner was about to be served. Honestly, I was so excited I almost pulled out the casserole dish without using a pot holder. I plated the lasagne, took my seat in front of the couch, turned on the Bruins/Habs game, and got down to business.

The lasagne was really really good. It had great mushroom flavor, was the right serving size for a growing boy like myself, and was covered in an incredible sauce. I can't recommend Vic the pasta man enough. I know this winter he's at least at the Natick and Wayland markets.

After the successful meal I basked privately in the glory of a job well done, but then reality set in. It was less then a week until the wifey had class and I would be fending for myself again. All week the anxiety will build and the pressure will be on. Won't you join me next week to see if I can survive another night alone? With your support I can do it. Who's with me?

Until next time....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Healthy Snack Wednesday: Cheese, My Favorite Snack

In addition to being Healthy Snack Wednesday, this is also the 200th post on Good Cook Doris! In honor of the occasion, I present to you my favorite snack and one of my favorite foods.  Cheese!  But first, a quick update on my semester in Anthropology of Food.

This week I've been busy working on my first paper of the semester, a food centered life history. I conducted an hour long interview, listened and transcribed my recording, and put together a narrative based on the interview data. It was a great experience. I love to talk with people about food. Food is something that everyone has experience with. Whether it's hunger, excess, likes or dislikes. Everyone has something to say about food! There are so many things that you can learn through talking with someone about food - their heritage, culture, religion, family history, personality, and more.

I'm used to quick, on the fly, interviews at farmers markets and food events. I don't always know that I'll be conducting an interview and of course won't have prepared questions. This was a structured interview with plenty of preparation time. I still have a lot to learn in the the interviewing department - like organizing my questions and narrowing my focus. There are so many things to cover that an hour long interview goes by in no time. 

One of the things I love to find out from people is if the way they are in the kitchen is the way they are in the rest of their lives. Think about it! Are you a rigid recipe follower? Is your desk perfectly organized with nothing out of place? Or are you a creative cook who whips up something new all the time? Are you spontaneous and like to beat to your own drum? Think about the people you know - it's a fun exercise when you are waiting for a late train or an appointment.

Now on to this week's snacking goodness! The winners of the popchips contest are at the end of today's post.

In the comments last week there were a lot of great snack ideas. I was surprised that more people didn't mention cheese. I could eat cheese for every meal of the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. Anything but blue or Swiss and I'm a happy girl. Because I spent my time writing instead of cooking this week, here are a few ideas for snacking that involve my favorite dairy product.

Cheese is great alone, but making your own cheese plate is even better. I picked up an assortment of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in DC when I was there over the holidays . I paired the three cheeses with assorted marinated olives (from the olive bar at Whole Foods), baby gherkin pickles, fig jam and toasted baguette slices. This satisfies my love for a variety of dishes. Also, you end up eating slower because of the number of items and often are full before the plate is empty. Here are a few close-ups of the delicious cheese.

Cowgirl Creamery Devil's Gulch with sweet and hot peppers

Mimolette...Almost looks like cantelope.

Serena Goat Cheese with ash on the rind

Another great way to build a cheese plate is to incorporate healthy vegetables and fruit. For an award show watching party, I put together sliced pears, cherries, cucumbers, and celery. The fruits paired wonderfully with the cheese. For the vegetables I made a quick cucumber dip with non-fat Greek yogurt. 

Of course you can just eat a few slices of cheese, but you're likely to eat more than you need. By pairing it with healthy accompaniments you have a delicious and nutritious snack.

What's your favorite cheese? If I was forced to pick my top cheeses, they would be brie, super sharp cheddar, and creamy goat cheese. 

Weekly trip to the Copley Square Farmers Market

Now for the winners! Each winner receives a 1-month supply of popchips!

Winner #1: Robin, who said, "I can't wait to try the quiches!"

Winner #2: Michelle, who left a comment on the Good Cook Doris facebook page.

Please email me at lara [at] goodcookdoris [dot] com and we'll make arrangements for you to get your prize. Thanks for entering and welcome to all the new readers!


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