Back to the roots

Back to the roots 12 Mar

Back to the roots

I mentioned a while back that I had the opportunity to attend a cooking class with an amazing local chef at Get Cooking Edmonton. During the class, the instructor, Kathryn, mentioned that she was going to be teaching a Japanese class in the near future, which naturally grabbed my attention immediately. I offered to provide her with a few recipes, which she graciously accepted.

After looking over the recipes, Kathryn offered to let me attend the class as a “special guest”. Alas, my schedule was just too full, and I had to decline.

Nah, I’m just messing with you. I jumped at the chance. Getting to watch a pro in action is a huge treat for me, so I was extremely grateful for her generosity.

Maybe it’s just my ego talking, but I thought the class went over quite well. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and folks were blasting questions at me so fast I thought I was playing paintball. I just hope I was able to provide them with semi-coherent answers.

Kathryn asked me to return for a second class, at which point I figured I should brush up on my nihonryouri.

That’s Japanese cooking, if you were wondering.

On a recent road trip to Calgary, AB, I stopped in at a popular Japanese restaurant and had a lovely buta no shogayaki dish. While it’s not “fancy” by any stretch of the imagination, I still love that stuff. It’s tasty, it’s easy to make, and it’s fast. What’s not to like?

Oh, by the way:
buta – pork
shoga – ginger
yaki – grilling/grilled

So, ginger pork. The second most popular pork dish in Japan. As with most of the food I eat in restaurants, I decided that I needed to be able to make it at home, and given my newfound motivation to expand my nihonryouri arsenal, I began searching through my culinary library to see what I could find.

To my surprise, I had a few different versions of this fantastic dish. Sumo being Sumo, I did a little mixing and matching of ingredient amounts and cooking techniques, and came up with a fairly tasty creation.

Now, before I get to the recipe, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the star of this dish, the pork. One might think that all pork is created equal, but that’s just not the case. For starters, to make buta no shogayaki, you need a nice, tender cut of pork. Namely, the tenderloin. Now, you could head down to your local grocery store and find pork tenderloin, but in my experience, grocery store meats can be a little on the flavorless side. Granted, you’re going to be adding flavor to this dish, but what’s the point of eating pork if you can’t taste, well…..pork?

On the other hand, if you have a kickass butcher like I do, then your pork woes are over. Your butcher can not only provide you with quality meat, but they can also recommend an alternative to pork tenderloin if you’re on a budget.

HOWEVER, my friends, if you want the pinnacle of porcine perfection in nihonryouri, then you need to find yourself some Berkshire pork. Berkshire pork, known as kurobuta (black pig) in Japan, is the most flavorful pork you will ever has the privledge of putting in your mouth. If you’ve ever heard of wagyu, or Kobe beef, kurobuta is widely considered to be the pork equivalent to wagyu.

Back to the roots

Fortunately (for me, at least), a local pork farm specializes in raising these beautiful, tasty animals. Any pork that enters my kitchen originates from that farm.

And then ends up in my belly. Circle of life, y’all.

Anyhow, since I’m sure that you’re tired of my pontificating, on with the show:

Buta no Shogayaki

1 lb pork tenderloin, thinly sliced. REALLY thin. Like, paper thin.
1/3 cup shoyu (Japanese soy sauce – Sumo recommends Kikkoman)
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
2 tbsp sake (Japanese rice wine)
2 tbsp grated ginger
canola oil
toasted sesame seeds

In a bowl, mix together shoyu, ginger and mirin.

Add pork slices then marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Remove pork from bowl then reserve the marinade.

Add small amount of oil in a wok, turn heat on high then once it starts to smoke sauté meat for around 2 minutes. You may want to do this in batches, in order to avoid over cooking the meat.

Pour marinade into pan then stir for 30 seconds. If you’re cooking the pork in batches, add the marinade in batches as well.

Remove from wok then serve over rice, and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds. Shredded cabbage is the “traditional” companion, but I had it with some pickled daikon and carrots.

Fried chicken, Jap style 1 Mar

Fried chicken, Jap style

My grandmother, the best cook I have ever known, was famous (in our family, at least) for ensuring that no one ever walked away from her table hungry.  Mostly because by the time you were finished eating, you couldn’t walk.  There’s a reason why I’m called Sumo, folks.

In restaurants, this dish is known as chicken kara age.  Normally, it looks like a plate of wings and mini drumsticks; my version is made from chicken breasts.  I just find it easier that way – no annoying bones to worry about.

1 lb boneless and skinless chicken breasts/chicken thighs (cut into small pieces/cubes)
3 inches fresh ginger (peeled and pounded with a mortar and pestle to extract 2 tablespoons of ginger juice)
3 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp sake
1/8 tsp sesame oil (optional)
Corn starch to coat the chicken
Oil for deep frying

Fried chicken, Jap style

Use paper towels to pat dry the chicken pieces and transfer to a bowl. Add in sake, ginger juice, soy sauce, sesame oil (optional) and marinate for 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces out of the marinate and coat them evenly with corn starch. Shake off excess.

Heat up a wok/pot of cooking oil (I have a deep fryer, which is a helluva lot easier). When the cooking oil is hot enough for frying, drop the chicken pieces into the oil and quickly deep fry them until they float. Transfer them out onto a plate and wait for a couple of minutes. Put the chicken back into the oil and deep-fry until golden brown and crunchy. Dish out to a plate or bowl lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil, serve hot with a slice of lemon and mayonnaise.

Cold Day Comfort Food 26 Feb

Cold Day Comfort Food

When I woke up this morning, it was bloody friggin’ cold, which I suppose is to be expected at the end of August here in Canada. After nearly two months of temperatures in the mid to high 20’s, waking up to a 6 degree morning was less than pleasant.

(For any non-metric folks out there, think 77 F to 42 F.)

Colder weather always seems to put me in the mood for some form of comfort food, and few things are as comforting to me as macaroni & cheese. I’m not talking about that crap that comes in the box with the powdered “cheese”, but actual, honest-to-goodness mac & cheese, made from scratch.

I’ve made plenty of mac & cheese in my life, a fact in and of itself that demanded that I try something different. Originally, I intended to create a variation based on a classic cheese fondue, with Gruyere, Emmentaler , and Appenzeller, but to my dismay, I learned that my cheese shop closed its doors permanently. Sumo being Sumo, I employed my superior improvisational skills and came up with a new plan.

Cold Day Comfort Food

It goes without saying that the new plan was entirely dependent on the types of cheeses I was able to find in the grocery store, but I was able to find some that I like, so it all worked out.

8 oz dried pasta (I used shells)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
2 tbsp flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dry mustard
Couple pinches of freshly ground pepper
Couple dashes of sweet paprika
2 cups whole milk

grated cheddar cheese, about 2/3 cup
grated mozzarella, about 2/3 cup
grated Emmentaler, about 2/3 cup
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs

Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain. Place cooked pasta in a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 400° C.
Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and salt and whisk until mixture is bubbly. Stir in the dry mustard, ground pepper, and paprika. Add milk gradually, whisking constantly.
Cook over low heat, whisking constantly until thickened.
Reserve ¼ cup of each of the cheeses. Add the rest to the saucepan with the milk and stir until melted. Add the cheese sauce to the cooked pasta and mix until it’s evenly coated. Transfer the pasta to a 9×7 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese.
Melt the remaining butter and combine with the bread crumbs and mix well. Sprinkle over the cheese topping. Bake until hot & bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes.

Pork. And more pork. And a little starch. 23 Feb

Pork. And more pork. And a little starch.

So there I was last week, sitting at the table, trying to figure out what to do with the leftover bacon from my bacon waffle experiment (I promise, I’ll come back to that one). I tossed about the idea of bacon wrapped shrimp (yum!), bacon wrapped scallops (double yum!!), then I had an epiphany – I’ve never tried wrapping bacon around PORK before! In my head, it sounded somewhat similar to filet mignon, which, let’s be honest, is friggin’ amazing. With that in mind, it was off to the grocery store to obtain some nice pork tenderloin.

But, just wrapping a strip of bacon around a piece of tenderloin sounded kind of bland. It needed some elan, some pizazz – it needed some Sumo-rizing!!!! In the spirit of Sumo-rizing, I decided to give it a bit of a teriyaki twist. Because you just can’t go wrong with teriyaki.

As delightful as this was starting to sound, I figured that I needed to serve something with it. All that thinking about filet mignon lead my convoluted little mind around to my favorite chain steakhouse, The Keg, and their awesome twice baked potatoes. Now, I do not do a lot with potatoes. Sure, put some in front of me and I’ll eat them, but cooking them isn’t really my thing. Why cook a potato when you could cook rice? In addition to the fact that it’s rice, you also get the option of having fried rice the next day.

But, I digress. A quick burst of Google-fu revealed a fairly simple (and tasty) looking recipe for a twice baked potato, so I figured “what the hell”.

It turned out fairly well, but I think the recipe will get a few tweaks the next time I make it. Just needs a little diversity in the flavor profile.

Anyway, this is what my dinner looked like last Tuesday:

Pork. And more pork. And a little starch.

Yes, yes, I know……the presentation needs work.

Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin:

1 pork tenderloin, roughly 1 pound
Bacon
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp sake

Cut the tenderloin into chunks approx. the same width as the bacon. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic and sake in a bowl or baking dish. Place the tenderloin in the bowl and toss to coat well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Wrap a piece of bacon around each medallion, affixing each strip with a toothpick and trimming off the excess and saving for some other bacony goodness. Place the medallions on a foil lined baking sheet, and roast for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bacon is brown and crispy and the pork is fully cooked.

Twice baked potatoes:

2 medium to large baking potatoes
cooking spray (optional)
sea salt (optional)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt
dash of black pepper
3 to 4 slices of crisp fried bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
paprika to taste

Spray the potatoes with cooking oil, and then grind some sea salt on them. Place them in an oven-proof dish and bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour.
While the potatoes are baking, combine 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 stick butter, 1/4 cup chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a dash of black pepper. Cover this mixture with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it while your potatoes cook.
When your potatoes are done, split each of them into two equal halves with a knife. Since they will be hot, hold them with a potholder while you scoop out the potato meat. Place the potato meat in a dish, and reserve the potato shells.
Mix the potato meat with the mixture that you have previously made. Now blend in the crisp, crumbled bacon. Spoon this mixture evenly into the four empty potato shells. Sprinkle the top of each potato half with Cheddar cheese, to taste. Finally, sprinkle the potatoes with paprika, to taste. You may freeze the potato halves at this point, but be sure to thaw them before you bake them.
When ready to bake, if the potatoes are refrigerated or cool, let them come to room temperature. Then bake them in an oven-proof dish for 20 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees. If they are cool when you put them in the oven, it will take a little longer.

Christmas cheesecake 19 Feb

Christmas cheesecake

I love cheesecake. I love the flavor, I love the texture, I love the fact that you can put pretty much anything you want into it and it will taste fantastic.

A while back, I got it into my head that I should make mini cheesecakes. Just seemed like an easier way to share my experiments with more people. I probably could have made due with muffin pans, but I saw these nifty little mini-cheesecake pans online, and decided that I needed them.

I mean, come on – they have removable bottom plates to help get the cakes out. Who WOULDN’T want to have them?

In any case, I was having some difficulty finding the bloody things. Checked all the big name stores, and found squat. At this point, where my OCD was about to set off my anger control issues, a friend suggested that I check out a local specialty kitchen store before I broke something (or someone).

Found the pans (which were damned bloody expensive!) and churned out some cheesecake. The guinea pigs loved it, I loved it, and all the effort I put into finding the pans was worth it.

Christmas cheesecake

Flash forward to now: since the holidays are upon us, I decided to make some “Christmasy” cheesecakes to distribute to my fans. The most Christmasy ingredient I could think of was candy canes, and things just sort of snowballed from there. Enjoy!

2 8 oz blocks of cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 blocks Baker’s white chocolate, melted
6 candy canes, crushed into pieces
2 1/2 cups grahm cracker or Oreo crumbs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees C.
In a medium bowl, combine the butter and crumbs. Lightly grease the pans, and press 2 tbsp of the mixture into each cup.
Add cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Beat together until light and fluffy.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler and fold into cream cheese mixture.
Fold in candy canes.
Spoon a couple of tbsp of filling into each cup, almost to the top. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before removing the cakes from the pans.

Makes 24 mini cheesecakes (if you have those pans)

You could also use muffin/cupcake tins (with paper liners), but I don’t know how many this recipe would make. You could also make a normal sized (9 inch spring form pan) cheesecake, but I would add another block of cream cheese, another egg, increase the candy canes to 1/2 cup, decrease the crumbs and butter by half, and probably throw in another block or two of the white chocolate. But hey, that’s just me.