Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

I like bread, but I miss good rolls

I lived on Brötchen, the “little breads” that we’d just call “rolls” in English, during my year and a half as a student in Germany. Insanely fresh, they came in a good dozen varieties at most bakeries.

Thanks to my tiny budget and complicated school schedule, I’d often grab a couple of rolls between classes, and eat them as a breakfast and lunch all in one…

Somehow, in spite of a large number of perfectly respectable bakeries in Seattle, savory Brötchen scarcely make an appearance in Seattle. I still sometimes miss the ready availability of pumpkin seed rolls with whole wheat, hearty and chewy onion rolls, Gouda-cheese topped buns, and even the more humble sesame or poppy seed rolls known as Kaiserbrötchen. The one thing I have been able to find decent renditions of in Seattle is the Laugenbrötchen, or pretzel roll, thanks to the Columbia City Bakery (and my occasional home-baked efforts). Sad versions of the Kaiser roll are occasionally available at various supermarkets around town, but they never have the character I expect of them.

I recently made a bunch of arugula pesto and stored it in the freezer. Somehow I carelessly transfered this to the refrigerator on Saturday, so I needed to accelerate consumption. I made a big batch of a potato-based yeast dough on Sunday, originally meant for a pizza, but as usual, I had a bit too much for that purpose.

Usually that would lead me to make a big loaf of bread. But it turns out that I had a very high-moisture dough… I actually just ran out of flour in the morning when throwing the dough together. Coincidentally, that’s perfect for small rolls. I decided to wed the arugula pesto with the dough, adding a bit more parmesan for texture contrast, and these little crusty, moist, and flavorful rolls emerged.

Arugula pesto potato rolls

Jagaimo-arugula-pesto-pan

More fall foods: Chanterelle mushrooms

Chanterelles seem to be fairly plentiful right now… I got some on Sunday, thinking I got a deal, but the price seems to be even better today.

Mine were apparently locally-grown. Chantrelles always seem to have a fondness for butter, so of course I used some, and shallots, garlic, thyme and cream. I served them with spaghetti.

I don’t really use spaghetti all that often… for some reason, the ubiquity of spaghetti works against it for me, and I just never think of buying it. But a while back I got a strange craving for long pasta, and I bought some and used it a few times when I needed a quick lunch.

Chantrellepasta1

I thought today was going to be relatively light-duty, but it turned out busier than I expected. I took care of a bunch of things that have been suffering, but new tasks came in before I got very far. Tomorrow will be more eventful, because I have another very time-sensitive order and a long list of new internet orders that came in tonight.

Finally reached my yuzu guy

I finally got hold of my source for yuzu juice today. Apparently my previous communications were never received due to some changes in their corporate email systems. I was happy to find out I wasn’t being intentionally ignored. I should have called and pestered them earlier.

I’ve been having trouble getting in touch with them for quite a while. It’s rather frustrating, because I’ve had customers waiting for me to provide quotes for them… grr.

Now I feel a little relief. I hope the rest of it works out.

Salsa, visitors, art, YuzuMura

One of the things that happens to me when I make salsa is that it tends to be too much… I don’t really eat things involving tortillas every day. But when tomatoes are half-decent I have that inclination… Alas, I’m still working on the absurd quantity of mango salsa I produced a few days ago. I think the slightly over 2 cups that I produced is probably not that much to anyone who lives on the stuff, but when you don’t have any chips in the house it goes a long way… I’ve been making a lot of things involving cheese, tortillas, and some incarnation of beans, with occasional involvement of additional greens.

Anyway, I hope I can get over that soon. Starting tomorrow, Hiromi will be in town visiting Seattle for about 10 days, and we cannot live on tortillas and salsa alone.

Yesterday I saw Reggie Watts (of Maktub fame) perform at a “party” at the site of the SAM sculptural park. It appeared that he was highly under the influence of some sort of mellowing substance. I think the closest thing to clarity we came to seeing what the park would look like were from some wood-grain obfuscated images shown inside a 20 foot orange shipping container (not a gas chamber) at the site… but anyway, it was a pleasant excuse to socialize.

Last night I was up late debugging a problem with my website. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before… but basically, the user experience was atrocious. If they selected an option to send the item as a gift, or any other general “order option” such as gift wrapping, it would appear to them that the whole ordering system was down. It turned out to be an error in the way a field in the database table behind the order options was defined. I thought I had done a quick run-through to test the feature, but I apparently missed something incredibly obvious. I should know better—I once was a software tester, after all, and I shouldn’t believe anything works without trying to break it—but I guess my priority these days is on rapid implementation, rather than testing. If it hadn’t been for a customer complaint, I don’t think I would have noticed it. It’s enough to make me remember the value of that kind of work…

I have been seeing a spike in telephone inquiries for products on YuzuMura.com of late. A few weeks ago, I started posting language in various places on the site that encourages people to call if they have questions. It seems to be resulting in some improvements in orders. I think I’ve processed almost as much in telephone orders this month as I had in internet orders in the particularly brutal months of February or March… The only problem is that my process for handling phone orders is tediously manual.

Culinary slump

I’ve actually been eating fairly undramatically in the last month or so… I can think of only two or three memorable meals that I prepared recently… While I usually feel compelled to cook for myself about as well as I do for guests, I’ve sometimes struggled just to come up with an adequate idea for dinner.

It has been a long time since I’ve primarily cooked for myself… but previously, when I faced such a situation, I still tended to want to eat well. So I don’t know what’s different this time. It’s not so much that I want to eat badly; I just find myself uninspired.

One meal was memorable primarily due to the leftovers it generated. I made a kind of roasted cauliflower and cannelini soup, which got me through about a week of lunches. It was a simple soup with a simple flavor, nothing particularly dramatic.

On Thanksgiving I cooked for a friend, since my nearby family hadn’t planned anything this year… I surprised myself by putting together about 9 dishes… some focaccia with a garlic cannelini spread (yes, that white bean has been a recurring ingredient as well), some sauteed broccolini with garlic, roasted red potatoes with dill, butternut squash gnocchi, a persimmon and almond salad, more roasted cauliflower, and a truffle frittata with some shavings of a nice smoked goat cheese. I also made a cranberry sauce… some marinated mushrooms, and some chanterelles with oven-braised leeks.

I don’t do mock turkey… it just seems like a disastrous concept, so I’ve never felt any urge to add it to my table… but Jennifer baked a few pieces of brined turkey for herself (and for future leftovers), along with a stuffing.

Speaking of truffles, Ballard Market started to carry black truffles at a fairly reasonable price… I only bought a couple of smallish ones, but I have gotten fairly good results… I think I’ll make a simple pasta with truffles and butter tonight.

Last night I went shopping a bit and then ate at Matt’s In The Market… I usually don’t eat by myself anywhere other than quick service restaurants, but I just felt like being self-indulgent.

I think if I can keep preparations simple but ingredients a little extravagant, I’ll at least feel a little inspired…

Pizza fritta

Inspired by a post from FXCuisine.com, I thought it would be fun to try making something approximating Napoli-style pizza fritta at home. It turns out to be delightfully simple, though, like most deep-fried foods, the logistics of making it at home are slightly awkward.

I usually reserve deep-frying for parties, since I don't really like committing to filling up my deep fryer unless a lot of people are going to enjoy the results. However, I also tend to stick to familiar, safe things when deep frying for a crowd... With a large group, I just don't want a fiasco.

Trying something completely unfamiliar creates a small dilemma... commit to using lots of oil, or risk a culinary disaster in front of a bunch of hungry friends and acquaintances.

Fortunately, the fryer I bought last year has a surprisingly decent filter, so I can reuse the oil a few times before it starts to take on any unpleasant flavors. This gives me a little more freedom to experiment, without leaving me with the un-frugal feeling that I'm wasting perfectly good cooking oil. On the other hand, it still means I'm consuming a high dose of fat all at once, which certainly can't be healthy.

Well, I can only live once. I got over the health thing... at least as far as this weekend is concerned.

Pizza fritta with onions

pizza fritta onion

I made this twice, but I couldn't imagine eating more than one of these in a single day, especially after eating really heavily during the Fremont Fair on Saturday. The first version was made with little more than onions and cheese. I used a medium-firm cheese and coarsely chopped onions. I didn't want to have very wet ingredients in the pizza on the first attempt, since an explosion could get ugly.

The dough, a fairly moist yeast dough, needs to be rolled out into two thin, fairly identically-sized circles. I dust the dough and the counter with a fair amount of flour, and carefully put the filling atop one of the discs, leaving enough room on the outer edge to seal the dough shut. I slightly moisten the outer edge, place the second disc on top, and try to massage the edges together to form a good seal.

One critical detail that I overlooked: I didn't measure the diameter that my fryer could accommodate. I certainly had the presence of mind to realize I couldn't do the big 13" crusts I usually bake in the oven, but even with an eyeball approximation, my first attempt was still just a little too big for my equipment, so the edges folded over a bit.

Robiola due latti

pizza fritta tomato

My second variation, a more precise 6" pizza, featured robiola due latti, a very soft cheese made from a blend of sheep's and cow's milk cheese. This cheese is reminiscent of reblochon cheese... soft, creamy, and grassy, it was moderately ripe and had a slight pungency. I added finely chopped tomatoes, basil and garlic. I was a little more brave with the moisture content of the filling this time, since I knew I could do a reasonable job sealing even a fairly thin dough. This second version tasted much more interesting, thanks to the tomatoes, but the steam pressure was much higher, so the dough puffed up very dramatically. I was nervous that the dough might explode if there were any weak spots.

A heavier tomato sauce would probably reduce the water content a bit, and slightly reduce the steam pressure.  But I really enjoyed this with fresh tomatoes, even though these are still early, not very flavorful hothouse tomatoes.

After frying I let the oil drain off the pizza and let it rest for a minute before cutting into quarters. The cheese would love to ooze out all over the place, so the short rest actually makes the pizza easier to serve intact.

Serve hot, but eat carefully... the cheese could give the heat of a volcano some competition.

Kabocha cheese okonomiyaki, and a holiday tree

My vegetarian variations of okonomiyaki are necessarily limited, but Hiromi and I decided to make okonomiyaki for dinner today, and we happened to have a nice kabocha on hand at home.

I stole this idea from a serviceable but unremarkable (save for the cheap drinks) okonomiyaki chain in Japan. This okonomiyaki variation features thin slices of kabocha in the cabbage and batter mixture, and some pureed steamed squash added after both sides of the okonomiyaki have browned.

It’s topped with some cheese (I used some good gruyere, but ambiguous white processed cheese would be more likely in Japan), and the usual mayonnaise and okonomi sauce.

Kabocha cheese okonomiyaki

The sweetness from the kabocha makes this a pleasant but relatively mild-flavored variation of okonomiyaki.

Neither Hiromi or I have any religious reason to celebrate Christmas, but in Japan Christmas is a purely secular event, partly an excuse for fancy meals and hotel packages. For me, it’s part of an annual family reunion of sorts, but mainly a chance to wind down after difficult work schedules.

In the U.S., I haven’t usually decorated for any holiday, but Hiromi thought it would be fun to set up a tree this year.

We found a reasonably healthy, apartment-sized “living holiday tree” at Target, though we originally went there for accoutrements, expecting to pick a cut tree somewhere else. This small potted tree should be able to survive under my neglect out on my balcony after the holiday season passes, because our climate favors evergreens.

Jason and Hiromi's Holiday tree

We decorated the tree with some lights, ribbon and ball ornaments we picked up at the same time, and I extracted the ornaments collected during my childhood from storage.

Since we got a small tree, the huge satin ornaments I had from my childhood didn’t quite match the scale of our youthful tree, and the other small ornaments I had tended to be too heavy for our tender branches. But I found a couple of pieces that still worked.

I can’t quite remember where it came from, but this walnut-backed ornament was made by a family member when I was young. I wasn’t much of a baseball player, so it was probably a distant relative, but it’s still somehow cute.

Walnutjasonornament

Insanity, sado, comfort food

I don’t know how I got so busy today, but a huge number of Internet orders came in last night, and I also had to rush off an order to a special event on the East Coast. A company picked up my green tea white chocolate enrobed fortune cookies (made with matcha) for a film premiere.

It didn’t help that I had a bit of an office supply shortage. Yesterday I ran out of ordinary paper and started printing invoices and shipping labels on bright yellow paper. This meant that at some point today I also needed to make a trip to get more paper.

After making my final dropoff, I met up with a friend who is attending classes with Urasenke Seattle, and I played the role of clueless guest at one of their Thursday night classes. In Japan I usually consumed matcha in tea shops, not tea ceremony, so I have a lot to learn even just to be a properly dignified guest. Fortunately, the instructors are both patient and informative. Since I had a fresh batch of cookies, I left some behind for other people to enjoy.

Of course, I got home quite late, and dinner was ready around 9:30 pm. I was in the mood for comfort food, though I suppose something Spanish would have been appropriate considering the hour.

I made a quick macaroni and cheese, using pennette instead of elbow macaroni, and topped with buttered panko. I snuck a little bit of wasabi in there because I was out of regular horseradish.

Mac & cheese out of the oven

Mac & cheese plated

Japanese-Indian, French pastries, and comfort food

I spent most of the day writing email messages to various companies, and responding to a couple of incoming messages. I occasionally took short breaks to finish reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, It must have been something I ate. I actually read more than half of it on the airplane ride over to Japan, but I’ve only been reading a chapter here and there since I hit the ground. I usually enjoy reading about other foodies’ adventures and idiosyncrasies. Of course, I can’t believe he wrote an article about espresso without visiting Vivace’s in Seattle; David Schomer’s obsession with the technical minutiae of the ideal espresso would have been the perfect supplement to Steingarten’s haphazard experimental efforts.

The weather was a little less pleasant today, so I didn’t really look forward to stepping out for lunch. I ducked into a little “curry-ya-san” that is slightly more Indian than the usual Japanese roux-thickened interpretations but still catering to mainstream Japanese tastes. I had a dish of dal, some ambiguous vegetable curry with potatoes and disintegrated greens, an egg, and pickles with a little rice and nan. Everything was sort of the quality that you would expect from a buffet in an Indian restaurant in the U.S., by which I mean edible and more pleasant than the average fast food chain but not particularly special.

In the early evening I wandered around and found a café in Lumine that was offering a mille feuille pastry with strawberries and a custard cream, so I stopped there and had a 600 yen serving of the cake and a 400 yen espresso.

My friend offered to make a vegetarian version of nikujaga, which is normally a beef and potato stew a la japonaise, for dinner tonight, so this is the first day I’m neither cooking nor am I eating restaurant fare for dinner. With a limited kitchen, a one-pot meal is a pretty good idea, and it’s a little cold today, so it was comforting.

First dinner in Seattle (again)

Hiromi made it safely to Seattle last Tuesday. I managed to stay away from the office all day, though I did a little bit of work during Hiromi's inevitable afternoon crash.

Though I arguably had time to do something more elaborate, we kept it simple, mostly due to the warm weather Seattle's had the good fortune to encounter for the last few weeks.

Grapefruit segments, red onion, soft chevre

Grapefruit salad with red onion and soft chevre

We wanted something refreshing, so I segmented some nice ruby red grapefruit, sliced a little red onion, and sprinkled on a touch of salt. With a little drizzle of good olive oil, some freshly ground pepper, and a few dabs of soft chevre, this is perfect for a warm summer night. If it weren't so much work to segment a grapefruit, it would be almost no effort at all.

Stuffed eggplant with farro

Stuffed eggplant with farro

In spite of the warm weather, I did turn on the oven. Both Hiromi and I have a weakness for stuffed eggplant, so I make variations on the theme on a regular basis when eggplant is in season.

When I make stuffed eggplant as a main dish, I typically use rice, but this time I elected to make it with farro, a nutty variant of spelt. It was gently seasoned with fresh rosemary, but works well even when the rosemary is more assertive.

This version is made with that same soft chevre along with some mozzarella, but I like almost any kind of goat cheese along with a mellow cheese that readily melts.

I've managed to keep us incredibly busy most of Hiromi's first week, but we actually have part of the upcoming weekend free, which is absolutely shocking. Somehow, I doubt the nice holes in our schedules will last...

 

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