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.

Potato pancakes, Two Ways

Yesterday I had a craving for Roesti (or Rösti), a Swiss variation of potato pancakes. But I’d been intending to make a Korean style kamja-jeon, also a potato pancake, for about a week now.

Not wanting to repeat myself, of course, today’s dinner involved a smaller portion of the pancake and numerous Korean-style side dishes.

The two styles are quite different. In the realm of Roesti, there are two schools of thought: one favoring parboiled potatoes, and the other preferring raw potatoes. I’m not partisan; the results are different in both cases, but quite pleasant either way. Last night I chose to parboil the potatoes for roughly 10 minutes, and then I peeled and shredded them. For me, the distinguishing feature between Roesti and, for example, German Kartoffelpuffer, is that Roesti usually involves tossing the shredded or chopped potatoes in the hot pan with some fat (in my case, Butterschmalz, clarified butter), before shaping into a patty. Kartoffelpuffer, on the other hand, are essentially shredded, soaked briefly in water, and drained; the starch is recovered from the settled water and mixed in with the potatoes, and generally, onions.

Roesti with sour cream and toasted almonds

Roesti

Roesti take quite a long time to cook; a fair 5–10 minutes on each side. The Kartoffelpuffer, like Latke, are cooked in a lot of oil for just a few minutes on each side. Roesti are generally also a bit thicker than Kartoffelpuffer. The potatoes in Roesti may be chopped rather than shredded, but this time I used the biggest holes on my cheese grater.

The first Roesti recipe I followed as a student in Germany suggested serving with some toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Last night I didn’t have any in my pantry, but I did have some almond slivers, which I toasted briefly before adorning my sour cream-enhanced Roesti with them.

In another part of the planet, a similar style of potato pancakes is made with very finely shredded potatoes, onions, and a bit of salt. The Korean version comes close to Kartoffelpuffer or Latke, but is usually not cooked with as much oil. The potatoes are generally only browned lightly, but if done right, they still have a nice crispness.

Like Kartoffelpuffer, kamja-jeon are made with recovered potato starch. However, the potatoes tend to be shredded much more finely. I used a slightly coarse Microplane grater.

Kamja-jeon

In Korea, perhaps because I tend to stay in or near Seoul, which is not the region associated with these pancakes, I’ve never had earth-shatteringly good kamja-jeon. I tend to prefer my own, because mine are somewhat crispier and a bit softer inside. I think some less impressive restaurants in Korea tend to rush them, so they sometimes seem not very crispy and slightly raw inside.

Another distinction between these and their European counterparts is a savory dipping sauce, rather than an additional layer of fat from a sour cream accompaniment, or sweet applesauce. The dipping sauce, in this case, is soy sauce, a bit of vinegar, some finely chopped scallions, and a few pieces of chopped Korean pepper. I usually skip the pepper, but since the rest of my side dishes weren’t terribly spicy, I wanted a hint of chili in there.

Because I cooked Korean food, I wasn’t done when I started the pancakes; I needed a few side dishes to go along with the kamja-jeon, so I made some vegetables and some tofu.

Grilled tofu

Grilled tofu

Kong Namul (Seasoned bean sprouts)

Namul

Napa kimchi

Kimchi

Choy sum (sweet cabbage) with gochu

/Choy sum

The dangers of hiding for a week

I’ve somehow felt a little overwhelmed the last week… The last gasps of a cold still had a bit of a hold on me, and I usually had no energy left after dinner. I somehow managed to keep up on internet orders, but I’ve been avoiding the telephone for the most part, because I either coughed at inopportune moments or, in my better moments, sounded like I was choking on a frog.

That being said, I did my best to eat reasonably well, though weeknights were rather minimalistic.

Last Sunday, though, during the Superbowl, two of Hiromi’s former coworkers who had flown in from Japan on a business trip, came to visit us, and another friend of mine dropped by. They chatted and watched the game while I spent most of my time in the kitchen, which is probably how nature intended things.

I made a few of my signature cocktails, and a fair amount of starchy and oily nibbles. We didn’t stop for photos, but I made some fried yucca root served with a homemade mayonnaise-like sauce, made with freshly grated horseradish; some roasted potatoes with shiso; a little grilled halloumi with quince paste, olives, Marcona almonds and baby spinach. For a Seahawks-ish theme I served blue corn sesame tortilla chips with a homemade guacamole. I probably brought out a couple of other things, but I’ve quickly forgotten. My head was in a bit of a fog anyway, hopped up on Theraflu as I was.

After the game ended I also made dum ki ghom, a sort of mushroom curry with ground cashews and tomato paste, and a sort of pseudo-naan baked on a pizza stone. I also threw together a simple olive oil and cheese pizza topped with marinated fennel… These are almost all things I’ve made before, and I wasn’t in the mood to be terribly consistent with any culinary theme, save for the predominance of high carbohydrate, high fat options. It was, after all, an American event, surrounding a TV.

Here are some of our weeknight meals from this week.

Tagliatelle, broccolini, portabello in garlic cream sauce

Tagliatelle broccolini and portabella

Quick, simple, basic, comforting.

Karashi-na to nagaimo no oyaki

Oyaki-take2

Although I’ve made oyaki a few times before, I considered it a bit of an experiment. Now I’m fairly comfortable with the process, and although they still aren’t as consistently shaped as the ones I find at roadside venues, they taste at least as good. This time I used karashi-na (mustard greens) and coarsely grated nagaimo (a starchy tuber), seasoned with the typical miso-shouyu base.

Toufu no shouga-miso yaki

Miso shouga tofu

The same night we figured we needed a bit of protein to accompany our vegetables, so this is what emerged as an afterthought. This is not a typical Japanese side dish, but I was too lazy to make a proper neri-miso for dengaku-toufu. So after pan-grilling some tofu for a few minutes on each side, I added some slightly mirin-and-sugar-sweetened miso with a hefty dose of freshly grated ginger.

Eggplant and sweet potato sabji

Nasu to satsumaimo sabji

One night Hiromi was craving spicy food, and we had some nice little eggplants that begged for attention. I decided to riff off of an eggplant and potato based dish featured in a Japanese-language Indian cookbook, but we only had a sweet potato or squash handy. I substituted the regular potatoes suggested in the recipe with sweet potatoes, and it worked out very nicely.

Black daal

Black daal

The black lentils I picked up at Trader Joes recently proved useful for the daal to accompany our meal. I made this with tomatoes, onions, a stick of cassia, fresh turmeric, and other spices. Homemade ghee for the chaunk added a nice roundness to the flavor.

The value of a good party

A friend of mine is having a housewarming party today, although she actually moved in to her place about 4 months ago. Earlier this week I had planned to bring some little dish to the party, so this morning I went over to Whole Foods in the Roosevelt area and picked up some maroumi sheep’s milk cheese from Greece, as well as some spinach, onions, and shallots, and a few other things. I made a thick béchamel sauce mixed with eggs, nutmeg, allspice, and the maroumi cheese, sort of like the topping you’d expect on moussaka. I lightly caramelized the onions and shallots, then briefly sautéed the spinach. I also made a simple yeast dough, fairly moist but with relatively low yeast content.

After that I put the spinach filling and the cooked béchamel sauce in low containers to cool in the refrigerator for a few hours.

I wanted to go to the pottery lab to do a little bit of glazing of some work from last quarter. As usual with things pottery, I didn’t quite finish everything I had hoped by the time I needed to leave. I set a couple of things aside and went back home to finish cooking…

Basically I just rolled out a dozen or so small discs of dough and filled them with a little bit of the spinach-onion mixture mixed with some egg, topped with the béchamel sauce, and I closed them up sort of like Chinese buns. I baked them on a stone in my oven until they were brown and smelled nice, and packed them up for the party.

Attending a party as the owner of a small business is a different experience than attending a party as an “engineer” at a tremendously large software company. Meeting someone at a party has, up until now, been a pleasant diversion, a mild form of entertainment. But as a small business owner, every new face is an opportunity… people with job descriptions or educations or backgrounds that were merely interesting in my old life suddenly seem like potential partners, customers, people I can learn something from, or people who can introduce me to someone that might be useful for developing my business. It’s also kind of an opportunity to refine the story of my work. Hopefully I avoided sounding like too much of a salesperson… anyway, my spinach and béchamel buns disappeared, and I met some interesting people, and I don’t think I annoyed anyone too much.

Too much information

Lucas of Cooking In Japan tagged me with the “Too Much Information” meme, for which I am invited (commanded?) to present 10 revealing/odd/interesting/random facts about me. I can’t promise much, but since I haven’t revealed terribly much about my pre-blogging existence here, I thought I’d reach into the past…

  1. Before I could even properly speak English, I had a Japanese babysitter, and I learned to speak enough Japanese that my mother nearly worried I might have a learning disability, until the babysitter started translating for me in my mother’s presence. I promptly forgot all of this after growing a bit older, and it hasn’t apparently helped me move beyond my limited Japanese.
  2. I quietly claimed, studied, and, due to frequent commutes in a backpack to school, damaged the paperback binding of my stepfather’s German Made Simple textbook about 3 years before I could elect to take German in high school, first learning to mispronounce German words around age 11.
  3. After planning an exchange program to Germany, I switched my major from Literature to East Asian Studies, putting myself in the odd position of trying to learn Japanese in Germany.
  4. Before I was allowed to cook unsupervised on the stovetop, I was fascinated by cooking with the microwave, and made various melted marshmallow concoctions.
  5. The first baking recipes I learned, other than those taught to me by my mother or other family members, were taken from the back of a Bisquick box. (I haven’t touched a box of Bisquick since 1993).
  6. I remember more about my first meals with girlfriends, past and present, than I do about such details as, for example, when their birthdays might be.
  7. I once held a dinner party to which more than 35 people showed up. Everyone went home well-fed, though most of them had to sit on the floor. I was able to maintain some semblence of domestic civility: Most people ate off of ceramic dinnerware, rather than disposable.
  8. Back in my college days, I produced a television show, produced a radio talk show, created TV news graphics, and hosted several music shows on my college TV and radio stations, when I wasn’t busy with political rabble-rousing. Frequent typos and grammatical flubs in this blog notwithstanding, I even had a brief stint as assistant editor at a small Seattle weekly newspaper.
  9. I’ve never paid for a TV, and I still have the same cheap stereo I bought in college about 12 years ago.
  10. I started college with a clear idea of what kind of work I wanted to do after graduating, but I graduated without one.

The memetic process depends on reproduction, so part of the deal is that I’m supposed to tag 5 other bloggers to respond to the meme. It’s meant to take a life of its own, like the game “telephone” combined with a chain letter. I’ll ask Hiromi to spread the meme in Japanese. Perhaps Travis in Tokyo and nearby Amy of Blue Lotus can play. If she’s amenable, perhaps I can convince my almost-neighbor, Gluten-Free Shauna, whom I’ve never met in spite of the fact that we both know some of the same people, to participate. My former roommate, Kaori, may answer in English or Japanese.

Nashi no hiyayakko

It sounded like a very odd idea to Hiromi at the time, but both of us were converts after we tasted the results of this variation of hiya-yakko.

A few weeks ago, after a rushed trip to Leavenworth, we went nashi picking near Everett, at an orchard owned by the family of a friend.

We ended up with such a bounty that we needed to exercise an unusual level of creativity to find uses for our treasure.

I suggested we try grating the nashi in the style of daikon-oroshi, to which we added some grated fresh ginger. We placed this atop of kinugoshi (soft) tofu, added a bit of chopped scallion, and splashed on a small amount of Japanese soy sauce.

Nashi-hiyayakko

It’s a surprisingly refreshing seasonal twist on a classic side dish.

Hiromi used to ask me what we needed to buy when she made a grocery shopping trip, but I usually suggest just buying whatever vegetables look tempting, and I promise to figure out something to do with them. For this meal, that was a running theme… I worked out a Japanese-ish treatment of the day’s purchases.

We ate a nice tempura of mataike and arugula.

Maitake-rukora-tempura

Hiromi had picked up some patty pan squash and shiitake, so I made a simple itamemono from that.

Pattypan-shiitake-negi-itami-ni

I also made daigaku-imo, which is usually a snack rather than a side dish, but that didn’t stop me.

Daigaku-imo-redux

Foods needing improvement, some things needing none

Nothing puts fear into the hearts of perfectly capable cooks as the thought of making Hollandaise or Bernaise sauce.

I occasionally get Hollandaise sauce spot on without really trying. A few weeks ago, for the first time in months, if not years, I made a hurried attempt at a Hollandaise sauce that worked out spectacularly well: not too thick, not too thin, and not curdled or otherwise compromised. I made good use of it with some poached eggs on an English muffin with a little cheese, for a truly heart attack-inducing weekend morning calorie bomb.

But in my post-jetlag fervor, not to mention a serious craving for butter in the immediate wake of my Japan trip, I revisited the idea again, and it was a disaster. I was a bit short on time, or maybe it was actually eggs, otherwise I would have rescued the sauce, but instead we just suffered through my un-emulsified butter-laden travesty.

Attempt three, and I was more attentive. Hiromi found this lovely orange cauliflower at Sosio’s in Pike Place Market, and after a week of elaborate meals and occasional extravagant pieces of fruit, $4 for a head seemed perfectly reasonable; we weren’t at all distracted by our awareness of perfectly serviceable cauliflower at half the price.

Orange cauliflower with thin Hollandaise

Cauliflower in hollandaise

Alas, I got a bit distracted when trying to combine the sauce with the cauliflower; some of the water content from the cauliflower turned the Hollandaise a bit thin. If I were smarter, I would simply have poured the sauce on top of the plated dish.

As the first weeknight after returning from Japan, complete with a full work day and then some, I got home a little late. I wanted something else simple but attractive, so I grabbed some lavash from Trader Joe’s and made a pseudo-pizza.

Lavash pizza

Lavash pizza

Garlic, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke crowns, olives, and some basil, with a bit of mozzarella and parmesan, made a suitably indulgent, yet not terribly heavy accompaniment to our cauliflower.

Eggs Florentine

Eggs florentine

I didn’t give up on my Hollandaise fix… Somehow I felt the need to convince myself that the success from a few weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. I was, of course, tempting fate. It predictably curdled. Fortunately, I had another egg handy, and I just started over again warming the egg yolk and rescued the sauce. For a flawless result, I should have melted a bit more butter, as the extra yolk made for a very thick Hollandaise sauce, completely unnecessary for a poached egg.

Served with baby spinach on a crumpet instead of an English muffin, this slight tweak to brunch standard made for a luxurious, if slightly unimpressively executed, Tuesday morning breakfast.

Busy busy busy

I'm trying to keep up with work, both the logistics/marketing/store display stuff, the follow-up from my trip, and some outside work I took on... I'll put up photos from the last days of my trip as soon as I can handle the distraction.

I can't avoid eating, though. Tonight I made a simple minestrone with turnips, zucchini, the usual soup base vegetables, cannelini, pasta and some finely chopped chanterelles. At the Ballard Market, chanterelles were under $5/pound. I dressed the minestrone with some quickly made basil pesto and a splash of roasted pumpkin seed oil. Yesterday's dinner was penne with eringii, shallots, broccoli and some cream and parmesan, done on a Japanese scale... 2 weeks of paying for minimally subsidized agriculture and expensive distribution networks has made me a little more restrained. But today I made enough minestrone for lunch for the next week, and a big chocolate sesame cake that I shouldn't finish by myself.

Lots of stuff to work on tomorrow... oh, and tonight.

The good news is my jetlag is in check so far... I woke up around 7 this morning with about 6 hours of sleep, and that's an improvement of waking up at 5am with 4 hours. Tonight I'll try to sleep before midnight.

Stuffed chilies with couscous

Stuffed chilies, or chile relleno, are one of my favorite things in the world. They're typically cheese-laden and deep-fried in an egg meringue, and often drenched with a heavy sauce. All that fat is certainly part of the charm, but even a small serving is a serious caloric commitment.

It's not that I want to completely avoid the cheese, or even the pleasure of a creamy, spicy sauce. Sometimes I just want a less over-the-top indulgence.

So how does one apply a bit of restraint to a classic dish like chile relleno?

Chile Relleno reinterpreted

Couscous-stuffed chile relleno with chipotle-sundried tomato cream sauce

I originally thought I'd stuff these chilies with rice and cheese, but a slight change in plans required me to make a last-minute adjustment. I took advantage of some much faster-cooking couscous, which I splashed with some lime juice, tossed with some chopped mint and a little tomato puree, and mixed in a little soft chevre and a few pine nuts.

The chilies I flame-roasted until the skins turned black, and let them steam in a closed container to make the skin easier to peel. Finally, I carefully cut out the stem and seed the pepper. If I were frying these, I'd probably cut the chilies lengthwise and fold the walls so that they overlap, but in this case, I figured it would work better to fill the chilies from the top. They can be stuffed a little more aggressively than if I had to worry about things falling out in the fryer.

Once stuffed, I stuck the chilies in the oven to warm up for 10 or 15 minutes. While they were in the oven, I wanted to throw together a simple sauce that would provide some complexity and richness.

Since I was using a fairly mild chili, a pasilla, I wanted to bring up the heat a little bit, so I thought I'd do that with the help of the sauce. I soaked some dried chipotle, the slightly smoky, medium-spicy Mexican chilies, in hot water to soften up. When they were reasonably hydrated, I put them in a blender with some cream, a couple of sun-dried tomatoes, and a little garlic.

The sauce then just needs to be brought to a boil and simmered for a minute or two to thicken up.

Certainly not a low-fat creation, this variation just scales back the over-the-top excesses of the typical relleno, but it's creamy and flavorful and exciting.

There was one slight problem, however.

A little porcini

Porcini

I had one last porcini mushroom left from my weekend shopping at the Pike Place Market, and I really needed to use it before it could get too dry. So I grilled it up and served the slices with the relleno... It certainly looks tasty, and it was, but it's a bit unfair to the porcini: The otherwise remarkable flavor of these pricy mushrooms was somewhat masked by the intense chipotle flavor of the cream sauce. In retrospect, I might have been better off just eating the porcini as a small plate with a mild salad. I suppose that some kind of spicier creations must be possible with porcini, but I think I'd be happier just having them on their own.

Kuromame and satsumaimo ice cream

Don’t be fooled. This is not your usual vanilla and chocolate ice cream.

Kuromame to satsumaimo ice cream

It’s very wafuu and hip. I’m a trendsetter, I promise.

Actually, I’m a follower, because both of these flavors have been popular in Japan for a fairly long time. But if I bring them to the U.S. first, that makes me hipper than Nobu, right?

On the left is satsumaimo ice cream, one of my perennial favorites. When fall and winter roll around, and Japanese-style sweet potatoes appear, it’s one of the first on my list for seasonal ice creams. I’ve been making it nearly every year since I first got my nifty ice cream maker back in 1999 or so. I don’t have a precise recipe, since the requirements change depending on how sweet my particular sweet potatoes happen to be. But rest assured, you can do it too: cream, milk, cooked (mine were baked) Japanese sweet potatoes (but your yellow ones will do in a pinch), sugar, a hint of vanilla. Use enough sugar so that it’s just a tiny bit sweeter than you’d like to eat at refrigerator temperature, and the frozen result will be just about right. The sweet potatoes should be fork-mashed when their internal temperature is a bit shy of 160 Fahrenheit.

On the right is my deferential nod to the grand inexplicable “kuromame cocoa” (black beans and cocoa) trend in Japan of the last three years or so. I saw several companies promoting products with that flavor at the last two FoodEx shows. Many years ago I saw black sesame cocoa, or kurogoma cocoa, meant to be blended with milk and sugar, which I related to instantly, but koromame cocoa was a bit of a surprising concept for me at first glance. The contrasting flavor bodies against a common element of slight bitterness produce a pleasant, mellow result.

Of course, in the drama-obsessed food culture of the United States, where hitting you over the head with flavors is prized far more than subtlety, it probably will only draw reactions of perplexion from the average food critic, and it will only sell with the truly adventurous on even the trendiest of New York or San Francisco Japanese restaurant dessert menus, but I promise you, it’s a fine combination. It’s as good as the far more ubiquitous “red bean” and far more suitable for surrealist cuisine, which is important if you are into postmodern culinary deceptions.

And why shouldn’t you be? You’re beating the Japanese ice cream manufacturers by at least one food trade show’s worth of flavor development.

As ice cream, it’s also an excellent excuse to use up excess kuromame from osechi season. We were pleased.

Kamakura and a day of serious snacking

I got a bit of a late start today, even though I woke up at a reasonable hour.

Around 11am Hiromi drove us to Kamakura. After finding parking, we headed to a place that serves purple sweet potato soft ice cream. We ended up noshing at various streetside vendors… some over-salted senbei (rice crackers), and dorayaki with sweet potato paste in the middle (sort of a stuffed pancake).

Sometime around 3pm we stopped and had a sort of baked rice (kamameshi); mine was made with bamboo shoots. Normally the place we went to is a drinking spot, but we came for the food. It turns out to have pretty nice food. The regulars there all buy whole bottles of shochu (actually Korean soju), whiskey, or other spirits, and they keep the bottles on a shelf labeled, each bottle carefully labeled with the customer’s name.

We stopped at one temple toward the south end of Kamakura and took some photos, and saw some early cherry blossoms and other blooming trees. We also briefly visited one side of the temple leading from the station.

Since we did a lot of snacking and had a late lunch, we weren’t hungry at any normal dinner. Later in the evening we went to an izakaya for a late dinner in Nishi-Shinjuku. We ordered a bitter melon dish made with eggs and tofu, a pretty spicy tofu salad, some “fuki” tempura, and some fried nattou and yamaimo wrapped in nori, and a not very sappari mozuku. We both ordered pomegranate sours, and Hiromi ordered a umeboshi sour and I had a lime one. The pomegranate sour was nice. I’d definitely repeat the nattou dish… it seems like a great dish to confound people with at parties.

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