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.

Mini galettes with chevre and caramelized onions

On a whim, last Friday night I made a savory galette-style cheesecake. I improvised the dough, cutting a bit of clarified butter into flour, adding a bit of mace and salt, then working in a bit of cold water in a well.

I hurriedly caramelized some onions, which is not a process that likes to be rushed, but it worked out reasonably well. I mixed soft chevre, cream cheese and sour cream together, beat in an egg, adjusted salt, and filled a large round of dough; I baked the cheesecakes until the filling set, and served warm.

Tonight I took advantage of a bit of leftover dough and filling, and made a smaller version to go with yesterday’s borscht.

Savory mini galette cheesecakes

Mini Galette

 

Matcha Cuisine

I don’t customarily plan an entire three course meal around a single ingredient, except to celebrate some seasonal excess, like fantastic tomatoes or the fall mushroom season.

However, over the last month or two, I started to want to push the boundaries of my usual matcha adventures

I’ve become comfortable letting matcha play a role in sweets, cocktails, and so on, and I have done a matcha flavored cream sauce before, but I never really let it play a starring role in a planned meal. I wanted to test the capacity of matcha to play different roles. In addition to its obvious applications in desserts and sweets, it also has herbal and spice-like qualities I wanted to explore. I thought maybe I would revisit my matcha cream sauce again, but this time make some homemade gnocchi instead of throwing together a quick lunch with some dry pasta from my pantry. In this case, I could let the matcha serve the role of an herb. I also wanted to use it as a seasoning, so I thought maybe a simple tempura would be nice. And I couldn’t really envision a three course meal highlighting matcha without it serving a role as a dessert flavoring, so I decided to go way back in my repertoire to produce a green tea cheesecake. I had made a matcha mousse in Germany in 1996 or so, but I think it wan’t until 1998 or so when I decided to make a cheesecake with it.

When I first attended FoodEx and Hoteres Japan back in 2004, I was intrigued by the idea of a matcha-jio, or matcha seasoned salt. The primary suggested application was as a seasoning for tempura, but I have also seen it used to season oborodoufu (custard tofu) served in small portions. I don’t really make tempura all that often, but I thought that tempura could be analogous to a “fritto misto”, and since tempura was itself a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese cooking, it seemed fitting as a gateway between the European and Japanese elements of the meal I envisioned.

Even though I’m at Uwajimaya at least weekly, I don’t really know where to find matcha salt in Seattle. I do, however, have a small mortar and pestle, and a fairly substantial supply of matcha for cooking, since I’ve been functioning as a sales broker for Three Tree Tea. So I ground some salt up to a fine snowflake-like powder, and combined it with a fairly substantial proportion of matcha for cooking (grade A).

Matcha-jioRenkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-jio

I spotted some freshly harvested local green beans (ingen), and some well packed Chinese lotus root (renkon). For color contrast I thought a few slices of carrot would be nice. I decided to make tempura the “old fashioned” way, which is not with a batter, but by bathing the vegetables in very cold water with a beaten egg, and dipping into flour. This allows for a very thin coating that allows the colors to come through. I did sprinkle everything a tiny amount of salt after frying before plating.

A few weeks ago at La Medusa, Hiromi and I had a nice “sappari” sauced pasta made with a fava bean cream, served with salt-marinated fava beans. I thought it was a good model for what I had in mind for my gnocchi.

For the pasta, I wanted the matcha to function much like rosemary or thyme or any other herb would work in a sauce. My goal was to make it recognizable if you were familiar with it, just strong enough that you would miss it if it weren’t there. So I chose to use a very small amount of cutting-board minced garlic (roughly half a clove), 2 tbsp. butter, 2–3 tbsp. cream (unmeasured), and a bit of parmesan. I prepared matcha by whisking about 3/4 tsp. of the powder in about 1/4 cup of my pasta water. I had some salt-water boiled edamame, which I had dropped in an ice bath after cooking. After boiling the gnocchi, which were a simple potato-based gnocchi with no special seasoning, I combined them with the edamame and the sauce and kept cooking a couple more minutes in the cream sauce (adjusting salt as needed). As a tea, matcha can become bitter or astringent when cooked for a long time, so I combined it into the sauce just before adding the gnocchi.

Matcha cream gnocchi

Gnocchi seem an ideal gateway between Japanese and Italian cuisine. The mild sweetness of the potatoes in gnocchi and the sweet-savory nature of “dango” or Japanese dumplings seemed to make the medium even more fitting. In fact, the first time I made a matcha cream sauce a few weeks ago, I used a tiny amount of sugar (1/4–1/2 tsp) just to make the sauce smoother. This time I skipped that. If someone served me a matcha cream pasta at a restaurant, I would be happy with either choice. The sauce was simple, clean-tasting, and slightly herby without any noticeable astringency.

In the morning I baked a moderately-sweetened green tea cheesecake. I am not a fan of the increasingly ubiquitous super-sweet cheesecakes. Matcha does need a bit of sugar for balance in sweets, so I did use a tiny bit more than if I were just doing a simple lemon zest cheesecake that might be topped with some fruit.

The base of the matcha cheesecake was essentially 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, 2 tbsp. sour cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 2 level tsp. matcha whipped with the softened cream cheese and sugar, a few drops pure vanilla extract, and one egg. I made a simple graham cracker crust. I used two very small (maybe 4”) springform pans. After the cheesecake came out of the oven, I made a sour cream and sugar topping which had additional matcha blended in. I served about 1/2 of the small cheesecake per person, which was more than really necessary but not overwhelming. Just before serving, I dusted a bit more matcha on top and on the plate.

Matcha cheesecake

The final product: Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).

Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).

Dinner is served!

This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is tea as an ingredient, hosted by A La Cuisine, so please take a look at what other folks have imagined. By Japanese standards, my dishes are probably slightly conventional but still somehow very much my own, so I'm sure you'll find some more radical uses of tea over there.

Yakinasu: Feeding my grilled eggplant urges

washoku 188-lr

Yakinasu (grilled eggplant) is one of those incredibly simple but irresistible dishes... I can't help but order it whenever I see it on an izakaya menu. Sometimes we've even bought it at department stores to take home, as when Hiromi and I ate at her parents' home during my last trip to Japan.

Ideally grilled over Japanese charcoal with a shichirin, yakinasu can also be prepared on an ordinary grill or with a small flame on a gas konro. I used to rely on the broiler feature of my stove, but that requires very careful monitoring to pull off successfully.

You can use either the long, skinny 5-6" nasubi (Japanese eggplant) for this, or the 2-3" roundish ones reminiscent of kyō-nasu (Kyoto eggplant), sometimes called Indian eggplant here in the U.S. The larger European-style eggplants common in the U.S. are probably too big for this.

The one important question to ask when preparing this: Skin on or skin off? I tend to prefer the variations which keep the skin, mostly because it looks more appealing, but you can get a slightly smokier flavor if you're willing to sacrifice it. If you do that, you grill or broil the eggplant on all sides until the skin is more or less blackened, then wrap up the eggplant in aluminum foil, or place it in an airtight container to steam the skin until it becomes easy to remove.

When you remove the skin, you might dress the eggplant with some katsuobushi and soy sauce, or some nerimiso (sweetened miso sauce). Since I'm vegetarian, I make the latter.

For the skin-on version, I typically score the skin on either side, first lengthwise, then about 30 degrees off axis. I've chosen to cut the eggplants in half before grilling, and I rubbed the flesh with a little salt. Each side is grilled gently until the flesh slightly softens. After a few minutes of rest, the eggplant becomes a bit more tender thanks to residual heat, so it's better not to overcook it.

This version is ideal with some freshly-grated ginger, chopped scallions and a little splash of Japanese soy sauce.

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Tofu, mizuna and kabu salad with miso dressing

Tofu, mizuna and kabu salad with miso dressing 

Contrary to Tony Bourdain's impression of vegetarian cuisine, salads don't necessarily play a prominent role in an adventurous meatless diet. But occasionally, when presented with some respectably fresh greens and impeccably fresh tofu, I get the urge to eat a little bit raw.

I spotted some fresh kabu (Japanese white turnips) and mizuna (potherb mustard, or so I hear... I just call it mizuna) at the Ballard Farmer's Market on Sunday. I couldn't help but to take some home... both just looked impeccably fresh and hard to resist.

The greens on the kabu (kabuna) can also be eaten raw, so I incorporated some of those into my little salad as well. I sliced and blanched the kabu just long enough to yield a little translucency, without destroying the texture.

I also had some orange bell peppers handy, so they provided a splash of color and a touch of natural sweetness.

The miso dressing is simple:

1 tsp. white miso
1 tsp. mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons jabara juice (see below)
3-4 drops toasted sesame oil
A little honey to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil (something more neutral is fine)

Mix all ingredients other than the olive oil until combined, then gradually incorporate the olive oil to maintain an emulsion.

You probably don't have jabara juice, a citrus juice much like kabosu, sudachi, or unripe yuzu, handy... I spotted some in the Wakayama specialty shop at Yūrakuchō, and Hiromi bought one bottle for me to take home and play with. It's aromatic, and distinct from other citrus fruits in an indescribable but pleasing way... Its aroma is vaguely reminiscent of candied limes.

Since you aren't likely to make a trip to Yurakucho, or Wakayama for that matter, just for a little bottle of jabara juice, substitute another tart citrus fruit... Meyer lemon or maybe key lime would be particularly nice.

Umeboshi cheese no kushiyaki

Umeboshi cheese kushiyaki

Crazy, I know.

But umeboshi and cheese were always meant for each other. Grilled is even better.

I promise.

Camembert is probably a more natural fit, but I had some very respectable raw milk farmhouse-style cheddar from a Washington dairy farm snagged at last weekend's cheese festival. I was eating some pieces of the cheddar when a craving for umeboshi struck, and ate at least one pitted umeboshi on top of a cube of cheese, and it occurred to me: this needs to be grilled.

Where do such crazy ideas come from? Perhaps I owe the initial thought to some "yaki ume" I tasted at the Wakayama specialty shop in to Yūrakuchō... As far as I understood it, those premium umeboshi were at some point briefly cooked over charcoal, though the taste was barely noticeable, if present at all. I settled for some nice $16 umeboshi instead of the more than twice as extravagant "grilled" ones.

How do you make them?

Start by carefully pitting the umeboshi, taking care to pierce only one side; I suppose an olive or cherry pitter might work on some types of umeboshi. Medium-firm umeboshi probably work best; mine were already incredibly soft and I ruined a few while stuffing them.

I did the pitting by hand; I could feel the sharp side of the pit through the skin of the umeboshi, and squeezed the pit out through that pointy side.

Gently insert a small cube of cheese into the umeboshi. Carefully thread the stuffed umeboshi one-by-one onto the skewer.

Ideally, you should grill them over a shichirin grill, but I cheated and used my little gas konro, which I usually use for nabe; I fitted it with a little protective grating to keep the umeboshi from falling into the flame and disintegrating.

No need to use your best umeboshi on this, but please use umeboshi with a short ingredient list: Ideally, ume, salt, shiso, maybe shochu for initial curing. Use a creamy, rather than salty cheese.

Plate, then gently brush with a little olive oil.

Like umeboshi, they're tart. Like cheese, they're creamy. Like anything salty, they would go great with a little shochu, though on this occasion, they served as a little afternoon snack and I remained a teetotaler.

They're a little tricky to pull off, but worth it.

Homemade Matcha Ice Cream recipe

About 4 or 5 years ago I bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker, and not much longer thereafter I found myself making green tea ice creams on a regular basis. This used to be an expensive endeavor: 30 grams of matcha bought in the U.S. usually costs $7.50–$15.00 for average quality matcha, which is roughly two tablespoons. In Japan I can usually get ordinary matcha for $6–8, and sometimes I could get bigger sizes for not much more money. But happily, since I now work with company focused on matcha products, I have access to Matcha meant primarily for cooking applications, and this makes green tea ice cream a far lesser extravagance.

I think two tablespoons of the cooking matcha works out to about $1.88 for 1.5 quarts if you buy it by the pound. Including the cost of organic milk, heavy cream, and organically produced sugar, I think I spent about $5–5.50 for this at retail prices. That’s still substantially less expensive than buying 3 pints of average-quality green tea ice cream at about $3–4/pint, and with a much more substantial green tea flavor, much more fresh, and far fewer additives.

Matcha Ice Cream (Green tea ice cream) in contemporary Mashiko bowl

For a 1.2–1.5 quart batch, I once typically used about 1–1.5 tablespoons of the tea ceremony matcha that I used to use prior to having access to culinary matcha. Now I am using an indulgent 2 tablespoons, which provides an excellent balance of the bitterness and sweetness. If you’re really looking for a heavier matcha flavor, you might use a bit more, but be judicious. You shouldn’t try to replicate the bitterness of straight matcha; you’re just trying to use the matcha as an accent.

I never previously thought blending matcha and vanilla should be controversial, but my roommate seems to be sensitive to heavy vanilla use in green tea flavored things, so I’ve since reduced the amount I use in my own matcha recipes.

Jason’s Matcha Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond)
2 heaping tbsp. Matcha for cooking, Grade A
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Whisk the matcha for cooking with the milk and sugar, making sure the matcha dissolves. Stir in the cream and vanilla. If using a frozen-canister based ice cream, maker, chill the ice cream in the refrigerator for another hour to make sure it is sufficiently cold for processing, or hold in the freezer about 15 minutes.

Process in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. This produces about 1.25–1.5 quarts of ice cream, depending on expansion. Make sure this is appropriate for your ice cream maker and adjust proportionally to your capacity.

If you’d like a more custardy ice cream, you might use an egg yolk or two in your recipe, perhaps reducing the cream a bit to compensate for the extra fat.

If you are using Ippuku Matcha Latte mix, you will use about 1/2 cup matcha latte mix and reduce the sugar content to a scant 2/3 cup.

Pistachio saffron kulfi, slightly altered for life with an ice cream maker

I can't remember exactly when I first heard of saffron kulfi, but I think it was mentioned in a Bharti Kirchner novel, or perhaps a desi short story collection. The book waxed poetic about the value of slowly simmering saffron and cardamom, which reduces the volume of the milk by about half while thoroughly infusing it with the aromas of the spices. This is a time-consuming, hour-long or more process, only possible to achieve on fairly moderate heat with plenty of patience.

It seems unlikely that you could accomplish the same level of flavor by pulling out a can of condensed milk and stirring the ingredients together, no matter how long you wait for the cold ingredients to meld together. The extra labor is totally justified by the results.

That being said, I'm fairly lazy, as obsessive cooks go... I delight in simplicity. The unusual level of labor means I haven't made this for about 5 years, when it was unceremoniously and completely devoured, along with some sort of sorbet, in less than 15 minutes at a dinner party I hosted. This time I served it to a much smaller crowd, so that I could guarantee I'd have more than a spoonful to taste for myself. I'm jealously guarding what remains.

Kulfi is not truly an ice cream, but simply a frozen dessert made in molds or even ice cube trays. It's rather unlikely to be churned, so the result will typically be quite firm and popsicle-like. However, thanks to my Cuisinart ice cream maker and a generous hand with cream, it develops a remarkably smooth, soft texture, and can fairly be called an ice cream.

Kesar Kulfi with Salted Pistachio

Kesar kulfi with pistachios

Ingredients

  • 8 cups milk
  • 1 cups cream
  • A generous pinch of saffron, about 8-12 strands
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom (best if freshly ground)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • A few tablespoons shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely ground with a pinch of salt and a heavier pinch of sugar
  • Additional pistachio for garnish, if desired

Bring the milk, saffron and cardamom to a gentle simmer. Stir regularly as the milk simmers until the volume of milk is reduced by half.

Add sugar to dissolve. Add cream, and refrigerate until chilled, generally several hours or overnight.

Pour mixture into an ice cream maker with a 6 cup capacity (if your machine is smaller, the recipe can easily be halved). After 20-25 minutes, stir in most of the seasoned pistachio mixture.

I reserved some of the pistachio mixture for a nifty silicone mold I generally leave, neglected, stowed above my kitchen cupboards. I simply sprinkled the pistachios into the bottom of the mold before pouring in the ice cream mixture. Freeze the molds overnight. Unmold and serve, perhaps with some additional broken pistachios.

If you don't have such a mold, sprinkle the pistachio over scoops of ice cream after it's hardened in the freezer overnight.

In place of pistachios, almonds work quite well.

This kind of kulfi is ordinarily poured straight into a mold and frozen, rather than using the intermediary step of an ice cream maker, but the ice cream maker results in a smoother, softer texture. The extra cream, generally not used in Indian recipes, makes the ice cream extraordinarily rich and indulgent.

Although it's also not typical in Indian recipes for kulfi, the small hint of salt in the pistachio helps bring out all the other flavors in the ice cream. Like the great salted peanut butter ice cream at Seattle's Veil, one of the most remarkable items I've sampled there, it may evoke some strong reactions: At Veil, people either love it or hate it. I don't use as much salt as Veil does in my pistachio blend, so nobody who has tried my version was terribly shocked, but getting the balance might be tricky. Start with just a little pinch.

This is my little entry for YumSugar's For the Love of Ice Cream Challenge.

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Matcha-anko muffins, some with shiratama

I made these matcha muffins this morning, and we used up some recently made shira-tama and leftover ogura-an by placing them in the muffin batter. I think I first tried matcha muffins about 6 or 7 years ago at Kimura-ya in Ginza.

They actually looked substantially more matcha green before being hyper-illuminated, so I might reshoot these at some point when I get around to making some more, and try not to overexpose them so much.

Matcha Muffin plateMatcha muffin kozara

Jason’s Matcha-An Muffins

1–1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp Matcha for Cooking
1/4 tsp salt

Ogura-an or your preferred type of anko (sweetened azuki bean puree), about 1/2 cup

Mix with a fork to a lumpy consistency, taking care not to develop strands of gluten. I filled a 24–piece mini-muffin pan with this amount of batter, using about a tablespoon of batter per pan. Using two spoons, press a bout a teaspoon of anko into the batter. We also snuck a few homemade shiratama into some of the muffins; when baked they taste kind of like yakimochi.

Bake at 375F (180c) for 22–25 minutes, until edges are browned. You can test one muffin with a toothpick.

Breakfast also included some leftover black raspberry pie, some very orange jidori no tamago medama-yaki (sunny side up orange eggs from very well-fed hens) with a little Ritrovo truffle salt, and watermelon.

Sonstiges

Hiromi and I spent the afternoon kayaking yesterday with Jennifer… we made our way from Portage Bay to the arboretum, then up to Madison Park and back. Surprisingly, three hours in the sun didn’t roast anybody. It was Hiromi’s first time on a kayak, so Jennifer gave a basic lesson to Hiromi while I was waiting in line to rent a 3rd kayak at Agua Verde.

Afterward I made a late dinner to take advantage of some decent but early heirloom tomatoes… insalata caprese, a salad with grilled figs, tomatoes and butter leaf lettuce, some bruised tomato garlic bruschetta, various leftover cheeses, and some tomato cream pasta with basil, just to complete the tomato-heavy theme. The day before we also had some tomatoes, but on ciabatta… also an egg white fritatta with morels and some earthy smoky cheese, and a salad with a crushed raspberry vinaigrette and lavender fennel cheese.

Ciabata and egg white morel fritatta

We also had a nice dinner at La Carta de Oaxaca on Friday night… preceded by cocktails at Fu Kun Wu. That seems to be a theme every time I end up at La Carta… the waiting list demands stopping somewhere else for a drink. But we got a table in 30 minutes… an impressive feat for a group of 7 on a Saturday night.

Matcha gin

Matcha GinLast night I mixed about 1/4 cup Matcha Latte mix with a couple of tablespoons of warm water, stirred it a bit, then I added about 3 cups (or roughly 750 ml) of dry gin and shook it up a bit. I will infuse the mixture for about 7 days and then keep it in the freezer. I want to minimize the risk of oxidation and also keep the flavor green-tea like.

I’ve made this type of drink once before using about a tablespoon of matcha and maybe 3/4 cup sugar (it was a sweeter drink last time). I usually drank it after dinner served extremely cold, just pulled from the freezer. In that case it was more of a strong liqueur; it had a heady green tea flavor but was sweet enough that it needed to be blended with some shochu or vodka to cut the sugar.

I will infuse it for about 7 days. After that I will store it in the freezer to minimize additional oxidation, so that I can keep the color as green as possible. I think it’s discolored a bit since I first made it last night since it was more of a emerald color originally, but a little bit of color change is probably unavoidable.

I’m hoping it will make for a nice martini, just shaken and poured into a glass washed with vermouth. The last version of this I made worked for a martini but was more of a digestiv-style drink.

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