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.

Quinoa

Quinoa is a miraculous thing… not exactly a grain, but nothing like a bean, it has a fairly high protein content, and serves well as a vegetarian main dish. It also looks almost alive when it’s cooking, as the germ starts making its way out of the seed.

I once served quinoa to a bunch of Japanese friends who were kind of afraid of the dish, because they watched the germ squirming out of the quinoa in a wormlike fashion. But they took to it instantly, as it was richly satisfying served with some bitter greens and mushrooms.

Tonight I made a not very exciting dish with quinoa, broccoli, confettied bell peppers, tomato, and onions. I stirred in a bunch of basil pesto, sans cheese, and served it with a little more pesto and harissa. I usually cook this with a bit of  vegetable soup stock, and lacking this, the dish suffered a bit and required more aggressive seasoning. I might have been able to use a lighter hand with the pesto had I a bit more complex of a base note.

Tonight’s dish looks a little bit like a 1970s vegetarian creation, but it did actually taste fairly nice. It did benefit from the harissa, though.

Quinoa dishQuinoa detail

Respite, and something out of nothing

It’s been a tough few weeks for me. Instead of scheduling supermarket demos this weekend, I decided to get out of town. I’ll get back to the usual routine next weekend. Assuming my new shipment arrives, I will need to go to Portland next weekend.

I drove over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth, through Snohomish County. Fall certainly seems to have set in; the non-native deciduous trees have been turning. Fortunately, the dreary rain dropped off as I crossed over the pass.

In Leavenworth I ate some Kartoffelpuffer and drank a glass of Glühwein, both of which were often offered as street food when I was in Germany, but were served at a middle-brow restaurant here. After lunch, I walked past Kitschdorf (no, that’s not an official name for the center of town, but it fits) down to a walking course along the river, where I noticed a few fallen chestnuts and the occasional river fish.

When I got home, I realized I had a fair amount of ingredients which I had originally quite specific plans for, but which no longer had a clear fate. Rather than let them go to waste, I set out do do some serious improvisation.

Roasted potatoes with chive sour cream, and cabrales salad

My leftover cabrales cheese needed a final send-off, so I decided to use it in a salad. I incorporated a small amount into a sour cream/mayonnaise based dressing with a mustard kick. I’m not much of an aficionado of creamy dressings, but this worked quite well. In a frying pan, I let some butter cook at low heat with garlic and chopped tarragon, and added some pieces of my remaining rye bread to toast for croutons. Just a bit before pulling the croutons off heat, I added some of the cabrales cheese, so I could taste the contrasting flavors of raw and cooked blue cheese.

Alongside, I served some roasted potatoes with chive sour cream. The contrast between the blue cheese and the lightly flavored sour cream meant some subtlety in the sour cream was lost, but I was being frugal here, not trying to win any culinary contests.

Bluecheesesaladandjagaimo

Roasted cauliflower in white Cheddar sauce

I had half a cauliflower left after making my “nests” last week, so I roasted the cauliflower and served it in a white Cheddar sauce. This was essentially a cream and garlic enhanced bechamel with a fair amount of sharp white Cheddar.

Cauliflower in cheddar sauce

Dinner ended up being fairly dairy-intensive, but of course, it was quite comforting. I think later this week I’ll probably switch gears back to more sappari food.

Sleep interrupted

I got a decent night’s sleep Monday night, and woke up early and started plugging away on my work. Somehow everything just went better than average, and I blew past a bunch of things that usually don’t quite go so smoothly.

The only thing that distracted me was a truck, which was in front of me, trying to maneuver through an underpass just south of the Highway 99 bridge between Fremont and Queen Anne. Over about 10 minutes, a few cars started to pile up and then everyone got smart, realizing the truck driver wasn’t going to give up anytime soon, and wasn’t likely to try to get out of everyone else’s way; we backed out and popped back into traffic on the 99. I was on my way to a customer meeting, so this delayed me a bit, though it turned out to contribute to 5 minutes tardiness.

Tuesday night, however, didn’t go so well. I did some work in my office late at night, and then went home with an open issue with one of my vendors in Asia. They called me about 1:30 in the morning, and we tried to settle things, which took about 40 minutes on the phone. After that, my generally insomniac mind was unwilling to become restful again; a little stress goes a long way to unsettle my sleep patterns. I should probably consider this a health problem; it sure causes me a lot of trouble.

Tuesday nights I usually go to a Japanese language meetup in Seattle, and so dinner tends to be simple, and often eaten on the run. This time, I managed to make something simple that I had partially prepared the night before.

Red lentil soup

Red lentil soup

Spiced with some garam masala, some chilies, and a few adjustments, this lentil soup provided both comfort and heat. Cold weather makes me crave fiber and warmth… this works for me. Red lentils turn themselves into a bit of a puree, with no intervention required, assuming the liquid ratio is about right. It’s a nice low-effort soup-like dish.

Grilled cheese with chanterelles on caraway rye

When I’m in a hurry I feel little concern with making the ethnicities of my cuisine particularly closely aligned. My soup was aggressively seasoned, but I went with something mellow and brain-dead to nibble on.

I took some caraway-seasoned rye bread, a decent white cheddar, and some more sweated chanterelles and turned them into grilled cheese.

Grilledcheeseandchanterelles

Omija-cha

Omija-cha

Jumping regions again, I served a medicinal Korean drink that I cooked up on the weekend. Omija-cha (occasionally romanized without the hyphen, i.e. omijacha) is a “tea” made from the fruits of something occasionally translated as magnolia vine, or alternately as schizandra berry.

It takes me about an hour or so of simmering the very expensive berries to get the right level of flavor intensity, and I’m sure you could find someone who tells you it needs to be done much longer. I rarely make it, but I thought it would be a bit refreshing and maybe keep my little cold from relapsing. It’s served cold and fairly heavily sweetened.

Omija-cha is often a bit darker, but I might have been stingy with the berries this time. The name refers to the “five flavors” of the berries, the classic five flavors of Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent. I like it, but I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. In Seoul I once ordered it while sitting alone at an art gallery/cafe, and I’m sure the young girl at the counter was a bit perplexed, though she understood my awful Korean.

 

Tagged

Farewell, Minowa-san

Hiromi passed very sad news to me this weekend. One of my ceramic artists, Minowa Yasuo, died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a kind of stroke which occurs when blood vessels near the surface of the brain burst. This type of stroke can affect people of any age, so it was completely unexpected. Before the stroke, Minowa-san was quite healthy.

Minowa-san and his wife were very kind and welcoming to Hiromi and to me. They often invited us to the workshop on the outskirts of Mashiko and served us English tea and Danish butter cookies as we talked about ceramics and unrelated trivialities.

Mrs. Minowa called Hiromi’s home while she was at work on Friday. Yesterday Hiromi talked to Mrs. Minowa by telephone to express sympathy… it turns out that Mr. Minowa died on September 2 and Mrs. Minowa called just after visiting family near Hiromi’s home.

During their conversation yesterday, Hiromi learned that Mr. Minowa had a son from his first marriage, and they hadn’t seen each other since both Minowa and his former wife remarried. That son moved to the US at some point to work, and somehow discovered one of my web sites, then found a way to contact his father in Mashiko. They had planned to meet again later this year, although it didn’t quite work out.

I’m not quite sure how to react yet. I have more of a personal connection with the Minowa family than other potters I buy from, so it came as a shock to me.

My cold seems to be better. I tried to take the weeekend easy, but somehow I didn’t sleep much better. I spent a lot of time playing with web code on Saturay, and enjoyed some cheap entertainment on Friday. This afternoon, I did a bit of work in my office, met with a customer, and then decided to make a simple dinner.

Grilled pear, caramelized onions and cabrales salad

Tamara Murphy’s restaurant in downtown Seattle, Brasa, gives a lot of space to cabrales cheese, particularly on their bar menu. At Brasa, cabrales is often paired with grapes, and this is perfectly sensible. The pungency of the cheese and the mild flavor and light sweetness of the fruit complement each other. I spotted some nice Bosc pears tonight and noticed a fair deal on cabrales cheese, so I chose to grill some pears and caramelize some onions, and serve these atop some red lettuce dressed with my signature yuzu dressing. A few toasted pine nuts scattered about add a bit of aromatic complexity.

Pear cabrales salad with caramelized onions and pine nuts

Potatoes au gratin with chives

I remembered I had a remaining stash of chives from a baked potato dinner a few days ago. I spotted some inexpensive Washington-grown Yukon Gold potatoes and decided I needed to give my mandoline a workout, so I made this gratin. I used half cream, half milk, a bit of salt, and a hint of garlic.

Potato gratin with chives

 

Whew

I watched my database-driven web sites, including this blog and my web store, YuzuMura.com, suffer from a 40 minute outage tonight.

That was painful.

The database server apparently went offline for a longer than cozy period of time… I think the hosting service sometimes restarts the database server on weekends at night, but the impact is usually smaller than 3 minutes.

I hope it didn’t negatively impact any customers who came to the site.

Tagged

On fully admitting fall has arrived

Last week I took advantage of some nicely-priced Japanese eggplant, serving my first autumn eggplant of the year, but I wasn’t quite prepared to admit that we’re firmly into the fall season. The bizarre nature of Washington’s growing season means we’re still seeing beautiful, flavorful local peaches and nectarines, and still some spectacular local tomatoes, but we had been quickly closing in on fall. The apple harvest started, as well, and I’ve indulged in the fruits of that. Sweet potatoes, too. But I wasn’t quite ready to give in and call a season a season.

Tonight’s spicy rice porridge, with onions, chestnuts, satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes), kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), and some late-season locally-grown green beans, cannot fairly deny the beginning of the fall produce cycle. The chestnuts are apparently not local, and the squash isn’t quite at its prime, but the fact that I even considered making such a belly-warming dish indicates a clear change in the weather.

Spicy rice porridge with kabocha, satsumaimo, chestnut, and thai basil

The rice was cooked with onions, ginger and some chopped Thai chillies, seasoned with salt, and simmered most of the time with the starchy vegetables, and only for a few minutes with the green beans. I also added a bit of coconut milk, which contributed a creamy texture and an indulgent richness. Upon serving, I place a few leaves of Thai basil in the bowl.

The idea for this dish I have borrowed in large part from a French cuisine-influenced Vietnamese chef, who runs a casual fusion-y place called Andre’s Eurasian Bistro I occasionally patronized when I worked for Microsoft. I liked that place, but had mixed experiences, as sometimes one dish would be fantastic on one visit and barely memorable on another; some dishes were clever ideas and some were not so much. It’s a tough place to have such a long, varied menu; their traffic was never quite predictable as they would sometimes be insanely busy on a weeknight and dead on a weekend, or vice versa. I did appreciate the kind of neighborhood aesthetic there, in otherwise bland strip mall surroundings.

I am not sure the chef would recognize the dish except for the commonality of rice, squash and sweet potatoes, but both versions are wonderfully comforting. No sugar was used, but the vegetables and the coconut milk contributed a kind of natural sweetness, and the Thai basil was a nice accent.

I entertained the idea of making this a simple one-pot meal, and adding some good fried tofu from Thanh Son directly to the porridge, but I decided it would work better in a dish of greens.

Gailan (Chinese Broccoli) with fried tofu, onions, garlic, and

This is gai lan, also known as “Chinese Broccoli.” I usually don’t do much to this other than sautee it with garlic and maybe some fermented black beans, but in this case I used some onions, and a vegetarian version of oyster sauce, which is apparently made from fermented mushrooms rather than oysters. This was a simple dish, with a hint of sweetness and saltiness from the oyster sauce.

This weekend coincides with the the monthly “Is my blog burning” event, whose theme is in fact I Can't Believe I Ate Vegan. I’ve been hosting vegetarian (though not strictly vegan) dinner parties for years, and it never fails that a guest who doesn’t know me particularly well gets through the entire meal without realizing that they’ve been eating vegetarian food all night.

I’m not at all an ascetic vegetarian; I don’t really do much in the way of scary 1970s meat analogs, and I have a fairly well-traveled palate which isn’t very patient with mediocrity.

I use tofu, but I’m extremely particular about using extremely fresh tofu, and some people have never tasted anything better than the slightly soured stuff that pervades grocery stores, so they often assumed you were supposed to cover up the taste of tofu to make it palatable. In my opinion, simply prepared tofu that highlights the soy flavor itself is beautiful. Except for people who simply have mental opposition to tofu, most people respond quite positively to my tofu dishes.

Good food, whether vegetarian or not, encourages people to appreciate what they are eating, not wonder about what might be missing. When vegetarian food is prepared well, people aren’t really conscious that it’s vegetarian. My roommate wasn’t particularly aware that no animal products entered the equation for this meal, and I doubt most anyone else would have given it much thought.

My ideal cuisine emphasizes “sappari” flavors, or simple, clean, refreshing tastes. But tonight I was in the mood for a bit more aggressive seasoning, so I used chillies and a heavy hand with the aromatics.

Porridgeandgailan2

Dinner is served.

Technorati tags: IMBB # 19, Vegan

Asparagus with kumquat butter

Asparagus with kumquat butter

Sometimes you have to take a few risks.

Sometimes, in order to make a bit of progress at something, you almost have to invite disaster. Tonight I invited disaster home, into my kitchen. To be fair, I did it responsibly. I did minimize the number of potential victims... In spite of popular opinion to the contrary, for a passionate cook there is more than one reason to cook for oneself... taking risks is one.

Many people think me more adventurous or inventive in cuisine than I see myself. I'm perhaps obsessive, but I work within a certain vocabulary. The spectrum of flavors and techniques I work with is perhaps broader than average, especially in an age of convenience, but generally I'm quite content to work from well-understood, classic techniques and flavor combinations. Basil and tomato never gets old for me. I feel the same about ume and shiso.

I'm quite content playing with my food within familiar parameters... Although I push the boundaries often enough, usually simplicity wins out over novelty.

Sometimes I do simplicity with a little novelty.

That's all this was... I was at the supermarket tonight, and I saw kumquats for a reasonable price... I thought, "Hey! kumquats! Suddenly, I feel like cooking with kumquats."

My usual non-dessert impulse would probably be to put them into a salad or something. Then I remembered I bought asparagus a few days ago, and I really ought to use it up.

I wondered, "hmm... what can I do with kumquats and asparagus?"

Well... citrus... butter... it works for artichokes, why not asparagus? Lemon, kumquat, close enough, right? Hollandaise sauce can be made with lemon juice, and asparagus likes hollandaise... Ah, that settles it.

So I sort of simmered the kumquats in way too much butter for several minutes to mellow them out, and added a bit of salt. I tossed in a few slices of shiitake because they were handy, and I had nothing better to sacrifice them to. Later, I added the asparagus, tossed them around in the pan a bit, and covered them for a few minutes. I added some nira (sometimes called garlic chives). After adjusting seasoning a bit, I pronounced the dish done.

It worked. It turned out to be a good combination. The shiitake proved to be more a distraction than anything else, but I'll definitely be repeating the kumquat butter combination, and since asparagus season is just kicking off, I have a feeling the trio will be back in my life soon.

Debugging my not-so-labor-saving script, relieved by apples

I remember when I could be fascinated by solving a computer problem, and I’d happily whittle away hours and hours, usually for the gain of just a few minutes of labor from time to time.

This is not so satisfying now that I am trying to build a business of my own not related to software. However, I let myself spend an insane amount of time debugging some quite simple database code and forms code, meant mostly to save some repetitive data entry work. Had I just done the tedious work, I would have spent far less time overall, but now I have a solution that should benefit me whenever I need to add a batch of similar products.

The good news, though, is that i now have all of the photographs Rob Tilley sent me online at YuzuMura.com, and I have some reusable code that will benefit me when I add other batches of products.

In the afternoon I indulged in eating most of a tremendously large apple given to me by a Nikkei-jin apple farmer on Sunday… it was so flavorful… crisp, lightly acidic, aromatic.

Ringo

Aki-nasu and nagaimo-dango

I sent Hiromi these photos from tonight’s dinner and she called it “obaachan no ryouri” or grandma food.

The results were nice, but not flawless..

I was experimenting with making nagaimo dango in soup, and I overruled my initial impulse of making the dango using only wheat flour, nagaimo and a pinch of salt. I thought the texture might be more interesting if I added some katakuriko. This seemed to make the dough very sticky and my experience making gnocchi didn’t provide useful sensory reference points to judge the consistency, so when I boiled the dango, they got a bit chewy.

Nagadan

On previous occasions, I’ve used katakuriko and blends of katakuriko and kuzuko in dango recipes, but I was generally following a recipe that wasn’t terribly temperamental. In this case, I added two unknowns: the nagaimo, and the katakuriko. I think it will take a few experiments to get the ideal texture.

I made one of my favorite variations of hiya-yakko, made with yuzu-kosho, which is a paste made from the ground rind of yuzu and ground chilies, and a splash of Japanese soy sauce. A few years ago I served a very potent yuzu-kosho with some godoufu or another similarly mild side dish, and a knife-tip portion of yuzu kosho. I guess my plating needed some work; in Japan, I have seen similar presentation, and I knew the flavor was quite powerful. But one my guests thought I had mistakenly dropped something on the plate. When I explained the flavoring, they realized that it was the perfect amount for the dish in question, but it was a bit surprising to them. This time, I used a fairly substantial amount; roughly a third to half a teaspon. Actually, my yuzu-kosho has lost a bit of its aroma over time and I only had small amount left. So this amount was just about right, and not overwhelming.

Hiyayakko-yuzukoshou

I also made some quickly fried Japanese eggplant, dressed with nothing more than grated ginger, some sesame seeds, and a little Japanese soy sauce. This is one of my absolute favorite ways to serve eggplant, because it is so incredibly simple and flavorful. For this preparation, I usually slice the eggplant for this quarter lengthwise, then halfed crosswise, but I thought this might be a bit too visually repetitive, since I planned to serve another eggplant dish sliced lengthwise. I chose instead to use a rolling cut (mawashi-giri).

Nasushouga

I also made some dengaku-nasu, which I nearly lost to neglect. I roasted lengthwise-sliced halves of eggplant, then added a mirin-sugar-miso paste which is a classic topping for broiled tofu, called “dengaku-miso” or “neri-miso.” My dengaku-miso is usually smoother and thicker than it was tonight, so I was a little frustrated that it wanted to slide off of my eggplant. My broiler also cooked a little faster than I expected so I almost over-caramelized the topping.

Nasudinner

This was dinner… I added some tsukemono after I set everything out.

I prepared a small delivery to the Women of Color luncheon organized every 3 months or so by Assunta Ng. When I can, I have been providing some promotional giveaways and coupons for a gift bag that they offer to attendees.

Part of the day I was also trying to debug some stored procedures intended to help me quickly add multiple similar items to my online store. Due to various quirky little bugs, it turned out to be more distracting than immediately productive, but I know I need to do this work to simplify my life. I am not quite finished, but I’ve done enough work that it speeds up adding the metadata for the photos I’m putting up right now. Actually, though, I’m kind of debugging the code one addition at a time, so this particular batch may not be finished very quickly.

Lentil soup, Biofournil bread, strawberry basil sorbet

I picked up a very nice loaf of naturally leavened multigrain bread from Biofournil in Belltown today and decided to make some soup for dinner. The lentil mushroom soup, with ordinary crimini mushrooms and some local chanterelles, in addition to some freshly roasted corn and a bell pepper based mirepoix, didn’t take to the camera well, but tasted nice. Biofournil has all-organic naturally-leavened breads, pastries and so on. I am not normally a particular fan of dining in Belltown, but I got a nice sandwich here on sourdough baguette, reinforcing my image of Belltown as a place to find decent bakeries and mostly-about-the-booze dinnertime options.

BiofournilLentils

On Sunday I picked up an insane amount of local strawberries, since we’ve got a fairly late run of beautiful summer fruits at unbeatable prices. The fastest way for me to use a bunch of strawberries is to puree them, so I turned a portion of them into a sorbet base.

I discovered many years ago that strawberries like basil, so I always include 4–6 basil leaves in my 5 cup sorbet base, usually adding them to the blender close to the end of the puree. I used about a cup of sugar and a bit of lemon and orange juice in today’s sorbet, but usually I just use lemon. I served the sorbet with a homemade sesame cookie, which is a sweet-savory cookie using a tiny bit of flour, a lot of butter, some sugar, an egg, salt and vanilla. It was spread out thin on a Silpat mat atop a baking sheet, baked about 10 minutes, then cooled just until solid enough to roll up.

Ichigo basil sorbet

The strawberry-basil sorbet was intensely strawberry-ish and very smooth. The smaller local strawberries, apparently not bred for industrial-scale distribution, have a lot of flavor, although the ones I got still had a bit more acid than my favorites, but because of the flavor intensity, it worked really well as a sorbet. The basil contributes a nice bit of charisma to an essentially simple flavor.

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