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

Lacking spectacular moments, I forge on

My silence the last few days is merely a reflection of a rough schedule, combined with relatively uninteresting eating.

I did my usual supermarket demos on Friday and Saturday, one of which was a long stretch away in Beaverton. I think I’ll be doing one more Portland area demo this holiday season, then maybe one in January. It’s still painful to go down there because of high gas prices, but someow I got decent mileage on the last trip.

My dragon beard candy has been selling at a fairly decent clip, presumably due to holiday demand. I restocked the Seattle Uwajimaya faster than I expected. I hope that keeps up. But for cost reasons, I’m not doing anything dramatic this year; last year, I brought the candymakers to Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area to run some promotional events. I can’t quite cost justify that this year, because my available resources are too tight, and unless I do something larger in scale, maybe in New York or very dense urban outlet, this kind of promotion only just barely pays for itself.

Last night I had a decent dinner, but I just haven’t been eating well lately. Today I had no time for lunch. I don’t like to eat “out” right now because it doesn’t save much time and even at the low end of the cost scale, is more expensive than making the equivalent food myself, but I’ve caved in and grabbed a burrito, slice of pizza or similar pretty much daily recently.

I wanted to make nabe-yaki udon for dinner last night, and I realized I had no udon, or even soba. So I settled for some thin “glass noodles”, turning my essentially rustic Japanese dinner into an accidental pan-Asian fusion dish. It was comforting and fairly healthy, consisting mostly of vegetables, shiitake, and tofu. I hope it made up for my slice pizza, eggnog latte and cookie lunch, which was quite the opposite.

Rushed bread

I’ve been swamped today trying to catch up with orders. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as I had hoped, so I need to knock out a lot of the rest tomorrow or I’ll be in desperate shape.

I was able to pick most of my orders for in-stock things picked but some complications made it impossible to get everything out. I’ve never been this overwhelmed before.

Just after making the ground cutoff for FedEx, I went back home and got a yeast dough started, while I worked on some other things. I really needed a brisk walk to decompress, so stepped out for about 30 minutes. I’m really exhausted, and I really got minimal sleep last night. Right now I’d like to be packing a few more orders to get a jump on tomorrow, but I’m so worn out I’m afraid of making mistakes.

This bread proofed only for about an hour, so it never developed any real flavor or textural complexity, but it formed a nice crust.

Rushed bread

Ways to bewilder telemarketing droids

Ring. Fumble. Where is my cell phone? Ring. Fumble. Aha. Ring. Hello?

Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company... Hello?

"Hello?"

Yuzu Trading Company, how can I help you?

"May I speak with the owner?"

What do you need?

"Hello? This is [unintelligible] with Domain Names and [blah blah blah]. Can I get your fax number to send you a packet of information [unintelligible]?"

No.

"What?"

No.

"Uh... I ..."

No, I already have information on domain names. Thanks. I don't need anymore. Especially sent to my fax number, I think silently.

"Well, I just [unintelligible] mrpfhfmphf."

No, thank you. (Click)

 

Granted, I have some sympathy for people making cold calls... I've been there, done that. It's no fun. But the last thing I want, when on the receiving end of such calls, is to give implicit permission to send even more marketing material that I don't want. Especially when it's the in the first semi-intelligible utterance in the conversation.

I have this instinct that makes me immediately suspicious when I receive a call and the person on the other end of the line doesn't respond like a normal person... if they say hello before I do, or if there's a second or two of supernatural silence before a clicking sound, I just know it's a marketing droid and I immediately activate my "fight or flight" defenses.

However, I've had those defenses successfully disarmed, at least long enough to listen to the key message.

It just takes a little more effort. Not that I want more marketing calls, but just as an example...

Ring... Ring...

Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company...

"Hi Jason, I was just looking at YuzuMura.com... It's a beautiful site. You have some really interesting products I've never seen anywhere else."

Flattery will get you 15 seconds of my attention... "Is this a customer?" I wonder? Oh! Thank you, I say.

"I know you're busy... I'm with [name omitted] publishing company that produces a number of books, some of which cover Asian art and travel topics... Would you be interested in taking a look?"

Oh, it's a marketing call after all. But wait, she actually knows something about my business, and has something potentially relevant to offer.

Well, I'm certainly willing to take a look... On my web site I really need books that have a coffee-table format, or otherwise have a production style that would be appropriate for the gift market. At the moment, I have some hurdles with books because my storefront's software has some issues with shipping calculations using multiple shipping methods, but it's certainly something I've been considering...

"Yes, that's pretty much all we produce. Would you be interested in..." (the conversation continues)

 

To be fair, I haven't yet ordered from that second company yet, either, but I have a positive impression of the company, and the salesperson put me at ease. She appeared to take a serious look at my business, even if it only means she spent 30 seconds skimming through the text and photos on the top page of my online shop. She tried to offer me something she thought would be compatible with my business.

Not everything works out instantly, but guess which company I'm likely to call back when I need something they offer?

Okara burger with tounyuu pan

No, I am not a great fan of meat analogues, but every once in a while I get an odd craving for a veggie burger. Most of the frozen products are not very exciting, and they've gotten incredibly expensive in the last few years, so they're almost never on my shopping list. But I do sometimes decide to make them at home.

This week, I still had a substantial amount of leftover okara, the soybean mash that's a byproduct of soymilk-making, a consequence of my godoufu-making endeavors. It really has a short lifespan, so I've been doing my best to make use of it before it's too late.

Some of the okara I had went into a croquette-like dish I made last Sunday. Seasoned okara has a slightly longer lifespan than unseasoned okara, so I repurposed some of the remaining croquette base, and blended it with some of the filling from some mushroom gyoza that was also sitting in my refrigerator. I shaped the resulting mixture into patties and carefully slipped them into a deep fryer.

What goes into such a concoction as okara croquettes or okara burgers? Well, there are other options, but basically I seasoned everything with a little salt, maybe a splash of some soy sauce, some pepper, and, in this case, and some mitsuba, a Japanese herb slightly similar to flat-leaf parsley. I used a little flour, and maybe even an egg yolk, to help everything hold together. The mushrooms added a bit of aroma and flavor, and since they were repurposed from a gyoza filling, they also benefited from the garlic-like flavor of nira, a chive-like herb. 

 

The okara burgers are, in this case, served on soymilk buns. The excessive surplus of soymilk in my refrigerator perhaps made this inevitable, but it works.

There's no way I'd be able to give a precise recipe for the okara "burgers", but a little experimentation and tasting before cooking should be enough of an indication of the likely success or failure. In this case, I deep fried them, instead of using a frying pan, but either way would work. Deep frying, counter-intuitively, absorbs less oil than using a frying pan, because the temperature is more stable.

They're served with mixed greens, onions, and brie, and the usual mayo/mustard/ketchup (corn-syrup free) condiments.

Potatoes were yukon golds, fried at a bit lower than normal temperature to keep them from browning too quickly, are twice-fried and tossed with porcini salt and a bit of additional sea salt. These would be equally nice roasted in the oven with olive oil.

The soymilk bread is reasonably simple... Unlike the okara burgers, I actually measured the ingredients, though the recipe was still fairly improvised.

Tounyuu Pan (豆乳パン)

  • 400 g flour (I guess that's about 3 cups... get a digital scale and be sure).
  • 225 ml warm, not hot, soymilk (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp. dry yeast or one cube of "fresh" yeast.

Place the flour into a bowl, making an impression large enough to accommodate the soymilk. Pour the soymilk into the bowl and add the yeast. If your yeast requires it, proof it in the soymilk in that impression. Otherwise, add salt and slowly blend the milk with the flour, using small circles with a wooden spoon.

Knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. The goal is to have a fairly moist dough for rolls, so resist the temptation to add much more flour unless the dough just doesn't hold its shape.

Allow to rise for at least an hour, then use a dough cutter to separate the dough into six equal pieces. Massage these into rounds, and use a rolling pin to make each bun a fairly even thickness, roughly 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Allow to rise for another 20 minutes or so.

Preheat an oven to 200C (425F). Place an oven-safe pot filled with hot water in the top rack of the oven.

Brush a little soymilk or egg on top of each roll. Gently press the wet side into a plate of sesame seeds.

Bake the buns for about 25 minutes, until golden-brown on top. Remove from oven and cover with a cloth, allowing them to mostly cool before consuming.

These buns are, perhaps, a bit too chewy for a "burger" bun, but they're also quite nice as breakfast rolls. They would likely become somewhat less chewy with a touch of sugar, some egg, or added fat such as butter or olive oil.

Godoufu with irigoma sauce and shouga no nerimiso

Godoufu with irigoma sauce and ginger-miso sauce

Godoufu, the soymilk-based mochi-like "tofu" from Saga prefecture, has been featured here before, shortly after I reminisced about my first time tasting it when I was ceramics-hunting in Arita many years ago.

This weekend I got the urge to make it again. It's a bit time-consuming to prepare, so I don't really make it all that often, but I made it twice this weekend. Yesterday I went to a potluck, where my quadruple batch was consumed or otherwise claimed by others. I decided I wanted a bit more for myself today, and I really had more than enough soy milk this time... I made a huge batch of soymilk on Saturday morning.

The basics are simple, but a bit time-consuming. Start with a truly rich unsweetened soymilk. Milk substitute monstrosities such as the popular Silk brand are completely unsuitable, and even most unsweetened soy milks sold at health food stores will not have enough protein or flavor. If you have a local Asian soymilk producer, they probably sell the thicker type of soymilk that will be suitable for the task. Otherwise, you can certainly make your own... That's what I did this weekend, and it's why I ended up with about 9 liters of thick soymilk and a frightening amount of okara.

Godoufu

  • 5 cups thick Asian-style unsweetened soymilk (roughly 1200 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons kuzu-ko or arrowroot starch (about 55 grams)
  • 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon katakuriko, similar to potato starch, about 120 grams

Kuzu-ko tends to be clumpy, so it's best to use a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or even the back of a spoon to crush the kuzuko into a fine powder. For best results, whisk the cold soymilk with the starches until the solids are completely dissolved; otherwise, small translucent balls similar to gravy lumps tend to form during cooking.

Bring the solution to a boil, then immediately take off the heat and start stirring furiously with a sturdy spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low, and keep stirring like mad, making sure nothing sticks to the pan. Keep this up for about 30 minutes.

In many pans it's a bit tricky to keep things from sticking and browning at the bottom, but regularly pulling the pan off heat can help regulate the bottom of the temperature. In a pinch, if the bottom of the pan starts to brown, I've been known to pour out the mixture into another pan and continue the process; it's really hard to rescue the godoufu if things start sticking, so I do my best to prevent disaster.

Turn out the mixture into an airtight storage container. Some Japanese sites recommend placing a layer of clingfilm wrap on the surface of the godoufu to prevent a skin from forming.

Next, if at all possible, put the sealed container in an ice water bath for about 5 minutes. Refrigerate a few hours until set. (In a pinch, you can eat after about an hour, but it will hold its shape better if it's refrigerated longer).

In my experience, godoufu keeps reasonably well for about a week, but it must be kept in an absolutely airtight container.

 

Two typical sauces often used to top the godoufu include:

Irigoma sauce (Black sesame sauce)

  • 3 tbsp. ground black sesame seeds
  • 1.5 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce

Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a minute or so. Allow to cool.

Shouga no nerimiso (Ginger miso sauce)

  • 2 tbsp. miso (akamiso or shiromiso)
  • 2 tbsp. mirin
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

On medium heat, bring ingredients to a simmer, stirring regularly. Cook for about 5 minutes after the mixture comes to a boil, until it thickens.

This one is nice with a little finely chopped scallion.

 

Last night I also tried the godoufu with kinako and kuromitsu, which was very similar to a sweet called "tounyuu no warabi-mochi" the Hiromi and I ate in Kyoto a couple years ago. It should also be nice in zenzai (sweet red bean soup) in place of shiratama or mochi.

Hua juan and yuba-vegetable soup

My favorite steamed Chinese bun is one of the simplest. After proofing a fairly standard, slightly sweetened yeast dough, I massage in a tiny bit of baking powder, which seems to affect elasticity. I roll out the dough as thin as practical, then rub in a liberal amount of roasted sesame seed oil. After that, I usually add nothing more than scallions, but occasionally I add some chili flakes or some sesame seeds according to my whim.

I roll up this sheet tightly, then take a dough cutter to create 1.5”-2” wide sections. I use chopsticks to smash the end of the spiral into the bun, causing the bun to expand out into a flower-like shape. The buns need to be steamed for just about 15 minutes.

Hua Juan: Steamed Flower Rolls

Huajuan

Yuba and vegetable soup with kikurage

Alas, because I never progressed very far when studying Chinese, I only know the Japanese names for most of the ingredients in this Chinese-style soup. Although essentially a simple soup, I used a lot of different vegetables, including onions, celery, garlic, sichuan ja tsai (zasai) pickles, snow cabbage pickles, carrots, napa cabbage, carrots, chilies, and, perhaps atypically, some turnips, and some shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves).

I incorporated some rehydrated yuba (soy milk skins), and dried “tree jellyfish” mushrooms (kikurage in Japanese) some pressed, slightly dried Chinese style tofu.

In order to add an earthy nuance, I seasoned this soup with a moderate amount of sesame oil. I also incorporated a fair amount of black vinegar and, of course, soy sauce and salt. To thicken the soup slightly, I relied on a bit of katakuriko dissolved in liquid.

Huajuan 016-640w

Dinner is served.

Huajuan and yuba vegetable soup

 

Chickpeas and Spanish paprika

I recently mentioned my weakness for the seductive smokiness of Spanish paprika. It turns out that, in my kitchen, precious little of my supply ever makes it into anything remotely resembling proper Spanish cuisine. But there are occasional exceptions.

Chickpeas moorish-style with paprika and egg

While seasoned chickpea and tomato dishes are rather common in pretty much every country that’s ever seen both ingredients, one of my favorite preparations is a Moorish-style preparation full of Spanish paprika.

Even within that realm, I’m sure there are a ton of variants. Some are garlicky, some are mostly seasoned with onions, and a few of them incorporate additional greens like spinach. I like them all. If it’s on a tapas menu, I’m a guaranteed sucker for it… We’ve ordered versions at Txori in Seattle, at Jaleo on a recent trip to DC, and probably anywhere else we’ve seen it.

Granted, it’s a humble dish, and maybe a bit homely, but it’s a fantastic way of adding a bit of protein to a cuisine which isn’t heavy on purely vegetarian protein options, aside from Spanish tortillas and various cheeses.

I did this version sans garlic and perhaps overemphasized the tomatoes. Thanks to Jaleo’s menu I stumbled on to the brilliant suggestion of topping it with a sunny-side-up egg. I cleverly forgot to butter the egg ring, so it’s not quite as pretty as it might be.

Thanks to the pressure cooker we picked up this winter, the dish comes together rather quickly. Precook the chickpeas to the point that they are soft, but not mushy. If you want garlic, toast a clove or two in olive oil gently until the garlic is just slightly browned. I then add plenty of chopped onions to the pan and cook them until transparent. Once the onions are nice and soft, I throw in a little splash of wine and add chopped or pureed tomatoes, a serious pinch of Spanish paprika (don’t waste your money on the not-at-all-similar Hungarian style paprika for this dish), salt and pepper, and the mostly-cooked chickpeas. Simmer until you’re ready to eat them, but not less than 15 minutes.

For something more verde, add blanched spinach just a minute or two before serving.

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Hedgehog mushrooms and shallots

Someone may eventually convince me otherwise, but I’m pretty sure that most wild Northwest mushrooms benefit the most from a minimalist treatment.

I’ve found no better confirmation of this than the chanterelle, and the similar, but slightly homelier hedgehog mushroom.

Hedgehog mushrooms with shallots

The most reliably pleasing treatment of these mushrooms, for me, requires only four ingredients and a little attention to detail. I mince a shallot, coarsely chop the hedgehog (or chanterelle) mushrooms, and stick these straight into a small, hot cast-iron skillet. In just seconds, you see an unlikely amount of water emerge from nowhere.

After the water cooks off, add life-endangering quantities of good butter, and some nice salt. I love to use alderwood smoked salt that I pick up at World Spice Merchants below the market in Seattle, but this time I used a fennel salt that I prepared myself. Fennel salt is exactly what it sounds like: equal portions fennel seeds and coarse salt, ground in a spice grinder until the fennel turns into little specks. If you want something fancier, give this one from Ritrovo a try; it’s got fennel pollen, whatever that is, and a few other herbs and spices, and it’s very good, but it’s also $15 or so a jar. Fennel and most of the herbs in that mix are not usually more than $3 an ounce.

You may want to add a little pepper, and maybe a touch of freshly ground nutmeg. If you don’t have fennel around, it can’t hurt to use a bit of fresh thyme.

Cook the mushrooms until they’re slightly caramelized, and serve.

Hedgehog mushrooms and chanterelles are picky about how they are cooked. If you make the mistake of adding the butter to the pan before adding the mushrooms, you’ll find that the moisture never quite disappears and you waste crazy amounts of money buying wild mushrooms only to end up with a rubbery mess. If you wait to add the fat until they’re slightly dry, you get magic. Personally, I prefer magic.

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Penne with rapini and chèvre

I love rapini, the bitter Italian turnip green sometimes called broccoli rabe. Hiromi compares it to nanohana, a similarly bitter green of the rapeseed plant that’s easier to find in Japan. Both are members of the big brassica family, and, as the “rap” in each word suggests, they’re closely enough related that one could easily be confused for the other.

But in spite of my affection for this vegetable, I’m the first to admit that, thanks to its bitterness, rapini is a tricky vegetable to work with. A few months ago, I made the mistake of trying to put together a stew-like preparation with lentils and briefly blanched rapini. The combination was so overwhelmingly astringent that nothing could save it, including some biscuits that I thought would provide enough contrast to balance out the greens. I made it for a party, in prodigious quantity, so it was kind of embarrassing. Even though many people did their best to eat a few bites, I knew it took more than a little effort to tolerate.

Rapini, aka broccoli rabe or friarielli

I know Italians often soften the bitterness by cooking this vegetable with some fatty sausage, but as a vegetarian, I needed to find some other option. I thought some soft cheese might do the trick.

First I cooked some shallots in a serious dose of good Vermont butter.

Cooking shallots in plenty of butter

I chopped the rapini and, near the end of the pasta’s cooking time, tossed it into the pan. Like most mustard relatives, the longer you cook this green, the more pungent it becomes, so it’s important to avoid cooking it too long.

Chopping rapini

I added the greens to the pan and tossed them around a bit with some Spanish paprika. Over the last year or so, I’ve developed an incredible weakness for Spanish paprika, thanks to its smoky aroma and deep flavor. It adds just the right kind of complexity to stand up to the assertive greens. No salsiccia required.

Working in the chevre

I worked in a healthy quantity of soft chèvre after the rabe was nicely coated with the butter and slightly wilted.Tossing the pasta with the rapini and cheese

I didn’t bother to wait until the chèvre melted before tossing the ingredients with the pasta. While I stirred everything together, the cheese and everything else developed into a much more uniform sauce. With just a few seconds to go, I threw in a few halved tomatoes. After a few shakes in the pan and some seasoning adjustments, I called it done.

Penne with rapini in chevre sauce, served

The result? Just what we were after. The bitter greens still held their own, but the chèvre and the pasta provided enough contrast that it was no struggle to enjoy the dish. The smoked paprika brought everything together, and contributed a really irresistable aroma. The penne itself I could take or leave; I would probably have been happier with a ridged version (penne rigate), but I used what I had in the larder. Some fresh fettuccini might be even better.

I’m convinced that rapini and chèvre belong together. I’m tempted to do a sort of white pizza with a chèvre and garlic base and a scattering of blanched rapini, served with some crushed dried chilies. Maybe a sort of chawanmushi-style savory custard would work. I’m pretty sure a simple omelet or frittata would turn out nicely, too.

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