27.6.06

al falfa.

Hoo-wee, that's a good one. It was either that or a Little Rascals reference, and I never really understood the appeal of those fuckers frankly.

From time to time I like to ask myself a question in the form of a post. And then, eventually, I get around to answering it. It would be nice if someone else answered the questions for me, but that means that someone other than my mother would have to be reading this blog. Which reminds me: why doesn't she ever comment? I hope she's OK. I should probably call. Maybe she's done taking care of me. Maybe she's moved on, found some other young boy to answer blog questions in the form of a post for.

OK. For now, my question is: why do we eat alfalfa sprouts? And, for extra credit, why don't we eat grown-up alfalfa?

I have an inkling of why we eat the sprouts. They're good for you. But the taste is still very...healthy. As in something you'd never be served at say The French Laundry. I'm willing to be proven wrong on this. The taste reminds me personally of what that fake easter basket grass looks like it tastes like.

I've also got an idea of why we don't eat adult alfalfa. If the kids don't taste good, the parents probably taste worse. At least that's what my life experience tells me. OK, research to follow, eventually. Or some kind soul (this includes you Mom) could pony up and answer it for me. Some healthy person, I bet.

UPDATE: My dear, sweet, wonderful mother has put her undervalued 2 cents in, without even having seen the bait-concentrated version of this post:

"Your Mama usually only knows the medical detail of most things. Alfalfa is an ancient treatment for the ill and poorly nutritoned because it stimulates appetite and it aids in digestion. It also can be used topically to heal wounds and for menses discomfort. Oh, also the ashes of alfalfa are 99% calcium. Adult spouts are way too potent, you may become a new super hero strain."

"Menses?" I'm kidding, she's a nurse. In all seriousness, thanks, Barbie.

+++

25.6.06

recipe testing: socca/farinata.

I've posted about besan, or chickpea flour, or kikkererwtenmeel, before, but not in any useful detail. I've been going through periods where I cook with it quite a bit and then give up on it because it takes too much attention to detail (or so I thought...keep reading), and well...I'm la-zy.

In my defense, there are a couple of issues with it: it doesn't really operate much like flour during the cooking process, for starters. It acts like mashed beans. That means it behaves badly in the pan, falls apart during flipping, it crusts up on the outside while remaining uncooked on the inside, it doesn't do its homework, stays out late without calling, etc.

Secondly, it needs to be browned perfectly in order for things to taste right. If you don't brown it, it tastes like you ground up uncooked chickpeas and added water to them, and that tastes even worse than it sounds.

If you're going to be trying crepes or anything that doesn't involve really high cooking temperatures, in order to bypass the potential uncooked grossness you might want to consider toasting the chickpea flour before you even add water to it. And as you know, toasting things requires a close eye on the stove so you don't f*ck it up, and I am bad at the close eye on the stove bit.

+++

Why are we even cooking with it again? Because it's a very nutritious flour-like medium that tastes very nice when prepared carefully, which makes it appropriate for breading things you're frying, so you end up with a crunchy bhaji- or pakora-type device (why are all of the best-looking besan recipes coming from NZ and Australia?), or you can make kofta with it which are also tasty and nutritionally valorous. It's basically a good wheat flour substitute: better nutrition profile and more interesting taste.

Here's an Australian article that talks about how making socca (French/Italian chickpea flour pizzas. Well, socca in France, but farinata in Italy, and they're called something else in Tuscany which escapes me now, something to do with ceci...anyone?) is "foolproof." This makes me the perfect test subject.

+++

socca.


1 cup besan/chickpea flour
1 tsp salt
lots of freshly cracked black pepper, at least 1 tsp, up to 2 tsp
1 cup lukewarm water
5-6 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped, optional
1 tsp, up to 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced, optional

Preheat oven to 230C. Put a non-stick pizza pan in the oven. Put chickpea flour in bowl, add salt and pepper, then slowly add 1 cup lukewarm water, whisking to eliminate lumps. Stir in 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or as long as 12 hours. Batter should be about the consistency of cream. If using onion and rosemary, stir them into batter. Pour 2 tbsp oil into the heated pan, and swirl to cover pan evenly. Pour in batter, and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until firm and edges set. Heat broiler, and brush top of socca with 1 or 2 tbsp oil if it looks dry. Set socca just below broiler, just long enough to brown it in spots. Cut into wedges and serve hot, or at least warm.


UPDATE: I'm making it for breakfast the next day it turns out, as I do not have any other appropriate food in the house. I even went to the grocery store yesterday. Anyway, I'll let you know what happens. I forgot to highlight the article author's big tips: 1) use lots of freshly ground pepper. And 2) sift your chickpea flour. I did do number 1...50 grinds. I did not do number 2 (titter).

AND: Foolproof and awesome is the verdict. Make sure you add lots of pepper. Make sure you get it as brown as possible. And lots of olive oil. And salt. And turn up your oven as high as it will go (well, unless you've got a serious oven. mine only goes to 260C), the browner the better, think falafel brown. Really tasty. Yay! For those of you counting these things, chickpea flour has about 390 kcal per 100g, which is a little more than a cup. The problem in this recipe would be the olive oil, which is 120kcal per tbsp and I used 5. Which makes this socca 1000kcal, which means I should not eat the whole thing.

LASTLY: Tasty Bites, which is new to me, has a very nice socca post (or three) that links to socca recipes on four of my regular reads, TSOGB, Beyond Salmon, Traveler's Lunchbox, and In Praise of Sardines....I'll just let you follow her links to the socca posts.

ADDENDUM: Buy a non-stick pizza pan if you don't have one. My cheapo one has not been cutting it in the "successfully getting the socca off the pan" department.

+++

ouch.

"When I buy cookies I eat just four and throw the rest away. But first I spray them with Raid so I won't dig them out of the garbage later. Be careful, though, because that Raid really doesn't taste that bad (Janette Barber)."

I'm sorry to say that I'm in touch with this emotion. I stole the quote from Erin Eats, who has a nice gyoza recipe here, which is how I found her.

23.6.06

okonomiyaki.














You are looking at my number-one food discovery of 2006. Maybe even 2005. I just sat here for 90 seconds trying to describe what influences it combines, but it's thoroughly bizarre in composition and execution and totally fantastic on the ol' tongue. You'll usually see it referred to as "Japanese pizza", but it's nothing like that at all, except in how it fits in to people's eating habits: it's a street food, or at least extremely casual dining. It's really just a big-ass savory pancake. With mayonnaise and seaweed. Do NOT let those words deter you.

You can see how to make the one pictured above for now...and hopefully I'll add my scintillating tale of how I came to meet this thing eventually.

But until then...I'll send you directly to Amsterdam's only okonomiyaki restaurant, Japanese Pancake World, where the so so nice chefs will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about it, including the secret of the double-spatula flip, and the mushroom press. Really! The coolest thing was coming home from JPW and trying to make my own the next day, and it was 8/10ths as good as theirs. So they're not so tough to make. Nonetheless, go there, now....they're great people. It's in the Jordaan. I'm not kidding! Go!

UPDATE: Well, in co-enthusing with VikingChild about okonomiyaki (recipe here), the question of their provenance came up, and I thought I had the answer, but it turns out that it's nestled right in the Japanese Pancake World website. I'll quote for you here:


Sometime in Taisho-era (1912 - 1926), a wave of Westernisation finally reached the kitchen of the Japanese general public. Worcester sauce came into Japan around this time, and was embraced by the Japanese. Thick pancakes from Meiji-era were touched-up with worcester sauce to give them a Western flair. Garnished with a generous portion of scallion, people fondly referred to this new style of pancake as Issen Yoshoku (one-pence Western food) or Negi-yaki.
In the late 40's, Japan was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II. Food was scarce and people turned to Negi-yaki, a snack, to fill their empty stomachs. Particularly in Hiroshima, destroyed by the atomic bomb, life was harsh. Food distributed via rations was never enough to save the people from hunger. Kitchen appliances had been long confiscated by the government for manufacturing weapons. Hiroshima citizens picked up metallic sheets from the ruins and baked these wafer-thin pancakes to survive. In an effort to ease their hunger, people stuffed their pancakes with as much chopped cabbage as their make-shift-back-yard-farm permitted. And thus was born the first "Hiroshima-yaki."

And then, people in different regions started making them however they wanted to. "Okonomi" means "as you like", so then you get okonomi-yaki, or "cook as you like". OK, when do we eat?

ANOTHER UPDATE: One thing that the JPW had that I didn't was real okonomiyaki sauce, specifically made for it. I'd read that you can use ton-katsu sauce, I myself had used oyster sauce with a little worcestershire to thin....but apparently these Fujii characters make the real thing. I'm sure they're not alone, but I'm almost sure this is the brand the JPW chef used. So I'm on the lookout.

FINAL FRIGGING UPDATE: Found it. That didn't take long at all...walking to the gym I stopped in the hideously expensive Tampopo
, and they had Bulldog brand okonomiyaki sauce. For 8 euro. Jesus, people, I've had a retail shop in Amsterdam, I know it's hard to make it work selling low-margin stuff, especially imports (my low-margin import item was CDs...do you know how many Nurse With Wound and AMM CDs you have to sell every day to pay your rent? you don't want to know. long live the MP3), but their prices are a good 50% higher than those of the mighty and excellent in every way Toko Dun Yong from my old 'hood.

Yes, I'm sure that Tampopo's rent is a good 50% higher than Toko Dun Yong's as well, but that's their own fault for buying into the Haarlemmerstraat foodie/babyville hype. I'm not trying to be mean, because they seem like nice people, but prices in this city are high enough without another flashy new store selling artificially expensive things you can already get somewhere else for cheaper. I get annoyed every time I walk by Tampopo. Is that wrong? Probably, but they're emblematic of a larger problem. Anyway, I didn't buy it, I'll make my own. Recipe forthcoming. (UPDATE: Tampopo went out of business in 2010, I never did really stop having very conflicting but mostly negative feelings about it, sorry!!!).

JEEZUS: I am so done with this post. I won't be posting a recipe for okonomiyaki sauce, because every recipe for it that I've found looks terribly boring: essentially ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, mirin, and soy sauce. Probably better off with my oyster and Worcestershire mix or ton-katsu sauce. Case closed. Please.

+++

flora, fauna, whatnot.

I know my limits. Or I thought I did. I'm a really open-minded eater and taster, and there are very few foods which I absolutely will not eat. In fact, I can't think of one. I even almost enjoy durian, although every time is like the first time...it's touch and go. But I mostly enjoy it.

Oooh, I just thought of something I can't eat...my Nan's liver + onions, rest her soul, is something that is talked about to this day in my family for the waves of disorientation and hallucinogenic revulsion that overtook us all that fateful day she set it before us at the table.

I can still smell it, it's...it's...like a combination of that ruining-a-pan-by-continuing-to-boil-it-after-the-water's-gone smell + someone with extremely bad breath flossing for the first time in a long time + a very hot, nearly melting rubber garbage can. Maybe she just left a spatula in an empty saucepan on a burner. I don't know.

Anyway, I don't think I'd eat that these days. I also can't eat natto or any seriously fucked-up fermented Asian trickery. I'm making a distinction here between "edible" fermented Asian products (I eat miso often and happily; fermented black soybeans, rinsed and used in sauces, definitely; fermented shrimp pastes like gkapbi, trassie, belachan...yes please) , which I can eat and often do with great relish, and "gross" fermented Asian products.

I can only name one gross fermented Asian product, and that's natto. I don't think I can say anything about natto that hasn't been said better by Steve over at The Sneeze. For example:


"I dared to lift the lid, which made me regret that I needed to breathe. The natto was coated in some kind of sick slime and had the complex yet playful aroma of a dumpster in July. Actually, the little pile inside looked kinda like baked beans. It also smelled kinda like baked beans. If they were baked in the filthy heat of Satan's asshole."

Right. So go there if you're "hungry" for more.

+++

So, the gross Asian products I cannot name are relatively numerous, and for many years I seemed to buy one about once a month or so. I cook a lot of Asian food, and when I would go to my local Asian grocer, which is often, I would almost always grab one or two things I'd never tried before. While I did find plenty of great things like furikake, basil seed and grass jelly drinks, sweet peanut congee, bubble tea (before it was called bubble tea)...I also found stuff that made us leave the house after I opened the package.

+++

Where is this entry going? Why am I endlessly boasting about the resilience of my palate? I'll tell you. Zuurkoolsap. Sauerkraut juice. I've been drinking it. Why? Let me let Reuters Health tell you:

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Fermented cabbage--otherwise known as sauerkraut--could be even healthier to eat than raw or cooked cabbage, Finnish researchers report.
The investigators found that fermenting cabbage produced a number of different compounds, known as isothiocyanates, which have been shown in test tube and animal studies to prevent the growth of cancer, especially in the breast, colon, lung and liver. Isothiocyanates are found in many foods, including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts, and wasabi, a pungent Japanese condiment.
Whether isothiocyanates have similar effects in humans, however, is not clear.
In the current study in the October 23rd issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers analyzed compounds in white cabbage that had been fermented to sauerkraut. Raw cabbage is rich in glucosinolates, another class of cancer-fighting compounds.
According to their experiment, the fermentation process breaks glucosinolate down into isothiocynates and other compounds that may fight cancer. Previous studies have found that isothiocyanates encourage precancerous cells in the digestive system to self-destruct, a process known as apoptosis.
"Our study implies that fermented cabbage can be a good source of plant-derived bioactive compounds such as breakdown products of glucosinolates," Dr. Eeva-Liisa Ryhanen, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.
"Some of these compounds have shown anticarcinogenic effects in vivo in animal models. To show the anticarcinogenic effects of sauerkraut in humans, clinical studies (in humans) are required," added Ryhanen, from MTT Agrifood Research Finland in Jokioinen.
She said the research team is now investigating ways to optimize the fermentation process so that sauerkraut could be even healthier.

Sounds good, right? This camper needs all the anti-cancer help he can git. So, I bought some zuurkoolsap and (thankfully) refrigerated it before trying it. The taste...how to describe the taste. It's kind of like drinking the juice from a can of sauerkraut. Would anyone really do that? I like sauerkraut, but I never really imagined it without the cabbage. Anyway, I'd kind of compare it, not in taste, but in effect, to...grinding a cut lemon into your eye? Licking a poisonous tree frog? Downing a large shot of warm gin?

I know this sounds like a negative review. But as I was finishing that last sentence I was honestly just thinking about having another little glass of it.

+++

use your imagination.

Well, it's been 6 months and I think I'm ready to try it again. Yep, I'm finally going to finish that ijskruid post.

Not really. I am going to start posting regularly here. I stopped for a lot of reasons, and just lately I've been writing about food again, but with lots of detail about boring things like nutrition and calories, as I am officially...on a diet. As in keeping track of what I eat.

And...I'm amazed. I always thought I had a pretty good idea of how many calories I was consuming and how well I was eating, but now that I'm being hardcore about it, I realize that I was snacking a whole bunch. Like constantly, hoor (that's Dutch for, among other things, "y'know"). Not on truly evil foods, but you know, calories are calories. And, I'm a terrible, terrible night eater. Incorrigible. Well, hopefully not. But Mara's parents call me Ratboy, as in, "looks like we've got rats or something, honey...all the leftovers are gone."

So...I'm not going to thrill you with my calorie counts here. In fact, I'm not going to thrill you with anything just yet...I was just looking at my food journal and I have just been eating like a complete moron. It's because Mara is away in Scotland for two months...so I have no one to cook for, so I'm not cooking. I'm opening cans and poking shrink wrap. Again, pretty healthy food (smoked salmon, mackerel, the usual fishy suspects; avocado; nuts; bulgur; spinach; tofu; sauerkraut juice [seriously...i'll explain], and veggie burgers pretty much sums it up), but jeez, dude...artless.

+++