Thursday, September 16, 2010

Easy weeknight dinner: Creamy tomato soup

Rain season is upon us. There's nothing more satisfying on a cold, dreary Seattle night than soup and bread. Tomato is one of my favorite soups, and is satisfying, comforting and absolutely delicious when served with some good Willamette Vally Pinot Noir, crusty bread and goat cheese. I always have cans of crushed tomato, dried herbs and vegetable bouillon on hand. This recipe is really easy and comes from years of being obsessed with tomatoes. It takes about half an hour to make from start to finish so it works really well for those evenings when all you want is to curl up on the sofa beside the fireplace with the dog, a good book, a bottle of wine and your favorite person in the world (who by the way, does NOT like tomato soup. *cries*)

Creamy Tomato Soup
Makes about 1 1/2 pints of soup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 carrot (yields about 1/2 cup diced carrots)
1 stalk celery
1/2 white onion (yields about 1/2 cup diced onions)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 can 28oz. crushed tomatoes (San Marzano works well)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 bay leaf
2 low sodium vegetable bouillon cubes (or about 1 tablespoons)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper *see note below

1. Heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat
2. Add in the diced carrots, diced celery, diced onions and minced garlic. Add a tiny bit of salt to soften the vegetables. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
3. Add in the crushed tomatoes and saute for another 5 minutes until fragrant.
4. Add in the herbs, vegetable bouillon and water and simmer, covered for about 15 minutes until the carrots are softened.
5. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf and puree in a blender or use an immersion blender. I like my soup a little chunky, so I don't go crazy with the pureeing. Add in the heavy cream and stir gently to mix. Season with salt and pepper and serve!

*Note: Adding salt and pepper as you go brings out the flavors more!

Boardwalk Empire

This is one of the few rare times I'm beating myself up for not having cable. From what I've seen, heard and read, Boardwalk Empire might just be the one series I'm going to be all over this Fall.

Prohibition era. Check.
Black comedy. Check.
Coupe martini glasses. Check.
Hats, gangsters and guns. Check. Check. Check.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The week that was: September 6 - 12

- Took the doggie for tons of walks
- Saw The Walkmen and Menomena live
- Got drunk on dry martinis at The Walkmen, felt terrible for three days after
- Saw Brent from Menomena's latest squeeze (fangirling moment! She kinda looked like Rebecca Gayheart)
- Made creamy tomato soup! Recipe coming soon.
- Bought a new necklace
- Got depressed reading this article at the bus stand - particularly about the cuts in education

Source: The Stranger

I've also decided not to renew my subscription to The Economist, although I probably will restart it in about 6 - 9 months. News these days just depresses the hell out of me, there isn't a single issue of The Economist that doesn't mention America's shitty economy, America's shitty political hullabaloo, dying people in the Middle East, China's double standards, climate change or just the sheer stupidity of some people who comment in the "Letters" section. I think as I age, I have become less tolerant of ignorance and asshattery and by jove, is this world filled with them.

Instead, I think I will spend the next half a year going through the whole list of Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th century, and working on my dissertation. I've read about 16 of those books listed; I found "Ulysses" to be rambly and quite tedious when I read it a good 10 years ago, but I might have to go through it again. I started with "The Sound and The Fury" which is proving to be quite a challenge to comprehend when you're sitting on the bus, bouncing around on disastrous Seattle roads. Maybe mindless shit like John Grisham novels would serve me better on those occasions.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Matcha ice cream

I finally caved in and bought an ice cream maker. Yes, I know. Cheesecake and ice cream, what gluttony. I got it in two days from Amazon Prime, and just yesterday, I ripped opened the packaging and froze the freezer bowl. I know summer is coming to an end, but ice cream will help me get through winter by proxy of fatty insulation. Go figure.

There are only two flavors I ever get in ice cream - vanilla and dark chocolate. However, my absolute favorite ice cream flavor is green tea (matcha). Unfortunately, I don't think any store bought ice cream ever measures up to the original Japanese stuff. So naturally, when I decided to buy the ice cream maker, the first recipe I wanted to try was a green tea one!

It's strange how making your own ice cream can be so deeply satisfying. And oh my god, is this green tea ice cream heavenly. I love that I am able to control what goes into my ice cream (guar gum? urgh!), and that I can add as much green tea or sugar as I want. This recipe is from David Lebovitz's A Perfect Scoop, courtesy of Use Real Butter. I may have to go out and actually BUY the book now that I am part of the homemade ice cream fan club. And please, for goodness sake, use powdered green tea i.e. matcha. This does NOT work with steeped green tea.

Matcha (green tea) ice cream
Yields 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
6 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
4 tsp matcha

1. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan.
2. Whisk the matcha and heavy cream together in a large bowl.
3. Whisk the eggs yolks slightly in a medium bowl. Continue whisking the eggs while slowly pouring in the warm milk mixture so as not to let the eggs curdle.
4. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and set over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens (see Note (a))
5. When the custard has thicken, strain over a fine mesh into the heavy cream-green tea mix while whisking vigorously.
6. Whisk until all the green tea has dissolved (see Note (b),(c))
7. Allow the ice cream mixture to cool and then refrigerate for at least an hour.
8. Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. (see Note (d))

(a) The mixture is thick enough when it coats back of spoon i.e. it doesn't drip away quickly but is quite viscous. Make sure the eggs don't curdle!
(b) I find that it's quite hard to dissolve the matcha powder. The trick according to Harumi Kurihara is to use 1 tbsp of the warm milk mixture to dissolve the matcha powder, then add it to the heavy cream.
(c) For a smoother consistency, strain the final mixture again over a mesh before refrigeration.
(d) I have a Cuisinart ICE-21 which yields soft serve ice cream. To firm up the ice cream, freeze in pint/quart containers for about 3 hours. It comes out PERFECT.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Japanese Cheesecake

While the boyfriend is away over this Labor's Day weekend, I've decided that I am going to subsist on things that I don't usually have when he's around. This means all things dairy and deep fat fried. Yes, the boyfriend will come home to a more rotund, less appealing girlfriend.

That being said, I thought I'd kick off the solo weekend with some cheesecake and tea. How girly! However, I'm not a huge cheesecake fan. They come across as cloying, rich and sometimes bordering on nauseating. A slice of the Oreo crumbled one at The Cheesecake Factory is enough to send me into convulsions and regret for a month. On the two separate attempts I have tried at making my own low-fat cheesecake, I have failed miserably. One was a no-bake attempt that fell apart as soon as I removed it from the freezer. The other was a sugared-up hunk of cream cheese studded with graham cracker bits.

When I received the Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking cookbook last Christmas, I found that she had included a recipe for Japanese cheesecake that seemed fairly easy. Now, if you've never had Japanese cheesecake, you're in for a surprise. It doesn't taste as cheesy as your regular New York style cheesecake. It tastes a little bit more like a cross-between a sponge cake and a souffle. The difference is that a traditional cheesecake uses tons of cream cheese while a Japanese cheesecake uses more whipped eggs and minimal cream cheese. The result is an airy cake that doesn't cause coronary problems and is a really enjoyable treat when served with some warm green tea.

This recipe by Harumi Kurihara is really simple and as someone who REALLY HATES BAKING CAKE, it was fantastically easy to whip up. As long as your ingredients are at room temperature, you can make this in less than 15 minutes (not including baking time). Her recipe called for a 7-inch springform pan, I had an 8-inch. I improvised by making a quarter extra of the batter and crumbs. The cake turned out really great and I can safely recommend that if you're looking for an easy-peasy dessert, this is it.

Japanese Cheesecake (adapted from Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking)
Makes a 7-inch baked cake

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (100 g/3.5 oz.)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (42.5 g/1.5oz.
1 cup cream cheese (225 g/8oz.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (112.5 g/4oz.)
2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sifted all purpose flour (23.5 g/0.85oz)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Make sure butter and cream cheese are at room temperature. Line the a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper.
2. Soften the butter and mix with the graham cracker crumbs.
3. Pour the graham cracker mix into the bottom of the prepared pan and press down lightly to make a base. Preheat the oven to 340°F.
4. In a bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until soft, then add the rest of the ingredients, in order, mixing each one thoroughly before adding the next.
5. Continue until the mixture thickens (about an extra 5 minutes after adding the lemon juice), then pour into the pan on top of the graham cracker crust. Bake in the oven for 45 - 50 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
6. Once it had cooled, remove from the pan, discard the lining paper and leave on a rack to cool completely.

Konosur's Notes:
(a)You can refrigerate the cake for up to 3 days in a cover container. It will become thicker and richer.
(b) I baked for about 55 minutes but the top did not turn golden. However, the top jiggle only slightly when I removed it from the oven - a sign that the cake is done. I think I will use the convection setting next time.