Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Deep Fried Japanese – Part One - Tempura

When it comes to Asian cuisine, most Americans only know about what is listed on a restaurant menu.  However, if brave enough, and willing to be adventurous, ask for what a typical Asian would eat at home.  When we lived in Pennsylvania, we would travel to Philadelphia monthly to visit Chinatown, and the Reading Terminal Market.  In Chinatown, we had our favorite place where the owners knew us by name, even had a group photo taken with us, and it hung behind the register. 

Trolleys of various dim sum, oh, better explain what dim sum is.  Dim Sum are dishes of small steamed, baked, or fried savory or sweet dumplings containing various fillings, served as a snack or main course.  Back to our dining experience; we would pick small steamer baskets filled with the most delicious variety of dumplings.  Better yet though, the owners would ask us what were our favorite proteins to eat, especially in the realm of seafood.  They would bring out dishes that were not listed on a menu, but were served to local residents only.  Therefore, we learned about all kinds of Chinese delicacies that were served in typical Chinese homes, and typical to various villages of that country.

When it comes to other Asian countries, asking for the same type of dining experience is a plus to culinary ecstasy.  When it comes to Japanese foods, Americans simply know hibachi, ramen, tempura, bento and sushi; if more is wanted, better know what to ask for off the menu. 

First, a known food item is tempura and, surprise, this is not a wholly Japanese creation.  In the 16th century Muromachi period, Portuguese Catholic missionaries introduced the Western-style cooking method of coating foods with flour and frying them in oil.  Nagasaki was a closed port city, except to Dutch traders, and missionaries, and this is how European culture and cuisine made its way into Japan.

Originally, tempura consisted of meatballs, called niku-dango, containing a minced protein mixed with vegetables, coated in flour and deep fried.  Chicken meatballs are called tsukune, while seafood is called takoyaki, with octopus being the number one favorite.

In the 18th century, chefs began experimenting by cutting up portions of meats, chicken, seafood and vegetables.  Instead of a simple coating of flour, additions of water and egg created a light batter.  The individual portions were slightly dried, as too much moisture would keep the batter from adhering.  The oil was heated to 350F, and the foods cooked 3-5 minutes on each side, to a very lightly browned, yet very crispy consistency. 

Making tempura is an art form in itself.  My first two attempts were complete failures; either my foods were still too moist, or the batter was too thick.  My 3rd attempt though was a completely delicious, and oh so satisfying, success.  I credit this to a site I found which gave excellent instructions, tips and notes on how to make fool proof tempura.

 Instead of my trying to rewrite it, here it is in full from The Spruce Eats food blog.

“Tempura Batter 

(https://www.thespruceeats.com/tempura-batter-recipe-2031529)

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 large egg

1 cup water

Ice cubes, for chilling the water

Preparation:

In a small bowl, sift the flour once or twice to remove any clumps and to make it light and soft. Set aside.

In a separate medium bowl, gently beat egg until the yolk and egg whites are just barely incorporated.

Combine the water and ice cubes in a cup. Using a strainer, strain the water (you should have 1 cup of ice-cold water) and add it to the bowl with the beaten egg. Make sure you do not actually add ice cubes to the tempura batter.

Add the sifted flour into the bowl with the egg and water mixture and lightly combine the flour using chopsticks. Be careful not to overmix the batter; it should be a little lumpy.

 

 

How to Use

 When ready to use your tempura batter, there are a few things to keep in mind:

 

First, lightly coat the seafood or vegetable in either cake flour (I used Pillsbury’s Softasilk), Wondra flour, or all-purpose flour before dipping them into the tempura batter. This allows the batter to adhere better.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once coated, dip your items into the batter gently. Too much batter runs the risk of a crispy exterior and mushy interior.

 
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When ready to fry, make sure that your frying oil is between 340 F and 360 F. Any higher and it will be too crispy. Any lower and the tempura will absorb too much oil and won't get crispy enough.

  


Once fried, serve immediately with a dipping sauce and dig in. Tempura can get mushy if it sits too long.

   

If for some reason the batter won't be used right away, place it in the refrigerator temporarily (for a few short minutes) to keep it ice cold until you're ready to deep-fry your tempura. Do not store in the fridge for an extended period of time.

 

 

Tips

Prepare all of the ingredients you plan to deep-fry prior to mixing the batter ingredients.

Always sift the flour. This makes the flour lighter and easier to incorporate into the batter when it's mixed.

To make the tempura batter crispier, use a low-protein flour such as cake or pastry flour. Another option is to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or potato starch for every cup of all-purpose flour. Also, be sure the water is ice cold, the batter isn't overmixed, and the oil is at the recommended temperature.

For crisp tempura, use ice water instead of room-temperature or tap water.

Instead of a whisk, use chopsticks to mix the tempura batter ingredients. This minimizes the amount of air in the batter and lessens the risk of overmixing.

Heat the oil for deep-frying before the tempura batter is prepared to ensure the batter is at its coldest when it hits the oil and that the oil is ready for frying.

While frying, do not place the bowl of batter on the hot stove or it will get too hot.

Don't prepare the tempura batter ahead of time, as it will not yield the best results.”

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Remember, you do not have to put an added expense on yourself by purchasing a Wok; a 12-inch, deep skillet will do the job nicely.  Make sure you give yourself the time, and patience, to get this done correctly.  Above all else, have fun!

Mary Cokenour

 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Copycat of a Copycat of French Bread Pizza

Way back, in 2019, I was writing up my trilogy on pizza, and the October 9th edition, of the San Juan Record, concerned, not just Sicilian, but French bread style. Even then, the bread labeled, in the local markets, as French bread, was, in fact, just plain, soft, wide loaves of white bread.  But hey, you have to work with what you have, or make it yourself, right?

 

To make a true French bread pizza, you have to use a baguette which translates to “wand” or “baton”.  Now according to culinary sites, there are four origins to this bread.  #1 – in the 19th century, it was brought to Paris by an Austrian officer, turned baker, August Zang.  He also created pain viennois (a sweet bread filled with cheese, jam or chocolate) and the croissant.  #2 - 1920 French law prohibited bakers from working between 10pm to 4am (strange I know, but it’s the French, so…), so baguettes could be prepared and baked within 3 hours, and during working hours.  #3 - Napoleon Bonaparte ordered local bakers to create this bread for his soldiers, as it was easier to carry in their packs than large round loaves. #4 – management of the Parisian metro asked local bakers to make a bread that was easy to tear with the hands.  Why?  Workers, using the metro, would bring knives, to cut apart hard loaves of bread to eat, on the way to work.  With everyone carrying a knife, well, violence would break out on nearly a daily basis.  Easier bread to tear with hands, meant knives could be banned on the metro, since they were no longer necessary for eating the bread.

Most culinary historians lean towards origins #1 and #2, since French law also dictates that baguettes must be made with only flour, salt, water, and yeast; and must be between 2-3 feet long, and 2 inches wide.  Which now makes me wonder, “Did the creators of Star Wars see two people dueling with baguettes, and light sabers were born?”

Now to Panera aka St. Louis Bread Company, founded in 1987, Kirkwood, Missouri, and their newest edition to the menu, Toasted Baguette Sandwiches.  The first commercial I saw was of a pepperoni pizza style, extremely similar to French bread pizza, like Stouffer's, but both sides of the bread placed together.  However, the “baguettes” they use are only one foot in length, yet still 2 inches wide; so, a baby baguette that still needs to reach its maturity?  The point is though, that Panera was making a copycat version of a Stouffer’s frozen item.

…and there I was, at Blue Mountain Foods, and what did I find in the artisan bread display?  Full Circle Market brand, take and bake, twin set of baguettes, and this is a very tasty product indeed.  At 400F, for 10-15 minutes, the outer crust becomes crisperty-crunchity; smear butter on the hot and soft inside, and it is quite easy to eat a complete loaf for a meal.  Ahem, yes, I am speaking from experience, and not ashamed of it.

But here was the question, could I create a copycat version of Panera’s Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt?  Heh, most of you know that the answer is definitely, “Of course I can!”

 

 

 

Setting the oven to preheat at 400F, I split a baguette, lengthwise, down the middle.  First a good coating of homemade pizza sauce, getting as close to the edges as possible.  Second, a generous helping of shredded mozzarella cheese.  Third, sliced pepperoni from end to end, but only on one side of the split loaf.  Now while a plain loaf would take 10-15 minutes to bake, with the toppings, it took almost 20 minutes for the cheese to fully melt, and the pepperoni to develop a crispiness around the edges (how we like it).

 




The cheese only side placed on the pepperoni layered side, and there it was, the pepperoni mozzarella melt, without having to go to Panera to purchase it (and a lot cheaper to make too).

The taste was fantastic, especially being homemade with love and passion; alright, and wanting to quiet a rumbling stomach.


 

Moral to this entire story?  If you want something badly enough, but cannot purchase it outright, then make a copycat version…period!  This is also a great way for families to get together, and have fun learning to make favorite restaurant foods.  Not only is cooking or baking learned, but accounting measures such as cost and budgeting.  Education via eating, who knew!

Mary Cokenour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Word to the Lima Bean.

 According to the Urban Dictionary, “Originally "word to the mother." is used by African- Americans as a salutation. It means "Give due respect to the motherland from which we came." Can be used in the same context as "Keep it real." or, also, can be used to literally express respect to the motherland and African-American customs and traditions.”  In a more generalized context, it means, “respect to your motherland and keep a hold of your roots”, which seems to actually apply to any world culture.

Look at the small melting pot which resides right here in the Four Corners region of the Southwest – Caucasian, Indigenous peoples, Hispanic, African-American, and even many from the South Pacific, and Asian nations.  While the Indigenous people can claim this land as the homeland of their ancestors, the rest came here via exploration, freed slaves, or those seeking freedom from a homeland which had become oppressive in some fashion.  With them, of course, came forth, not just their traditions, but their culinary culture as well.

April 20, 2023 is Lima Bean Respect Day; hey, I do not make this stuff up!  A much-maligned legume whose homeland is Peru, and named after the capital city of Lima.  The native people of Peru, the Moche, settled within the area around the 15th century, and drawings of the lima bean can be found on discovered pottery.  Its scientific name, ‘Phaseolus Lunatus’, translates to ‘half-moon,’ which refers to the bean’s shape.  Lima beans are rich in protein, fiber, and other nutrients such as manganese, potassium, copper, iron and a few more body essentials.  However, they could be poisonous if too many are eaten raw.  Since the Moche believed the bean symbolized both war and eternal life, being poisoned would certainly be a war on the body, and send one to a celestial eternal life.

Since it has been established that trade did occur between the people of Meso-America, and North America, it is no surprise that the lima bean made its way up north.  With explorers coming from Spain, and, eventually the colonization of North America, foods of this homeland were introduced to recipes of Europe. 

According to culinary history, the word “succotash” is derived from the Narragansett Indian word “msickquatash” which means boiled corn kernels. This dish featured green corn kernels, beans and other vegetables, boiled together, and is a nourishing dish of native origin.  Of course, dependent on which area of the country involved, the beans and vegetables often differed, but corn was still a main ingredient.

Alright, who does not remember the cans of succotash sold in supermarkets?  It was basically a mixture of boiled lima beans and creamed corn; am I the only person who liked it?  Poured over roasted chicken, with a side of buttery mashed potatoes; oh yeah, that is what I am talking about!

Since the Utah pioneers interacted with the tribes of the area, learning about the cooking of beans with corn would not be a surprise.  In The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook, page 21, there is a recipe for succotash.  It is listed as a typical item during a typical pioneer dinner.

 


Succotash

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter

2 cups cooked lima beans

2 cups whole kernel born

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1 tsp. sugar

¾ cup light cream

Preparation:

Melt butter in a saucepan, stirring in remaining ingredients.  Heat 5 minutes over low heat.

Yield: 6 servings.

 

Now here is an example of another recipe that features several differences in ingredients; from Southwest Indian Cookbook, page 62.


 

Zuni Succotash

Ingredients:

3 cups canned pinto beans, drained

1 and ½ cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 and ½ cups fresh string beans, chopped

1 and ½ cups water

4 Tbsp. butter or shortening

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. shelled sunflower seeds, crushed

Preparation:

In a large heavy saucepan, place all the ingredients, except for the sunflower seeds, in water with 2 tablespoons butter.  Simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Add sunflower seeds and remaining butter and continue to simmer until mixture thickens.

Yields: 6 servings.

Maybe after all of this, there is still no way you would eat succotash, no matter what the recipes contained.  Here are two of my recipes which are definitely pleasing to the palette, and cooked separately.  At least try succotash though, to give it a fair judgment.

 


Baked Lima Beans

Ingredients:

1 (40.5 oz.) can Lima beans (also called Butter beans)

1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles, mild

1 medium onion, chopped

1 (16 oz.) bottle hickory smoked, brown sugar barbeque sauce

6-8 strips thick cut bacon, roughly chopped

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 350F. Spray a 2-quart casserole with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients; spoon into the casserole dish. Bake for 2 hours.

Serves 8.

 


Corn Nuggets

Ingredients:

1 (14 ¼ oz.) can creamed style corn

1 (14 ¼ oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained

¾ cup cornmeal

¾ cup flour

2 egg whites

3 Tbsp. milk

¼ tsp. salt

Canola oil for frying

Preparation:

In a small bowl, mix together both cans of corn; line a jelly roll pan with wax paper; spoon tablespoons of mixture onto wax paper and freeze until firm (about 3 hours).

Fill a deep fryer to fill line, or a deep skillet to one inch, with oil; bring temperature up to 350F. While oil is heating, in a medium bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, egg whites, milk and salt thoroughly. Dip frozen corn into the batter and then deep fry, 4-5 at a time, until golden brown. Remove to paper towels to drain; serve as is or with assortment of sauces.

Makes about 2 dozen.

Options: before freezing, add to corn mixture, ¼ cup of crisp, crumbled bacon; petite diced bell peppers, chile peppers or onions; or a combination of ingredients.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Circus Parade to Snack On.

 Often times I have asked, “What kinds of foods/recipes/cooking tools/techniques would you like for me to write about?”  The response is usually silence, even the crickets do not make a sound.  So, I have found enjoyment in looking up “food holidays”, basically made-up occasions in which a particular food/recipe is given national recognition.  Let’s see if you can guess, by the song lyrics, what occasion we are celebrating in April.  I made it really easy to guess upon.

“Animal crackers in my soup

Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop

Gosh oh gee but I have fun

Swallowing animals one by one”

"Animal Crackers in My Soup" is a song introduced by Shirley Temple in the film “Curly Top” (1935). The lyrics were written by Josephine Drexel Irving Caesar and Ted Koehler; music by Ray Henderson.

Alright now, raise your hand if you have ever gone to a circus, could have been the huge Barnum & Bailey show, or even just a small review?  Vendors would go up and down throughout the bleachers, selling souvenirs, popcorn, cotton candy, and…animal crackers!  The little boxes, resembling circus animal cages with lions, tigers, bears and elephants seen within.  A little string attached to either end, so a small child could carry the box.  Everyone having pleasant memories of this?  I sure am!

 

Nowadays these tasty little treats can be found in any supermarket, by the box or bagful.  However, recipes are available online, and so are the needed cookie cutters ranging in size from tiny to palm size.  Many cutters are very ornate in design, but for authentic looking cookies, keep it simplistic.

The origin of animal crackers is traced back to 19th century Victorian England.  What we refer to as cookies in America, the English refer to sweet hard biscuits or crackers.  Another example of English-English vs. American-English language differentiations.  Why animal shapes?  This reflects back to the 6th – 7th centuries when animals were sacrificed, to the gods, during the autumn, winter and mid-winter celebrations.  As Christianity moved throughout Europe, and the people became more “civilized” during the centuries, the cute little animal biscuits were a treat given to children at Christmas time.

By 1889, P.T. Barnum introduced the crackers to circus audiences, with the cute boxes being developed by 1902.  The four original Barnum's animals, and still in circulation, are the lion, bear, elephant, and tiger.

Whether purchasing at the store, or baking your own, make sure to have your animal crackers ready to eat on April 18, 2023 – National Animal Crackers Day!  To really enjoy the day, why not watch Shirley Temple’s “Curly Top”, and sing along with her too.

 


Homemade Animal Crackers

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (sifted) 

½ tsp. salt

12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened 

1 cup powdered sugar (substitute Truvia or Swerve brand if watching sugar content)

1 large egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preparation:

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. 

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, mix, scraping bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula, until incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture and mix on low until combined. Add remaining flour and mix until incorporated. Divide the dough in half and form each into a disk, about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

After one hour, remove dough from the refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for 5 - 10 minutes, or until pliable.  At the same time, preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Line counter, or large cutting board, with wax paper; roll one disk of dough out to ¼-inch thick. Cut into animal shapes, place about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with second disk of dough.  The scraps of dough remaining can be gathered up, re-rolled and refrigerated until chilled properly to cut again.

Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until the bottoms are browned. Remove to a cooling rack. Store at room temperature in an airtight container, or freeze cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

The number of cookies baked up will be dependent on the size of the cookie cutters, and if all the dough is used up.

Before baking these cookies, and to be more decorative, sprinkles or other colorful baking d├ęcor can be put onto the cookies.  Yes, a simple glaze can be painted on after the cookies are cooled.

To make chocolate animal crackers, add ¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder; or add 3 tsp. of cinnamon for cinnamon flavored ones.  Yes, you can play with your cookies, and eat them too!

Mary Cokenour