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  • (26)

    Dashi is the base of Japanese cuisine, and crucially important in making a simple miso soup.

    insearchofdashi15

    I just wanted to make a bowl of miso soup.  That's all. It was going to be the first course of a casual dinner party, something that wouldn't require too much attention so I could focus and pull off the main course in a reasonable amount of time.  I figured all I needed was some miso paste, a hunk of tofu, and a seaweed or two to make it look right.  I was wrong.

    This perturbed me to no end. Japanese cuisine is not one I've indulged in that often, feeling far more comfortable across the Straight of Korea in, well...Korea. I find that cuisine brasher and more gloriously hedonistic. I certainly respect Japanese cuisine, but it's not one I've wanted to really figure out. Or at least not right now. Now I have no choice.

    To make a proper miso soup I needed to make dashi.  To make dashi I needed water, konbu, and bonito flakes. As for those last two ingredients?  I had no idea.  I just set off for my local Asian market figuring I'd run across them at some point.  There I spent well over thirty minutes trying to decipher labels with my nonexistent grasp of any Asian language. Finally, after a good 10 minutes sprawled out on the floor looking at the bottom shelf, I got the nerve to ask someone where I might find these things. She just laughed.

    insearchofdashi01

    Konbu is dried kelp, which means my miso was going to have dried kelp and seaweed. Who knew?

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    As for the bonito, it's skipjack tuna that has been smoked and dried into something called katsuobushi.  This resulting wood-like block is then shaved into flakes and sold in plastic bags.  Of course, the bags of them were on the top shelf.

    insearchofdashi09

    What about the miso?  In my mind miso was miso, but it turns out there are various kinds which vary in color and strength.  The recipe I was using called for shiro miso and aka miso.  I have much more to learn about this as well.

    As left the market with a bag of wakame (seaweed), dried kelp, two kinds of miso, a bag of bonito flakes, two packages of tofu, and scallions, I wondered how long this new obsession of mine would take and whether I'd ever get that first course out before the dinner guests got hungry.

  • (26)
    focaccia pizza 14

    If you're not down with pizza stones, it's time. Bread-bakers and home pizza afficionados praise them for their heat-retaining, moisture-wicking ability to imitate the floor of a brick oven. You put it in your oven and it not only provides a rustic surface to bake the bread on, but it also keeps the heat of the oven steady.

  • (25)

    blendyoursalsa01

  • (25)

    By Nick Kindelsperger The smoke billowed out the side of...

    applecitybarbecue01

    The smoke billowed out the side of the grill, casting a haze over the small deck of my sister's house.  It smelled of sweet wood, pork fat, and vinegary sauce.  I listened patiently to Hank Williams, drank cheap beer, and thought about starting my life over.  Why am I wasting my life doing anything other than this?  I could sit around and smoke meat for the rest of my life.  Honestly, I'd never felt happiness like this before.  I hinted at this with the bacon post, but there is real pleasure in smoking meat.  And that pleasure is multiplied the longer the operation goes on.  It only gets better. 

    Now this feeling of ultimate satisfaction occurred before I ever even tasted the meat.  This just proves the what a crazy business barbecue actually is.  I think other people have caught this bug.  From the number of barbecue places popping up in the Midwest, I'd say that nearly everyone who has eaten good barbecue has dreamed about the slow life of cooking it for a living. 

    But cooking great barbecue is not simple and it is not easy.  That's what I've learned while flipping through Mike Mill's Peace, Love, and Barbecue.  I've tried a few simple recipes from the book, but without proper smoking equipment I couldn't really delve in.  But with the grill already smoking with some of my American bacon, I decided to go all out and make real pulled pork. 

    My last attempt at making pulled pork sandwiches was high in enthusiasm but abysmally low in finesse.  All I had was a little hibachi grill that I fueled with some self-starting charcoal.  The charcoal would spend its fuel after about an hour, so I'd have to remove the meat, dump the used charcoal, light some more, wait 20 minutes until it had ashed over, and then set the meat back on and start again.  I had no idea what the temperature was, or what the meat should look like.  Despite all these inadequacies, the meat tasted real good, and was a hit for a backyard grill out.

    P1010123_2 But I didn't want something that tasted good, I wanted ethereal barbecue, the likes of which I have only tasted on very rare occasions.  Instead of the North Carolina style of my last version, this is from Apple City Barbecue in Southern Illinois.  It has a balanced sauce, that is slightly sweet, tangy, and loaded with...well, apple. 

    This version was not executed perfectly.  I'm not sure that can be done on a gas grill, but it is such a vast improvement over my last attempt that I felt like documenting every second. 

    This recipe is obviously not quick, and it can seem overwhelming.  It has 22 individual ingredients, takes two days of down time, and 5 hours of constant watching on the grill.  There is a rub, a mop sauce, AND a barbecue sauce.  If you're like me, you'll want cole-slaw on it, too. 

    But, like I've mentioned before, there isn't really anything as comforting as watching smoke pour out the side of a grill, especially when that period of time lasts over 5 hours and I have my two favorite dogs in the world to keep me company.  Oh, and in the end of this process you'll have some of the greatest pulled pork sandwiches you've ever sunk your teeth into.  Sound like a good day to you?

  • (24)
    Illustration credit: NYTimes.com

    On Thursday the New York Times published an op-ed piece written by a Texas historian named James E. McWilliams called "Free-Range Trichinosis," which argues that the public's perception of free-range pork has been misguided.

  • (24)
    idea lab focaccia pizza

    Idea Lab is where we explore topics before we head into the kitchen. We welcome your thoughts, opinions, and ideas, so please leave them in the comments!

  • (23)

    By Nick Kindelsperer After my excursion to Al's #1 Beef,...

    2italianbeef1


    After my excursion to Al's #1 Beef, I knew I had to make an Italian beef at home.  But it was more of a challenge than a necessity.  I could easily buy another sandwich for cheap.  I just become obsessed with the idea of turning a lowly and lean cut into something so delicious.  I thought I had most the particulars of this soggy sandwich down: lean beef, giardiniera, and an Italian roll.  But I was real worried about the "dip" or the juice that the beef hung out in and what the whole sandwich was eventually dunked into.  It's a very important component. 

    The recipes I found only worried me more.  If there wasn't beef stock, there was a beef bouillon cube.  It felt like cheating.  I wanted my humble cut of beef to provide all the flavor, but I didn't want to sacrifice the beef for the juice.  Many recipes advocated crock pots and long simmers that would have made a nice liquid but would have definitely cooked the beef way past medium-rare.  The texture would have been more like pulled beef than a rare roast like I wanted.   I found a very helpful site that started the roast at a high temperature and then reduced the heat dramatically.  But they also cooked the meat on a wire rack above the water.  I worried about all that steam.

    2italianbeef2


    I wanted as much juice to remain in the beef as possible to keep it tender.  But it had at least come in contact with water at some point.  Eventually I found this recipe in Saveur, which looked like a great compromise between the two methods.  Like the other site, the key was to roast the beef at a high temperature at first, then reduce it dramatically.  But for this recipe the water was added only after the heat was turned down.  So I'd get some nice caramelization, but still be able to control the temperature of the meat.  I was shooting for 130 degrees.  Though I worried the juice might taste too watery and not beefy enough, I eventually settled on this recipe, figuring I could mess with the juice after the meat was done.  

  • (23)

    If bread making scares you like it scares me, but the lure of authenticity is irresistible, then focaccia may be the place to begin.

  • (23)

    There it was, plain and obvious. And it floored me. A savory French toast, something deliciously simple.

    Eggy Bread

    I was recently visiting some friends in Oxford, England, and, after a night of cooking and drinking--a huge pot of fragrant ramen soup with pork dumplings, countless bottles of wine, champagne, beer, and something pink that was opened very, very late--I woke up to the smell of eggs.  Though my head should have been throbbing, I was surprisingly alert, and wandered to find Dan, our British host, cheerily frying something away on the stovetop. 

    He wished me a chipper good morning as I wandered over to find out what he was cooking, and to locate a glass of water.  My curiosity, however, seemed incredibly strange to him.  He answered my question as to what was for breakfast with a "you mean you don't know?" stupefied sort of look.  His English politness kept him from getting too uppity, but I could tell I was appearing like quite the ignoramus about the matter at hand.  "It's eggy bread...of course," came his reply, as he exited the kitchen and sat down to eat some kind of egg-coated toast.

    My inquiries as to the recipe, as I followed him to the table, were met with an equally nonplussed response.  The sense I was beginning to get from Dan was this: eggy bread is self-evident.  This is something basic.  Simple.  And definitey recipe-less.  So bugger off.

    In my sleepy haze I was of course failing to grasp the basic truth of the situation, which others reading now from the comfort of soberness might have already ascertained.

  • (23)
    microwavedasparagus 4

    Do most people use their microwaves often?  Or am I just now coming round to what most people know?

    I bought my microwave at a sidewalk sale for 10 bucks.  I simply asked the sellers if it still worked, and they assured me that it did.  That was good enough for me.  My previous model had just stopped working a few weeks before and Abby and I had nowhere to make popcorn.  Though I used it only rarely, a microwave felt like something one should have.

    Fortunately, this one did work and for most of its time in my apartment it has done its job admirably when called upon.  Mostly it has provided a decent shelf for all my plastic baggies, foil, and plastic wrap.  It's big, loud, and probably takes up too much room on my counter.  I'm so embarrased about how it looks, I can't possibly post a picture of it.  I've fantasized about living microwave free many times, but there is always the time when I need to quickly melt butter, warm up leftovers, or heat up a single cup of water for tea.  Basically, it seems like a bigger pain to get rid of it then it would be to just leave it be.  

    That was until a few weeks ago.  Now it seems like I can't stop punching in numbers and hitting "Start".

    microwavedasparagus 2

    It all started with the beginning of asparagus season.  It's hard to come home from market without a bundle of asparagus.  I usually just roast them in the oven until they get crispy.  I have had some incredible luck, including the insanely good Roasted Asparagus with Miso Butter.  But I wanted to try something more delicate.  Steaming seemed the natural choice, so I pulled out my oft-used Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka to see what she had to say. 

    I generally cook asparagus in a microwave oven - fast and impeccable.

    This shouldn't have surprised me.  Kafka wrote a book called Microwave Gourmet, after all.  But still, how could this be?  I had always assumed that while the microwave might have been the fastest, the cleanest, and even the most convenient method of cooking food, it was far from the perfect way.

    The nice thing about asparagus in the microwave oven is that they require no water, ...stay bright green, retain all their vitamins and don't have to be bunched, since they're not floating around.

    It's comically easy.