Fettucine mit Pfiff

In German, the term "mit Pfiff" connotes an "extra something," or "with a kick" and this fettucine had both. One day last week T offered to make dinner so I could continue packing boxes. He devised an all-vegetable marinara-based sauce with a most innovative twist: sauteed mushrooms to top the pasta, rather than be incorporated in it. I have to tell you, for a shroom-fiend like me, it was sheer genius. The mushrooms were boozy and buttery atop the chunky, spicy marinara and retained that separate distinction even when mixed through with a fork. With a glass of Zinfandel, it was pure heaven.

There's no recipe here, he used what vegetables we had on hand and a bottled marinara, as well as a pound of cremini mushrooms, sherry and butter. I'm just here to brag on my husband! (If you knew him when we first met, he used to put a frozen chicken breast in the microwave, cook it, stick a fork in it and douse it with Tabasco and call it "Chicken a la (insert name here)"

You've come a long way, Chef T!


Brunch fit for a queen: Eggs a la reine

UPDATE: Find the round-up for the IWD in 2 parts at zorra's site here, and at fiordisale's site here.

Waffles w/ mushrooms, eggs and saffron-lemon sauce

Today is the international day to celebrate women. In honor of this joyous day, fiordisale and zorra have joined their considerable energies to organize a cyber-celebration of International Women's Day 2008. Invitees to the potluck were asked to prepare something yellow to share. I've been contemplating the makings of a savory waffle dish for a few weeks now, so I combined two of my favorite flavors (they just happen to also be yellow), saffron and lemon, to create a new take on a brunch favorite. This Belgian-style waffle is topped with seared oyster mushrooms, eggs, and a saffron-lemon sauce, and christened to celebrate the queen that dwells in every woman. Move over, Eggs Benedict, Eggs a la reine are in the house.

I wish each woman today, a day filled with love and family, and yes, wonderful flavors!

(yields 8-10 Belgian-style waffles)
(from the New McCall's Cookbook, c. 1973)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups plain full-fat yogurt or sour cream

Pre-heat Belgian waffle iron.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.

In medium bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until thick and lemon-colored. Gently fold in 1/3 of flour alternately with yogurt, ending with flour. Mix only long enough to barely incorporate
do not mix until smooth, it will toughen your batter.
Bake in waffle iron according to directions for your machine. Use or freeze.

1/2 lb. oyster or wild mushrooms
TBL. butter
pinch of sea salt

Bring wok or pan to smoking point. Add mushrooms to dry pan, and gently press to sear. Turn mushrooms over and press again. Add butter and salt, stir briefly and remove from heat. Do not let mushrooms weep.

Eggs, cooked to your liking

Saffron-Lemon Sauce:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of saffron threads in 3 TBL. warm water
1/2 cup dry white wine
juice from half a lemon
zest of 1 lemon (some reserved fro garnish, if desired)

Combine butter and flour in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly cook until flour grains begin to swell. Add 2-3
TBL. milk and incorporate into roux. Add more milk, and again fully incorporate. Continue adding milk while stirring until you have a smooth sauce. Add saffron, wine and salt. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, then add lemon juice, and remove from heat. Stir in lemon zest, cover while plating.

Top each waffle with mushrooms, then eggs. Nappe Sauce carefully over eggs. Garnish with reserved lemon zest, fresh fruit and a sparkling beverage (I chose my second favorite, an Apfelschorle).

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Table-top Cooking: Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki: Tabletop cooking at its finest

As promised, the second part of the Table-top Cooking series features the ever-popular Sukiyaki. Like teppan-yaki style grilling (BBQ pork and bun post), there's no reason this entertaining communal style of dining has to be regulated to exotic evenings out at a Japanese restaurant. With the small investment of a single burner butane stove ($15-30, depending on your neighborhood), a few butane cartridges ($1-3 a piece), and some basic cookware, you can create this meal any time at home. A suitable pan for sukiyaki is one that is relatively low-brimmed and wide, with no long handles -- in this photo, we are using a paella-style pan.

Sukiyaki (SKI-yah-ki) is simply a braised meat and vegetable "stew" featuring thin-sliced beef, tofu, negi (Japanese leeks), enoki and shiitake mushrooms, spinach or shingiku (chrysanthemum leaves), and shirataki (yam noodles. a form of konnyaku). Traditionally, sukiyaki was a winter meal cooked over a charcoal brazier built in to a table. The brazier served both to warm the room and the diners, as well as to cook the meal. Usually one person is in charge of keeping the pot full and evenly cooked, and the other diners select cooked pieces from the bubbling pot to put first into an individual serving bowl. Often each diner has a second smaller bowl with a beaten raw egg in it
- the hot pieces of meat and vegetables are dipped into the beaten egg before being eaten with rice. The beaten egg serves 2 purposes, first to cool the hot food coming directly from the fire; second, to envelop each bite in a silken robe of deliciousness that (for me) is the signature of sukiyaki. The egg, however, is completely optional and, of course, should not be consumed by anyone with a compromised immune system, very young children, or pregnant persons. Use only the freshest eggs available, carefully washing each egg in a solution of 2 TBL. white vinegar in 1 quart/liter of water.

Sukiyaki is more a method than a recipe, like the Way to Cook. Besides cleaning and prepping all the ingredients, the only thing requiring a recipe is the braising sauce in which all the ingredients are cooked. Because the ingredients may be a little strange to most people, a brief description and tips for prepping each are included below. If some ingredients are not available to you, suggestions for substitutions are included.

Rinsed and drained shirataki
SHIRATAKI: A form of konnyaku, shaped as "noodles"; konnyaku is a gelatin-like product made from the root of the "devil's tongue plant," a relative of the sweet potato. Konnyaku and shirataki have been gaining ground in Western kitchens as health and diet food because they have virtually no calories, and are flavorless on their own so will absorb the flavors of whatever medium they are cooked in. Konnyaku (and shirataki) is also recognized for its ability to rid the body of toxins -- in Japan, it is known as "the broom of the body" as it contains a dietary fiber that is indigestible yet gentle to the stomach and intestines, sweeping away undigested food and other sediment on its journey through the system. Both shirataki and konnyaku come in white and brown varieties; since it is flavorless, choice is a matter of your aesthetic, but the white form is more often used. Shirataki has a definite gelatinous quality imagine if you could cut jello into strips and pick them up with chopsticks and some people balk at this texture. Think of them as noodles, though, and they may be less objectionable. Remove from package and rinse well under running water and drain. Cut into roughly 3" lengths.
Substitutions: really, only konnyaku, which is in block form, is a substitute; you can slice it lengthwise into a noodle-like shape, or try the decorative style used in another Japanese classic, Oden or Kombu (
directions here). Konnyaku and shirataki are always kept in the chilled section of your market -- on Oahu, virtually every grocery store carries it. Because of its new-found popularity, you may be able to find konnyaku, if not shirataki, in a health food store if you don't have a well-stocked Oriental market nearby.

Japanese leeks, Negi

NEGI: Japanese leek, has a sharper flavor and firmer texture than the more familiar leek. Rinse whole leek, especially the root ends, then begin slicing on a sharp diagonal up to the light green tips. Fill a large non-reactive container with a solution of 1 TBL. white vinegar for every 1 quart/liter of water used, and place sliced leeks in this solution. Swish around gently, then let sit for about one minute. Swish again, then gently lift out all the leeks and place in a colander. Rinse well with running water and drain well. (Use this method for cleaning regular leeks as well). Substitutions: regular leeks (if neither is available, thinly sliced yellow onions may be used)

Dried shiitake
SHIITAKE: Dried Shiitake Mushrooms, see Braised Mushroom post for how-to prepare. Substitutions: any earthy fresh mushroom might work, shiitake, portobella, cremini, even oyster.

Enoki mushrooms
ENOKI MUSHROOM: Fresh tendril-like enoki are another sponge-like ingredient that readily absorbs the braising sauce. To prepare, rinse gently under running water and pat dry. Substitutions: shimeji mushrooms or leave out all together.

TOFU: Firm or extra-firm plain tofu found in the chilled area of the grocery/health store. To prepare, remove and drain, then wrap tightly in a clean kitchen towel and place in a container with a heavy dish pressing on the tofu (you're trying to extract as mush water as possible from the tofu). Leave in fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove toweling, and cut tofu into 1.5" (8cm) blocks. Tofu is a sponge for flavor, and the savory broth and braising liquid in sukiyaki makes bland tofu quite delicious and meaty-tasting.

When cleaned and prepped, assemble these ingredients in a large platter.

Thin sliced beef for sukiyaki
BEEF: Paper-thin slices of very lean beef are traditionally used. In Japan, as in most Asian cultures, meat is used as a flavoring agent rather than a focus of a meal. Therefore, 1/2lb. (250g) is enough for 4 persons. Almost every grocery on Oahu carries sukiyaki-sliced beef (it's actually labelled that way), but I've found the leanest and thinnest slices from Star Market. Elsewhere, Vietnamese and Korean markets have similarly sliced cuts. If you don't have an Asian butcher in the vicinity, ask your butcher to slice a round roast into paper-thin slices (about the thickness of deli-meats). Substitutions: maybe pork or chicken (haven't tried it). Place meat on a separate platter.

Spinach and watercress
GREENS: Spinach and/or Shingiku are the traditional greens used. See
Gai Choy post for cleaning and prepping leafy greens. This photo shows spinach and watercress. Substitutions: any quick-cooking leafy green or combination of greens. Place drained greens in a large bowl.

In Japan, diners begin their meal with a saying that is part exclamation, part blessing, "Itadakimasu!" (EE-tah-dah-kee-mas'). There is no direct English translation, but it is an older expression meaning, "I will receive" and is said to express the diners' thankfulness for the food about to be consumed
gratitude not only for the actual food, but also for the sacrifices and hard work (in the farm, field and kitchen) that produced the meal. I hope this meal will inspire a mood of both celebration and thankfulness at your table too!

(for 4 persons)

Prepare the braising sauce:
1 packet instant dashi no moto (dashi broth)
3 cups hot water
TBL. brown sugar
6 TBL. soy sauce
6 TBL. mirin
3 TBL. sake

In a small sauce pan, dissolve dashi no moto in hot water, then add sugar to blend completely. Add soy, mirin and sake, stir to blend. Set aside to cool while preparing vegetables (see above) and plating meat (see above). When ready to begin, put braising sauce in a pitcher-like container for easy pouring at the table. You can keep refilling the small table-side pitcher as needed from the sauce pan.
Setting the table for sukiyaki

To set the table:
Place butane stove and pan at center of table, closest to the designated cook. Each diner will need a rice bowl, a wide shallow bowl for their individual serving, a smaller cup-like bowl for the beaten egg (if using), and chopsticks. The cook will need to have close at hand:
long chopsticks or tongs
the assembled ingredients
the braising sauce
cooking oil (only at the start of the cooking)
a tall cold drink (this is going to be hot work, tending the pot and watching everyone else eat!)

To begin, pre-heat the pan over a medium fire then add a scant 2
TBL. olive oil and 3-4 slices of beef, and allow to brown very well. It's okay if the meat sticks slightly to the pan, but don't let it burn. Those browned bits are an important flavor base for your sauce. Once the meat has browned, add 1/3 of the negi (leeks), 3-4 more slices of beef, and enough braising sauce to come up about half way up the ingredients in the pan. Now add small handfuls of each of the other ingredients to the pan and keep the braising liquid simmering you'll have to turn the heat up as you add ingredients and sauce, then back down as things get cooked. Try to keep similar ingredients together, both for aesthetic reasons and to help the diners locate what they're hungry for next! When adding more raw meat to the mix, I try to push all the fully cooked ingredients to the other end of the pan, as far away as possible.
Starting sukiyaki

To eat, the cook can either serve each person a portion of all the cooked bits in their individual serving bowls, or the diners can fill their own bowls with what they like. A note about etiquette at the sukiyaki table: diners should not dip their chopsticks into the sauce, or touch food that they do not put into their own bowl (i.e., don't use your chopsticks to move food around in the pan). One way around this is to have a set of serving chopsticks or tongs to allow diners to choose foods from the pan, or allow the chef to use the cooking 'sticks to fill bowls. Of course, when it's just family, who's gonna tell on you, right? : ) From their individual bowls, diners can then dip each mouthful in a beaten egg, and savor.

Aahhh, sukiyaki in the comfort of your own home. "Itadakimasu," indeed!



I"ve received a couple of emails about the use of udon noodles with sukiyaki. We always added cooked udon noodles at the very end of cooking, after most of the diners were sated and the last of the ingredients were fully cooked in the pan. The noodles sit in the braising liquid overnight in the refrigerator and fully absorb all the flavors of the pan by morning. You will have a wonderful breakfast or bento once re-heated fully in a microwave or by returning the pan to the fire. I always understood using udon as a way of not wasting the flavor-laden sauce at the end. I suppose you could include udon earlier in the process as well, and enjoy it as a substitute for, or in addition to, plain rice. Thanks to Debi and to Karl for your questions!


Gift for the Chef: Easy Sweet & Spicy Prawns

As you all can attest, time is really at a premium right now. Anything that will get dinner on the table quickly and with delicious results (does that go without saying by now?) is a gift and a joy. Well, since I had some extra Sweet & Spicy Nuts from the last post, and all the ingredients to whip together the sauce for the Sweet & Spicy Prawns that we put in a recipe kit for friends (same post), I went with the easy meal and made the prawns for us last night. The shiitake mushrooms were a last minute addition, only because I already had some re-hydrated from the previous evening's preparations. As it's still flu and cold season, the shiitake are an added boost for our immune systems, along with the heavy dose of ginger in the sauce.

The local ginger available here in the Islands is so fresh, it can be quite tender (no woody filaments), with a papery-thin skin that will peel off with a firm rub with one's bare hands. When it is this fresh, I thinly sliced the ginger instead of grating it as the recipe suggests. The tender spiced ginger can be consumed as part of the dish, similar in texture to bamboo shoots. From opening the fridge to decide on something for dinner to setting the table, this meal was done in 35 minutes. We actually had to wait for the rice to finish cooking and steaming after the shrimp was already done. (Anyway, it was a chance to snap a few photos!)

1 lb./455g raw prawns, boneless chicken or firm tofu
1 egg white
3 TBL. cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBL. sake or water
Marinate prawns for 20 minutes in egg white, cornstarch, salt, water. If using chicken, cube, then marinate. For tofu, press dry, then cut in large (2 in./5cm) cubes, and either deep-fry, or pan-fry to brown all sides. Do not marinate tofu.

2 TBL. ketchup
1 TBL. sambal oelek or garlic-chili sauce
1-½ TBL. sugar
1-½ TBL. rice wine or apple juice
1 TBL. cornstarch stirred in 2 TBL. water
Mix together ketchup, sambal/chili-garlic sauce, sugar, rice wine and cornstarch mixture. Set aside.

Heat 3 cups oil in a pan or wok to smoking point. Fry half of the prawns, chicken or tofu. Remove when meat or tofu is evenly browned and floats to surface of oil, drain well on paper toweling. Re-heat oil, then fry second batch. Meanwhile, prepare sauce.

5 TBL. oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBL. grated fresh ginger (or thinly sliced if very fresh)
1 1/2 cup water or broth
6 medium shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated, squeezed dry and quartered (not traditional, optional)

1 bunch scallions, washed and chopped finely
1/2-3/4 cup (60-90g) Sweet & Spicy Nuts (chopped)

In another pan or wok put 5 tablespoons of oil and fry garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. When fragrant, add mushrooms, if using. Add Sauce and water or broth, cook together for about 1 minute. Add cooked prawns, chicken or tofu, and stir to coat with sauce.

Remove from pan and garnish with chopped scallions and Sweet & Spicy Nuts. Serve with hot rice and your choice of vegetables.

Blog-Event XXX: Ingwer

This recipe has been submitted to the Ginger Event sponsored by the unstoppable zorra at 1x umrühren bitte.

What's in the pantry: Shiitake mushrooms

Dried shiitake mushrooms
Since I'm still battling the effects of this bout with the flu, I still crave things that support the immune system. I know that sounds weird, but don't you feel sometimes that your body tells you what it needs? (Yes, of course, the body can need chocolate . . . but that's another post . . .)

One such immunity booster is the shiitake mushroom. I was first opened to the healing possibilities of foods in Nina Simonds' book, "
A Spoonful of Ginger." It has remained a valuable and often sought resource in my library since 1999, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the healing properties of everyday food. In her book, Ms. Simonds notes that "[r]ecent research has credited shiitake mushrooms . . . with components that bolster the immune system, prolong life in cancer patients, and are useful in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and AIDS." (page 165) A quick google of "shiitake" on the internet will give you many reports of shiitake's growing use in cancer treatment, and it's reported success in lowering cholesterol and battling hepatitis B.

You'd think that growing up with a n Okinawan-Japanese mother that I would have grown up liking shiitake mushrooms. Not true. I used to hate the taste of these mushrooms — I would carefully pick them out, sliver by sliver, piece by piece, out of whatever dish my mom put them in. I really didn't develop a taste for them until I returned to Guam in my mid-20s. Now, I not only keep a supply of the dried fungi in my pantry, I usually rehydrate more than I need, and cook and season them to have on hand as a quick side dish for lunch, as a topping for ramen and other noodle soups, or to add a quick umami boost to a dish.
Dried shiitake weighted down to re-hydrate

First, you need to rehydrate the mushrooms. Place them in a container at least 3-4 times larger than the dried mushrooms. Cover with cool water, trying to keep the gills of the mushrooms face down. (Many sources say to use hot water, but I don't think this is necessary) Weigh down the mushrooms to keep them submerged (they're going to want to float at the surface). In the photo below, a small plate provides just enough weight to keep the mushrooms below the surface. Leave for 30 minutes of more. When they are fully re-hydrated, the stems will be pliable and not stiff anymore.

Soaked shiitake braising in seasoned liquid

Gently squeeze the mushrooms to release some of the absorbed water (but don't wring it dry). Trim the woody stems using kitchen scissors. You can keep this soaking water as a base for soup or sauce, but strain it through a sieve to keep out the fine grit that will be at the bottom of the container.

To make a braising sauce:
1/2 cup/ 120ml water or soaking liquid
1/2 cup/ 120ml mirin (Japanese seasoned cooking wine)
if you don't have mirin, you can use sake or dry sherry PLUS 1 tsp extra sugar)
1-1/2 tsp sugar or brown sugar
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in small pan and lay shiitake gill-side down (so the mushroom can absorb the flavor of the sauce) — the liquid should be about half way up the mushroom caps (add more water or soaking liquid if needed). Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid reduces by half. Taste braising liquid — it should be sweet and the alcohol flavor gone. Add another teaspoon of soy sauce and turn mushrooms over and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid becomes a glaze, thick and syrup-like. Turn off heat, cover, and let mushrooms cool in pan.

Braised shiitake cooling in pan

The finished mushrooms are delicious eaten as is. Try them in a sandwich, or as a side dish with any Asian rice meal. Or, as here, as a topping for ramen, saimin, udon, wonton or another noodle soup. You can also chop them finely and add to meatloaf or meatball mixture, season with teriyaki sauce and enjoy a different and healthy twist to your meatloaf. I think once you get used to having these tasty shrooms handy, you'll find many uses for them. I'd love to hear from anyone trying this recipe at home.

Seasoned shiitake in ramen noodle soup