tofu and avocado soup: sometimes, less is more.

tofu and… avocado?  has the poor man finally lost his mind?

while the answer to that question might be “yes,” this is still a pretty dang tasty recipe i threw together the other day.

i am a firm believer that some of the world’s best soups are those that are just as good hot as they are cold, which is certainly the case of some of my favorites.  this soup in particular was inspired by none other than vichyssoise, one of america’s most classic soups.

as with some of japan’s greatest foods, the key to this soup is its mildness.  it contains no shocking flavors, no expensive ingredients, and requires no complex cooking methods at all.  literally any person with a food processor or a blending wand can make it.  and therein lies its beauty.

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crostini: the toast with the most

bread.  let’s all be honest with ourselves, it’s just downright amazing.

just to quickly clear up any misinterpretations, when i say the word “bread,” i mean magical foods like challah, french bread, italian bread, pumpernickel, rye bread, pita, and even our unleavened friend matzah.  what i don’t mean is the nasty highly processed white bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth when you make a sandwich out of it.  are we all on the same page?  ok, let’s continue.

the invention of bread gave humanity all kinds of stuff.  it gave us sandwiches (arguably one of mankind’s most versatile and transportable foods), croutons, bread bowls, french onion soup, and a boat load of other things which make my life wonderful.  some historians even think bread was the innovation that inspired beer (although other historians believe exactly the opposite, namely that beer, as one of the oldest beverages known to man, was the inspiration for bread).

but let’s address the elephant in the room.

toast.  if toast was a liquid, i would bathe in it.  if it weren’t so darn crispy and scratchy, i would probably try to make an overcoat or some cool article of clothing out of it.  maybe a hat.  yes, i like toast that much.

roughly torn chunks of french bread, once toasted to perfection, accentuate the majesty of the already incredible fried egg.  toasted pumpernickel bread, raw garlic, and pickles have been the backbone of the russian diet for well over 100 years.  what would french onion soup be without a disk of toast slathered in cheese?  it would be run of the mill onion soup, that’s what.  i could go on, but i won’t, because i want to talk about the crostini.

the sweet, sweet crostini.

picture a super thin disk of toast.  then picture a smattering of two or three high quality delicious ingredients delicately nestled atop the aforementioned toast disk.  sound simple?  that is because it is.  but as our good friend lord polonius said, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

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omuraisu: abused by ketchup for 113 years.

i love japanese food.  and when i say i love japanese food, i don’t mean just traditional japanese washoku.  i love western cuisine-inspired yōshoku, too.  japan has all kinds of awesome variations on classic american and european dishes, such as the curry filled donut (カレーパン), breaded pork cutlets (豚カツ), and spicy cod roe spaghetti (辛子明太子パスタ).  some japanese chefs are protectors of art forms passed down for generations, while others are innovators using a relatively new palette of flavors and ingredients to make tasty new dishes never before heard of.

omuraisu is not, in my opinion, one of those dishes.  it’s an omelette with rice inside.  it was first pioneered in japan in 1900 in a restaurant in ginza called renga-tei.  granted, it is popular among kids and super easy to make, but it still has an odious lackluster feel to it every time i see it in a restaurant.  yeah, it might be swimming in a pool of demi-glace sauce or garnished with parsley or something, but it doesn’t change that fact that, at its core, omuraisu is just missing something.

when i did some thinking the other night, i realized why i don’t like omuraisu very much.  as luck (or unluck) would have it, the fried rice portion of the rice omelette is seasoned with straight-up ketchup.  and i don’t like ketchup.  i dislike ketchup enough that i have regularly called it out as the worst thing to ever happened to sauce in the history of cuisine.

but i’m not a stubborn man.  i’ve resigned myself to hating ketchup, but don’t want to not like omuraisu.  so i pulled up my bootstraps, strapped on my cooking pants, and decided that i was going to make a brand spanking new omuraisu recipe that didn’t use a lick of ketchup, was chock-full of flavor, and implemented a plethora of ingredients that would turn the head of even the most stubborn omuraisu hater.

and here’s what came out of my noggin.

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brine the bird: smoked chicken on a sunday

when we sat down and started drinking last sunday morning, we did our best to come up with a variety of things to smoke.  we had two giant slabs of pork belly already cured, so that was an obvious choice.  we went out and we got some salmon, too.  and we bought some eggs.  (before you ask, yes, smoked eggs are a big thing here and they are delicious when done right.)

but i also wanted to give chicken breasts a go.  yeah, they are super cheap and i didn’t want to break the bank.  but more than that i wanted to give myself a challenge.  i wanted to see if there was a way to make a notoriously dry and flavorless piece of bird into a juicy and delicious masterpiece using nothing more than time and a few ingredients i had on hand.

and i succeeded.  when we pulled the chicken out of the smoker, it looked and smelled good.  and when we ate it, it tasted so good we all stood around gawking in disbelief.  it easily qualified among the best chicken i have ever cooked.  while chorusing “dang, that is good” over and over again, we decided to make it a staple when firing up the smoker.

what was the secret?  maybe it was the spice rub.  maybe it was the half a head of garlic used in the recipe.  but if you ask me, we owe it all to the brine.

apple-smoked curry chicken breast

you’ll need:

  • chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
  • apple woodchips
  • half a head of garlic
  • a tall can of malty beer
  • curry powder
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • cinnamon
  • sugar
  • chinese hot pepper
  1. rinse off your chicken breasts and dry them.  set them aside.
  2. add salt to a large mixing bowl.  the goal is to make a brine with a 16:1 ratio of liquid to salt, so feel free to go pretty heavy on it.  the salt in a brine allows the meat to become softer and more absorptive of the flavors present in the smoker.  i also highly advise adding an equal amount of sugar to the brine to even out the intense saltiness and provide color to the meat (espeically the exterior).
  3. peel and mince all of your garlic finely.  add it to the mixing bowl.  finish with a tablespoon or so of curry powder.
  4. pour in your beer and stir.  call me an alcoholic if you like, but i didn’t actually add any water to my brine (which is obviously normally the main ingredient).  normally, a brine which includes ingredients that aren’t water soluable needs to be cooked for a while and then chilled before meat is added.  the carbonation of beer allows the flavors of the garlic and curry powder to combine more easily, and it also really does wonders for the softness of the chicken when working in tandem with the salt.
  5. add the chicken.  you can butterfly each breast if you like, but they retain the moisture better when left whole.  make sure all the breasts are completely submerged.  cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for 60 to 90 minutes.
  6. once finished, drain the brine and rinse the chicken.  don’t worry, it should have soaked up most of the flavors you exposed it to.  most people advise patting the chicken dry so it develops a crust in the smoker, but in this situation i kept it a little bit damp from the rinse so that i could apply a spice rub.  sprinkle each breast with a healthy smattering of cinnamon, black pepper, hot chinese pepper, and a little extra curry powder.  use your fingers to massage the spices into the breast, making sure they stick.  if you are worried about the moisture, you can set the meat on a drying rack in front of a fan for five minutes or so, but you don’t need to.
  7. pop it in the smoker.  i won’t go into the detail of how to go about smoking meat here, but rest assured there are all kinds of great blogs that can help you along the way.  i highly recommend patrons of the pit.

notes:

traditionally, the goal is to get chicken to an internal temperature of around 140ºf.  to do this, it is generally recommended to get the smoker to around 230º.  our smoker, at this moment, doesn’t even get close to that temperature.  so we smoked it at a very low temperature for a very long period of time (not to mention with all the other meats and fishes we decided to smoke that day in the same smoker).  although we were skeptical of how it would turn out, when opened the smoker and took out the chicken, it had a beautiful golden crust and was done almost all the way through.

we sliced the chicken and fried it in a pan with just a little bit of olive oil over medium heat (just to be safe).  and honestly, i think it turned out better than any chicken breasts i have had that were completely cooked straight out of the smoker.  the outside was crisp and slightly chewy (as the smoker tends to do) and the interior was super succulent.

re: strange horses and cooking on a budget

close your eyes and imagine you are a five-year-old.  it is your birthday, and your parents have tied a bandana around your head to cover your eyes with.  the time for presents has come, and when the big reveal finally happens, you find a mini-clydesdale standing in front of you.

it’s a horse, and as a five-year-old, you realize how awesome that is.  but once this realization passes, aren’t really sure where to go from here.  you don’t know if it will be your friend.  you don’t know if it is dangerous or not.  you aren’t even sure what an animal like a mini-clydesdale can be used for.  can you ride it?  do you take it for walks?  does it stay in your house or outside?  because you don’t know the answers to any of these questions, you just kind of stand there slack-jawed in surprise and excitement and confusion.

now imagine that you are you, and the mini-clydesdale is the perfect 10.  i gave you a list.  i did a good job of telling you why i made the list in the way i did.  but i didn’t really tell you what it is good for.

so now, i’m going to teach you how to ride the mini-clydesdale.  that’s right, it is recipe time.

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mahimahi, pan-seared and swimmingly sauced.

sauce week continues uninterrupted.

sauces 4, 5, and 6 called for a slight change of pace.  sauces 1 through 3 were given the honor of adorning chicken breasts, and i think that may have been a little too easy for me.  so tonight i decided that only my favorite fish would do.  mahimahi, referred to by the japanese as shiira, has a super fresh white meatiness that is second to none.  moreover, it is notoriously tough to cook well.  the whiteness of its meat carries a downside; when cooked too much, it becomes heinously dry and nearly inedible.

i decided to challenge myself.  for the past few days i had been thinking about which sauces would be able to transform such an already magnificent fish into a masterpiece.  i decided on a garlic cream sauce, a shiso pesto, and a spicy mango sauce with mint.  i think everything went swimmingly.

feast your eyeballs.

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