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Sheep's milk custard, red wine kale, and some nice dates

jason

This really ought to be made for two.

Of course, I'm on my own right now, so that doesn't quite work out. But that's no reason to eat like a prisoner. After all, self-indulgence is its own reward.

This weekend, I somehow developed an inexplicable urge to eat some kind of sheep's milk cheese.

It started yesterday, when I remembered I still had a couple of quince I needed to use up. I had more than I actually needed for an infused vodka I started last week, so I boiled the remaining quince with sugar and water to caramelization, added additional water and lemon juice, and pureed everything into a flavorful, smooth sauce.

As soon as I tasted it, for reasons I can't possibly explain or understand, I immediately thought I'd like to have some sheep's milk cheese with that sauce.

Somehow this urge was transformed into a craving for a sort of savory cheesecake or custard.

I found some nice manouri cheese, which has a texture similar to cream cheese but is made from a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk. I blended this with grated Bellwether Farms San An Shee and an egg. Freshly grated nutmeg added a bit more magic, but no salt was needed, since the cheeses were already both a bit salty.

The ideal vessel in which to bake these “cheesecakes” would probably be a tiny springform pan or a custard cup, but the smallest springform pan I have is still way too wide. In retrospect, I could have used my non-stick mini-muffin pans, but I chose to hand shape the cheese into small rounds, and baked them free-form on a Silpat mat. Fortunately, nothing tragic happened.

Whipping the mixture with a blender would probably produce a lighter, smoother texture, but I was in the mood for something a bit more rustic.

I served the finished custard, embedded with a parmesan crisp, atop roasted thin golden beet slices, and spooned some of the quince sauce over the top. It’s nice with lightly dressed escarole and radicchio.

Winter makes me want to eat dark leafy greens, so I accompanied this with some garlic sauteed kale, simmered with vinegar and red wine. The pleasingly tangy kale still had a hint of crispness.

Two dates stuffed with pepadew-studded soft chevre provide a sweet-savory distraction from the saltier custard.

Along some nice multigrain Macrina bread and an oregano-seasoned lentil soup, it was very satisfying.

Back to my roots again

jason

During the summer, save for the occasional roasted potato, and maybe the carrots in mirepoix, I tend to mostly ignore roots and tubers. But in the fall and wintertime, when it’s a bit cooler, I occasionally get the urge to just load up on them.

Roots and green beans

Roasted vegetables are the ultimate winter comfort food, and only take a few minutes to prepare; they just need to be cut up and quickly seasoned, tossed in a hot oven, and flipped once or twice during cooking. This time, I roasted white-fleshed sweet potato, a golden beet, a small yukon potato with rosemary, and a carrot, all seasoned with a bit of salt and rubbed with olive oil.

Served with some some fresh skinny green beans sauteed with shallots, and accompanied with some garlic and rosemary seasoned cannelini puree, it’s not really high drama cuisine, but it warms me up on a cold night.

I like bread, but I miss good rolls

jason

I lived on Brötchen, the “little breads” that we’d just call “rolls” in English, during my year and a half as a student in Germany. Insanely fresh, they came in a good dozen varieties at most bakeries.

Thanks to my tiny budget and complicated school schedule, I’d often grab a couple of rolls between classes, and eat them as a breakfast and lunch all in one…

Somehow, in spite of a large number of perfectly respectable bakeries in Seattle, savory Brötchen scarcely make an appearance in Seattle. I still sometimes miss the ready availability of pumpkin seed rolls with whole wheat, hearty and chewy onion rolls, Gouda-cheese topped buns, and even the more humble sesame or poppy seed rolls known as Kaiserbrötchen. The one thing I have been able to find decent renditions of in Seattle is the Laugenbrötchen, or pretzel roll, thanks to the Columbia City Bakery (and my occasional home-baked efforts). Sad versions of the Kaiser roll are occasionally available at various supermarkets around town, but they never have the character I expect of them.

I recently made a bunch of arugula pesto and stored it in the freezer. Somehow I carelessly transfered this to the refrigerator on Saturday, so I needed to accelerate consumption. I made a big batch of a potato-based yeast dough on Sunday, originally meant for a pizza, but as usual, I had a bit too much for that purpose.

Usually that would lead me to make a big loaf of bread. But it turns out that I had a very high-moisture dough… I actually just ran out of flour in the morning when throwing the dough together. Coincidentally, that’s perfect for small rolls. I decided to wed the arugula pesto with the dough, adding a bit more parmesan for texture contrast, and these little crusty, moist, and flavorful rolls emerged.

Arugula pesto potato rolls

Jagaimo-arugula-pesto-pan

Beijing Dust Dessert

jason

The colonial legacy of the British in China produced a strange but potentially wonderful confection known as Peking Dust or Beijing Dust.

Beijing dust

It’s actually very simple, with a base constructed from little more than boiled chestnuts mashed coarsely with sugar and a generous pinch of salt. This base is kind of a chestnut marzipan, though it needn’t be nearly as sugary as marzipan. It should not, for the purposes of this dessert, be mashed finely.

Typically garnished with whipped cream and scary-looking glace fruits, I prefer using fresh, in-season fruits. In this case, I whipped a little cream with some cognac, a touch of sugar, and a hint of vanilla, and topped a mound of the chestnut mix with it. I also dotted the cream with more of the chestnut blend, and added pomegranate seeds and segments of mikan (Mandarin oranges).

A little edible gold leaf adds a bit of visual drama… The flavor is slightly salty-sweet, and balances nicely against the cognac-scented cream. I carelessly used more than a pinch of salt in this case, but next time I’ll use a slightly lighter hand with it. I do like the touch of saltiness, though, for what it adds to the flavor complexity.

Hiromi's got the flakier crust

jason

Somehow I’m always happy to make a standard American pie crust, slightly flaky and crumbly and crisp all at once. I occasionally veer toward a rough puff pastry but I’m usually just not that committed, and I do like a nice American pie crust, so I tend to just take the shorter way out…

Hiromi, on the other hand, refuses to produce anything shorter than a rough puff. It’s often just shy of a true puff pastry. So when she makes an apple pie, the edges erupt dramatically, and the top crust and edges have hundreds of little layers.

Hiromi’s After-Christmas Apple Pie

Apple pie by Hiromi

If memory serves me correctly, we warmed up the last two slices just minutes before the New Year’s Eve countdown, served with a little sweet potato ice cream, just after the fireworks ended… We were too tired to go out to a New Year’s party or even to stand in the cold in front of the Space Needle, so we just looked out toward Queen Anne from our balcony window and occasionally glanced at the 7–second delayed TV broadcast.

The pie was very nice… Although I suppose it was a little strange to be polishing off a bottle of Washington sparkling wine at roughly the same time…

Things quietly enjoyed over the last few weeks

jason

I’ve tended toward silence in the last few months. My apologies for that; I’ve explained most of the reasons for that in recent posts… Beyond the usual, for a few weeks, Hiromi was in town, so I preferred not to spend all my time in front of a laptop (though both of us have a habit of doing that from time to time…)

Since I’ve not been particularly photographically-inclined, and I’ve surely been neither eloquent nor remotely verbose of late, I’m just going to make a list of things I’ve enjoyed in the last four weeks. Somehow after 8 weeks of relatively austere eating habits I practically overindulged by comparison.

  • A number of nice meals Hiromi and I cooked at home.
  • Impressive cocktails, holographic lighting and nice nibbles at the bar of Vessel. I should have stolen Hiromi’s Vessel 75, topped with a maple foam.
  • A birthday party rougly in the German tradition. That means one that I hosted myself and cooked for other people to celebrate my birthday (though really it was a much broader, less thematic party… for me a birthday is just another excuse to eat). I took the cooking a bit far by spending so much time in the kitchen (though I got out more often than average) and Hiromi was left with most of the hostessing obligations, but I have fun in different ways than most people.
  • A nice late lunch at Seattle Ethiopian restaurant Meskel.
  • Some overly-garlicked but otherwise tasty sundried tomato savory cream puffs. I brought most of them to a Christmas Eve party at my aunt’s home way out in Sultan, which, by the way, is a lot further away than I remembered. I saw my sister for the first time in a few years, and somehow didn’t immediately recognize her. I’m a bad brother.
  • We had a nice leisurely Christmas afternoon when Hiromi and I helped out with Christmas Day dinner at grandma’s house by preparing green beans and garlic with cream, mashed potatoes, the gravy (not vegetarian, but I know my sauces), and some Laugen rolls.
  • Nibbles and wine at Harvest Vine.
  • Hiromi’s apple pie.
  • A lazy New Year’s Eve watching the Space Needle fireworks from my window and on a 7–second television delay, just after eating Toshi-Koshi Soba (buckwheat noodles served for the New Year’s transition, roughly).
  • A surprisingly well-done late lunch at Tamarind Tree. If you haven’t been, go here.
  • Hiromi’s New Year’s day party featuring osechi (Japanese new year’s foods), for which she was fully occupied in the kitchen for two and a half days before the event and a fair amount of time on the day.
  • Another respectable dinner (slightly marred by the lack of cell-phone enhanced seating that I previously depended on) at La Carta de Oaxaca, followed by quirky, and mostly clever cocktails at the newly-reimagined Copper Gate in Ballard. A Scandinavian lounge. Who’d a thought?
  • Dickensian-themed cocktails and small, simple, satisfying plates at Dan Braun’s Oliver’s Twist in Phinney. If you ever are in the neighborhood and want to give it a try, give me a call.
  • A pleasant, simple lunch at Le Pichet (with some slight compromises to my vegetarian habits).
  • An unforgettable dinner at Lampreia, where my usually reasonably-educated palate was regularly surprised and maybe occasionally slightly embarrassed.