Cooking

Cabbage

There are certain smells that arouse a specific mood or memory. The acrid odor of cigarette smoke always reminds me of my grandmother, who liked to sneak a few puffs in the kids’ bathroom when she thought everyone was out of the house. Or, on a less morbid note, there is the unmistakable chemical scent of sunscreen; one whiff and I am immediately transported to a warm, sandy beach, watching seagulls drift lazily overhead as I let the ocean waves slowly rock me towards peaceful slumber.

Until, of course, a rogue wave smacks me right in the face, and I get a gallon of burning salt water funneled up my nose.

Still, these smells are welcome to in my nostrils anytime. (I’m less keen on the cigarette smoke now that the mere sight of a cigarette triggers a million screeching alarms in my head, along with a voice screaming “CANCER STICK, CANCER STICK” on an endless loop.) But my nose might be even happier still if certain odors just disappeared off the face of the planet altogether. And you might be wondering – what gets my pick for the most cringeworthy, suffocating, gag-inducing smell in existence? Well, my friend, that honor would have to go to reheated cabbage.

Alright, alright, so I am clearly exaggerating my dislike to make a point, but there is, without a doubt, something mildly offensive about how its odor just creeps into your breathing space and liiiingeeerrrrs for an uncomfortable amount of time. Whenever I stick a bowl of anything with cooked cabbage in the microwave, I make sure to approach the warm food with caution (an arduous task, considering my ability to maintain any semblance of self-control disappears completely around lunchtime) lest I get hit with a wave of cabbage’s moldy vapors. I’m even fairly sure that my reheated cabbage dishes have managed to clear out the kitchenette at my work – I’ve seen my coworkers circling the microwave at a safe, odor-free distance, clutching their tupperware full of cold soup closely to their grumbling stomachs.

And yet, I find it difficult to resist the cabbage’s watery sweetness, or the way its leaves slump into a soft, translucent heap in a hot pan. Stir fried with udon, carrots, and a fiery gochujang sauce, they also offer a little crunch to an otherwise chewy mouthful. I’ve been making this not-very-authentic yakiudon recipe for dinner (and bringing the leftovers as lunch) at least once a week for the past couple of months now, and its addictive quality overcomes any embarrassment I might feel when fellow microwave users begin shooting death glares at me. But hey, you can’t please everyone – in the meantime, I’ll just be over here enjoying my stinky cabbage, and maybe someday I’ll have enough foresight to bring an air freshener with me the next time I pack this for lunch.

Yakiudon with Cabbage and Carrots

Makes enough for 2 servings

Adapted from this recipe on Smitten Kitchen…and yes, 2 recipes in a row from her blog is probably some kind of blogging faux pas, but I get at least one newbie free pass right?!

Anything in parentheses ( ) will be my personal commentary. Feel free to ignore, adjust, and unapologetically change as you wish.

For sauce (Honestly I just throw this together and taste as I go. I prefer a lot more gochujang, enough so that it turns the sauce a bright red when poured over the noodles.)

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons Korean hot-pepper paste (sometimes labeled “gochujang”)
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

For noodles

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 head of cabbage
  • 1 medium sized carrot
  • 2 servings of udon (I use frozen noodles purchased from my local Japanese market)

1.) Stir together all sauce ingredients until brown sugar is dissolved, then set aside. (The gochujang is pretty thick, so what I like to do is mix all the liquid ingredients together first, and then, using a pair of chopsticks, I whisk it into the sauce a little bit at a time. Works like a charm!)

2.) Chop cabbage into 1/4 inch strips. (Or whatever you feel is a comfortable, bite-sized piece) Julienne the carrot.

3.) Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then saute cabbage and carrot, stirring, until the white portion of the cabbage is translucent and the green section is tender. Add shiitakes and saute, stirring frequently, until tender and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Add 1/3 of the sauce and simmer 2 minutes.

4.) While cabbage is cooking, cook udon until noodles are just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cool water to stop cooking and remove excess starch, then drain well again. Transfer to the pan with the cabbage mixture and stir fry with the remaining sauce.

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Baking

Apple Hand Pies

My first “real” post is going to be about hand pies.

Yes, I said it.

HAND PIES. Like the kind you might get from McDonald’s for 99 cents. They’re not even close to being as murder-inducing as Pop Tarts seem to be, nor do they possess the same quiet sophistication as an apple strudel with cream. No matter. Despite its plain name and humble associations, the apple hand pie has plenty to boast about – a buttery, flaky crust, apples dressed up in a warm cinnamon sugar coating, and a crust to filling ratio that leaves you wondering why all food isn’t enveloped in pie crust. An interesting question, but let’s not get distracted by a lasagna and hand pie mashup. We’re here to talk some apples.

Creating the filling for apple hand pies is a simple task that requires very little actual thinking. The type of apple you use is important, as certain species, like the Granny Smith, acquire a more pleasant texture and taste after baking. At least, this is what the internet told me after I had purchased a couple of Honeycrisp apples from the store, which in turn forced me to question whether I had already consigned myself to failure (not just in hand pie making, but also in life). After reassuring myself that this was most definitely not the case, I continued clicking on recipes and found another website touting the Honeycrisp as one of the best apples to use for baking. So, let that be a lesson to all you youngsters out there – even if someone on the internet says you’re wrong, all you have to do is scroll to the bottom of the search results page to find someone who says you’re right.

If you’re skeptical about your own apple pie filling capabilities, may I recommend watching the video below first:

After listening to the narrator’s goofy uncle voice – and really, I mean goofy in the best way possible – I could feel the warm glow of confidence suffusing my entire being. Rewatching it now, I almost feel like I’ll be able to finish writing this post without succumbing to the usual writer’s curse of anxiety and self-doubt. Until, that is, we get to the pie crust.

Pie dough has a reputation for being…well, let’s just say less than accommodating. There are numerous articles out there dedicated solely to the butter vs. shortening. vs lard debate, and it seems that, come pie season, a new crop of preaching  instructional guides emerges from the woodwork to fight for your allegiance. Does that mean I’ll be joining the melee? Yes and no – I’ve only ever used all-butter crust recipes, and so I can’t comment on the difference in flakiness when using, say, a half butter, half lard recipe, or whatever combination the amateur baking world suggests. What I do know is that butter is sweet, creamy, and delicious, which are all qualities that make for a very fine ingredient. And so I have sworn my sword to butter, and I will carry it on my back if I must, all the way to the fiery ovens of Mt. Doom.

The recipe I chose for the pastry comes from Smitten Kitchen, one of the first food blogs I started following way back when it was acceptable to start a blog without owning an SLR first. It is very apparent to me that she uses a galette dough, while the entirety of my last paragraph talked about pie dough. What gives? Quite frankly, I don’t know. These are hand pies, and to me that means the dough should be called pie dough, even if technically it is a galette dough. Maybe as a compromise, I’ll begin calling it a pielette dough…that sounds vaguely French enough that I just might be able to pull it off!

Now, in the interest of being completely honest, my heart rate was on a parabolic curve upwards right from the moment I started making the pielette dough to when I finished. I worry about everything, from whether the butter pieces are properly “pea”sized to how much manhandling I need to do to get the shaggy chunks of dough to form a ball. Anxiety, I can tell you, is not conducive to lovemaking, fly fishing, or fire juggling, and it certainly has no place in pielette making. I was not going to be beheaded for my imperfect pastry dough. I had no boss to answer to except for my sister, who inhales baked goods with a reckless disregard for her on-again-off-again diet. After awhile I actually began to enjoy the way the tacky dough stuck to my fingers, and the soft shh-shhh sound of the rolling pin running back and forth. I still have a long way to go before I can fully enjoy the process, but if you can relax, please do. (And tell me how it is that you get there.)

Apple Hand Pies

*Notes* I highly recommend checking out Smitten Kitchen’s Pie Crust 102 and 103 Series before embarking on this mission. Like I said previously, this is a galette dough recipe, but a lot of the same principles do carry over. Also, anything in parentheses () will be my personal commentary. Feel free to ignore, adjust, and unapologetically change as you wish.

All credits for the recipe should go to AllRecipes and Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients

(For apple filling)

  • 2 large green apples, peeled and cored (Or, you know, use whatever floats your boat. Like 2 Honeycrisp Apples.)

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 cup white sugar (I believe I used far less than this…maybe like 3 Tablespoons. I would recommend adjusting this amount based on the natural sweetness of the apples. Remember, they’re nature’s dessert for a reason!)

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or to taste

(For pielette dough)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into
    pieces
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup ice water

1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. Divide the refrigerated dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough. (I used a 4-inch cutter–if you can call a “cutter” the tin edge of the container that holds my smaller round cutters–and managed to get 12 from each dough half, after rerolling the scraps.)

3. (For the filling) Cut peeled and cored apples into quarters, cut each quarter into 3 wedges, and cut wedges into chunks. (My chunks were more like a 1 cm dice, which means each piece measured roughly about 1 cm x 1 cm x 1 cm. I found this helpful when I started filling the hand pies, since the dough was less likely to tear around the shorter edges.)

4. (For the filling) Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; let butter brown to a light golden color and until butter smells toasted, about 1 minute. Stir apples into hot butter; sprinkle with salt, white sugar, and brown sugar. Cook and stir apple mixture until apples are softened, about 5 minutes. Mix in cinnamon and water; continue cooking until apples are soft and sticky, 1 to 2 more minutes. Spread apple filling onto a plate to cool.

5. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons filling (use the smaller amount for a 4-inch circle) onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

6. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving.

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Random Thoughts

So here we are

I flirt with blog ideas the same way some people flirt with their gym memberships – you think you’ll finally settle in and stick to a routine, one that might actually get you to accomplish something meaningful, but then it just ends up languishing in the backwaters of the internet, visited only by SpamBots and Russian arms dealers. (At least I’m assuming that’s how they go about communicating with each other undetected.)

And yet here I am again, ready to tackle another blog.

I’m coming into this space with a different set of expectations, the main one being that not a soul out there will want to read my misguided ramblings. “Well, obviously you narcissistic goat herder*,” No One might be thinking. “Why should they care?” The answer is, of course, that they shouldn’t, and I would be completely daft to believe otherwise. This is not going to be some exercise in getting people to validate and boost my ego. If that’s what I truly wanted, I would have become a blogger for The Huffington Post.

But who am I kidding – this project is going to be just as self-indulgent, self-promotional, and self-selfied* as any other blog out there.

 

*Not a real word, but I think it should be.

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