IN MY KITCHEN: Fusion Cooking
I realize as I begin writing this that I'm already veering away from my originally stated blog schedule, and I apologize if this disappoints. In consolation to you who are eagerly awaiting more in-depth discussion on ethnic cuisine, ingredients, and reviews, I can tell you, I do intend to head back there soon. However, for me, food is a heart thing, and right now my heart and my mind are too focused on the future and what could be to sit contemplating the past, present, and what is.
As a Michigan native and outdoor enthusiast, I've come to recognize certain patterns in my life attached to the seasons. The summer is a time for enjoyment, the autumn, for preparation, the winter, for endurance, and the spring always seems to be a time of change. I've spoken with friends about this before as they've complained about winter and imagined what it would be like to live in warmer climate. While, I admit, I do not always enjoy the winter, I am actually happy to have grown up in place with cold and snow. I have to believe that like any hardship, winters make stronger, more resilient people. They make you grateful for sun in a way someone from the eternally summered southern states would have a difficult time understanding. Currently, the first official day of spring has just past and though it’s still looking and feeling wintery here, the mere anticipation of warmer days, greener scenery, and more time walking through my woods have already had an effect.
I’ve started my spring cleaning, clearing both the literal and figurative clutter from my life, and making room for the worthwhile things, established and new. I feel like I can breathe easier and I have more energy than ever to put toward creative pursuits. So, in that spirit, this week’s Gastronomics is all about fusion cooking - trying new things and reimagining others. Enjoy!
Earl Gray Custard Tarts
Normally, as those who know me can attest, I have a very difficult time picking a favorite anything. I don’t like to voice any opinion or stance unless I have thoroughly thought it through and feel confident in my conclusion. In fact, in many cases, my preference just comes down to my mood at the time. However, I can say without hesitation that my favorite beverage is a warm cup of Earl Gray tea sweetened with honey and served with a wedge of lemon. Especially during my especially challenging high school years, little things like a warming cup of tangy, sweet, fragrant black tea were a welcome comfort and Earl Gray was the only tea variety my parents kept.
Today, though I have an almost comical variety of teas at home, Earl Gray remains my constant favorite. I love it so much, I decided I should try to transfer that same flavor experience outside the beverage realm. The best way to do this, I figured, was in a desert and the result were Earl Gray Custard Tarts.
Earl Gray infused custard, topped with honey and a candied lemon slice inside an almond honey crust.
RECIPE: Earl Gray being the central component, the main challenge in developing this recipe was deciding how to apply it in a food. Luckily, I remembered a desert I had plucked from Martha Stewart a while back – a Strawberry Gallete topped with a basil infused whipped cream that happened to be even more delicious than the gallete itself. I realized, thinking back, that I could probably add the tea to any cream-based dish and settled on adorable miniature cream pies. I found a basic custard recipe from Bon Appetite and tweaked it slightly. I swapped whole milk for even more indulgent half and half and added infusion to the process. I also swapped sugar out for honey and added a little lemon zest in a nod to my favorite beverage. Having possible gluten issues, I decided to try a gluten free almond crust recipe I had found on Pinterest, once again altering it slightly, adding some sweetness and flavor with a little honey. The last bit of inspiration was in the addition of candied lemon slices. It was an idea that just seemed to come out of nowhere in the middle of the night, and when you get one of those, I’ve found it’s usually smart to follow.
CONSENSUS: Overall, I was really happy with the results! Not really a "sweets girl," it was a desert that struck a good balance of savory and sweet for me. The flavor of the Earl Gray was a little more subtle than I would have personally liked, but it came through and most people probably wouldn't want it any stronger. I was a little disappointed by the way the custard pulled away from the crust, but the crust held together despite some worry it wouldn’t and besides, was one of the best crusts I’ve had. SERIOUSLY. You've go to try it. The candied lemon slices were tasty and beautiful, though because I hadn’t considered the size of my lemon compared with my tarts, some slices ended up being larger than I thought was attractive and so I chose to keep them off to the side. Next time, I will pick a smaller lemon!
FUTURE INNOVATIONS: Next, I’d like to try an ice cream version of this dish! I’d also like to try a more savory Earl Gray application, but have yet to think of a way to do it in a tasty way.
Orange Soy Marinated Beet Noodles
In contrast to the dish above, beets are a very new thing for me. In fact, I only tried boiled beets for the first time a few weeks ago when my boyfriend decided to make some. To Nick’s surprise, I actually ate several in a sitting that day, dressed very simply with just olive oil and a little sea salt, just trying to pinpoint the flavor.
For those of you who haven’t tried them yet, beets have a complex, earthy, mineral flavor similar to mushrooms or asparagus, though they are actually quite sweet. They’re admittedly, a little on the funky flavor side, so I can understand how some people might not appreciate the pure beet flavor, however, I felt sure almost anyone would like them as a component in a dish. Since that day, I’ve been flipping beets around in my mind, trying to invent a beet dish for people that think they don’t/won’t like beets. The vibrant color and flavor complexity they offer are just too good to give up on completely, people!
Thin strips of beets marinated in a mix of orange juice, soy and shallots, and served as cold salad with sautéed asparagus, homemade roasted red jalapenos peppers, minced red onion, and homemade goat cheese crumbles. Drizzled with olive oil.
INSPIRATION: Searching for inspiration, I found two beet recipes that really struck my interest – 1.) cold beet noodles and 2.) orange shallot marinated beets. With the first I thought I had found a great beet preparation. Thin slices of the beets would provide more surface area for outside flavoring and besides, who doesn’t like pasta? With the second, I thought I had found the key to overcoming the very sweet, yet oddly lacking in tart flavor beets normally posed. Oranges would add just the perfect amount of tang and would pair well with strong umami flavors. (Just think Chinese food!) I added soy sauce to bring the flavor to a distinctly Asian place and added in some complimentary flavors. Asparagus and goat cheese which are both funky umami foods, help normalize the similar flavor characteristics in the beets. The roasted peppers, add a pleasant smoky flavor which pairs well with all other ingredients in the bowl, while they reinforce the tangy sweetness of the orange marinade.
CONSENSUS: This one didn’t just pass. I LOVE this beet pasta dish - and I really think you will too! Bonus – it’s one of those dishes that actually tastes better the next day so you can make a large batch.
FUTURE INNOVATIONS: I had considered adding in mandarin orange wedges, and I may try that next time. Maybe shrimp as well. I don’t eat bacon, but I thought an additional bacon-like salty ingredient might be nice. Roasted almond slivers could work well.
“Crab Rangoon” Soup Dumplings
Believe it or not, there are still place in the US where access to TV or cable internet is not available. I know. I happen to live in one. Luckily though, when I do feel like some easy entertainment, I have a 50 episode box set of No Reservations to serve as my rerun “comfort show.” (Something I imagine the famously sarcastic Mr. Bourdain would find amusing.) In the morning with an over easy egg and toast, on weekend afternoons with bowl of pasta, snuggled into bed with a glass of wine at night - I’ve probably watched them all at least 5 times, but the Asian shows, my particular favorites, I know I’ve watched much more. And no, it’s not just the seafood this pesca girl enjoys. It’s the culture and the care they give to their dishes, the simplicity and beauty of their presentation. One dish that embodies all these virtues - the soup dumplings (which Anthony tried in Shanghai) – seem to defy logic. A type of meatball filling is surrounded in soup which is somehow encased in an adorable dough casing that look like a tiny gift bag. Alas, I have yet to find a restaurant that serves them in Grand Rapids, and the closest I came to them was watching that show – until now.
Little steamed dough pockets contain a rich seafood stock and miniature crab cake filled with cream cheese. Drizzled with olive oil. Served with homemade plum sauce.
INSPIRATION: While I hadn’t been 100% sure of the details while preparing for this blog, I knew I wanted to do an Early Gray desert, I knew I wanted make a dish with beets, and I knew I wanted to play with crab rangoons. I began to worry however, that I wouldn’t have that third crab rangoon dish when the day before I planned to cook and shoot (Yes, I cooked all three of these dishes at the same time!) I still hadn’t settled confidently on any one application. Luckily though, as with the candied lemons, inspiration struck just in time, randomly that night. I remembered the soup dumplings on No Reservations and decided I would finally try one - even if I had no idea whatsoever of how to make them (details!) – and went to bed assured.
The next morning though, after finding a recipe, I have to admit, panic returned once again. First off, I hadn’t realized the wonton wraps I had ready and waiting in my fridge, wouldn’t do for these. I would need to either drive to World Market and hope they carried dumpling wraps (taking a chance I’d just waste time and they wouldn’t) or commit to making them myself. Second, I hadn’t anticipated that the soup stock would need to sit for hours – overnight, in fact, according to the recipe I found. ACK! And oh, wait. I don’t have one of these cute little bamboo steamer baskets they keep showing, and I’ve never actually steamed anything before. I started to wonder if my theory that midnight ideas were always right, may be proven wrong in this venture, but decided I had no time to sit and fret. If I was going to try it, I had to run to store and I had to do it now! To save time, I bought a seafood stock instead of making one, something I wouldn’t normally do. I gambled the freezer would speed up the gelling process, and won. And generally, I had to be very strategic in the way I spent my time between the three dishes. Reading over multiple recipes to figure what needed to happen and in what order. My main goal was to finish before I lost the natural light. AND I’m proud to say, I succeeded.
CONCLUSION: The soup dumplings were adorable, fun to make, and tasty, but if I were to voice any regrets, it would mainly be with my dumpling dough. I wish I had listened to my instincts and added a little salt to the plain flour and water recipe I found. Admittedly, I am a salt tooth, but I found the dough a little plain and wanting.* I also wish I had rolled them closer to the minimum 15 minute resting time rather the maximum 2 hour.* It was difficult to get them very thin. The most successful aspects of this dish? HAS to be the stock and plum sauce I made. Believe it or not, after explaining the gelatinized stock to my often picky daughter, she asked if she could try some, and while I purposefully withheld some pertinent information (namely that it was a seafood stock) she LOVED it! So much in fact, she asked for more and ran to tell Nick he had to have some too. The plum sauce too, was just awesome. Sweet, salty, spicy, I was really glad I decided to make my own instead of depending on the store bought processed stuff.
*I made adjustments to my posted recipe based on these findings.
FUTURE INNOVATIONS: I’d definitely like to try making more soup dumplings varieties. Maybe some simple shrimp and stock dumplings or some vegetarian soup dumplings with little veggie fritters inside. We’ll see!