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So here's a wild stab at a dish I don't know very well but just looks so darn good. Zhajiang mian (炸酱面) has quite a few regional variations, so I muddled a few together, figuring it should at least give me a decent try at a deep, nummy flavour. Its basis seems to be fermented bean paste, so here we could go with miso, tianmian jiang (甜面酱) and/or hoisin sauce. Douban jiang (豆瓣酱) also works here, particularly in addition to the other sweeter and saltier bean pastes. Due to a lack of preparation, I ended up using ground pork, but apparently cubed also pork belly works well here, particularly if you want a slightly fancier look. Here's the recipe I went with on the first try:

3 tbsp. oilzhajiangmian_sauce
1 tsp. sichuan peppercorns
2 star anise
3 scallions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground pork
2 tbsp. tianmianjiang
2 tbsp. doubanjiang
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 c. water

Heat the oil, then add sichuan peppercorns and star anise. Fry til fragrant, then remove the peppercorns and star anise.
Add scallions and garlic and saute briefly, until browned. Add ground pork and saute. All the pink will cook through quickly, but keep sauteing until the water released from the pork boils off, and it begins to brown slightly. The pan should start to crackle around this time.
Add 3 sauces and water, and simmer until sauce is thick again.
Serve over noodles, with julienned cucumber.

- Gosh, that's good.  Those proportions make a still quite sweet sauce, and I wonder whether it could stand to be spicier.
- I probably used way too much oil, particularly considering how much fat renders off the ground pork.  It does seem like a very sensible way of getting the flavours of the sichuan peppercorn and star anise into the sauce, though, so maybe the trick is to infuse a whole batch of it at once and store it, assuming it keeps well.  One way or the other, 1 tbsp oil may also be enough, though.
- I think there's a lot of potential in serving this cold (particularly in the summer!), and I have seen some preparations with tons of other toppings: carrots, edamame, bok choi, egg, bean sprouts.  The more colours get added, the more I am reminded of hiyashi chuka, and I suspect the same toppings from that may work in this dish as well.  Here the cubed pork belly might not work so well, particularly if the first thing you want to do when you get your bowl is just mix everything up.

Kabuli Palao

There's nothing the least bit Afghan about me, but this is Afghan rice pilaf. There are variations of meat & spice, and I still haven't managed to nail the dark sugar syrup that adds the nice colour to it.

Sprinkle ~1½ lbs. short rib (maybe a leaner cut with shorter cook time would work better?) with salt. Oil hot pan and sear on each side, then set aside.
In the same pan, saute 1 medium onion (finely chopped) until onions soften. Add 1 clove garlic (minced) and saute. Add spices:
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. black pepper
Add ½ c. water and deglaze pan. Add short rib back in and bring up to a boil, then braise for around 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak 1½ c. basmati rice in cold water for 1 hour or more.
When meat is done, remove from pan and set aside. Take the braising liquid from pan, blend and strain, pushing through the strainer if necessary and discard the solids.

In a small pan, add a generous amount of oil (enough for a shallow fry) and fry ~¼ c. carrots (julienned) for 2-3 minutes. Add sultana raisins and fry for another minute or so. Remove carrots and raisins from pan to paper towels to soak up the excess oil.
** if I figure out how to make that dark oily syrup, I'd guess it'd be okay to use the leftover oil in the pan here for it **
Make an aluminum foil envelope, put the carrots & raisins inside and fold over to close.

In a large pot of (salted) boiling water, parboil rice - around 3-4 minutes, until tender with a bit of solid at the core. Strain out, then put rice back in pan. Add the braising liquid, adding stock/water to bring it up to around ½ c. liquid. Add spices:
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cardamom
** i keep forgetting to add saffron here too **
Mix thoroughly and taste to adjust seasonings. Add the meat back in as well as the tinfoil envelope. Bake at 300°F for ~1 hour.
The cookbook suggested a really odd idea for prepping the cabbage leaves: Core the cabbage, then put it in the freezer overnight in a big freezer bag. Then the next day, defrost the cabbage in a bowl of warm water.

Meat-stuffed Cabbage Rolls
For 24 rolls (8 big servings)
prepare 3 c. cooked short-grain white rice, with 2 tbsp butter
saute 1 onion in 1 tbsp butter
mix everything together with 3½ lbs ground pork
(the recipe suggested 2½ c. chicken stock as well, I skipped it with no consequence)

Roll filling in the cabbage leaves
Line the bottom of the steamer with any spare or torn leaves, and steam on low heat for 1½ hours.

Tomato Sauce
In a medium pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Add 1 small onion (minced) and cook until softened (~3 min)... add 1 garlic clove (minced) and cook until softened... add 2½ c. canned tomato puree. Simmer for 10 minutes and season.

Serve over the cabbage rolls.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

2 lb 85% ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1.5 tsp. gelatin, dissolved in 3 tbsp water
Panade (mix and let sit 10 minutes)
-->2 1/4 c. panko soaked with 1.5 c. buttermilk
3 lg. eggs (beaten)
6 oz. prosciutto
3 oz. grated parmesan cheese
6 tbsp. chopped parsley
3 cloves garlic
1.5 tsp salt
.5 tsp pepper

make 1/4 c. meatballs.
onto grate in baking sheet, lined with foil
roast 450 deg for 30 min.


3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 grated onions (1.5 c.) - cook until "golden" 6-8 min
6 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
3 cans of 28 oz crushed tomatoes
6 tbsp dry white wine
6 c. tomato juice
1.5 tsp salt
touch of pepper

bring up to heat and simmer for 15 min.

Drop the hot meatballs into the sauce, and return everything (covered) to 300 oven for 1 hour.

Finish with 1/2 c. chopped basil and 3 tbsp. chopped parsley. Serve with those long noodley thingys.

((1/3 recipe made 24 meatballs, so 6-8 portions))


    ½ c. AP flour
    ½ c. warm water
    1½ tsp. instant yeast

    3 c. AP flour
    ½ c. warm water
    2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

    2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
    2 tbsp. rosemary leaves
    1 tsp. kosher salt

Peel & quarter 1 potato. Boil in ~1 qt. water for 25 minutes. Mix starter ingredients together in a bowl, cover and set aside for 20 minutes.

Grate potato, or run through vegetable ricer.

Add 1½ c. flour to the starter and mix well for ~5 minutes. Add grated potato, olive oil, water and 1¼ c. flour and continue mixing until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead in remaining ¼ c. flour until the dough is elastic and sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover and set aside until dough doubles in size (usually 1 hour).

With wet hands, turn dough out onto a generously oiled 15½x10½ rimmed baking sheet, and press dough flat. Cover again and proof until doubled in volume (usually 45-60 minutes).

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Dimple the dough with wet fingers, and sprinkle on toppings, starting with the oil.

Bake until bottom crust is golden brown & crisp, 23-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Rough notes: ATK's goulash

Prepare "paprika cream":
12 oz. roasted red peppers
1/3 c. sweet paprika
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. white vinegar.

3.5 to 4 lb. chuck eye roast
... cubed and salted, left to rest 15 minutes.

In 2 tbsp vegetable oil, saute 4 large onions, chooped over medium heat for around 10 minutes, until transluscent and soft but not brown.

Add meat but do not brown. Add 4 chopped carrots and 1 bay leaf.

Bake at 325F for 2.5 hours. Warm up and add 1 c. beef broth. Return to oven for 30 min.

Finish with 1/4 c sour cream and 1 tsp vinegar.


Rough notes: Garbure


in 2 tbsp. duck fat, saute
    1 medium onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced

Add 1 generously-sized ham bone (or ham hock)
bouquet garni
    bay leaf
    leek greens

Cover with water, simmer for 1 hr.

Add potatoes, bacon and cabbage (1 small green cabbage, chopped big (1") and blanched). Simmer 1.5 hours.

To finish, remove ham bone & bouquet garni. Add duck confit, 1 tbsp duck fat and canned beans. Simmer 10-15 minutes, then remove from heat.

Celery Root Remoulade

Celery Root Remoulade
Serves 8

1 lb. celery root, 1" juliennes
½ tbsp. salt
½ tbsp. lemon juice
¼ c. dijon mustard
3 tbsp. boiling water
⅓ c. olive oil
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
⅓ c. sour cream
2 tbsp. parsley, chopped

Toss the julienned celery root with the salt and lemon juice and let steep for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a warm bowl, make the dressing: take the dijon mustard and whisk in the hot water, olive oil and vinegar.

Rinse, drain and dry the celeriac. Fold in the dressing and add sour cream and parsley. Chill if not serving immediately.

First try: Sandwich bread?!

So after all these crusty, rustic and free-form breads, I thought I'd take a stab at the one bread I've been purposely avoiding. In a way, sandwich bread (particularly stuff like Wonder Bread and other enriched white breads) are the reason I even started baking at all. Simpler and, frankly, more "European" just struck me as better. In the end, though, I have come to learn that using good judgement in choosing ingredients is more important than what that bread might happen to symbolize for you. And really, it makes sense: Sandwich bread is really good for, surprise surprise, sandwiches.

This is another recipe taken from Hintz's book (the same one as the whole wheat loaf). As such, it is again super unfriendly for mixing by hand. The basic dough is quite stiff, as it counts on the addition of a stick of softened butter, but then there is the challenge of integrating that butter into the dough. Otherwise, it is a starter-less bread that seems to demand a lot of waiting, a warmer-than-usual area to rest and no steam.

One of the interesting techniques described in these recipes is an alternate way of degassing the dough. Instead of punching it down, it suggests pulling up one side of the dough (the "stretch") until it forms a large flap, then folding it over the rest of the dough. By doing this in all four directions, it should be enough manipulation to degas the dough, but does so gently, and in a way that smooths out the surface.

Pain de Mie ("bread of crumb", or white sandwich bread)
Makes 2 loaves

    666g or 4¾ c. bread flour
    1¼ tsp. salt
    1¾ tsp. sugar
    2 tsp. instant yeast
    1¾ c. milk (400g)
    120g or 11 tbsp. butter, softened

Combine the bread flour, salt, sugar, yeast and milk and mix on "low speed for about 4 minutes." I took this as "hand mix for about 10". Add the softened butter, half at a time, and incorporate into the dough. I had difficulty doing this by hand, and eventually hand-kneaded the dough in the bowl for about 10 minutes until the butter seemed properly worked in.

Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes. Stretch and fold (see above) and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Divide the dough into halves, preshape into logs and proof for 45 minutes in greased bread pans. (Here I found the dough didn't rise properly unless it was warmer than usual. After an hour with no perceptible change in size, I proofed it for another 45 minutes or so in a warm oven.) The dough should rise to just about 1 cm below the rim.

Bake at 375° for 30-40 minutes, then remove from the pans and return to the oven for another 3-5 minutes, to get even browning on all sides. Let cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Whether it was because it's just an obscene amount of butter, or because I wasn't able to incorporate it into the dough properly by hand, the result was very, very buttery and frankly a little bizarre:

The crust was a vaguely croissant-like finish, flakey, crumbly and buttery, while the crumb was tight and rich, almost like brioche. In fact, I would think that the crumb may have ended up more like what I imagined brioche to be than the actual brioche recipe I tried a year ago. Obviously with no eggs it's not quite the same but it still struck me as bizarre, as all the pictures in the cookbook show a nice, clean white loaf with an almost leathery crust, the way store-bought sandwich bread has.

I'm frankly not sure what to do to improve on the loaf. While it was a wonderful breakfast bread, I wasn't quite what I was hoping for in terms of making simple things like BLTs and grilled cheese. Perhaps I'll look up some other sandwich bread recipes and compare. Regardless, I think 11 oz of butter is too much, and I'll likely go with a lot less next time.

First try: Spinach Tagliatelle

A kitchen supply store near my house is closing down and on a recent visit there, we noticed a pasta machine on liquidation for about $20. Not knowing much about pasta machine quality but wanting to try it out, we picked it up but it was only recently that I got to try it out.

I happened to have some extra spinach kicking around last week, thanks largely to the beet greens occupying the usual "leafy side dish" role in my meals. To be honest, I was a little hesitant, though; Frozen spinach seems so much more convenient, being that it practically disintegrates into mush when exposed to air. That quality alone would probably make it a lot easier to mix into pasta dough.

Despite my misgivings, I was inspired by a blog post I found that seemed confident that fresh spinach, "rinsed dry then chopped finely" would mix into the pasta dough just fine. With that in mind, I set out to make spinach tagliatelle, the traditional accompaniment to ragu bolognese.

Buoyed largely by its success last time, I used the "middle-class pasta" I made for the bolognese as a baseline: 2 cups of AP flour, 7 oz. of liquid. In this case, I went with 2 whole eggs and trusted the generous handful of fresh spinach I was chopping would retain about 2 fluid ounces of water no matter what I did. The result was this:

While my freckled pasta looks great, the problem is that there are hard flecks of spinach in that pasta. After it was allowed to rest and I ran it through the pasta machine, the harder bits of spinach actually tore the pasta sheets when they got too thin. In the end, I had to settle for a thicker noodle, about the same thickness as when I rolled it out by hand, in fact.

As long as the noodle was holding together before cooking, it seemed to survive two minutes of boiling and the finished dish turned out just fine. Instead of tossing the pasta with the bolognese sauce, I actually found I preferred this "nest-style" presentation, as the sauce is thick enough to hold its shape, but mixes really easily once you run your fork through the pasta: (and yes, I realize that's a ton of sauce)

As for the pasta machine, a little research on the company name revealed that it's a Changzho Shule Pasta Machine (their web site is elusive). Visually, it's actually a dead ringer for any one of dozens of different varieties of pasta machine and 95% of the hand-cranked pasta machines have the same general look. Amusingly, the one problem I've had with it so far (the crank is loose and likes to fall out if I so much as look at it funny) seems to also happen with its higher priced twins (like the Atlas 150). We'll see how it does in the long run.