Sunday, September 26, 2010

Octopus Confit and Handmade Soba w/Men-tsuyu

I haven't been to Japan, but I smell like it, now.

Octopus Confit
Handmade Soba Noodles in Men-tsuyu
As I type this, I'm covered in buckwheat flour, there's cornstarch all over my kitchen floor, and there's an Octopus arm simmering away in a pot of fragrant oil, garlic, thyme and chili peppers on my stove. I never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait to eat a bowl full of cold noodles and a fork full of cephalopod mollusc.Now, before you check the header on this page to see if you hit the wrong blog, stay with me a moment. I've been lucky enough to advance to the next round of the Foodbuzz Next Food Blog Star challenge and this one requires us to cook something out of our usual comfort zone.

I know. I know! Scary, huh? The good news is that I LOVE to be knocked out of my comfort zone - it keeps my pulse popping, my mind spinning and my husband in shock. So, let me take you along with me and suddenly you'll feel more comfortable too.
Japanese cooking terms I've learned along the way:

Soba - means buckwheat, but is also a classic noodle that is eaten cold or hot depending on the weather and desire. The Soba noodles came about because buckwheat can be grown even in times of famine and bad weather. It's a hearty crop and one of the things I respect about it is the poor, humble and resourceful history of its evolution.

Soba-yu - is the cooking water left over from boiling the Soba noodles and is used to flavor a dipping sauce or other cooking. Like the Italians, the pasta water is never wasted.

Dashi- is Japanese stock that is very simply made by adding Bonito (dried fish flakes) and sometimes Konbu (dried seaweed) to water, then strained. This stock, used like chicken stock and veggie stock in other cultures, creates a rich base for other dishes.

Japanese food is one of my favorite choices for dining out, and yet, except for sushi, and one Soba class, I've never really cooked anything authentically Japanese.

Did I say Soba class? Here's where the story goes down hill faster than a snowball on Mt. Fuji. The "stretch into another culture" moment of this experience for me was supposed to be the Octopus Confit. I figured, hey - I took a Soba class and did great - so no problem - I'll just whip up a few Soba noodles, throw'em into a pot and concentrate on my tentacled task.

Here's the first try: it didn't get very far because it didn't hold together.

Here's the second try: it held together, but there was no way it was rolling out.At one point I thought I could probably take a handful of Rock Quarry clay and knead it into noodle dough easier than this.

Then, I went back to my study sheet from my amazing class with Chef Akila Inouye:

I recalled how it felt that day to be in his studio with he and Sonoko. He is a master, and like all master's - the better THEY are, the easier it appears to copy them. Chef Inouye's arms and hands whirled the buckwheat flour around a giant silver bowl and with an exact measure of water, and determined kneading, turned a grainy, almost gluten-free pile of powder into a smooth, elasticized orb.
Using just a long broom handle-like rolling pin, he transformed the orb into a thin blanket. Then, while speaking to us, cut that folded blanket into piano strings of noodles. I did it too. We were all successful...that day... in his studio...with his guidance.

Meanwhile, finally on my third try:I GOT SOBA! Ok, no one will be calling me Sensei Showfood Chef very soon. But they taste great! The dough rolled out, it cut into noodles and they stayed together in the water.
And the Octopus Confit?
Well, it is the simplest thing ever. And it tastes like chicken (I'm kidding.) It is moist inside, with a chew like lobster but milder, and a hint of smokey crunch. I'll definitely cook it again.

OCTOPUS CONFIT (adapted from Best Recipes In The World-Mark Bittman)

8oz Octopus (fresh is preferred)
Olive oil (to cover)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 thyme branches
2 small dried chilies
pinch of salt
Place Octopus in saucepan with enough oil to cover. Add all other ingredients and bring to a slow, low simmer. Keep simmer low, around 190F until the Octopus is tender when tested with a knife (about 20 minutes). Remove and cool to room temp. Garnish with drizzle of soy sauce and lime juice. May be served warm or cold.

To go along with my tasting I made a basic dipping sauce for Soba, which is also extremely easy and has a nice tangy/sweet flavor.

Men-tsuyu (adapted from All Things Japanese)
1 cup Soba-yu or Dashi stock
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
1 Tbls. Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1 Tsp. sugar
pinch of bonito flakes

Bring the water to boil in a saucepan, then add all other ingredients. Simmer and stir to dissolve sugar for about 5 minutes. Cool and adjust seasonings.

(I also pickled ginger and radish in rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt for a crunchy garnish)

6.4oz buckwheat flour
1.6oz all purpose flour
3.2oz clear cold water

Sift the flours together into a large alluminum bowl. Using both hands, swirl the flours together. Gradually add the water and continue to swirl the flours while working in the water until the flour resembles large pebbles. Grab handfuls of the flour and work into each other, eventually pulling them into a large mound together. Knead this ball with all your power for a minimum of 15 minutes or more until it forms a smooth elastic dough. Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch. Using cornstarch, sprinkle over the dough and fold into thirds. Using a large knife, or pastry cutter, cut dough into 1.3mm strands (try to be consistent.)

Boil Soba in plenty of boiling water for about 90 seconds. Drain and plunge into a cold ice bath, then drain again. Reserve soba water for using in broths and dips.

I hope you'll try the Soba noodles because what mine lacked in beauty they made up for in taste and healthy nourishment. And, definitely make the Octopus Confit - it's too easy to pass up. My grandma used to say (when we were crying about a bug we'd turned into our own private pet, but it wasn't moving), "Shake the jar, maybe he's just bored!" Don't get bored, shake your jar, get Octopus and cook it...Japanese style.

This challenge is so much fun - if you feel inclined, vote for me to continue by clicking on my profile below: Thank you so much!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chocolate Kiwi Popsicles - Simple Saturday

When I can cover something in chocolate and STILL know that it's healthy - I'm a happy gal!
Chocolate Kiwi Popsicles
If you're wondering how much fruit is really in these chilly snack bars, take a good look. It's literally a slice of kiwifruit that has been dipped in a very thin, but crispy coating of chocolate and coconut oil.
That's it. I could ramble on, but that's the recipe, period.

1) Kiwi - peeled and cut in 1 inch thick rounds
, with a popsicle stick in each round. Freeze on a tray in the freezer.
2) 1 cup Chopped dark chocolate and 1/2 cup Coconut oil - melted over a double boiler, then cooled to room temp.
3) Dip each Kiwi-pop into the chocolate mixture (it will immediately turn crispy) and place on a tray to refreeze or pass around right now. I've had Kiwi in salads, and cakes, but when I received a box of kiwi from the Zespri Kiwi Growers (as part of a blogging program), my first thought was how much I wanted to keep the kiwi looking and tasting as true as possible.According to their reports, this year's crops are really sweet and yet still have their usual low glycemic index. That makes kiwi a great food for diabetic issues, weight conscious diets and low-fat, low-carb snacking. Here are a few facts that surprised me and made me want to keep eating those fuzzy little odd-balls.One serving of KIWI:

* contains the same amount of fiber as a BOWL of bran cereal.

* contains the same amount of potassium as a banana

* provides the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C


Folate (good for pregnant women), Lutein (helps prevent age-related blindness), Zinc (healthy hair, skin, teeth), Vitamin E (antioxidant and immune system booster) AND...the enzyme found in green kiwifruit makes a natural meat tenderizer. Who knew?

Now, as good as these popsicles taste - I'd really love to eat one of those kiwifruit while laying on the beach in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand. So, I'm entering Zespri's Kiwi-contest (a trip for 4 to New Zealand!) - which you can do also, just by the usual filling out name, etc and letting them know. Go check out the Great Kiwi Adventure site.

You don't have to buy anything, they obviously just want to get the word out about KIWI.
Speaking of words, my teenage son (who thought he didn't like kiwi) was at a loss for words when he tasted these popsicles. He then passed them out to his friends and it was the most quiet this house has been in a while. Their mouths were full of Chocolate Kiwi Popsicles. Mmmm.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ShowFood Chef - it's a calling

You can call me Cathy, you can call me ShowFood Chef, you can call me the next Food Blog Star, just so you CALL me (insert rim shot here.)

If you're one of my blogger friends and followers, you will not be too surprised to hear that I have joined a new challenge. Go ahead, smile and nod (and insert your vote, here.)

This challenge is called
Project Food Blog by During the challenges, there will be stories to tell, food challenges to prepare, photos to take and videos to make. All of them are designed to stretch and enlighten me [the food blogger] and hopefully inspire you [the reader.]

The judges are some of my sincerely favorite food stars themselves: Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief of Food and Wine Magazine, Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim and author of The Foodie Handbook, and Nancy Silverton of the amazing Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, among other culinary successes, and YOU. They will also be reading this post by ShowFoodChef (insert scratch-n-sniff smelling salts to avoid fainting, here.)

Challenge #1 - Write a personal post about what defines me, my blog and why I should be the Next Food Blog Star.

I have been in Show Business for years as an actress, writer, teacher and director (insert picture of emotional scars here). I still do that sometimes (hyperlink to fable of dog chasing it's own tail, here). But, my newest artistic expression has gone from Show Folk to Show Food.

A few years ago, I started writing non-fiction, personal essays and reading them in my own stage show with others at the famed Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles. I self catered each show, combining story, food and wine. As those things go, it was very successful. Along the way, I made a giant self-discovery. The stories the audience loved most were about my quirky southern upbringing. I got great laughs and sometimes tears from tales about my mom, my grandparents' survival farm on a dirt road, hiding bread dough in a corn field for good luck, eatin' mud-pies so my cousins would think I was brave, spitting watermelon seeds at each other and trying to smoke a stem because they called it rabbit tobacco. It was the very truth I had thought I needed to disguise all these years.

I wrote about being surrounded by live [for a while] chickens, cattle, pigs, guinea, rabbits, many dogs, cats, and geese. There were gardens, fields to plow, woods and creeks, lard biscuits twice a day and loud preaching in Revival tents. The thread that ran through all of it was food, jamming, preserving, smoking meat, plucking chickens and baking (insert church choir singing "God Bless America" here.)
I spoke about my parents divorcing, and my dad dying a few years later, and my mom moving my brother and me to the city (insert map to prove that the tiny town of Durham is indeed called a city.) My mom worked as many jobs as possible to keep our little family close, fed and healthy. There was not much money and the food took on a lot of "wonder what's under the gravy tonight" titles. Ultimately, that gave me a great appreciation for the "time and energy" concern that so many working parents feel when it comes to cooking and serving meals.

My stage show proved to be a training ground for my blog. I had already been cooking and developing recipes before I knew they were called recipes. In fact, as kids my brother and I spent many Saturdays mixing up bits of every thing we could find in the kitchen. Then we'd experiment to see what it looked like if we froze it, or toasted it, or if the dog would still eat it (insert my husband's face in sudden realization of his role in life now.)

A few years ago, I graduated (insert diploma with honors) from Le Cordon Bleu of California as a way of adding credentials to my yammering and a chance to practice the classics. It was an arduous and awesome experience.

After working in a restaurant kitchen, I knew I had enough respect for line cooks to last a lifetime, and would serve the food world better by teaching, writing, developing and being the one to show food (insert sound of Ahhhs, here.)
My hope is that my readers (insert huge virtual hug of appreciation, here) will see all the challenges that I leap into and feel inspired. I hope they will try the recipes I create, learn a new technique and return for more.
I hope my travels, love of Italian food and the desire to show that every culture has a version of home-cooking will educate and inform others.
I have always believed there was nothing I couldn't do if I researched, practiced, studied with the best and didn't let failure stop me (re-insert pic of emotional scars, here.) I've been following that idea as my photography improves and I grow into the technical world of blog and design.
My favorite comments are when someone says, "You make me think I could do that, too."
If you agree with so many others (insert picture of my immediate family, here) that I could be the FoodBuzz Blogger Star of the year - take a moment, sign up and vote for me at As always - Thank you for stopping by and let me know what you're cooking.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Peach Puff Pancake - Simple Saturday

Need a perfect brunch item? Here it is. Need a quick, impressive, one pan-serve a family-wow'em-fresh fruit-make me look good without a lot of hassle-breakfast/lunch/snack item (and who doesn't)? Here it is.
Peach Puff Pan-cake
On the weekends, at my house, all regular schedules go out the window. I'm not sure when any one is eating, if they're eating here or who might be dropping by. It's the life of having teenagers, being a freelancer and having a husband in the television business.

This german-style puff pan-cake is perfect for throwing together, and leaving out on a platter for the taking...whenever, whomever, wherever.
This is also great with apples (peel and slice thin for quick baking). When you first take this out of the oven it's puffed really high and then will naturally fall into a moist custard type pie.

The moisture is why it's still good even after being out for an hour, and good hot or room temp (of course, like most things with eggs in it, refrigerate this if not eaten within a couple hours.) Before the last peach has left for another season, puff it up with pride in this Peach Puff Pancake.


2 Large Peaches (pitted and sliced)

4 Tbls. butter

1 1/2 cups AP flour

2 Tbls. sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

5 eggs

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400F.

1) In a large oven-proof skillet with sides, place butter and sliced peaches. Put the skillet into the preheated oven to allow the butter to melt and the peaches to warm and soften while you prepare the other ingredients. Remove pan after about 5-8 minutes so the butter doesn't burn.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.

3) Make a well in the center of the flour (dry ingredients) and pour in the eggs, and milk. Whisk the eggs and milk together, then incorporate the dry ingredients also, making a batter.

4) Pour the batter, carefully, into the hot skillet and stir everything together. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes or until puffed and golden on the edges.

Remove and allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes. You can slice in pan or turn out onto plate for serving. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top for garnish (and lip-licking.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Peach & Blueberry Ginger Jam - Video Interview

One of my earliest memories of growing up next to my Grandparent's farm in North Carolina is how the kitchen felt when G-Ma was canning. The air was moist, the windows were fogged over, you had to talk over the rattling of jars in the giant boiling water pots, there was sugar on the floor that had spilled from the scoops, and there were women laughing - lots of laughing.

Peach & Blueberry Ginger Jam
The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

IRONICALLY: This month's Tigress Can/Jam challenge was Stone Fruit as chosen by Hip Girl's Guide. So, rather than have double posts - I doubled up on a post.

The choices of stone-fruits are numerous at this time of the season in California. I'm also keen on using combinations and my little blueberry plant is giving me her last jewels, so I paired those with golden freestone peaches.

Our host for Daring Cooks, John, gave us the option of using one of our own recipes if canning and preserving were already in our wheel-house. It's not only familiar to me - it's like home. So, for this post, I'll add a little video that I had the honor of being in for an interview about Boutique foods in Southern California. I'll add the recipe that I used that day for Peach & Blueberry Ginger Jam. I have many jams on my site also, and I hope you'll take a look if anything appeals to you.


2lbs Peaches (peeled and sliced)
1lb Blueberries
32oz. organic sugar
2Tbls. minced fresh ginger
2 lemons (juice and zest)
2 cinnamon sticks (*optional and to be removed before putting jam in jars)

1) In a large pot add: peaches, blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest (and cinnamon sticks). Stir to combine.
2) Macerate (let sit, covered for flavors to mix) in refrigerator overnight or at least 8 hours
3) When ready to continue, add ginger to pot and heat on Med., stirring to dissolve sugar for about 10 minutes.
4) Remove the cinnamon sticks, and increase heat. Stir now and then.
5) Heat til liquid from jam runs off a wooden spoon slowly, rather than a single stream. This may take about 25 minutes depending on amount cooking. (You can also check by putting a small ceramic plate in the freezer before starting your jam, then check the jam set by spooning a bit of the jam on the cold plate. If the jam doesn't run, and has a bit of a rise to it - the jam is ready. You can also check by temperature - jam sets around 219-223F. )

If you are canning the jam, follow the safety rules for home canning in a hot water bath (easy and conveniently found here.)

If you are making this for consumption within a few weeks, you can pour jam into clean containers, let cool, cover and keep in refrigerator.

Anybody can jam, so get your jam on!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Torta al Testo and Love of Italy - Let's Lunch

I was in Italy. That's the statement I whisper to myself when the morning comes too soon, or the day lasts too long, or a job gets in the way of life.
I was in Italy. I close my eyes and bring back the smells of little bread shops, the clicking of shoes across cobblestones, the way sunlight crossed the sky giving each ancient ruin in the Piazza a chance to shine at some point during the day.
I was in Italy. And while there, I ate well!

Torta al Testo is a traditional Umbrian sandwich stuffed with wild arugula, hand cut prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and it's perfect for a picnic any season.
Torta al Testo
I'm eager to share my pictures and experiences with you, so I'll do a 2-part post of my most recent trip to Perugia.

I'm highlighting the Torta al Testo as part of this month's "Let's Lunch Bunch". It's a group of really talented food bloggers from all across the planet who choose a different kind of lunch item each month and agree to blog about it on the same day. It gives you a chance to quickly visit a lot of fantastic recipes and lunch ideas without having to search very far.
Let's Lunch Bunch for September is about Fall Picnics and includes:
CowGirl Chef - Fig Walnut Pesto
Free Range Cookie - Caramel Apple Scone
Kitchen Trials - Rustic Tomato Soup/homemade bread
Blog Well Done - Pumpkin Sub
Tiger In The Kitchen - Braised Pork Belly Sandwich
BonVivant - Tomato and Cheese

Sometimes I get on jags when I find something unique and fun to cook; I'll make it over and over. I've been making this home-made bread for Torta al Testo for everyone in the family, including a gluten free version for a friend. It's so easy to throw it together while moving around the kitchen, then hold the dough in the refrigerator til you want to roll it out, cook it off and fill it with meat, greens and fresh cheese. Sliced into crispy thin wedges, held together by the melted cheese and salty with the hot fat from Italian Prosciutto, the Torta al Testo can be a light lunch, snack or dinner

It has become my teenage son's favorite sandwich, which means he'll even let me make it for school lunches (success!)

The name actually means "Cake of the Tile" because it used to be grilled on a giant slab of stone heated by hot coals. Luckily for us, it can be made simply in a large bottomed pan (cast iron is best) on the top of our stove.

I'm showing the traditional Perugian technique, although you can also put the ingredients into a food processor and zap it all together.

(for 2 Torte)

1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
3/4 cup very warm water
2 Tbls. Olive oil
2 cups AP Flour
1 tsp. salt

In a small bowl add the warm water to the yeast, stir to dissolve and then add the olive oil. Leave to become creamy for about 15 minutes.

On a board, make a mound of the flour with salt sprinkled over it. Make a well in the center and gently pour the yeasty mixture into the well. Using a fork, gradually work in the flour, starting from the center. When a dough forms, use your hands to knead. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes into a smooth and strong dough.

Cover with a towel and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours til almost doubled. Punch down and divide into two balls.

Roll each ball out to about 8-9 inches in diameter. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Cook in a skillet on Med. heat, for about 5-7 minutes on each side. Remove to a towel and let rest a few minutes before carefully slicing in half with a long serrated knife.

After the torta is split, layer with your choice of meats or veggies and reheat under a broiler or grill til crisp. Using a pizza cutter, divide into quarters and serve.

If you read my blog, you already know how much I love Italy. This was my first time in Perugia. In my second post I'll show a little about a cooking course I took there, and about my favorite area, Le Marche. I hope you'll try the Torta al Testo - maybe over and over like me?