We Go Together

Some things are meant to go together. It’s easy like that.

It’s like a game when someone says one word, and then you say the first word that comes to mind upon hearing that word – you know, the natural or most logical answer. Like if I said “dog” you’d perhaps say “bark” or “cat”. Or if I said “cotton”, you might say “candy” or “ball”. You get the jist, no?

Movies?

Popcorn. You can’t go to a movie without seeing a ton of folk noshing on butter-laden bags of it, right? It just makes sense. For us though, movies = hot tamales snuck in from Walgreens. Popcorn is a splurge

Peanut butter?

Jelly or bananas. I used to think only jelly went with peanut butter, but I eventually saw the light, and I’d take a PB&B sandwich any day. And PB&J is a lovely standby, so long as there’s no seeds in my J. Credit would also be given to the word cookie, because peanut butter cookies are dynamite.

Red wine?

Any red meat. This is a total no-brainer. Please don’t drink Chardonnay with your steak. Thank you. I’ll also accept any red varietal for credit here, if you must know.

Milk?

Cookies. I mean, duh. Except if you’re lactose-intolerant, then I’d suggest almond milk instead. Extra-tasty, indeed.

Scallions?

Cilantro. And sesame seeds, and bread. Oh, and yeast. Holy moly. If there was ever something you should make in double quantity, it’s this bread. You’d be sorely regretful otherwise – I ain’t playin’.

But for serious – these ingredients are like a mixture of everything lovely. A crunch here, a chew there, you’d have a hard time eating just one roll, which is why you’d be smart to double every last one of these ingredients. Why, you could even freeze the rolls before baking, and bake off one by one alongside dinner, if you prefer. Extra credit goes to those who do so, in my book.

Cilantro-Scallion Bread
From Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 12 rolls

time commitment: ~2 hours (half active, half letting dough rise and rolls bake)

printable version

ingredients
2 t active dry yeast
2 t Kosher salt, divided
2 t sugar, divided
1 3/4 c plus 3 T all-purpose flour
4 T unsalted butter, chilled, cubed
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
1 1/4 c coarsely chopped scallions
1/2 c coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 c sesame seeds
1 T black sesame seeds
3 T olive oil plus more for bowl and brushing

instructions
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour 1/2 c warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar over; let stand until mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes. (if yeast doesn’t bubble, it might be dead, so start over with new yeast.)

Place flour, butter, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1 teaspoon sugar in bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached. Rub in butter with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Beat in egg, yolk, and yeast mixture, scraping down sides. (you can also do this without a stand mixer – just combine ingredients together with an electric mixer or spoon.)

Knead on medium speed until dough is soft and smooth, about 5 minutes (or do this by hand until soft and springy). Form dough into a ball; transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (If you’re preparing this for baking the following day, you can put it in the fridge at this point; the dough will still rise very slowly, and you’ll want to remove the dough and let it get to room temperature before moving to the next step.)

Meanwhile, coursely chop scallions and cilantro. Transfer to a medium bowl; stir in all sesame seeds and 3 T oil and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll dough into a 18×9″ rectangle. Spoon scallion mixture evenly onto center and spread mixture to corners of dough. Working from one short edge, roll dough rectangle into a cylinder. Cut cylinder into 12 dough swirls (~3/4″ each), trimming off the two ends. Transfer dough swirls to prepared baking sheet; brush with oil. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Sesame Street

If I remembered being a toddler, I’d probably recall a few instances of frustration when things didn’t go right – like when I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what letter came after Q in the alphabet, and damn that song because it didn’t always help, either. I’d remember not being able to fit the plastic red square into the oddly shaped “toy”.

I’d remember wanting Bugsy, our albino Siamese kitten, to love me so badly that I’d just pick him up and squeeze him to pieces, dragging him across that shaggy yellow carpet like a rag doll, until one day he scratched the side of my face off. Okay, that’s a little of an exaggeration, but nonetheless Bugsy ‘disappeared’ shortly after that incident and I still feel a little guilty about that.

Being a toddler isn’t much different than being an adult, in a lot of ways. We screw a lot of shit up and smile afterwards, hoping our cuteness makes it go away (that worked better then than it does now). We throw tantrums here and there when things don’t go our way, and sometimes we look back on those incidents and laugh, but sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief. We get excited about the little things, and sometimes the big picture escapes us.

Occasionally, great ideas aren’t always as well-executed in practice as they were in theory. But often, trying again (and sometimes again and again and again) leads to success.

But being a toddler was so much easier than being an adult, wasn’t it? If only we all had someone bigger than us, wiser than us, more adult than us, to make all those big choices in the big people world. Like what retirement fund to choose, or whether to bring an umbrella to work today, or what to tell the crying patient in your office, or how to get the damn trash people to just take our freaking box that’s been sitting outside all weekend.

Or how to cook soba noodles. Yeah, seriously. How to boil water, open a package, dump the dried buckwheat sticks into said boiling water, wait 5 minutes, and drain the now-soft noodles, and rinse them in cool water afterwards. You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard, wouldja?

But a couple of weeks ago, it was. I missed a c-rucial step. ¬†You see, the buckwheat noodles were divided into three groups, each tied together by a thin strip of paper the same color as the noodles (translation – I didn’t see them). The water boiled, the package was opened, and the sticks were dumped into the water, but the paper ties caused a minor problem: the noodles didn’t separate, causing three large chunks of glop, and realizing this error right after dumping the noodles into the water was just 1 second too late, and past the point of no return. Some penne in the pantry saved the day, but all the while I knew this dish needed to be right, and it wasn’t.

So I put on my big girl pants, I procured another package of noodles and tofu along with more sesame seeds, I swallowed my pride, and I tried again. And man, am I glad I did. Admitting defeat and trying again is so grown up, don’t ya think?

Black Sesame Otsu
adapted, barely, from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson; serves 4

okay, I have a new cookbook addiction, which doesn’t happen often. and to you carnivores out there, I am sorry to report that I am again tossing another tofu recipe onto this site. I promise a meat-heavy dish is in your future. but for now, i am really happy about soba noodles, black sesame seeds, and tofu. I probably could have eaten the paste all by itself, actually.

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

ingredients
1 t pine nuts
1 t sunflower seeds
1/2 c black sesame seeds
1 1/2 T natural cane sugar
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 1/2 t mirin
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 T brown rice vinegar
1/8 t cayenne pepper
Fine-grain sea salt
1 package organic soba noodles
1 package extra-firm tofu
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

instructions
Cut the tofu into thin, bite-sized pieces. Put on a towel-lined plate and let sit out to release some of the moisture.

Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, shaking the pan regularly. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the mixture; the texture should be like black sand. Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. Drain, reserving some of the noodle cooking water, and rinse under cold running water.

While the noodles are cooking, season the tofu with a pinch of salt, toss with a small amount of oil, and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, tossing every couple minutes, until the pieces are browned on all sides.

Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup of the hot noodle water. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, half of the green onions, and the black sesame paste. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve topped with a tiny dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining green onions.