Bittman Bonanza

Foodie Call #5 took place on Saturday, March 6, 2010. Kate and Gary had good beer and plenty of it. They had fancy chocolate and organic produce. They had each other. How could they possibly go wrong?


Left – pouring the pudding into a bowl. Top right – the soup. Bottom right – the fried rice.

Gary: Before we get into an epic tale from Kate, I’d just like to say that we had some really great ideas going into this cooking adventure. Okay, maybe one item on the menu probably should have been nixed but our intentions were good. Regardless of the flawed execution, it happened with good company so at least we had that. Anyway, no more needs to be said until Kate describes the evolution of our friendship and how we got to this point so without further ado…

Kate: The story of our first dual cooking in adventure and its surprising outcome, would not be complete without a little trip down memory lane. Here is a short(ish) history of how two foodies found each other, ate together, and finally got around to cooking together. The history will give some context to the high hopes and grand expectations riding on that fateful night…

Ever since Gary and I have known each other we’ve talked about food. While our relationship started with craft beer banter (I was serving it to him at work), I think it was I who casually mentioned the latest hot restaurant that had just been reviewed by the Times. I forgot the name. Gary remembered. Being late 20 something slackers who, although in our youths had once had “sooo much promise” (according to Gary’s mom, and my inner monologue), we were both working in mediocre jobs and neither of us could actually afford to go to this restaurant (without some careful budgeting anyway), yet we had both read the entire review. I was a little tickled. But a few months later when Gary he mentioned once how excited he was to read Frank Bruni’s (the former NY Time’s restaurant critic) new memoir (Born Round—an amazing read), my jaw dropped.  I had just pre-ordered it. Never had I met anyone as into food (eating it, cooking it, and reading about it) as Gary. I truly had met my match in food geekdom. It was a great feeling.

Although we both had our fingers on the pulse of the New York food scene, the difference was that rather than just reading about places, Gary would actually go. “Oh… you’ve been to Artichoke?” I asked wistfully. I knew all about the place with the huge slice of artichoke pizza that apparently had people lining up around the block but had never gone. I wanted in. Soon we started eating together.

BF was characteristically cool about my food outings with my new friend. Joking that when I went on my little “foodie dates” with Gary, he would call them “foodie calls.” I said as much to Gary who laughed. We continued talking about what we’d cooked, occasionally bringing samples of our efforts to share with each other when one day I mused offhand as I poured him a beer “We should like, start a blog!” (Keep in mind that I just learned how to email attachments last year. I am not computer savvy. When I said, “We should start a blog, I might as well have said “we should start a gerbil farm!” for how serious I was.) Gary looked at me for a moment, the wheels in his head turning.

The blog was born.

Through writing about food and cooking, reading each other’s writing, and sometimes eating each other’s leftovers, we became even better friends.

We talked about actually cooking together. We finally set a date. We chose a (Mark Bittman themed) menu, inspired by his recent video demo of fancy fried rice: Kabocha Squash and Shiitake Mushroom Soup, Jean Georges’ Ginger Fried Rice, and Silken Tofu Chocolate Pudding. BF was invited. I happily shopped for ingredients the night before. I woke up already excited; the sun was shining, I worked out  so I could enjoy all the delicious food that we were going to make and not feel bad about having seconds, and even updated my facebook status as how excited I was for two of my favorite people to arrive and for the culinary magic to happen.


Top left – Gary and Kate at the the beginning of the night, full of hope. Top right – Gary and Kate working in the kitchen. Bottom left – Gary makes quick work of the ginger. Bottom right – BF dices up the squash.

So, as I have painstakingly illustrated, there was a lot of high expectations going into this night.

It was a flop.

The soup was okay, the fried rice mediocre and wet with well done rather than runny eggs, the dessert downright inedible (and I’ll eat anything with the word dessert in its title, even fruit ones which I claim to hate). And the worst part? My friends, we couldn’t even manage to get drunk.

The three of us met and at Beircraft, near my place to pick up beverages for the night, thinking we would need really good beer and much of it to accompany this killer meal that was about to be made and devoured.

We got home, cracked some beers, put BF on squash chopping duty (wrestling with an unwieldy squash is probably the worst job– maybe that wasn’t so nice of me?), and got to work. I showed Gary the rice I had made the night before. It still looked wet. Having never made fried rice, I wondered aloud if it was okay.

“It’s… salvageable.” Gary proclaimed doubtfully after examining it for a moment. In my ever hopeful I chose to believe him.

We made the pudding (which, in true Bittman Minimalist style took all of 15 minutes), and put it in the fridge to chill. We prepped the rice ingredients (Gary dazzling me with his fancy schmancy knife skills that I just had to snap pics of), and then made the soup and sat down to eat it.


Our table, set for a night of food and beer.

Gary: Look at that table! It was an embarrassment of riches intended for a long night of good food and plenty of drinking! Ah, the best laid plans…

Kabocha Squash Soup


Kabocha Squash Soup.

Kate: It was surprisingly delicious. It had been Gary’s idea to make, just something to round out the meal, as the fried rice had been our true inspiration, and I had almost vetoed the idea.

It was flavorful, clean, light and tasty. It definitely tasted like health food (it is), but not in a punishing way. I felt like I was getting my healthy part out of the way, and I eagerly awaited the real food: the main course and dessert.

Gary: I came up with the idea to make the soup when we realized that we would need something more than just the fried rice to have a complete meal. I knew it was going to be a Bittman recipe (naturally, since this is after all a Bittman Bonanza) and it would have to be vegetarian so I did what I do best – research. A simple click on the “tofu” tag in the Minimalist blog and this recipe was the one that caught my eye. It was vegetarian, simple, and, most importantly, looked like it would be somewhat substantial and tasty. It was the perfect starter – clean and, with some dashes of soy sauce, really tasty. The squash and tofu weren’t filling but that wasn’t really the point of the soup. As Kate put it, this was just something to get our appetite going.

Ginger Fried Rice


Ginger Fried Rice.

Gary: After we finished the soup, I started working on the fried rice by crisping up the ginger and garlic. The idiot I was, I didn’t fry it on the highest heat possible so it took forever to get it to the right crispness. At one point, I just about gave up because I was getting tired and really hot from standing over the pan. Kate wouldn’t let me give up before it got to the desired crispness and that’s when I realized my error with the heat. Once on high heat, it didn’t take much longer before the garlic and ginger were beautiful golden brown crispy critters. The leeks were next and after they were cooked through until soft, all the prep for the fried rice was done.

Then came the rice. The rice I had already deemed “salvageable.” I truly believed it when I said it earlier in the evening. The moment it hit the pan, I knew I had been wrong in my assessment. It was too wet too get it nice and crispy. It was too soft to keep the rice grains solid and intact. I did all I could to get the rice to a fried consistency – lots of oil, high heat, and plenty of space to allow the moisture to evaporate. It became something that was edible (unlike other fried rice disasters I’d had, past and present) but I was unhappy with what I’d turned out.

Kate: As we were nearing completion of frying the ginger and garlic, BF was left without anything to do. In an attempt to include him, Gary asked him to fry our eggs. Now, BF is excellent at making eggs. Much to my delight, he’s excellent at making breakfasts in general, actually. But as I was wrestling with the flame on the stove, I forgot to specify how exactly we wanted to eggs fried, which is to say lightly. The yolk is supposed to be soft and runny and spill out onto the rice, coating each grain with creamy yolkyness. Sweet BF, not having seen the online video demo, or even being sure what he was supposed to do, basically fried them over medium (just how I like my eggs in the morning). So now we had wet rice, solid eggs, and tension in the air. I felt bad that I had messed up the rice. BF felt bad that he had overcooked the eggs. Gary probably felt bad that he was sharing a table with these culinary heathens at all.

Gary: Okay, culinary heathens might be taking it a bit too far. Yes, the rice got screwed up but, guess what, I do that too! Absent a rice cooker, it can be a chore to get the right water to rice ratio. The egg may have been overcooked but, honestly, it’s not like the rice needed the additional moisture a runny yolk would have provided.

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding


Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding.

Kate: Flip to the saying: “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” in the book of sayings, and there you will find a picture of Mark Bittman’s silken Tofu Pudding. It looked so tasty in the online demo! We bought the fanciest and yummiest chocolate we knew of (in retrospect, probably too dark), and did everything right. Yes, the ingredients are tofu and chocolate. In a pudding. No eggs, no butter, no butter substitute even. Don’t make it. Even if you’re vegan, there are countless better vegan desserts out there.

I pushed my bowl away after half, and the guys ate even less.

Gary: I don’t think there’s anything I need to add to what Kate said. This was not good. It was a chocolate brick. The tofu gave the pudding a solid, dense consistency and not the silky, creamy one we thought we were getting. Pass.

Kabocha Squash Soup
(Adapted from Bitten/Diner’s Journal)

Ingredients

  • 1 3- to 4- inch piece of kombu
  • 1 tsp light sesame oil
  • 1 6-oz block firm tofu, drained/dried and roughly crumbled
  • 1 cup kobocha squash peeled and cut in ¼-inch dice
  • 4 fresh shiitake mushroom caps, sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces

Method

  1. Place kelp and 4 cups water in pot over low heat until first bubbles appear being careful no to let it boil. Let sit.
  2. Put sesame oil in saucepan or small pot and turn heat to medium. Add the crumbled tofu, and cook, stirring, until slightly browned at edges.
  3. Add the kabocha and shiitake, and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute or two.
  4. Add the kelp broth. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook until the kabocha is tender, less than 10 minutes.
  5. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Add scallions right before serving.

Ginger Fried Rice
(Adapted from The Minimalist)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup peanut oil
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • salt
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and dried
  • 4 cups day-old cooked jasmine rice (at room temperature)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 4 tsp soy sauce

Method

  1. Heat half of the peanut oil (¼ cup) over medium heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown. Transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil and leek to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are very tender but not browned. Season lightly with salt.
  3. Raise heat to medium and add rice. Stir and cook until the rice is heated through. Season with salt, to taste.
  4. In a nonstick skillet, fry eggs in remaining peanut oil, sunny-side-up, until edges are set but yolk is still runny.
  5. Divide rice among four dishes. Top each with an egg and drizzle with ½ teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Sprinkle crisped garlic and ginger over everything and serve.

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding
(Adapted from The Minimalist)

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 lb silken tofu
  • 8 oz high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ to 1 tsp chili powder

Method

  1. In a small pot, combine sugar with ¾ cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.
  2. Put all ingredients in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you like, garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.

5 Comments

  1. Kate & Gary (& BF) — Though I love the “Foodie Call” take on dining out and look forward to each new post, lots of people have lots of opinions about this or that restaurant. But THIS is what wows me more: The Personal. If “Foodie Call” was born of your mutual affection for all things gastronomic, then your both rearing the child wonderfully.Your posts are always informative, entertaining and well- written, but this post is your best so far. I laughed, I cried, I felt sorry for BF. It made me wish I had been there. For all of us, your faithful readers, please cook together more often. Thanks

  2. I like that you’ve noted a disappointing cooking experience to go along with all the other great cooking experiences and restaurant outings. The only way to get better at cooking (or pretty much anything) is to fail at it multiple times.
    I should mention that we’ve also made the fried rice recipe (it sounds so good!) and were a bit disappointed the first time. The second time we added shredded cabbage and carrot to the leeks(as well as some leftover duck confit, although you probably wouldn’t need it), and the dish became magically delicious — like a deconstructed dumpling. Give it another shot, and just make the rice a little drier. You can also let the leftover rice sit uncovered in the fridge to dry out a bit more.

    1. @Ben There was a moment where we were so disheartened by the results of the night that serious consideration was given to not writing about it. But we wanted to get the story of our friendship and origin of the blog out and this experience (such as it was) is the perfect vehicle for that story.
      We’re gonna do better next time – after all, there’s nowhere to go from here but up!

    2. wow ben, thanks for the tip. adding extra veggies is an excellent idea. cabbage, carrot and leeks sound like the key to elevate it from ho hum to oh yum. 🙂

Leave a Comment

Bitnami