Tuesday, February 12, 2008

air gap dimple

Good eggs are amazing.

Harnois farm, from nearby Webster Township, produces some really great ones. The yolks are rich and solid, with a brilliant golden hue. You can tell the freshness an egg by trying to separate the yolk from the white- if it separates cleanly without bursting you've got a relatively fresh egg on your hands. Aubrey, who’s family has been on the forefront of trying to make it legal to raise chickens in Ypsilanti city township, also told me that the amount of the air-gap dimple at the bottom of a hardboiled egg is also evidence of freshness- the bigger the gap, the older the egg.

It's exceptionally cold in Ann Arbor of late, so I've been roasting vegetables in efforts to warm my apartment. This morning I roasted fingerling potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and shallots with rosemary and dried pepper flakes. The piece de resistance was an over easy fried egg on top. The yolk served as a rich sauce (better than any hollandaise I've ever had), which is the simplest, most elemental way of tying it all together.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

My chef & mentor Kriss was always very particular about the difference between standard 'cinnamon' and 'true cinnamon', aka 'Ceylon cinnamon'. I'm afraid that if I don't make this clarification in conjunction with my last post, he'll channel up an evil spirit to come and yell at me in Michigan.

Technically, Cassia cinnamons, or Chinese cinnamons, come from the aromatic bark of an evergreen tree that is native to China and Vietnam. It has a higher oil content and produces a dark brown, thick rolled bark with a strong flavor and scent, with a bit of a harshness to it in large quantities. Most mass produced cinnamon sold in the US is of the Cassia variety, and is what most people in the states are familiar with. If you've ever walked passed a 'Cinnabon' store in an airport, you've passed through a cloud of cassia cinnamon-scented air.

'True cinnamon', on the other hand grows on shorter evergreen trees native to Sri Lanka and South India. It's paler in color and has a smoother, thinner bark that breaks easily in your hands. Distinguishable from Cassia in that it's flavor is more subtle, and the smell is much less sharp in your nose.

Although the trees are related to one another, they are quite different. It's worth tasting them side by side and considering them for different applications. I probably wouldn't use the cassia cinnamon for a delicate pastry, but my food memory of (and occasional longing for) cinnamon rolls wouldn't be saited with the delicate touch of 'true cinnamon'.
For our Chinese New Year-themed dinner this evening I've made a cinnamon beef noodle soup. My inital inspiration was from a small bag of 'China Tunghing Cassia Cinnamon' that a friend picked up from the Spice House in Chicago- it's got a spiciness to it that stands out from other cinnamons. I needed a savory application, and this soup seemed like a good fit. It's a very aromatic concoction- cinnamon, anise, garlic, ginger, chicken stock & beef- which will flavor the air of your kitchen (or if your place is set up like mine, the entire 2 bedroom apartment). I particularly like the vinegar in the broth- it reminds me of steeming bowls of nameless soups I ate in China years ago. And don't forget about the cilantro- it adds a delicious component to the flavor.

This is the second time I've made it and the minor adjustments of using Shanxi vinegar (as opposed to rice wine vinegar) and two different sizes of noodles were definate improvements.

Cinnamon Beef-Noodle Soup

1T veg oil
2t cinnamon
6 scallions, sliced on the bias every 1/2 inch
1 clove crushed garlic
2T minced ginger
1 1/2 t anise seed
1 1/2t thai chili paste (I use Sriracha)
2t hot chili flakes- more or less depending on desired level of heat

7c water
4c chickent stock
1/2 c soy sauce
1/4 c Shanxi vinegar (made from fermented sorghum, barley and other grains...rice wine vinegar can substitute)

2# beef, cut into bitesized chunks
3 oz soba noodles
3 oz thin asian noodles (sorry for the vagueness- I used 'tomoshiraga somen' Japanese noodles this time)
1 bunch of bok choy cut into bite-sized pieces
cilantro for garnishing each bowl

-When your large stockpot is hot, add the oil and then the cinnamon, scallions, garlic, ginger, anise seed, chili paste and hot chilis.
-Stir them around constantly for about a minute and then add the water, stock, soy sauce & vinegar.
-When it comes to a boil, add the beef and reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and stir it occasionally for an hour and a half.
-As that hour and a half comes to a close, separately, boil the noodles according to their packages' instrution. I first added the larger noodles and three minutes later added the smaller ones to the same pot, since their cooking times are different.
-While the noodles are cooking, add the bok choy to the beef broth- it will cook in about 8 minutes.
-Drain the noodles and give them a rinse to remove the extra starch, and then add them to the beef broth.
-Taste to check the seasonings and add salt & pepper as needed.
-Serve in bowls garnished with cilantro.