Monday, February 14, 2011

Introducing the Daring Future Chef

I gotta say, I've been pretty excited about writing this post. Since I heard about the Daring Kitchen I've been wanting to join in on all the fun and now I've finally done it and this is my first Daring Cooks post! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Daring Kitchen, it is an internet group of blogging AND non-blogging cooks and bakers who want to push themselves and aren't afraid to try new things. The kitchen is divided into Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers and every month, both groups get a new food assignment to make within the next few weeks and then everyone posts about it on the same day (the bloggers do anyways). There are different rules and regulations that kindof keep it all together, but that is the basic idea. Pretty cool, huh? So anyways, as part of my "New Year's resolution" if you will, I decided to join the Daring Cooks and see how it goes and hopefully if I can keep up with it and it's a lot of fun, I'll join the Daring Bakers next year. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, this is only my FIRST post!
So our assignment for February was Japanese Soba Noodles and Tempura Vegetables/Shrimp. I was pretty eager for this challenge since I've never made either at home before, but I have see them done at school and it didn't look TOO terribly least that's what I was hoping. Before I started looking at recipes and such, I dug a little deeper into how these foods are typically/best prepared. Soba noodles, first off, are dark brown/gray-colored noodles from Japan made with buckwheat and wheat flour. They are usually served chilled with a dipping sauce or warm in a soup. After some more research, I decided to prepare Hiyashi Soba, a cold noodle salad served with various toppings and dipping sauce. Tempura is another very popular Japanese cooking method. It just means that food is dipped in a light batter and fried briefly so that it remains light and crisp. I guess just about anything COULD be made tempura-style, but shrimp and veggies are the norm. Since it IS still February, my vegetable choices for these dishes was somewhat limited, but I tried to pick things that weren't waaay out of season and work with what I did have. I had to look around a bit to get my hands on soba noodles and daikon radish, but I finally found some and was very excited to by trying so many new things at once. But enough blabbing, time to tell about my adventure.... :D
For my hiyashi soba I didn't use a recipe, but just kindof picked up the basic idea from some different resources and decided to put it altogether based on my own taste. Here's what I used:
  • soba noodles
  • mung bean sprouts
  • omelet strips
  • grated daikon radish
  • minced fresh ginger
  • dipping sauce
This dish came together suuuper easy as all I did was cook the noodles, make an omelet and cut it up, prepare the radish, ginger, and dipping sauce and that was all I had to do. I let my family compose their own "salads" however they liked. The only thing I would say to be careful about is the noodles. I followed the directions on the back of the bag and only boiled them for 4 or 5 minutes and they were perfectly done so just don't leave them along to turn into mush and you will be good! For the dipping sauce, I didn't have any mirin (Asian cooking wine) so I couldn't make the standard sauce for the hiyashi or the tempura veggies. Instead, I finally found a sauce recipe in my Professional Cooking book that I had all the ingredients for and sounded like it would work. It was actually a Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, but oh well, it worked! 
(Sorry about the lame pictures, I took a lot more, but it wasn't till I was almost done that I realized my memory card was malfunctioning! :( so here's what I salvaged!)

After cooking the noodles I rinsed them, let
them dry, and then chilled them as I prepared
the other ingredients

I used one egg to make a small, thin omelet,
but if you could use 2 eggs for longer or
thicker strips

The Vietnamese dipping sauce was very simple.
Just 1/4 cup soy sauce with some garlic, ginger,
red pepper and lime juice. I think it was better
the next day though after it had more time for
the flavors to meld

To serve, I just plated some chilled noodles
then layered on the mung bean sprouts, omelet
strips, and then on top you can see the grated
daikon radish, which I thought was really good

Here's my finished product. I forgot to get
PICKLED ginger for the top so I just soaked
some fresh ginger in the dipping sauce and
put it on top. Not 100% authentic, but a good
start I think :)

Now for the tempura. I chose not to do shrimp as well because 1) we didn't have any raw shrimp 2) I didn't want to mess around with changing the temp of my oil and all that when this was my first time deep frying. So my vegetables choices were as follows:
  • Sweet potatoes cut brunoise (like matchsticks)
  • Green bell peppers cut bruinoise (thin strips)
  • Carrots cut rondelle (rounds)
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Sliced onions
I cut everything about as neatly as possible and quite thin so that everything would cook quickly and uniformly, which is very important. After looking at a number of different tempura batter recipes, here is the one I chose:

- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1 1/4 cups ice water
- 1 large egg
- a pinch of salt

I had a little trouble trying to mix the egg into the batter as I was using chopsticks (authentic method) and I was trying very hard not to over-mix the batter, but it seemed to turn out okay. The reason ice water is used is so that the differing temperatures of the cold batter meeting the hot oil will create an extra crispy exterior. I thought help keep the batter nice and cold by keeping it in an ice bath, but unfortunately this didn't seem to help much. I also had trouble keeping my batter a nice consistency so it wouldn't stay on some of the veggies and others got a heavy slathering :/ Overall, I think my main mistake was not having my oil hot enough. I was afraid of having it too hot, but in the end I found myself deep frying the vegetables too much because the batter wasn't cooking fast enough. The end result? The vegetables weren't crispy and they all tasted a lot like fast food French fries, but my family liked them way more than I predicted (probably thanks to the over-deep frying :p) So now I'm not so afraid to try my hand at deep frying, BUT I'll give myself more time in the future and I'm going to try to NOT make such a huge mess of my kitchen!

Stirring an ice water batter with chopsticks
...harder than it sounds...

My trusty dutch oven filled about
2/3 with hot canola oil and equipped
with a thermometer to monitor
the temp

Here's a batch of carrots frying. I tried to gage
doneness by appearance instead of time, but
neither method seemed to work particularly
well for me. Advice anyone??

I tried to set up an orderly station next to my
"deep fryer", but things got crowded pretty fast

Oh, and REALLY messy too between the flour
for dredging, the batter, the oil, yeah...

The finished product didn't look TOO bad to me,
but I def advise only making as much as you want
to eat AT THAT TIME because the next day they
will be a mushy yucky mess!

Tempura Vegetables with Dipping Sauce (I
used the same sauce for the soba noodles and
the tempura vegetables)

 So there we have it: my first ever Daring Cooks challenge, COMPLETED!!! I feel daring already... :) I'm looking forward to next month's assignment and I hope you are too!


  1. Hey there, good job on your first Daring Kitchen challenge! :) Just a hint from a cook working in a Japanese restaurant: For your tempura batter, whip the egg first with just a pinch of salt, then incorporate the water, and last the dry ingredients. Salt will help the egg to "break down" easier, without overmixing... A bit of chemistry there ;) Deep frying will get easier as you keep doing it, but generally most things will fry best at 180*C (355*F), and tempura will be ready as soon as the batter starts to turn slightly golden. Better to judge by appearance, as different size pieces and different ingredients will cook in very different times.

    Good luck with culinary school!

  2. AH! thank you SO much!! that information is going to be extrememly helpful next time! the new challenge is released tomorrw, you may just have to give me tips on that one too...except it's a secret...hmmm :p

  3. Looks very nice =D
    making me hungry =(

  4. thanks...and...sorry...haha same here...good thing i have some more soba noodles at the ready :D

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