This dinner started out as a light bulb going off in Tom’s head that he expressed out loud: “I’m going to make dinner tomorrow from the French Laundry Cookbook.” I raised my eye brows and smiled. Even I have not made anything out of that cookbook, despite receiving it many moons ago. Thomas Keller is a food-god and the French Laundry cookbook is a collection of his food-god-musings. And so I excitedly got the cookbook and said I would make a dessert from it to accompany his main course.
I must admit I offered to help make the main course and I was most certainly rebuffed. He was going to make it himself. Okay. Fine.
I went through the entire thing, deciding if there was something I wanted to hint at or if I could see if there was anything I knew would strike Tom’s fancy. I found a few things that were right up his alley and moved on the desserts. There are lots of beautiful, delicate desserts contained in those pages and there was one I thought to be perfect for this time of year. I marched the cookbook into Tom’s office, my arms outstretched, bearing this volume of veritable genius on glossy paper. He went through page by page, soaking it in… and then promptly decided he was not ready for Mr. Keller’s musings. Sigh.
This French-Laundry-postponement, however, bore the delicious dinner I’ve detailed below. Tom loves all types of Asian cuisine so I brought him my Cooks Illustrated Best International Recipes cookbook and suggested he look through it for inspiration. Knowing my husband like I do, he opened it, read the table of contents, and promptly flipped to the back for the Japanese and Korean section. There he found our appetizer and main course: miso soup and cold soba noodle salad. We happened to have visited a local Asian market before this whole plan came to fruition. I picked up some frozen cassava root to explore a popular Filipino dessert (look for that soon!) and some other random things that I thought should be in pantry. This random trip worked out since we needed some of the items for Tom’s dinner plans. The rest we picked up at Wegmans post-decision. As you’ll see, he made his dashi (the seafood broth that serves as the base of miso soup) with a dashi-bonito granule product we got at Wegmans. It should be made with bonito flakes, which we had seen at the Asian market the day before. They should be easy to find if you have a good Asian market nearby. You’ll probably have your choice of type, brand, and package size! If you can’t find them, just look for the stock granules we used.
The soup was really great, as good as I’ve had in Japanese restaurants. We used white miso (which is actually yellow) since it has a milder flavor and what is usually served in restaurants here. You can use red if you prefer it. Not to worry about the leftover miso paste you’ll have: a quick google search will uncover a plethora of recipes. Some black cod and oyster recipes come to mind. You may find one or two here in the future.
The soba was my favorite of the two dishes. It was so light and refreshing, yet filling at the same time. You can customize it with whatever your favorite veggies are or whatever happens to be hanging out in your fridge. I would say not to leave out the radish or scallion. Both of these add great flavor and textural components.
Both recipes were inspired by/adapted heavily from the Cooks Illustrated Best International Recipes cookbook.
Cold Soba Noodles with Vegetables
1 package of soba noodles (10 – 14oz)
1 tablespoon salt for the water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon wasabi powder or paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
½ cup fresh shiitaki mushrooms, sliced
3 – 4 large radishes grated or in thin matchsticks
3 scallions, cut in thin slices
1 red pepper, cut into thin matchsticks
Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Stir in the salt and noodles; cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse under cold running water until cooled. Don’t skip this step – you’ll end up with gummy, overcooked noodles. Once the noodles are cooled, transfer them to a large bowl and toss them with the vegetable and sesame oils to coat. Set aside.
While waiting for the water to boil and the noodles to cook, prepare the mushrooms. Heat the tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add in the mushrooms in a single layer in the pan. Let them cook, undisturbed, for 3 – 4 minutes or until they get some pretty caramel coloring on one side. Stir the mushrooms to flip and let cook for another 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Whisk together the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger, and wasabi. Pour over the noodles and toss to coat. Add in the mushrooms, red peppers, radish, and scallions. Toss with the noodles and serve. This dish is great served room temperature or cold from the fridge. Perfect for a summer day!
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In the middle of all his prep, I hear “Holy crap!” yelled from the kitchen. Interesting. Upon questioning, Tom proudly explained he had just realized he was making a vegetarian meal (if you don’t count the fish stock). Ah, my husband, the carnivore. I am not vegetarian but I could eat like one most days of the month. I didn’t even notice there was no animal protein involved in his plan. Just recently, I had just convinced him we should skip the meat at least once a week. I guess his subconcious is fully on board with my plan! Mwahaha
. . .
2 quarts water
3 sheets roasted nori, broken up in quarters
2 teaspoons Hon-Dashi Bonito fish soup stock granules
2 teaspoons dried wakame flakes (a kind of sea weed)
4 ounces silken tofu, cut into ½” cubes
½ cup white miso
1 scallion, sliced thinly
For the dashi: Bring the water and nori to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the water begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat and discard the nori. Stir in the Dashi stock granules, cover, and let steep for about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or sieve to remove any leftover nori bits. Set the dashi aside or you can refrigerate it for up to a day in an airtight container.
For the soup: Place the wakame flakes in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside until they are rehydrated and softened, about 15 minutes. Portion the wakame and tofu between 6 individual serving bowls. Set aside.
Return the strained dashi to a clean saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Whisk ½ cup of the hot dashi into the miso until smooth, to thin it out. Add the miso mixture to the saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Once it simmers for a moment, remove the pan from the heat. Ladle the hot soup into the individual bowls, sprinkle with scallions, and serve.
Note: if you can find kombu (a kind of kelp) and bonito flakes, you can make a more traditional dashi. Instead, boil the water with one 4” piece of kombu instead of the nori. Then, instead of the dashi-bonito stock granules, use 1 cup of loosely packed bonito flakes. Continue the recipe as written.
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The French Laundry cookbook adventure has been postponed, but not for long! Stay tuned.