“Of all sound of all bells, most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year” ~Charles Lamb
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On this day five years ago, my soon-to-be-husband and I went on a date.
We saw a matinee, at a theater where you could order a beer, hot chocolate, nachos, and a really good scotcharoo. I got all fixed up, meaning I put curlers in my hair and wore something other than yoga pants. We were the only people in the whole theater; he held my hand. We talked through the entire movie and stopped by Trader Joe’s after for groceries to make dinner.
While I cooked, he helped me figure out my very first DSLR camera that had come in the mail that afternoon. A food blog was about to be born.
Little did we know at the time how amazing and terrifying and beautiful the years ahead of us would be. We couldn’t have known that they would physically, mentally, and emotionally push and pull us in ways we’d never known. How years like 2017 would teach me to step back and smell the clean laundry or truly appreciate the sound of my grandson’s voice over the phone
This year, I watched the caterpillar of 2017 morph into the butterfly of 2018, with kisses from my husband and sleepy smiles from the puppies. Champagne glass clinks from good friends and my parents. My brother and sister-in-law’s voices reverberating in my ear, not over a cell phone, but from just a few feet away
This little butterfly of a year feels both beautiful and fragile. Only time will show how its wings have unfurled. But in the early morning hours of this cold winter’s night, it flits in the dim lamplight. The winds outside carry the world’s hope for this brand new year.
I sit in the quiet, willing myself to embrace its newness and the beauty of the unknown.
While my brother was home over Christmas, we spent an afternoon cooking at my parent’s house. Little did I know, “You pick the recipe” would lead to kombu and bonito flakes on my husband’s grocery list. Not to mention, a lesson in making some pretty incredible dashi
“One of our favorite places to eat in Austin is a Japanese restaurant called Otoko. They host a twenty-two-course dinner, and it’s where my wife fell head-over-heels for the chawanmushi. One of my favorite things to do is recreate at home, the meals she loves.
For this, I started with a simple and straightforward recipe, along with Alton Brown’s dashi. The problem was, I could never quite get it right. Something was always off. So the next time we went, I asked the chef what it could be. Turns out, the key to killer chawanmushi lies with the dashi. Whatever the recipe says, triple everything!” ~ My Brother
Turns out if you have dashi, some eggs, and about half an hour, you’ve got any meal you’d like from breakfast to dinner. It’s comfort food with precision: eggs cooked until they’ve just set, the umami of dashi that’s been flavored just so. The final dish is something so soft, smooth, and creamy that it practically falls apart as you eat it.
This simple and savory egg custard is easier than an omelet to make, and just as easy to customize. The most common additions are chicken, shrimp, and shiitake mushrooms. Although any meat, seafood, or veggie would be just as great. Feeling extra fancy? Top it with a little sea urchin or some curly green onions
“The trick is to use as much liquid as possible in proportion to the eggs. Anything less and you won’t have the soft, silky texture that’s the mark of an impeccable chawanmushi. You’ll often hear chefs use the word “quivering” to describe custard dishes, yet not all textures are delicate to such a degree. Crème brûlée, for instance, is not so much “quivering” as “creamy,” and flan is better described as “jiggly.” Chawanmushi, on the other hand, truly quivers, a trembling mass of custard that seems to glide down your throat” ~ Serious Eats
As the chef at Otoko would surely tell you, chawanmushi is only as good as the dashi you use. Freshly made is always the best
Finally, be mindful of the temp. If the heat is too high, it will form craters on the surface. The trick is to keep the water bath simmering (and never boiling). You’ll know you’ve found the sweet spot when your spoon slinks down into the custard and only the tiniest amount of broth is released
ps: Don’t have a steamer? Method #2 worked really well for us
~ Adapted from Foodie Baker
- 2 ½ cups dashi (see recipe below)
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp mirin
- ½ tsp fine grain sea salt
- 3 eggs
- (Additional: Cheesecloth, for straining)
- Suggestions for Additions
- Half of a package of enokitake
- 4 shitake mushrooms
- 4 raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 4 oz chicken, cooked
- Beat the eggs lightly
- Add the rest of the custard ingredients and whisk, being careful not to incorporate too many air bubbles
- Strain the mix through a strainer fitted with a layer of cheesecloth
- Preheat a steamer over high heat
- Divide your choice of additions between 4 ramekins before pouring the egg mix over the top.
- Place your choice of additions into the bottom of the cups or bowls
- Cover the ramekins with aluminum foil and place them in the steamer
- Turn the heat down to low immediately and steam on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes if making 4 portions, 15 to 20 minutes if making 2 portions.
- Remove the aluminum foil and check for doneness - the top should bounce back when the back of a spoon is pressed very gently on top and clear stock should run after a chopstick is inserted into the center of the custard
- The custard is done when the liquid runs clear. The surface of the custard should be slick and moist.
- Serve hot or chilled in the cup.
~ Adapted from Alton Brown
- 2 4-inch squares of kombu
- 2 ½ quarts water
- ½ ounce bonito flakes (~ 2 cups)
- Put the kombu in a 4-quart saucepan, cover with the water and soak for 30 minutes.
- Set the saucepan over medium heat until the water reaches 150 to 160 degrees F and small bubbles begin to appear around the sides of the pan (~ 10 minutes)
- Remove the kombu from the pan
- Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil (~ 5 to 6 minutes)
- Reduce the heat to low and add the bonito flakes. Simmer gently, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes
- Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer lined with muslin or several layers of cheesecloth
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use within a week or freeze for up to a month