Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Peanut Butter Noodles

Recently my friends (and even my mom!) have been telling me that the recipes I've been posting have become too complicated.  So here's one of the simplest recipes I know; it was actually one of the first things I learned how to make when I started cooking in college.

The recipe comes from my friend, Jaleen, who, if I recall correctly, got it from her family.  You probably have all the main ingredients in your pantry already:  peanut butter, pasta, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar.  You literally don't even need measuring spoons for this; the sauce is made up of 3 parts peanut butter, 3 parts soy sauce, 1 part vinegar, 1 part sesame oil, and a pinch of sugar.  If I'm just making enough for myself, I use a small spoon, and if I want to make more than one serving, I'll grab a large spoon to measure.  I prefer to use smooth peanut butter, but this works just as well with chunky.  For the vinegar, rice wine vinegar is suggested, but regular white vinegar or cider vinegar would do in a pinch.

Depending on what else you have on hand, you can add a plethora of toppings:  toasted sesame seeds, sliced almonds, chopped scallions, shredded chicken, baked tofu, and shredded cucumbers are just a few ideas.  You can serve this dish cold or at room temperature so it's easily packable for lunch, picnic, or potluck.  See, I told you it was easy!  The hardest part about this recipe might be trying to mix the peanut butter into the other liquids without splashing, but if you stir carefully and long enough, you'll end up with a smooth, homogenous peanut sauce.

Peanut Butter Noodles
serves as many as you want

3 parts peanut butter
3 parts soy sauce
1 part sesame oil
1 part vinegar (rice wine vinegar preferred)
A pinch of sugar
Cooked noodles

Mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar together until the sauce becomes smooth and creamy.

Toss with the cooked noodles, adding some of the pasta water if you want to thin out the sauce.  Serve with  toasted sesame seeds, sliced almonds, chopped scallions, shredded chicken, baked tofu, and/or shredded cucumbers if you like.

Previously:  Zuppa Toscana
Last Year:  Flower Pavlovas, Banoffee Pie
Two Years Ago:  Spicy Tuna with Crispy Sushi Rice, Traditional Croissants
Five Years Ago:  Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles
Six Years Ago:  Nian Gao (Mochi Cake), Mayonnaise Shrimp with Candied Walnuts

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Zuppa Toscana

I live in one of those rare regions of the United States that isn't big on chain restaurants, other than Dunkin' Donuts.  To explain how drastic it is, I'm pretty sure there isn't a single McDonalds located in the city I live in (population > 50,000)!  I don't really mind that much, but it means that going to restaurants like Olive Garden are actually a special occurrence to me, especially when I find myself in a town like Morgantown, West Virginia on a business trip and have no clue where to eat (true story).

I am easily satisfied with their endless soup, salad, and breadsticks and always get the Zuppa Toscana.  I have no idea if it's an authentic soup to Tuscany, but I don't care.  It's frickin' amazing.  Now that I'm back home, I looked for copycat recipes on-line, and there are like hundreds of them, even vegetarian and vegan ones!  I ended up just following the first hit that came up except I used vegan Italian "sausage" and whole milk instead of the heavy cream.  It's a bit healthier, but definitely not as rich as what you'd get with the cream.  I also added more kale and potatoes since I had a bunch of kale to use up from my Boston Organics box, and I love me my potatoes.  Since the chicken or vegetable broth you use will be one of the main flavor components in the soup, make sure you use a really good one.  Better yet, make your own!

Zuppa Toscana (adapted from
serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage or vegan sausage, sliced or crumbled into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups good quality chicken or vegetable broth
4 cups water
3 large Russet potatoes
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Red pepper flakes, to taste
2-4 cups kale, ribs removed and torn into pieces
1 cup whole milk, half & half, or heavy cream

Heat the olive oil over medium in a large pot and add the sausage and chopped onions.  Stir occasionally until the sausage is browned (but not the onions).  Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the broth and water and bring the pot to a boil. 

Halve the potatoes lengthwise and then slice into 1/4" pieces.  Add to the soup.  Lower the heat so that the soup is simmering and cook until the potatoes are done.  Salt and pepper to taste, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Adjust the seasonings as needed.  (Potatoes absorb a lot of salt, so you may need more than you think.)

Add the torn kale leaves and milk and stir.  Cook for another 5 minutes until the kale has wilted.  If you like, smoosh some of the potatoes into the soup to make it creamier and slightly thicker.  Serve hot.

Note:  Because of the addition of dairy and potatoes in this soup, it does not freeze well.  It does, however, taste better the next day after sitting in the fridge!

Next:  Peanut Butter Noodles
Previously:  Puppy Chow Pie
Last Year:  Salade Indochinoise
Two Years Ago:  Tartine's Lemon Cream Tart
Five Years Ago:  Gaufres de Leige (Belgian Waffles)
Six Years Ago:  Hua Juan (Steamed Scallion Buns)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Puppy Chow Pie

This dessert should really have another, more elegant name, like Peanut Butter-Chocolate Ganache Tart, but since it's based on the Puppy Chow treat, that's what I'm sticking with.  If you've never heard of Puppy Chow, it's the snack mix you get when you coat Crispix cereal with melted chocolate and peanut butter, then shake it in a bag with powdered sugar.  (Chex markets a version made with their cereal as Muddy Buddies.)  It's super addictive, messy to eat, and utterly delightful.  I was just thinking about making a batch the other week, so when I saw this post on The Crepes of Wrath for a Muddy Buddy Pie, I was inspired to make a Puppy Chow version.

As a word of caution, this is a super, sinfully rich dessert.  There's the buttery cereal crust filled with peanut butter-chocolate ganache and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.  I found that making a snowflake out of a 8 1/2" square of paper gives you the perfect sized template to cover the top of the pie if you want to make a pretty design.  It would probably make more sense to cut out a negative space snowflake so that the white part of the design is the snowflake itself, but I decided not to so that more of the top would be covered by the sugar.

Puppy Chow Pie (adapted from The Crepes of Wrath)
makes 1 pie

5 cups of Crispix cereal, ground into fine crumbs (about 2 cups once crushed)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Use a blender or food processor to grind the cereal into fine crumbs (if using a blender, you may have to do this in batches so that you don't end up with fine powder at the bottom and large pieces on top).  Mix with the melted butter, brown sugar, and salt until well combined.

Transfer the mixture to a 9" pie or tart pan and press into the sides and then the bottom.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden, but not caramelized.  Let cool while you make the filling.

In a small pot, heat the cream and vanilla over medium heat until simmering.  Place the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a medium, heat-proof mixing bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  Pour into the crust and chill overnight, or at least 6 hours.

If using a snowflake template, place on top of the pie and then dust with powdered sugar.  Serve small slices chilled or at room temperature.

Next:  Zuppa Toscana
Previously:  Pull Apart Thanksgiving Leftover Stuffed Bread
Last Year:  Miso Pumpkin Soup
Two Years Ago:  Homemade Ramen Noodles, Miso Ramen with Marinated Soft-Boiled Egg
Five Years Ago:  Wah Guay (Taiwanese Rice Cake with Meat Sauce), Tim Tam Slam Ice Cream,
Six Years Ago:  Beef Noodle (Soup) and Lu Dan, Pan-Fried Pasta with Butternut Squash, Fried Sage, and Pine Nuts

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pull-Apart Thanksgiving Leftover Stuffed Bread

I hosted Thanksgiving for my friends this year and ended up with a ton of leftovers:  turkey meat, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.  The one dish that was all gone (or claimed by guests) was my corn souffle!  I didn't mind having all the leftovers, though, because I've been wanting to make pull-apart stuffed bread after seeing this post a few weeks ago.  I decided to make the bread dough using Two Red Bowl's simplified recipe for Hokkaido milk bread, which turned out wonderfully soft and fluffy, just like the ones I made before.  This time I used the tangzhong method, which means first making a cooked flour paste (the tangzhong).  This paste is incorporated into the rest of the dough and is what makes it so soft and fluffy.

In terms of the types of filling, I'd go with softer, mushier textures like mashed potatoes, stuffing, or sweet potatoes and stay away from anything that could possibly poke through the dough like fresh green beans (canned green beans might be okay).  I ended up stuffing each roll with a bit of all the different leftovers since that's how I roll, but you can stuff them however you like.

Pull-Apart Thanksgiving Leftover Stuffed Bread (adapted from Two Red Bowls)
makes 24 small rolls

6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons plus 2 3/4 cup bread flour, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
About 2 cups Thanksgiving leftovers (cubed turkey, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, etc.)

To make the tangzhong, whisk the water and 2 tablespoons of flour together in a small saucepan until there are no lumps left.  Heat over medium-low heat, whisking all the while, until the mixture just starts to gel.  As soon as lines start to appear in the mixture when stirred, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Heat the milk to about 110°F by heating in the microwave for 15-30 seconds.  Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and set aside to allow the yeast to activate, about 5-10 minutes.

Sift or whisk together the rest of the flour (2 3/4 cups), salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  When the yeast is ready, add the tangzhong and egg and whisk to combine.  Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir until the mixture forms a loose, shaggy dough, then use the dough hook of the stand mixer to knead until the dough forms a semi-smooth ball.

Add the butter to the dough, one tablespoon at a time, kneading after each addition.  Knead until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a large bowl with plenty of room and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours in a warm, draft-free area, or until well-doubled. Alternatively, let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator; the dough should be fine for up to 24 hours.  Line a round cake pan or square brownie pan with parchment paper.

Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide into 24 even pieces.  You can either use a food scale or divide the dough in half three times and then into thirds (2 * 2 * 2 * 3 = 24).  Working one a a time, roll out the dough into a flat circle about 3" in diameter.  If you can, try to make the edges thinner than the middle, but it's not super critical.

Drop a heaping tablespoon of Thanksgiving leftovers onto the middle of the dough.  Bring the edges of the dough together and seal.  I like to do this using the method I learned to wrap xiao long bao, but since the seal will be concealed on the bottom, it's fine to just bring four opposite parts of the dough together and then pinch together the edges in between together.  You just want to make sure that the filling is sealed inside.  Roll the ball a bit in your hands to reform a sphere.

Arrange the stuffed dough balls seam side down in the prepared pan just so they touch each other.  You may run out of room in the pan (I could only fit 19 balls, so I set the remaining in a smaller baking dish).  Brush the top of the rolls with olive oil and let the dough proof again until they are almost doubled, about another hour or so.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the rolls for about 25-35 minutes, until golden brown.  Serve warm with butter and any leftover cranberry sauce and/or gravy.

Next:  Puppy Chow Pie
Previously:  Jeni's Crème Sans Lait (Dairy Free Ice Cream)
Last Year:  Thai Coconute Sticky Rice with Mango
Two Years Ago:  Three Bean Chili
Five Years Ago:  Kettle Corn
Six Years Ago:  Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jeni's Crème Sans Lait (Dairy-Free Ice Cream)

I don't think I will ever stop raving about Jeni's ice cream recipes.  I've made her Backyard Mint Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Freckles, her Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Black Raspberry Swirl, her Pluot Lambic Sorbet, her Cranberry Royale Sorbet, and her Salty Vanilla Frozen Custard with great success.  The best part, though, is that it's really easy to adapt her ice cream base to make your own creations!  I've made a Tim Tam Slam ice cream (Tim Tams in a coffee ice cream), a Coconut Ice Cream with Mango Passion Caramel Swirl, a Rosemary Honey and Lemon Frozen Yogurt, a Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream with Match Mochi Bits, and a Sticky Toffee Pudding Ice Cream all using her ice cream base recipe.

I've experimented with making a vegan ice cream before, and found it to be pretty good, but I was excited to see that Jeni had included her own version of a vegan ice cream in her new book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts (thanks for the housewarming gift, Ellen!).  She uses a combination of almond milk, tapioca starch, raw cashews, and coconut oil in the Crème Sans Lait (French for cream without milk) to simulate the texture of frozen cream and milk.  I tweaked the recipe so that there were less containers to wash; with these directions you end up only using one saucepan and a blender to make the base!

When you taste it, you're going to notice immediately that it's not real ice cream.  But, it is the best vegan ice cream I've ever had.  It's incredibly creamy, which I think comes from the coconut oil, but it doesn't taste like coconuts or cashews or almonds; it just tastes like real vanilla.  I love that it scoops and melts like real ice cream, and it goes great with pies, cakes, and all the other desserts you'll have for Thanksgiving!

Jeni's Crème Sans Lait (Dairy-Free Ice Cream) from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts
makes about 1 quart

2 3/4 cups almond milk, divided
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 1/4 cups refined coconut oil, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved

Pulverize the raw cashews into a very fine paste in a good blender.  Add the coconut oil and blend until combined. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the 2 1/2 cups of almond milk, the sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla seeds and bean pod in a 4-quart saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until bubbling.  Mix the remaining 1/4 cup of almond milk with the tapioca starch in the measuring cup you used to make a smooth slurry.

Drizzle the tapioca starch slurry into the bubbling almond milk mixture, and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer, and let simmer for 30 seconds until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat.

Remove the vanilla bean and pour the mixture into the blender with the cashews and coconut oil. Blend on high for 3 minutes to homogenize. Then pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Remove the frozen canister from the freezer, assemble your ice cream machine, and turn it on. Pour the crème base into the canister and spin until thick and creamy. Pack the crème into a storage container. Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Next:  Pull-Apart Thanksgiving Leftover Stuffed Bread
Previously:  Cranberry-Port Gelée
Last Year:  Cheese Fondue Stuffed Roasted Pumpkin
Two Years Ago:  Ramen Cabbage Salad
Five Years Ago:  Apple-Pear-Cranberry Crisp

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cranberry-Port Gelée

It's probably been a good 10 years since I went home to my parents' place for Thanksgiving.  I usually spend the holiday with friends instead and love having them over for a potluck style meal.  One of our friends, let's call him Jerry, is not the most kitchen savvy, so a few years ago I assigned him the task of bringing the cranberry sauce.  Specifically, one can of cranberry sauce.  Instead of obeying my instructions, he brought two cans and promised to finish it all because he loves cranberry sauce.  Guess what:  he didn't finish it all.  In fact, he didn't even finish the first can.  But since he loves cranberry sauce, he took home the opened can to finish on his own.

Fast forward one year to when it was his turn to host Thanksgiving.  This is when we found out, to our horror, that he still had the opened can of cranberry sauce sitting in his fridge.  From a year ago.  And he thought it would be okay to serve it to us.  *shivers*

Sadly, Jerry can't join us this year for Thanksgiving, so I figured it was high time to try making cranberry sauce from scratch.  I wanted something similar to the familiar canned version but a little classier and distinctly homemade.  Enter Food52's Genius Recipe for Canal House's Cranberry-Port Gelée.  I adapted the original recipe by adding a bit of orange juice and substituting cloves for the juniper berries.  You could also use rosemary if you want the juniper berry woodsiness or a cinnamon stick and star anise for more warmth.

Cranberry-Port Gelée (adapted from Food52)
makes about 2 cups

3/4 cup port (or red wine or Madeira)
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cloves
10 black peppercorns
12-oz bag fresh cranberries

Put the port, sugar, cloves, and peppercorns into a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Add the cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries burst and are very soft, about 10 minutes more.  Using a large spoon to mash the cranberries a bit so it is easier to strain in the next step.
Strain the sauce into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing the solids against the screen with the spoon. Stir the thin and thick portions of the strained gelée together.
Transfer to a pretty serving bowl or jar.  Cover and refrigerate. It will firm up within a few hours, or can be made several days ahead.

Since I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year, I'll be serving this along with a spatchcocked turkey and also making my corn souffle and a sweet potato casserole.  Others are bringing the salad, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pie.  What will you be having for Thanksgiving?

p.s.  The reason for the sub-par pictures above is because instead of making the cranberry sauce and taking pictures of it when the sun was still out, I made a last minute decision to go hiking with some friends in the Middlesex Fells since it was probably going to be one of the last nice days of 2014.  While the pics above rather flat and uninteresting, it was worth it to spend time with good friends and to get this shot:

Next:  Jeni's Crème Sans Lait (Dairy-Free Ice Cream)
Previously:  Sriracha Popcorn
Last Year:  My Mom's Pi Jiu Ya (Beer Braised Duck)
Two Years Ago:  Pretzel Ice Cream Pie with Homemade Magic Shell
Fives Years Ago:  Nanaimo Bars

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sriracha Popcorn

I was first introduced to Pop! Sriracha Popcorn when I was in the midst of a cold and could barely taste a thing.  The intense taste of sriracha cut through everything though, and the crunchiness of the popcorn only added to it being the best thing I had eaten since I started getting sick.

Even after I had regained all my taste buds and sense of smell, I couldn't stop eating the snack even though I'm usually not a big fan of spicy stuff.  I checked the list of ingredients and noticed that sugar was included.  Of course!  I don't know how it works, but I know you can add sugar to a dish if it's too spicy to make it more palatable.  I bet the sugar was doing the same thing here while also making it super addictive, like a buttery, spicy, garlicky kettle corn.

Since I'm kind of a wimp in terms of spiciness, I only used 2 teaspoons of sriracha in this recipe, but if really like things spicy, I imagine that doubling that amount or more might work better for you.  At a certain point, though, you might have too much liquid, which would make the popcorn soggy, so you'd be better off making some sriracha salt and sprinkling that on.

Sriracha Popcorn
makes 6 cups

6 cups freshly popped popcorn
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2-4 teaspoons sriracha

Place the butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and sugar in a microwaveable measuring cup with a spout and microwave for 45-60 seconds, until the butter is melted.  Add the sriracha and stir.

Drizzle half of the sauce over the popcorn in a large bowl.  Shake to distribute and then drizzle the other half.  Shake again to combine.  Add more salt, to taste, if desired.

Next:  Cranberry-Port Gelée 
Previously:  Spatchcock Chicken and Roasted Root Vegetables
Last Year:  My Mom's Taiwanese Sticky Rice
Two Years Ago:  Grapefruit Pie
Six Years Ago:  Homemade Crystallized Ginger