Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creamy Delicata Squash Soup

And now with this entry I think my blog is officially almost monochrome. I shall have to try to make more colorful recipes again soon.

Creamy Delicata Squash Soup

I needed to use up two more delicata squash that I received from Boston Organics and since it's been super cold lately, I googled for a soup recipe. I came across this one on allrecipes.com, and while I usually only try the recipes on there that have several hundred reviews, it seemed straightforward enough to try. I did make a couple of adjustments, however, since I didn't want to wait for the squash to fully cook via roasting. In the comments someone said they had microwaved the squash instead, which shaved off at least a good half an hour. The squash cooked unevenly so I ended up scooping out the done parts and re-microwaving the rest until it was done.And I substituted chicken broth for the vegetable broth and milk and half & half for the heavy cream (but only because I didn't have any).

Creamy Delicata Squash Soup (adapted from here)
makes 3-4 servings

2 delicata squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup half & half
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 dash nutmeg (optional)

Place the squash cut side down in a microwave-safe baking dish. Add 1/8" water to the dish and microwave on high for 7 minutes or until squash is soft.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add onion and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until onion is softened but not brown.

Scrape the squash out of the flesh and add to onions. Add the broth, half & half, and milk. Bring to a boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper and a dash of nutmeg, if you like.

Creamy Delicata Squash Soup

Pureeing the soup made it really light and frothy. The consistency was slightly grainy like a potato soup, but it really wasn't very thick at all. I found that I barely had to add any salt to it, but then maybe that's because the chicken broth I used was already pretty salty. I think the nutmeg really brought out the sweetness of the squash. In fact, I can see this being a really versatile template for a squash soup. You could go the sweeter path and really roast the squash with some butter and maybe a little brown sugar. Or you could go the more savory route and use shallots instead of the onion and maybe throw in a little garlic or other fresh herbs. All in all, it was the perfect thing to have on a frigid day.

p.s. I made the croutons in the pictures by simply sauteeing some cubed wheat bread in butter. If I had really been clever, I would've cut the croutons in the shape of the squash seeds. =)

ETA:  I recently made this and added curry powder instead of nutmeg.  It was delicious!

One year ago:  Hua Juan (Steamed Scallion Buns) 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Homemade Waffle Face Off

overnight vs insanity

Ever since I tried my first Belgian waffle (with real pearl sugar!) from Mr. Crepes a few weeks ago, I've been wanting to make some waffles. My friend, Nicole, had left me her waffle maker when she moved away this past summer and I had yet to break it out. I was hoping to buy some pearl sugar from Mr. Crepes, but it turns out they no longer sell it there. So I settled for making regular waffles. But oh my, the many different "regular" waffle recipes that existed! I browsed through the waffles on TasteSpotting, The Kitchn, and looked up Alton Brown's recipe. I remembered an episode from Good Eats when he explained that the batter you want for pancakes and the batter you want for waffles are two completely different things since pancakes should be soft and fluffy and waffles should be crispy on the outside. Unfortunately, his recipe for the Basic Waffle included buttermilk as an ingredient, and I didn't really feel like buying something I don't usually use just to make this. But then I found a recipe titled, "Waffle of Insane Greatness". How could you not want to make those?

And then while talking to my friend, Helena, about my plan to make waffles, she recommended Mark Bittman's recipe for Overnight Waffles from How to Cook Everything (thank you, Ellen!), saying they were the best waffles she had ever had. That's when I decided it was time for another face off: Yeasted vs. non-yeasted waffles.

Obviously, as you can tell from the title, the Overnight Waffles need to be started the night before to give the yeast time to do it's thing. There are several steps to the recipe, and I followed everything to the letter (including separating the egg and whipping up the egg whites; is there anything more satisfying than whipping egg whites up to a soft peak by hand?) except that I halved the recipe. Hopefully it didn't alter the outcome too much.

overnight

Overnight Waffles (based on Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything)
makes 2-3 servings

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Canola oil (for brushing on waffle iron)
1 egg

The night before, combine dry ingredients and stir in the milk, then butter and vanilla. The mixture will be loose and creamy. Cover and set aside overnight at room temperature.

PC272358

The next morning, brush the waffle iron lightly with oil and preheat. Separate the egg and stir the egg yolk into the batter. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold them gently into the batter.

Pour the batter onto the waffle iron just until the barely covered. Bake 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your iron. Serve immediately with maple syrup and butter.

I thought it was interesting that in the book, Mark mentions that his favorite type of maple syrup is Grade B which is also the cheapest. Maple syrup is pretty darn expensive even up here in New England, but I found that Harvest sells Grade B maple syrup in bulk!

It looks like the "Waffle of Insane Greatness" recipe is from a restaurant called Aretha Frankenstein's in Tennessee. I have a feeling I will never get to go and try the originals, but having the recipe is good enough for me.

insanity

Waffle of Insane Greatness (courtesy of the Food Network and Aretha Frankenstein's)
makes 4 servings

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; mix well. Add the milk, vegetable oil, egg, sugar, and vanilla and mix well. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat the waffle iron. Do not use non-stick spray on the waffle iron; the oil in the batter will allow the waffle to release easily. Follow the directions on your waffle iron to cook the waffles. Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

It's true about not needing to grease the waffle iron for these. If you let the batter sit long enough, the oil will even start to separate. If that happens, just stir the batter again and the oil will re-incorporate. I chose not to halve this recipe because it would've been a lot harder to do so and also because it seemed like the main ingredients (flour, milk, oil, and egg) were almost identical in quantity.

As you can see from the pictures above, the Waffle of Insane Greatness browned more uniformly and had a more defined shape. This translated into a crisper waffle. It also had an eggier taste than the Overnight Waffles which I thought had a pretty strong yeasty taste. The texture of the Overnight Waffles was definitely fluffier but I didn't really get the crispiness.

PC272365

I decided to try to make them side by side so that they had the same amount of time on the iron. Again you can see (below) that the Waffle of Insane Greatness had a more defined shape and that the Overnight Waffles had more air bubbles, but now you can see that the Overnight Waffles actually brown quicker than the Waffle of Insane Greatness. (Please ignore the fact that there are holes in the Waffle of Insane Greatness; that's more due to user error as you can see in the picture with the waffle iron.)

PC272366

Personally, I had a slight preference for the Waffle of Insane Greatness because it was able to get the crispy texture I wanted. Too many air bubbles in the Overnight Waffles meant it absorbed the maple syrup like a sponge and got way too soggy way too fast. Also, I thought the yeasty taste was a little too strong for me. One of my roommates preferred the Overnight Waffles, though, and my other roommate's sister preferred the Waffle of Insane Greatness.

As a final experiment, I mixed the last of both batters together and made an Overnight Waffle of Insane Greatness. This turned out to be the perfect waffle for me. The yeasty flavor was neutralized and turned into a more malted flavor. The waffle was crispier and had less air bubbles than the Overnight Waffles but was fluffier than the regular Waffle of Insane Greatness. If I ever really, really wanted to make the perfect waffle, I would make these two recipes and combine them again. But being the lazy person I am, I'll probably just make the Waffles of Insane Greatness again and maybe try separating the egg and whipping up the egg whites before folding them in.

PC272372

One year ago:  Hot Pot, Tang Yuan

Friday, December 18, 2009

Apple and Pear Cake FAIL

Apple and Pear Cake

I needed to use up some more apples and pears from my Boston Organics delivery, so I decided to try Smitten Kitchen's Mom's Apple Cake. Except I didn't have a tube pan. Or a bundt pan. And I only had 2 apples and 2 pears. And I accidentally bought white whole wheat flour instead of my usual unbleached all-purpose flour. A normal person might have decided these reasons were enough to stop, but oh no, I had to go ahead and try to make the cake anyways.

Ridiculously thick batter

First conversion: I figured I could multiple all the ingredients by 3/4 to account for the fact that I only had 4 pieces of fruit instead of the 6 required for the recipe.

First fail: You know how people say baking is like chemistry and that everything needs to be measured precisely? Well, I had to adjust some of the calculated measurements just so I could measure them. And I ended up with a really, really, really thick batter. Like closer to cookie dough than cake batter. I don't think that's right.

Second conversion: Instead of using a tube pan, I used a normal square pan. In the original post, Deb says that you can probably make the cake in a 9"x13" cake pan if you don't have a tube pan. I figured since I was reducing the quantities in the recipe, I could get away with a 9" square pan.

Second fail: I think the reason this cake calls for a tube pan is because it take a long time for the middle to bake. And maybe longer because I had that ridiculously thick batter. The original recipe says to bake for 1.5 hours or until a tester comes out clean. Um, at 1.5 hours, the middle of the cake was just barely starting to set, and the edges were all getting burnt.

(By the way, The Kitchn just posted a hack on what to do if you don't have a tube pan!)

Apple and Pear Cake

Third conversion: I only had 1/4 cup all-purpose flour left, so I used that and then used whole wheat flour for the rest of the flour. I figured, it's a cake with fruit so it's already slightly healthy anyways. Can't make that much of a difference right? Um, yeah. Don't ever do what I did, okay? Unless you like eat really dense cardboard.

But, I was still able to get some decent pictures of the thing. And I still did eat it. At least, the top half of it. The bottom half was unsalvageable. Hmmm, I should've taken a picture of what was leftover in the pan.

Apple and Pear Cake

Anyways, instead of posting the fail recipe, I'm just going to link over to Smitten Kitchen again. Because she has the correct recipe AND gorgeous pictures.

ETA:  Three years later, I finally conquered this recipe by using the right ingredients and baking pan.

One year ago:  Maracons - A Lesson in Humility

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tim Tam Slam Ice Cream

A couple of years ago, I was having dinner with this other girl who kept talking about all the homemade ice cream she made. After repeated mentions, I couldn't stand it anymore and threw down the proverbial gauntlet and challenged her to an "ice cream throw down". We rounded up two other friends who also made their own ice cream and drew up a list of rules. We were all to make 3 churned, frozen desserts: one vanilla ice cream for a baseline, one sorbet, and one free-for-all. Forty people came to judge, and I'm proud to say that I won the vanilla and sorbet categories with my "Triple Vanilla Threat" (frozen custard made with vanilla bean, vanilla sugar, and vanilla bourbon) and Coconut Lime Sorbet, which is really the simplest and yummiest sorbet recipe ever.

So for the one category that I lost, I had made a Tim Tam Slam ice cream. At the time, Tim Tams had yet to be imported into the US, so I actually had saved a package that a co-worker from Australia had sent special to me after I told her how much I loved the cookies. I was introduced to Tim Tams back when I lived in Taiwan by a couple from New Zealand. Crunchy chocolate cookies sandwiching a smooth chocolate mousse all dipped in rich chocolate fudge. You can really only eat one or two at time before going into chocolate overdose.

The inside of a Tim Tam
(This is actually a picture I took of the Tim Tams I had 2 years ago; the ones from Pepperidge Farms have a different packaging.)

But the best way to enjoy a Tim Tam is to do the Tim Tam Slam! This involves biting off the ends of the rectangular cookie and using it as a straw to sip up some coffee (or milk or tea). Just as the liquid reaches your lips, you toss the whole cookie in your mouth and close your eyes in delight as you experience the Tim Tam Slam.

Luckily for us, Tim Tams are now available stateside, at least during the colder months of the year, through Pepperidge Farms. I spied some at the local Shaws the other day, and decided it was high time to try to make a better Tim Tam Slam ice cream, because the Tim Tam Slam really deserved to be enshrined in such a hallowed way.

The previous time, I had tried David Lebovitz's recipe for making the coffee ice cream and used Dunkin' Donuts' hazelnut coffee beans. For whatever reason, the ice cream didn't really turn out as I had hoped. It's been over two years now so I can't remember exactly what I didn't like about it, but it was just off, somehow. As a note, my favorite coffee ice cream is the first one I ever tried: Breyers. It's the whole reason I even like coffee.

Since I've moved away from making frozen custards, I decided it was time to try Jeni's recipe for making no-egg ice cream again since let's face it, the last time was kind of a fail. And I think I know what the issue was last time. I bet I didn't let the mixture get a chance to cook enough after adding the corn starch so that it thickened before cooling it. Because let me tell you, when it starts boiling and thickening, you better get that pot off the heat fast or else it'll boil over. And I'm sure I'd have remembered something like that happening before.

Tim Tam Slam ice cream

Tim Tam Slam Ice Cream (based on Jeni's ice cream recipe)
makes about 1 quart

3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon corn starch
3 1/2 cups half and half
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals (I used Nescafe)
1 package Tim Tams

In the bottom of a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until soft and loose and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of the half and half, making sure the cornstarch is dissolved. Pour the rest of the half and half into a large pot and whisk in the sugar, corn syrup, and coffee crystals. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then simmer, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return the pot to medium-high heat, bring back to a boil, and cook for 1 more minute, stirring or whisking constantly, until the mixture is slightly thickened.

Pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese and whisk until the cream cheese is combined. Add the salt. Set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with snow or an ice bath and cool, stirring every few minutes, until the liquid is at least down to room temperature. Transfer the inner bowl to the refrigerator and allow to chill thoroughly.

Chopped up Tim Tams

Roughly chop the Tim Tams into small bits.

Once the ice cream base is chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker, adding the chopped Tim Tams at the very end. Transfer the ice cream to a container and freeze for several hours until firm.

Tim Tam Slam ice cream

I liked this version of the Tim Tam Slam much better, although it still doesn't taste as good as Breyer's coffee ice cream. Maybe it's something to do with the amount of coffee flavoring or the way I introduced it. Perhaps it would've been better to add espresso powder or coffee extract. But the addition of the Tim Tam bits definitely compensates for any faults the ice cream itself may have. I actually used caramel Tim Tams, which added a nice non-chocolatey dimension to the ice cream, kind of similar to Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream. The only thing is the caramel gets pretty hard when frozen, but does eventually soften in your mouth.

One year ago:  Pan-Fried Pasta with Butternut Squash, Fried Sage, and Pine Nuts

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wah Guay, or Taiwanese Rice Cake with Meat Sauce

Wah guay

It's been a while since I've posted any recipes from my mom, and I just received a random request for this recipe, so I'd like to introduce you to wah guay, of Taiwanese rice cake with meat sauce. The name of the dish is Taiwanese, so I don't even know how to correctly pronounce it, much less romanize the spelling. My mom makes this dish a lot for pot lucks, and it's one of her specialties; I believe she even made up the recipe herself. All the flavoring comes from the meat sauce which is really pretty salty plus a little sweetness, heat, and umami. You need all of the saltiness because the rice cake is just steam-baked rice flour and water. That's it. But if you make it right, it should come out with a thick, custardy texture that jiggles like Jell-o.

Make sure that you use a soy sauce paste for the topping and not regular soy sauce. Soy sauce paste is more viscous and also slightly sweeter than the normal stuff. We used it a lot growing up in dipping sauces for things like boiled dumplings and hot pot because the water that inherently deposits with each dip wouldn't dilute the soy sauce paste as much as it would with normal soy sauce. And if you can find the sweet chili paste, definitely try that. It's barely spicy, but does cut through the saltiness of the meat sauce just enough. In a pinch, I guess a little sriracha sauce could do.

Wah Guay
makes 24 servings

1 (16 oz.) bag of rice flour (not the glutinous kind)
1 lb. ground pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons fried shallots
4 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons five spice powder
6 tablespoons soy sauce
Soy sauce paste or chili soy sauce paste
Sweet chili paste (optional)
Cilantro (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F and lightly grease a 9" x 13" casserole dish.

Add 9 cups boiling water

In a large mixing bowl, mix the rice flour with 2 cups of water using a spatula. Continue stirring and add 9 cups boiling water in a continuous stream. Once fully incorporated, transfer to the casserole dish, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes.

In a medium-sized pot, heat oil on high until hot. Add the shallots and fry for 20 seconds. Add the pork, rice wine, sugar, five spice powder, and soy sauce and continue to cook until meat is no longer pink, breaking the pork into smaller pieces. Cover, lower the heat, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let sit covered.

Wah guay

Once the rice cake is done, top with the meat sauce. Drizzle with soy sauce paste and sweet chili paste and top with cilantro, if desired.

I am not a big fan of cilantro, so my mom usually just garnishes three-quarters of the dish with the cilantro, leaving an unblemished quarter for me. Isn't my mommy the best?

One note I should make, I tried making this once in grad school in a toaster oven and the rice cake never really "set". And even my mom has said that it hasn't set correctly for her on a few occasions. Neither of us could figure it out; I'm guessing it has to do with having the perfect ratio of water to rice flour and the ideal conditions for steaming and baking in the oven.

One year ago:  Beef Noodle (Soup) and Lu Dan

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stuffed Delicata Squash

I recently received two delicata squashes in my Boston Organics delivery. Now I know what to do with yellow/zucchini squash, and I have a favorite recipe for butternut squash, but this was the first time I had work with this particular kind of squash. Luckily, The Kitchn had a post recently about making stuffed squash, which I thought would be the perfect thing to do with these two lovelies.

Delicata Squash

The only thing is, their recipe called for some type of protein (chopped ham, bacon, sausage, etc.) to be added, and I just didn't have anything like that, nor did I really think ham belonged in a stuffed squash. Bacon or sausage, I can see, but I didn't want to go out and buy some just for this recipe. They suggested using tofu for a vegetarian version, but that sounded just as weird, if not weirder than using ham. And then I realized, I had the perfect ingredient sitting in my freezer. Can you guess what it is?

PB282309

One of my vegetarian friends had brought over Vegetable Masala Burgers from Trader Joe's for a barbecue we had over the summer. There had been no time or room on the grill to cook them, so they've been sitting in my freezer until now. I figured the burgers would already be seasoned, and after microwaving them and mashing them up with a fork, they would be just about the right consistency to stuff a squash with!

Veggie Burger Stuffed Delicata Squash
makes 2 servings

2 delicata squash
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 veggie burger patties
Butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

PB282307
Halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon. Brush the cut side with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast squash cut side up for 30 minutes or until soft when forked.

In the meantime, microwave the veggie burger patties for a minute or two until thawed. They don't need to be hot. Break up the patties with a fork.
PB282312
Once the squash is done, remove from oven. Mound veggie burger stuffing in the squash cavities. Top with a pat of butter, if desired.

Return stuffed squash to oven and bake for another 10 minutes.
PB282316

I really did like the taste of the masala burgers with the squash. If you wanted to add more texture to the stuffing, you could add toasted nuts or roasted sunflower seeds. If I were using a more traditional flavor of veggie burger, I might also sprinkle some cheese on top, but I think it would have been weird to mix cheese and masala.

One year ago:  Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Monday, November 30, 2009

Kettle Corn

Each spring, I look forward to my first game of the season at Fenway Park. The last three years in a row, I've been lucky enough to get tickets to Opening Day, thanks to my wonderful, beautiful friends who really, really love me. And while the quality of food offered there is sorely lacking, I can never resist the kettle corn sold in the Grand Concourse. The aroma of the fresh popped corn plus the melted sugar is all the advertisement it needs. Of course, it's best when it's still hot, or at least warm, but sometimes all you get is the already-bagged kind which, let's face it, just doesn't compare.

I was craving some the other day, and since it is no longer baseball season, I figured I'd try making some, following Jen's recipe on Tiny Urban Kitchen. If you haven't read her food blog before, you should definitely check it out. I knew her personally before either of us started food blogging, and her pictures and the recipes she attempts are leagues beyond my own. Thankfully, this recipe is really quite simple!

PB272304

Kettle Corn (from Tiny Urban Kitchen)
makes one big bowl, a little too much for one hungry, popcorn-loving girl, but probably not enough for two ;)

1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup sugar
Salt to taste

Put the oil in a pot (ideally a pot with handles and a cover!) and heat to medium high.

Put 3 kernels in the oil and wait for the three kernels to pop. When this happens, you know the oil is hot enough.

Add the rest of the kernels. They should be spread out in one thin layer at the bottom of the pot.

Cover and let pop; it should start popping almost immediately. Start shaking the covered pot around to let the kernels shake around so that the un-popped kernels can get to the bottom where it's hot and also so the popped popcorn doesn't burn.

When the popping seems to have slowed down a bit, carefully lift the lid and dump the sugar in.

Continue shaking the covered pot around, distributing the sugar and letting the rest of the kernels pop.

When it seems like the popping has slowed considerably (1-2 minutes), remove the pot from heat and let it cool. Add salt and stir the popcorn around to make sure the sugar and salt is evenly distributed.

PB272302

Jen mentions that you can use more oil if you want (up to 1/3 cup) and more sugar if you like, but one of the things I like about kettle corn is how the little kiss of sweet and salty makes you crave more. Too much sugar and you might as well make caramel corn.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Apple-Pear-Cranberry Crisp

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! What are you thankful for this year? Me, I'm thankful that I got to travel to a lot of different countries (Czech Republic, Bolivia, Aruba, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt!), for new friends that I've made, and that my brother got married to a wonderful girl!

I almost always staying in Boston for Thanksgiving since my home in Ohio is really too far away to drive to and too expensive to fly to for such a short break. But it's become tradition to celebrate with other Thanksgiving "orphans", and this year I went over to Oeimae, Yumi (thanks for the invite!), and Judy's apartment in Brookline for yet another potluck. This time, I wanted to use up the two pears and two apples I had gotten in my Boston Organics delivery, so I decided to make a apple-pear crisp. But just those 4 fruits didn't seem to be enough for the 9"x13" pan, so I bought a bag of fresh cranberries to add to the mix for some color and tartness.

PB262293

Apple-Pear-Cranberry Crisp
makes 24 servings

2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (I used Fuji apples)
2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (I used one Bosc and one Concord pear)
1 bag fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
1 1/2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon flour, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cups butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F.

PB262282

Toss the apple and pear slices with the cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1 tablespoon flour. Add the cranberries and sugar. Toss to mix. Place in a 9"x13" baking dish.

PB262288

In a large bowl, add the remaining ingredients and cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles a coarse meal. You can also use a food processor to do this, but I enjoy doing it with my hands.

Spread the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream!

PB262297

That last part of the recipe is key. Even though there's a whole cup of sugar in the fruit filling, the fresh cranberries are really quite tart. Eating this crisp with ice cream mellows out the fruit so that the sum is much greater than its parts.

This recipe can be adapted to other fruits as well. You can omit the cranberries and use more of the apples or pears. A peach or cherry crisp is another possibility, but you'd have to adjust the amount of sugar since those fruits are already quite sweet.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nanaimo Bars

Hi everyone. Yes, yes, I know. It's been almost 5 whole months since I posted. It's unforgivable really. But you see, the reason I started this blog in the first place was because my second love, the Red Sox, were taking their winter break and I wasn't traveling as much for work anymore so I needed something to occupy my time. And well, what do you know, it's that time of the year again! So please forgive me, and get ready to start drooling again!

08-11-09 022

Last week The Kitchn had a post on nanaimo bars (apparently pronounce nah-NAI-mo): a three-layer dessert bar with a cocoa coconut crust, vanilla custard middle, and chocolate top. With over 2 whole sticks of butter in the recipe, what's not to love? And I just happened to have all the ingredients except for the cream in my fridge and cupboard so I decided to make a batch for a pre-Thanksgiving potluck dinner.

Nanaimo Bars (adapted from City of Nanaimo via Eclectic Cook and The Kitchn)
makes 40+ bars

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cups finely chopped almonds*
1 cup coconut*

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add about a third of the hot mixture to the beaten egg a spoonful at a time to temper. Add the egg mixture to the pot and stir to cook and thicken (roughly 3 minutes). Pay careful attention to the mixture when cooking so that the egg does not curdle. If you start seeing any lumps, immediately remove from heat and keep stirring. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and almonds. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

IMG_4563

Second Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons and 2 Tsp. cream*
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder*
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

IMG_4565

Third Layer
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator. Cut into 1 inch squares and serve slightly chilled.

08-11-09 020

*A note about the ingredients: the type of cream and coconut was not specified, and I ended up using light cream and sweetened, shredded coconut. And instead of using vanilla custard powder, I substituted with French vanilla instant pudding powder. Also, instead of using finely chopped almonds, I substituted with almond meal. I've never had one of these bars before, so I'm not sure if you could tell a difference in texture.

I found that the quantity of ingredients that the recipe calls for in the third layer to be barely enough to cover the middle layer. And even though the recipe calls for the third layer to cool before spreading over the second layer, I found that even when it was still warm it was getting quite viscous. I was afraid that if I waited for it to cool too much I wouldn't be able to spread it out so I ended up using it while it was still warm. Of course, then I found out the reason why you want to wait until it is cool is because the second layer can melt and start blending with the third layer. =(

At the potluck, everyone seemed to like the bars, and it was agreed that a 1 inch square bar was enough. As rich as the recipe is, I thought the bars were otherwise a little bland. Personally, I could have used a little salt in the recipe to round out the richness. I think either using salted butter or sprinkling the top with sea salt would've done the trick. Another direction I would go is to add almond extract to the custard layer to brighten it up a bit.

One year ago:  Homemade Crystallized Ginger

Monday, July 6, 2009

Curried Carrot Soup

I got yet another bag of baby carrots in my Boston Organics delivery last week and suddenly remembered one way (other than carrot cake or carrot cake ice cream) that I've enjoyed carrots: in a curried soup. I don't even remember where I first tried it; I think it was either at Au Bon Pain or in one of the soup cartons from Trader Joe's. I just remembered that I couldn't really taste the carrots, which is exactly what I was looking for.

A quick google search gave me Rachael Ray's version as the first hit. It looked simple enough, but I added a few tweaks. I used half an onion and replaced the other half with a shallot since it was all I had. I also halved the amount of butter, added 2 teaspoons of fresh, chopped ginger, and replaced the sour cream with nonfat plain yogurt.

Curried Carrot Soup

Curried Carrot Soup (adapted from Rachael Ray's recipe here)
makes 4-6 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh peeled ginger, finely chopped
1 pound packaged baby carrots
2 (13.5 oz.) cans chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Nonfat plain yogurt
Snipped scallions (optional)

Preheat medium pot over medium high heat. Add olive oil, butter, onions, shallots, ginger, and carrots and saute 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, curry and cayenne, and about 1 teaspoon salt to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until carrots are very tender, about 15 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, carefully puree the soup. Alternatively, you can use a blender to puree the soup in small batches.

Ladle into bowls and top with a heaping spoonful of yogurt (or sour cream) and scallions.

Curried Carrot Soup

If you don't have yogurt or sour cream, you can also add a swirl of cream into the soup to balance out the spices, but you'll lose the tanginess of the yogurt.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge #2: Homemade Bulgogi Dumplings

Bulgogi dumplings

My first thought after seeing the second Daring Cook's challenge was, "Why mess with perfection?" Jen from Use Real Butter had chosen Chinese dumplings as the challenge, which coincidentally, was one of my first posts on The Cooking of Joy. I've been making my mom's recipe for dumplings for as long as I can remember not only because it's my mom's but quite simple because it is the best-tasting dumpling I've ever had. In my opinion, it has the perfect ratio (1:1) of meat to vegetable and is just seasoned enough that you can serve it boiled with only some sriracha sauce for heat, if you want. So seriously, why mess with perfection?

But Jen's request to "try something different" if we'd made Chinese dumplings before echoed in my head as a challenge. Then when I came up with the idea to make kalbi using the kiwi, pear, and apple I had gotten in my Boston Organics delivery, I started thinking about making a beef dumpling filling with the same marinade. And using Romaine lettuce instead of napa cabbage as the vegetable since Romaine is traditionally eaten with kalbi and bulgogi (Korean marinated barbecued sirloin beef). And ssamjang (seasoned soybean paste) as the condiment. And thus, the bulgogi dumpling was born.

One of the other requirements for the Daring Cook's challenge was to make your own wrappers. Jen had posted a recipe that used warmed water instead of the boiling water recipe I was used to. Since I was doing something different anyways, I figured I'd try her recipe (using her mom's version to mix the dough) but I soon realized that I much preferred the boiling water version. The warm water version gave a really stiff dough that was much harder to work with. At first I thought that maybe I hadn't added enough water, but the recipe only called for 1/2 cup water for 2 cups of flour, and I had already added about 2/3 cup of water. So I ended up scrapping half of the warm water dough and making a half batch of the boiling water dough, which I've reprinted here. Using the boiling water and kneading the dough for a good five minutes allows the dough to develop a lot of gluten. Resting it for 20 minutes makes it even more pliable so that you should have no problems rolling out your wrappers and stretching them while wrapping.

Warm water wrapper Boiling water wrapper
Wrapped dumplings Wrapped dumplings
Wrapped dumplings P5231205-1

Above is a side by side visual comparison of the two wrappers with the boiling water ones on the right. The reason for the color discrepancy is simply because I ran out of bleached all-purpose flour after making the warm water wrappers and used unbleached all-purpose flour for the boiling water ones.


Bulgogi Dumplings

makes about 56 dumplings

1 bundle bean thread vermicelli
1 lb. ground beef (I used 80% lean meat)
1/2 head romaine lettuce, washed and roughly chopped
3 scallions, roughly chopped
1/2 cup kalbi marinade
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
56 homemade dumpling wrappers (recipe below)

Soak the bean thread vermicelli in a bowl filled with hot water for 15 minutes.

While the vermicelli is soaking, use a food processor to mince the lettuce and scallions. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Squeeze out the excess water in the vermicelli and use the food processor to chop into about 1/2" pieces. Add to the mixing bowl.

Add the ground beef, marinade, and sesame oil and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Once you have your dumpling wrappers ready, prepare plates or trays with flour for dipping. Put a spoonful of the filling in the middle of a wrapper and fold in half. Seal center portion of the joined edges. Make two pleats on both the left and right side of the dumpling. Make sure that the whole thing is totally sealed and then dip the bottom in the flour and place on the tray. Here are step-by-step photos to show you how it's done, or you can check out this video, but ignore the part about wetting the edges. Since we are using fresh dumpling wrappers here, you can skip that step.

To pan-fry the dumplings, heat a frying pan on high and add oil once it is hot. Once the oil is hot, add the dumplings one at a time so that they are sitting upright. Once the bottoms are browned, add about a 1/2 cup of water (for 8 dumplings, my usual serving size). If you like your dumplings extra crispy, add 1 tablespoon of flour or cornstarch to the water and mix to get rid of the lumps before you add it to the pan. Be very careful as the steam coming off the pan may burn you. Cover and let cook for a few minutes until the water is almost all gone. Remove the lid and let the rest of the water cook off.

Homemade Dumpling Wrappers (adapted from here)
makes about 56 wrappers

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
4 tablespoons cold water
Flour for dusting

Pour boiling water into the flour, quickly stir with a fork or chopstick, mix well, then add the cold water. Mix and knead into a soft dough about 5 minutes.

Cover with damp cloth or paper towel. Set aside and rest for 20 minutes.

Knead the dough for 1 minute and divide into 4 quarters. Roll one quarter into a long snake and pinch into about 1 inch lengths.

Dust flour on work surface. Roll each piece into a circle of about a 3 inch diameter. Try to make the edges thinner than the middle.

Bulgogi dumplings with gochujang

Instead of the usual soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar dipping sauce I like to have with my dumplings, I just served it with ssamjang. The intense saltiness of the season soybean sauce complemented the sweetness of the marinade, but I have to admit both flavors were a little too strong, so I tried wrapping some Romaine lettuce around a dumpling, similar to how I like to eat my kalbi.

Bulgogi dumpling wrap

This combination ended up being perfect as now there was a balance of all the oral senses: taste (sweet and salty), temperature (hot and cold), and texture (crunchy and soft).

Bulgogi dumpling wrap

So once again, the Daring Cooks Challenge forced me to try something I normally wouldn't have made, which is the point of a challenge, I suppose. To be honest, I'll probably continue to stick with my mom's dumpling recipe and store bought wrappers, but it was pretty fun to make these, and I'm looking forward to next month's challenge!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kale Chips

Organic Kale from Boston Organics

I was lucky enough to score tickets to all three Red Sox Yankees games this week, which also meant I'd have three days of Fenway food temptation to deal with. I mean, I love those Fenway franks as much as the next girl, but three days in a row of hot dogs for dinner is a little overboard, even for me. So I decided to use up the kale I'd gotten in my last Boston Organics delivery and make a little snack for myself (and the 2 vegetarians I was going with).

This recipe is super duper simple, and I've even pared it down from the first time I made them. The first time I'd read somewhere that you could toss the kale in a vinaigrette before baking them, but I found that it was too much liquid and ended up having to bake the chips a lot longer just to get them crispy. Yesterday I tried making them with only oil and salt, and they came out perfect. They kind of remind me of Korean roasted seasoned seaweed, only not as pretty.

Making kale chips

Kale Chips
makes a sandwich bagful

1 bunch kale
Cooking spray
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 °F.

Wash the kale and tear into bite-sized pieces. Dry well in a salad spinner.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray liberally with cooking spray. Add the kale pieces in an even layer and spray with more cooking spray. Sprinkle sea salt on top to taste (I used about a teaspoon) and toss.

Bake kale for 10-15 minutes, tossing at least once, until crispy. Do not let them get too brown or else they will be bitter.

Kale chips

The only sad thing about making kale chips is that they shrink so much so you only end up with a baggie-ful when you started off with a whole bunch. And they're pretty addictive, so they only last a half inning or so. Unless it's the inning where Papi hits his third homerun of the year and the Red Sox went on to score two more runs. Because that was a pretty long inning. Just sayin'.

I think I'll make some wok-fried edamame with garlic to bring to tonight and tomorrow's game. They'll be like the healthier, Asian version of peanuts at a ballgame since I can just toss the shells onto the ground! =)