Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 3: Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking: Har Gao

After our great successes from Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking (check out this post ), we moved onto Har Gao or shrimp dumplings.

The Har Gao:
Dim Sum is just one of those great meals. And one of my favorite bites has always been har gao, or crystal shrimp dumplings. In a perfect har gao, chunks of shrimp are surrounded by a thin dough. And, in our first attempt to use the Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking recipe, they turned out pretty beautifully. The inside came together quickly, while my cooking partner, Kiersten put together the dough in minutes.
In fact, due to failed (and comically messy) attempt to make tofu, Kiersten crafted all of the har gao on her own. We ate many, but they can be frozen for future nights when it is just too hot to cook. We were both ridiculously impressed with how the thick, opaque dough turned translucent in the steamer.

In fact, we were so happy with this recipe, that next time we are trying the vegetarian version!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Muffins

I am just not a Food Network kind of girl. In fact, with the exception of Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) I tend to skip any recipe that I find on their site. But I recently found myself with ricotta, some oranges and a need to bake a cake for a party. And, as my friends and colleagues are always happy if I preface a dessert with the words, "low-fat," I searched the web for something that would do the trick. Ultimately, I found Giada's Ricotta Orange Pound Cake. With a few changes, it turned out as a not-too sweet, not too rich, relatively healthy cake that is delicious warm or grilled and served with fruit. I used orange zest and some fresh orange juice, but you can use any type of citrus or extract. It actually came out so tasty, that I made them again as muffins, throwing in some blueberries.

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup oil (either mild olive or vegetable)
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (I prefer Biazzi brand low-fat as it is very creamy)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (almond extract, lemon oil or lemon juice)
  • 1 orange, zested (or 2 lemons)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan or a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Mix the oil, ricotta, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and blend until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and orange zest. Add the dry ingredients, a small amount at a time, until just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This will take about 45 to 50 minutes for the loaf or about 20 to 25 minutes for the muffins. Let the loaf or muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. When it is cool, wrap loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cooking Momofuku, Day 3: Tofu, Veggies, and More Rice Cakes

After the success of cooking the Roasted Red Rice Cakes and Pork Buns from the Momofuku cookbook, Kirsten and I moved onto other dishes.

First: Cherry Tomato Salad, Soft Tofu and Shiso

I loved the licorice-like taste of shiso leaves when I had them in Japan. But despite Kirsten's attempt to search them out, we couldn't find them at any of the major (or minor) Asian food stores or at Russo's. However, despite missing this key ingredient, this dish was perfect on a hot night. I am just discovering how much I love soft tofu and here, it was clean, pure and far lighter than the traditional mozzarella in this dish. We tried the dish with Italian basil, Thai basil and my Japanese furike salt (salt mixed with dried shiso).

Second: Brussel Sprouts with Kimchi Puree and Bacon.
Brilliance I tell you. Total brilliance. Only Chang would think to combine these flavors and they work perfectly. This may be on my next Thanksgiving menu.

Third: The Spicy Pork Sausage, Rice Cakes and Chinese Brocoli. This dish was...fine. As my foodie friend (otherwise known as Dadventures) said, it was one dimensional. Now, that may be because my attempt to create crispy shallots yielded a great big pile of burnt shallots. (I skipped the directions to turn down the heat -duh!) I upped the sauce a bit after a few tastes, by adding oyster sauce, a bit of Chinese Black vinegar and sesame oil. (All of these are used in the Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking version of a similar dish-Ma Po Tofu).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cooking Momofuku, Day 2: Pork Buns

Steam buns have long been one of my favorite foods. The bun itself is tender and slightly sweet. Traditionally they are filled with moist pork and eaten at dim sum. From the first time I saw the Momofuku cookbook, I knew that along with the Roasted Red Rice Cakes, I wanted to make their classic steam buns.

These ended up being quite a project. You need to make 3 parts, really. First, the dough. Then the roasted pork. Then the pickles.

The Dough/Buns
The dough worked up beautifully. Using both powdered milk and shortening makes them incredibly tender. But once we divided the dough into 50, our first buns were more like steam flats. We made them thicker. We let them rise more. We cooked them different ways. They never got close to resembling bun perfection. Whatever-no matter how they look they are ridiculously good. I could eat these for breakfast. And, ironically, after steaming the frozen (already cooked) buns, they steamed up even fuller.
The Pork
David Chang has you first rub the pork with salt and let it sit overnight in the frig. Then you cook it up. I loved the tenderness of the pork. But, despite being a salt-addict, the salt literally puckered my mouth. For the second bun, I rinsed off the salt (before searing it), which helped tremendously. This time I could enjoy the juicy pork.
We looked back to double check the recipe, and, yes, our proportions were correct, nor did it say to rinse off the salt rub in advance. So, next time? We will just reduce the amount of salt in the rub. I also used some of the pork using the recipe for Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking.
The Pickles
Um...perfect. These took all of 5 seconds and were so good that my two year old was gobbling them up. A great recipe, too, for all the garden cucumbers. No need to buy pickles, again.

The overall verdict?

Very, very good. The sweet, soft bun, the acidic pickles, the moist and fatty pork and the sweet hoisin come together beautifully. I may even try to use make a vegetarian version of this (inspired by the tofu bao at Myers and Chang).

For another attempt to create them, check out this post from Michelle at Fun and Fearless in Beantown.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cooking with Flour: Great Eats from the Flour Cookbook by Joanne Chang

For my birthday a few years back, my present was a loaf of focaccia from Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery in the South End. To most people that might seem like a, well, lame present. But I was thrilled. A twenty five minute drive into Boston isn't quite worth it on weekend mornings. Instead, I had a perfect loaf in my freezer, ready to be made into warm panini and grilled cheese sandwiches. Other mornings we just slathered the bread with Nutella and were in breakfast heaven. Thus began my obsession with Flour. And that love has transferred to my two sons who know the bakery by name and adore going there after trips the Children's Museum.
I eagerly anticipated the publication of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe, and enjoyed the chance to attend the celebratory party at the Flour Bakery in Cambridge. Then, two days later, a package showed up on my doorstep: a copy of the cookbook from the publisher. That night my sons and I used an entire box of sticky notes marking the recipes we couldn't wait to try.

There are a number of aspects about this book that I appreciate. First, it is challenging for a baking book to walk the line between being clear enough for inexperienced bakers and captivating for someone who bakes regularly. Joanne Chang does it by offering just enough direction to guide new bakers and use techniques to interest a seasoned cook. Though I have baked for most of my life, I have never heard of "fraisage", thought about the power of creme fraiche or brushed butter on already baked biscuits. Anyone could easily bake fantastic cookies by following her just explicit enough directions. The introductions to the recipes provide context that makes the book personal and interesting. At the same time, the book doesn't read like an advertisement for Flour.
This is definitely not a low-fat, low-cholesterol cookbook and unapologetically so. With the exception of the Heart-Healthy Dried Fruit Scones, these are treats to have on occasion. But when you do, you will be glad you indulged, for example, with the scallion-cheddar scones above!

Ironically, I still haven't made it to the focaccia, though it is next on my list. I also hope to make the Banana Bread, Brioche au Chocolat; Rosemary Shortbread; Nutmeg-Spice Cake with Creamy Rum Buttercream; Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread with Coffee Glaze; Brown Sugar Popovers and Parmesan and Black Pepper Whole-Wheat Focaccia. My sons just want me to bake the Chocolate Cupcakes (for the recipe, click here!) and Blueberry Muffins!

Here, though, is the run-down from this week:

Apple Snacking Cake: My sons and I transformed these into delicious muffins, perfect with fresh from the orchard apples. The recipe was perfect with my toddler and pre-schooler as sous-chefs. They dumped in the ingredients, mixed, stirred and placed raisins in the muffin tins. And they gobbled the warm muffins up, grinning completely.

Pumpkin Muffins: I was a bit too lazy to candy my pumpkin seeds, but these had the same sweet, rich quality as our apple muffins above.

Granola-I regularly make granola and love a new recipe. This one is heavy on the honey, which I enjoyed. However, at 350 degrees, mine started to burn. Once I lowered the heat to 300, it roasted to a toasty brown and is delicious. For a nice write up and the recipe, you can check out this post at Delicious Dishing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies-As Joanne Chang writes, these are a twist on the Toll House recipe and are a thinner style. My kids adored them. Next time I would add a bit more salt. I also definitely recommend following Chang's advice to let the batter sit for overnight in the frig.

Homemade Oreos-I love the cookie part of this recipe. It has both sweet and salty notes and isn't too rich. I am not a buttercream fan, myself, but friends ate these quickly, declaring them, "fantastic."
Double-Chocolate Cookies -this unusual recipe has you grate unsweetened chocolate into a rich batter of semisweet chocolate. The result, a beautifully balanced, not too sweet cookie perfect for chocoholics.

Cheddar-Scallion Scones-These alone are a great reason to buy the book. While, sure, you can go to Flour to taste them, in minutes you get your own warm version fresh out of the oven. Not only are they ridiculously simple, but they freeze beautifully. I can also envision swapping out the cheddar and scallion for, say, ham and gruyere. My friend felt ambivalent about the addition of cumin, but I think it created a more complex taste.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Parsley and Sage-these were just as easy as the scones. (In fact, we whipped both up simultaneously). Again, they are so good still hot and topped with melted butter and parsley. I felt that the sage was a bit overpowering, but could see these at the Thanksgiving table with turkey. I also hope to make the recipe without the sage for my sons to eat with eggs.

You can purchase the cookbook (and try tasty treats) at The Flour Bakery and Cafe: 12 Farnsworth St, Boston; 1595 Washington Street, Boston or 190 Mass. Ave in Cambridge or you can purchase it at your local bookstore.