Sunday, May 31, 2009

Birthday dinner

Pecan tartlets

May seems to be a remarkably birthday filled month! I think I have drunk and eaten more this month than March and April combined--good thing I can only think of one June birthday.

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Yesterday was the Man's birthday, and in honor of it, I made dinner. Please to note that I attempted to make it look nice! I'd been planning on making Jacques Pepin's stuffed pork tenderloin since I saw him demonstrate it on More Fast Food My Way. I discovered that it is not as easy to butterfly a pork tenderloin as he makes it look, but I thought my first attempt was credible. It is very easy (once you are done mutilating your tenderloin) and very quick and really delicious! (As an aside, you should read his memoir, The Apprentice--it's fascinating.) The recipe includes a quick "sauce" made with sweet grape tomatoes, and for completeness I added some sauteed sugar snap peas (with a little lemon zest).

And dessert was maple pecan tartlets. One of the first baked items I made for the Man was a pecan pie, which he ate an entire quarter of at one sitting. I took that as a promising sign. :)

Maple Pecan Tartlets
Crust:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted pecan meal
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons butter, frozen and chopped into small chunks
1 large egg, beaten

Filling:
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces

To make the crust, dump everything but the egg into a food processor and pulse until the butter is cut in, although you don't want everything evenly incorporated. What you want is a sort of pebbly texture with some pea-sized chunks of butter left. Add about half of the egg and pulse again until the dough starts to ball up. You probably won't need the whole egg. Turn out and knead briefly. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and use to line 6 4" tartlet pans; you can pretty much just press this dough into the pans, no need for rolling! Place the lined pans in your freezer for at least an hour. When the crust is done chilling, preheat the oven to 350 F. Theoretically you should blind bake the crusts but I was lazy and all I did was prick the crusts with a fork and bake as is. They puffed up a bit but you can just press them down, so I leave it up to you. Bake until set but not browned. Cool while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, whisk the maple syrup, brown sugar, and salt together until smooth. Whisk in the butter. Add and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until you have a smooth mixture. Stir in the vanilla and pecan pieces.

Fill the crusts to the rim; you may have a bit of filling leftover, which you can bake in custard cups (to make the filling lovers happy, of course!). Bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, until the filling is just set and puffed. Cool, and eat. Or, eat it hot out of the oven, but try not to burn yourself. That maple syrup gets really, really hot (noooo, I don't know from experience). And can I suggest a little whipped cream?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bouchon Bakery

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Just a quicky post before work (which is BRUTAL lately--oh, I love turmoil and upheaval). The lovely and wonderful Costuminatrix came to visit recently, and, ahem, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I view all visitors as an opportunity to get out and eat! I have subjected many a visitor to my soon-to-be-famous Chinatown Bakery Tour (which I may even get around to writing about someday). However, if you can believe it, I was so busy talking that I neglected to take very many photos, except for the treats we got at Bouchon Bakery.

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I would love to show you the delicious soup dumplings and fried buns we had at Shanghai Kitchen (formerly Moon House) and the pickles from Guss' on Orchard St. but alas, you will have to settle for the cherry ricotta cake (top) and the blueberry doughnut we had to start the day. Actually, we also each picked up a TKO (Thomas Keller's take on the Oreo, which I normally do not like), but those came home with us and were not very photogenic by the time we ate them. I have to say, I was a little disappointed with my cake; it was a little dry and, dare I say it, even a little bit stale tasting. I didn't taste the doughnut but I didn't hear any complaints. I think next time I'll try the sticky bun, which looked seriously decadent.

I guess I need to take another visit to Shanghai Kitchen. For documentary purposes, you understand!

Bouchon Bakery
10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Fl.
New York, NY
212-823-9364

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dragon Boat Festival!

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I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that my favorite festivals are the ones that revolve around food. Fortunately, most of the Chinese ones seem to involve food in some capacity!

Anyway, it is just a few days to Duan Wu Jie (the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar; this year, that's May 28th) and what better time to share the zongzi, THE traditional food for this holiday. Zongzi is the Mandarin term, by the way. I can't remember quite when my mom first taught me how to fold them, but it's been...hm...well, a pretty long time ago. It's kind of a time consuming process and as I understand it, a lot of families no longer make their own, opting instead for the ones offered in groceries or by restaurants. Which is all well and good, but I only like the ones WE make. More importantly though, I think of this as kind of a family tradition, one in which technique and skills are passed down (along with a liberal helping of taunting my mother). And with that in mind, I strongly encourage you to try making these; as I said, they do take a bit of time and preparation (and sourcing of ingredients) but I think you will find it extremely rewarding.

(You can read a bit about the back story of zongzi at Wikipedia.)

The Ingredients

So honestly, I think the majority of the work is in the preparatory stage. Which, I am very ashamed to say, my mother handled all of. But here are the main ingredients you need (and hopefully mom will pipe up and tell me if I missed anything). I can't give quantities because that depends greatly on how many you are planning to make, but my principle is THE MORE PORK THE BETTER!!:

Pork belly, cut into chunks and marinated in pork broth and soy sauce
Glutinous rice, soaked in water and soy sauce
Bamboo leaves, which you purchase dry and then boil until softened. After that, you have to scrub them clean and then snip off the sharp ends.

You should also have some kitchen string to tie them up; our packet of bamboo leaves came with bamboo "string" but any old kitchen twine will do.

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When you are ready, drain your rice in a sieve. To form the dumplings, take two bamboo leaves, one on top of the other (with the veined side down). Your aim is to fold them in such a way as to form a cone, with the midpoint of the leaves as the bottom point. You should then be holding the cone in one hand with the open top facing you as you see in the photo above. Put a spoonful or two of rice into the cone; you want it to be just under halfway full.

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Add a chunk or two of the marinated pork, and then top with rice, basically up to the edge. Other variations of the zongzi include salted egg yolks, beans, mushrooms, and so on, so feel free to experiment.

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You want to pat the rice down to compact it a bit, but don't pack it down too much as you need to leave a little room for it to expand. (Doesn't my mom have nice hands?)

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Okay, now the slightly tricky bit. Fold the loose ends down towards the hand holding the cone; at the same time, you want to use the cone fingers to push the top sides of the leaves in a little. Continue to fold the loose leaf ends to the right of the cone. The goal of course, is to enclose the entire open surface with the loose leaf ends. I guarantee that the first few times you try to do this that you will have rice escaping; don't worry. It'll come to you. It helps to underfill the cone a little at first.

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You now have in your hand a folded dumpling with some excess leaves sticking out of one side. Don't lose your grip! You now need to tie the dumpling shut with your kitchen twine; I recommend that you hold one end in your teeth and with your free hand, wrap the dumpling around the middle (see the next photo). You want it fairly tight so the leaves don't unwrap themselves. Snip off the excess string and congratulations! You have a zongzi!

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You can see in this photo where the string should go (the zongzi is upside down here). You can trim off the excess leaves if you want, but I personally think they kind of look nicer this way. All you need to do now is cook! We make enough to fill a giant stockpot and boil it for several hours (almost overnight). I don't think you can reeeaaally overcook these. Once they are done, drain them, wash them, and let them dry. Then you can store them (we keep some in the freezer) or eat them immediately!

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I hope you have enjoyed this (very long-winded) tutorial on how to make your own delicious zongzi, and I hope that some of you will try making these and maybe add a new tradition to your family!

Monday, May 18, 2009

happy birthday...to me!


How self-centered of me, right? Well, what can I say--when you hit the age I just hit (like I'm going to publish THAT on the internet), birthdays are not as exciting as they used to be. There's just not as much (if anything, hah) to look forward to. So it was really nice to take the day off, sleep in, read everyone's Facebook and SMS birthday greetings (thanks everyone!!), have lunch with some friends (thanks guys! you're awesome!), and shop leisurely. And then I came home and it was still early so I decided to make myself a little bit of birthday cake...because darn it, even though I've been eating way too much lately, a birthday is not a birthday without some cake!!

lemon yogurt cake

I wanted something light, specifically, something that reminded me of those birthday cakes we used to get in Taiwan, all cream and fruit and sponge. I remember really loving the cream and having to peel the jellied glaze off the fruit; actually, now I'm not sure if that was real cream, or some kind of shortening based whipped topping. Anyway, I made a half recipe of Dorie Greenspan's French yogurt cake, which is kind of a compromise between a sponge cake and a pound cake in texture; I baked it in an 8" cake pan so that I ended up with a cake about 3/4" high. I just want to point out how lovely and flat it came out--this is a first! Usually my cakes rise and then crack in the center. Of course, I did manage to make a giant hole in it while testing it for doneness, but that's okay.

fruit salsa

Assembly is really easy--I cut two 3" rounds of cake and sandwiched them together with softly whipped cream and a chopped fruit salad (I suppose you could call it a fruit salsa) of mango, strawberries, and kiwi. It is mango season in Chinatown and we have been gorging ourselves on them. I think I am actually hitting a point where I'm starting to get tired of them...at least, plain. Shhh, don't tell anyone--I know that's blasphemous.

Birthday cake for me!

It was just what I wanted. Light, creamy, tart, fruity and easy! Now I'm going to ignore the mess in my kitchen for a while and enjoy this.

(Recipe for the yogurt cake has been reproduced many times online, so go bake one yourself!)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fridge cleaning time!

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I woke up late this morning with every intention of cleaning up the apartment. I planned on mopping the bathroom floor and cleaning the tub. I was even planning on sweeping the living room floor and then, if I was reeeeally feeling motivated....taking the recycling out!

Well, I am a master procrastinator, so I have done none of those things (although I did clean the bathroom sink!). Instead, I have been chatting online with Jack, napping occasionally, and weighing whether I should go to the zoo, the aquarium, or shopping tomorrow. Anyway, I finally started to feel like a complete slug, so I decided that it was fridge cleaning day and THAT is how I came to make some quick and easy apple turnovers, since I unearthed both a sheet of frozen puff pastry and a slightly-past-its-prime apple in my cleaning efforts.

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This is so easy that you really don't even need a recipe, but I diced up a peeled apple, sauteed it in a tablespoon of butter and brown sugar, and added some lemon zest and juice, until I was happy with the sweet vs. sourness ratio. I then let it cool while the oven preheated and cut my puff pastry sheet into 3 inch squares (one apple gave me 4 3 inch turnovers). Place a spoonful of filling on each square, fold over into a triangle, and seal. (I don't know why but my seals never hold...see above photo. Drat.) Total time? Maybe 20 minutes, including baking time.

And the result of chatting with Jack while I was making these? He made some too! Go check 'em out here!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why I Am REALLY LUCKY

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Why am I lucky? Because I have awesome friends who bring me awesome gifts from LA.....

Macaron formation

Macarons from Paulette! I got an entire dozen (erm, I maaaay have eaten one or two before I took this picture), handcarried all the way back from LA, because I have super amazing friends. The flavors from left to right, starting from the front: caramel, coffee, chocolate, passionfruit, jasmine tea, violet, (ummm cannot identify the pink one), pistachio, and sweet wedding almond. My favorites are caramel and coffee, so far, but I haven't tried them all yet.

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How can you resist? They are so lovely and colorful--not to mention DELICIOUS.

jasmine tea macaron

A closeup of the jasmine tea. I wish it tasted a bit more tea-ey, but the texture of these is so good. I would say they are still a tiny, tiny step down Laduree...but only a really tiny step down.

Thanks Todd! I owe you some more choco. :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tintin and the Giant Brownie

Giant Dessert Land?!

In the Tintin story, "The Shooting Star," Tintin ends up on meteorite island which makes everything grow super large....giant mushrooms, giant spiders, EEK. Well if he had had giant brownies, maybe he would have tried to set up camp. Especially if he also had a giant bottle of milk. (Snowy is probably wondering where his giant bone and giant whiskey are.)

Noooo I'm just kidding. It's just that chocolate baked items are hard to photograph in an interesting way (I mean, they're just BROWN), so I figured I would recruit some of the toys we have sitting around the place. Actually, the brownies were baked in mini-muffin pans, and that milk bottle is a mini milk bottle that a pudding I got at a Japanese market came in...it's about 3 inches tall, to give you some perspective!

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This is my current favorite brownie recipe, and it's pretty standard except that you melt your butter and then cook it with the sugar before blending it with other ingredients. This is supposed to help give your brownies a shiny crust, although I've never managed to get that sort of crackly crust on the top. I bake them in mini muffin pans because I really like the edges of brownies the best...and I also can't find my square one. Oh well!

Fudge brownies
from King Arthur Flour
8 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
5/8 cup unsweetened cocoa, dutch-process
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso
1.5 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease an 8x8" pan, or a mini muffin tin (this recipe makes 24). Melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the sugar. Return the pan to the heat and stir until hot and shiny, but not bubbling or boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside. Combine the eggs, cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso, and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir until combined and smooth. Stir in the butter and sugar mixture until smooth, then stir the flour in. You will have a fairly thick batter, but it should be of a dropping consistency. Pour into your pan or scoop into muffin tins. Bake for about 30 minutes for the pan, and about 15 for the muffin tins, until set, and a skewer inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool on a rack, then enjoy with a glass of milk...or tea...or coffee......or just by itself.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chocolate Financiers for a Birthday Boy

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A friend of mine just turned 40, and had I planned further ahead, I would have made a version of his favorite Entenmann's chocolate marshmallow cake. But um, I've never had an Entenmann's chocolate marshmallow cake and the Duane Reade by me had none so I couldn't try it to duplicate it.

But actually it's probably better; I don't know if I would have been able to live up to Entenmann's. :)

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Instead, I made up a batch of chocolate financiers, using a variation on this recipe. Basically I added 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (my favorite is the Double Dutch Dark Cocoa from the Baker's Catalogue) and 2 teaspoons of espresso powder to the basic recipe. I sprinkled some of them with cocoa nibs and put chocolate buttons in the center of the others. I always kind of think that chocolate baked goods are pretty boring looking if they don't have frosting or something like that, so powdered sugar to the rescue! (Also, cocoa nibs--so yummy.)

Well, happy birthday T-san! You weren't supposed to eat them all in one sitting, but I'll take that as a compliment...and maybe I'll make you some more in exchange for macarons from LA. :)