Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy New Year!


Well, dear readers, gong xi fa cai and happy new year! February 14th marked the start of the Year of the Tiger (the metal Tiger, specifically) and like all good holidays, this one involved a lot of delicious food. (It was also Valentine's Day, I know, but the extent of my celebrating that involved looking at all the pink-hued treats on Foodgawker and Tastespotting!)


We had a very low key CNY dinner at home this year of hot pot (steamboat), and a non-traditional one at that. Of course we had all the usual suspects of fish balls and fish cakes, tofu, cabbage and other leafy vegetables, but my dad also added zucchini, carrots, and tomatoes. Different...but good! There were also some shirataki noodle bundles, but of course, the main event is the thinly sliced meat (pork and beef this time). Hot pot is a very communal way of eating and is good fun as everyone is gathered around the pot, busy dipping their slices of meat into the bubbling soup. Swish it around for a few seconds, and it's ready to eat!


And here is the most important component of hot pots (at our house, at least)--sa cha jiang (or as the bottle says, barbecue sauce). I can't explain what this tastes like--salty, savory, sure, but much more complex than that. This is the main ingredient in the sauce that the meat and other ingredients are dipped in before eating; everyone mixes up their own sauce to their taste. Mine is relatively simple and just includes a good dollop of this, a splash of soy sauce, a bit of sesame oil, and a bit of the soup. Some people would insist on fermented tofu, but I am just not a fermented tofu kinda girl.


Sorry for the er, half-eaten fishball photo but I wanted to show you the inside of my faaaavorite kind of fishball, the fuchow type! It's got a little, juicy pork filling that is just amazingly delicious. More so dipped in sauce! Mmm. I wish I had one right now. But it's not all savory foods, we also had to have some dessert!


To me, there is no sweet that is more traditional for Chinese New Year than nian gao. It's a sticky rice cake and there are some old stories about how you offer this to the Kitchen God so that you glue his mouth shut so he can't report anything bad about you or your family (hmph! there would be nothing bad to report for me!). It's also a bit of a play on words--it means new year's cake, but it also means "year higher"--as in, every year, you become more prosperous, more fortunate, etc. etc. But none of that is important--this is delicious and so easy to make. I am providing a simple recipe for coconut nian gao, although this is not quite as traditional as the good old brown sugar kind, which, sadly, I don't know how to make. Ready for the recipe?


Take one can of coconut milk (shake well!), one can of evaporated milk (shake well), 4 eggs, 1/2 to one cup of sugar, and one package of glutinous rice flour (available at any Chinese grocery). Whisk together until smooth. Stir in one cup of shredded, sweetened coconut. Pour into a greased 9x13 inch pan, and sprinkle an additional cup of sweetened coconut over the top. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 50 minutes, or until browned and crusty on top. Easy, no?


Serve in small squares with a cup of tea. Actually, this is more civilized than how I usually eat it, which is to cut a piece off everytime I walk past it. It's chewy and stretchy and coconutty. You can keep this in the fridge if you can't finish it within 3 or 4 days, but you want to give it a quick buzz in the microwave to soften it up in that case.


I mentioned the classic brown sugar nian gao above...well, I didn't make one because I don't know how! Fortunately, my friend gave me a wedge made by her future in-laws--thanks!! I love this kind of nian gao specifically because of what you do with it after you refrigerate it and gets all bricklike--you batter it and fry it! Nian gao fritter!


The batter is very simple--a cup of all purpose flour, combined with an egg and enough milk to make a thick-ish batter. Sorry, I never measure this so I can't be more precise, but hopefully you can see from the photo how thick the batter should be. Dip your slices of nian gao, then pan fry in a little vegetable oil until nicely browned on both sides. The batter will puff up a bit as it fries, and you will feel the nian gao soften up. There's a variation of this where you make a sandwich with thin slices of nian gao and sweet potato, and THEN batter and fry it, but I was feeling lazy.


Drain on paper towels for a few minutes; this both removes the excess oil, and allows the nian gao to cool off a bit which is good. Trust me, this stuff gets and stays hot and since it's sticky, you can give yourself a nasty burn if you bite into it right away.


This isn't the greatest picture, but I just wanted to show the inside of one of these fritters. Hopefully you can see how sticky the nian gao gets.

Well I think this might be my longest post ever--if you made it this far, I congratulate you ;). Gong xi fa cai, xing nian kuai le! I think I'm going to play it safe and eat some more nian gao to ensure luck. And New Yorkers, don't forget--the Chinese New Year parade is tomorrow in Chinatown! Check back here for photos on Monday or Tuesday (I know, I know, the HK posts keep getting pre-empted! Soon!)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

CookieBar NYC (in which I meet Dorie Greenspan!!!)


Okay, I know I said I was going to start posting about my trip but oh my gosh I got to meet Dorie Greenspan!!! Regular readers know of my love for her books so imagine how excited I was when I found out she was going to be running a pop-up cookie shop near my office!!!! (Very excited, obviously!) So, my brother and I made our way over to the Cookie Bar on Tuesday, right around 1:30, and imagine to our dismay, they were sold out for the day! Gah! However, we did have a few minutes to chat with Dorie and The Kid (as she refers to him on her blog) and they were both extremely nice. The next day, bro and I braved the blizzard and got to the Cookie Bar basically right at 11:00 and SCORE, COOKIES.

Because I am a nerd, and this is my equivalent of meeting a movie star, I had brought my camera along, thinking I would just ask if I could have a photo, which they were more than happy to do, but I FORGOT MY MEMORY CARD. ARGH! But do you know how nice they are? So nice that Josh offered up the use of his iPhone for the photo, which I received by email later that day. Gosh. Totally made my day! (And please ignore the fact that I look like crap--it was snowing out!) Anyway, enough gabbling, I know you want to see the cookies:


The teaser shot! My box of "one of everything" (plus an extra chocolate chip that Dorie threw in for coming back).

My haul

And here they all are! You know I took these home so I could take photos of them before I ate them, right? (Actually I haven't finished them--I'm eating them like a quarter of a cookie at a time, lest I defeat my gym-going.) I recognized a couple of these as cookies I've made from Baking (espresso-chocolate shortbread, molasses spice, and sable), but I was really keen to try the World Peace Cookies, more so because they (and all the chocolate ones) were made with Valrhona chocolate. Swank!

World Peace Cookies

And here it is--this is for serious chocolate lovers. It is super rich. Maybe a little too rich for me, actually, and I found myself preferring..

Chocolate Chunkers

the Chocolate Chunkers! Again, very rich and chocolatey, but here cherries and salted cashews provide some contrast. Yum.


These are my second favorite cookies--I love the combination of coconut and lime, which is very refreshing. No small feat for something that most likely contains an ungodly amount of butter!

Our Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am not generally a big fan of chocolate chip cookies (can't remember the last time I made them, actually) so I was surprised that these turned out to be my favorite of the bunch! Maybe it's the hand chopped Valrhona chocolate. Whatever it is, there's a slight salty edge to the dough that's just delicious. I'm glad I got an extra of these.

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookie

Don't you love the way molasses cookies look? I love the crackliness. I love the chewiness but can't help wishing there was some ginger in here. I do love me some chewy ginger cookies.


Sables! So intensely buttery. Barely sweet. Mmmmm. No more words left to describe.

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses

Good old peanut butter cookies! I haven't eaten these in ages either, and I like the fact that there are actual chopped peanuts in these. Crunchy!

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbreads

And last, but definitely not least, espresso-chocolate shortbread! I actually made these for my Christmas cookie boxes, and mine were rolled out thinner so that they baked up darker and crunchier. I also put a lot more espresso in mine because I love coffee.

So, isn't it totally an honor to eat cookies made by my very favorite cookbook author? I am still excited, even more so because they hinted that perhaps a permanent cookie store might be in the works. How great would that be??

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Christmas Cookies-Part 2

Christmas Cookie Box-2009

Before I get to the Hong Kong posts, for completion's sake, here is the second post on the Christmas cookie boxes I gave out this year; the first post is here.


So, let's just get straight into it, starting with the espresso chocolate shortbreads! Shortbreads are one of my favorite kinds of cookie, because they are so easily adaptable. They are also really great for making ahead; I sometimes make rolls of shortbread dough in a couple of different flavors and stick them in the freezer for those days when I need something quick (in fact, I think I will go do that after I finish writing this. Lots of birthdays coming up.) This is, of course, a Dorie Greenspan recipe, although I doubled the amount of espresso that I added to the dough, and next time, I might add even more. I really like coffee, what can I say? The shaping on this is ingenious, really--you put the dough into a gallon ziploc bag, roll it out inside the bag, and refrigerate. Then you cut the bag off of your slab of dough and slice into rectangles or squares. For someone like me, who can't be bothered to use a ruler, this results in cookies of all different, maybe next time I'll just make it into a log :)

Next, brownies! I did not take a photo of the individual brownie pieces, but please believe me: these brownies are much better than the ones you make out of the box. And as an avowed boxed-mix-brownie-lover, that's saying a lot. Please try these, just make sure you use a good, dark cocoa powder.


And finally, linzer cookies. I think these have been included in my cookie boxes every since I've been doing them, and for good reason! They are nutty, sweet with vanilla (but tempered by the tart jam), and are a nice compromise between crisp and crumbly. They are one of my favorite cookies of all time, and I actually have a cutter set that makes a little decorative cutout in the center so you can see the jam. Unfortunately, I was not able to find them until after the cookie season (why did I put them in the coat closet? I have no idea.). But hey, the important thing is that they TASTE good, right?

Recipe for the brownies below! (If you are interested in either of the other two recipes, email me--I'm too lazy to type them up right now.) And thus concludes my posts from 2009. Hong Kong posts are up next!

My Favorite Brownies
2/3 cup cocoa (I use double dutch cocoa from King Arthur)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon espresso powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter or line with parchment an 8 inch square pan (or 9 inch; sometimes I also use a mini muffin pan if I want to make individual portions). Whisk dry ingredients together until combined. Add the eggs, vegetable oil, and water and stir until well combined. This comes together very easily and makes a thick, dropping batter. (I love brownies--so easy. No beating, just stirring.) If you like nuts and chips in your brownies, add them now; about a cup should do. Pour and spread into your prepared pan. For the square pan, bake for about 40 minutes, and then start checking. You don't want to overbake these! Test with a skewer, and when it comes out mostly clean with a few crumbs, they're ready. The mini muffins take about 20 minutes. Cool before cutting into small bars; they are VERY rich! Eat with milk!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back to reality, siiigh


Coming back from vacation is the worst! More so since I was gone for so long (I know, I can't really complain, right?) But anyway, I'm back from my trips to Hong Kong and Taiwan and I am still severely jetlagged (under normal circumstances, there is no way I would be awake at 5:10 in the morning). I'm taking advantage of this time to sort through the hundreds of photos I took, including the one above, which is the view of the Hong Kong skyline from the top of Victoria Peak. I ate so much good food, hardly any of which I took photos of (dark restaurants not being conducive to photography), but one of the highlights was afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel, which, let me tell you, was quite the experience and deserves its own entry.

Soon, anyway :)