Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pasta by Hand

Not bad for my second try, I think! Above-pictured is hand rolled egg pasta. I keep finding myself doing things I thought I'd never have the patience for just months earlier. Though, of course, there are still things that just take a long time and more effort than I can handle.

I've been thinking about making noodles and breads for a little while now. Noodles more than breads because, hey, my heritage is much heavier on rice and noodles than it is on breads, and that's what I grew up with. So how did I come to fresh egg pasta? Well, I recently bought this beast of a book:

That is a normal sized mug and mouse in front of the book, for scale. Damn! And I thought On Food and Cooking, at right, was hefty when I got it. There is so much knowledge and experience contained in The New Best Recipe*, and it's very technique and science focused, so right up my alley.

Anyway, while I stick mostly to East/Southeast Asian cuisines, I do want to mess with non-dairy Western dishes, too. So I was flipping through the pasta section when I found their very simple fresh egg pasta recipe. All you need is a ratio of:

2/3 cup flour
1 egg

plus additional 1/2 teaspoons water as needed. (1 egg's worth is about 1 large-ish portion.) Thank goodness I bought that little Cuisinart food processor last year. I've gotten more use out of it than I ever expected. So yeah, you blend the flour with the beaten egg(s) until the dough comes together. I may try the completely by hand method some day. Maybe.

Knead the dough a couple minutes, until it's smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes to 2 hours before rolling out. They called for using a machine roller and cutter. Well, I wasn't going to buy those, as they are expensive and I don't anticipate making a lot of noodles. I'll buy a roller/cutter eventually. For now, though, I went for the hand rolling route.

Not so bad, right? Got it pretty thin. My first attempt wasn't so good--too thick. But I watched this video and read this blog post, and they (plus my experience from my first attempt) really helped a lot.

So then I rolled it up, cut it into strips and cooked them up. Now I want a large wooden work surface. I'm using an already dull knife and cutting very gently since I don't want to mar the vinyl counter or dull the blade further. I suppose I could just knead and roll on the counter, roll up the flattened dough and then cut on a cutting board, though. Also a large, non-tapered rolling pin would be great. Hell, and while we're at it, how about a small Chinese-style rolling pin, for dumplings? Though those fall into the too-time-consuming category for me.

Freshly made noodles have a nice body and texture to them that you don't get with the dried, manufactured ones. Or maybe that's because they were a bit thicker. Huh, my pasta expanded considerably while cooking. I'll have to cut it more narrowly next time. Though wide noodles are nice, too.

What I'd really like to learn, though, is to make lamian hand-pulled noodles. This is apparently very difficult to learn, and those who do know how are generally secretive about it. Much like with ramen. The particular ingredients and proportions may be critical, too. Hmm, a project for the future.

* [side note]: I have such great regard for libraries and museums; they are grand repositories of our accumulated knowledge and wisdom over the millenia. If we lose our recorded experience, we're left almost back where we started, thousands of years ago. Someone else recently expressed a similar sentiment about data centers, too, which has caused me to include them, too, in this general category of things.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

[un]Frozen Tofu 凍豆腐 Dong Dou Fu

Have you seen tofu like this before? Freezing tofu gives it a great, spongy texture that makes it really excellent for soaking up soup flavors. The tofu above has been frozen, defrosted, and drained. All you have to do is stick your tofu in the freezer (it'll expand when frozen), and then put it in your refrigerator to defrost a day or two in advance of when you want to use it. Try it some time!

I really appreciate a good, simple salmon miso soup, which is what I used my dong dou fu in. Fish is tricky, as always, as it's easy to overcook. Gentle heat makes it so you won't overshoot as easily. I cooked the salmon at just below a boil until it just cooked through (about 4-5 minutes).

Incidentally, you don't want to boil miso, either, as that will destroy some of its flavor; generally you add miso last. I didn't want over cooked fish either, though, so I did both at the same time. Dong dou fu will be fine--I added it earlier on.

On another note, turnips are a decent substitute for daikon!  Daikon's got a bit of a stronger flavor raw, but the turnip seemed to work well in my soup anyway.

Mmm... woops, forgot the wakame seaweed. Oh well, added it for the leftovers.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gong Bao Ji Ding 宮保雞丁 (aka Kung Pao Chicken)

Have you had any Sichuan (Szechuan) cuisine? There's a distinctive type of spiciness in the dishes--a numbing spiciness, 麻辣 mala in Mandarin. This numbing spiciness comes from the Sichuan Peppercorn and can't be substituted for (look for it in your local Chinese/ethnic grocery store). Since learning of Sichuan Peppercorns, I'd been curious to play with them and finally got my hands on a package of them earlier this fall. They really add a unique kick to your dish!

I tried adding them to my mapo doufu and in my two recent attempts at gongbao jiding. The peppercorn shells are what you work with, and indeed, the bag I bought seemed to mostly only have shells with a couple stray seeds that weren't removed. I found that while adding them whole to your dish is okay, the shells are texturally distracting that way, and it'd probably be best to grind them down somewhat. Trying to smash them with the flat of my chef's knife was a little awkward in that the shell fragments would sometimes go flying out sideways. This means I'm thinking of picking up a smallish mortar and pestle...I could use it for grinding other whole spices, too.

For this gongbao jiding, I followed John Sinclair's recipe here at Traditional Chinese Recipes blog. I think he did a good job. I think my dried chilis are smaller than his, though, as I definitely had to use 8 in his 4-8 range, and mine barely needed sectioning into 1" pieces. Maybe one cut. And I definitely had to double the Sichuan Peppercorn amount to 1 tsp. I could even have gone for more. I also handle spiciness pretty well, though.

Another thing is that he's a little vague about some things. The exact proportions of the marinade for the chicken he's vague about because, as he notes in a separate technique page, the precise proportions aren't important. The slurry he also doesn't specify, but generally it's a 1:2 ratio corn starch:water or stock, separate from the chicken stock called for in the recipe. The rendition pictured here was 1 TBS starch with 2 TBS water, which worked pretty well, but I think less slurry would be good, too.

Ah, and of course, I omitted nuts of any sort. Ya know.

[Bonus Explanation]
By the way, the 'K' and 'P' in "kung pao" are actually meant to represent a 'G' and 'B' sound, respectively. It's just that they used the really terrible Wade-Giles system of romanization for Chinese. If you wanted the hard 'K' and 'P' sounds in Wade-Giles, you'd need to add apostrophes after the letters like so: "k'ung" and "p'ao".

--- Wok Update ---

Check it out! The seasoning is really dense in the areas cooked on. Compare to when I first got my wok. While functionally, I don't need the upper rim to have a carbonized seasoning, I may just work at deliberately seasoning it just to make the color uniform..

[update: And now see my wok seasoned all the way to the edges.]

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the rare occasion

On the rare occasion I try baking, but for the most part I stick to cooking. As someone who used to love pastries and still loves good bread, though, baking recipes still catch my eye. Just, now they have to be dairy free, low in sugar, and whole wheat or other grain for me to try them out. Which is why this recipe for sugar-free pumpkin cookies caught my attention. That and pumpkin-everything is great, am I right?

I realize I could probably just sub in whole wheat flours and non-dairy fat substitutes and reduce the sugar for other recipes. But in any case, it's not just for the allergy issues that I favor cooking over baking; rather, making substantive meals just appeals to me more.

I'm definitely not so familiar with baking, though, and don't immediately think of all of what's going on with the details and trade-offs of ingredients in proportions and substituting. For example, the above-linked recipe calls for a lot of pecans. Well, I can't do nuts, so I just dropped them for some more oats and flour--but without adding more oil in to make up for the loss of the nuts' oil. My batch turned out more biscuit-y than cookie-y, but I rather liked them.

There was a lot of pumpkin puree left from the can after making the "cookies", though, so I tried making a pumpkin butter following another recipe... Added a little too much cinnamon and didn't want to add too much sugar to try to take off the bite... ah well, it was okay.