Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yuan Xiao/Tang Yuan | 元宵/湯圓

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2011's were full of learning, growth, and progress, and may your 2012's be even better.

These are yuan xiao, balls of glutinous rice* (sticky rice) flour with a sweet filling, one of my favorite dishes as a child. These ones I filled with sweet black sesame paste, a common variation. Other fillings include sweet red bean paste, peanut paste, or no paste at all, though in that case they tend to be smaller and called tang yuan (at least, that's how the distinctions run in my family). Yuan xiao is a traditional Chinese food to eat at new year's and the winter solstice. Actually, "yuan xiao", itself means "first evening".

You can have yuan xiao by themselves, without soup, or just with the hot water in which they were boiled, but I like them with sweet ginger soup, which you prepare separately. Don't worry, it's very simple and the flavors complement each other well. I followed this recipe from Rasa Malaysia.

yuan xiao, ready to freeze or cook

boiling until they float

ginger syrup


Bitten. Tender and delicious! I stayed safe with the thickness of the balls for fear of their breaking while cooking. Looks like I could have rolled them a touch thinner and been okay.

*Fear not, you of gluten allergies; glutinous rice does not contain gluten! It's just called "glutinous" because it's sticky.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Blasphemous Burgers

green curry hamburger

To a hamburger purist, what I made for this post must be an egregious blasphemy; I made a green curry hamburger and put it on slices of whole wheat bread instead of a round roll of some sort. Yup, the bread is from when I tried making bread from scratch. Hey, I was leaving town in about a week and had the bread on hand. Might as well. And you have to break with convention to discover and learn.

This was also my first time making my own hamburgers. I even "ground" the meat myself! Well, I don't have a meat grinder, but a food processor works well. I do wish I had a larger one than my little 4 cup Cuisinart, though. Maybe a 7 cup one. The "grinding" could have been a little more even, with the small bowl size getting in the way. I feel much safer grinding my own beef chuck rather than buying pre-ground beef...mad-cow fears.

The dimples in the middles of the patties are so that when they cook up, the end result is a flat patty rather than a domed one.

So how did my experiment turn out? Well, first of all, the hamburgers themselves were great. I did make a plain rendition (well, the beef was salted and peppered before being made into patties), and one basted with Worcestershire sauce as it cooked. Both were excellent. As for the green curry version, though...well it was okay. I think I put too much lime juice in my green curry (from scratch also) paste, though, as it was a little sour. (I used this recipe for green curry paste.) Hmm. I may mess with it some more next time. Maybe try a different recipe for green curry paste; I haven't given up on the concept yet.

This post isn't really infused with holiday spirit, but happy holidays, nonetheless, everyone!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bread From Scratch

Baking bread is another use for Dutch ovens, and one of the reasons why I wanted to get one. As I've mentioned before, I've very little baking experience, but I do like good bread a lot. I'm not too familiar with all that goes into to the making of different breads, but people seem to loathe kneading dough since no-knead bread made such a splash once popularized. So that's what I was looking at to start off with. I ended up going for the "Almost No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread" recipe that Cook's Illustrated has. It's "almost no-knead" because they only knead it 10-15 times between the first and second rise, I guess to develop the gluten a little bit and apparently "strengthen the dough" a little. Does it rise more this way?

first rise

second rise, in frying pan for shape, though it didn't expand so far as to really need it.

Well, all in all it turned out not bad. It was flavorful and substantial, and had a nice crust that was crisp with some heft. Really, though, I didn't know what to expect or to be looking for, so it could be that things were supposed to turn out differently.

At the least, I can say that their recipe was pretty far off for the baking time, for me. CI's recipe called for 30 minutes baking with the lid on and then 20-30 minutes with the lid off, until the crust was a deep brown. Well, at 30 minutes, my crust was already a deep brown. I was concerned, so I turned off the heat at the 40 minute mark (10 minutes into the second, lid-off phase), and then took the bread out at 50 minutes. The results are above, a very deep brown--about a Burnt Sienna color, going by standard paint colors. This was too far, though, which I know because the bottom was burnt. So maybe the crust would have been a little more toward crisp on a scale of crisp to hard. Oh, I also switched the ratio from 2:1 all-purpose:whole wheat to 1:2, instead. Would that have affected the baking? Anyway, I cut off the bottom of the slices and it tasted good. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Toy and Tang Cu Take Two

I have a new toy: an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven! This one's 7.5 quarts, from Lodge (much more affordable than Le Creuset, and the 6 qt. Lodge gets a highly recommended from Cook's Illustrated with a caveat about being a touch small), and it weighs a ton. I'd have to register my guns if I were to use it regularly. I swapped out the plastic handle that comes with the lid for a metal one from Le Creuset that fits perfectly, so I can safely use the lid in the oven at high heats without the handle's melting (the lid-handle that comes with Le Creuset's Dutch, excuse me, "French" Oven is also plastic, and you have to buy the metal replacement separately; seems like they're all just trying to make a little extra money off of us).

I was originally excited to be using it for whole chickens, and while that can still be the case, this Dutch oven's too low for poaching whole chickens (for Hainan Chicken and Bai qie ji "White Cut Chicken"). The wide shape is actually a good thing, as it's more convenient for braising, deep frying, and I imagine for baking bread, too. Looks like I'm getting myself a 12-qt stockpot, too, probably early next year. In any case, it'll still be great to see how braising turns out with it, as well as potentially messing around with breads, maybe deep-frying.

[--side note--]
How do you get Hainan and Bai Qie Chicken's skin to be nice and "firm"? I did the ice water bath when I tried both, but the skin was still rather weak and insubstantial, tearing easily. Maybe I'll try refrigerating before cutting next time, to make sure it cools enough.
[--/side note--]

As for the second part of the title, I tried using the more readily available pork shoulder, instead of short-cut pork ribs, for tang cu pai gu (sweet and sour pork). The higher fat content helps it not to dry out over the long cook time as the sauce reduces to a glaze, whereas pork loin with its low fat content dries out quickly. It worked okay! But I think I'll play around with it some more, increasing the parboiling time beforehand so that its more tender, hopefully. Unless its the second-stage cooking with little liquid that keeps it from becoming very tender. I suppose I could also increase the water to cover the meat in the second stage and take longer to reduce it. Hmm.


Hah, I realize it looks like I just eat meat and carbs. I actually make sure to have a good mix of meat, carbs, vegetables, and fruit. I just tend to do very simple preparations for my vegetables, or eat them raw, depending on what it is. I find that while meats need good preparation (except for sushi, but I don't feel comfortable eating raw fish that I've picked up just at a grocery store, not having the expertise), vegetables naturally have a lot of flavor already, and that extra seasoning on top of that is not really necessary. So that's why I don't often post about my vegetables and fruit. Maybe if I were vegetarian I'd really want to vary my preparation more.

Anyway, returning to the pork, because I didn't use pork ribs, this can't be called tang cu pai gu (sweet and sour pork spare ribs or pork chops), as pai gu refers to pork spare ribs or pork chops. Thus, I'm calling this tang cu zhu rou (sweet and sour pork) instead.

This time I parboiled the meat for 15 minutes. The fatty parts were great, mostly the meat was good, though one or two pieces were a little tough. So I said to parboil 30 minutes in my recipe below, as that's what I'll try next time. I may increase the amount of vinegar a little, too.

Tang Cu Zhu Rou 糖醋豬肉

2 lbs pork shoulder, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 TBS rice wine
1 TBS ketchup
2 TBS vinegar
3 TBS sugar
4 TBS soy sauce
5 TBS water

  1. Fill large pot with 2-3 quarts water and bring to boil.
  2. Add pork to boiling water and parboil for 30 minutes, skimming scum that rises.
  3. Remove and drain pork before combining with the rest of the ingredients in a large, wide-mouthed Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot (can use the same one as before but pour out the water) and bringing to boil over high heat (or medium-high if using an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven; follow the care instructions).
  4. Once the sauce boils, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all sides of the meat cook evenly in the sauce. If the meat dries out and starts to burn, add water 1 TBS at a time.
  5. The pork is ready when the sauce has reduced and thickened to a sticky glaze coating the meat.

Another method, rather than parboiling, is to add a 1/2-cup of water to the sauces and just simmer for a long time. I recently made another batch with the correct pork short-ribs, and had to simmer for 1.5 hours or so before the meat was tender, though the sauce thickened at the right time, too.

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Daigakuimo 大学芋 Glazed Sweet Potatoes

    Mmm, these are fried sweet potato chunks, about to be glazed.

    Ahh, sweet potatoes are so great, whether they're steamed, baked, fried, or mashed. This post is about a Japanese sweet potato dish called daigakuimo, meaning "university potato". You know, I didn't come across them while I was over there. I came across the dish through Marc Matsumoto's blog post on them, and since it was fall, it seemed a good time to try them out.

    And hey, you can deep fry sweet potatoes? Because pretty much all the results that come up when you search "sweet potato fries" are of the baked variety, I'd assumed there was some problem with frying them. You have to actually search for "deep fried" sweet potatoes to find recipes for the fried variety. Hmm, why are they mostly baked instead of fried?

    Well, I made several attempts and think that an approach between Matsumoto's and this one from Setsuko Yoshizuka on is best.

    first attempt: didn't fry long enough--instructions could have been clearer. Skin could have crisped more. Still tasty.

    Daigakuimo 大学芋

    1 lb (satsumaimo*) sweet potatoes, cut into one-inch chunks
    1/3 cup sugar
    1 tsp soy sauce
    2 Tbsp water
    1-2 tsp sesame seeds
    Vegetable oil for frying

    1. Add the sweet potatoes to a wok or pot large enough to fit all of them in one layer. Cover the potatoes in vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Fry until sweet potato chunks all float in the oil and are brown, with a crunchy shell. Flip them while they’re frying to brown on all sides.
    2. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
    3. Mix water, sugar, and soy sauce in a large skillet.
    4. Simmer over medium heat until the liquid begins to thicken, but isn’t too thick yet.
    5. Quickly stir fried sweet potatoes into the sugar sauce and allow sauce to thicken further.
    6. Remove from heat and sprinkle sesame seeds over sweet potatoes.

    *so it should be the Japanese satsumaimo that is used in daigakuimo, but of course I don't have easy access to those.

    Yoshizuka's traditional version is better for flavor and Matsumoto's simpler for execution. Also, as Matsumoto notes, starting the sweet potatoes in cold oil allows the insides to heat through, while we also don't need to worry about their absorbing much oil since they aren't very porous.

    Delicious! Tin foil and tupperware because these were on their way to a potluck.

    Following Matsumoto's recipe, which uses honey instead of the sugar/soy sauce mixture; also good.

    Hmm, I still need to get around to trying to get baked sweet potatoes right. I've made several attempts before, all ending in varying degrees of failure. But I think I know what's been wrong, ha.