Saturday, December 29, 2012

See You in 2013

Just wanted to take a moment and say thank you to everyone for following my blog. I hope your holiday season has been full of good company and food. I hope 2012 has been full of growth and that you're looking forward to 2013. Onwards and upwards.

What's pictured above? In the foreground is a bowl of you fan, literally "oily rice" in Chinese. It's made with sticky rice, and is a staple of Taiwanese potlucks and dinner gatherings. I followed this recipe loosely, for this, my first attempt. But I think it needs considerably more soy sauce; it was fairly bland. When I've had it at family/friend gatherings, it's always been a lot darker (more soy sauce). I'll include the pork next time. Cilantro garnish is a great addition. Also including the little dried shrimp (not mentioned in this recipe) is great, too, if you're not allergic. Recipes for you fan are difficult to find online. I'll come back with my own when I've refined one.

And in the background? Just some Hainanese chicken and sauce for it. Recipes abound online. I didn't bother with the rice--was making you fan, after all.

See you next year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kale Chips

Crispy and full of fiber, baked kale chips are a great snack or hors d'oeuvre--and a healthy alternative to potato chips.

Making them is actually quite simple; once cleaned and cut, you just have to toss them in a little oil and salt and pop them in the oven for twenty minutes. Of course, you can always add more or other flavorings. I like a little cayenne pepper or paprika and adding garlic cloves to the roasting pan.

One thing to note, though, is about whether you need to eat the chips immediately lest they go soggy, as I've seen recipes warn. I haven't found this to be an issue, but maybe it depends on how you do things. In any case, I've found this recipe to work perfectly. The differences are (1) I tear the kale into bite-sized pieces by hand since it's not too much slower than using a knife and results in more natural looking pieces (this isn't important), and (2) I only use a half bunch of kale (and halve the oil to match) since I want to make sure I'm not overcrowding the kale and only have so much space/pans. Maybe I could fit more kale in each pan without problem, though. And the more kale you have to work through, the more time savings cutting with a knife will yield.

Kale Chips

1/2 bunch kale
1 TBS olive oil
Sea salt
Cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
  2. Tear kale leaves into bite-sized pieces (discard the ribs). Wash and drain thoroughly in a colander (spin dry in a salad spinner if you have one), then lay out on paper towels or cooling racks to dry completely (up to 1 hour on the safe side).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, toss kale with olive oil, salt to taste, and cayenne pepper (if desired). To ensure an even coating of oil, toss kale with your hands. Lay out leaves in baking pans, allowing space between the leaves so they bake in dry heat. Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes.
  4. Gently use a flat spatula to loosen the leaves from the pan; it doesn't take much pressure. Serve immediately or allow to cool completely before refrigerating in sealable container.
[update: a friend of mine reminded me of a point I neglected to note: with all its folds and wrinkles, you need to toss the kale with your hands to make sure it's all covered with oil. ]

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

Probably my favorite pie, but let's be real here, pumpkin-anything is pretty great.

One of the things you miss out on when you can't have dairy is the great majority of desserts. Remove gluten and it's exponentially harder to find desserts (and anything) you can have in restaurants and other food establishments. So, it's great to be able to have a dessert that's not sorbet or fresh fruit--especially a holiday mainstay like pumpkin pie. But, you do still have to make the crust yourself.

On the plus side, this gluten-free pie crust recipe over at King Arthur Flour is really excellent--crumbly and short. A simple substitution of Earth Balance for the butter makes it dairy-free, as well.

As for the filling, pumpkin pie is an example of silken tofu's being a godsend for dairy allergy sufferers. It subs in perfectly in the pie filling. It's also a yogurt and sour cream alternative (with other ingredients). Just make sure to press the tofu beforehand to get rid of all the excess fluid (you should always press tofu before cooking with it).

Before baking

Crust shielded to prevent burning. I just improvised it but there are better ways to make a foil crust shield.

The pie really came out great. Make sure to start the baking hot (425F) before turning down the temperature later, to prevent the crust from turning out soggy. The only thing is that I wish I'd rolled the crust out a little thinner so that I would have had enough crust at the top to fold or crimp.

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

King Arthur Flour has an excellent gluten-free pie crust recipe: Just substitute out the butter for Earth Balance (or other vegan butter). As for the flour, you could make your own mix or use a pre-made mix, such as from King Arthur. I use a mix from Denise Jardin’s book, The Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free Kitchen, with rice flour, potato flour (not starch), sorghum flour, and tapioca starch (also called flour).

9” pie tin
oil or cooking spray for greasing pie tin

1 can (16 oz.) pumpkin purée
12 oz. silken tofu, pressed and food-processed or blended until smooth
10 TBS brown sugar
2 TBS maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1.    Make crust according to recipe linked above.
2.    Pre-heat oven to 425F.
3.    Combine all filling ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.
4.    Pour filling onto the crust in the pie tin and spread out to fill the tin, smoothing out the top for a flat surface. Shield the crust with aluminum foil so it doesn’t burn while baking.
5.    Bake at 425F on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Then turn oven down to 350F, put pie on middle rack, and bake until done, about another 40 minutes. Look for the filling surface and crust to have browned and set. Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack before refrigerating to chill.

[edit: slight tweaks to the recipe; I'd originally typed up the recipe from what I could remember, until I found my sheet of notes.]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rumblings: Tonkotsu Stock Trial

Oh yeah, that happened. It's just so beautiful.

I finally tried making tonkotsu* stock, which, as I've mentioned before, is a pain. Or is it? It certainly takes a really long time for the bones to give up all their delicious innards (10-15 hours of simmering). But Marc Matsumoto and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, whose recipes I referenced for this trial, probably make it more complicated than it really needs to be. They're going for their own idealized tonkotsu stocks, very rich and complexly flavored.

After this trial, though I came across this recipe, which references this very simple tonkotsu stock approach (and also mentions Matsumoto's). And it helped clarify for me how simple tonkotsu stock really is. At it's very base, it's like the pork version of sullung tang, the Korean beef bone stock. Except that lots more ingredients are added to the pork stock foundation, whereas with sullung tang it's basically the beef stock and salt. And maybe a couple other garnishes.

Anyway, I'm working out what to add for my own ideal tonkotsu soup (sadly, no ramen noodles for me, as they're wheat based). Here are some good things to include: ideally chashu braising broth or alternatively soy sauce, mirin, white pepper, sesame paste...I'll do a proper write-up when I settle things more. The chopped up, braised fatback is pretty key for a rich soup, though. But too much, or too thick a stock, and it's overboard, too thick and sticky.

Remember how I mentioned a gentle simmer for clear stock? Well, with tonkotsu (and sullung tang) you actually want a thick, "milky"** stock, so you don't need to simmer gently.

Hmm, looks like a mess, huh? Well, all those ingredients get strained out. Also, I should have par-boiled and/or cleaned the bones more at the start if I wanted a lighter-colored soup. No biggy just making it for myself, though.

Oh, right. After shooting the pic at the top, I realized maybe I should show the noodles (quinoa and corn based) in the bowl since it was a noodle soup, after all...but now the egg isn't as pretty. Ah well.

*By the way, do you sometimes try to order "tonkatsu ramen"? Well, lemme just tell you that you're ordering fried breaded pork cutlet ramen, in that case. Tonkotsu, with an "O", literally means pork (ton) bone (kotsu). Hense tonkotsu ramen is pork bone ramen. Tonkatsu, with an "A", means pork cutlet (katsu being katsuretsu--cutlet--shortened). I don't deny, though, that fried breaded pork cutlet ramen sounds awesome.

**[edit] Agh, I added quotation marks because it's bothersome when I see "milky" or "creamy" used to describe foods in menus since I don't know whether there is literally some form of milk in it or not. There isn't milk coming out of the bones (I wouldn't be making it otherwise), so I'll try to remember to add the quotes when using the adjective figuratively.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Technique Tips: Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I don't know about you, but I loves me some sweet potato fries.

Making them's a whole other thing, though. I'm writing about baked sweet potato fries, in particular, since I don't like to deep-fry much; too much hassle and wasted oil for me. But with baking it is very difficult to get a nice crisp texture like restaurants do with deep-frying. Recipes abound on the Internet, so do a search and take a look at people's various approaches. I had varying levels of success...or results anyway, with recipes I tried.

After a number of varying attempts over the past year-and-a-half (very occasional), I'm concluding that you can't get the same result through baking as deep-frying, but that you can get a decent result, at least.

So without further ado, my observations, followed by a photo-roll of phfails (with notes):

1. DON'T CROWD the baking pan
This is very important. If you try to fit too many sweet potato fries together, they end up steaming in moist air instead of baking in dry air, resulting in mushy fries. And not just "in one layer", but give your fries breathing room. On a related note--

2. Try baking on wire racks
This allows air to circulate underneath the fries, which helps avoid steaming your fries in their self-released moisture.

3. Cutting thicker fries helps
The problem with baking thinner cut sweet potato fries (like with their deep-fried counterparts) is that their tips burn more easily--before they're done. The other benefit of thicker fries is that it's easier flipping and spacing the fries in the middle of baking. Still annoying going individually, though. You could mass flip thinner fries with a spatula if you don't use wire racks and don't care about making sure they've all been flipped to the opposite side.

4. Corn starch?
A viewer suggested on this page that dusting your sweet potato fries with corn starch helps make them more crispy. I haven't tried it, but supposedly it works. You might want to give that a shot. When next I make a batch, I'll try it out if I remember.


Above, way too crowded, leading to mushy fries, below:

Didn't crowd but thin cut fries mean quick burning.

Tried with parchment paper as this page suggests, but don't think it made much of a difference. Maybe it's marginally less prone to steaming compared to aluminum foil? Not bad, but their thinness meant they weren't able to crisp enough along their surfaces before burning started.

These are cut 1/4"-3/8" thick--too thin in my opinion. The ones pictured at the top of this post are more like 1/2"-5/8" thick.

What's My Recipe? Much the same as others:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Cut sweet potatoes into fries, 1/2"-5/8" thick, leaving skin on if desired.
  3. Toss in oil and salt (and other seasonings as desired) to taste and spread on wire racks placed in baking pan.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes on one side, flip fries and bake for about another 15 minutes on the other side, until golden brown.
  5. I like mixing Sriracha and mayonnaise for my dipping sauce.
Good luck!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Technique Tips for Soup

I should have thought of this sooner: if you have a tea ball, you can use it to hold seeds and herbs for easy removal when making soups.

Above, I've (temporarily) removed the chain that hangs over the lip of the mug and filled my tea ball with green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, and cloves. Granted, you may want a bigger tea ball for larger batches of soup than my single-serving one in the photo. But for the Thai oxtail soup recipe I was following, this worked out fine.

The other tip I wanted to relate was that if you're aiming for a clear soup and have bone-simmering involved, keep the heat low and simmer gently. When the water boils, knocking the bones about, the soup turns out cloudy.

And below's the final result (with me customarily forgetting the final garnish, celery leaves this time, before shooting). Recipe was good, but I think a touch sweet. Probably a little too much cinnamon.