Saturday, February 23, 2013

Vegetables, Simply

With my vegetables, I've lately been trying to keep things simple. Just stir-frying with some garlic and salt (a common approach with kong xin cai). Vegetables already have a lot of flavor on their own (hell, we eat them raw in Western cuisine a lot), and stir-frying with a little salt helps to bring out the flavor and make them tender.

I find that this works great with the mildly sweet Napa cabbage. Bok choy, on the other hand has a stronger flavor and a little bitterness, making a little more flavoring desirable, in my opinion. I suppose that's why often a little soy sauce, and maybe oyster sauce or whatever else, is added besides garlic.

Or, maybe you've got some lu rou braising soup on hand you can toss the vegetables with. (I subscribe to the pork belly version rather than the ground pork version, which makes it easier to separate soup from meat.) So flexible and tasty an ingredient to have--but of course only after you've made a batch.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Crisp Dumpling Membrane

I have been wondering how to make that crisp connective "membrane" between dumplings forever! And Serious Eats' Food Lab recently posted an answer here. Awesome. But--I tried adding cornstarch before and it totally just resulted in a gooey mess. Maybe I should have waited longer. I'll have to give it another shot some day, when either I make more gluten-free dumplings or I decide to deal with the wheat... Or maybe I'll try pan-frying those sticky rice dumplings I made...could be bad.

Anyone try pan-frying sticky rice dumplings before? Or, wait a sec, I definitely had some fried sticky rice dumplings on my last trip to Taiwan (which were excellent). But they were deep-fried. And at the same place I had some pan-fried xia jiao (a.k.a. har gao), but those are made with wheat starch, instead. Still, similarly gooey; it might work okay with sticky rice dumplings, then.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Savory Rice Dumplings 元宵 Yuan Xiao

Happy year of the snake! As I mentioned yesterday, I've got a yuan xiao recipe for you. These ones are savory, though there are sweet ones, too, mostly commonly filled with black sesame paste, and smaller, unfilled ones.

After tasting this batch of dumplings and the subsequent meatball soup I made with the extra pork filling I had, I learned something great about dumplings: their skins seal in flavor! The filling in the dumplings was very flavorful and juicy. However, the meatballs in the soup I made with the extra materials were much less flavorful and juicy. All the delicious juices, fat, and seasoning in the meat must have just dispersed into the soup as it cooked. With the dumplings, however, the skins keep the juices and seasoning right in with the meat filling, leading it to end up very flavorful and moist. Makes it worth the effort to make the dough and wrap the dumplings. Alright, actually, that and the fact that you can freeze a bunch for easy cooking later on make it worth the effort.

Hmm, I also read mention here and there of an alternate method of making these rice dumplings. Apparently southern China favors hand folding the dumpling balls while northern China uses a kind of pan shaking method. Supposedly you can put balls of the meat filling in a tray of sticky rice flour, sprinkle water on, and shake the tray until the balls form. I'll have to research that and try it out some time. Could be handy. Also sounds like some wasted rice flour, though.

新年快樂!萬事如意!(Happy New Year! May all your hopes be fulfilled!)

Savory Rice Dumplings 元宵 Yuan Xiao

1/2 lb. ground pork
2 dried black mushrooms/shiitake, soaked several hours or overnight
1 TBS dried shrimp, soaked 30 minutes and minced
1 stalk green onion, minced
1 tsp grated ginger
1-1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1-1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

4 cups sticky rice flour
~2 cups boiling water

1-1/2 quarts chicken stock (ideally homemade, but we’re all busy people)
additional chopped green onion for garnish
  1. Squeeze dry the soaked mushrooms (reserve soaking liquid), slice off the stems, and mince the caps.
  2. Place ground pork in a large mixing bowl and mix in 2 TBS mushroom soaking liquid thoroughly into the pork. Add in minced mushrooms, shrimp, and green onions, grated ginger, soy sauces, sesame oil, and white pepper, and mix all ingredients thoroughly together. Set aside.
  3. Place rice flour in a large heatproof mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in about 1-1/2 cups boiling (or just hot—it’s not strictly necessary for the water to be hot enough to cook the rice flour, but makes it a little easier to work with—once it’s cooled a bit, that is) water and stir until well combined, adding water a tablespoon at a time as needed to form a dough. The dough should be smooth and a little sticky, with a play dough-like consistency, if a little stretchier. As the water is hot, I use a dough scraper to mix the dough. You could also use a wooden spatula or other tool. Cover the dough with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out while you’re making the dumplings.
  4. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, using your fingers, pull off a small ball of dough (about a 1-inch diameter ball) and re-cover the dough while you work. Flatten the ball of dough and work it with your fingers into a ~3-inch disc, leaving the center thicker than the outer areas. You want to do this so that the dumpling doesn’t break so easily there. (I make my discs slightly elongated so that the geometry of pulling and folding the disc into a ball works out better, without so much pleating.)
  5. Spoon about a teaspoon of the pork mixture onto the center of the disc and pull the outer areas up around the filling, bringing the sides together, pleating and folding as necessary, to completely enclose the filling in a ball. Roll the dumpling in your palms to smooth out the ball. Set the dumpling on a baking tray lined with wax paper and repeat steps 3 and 4 to keep making dumplings until you’re out of dough or filling. (When you’re finished, you can put this tray directly in the freezer to freeze the dumplings before bagging them, or just cook them immediately—or both.)
  6. In a medium saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Add dumplings in a single layer and return the soup to a boil. Gently stir the dumplings occasionally, until they have floated to the surface and subsequently plumped up (several minutes). Transfer dumplings to individual bowls with a little broth, garnishing with chopped green onions (if you prefer a clearer broth, boil the dumplings separately from your chicken stock for serving). Repeat as needed with remaining dumplings. Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Froot Loops Fabriqué

Apologies for the slightly extended absence. I'd meant to do a Lunar New Year post (Happy Belated Lunar New Year!), but fell ill shortly afterward and have been recovering. No worries, I'm mostly back to good health. I do have a post on savory yuan xiao coming up, though.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share with y'all the discovery of the century. It turns out, if you eat Nature Valley Oats 'n' Honey granola with Celestial Lemon Zinger tea--it tastes like freakin' Froot Loops! I'm not kidding or exaggerating! Take a bite's worth of granola in your mouth, chew it a bit to break down the large chunk, then add a sip of tea, and boom: suddenly you'll realize it tastes like you've got Froot Loops in your mouth. You only need a bit of tea per bite of granola, else the Lemon Zinger overwhelms the granola and you don't get Froot Loops.

Anyway, try it. :) Unless you didn't like Froot Loops as a kid. :(

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Taiwanese Oily Rice 油飯 You Fan

Ahh yeah, that's the stuff. I'm back with my own recipe for you fan (the "oily rice" I mentioned previously).

In my recipe, I simmer the pork in soy sauce to precook and season the pork as well as to make a pork broth for cooking and flavoring the sticky rice. If you keep the pork fat that renders in the broth for steaming the rice, then you won't need to add oil to the rice.

While pork belly is always delicious, I actually like how this works with country style rib, since it cooks to tenderness more quickly.

Garnishing with chopped cilantro is highly recommended.

You Fan 油飯 (Oily Rice)

1 lb. country style rib (or other slow-cooking, fatty cut, like pork belly, shoulder/Boston butt)
1 quart water
6 TBS light soy sauce
2 TBS dark soy sauce (or just 1/2 cup light soy sauce if you don't have dark)
2 TBS brown sugar
2 star anise (16 points)
3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
1-inch piece ginger, sliced into coins

3 rice-cooker-cups sticky rice

6 dried black mushrooms/shiitake, soaked in water several hours or ideally overnight
(optional) dried shrimp, soaked 30 minutes in warm water
peanut oil as needed

chopped cilantro
  1. Combine water, light and dark soy sauce, brown sugar, and star anise in a medium (about 3-quart) sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add pork (slice in half to fit if needed) and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pork to cool completely. Ideally, you would prepare this step the day before so that the pork and broth could be refrigerated.
  2. Put 3 rice-cooker-cups sticky rice in rice-cooker pot and add soy sauce pork broth (throw out the ginger, garlic, and star anise) more than the 3 cup mark for sticky rice—about halfway to the 4 cup mark (this is because we will be adding the other ingredients in to cook with the rice). Allow to soak at least 30 minutes, longer if you have time.
  3. While the sticky rice soaks, prep the other ingredients (mushrooms should already be done soaking at this point; you can set them to soak overnight when you pre-cook the pork, too). Slice the rehydrated mushrooms into thin slices and the cooled pork into large one- to two-bite chunks.
  4. Layer the mushrooms and pork over the sticky rice and if needed, add more pork broth to half-cover the topmost layer of ingredients.
  5. Set rice cooker to sticky rice mode and let it do its thing. When it’s finished, let the rice stand for 5 minutes before opening the rice cooker to fluff and mix the ingredients together. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro.
Alternate Approach
You can also lightly brown the other ingredients before adding them to the sticky rice to steam. I’d recommend this particularly if you want to use the dried shrimp, as it will help bring out the shrimp’s flavor more. Do this while the rice soaks (between steps 3 and 4 above).
  1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the pork to the skillet in one layer and brown on both sides. Remove pork from skillet and set aside, leaving what pork fat has rendered in the skillet.
  2. Add a little more peanut or vegetable oil if necessary. Add garlic to skillet and stir-fry until fragrant. Add mushrooms (and pre-soaked dried shrimp if using) and stir-fry until lightly browned. Remove from heat and add all ingredients, including pork, to the rice-cooker pot, on top of the sticky rice with broth.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Conveying Creative Cooking

I've been trying to think about how to write about my cooking in a way that helps people to approach their own cooking with more flexibility and creativity. Although we all start out following recipes somewhat blindly, as we accumulate more experience--especially if we pay attention to technique and flavor combinations--we become more able to see what threads underlie and connect different recipes. We can see that, oh, carrots take longer to become tender than, say, cabbage, and therefore we want to start sautéing them earlier or parboiling them first in whatever dish we're putting together. Or that browning onions first in this soup develops its flavor and gives the end soup more depth, therefore we might want to try adding some onion-browning before we make this other soup or stew we're playing with.

Just looking at recipes as they are commonly written these days, however, we only get walked through the steps and little of the underlying reasoning and theory. What would be great is if we could have a combination of the two--the steps and the theory. Now, visually, this is difficult to present together on a page; there's just too much information to convey, and maybe you just want to follow the instructions to get food on the table. America's Test Kitchen walks through their testing and technique in long write-ups before they present their final recipes. However, this can be rather cumbersome, and each technique point isn't presented linked to those parts in the recipe.

Ideally, we'd have some kind of interactive recipe where you could click/touch parts to link to more information on technique/theory. But, of course, that would require coding and development skills.

Anyway, first things first: I know I'm no chef, but I'd like to get a clearer idea of how to write about and structure things to better convey the more "theoretical" thinking underlying cooking more creatively. There must exist some writing by real cooks and chefs on this. My question to you is whether you have any recommendations on books/writings to look at. Tom Colicchio's book, Think Like a Chef, looks like an example of something I should take a look at. Any others?