Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Fresh Take - Wasabi Salmon Tartare

Like most children, I had an instinctive mistrust of raw meat and fish. Even the idea of rare meat was unappealing to me: I liked my steaks well done - almost charred, in fact. And even though I had never tried raw fish, I just knew it would be cold, slimy and chewy.

Since that time, I have more than gotten past my prejudice. Once I had gotten my first bite of steak tartare (complete with seasonings and a raw egg yolk), I couldn't get enough of it: I could eat it every week. Perhaps it's the Belgian blood in my veins.

As for raw fish, I was confronted to it when my parents and I moved to Tokyo, when I was 11 years old. There are certainly ways to avoid eating sushi in Japan - but eventually, as you watch everyone else order it on a daily basis, you begin to feel a bit silly. So I finally gave the uncooked fish a try, first in sushi rolls, and eventually on its own, sashimi-style. And so, I discovered that it wasn't nearly as repulsive as I had imagined: in fact, it was subtle, refreshing... and not chewy at all.

We had been eating a lot of meat lately, and I was in the mood for something fishy. Given the hot, muggy weather, it seemed like the perfect time to turn to a light and refreshing dish that I truly love, but have rarely made at home: salmon tartare.

Pretty, but bland

However, the first attempt wasn't really satisfying. With lemon zest, coriander, red onion, capers, and olive oil, it was definitely missing something. I was reluctant to add lemon juice or tabasco, because it cooks the fish; I didn't want to add mayonnaise either, because I wanted to keep this dish light. A sprinkling of Espelette pepper addded a slight kick, but it was far from enough.

A couple of days later, having flipped through my Tartares & Carpaccios cookbook (that's right: nothing but raw goodness in that book!), I tried again, this time substituting pickles for the capers, and adding yogurt and wasabi to the mix. The increased depth of flavour was remarkable, even though the result was somewhat less photogenic. There's a reason wasabi always accompanies sushi!

Tartares absorb flavour a lot, and my wasabi was on the mild side, so I used it quite liberally. If you are more sensitive to spices, you might want to use a smaller dose at first.

Second time's a charm!

Wasabi Salmon Tartare
(inspired from Tartares & Carpaccios)

Serves 2

300-350g (10-12 oz) fresh salmon fillet
3 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
3 tbsp red onion, minced
3 tbsp crunchy pickles, minced (preferrably dill- and/or coriander-flavoured)
2 tbsp plain yogurt (I used non-fat)
2 tsp mild wasabi
The zest of a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the salmon in the freezer for 15 minutes: this hardens it and makes it easier to cut. Using a sharp knife, skin the fillet and chop it into very small pieces.

In a small bowl, combine the wasabi and yogurt. In a larger bowl, put the salmon and delicately incorporate all the other ingredients. Divide the mixture in two and tightly pack the portions into ramekins. Refrigerate for 5 minutes before unmolding onto a plate. Serve with crostoni.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' June Challenge: Bakewell Tart... er... Pudding

Are you ready for this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge? Ready or not, here it comes!

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I have never quite been able to sort out my feelings about the word "pudding". In my early years, it only evoked "chocolate pudding", or some other sort of cream. Then I discovered what remains one of my favourite animated films ever, Astérix et Cléopâtre, which is truly a French classic (I have friends who grew up on various continents, and we are all familiar with this cartoon). In one of the most memorable scenes, the villain and his sidekick decide to make arsenic pudding (and they sing a pretty catchy tune while making, too); the result didn't look like a cream at all, but rather like a cake. That's how I discovered that there are several kinds of pudding in this world. But both my parents, who have travelled in England, have always seemed to have a sincere loathing of plum pudding; and so, despite never having eaten cake-like pudding myself, I've always thought of it as something undesirable.

As a result, I was a little wary when I saw this month's challenge: Bakewell Tart... er... Pudding. The title alone was confusing. Was I going to have to make plum pudding? In the middle of summer? But after reading the recipe and browsing the DB forums, I discovered that "pudding" can also refer to any kind of dessert in Britain. Then, on closer inspection, I realized that this month's recipe was really very similar to something I had eaten many times in Belgium: tarte à la frangipane. Now that I was willing to make!

You can find all the information you want on the history of this classic English dessert at The Daring Kitchen, or on Jasmine's blog, or on Annemarie's blog. I myself have decided to refer to it as a tart, because... well, as I've made clear, I have issues with the word "pudding". However, I have no issues with this dessert!

The Bakewell Tart is basically a pie crust, filled with a thin layer of jam or custard, and topped with frangipane. I had made shortcrust pastry many times before, but had had some bad luck with it recently, with various recipes: sometimes it had come out too dry, or too hard. I have to say, though, this pastry recipe is a keeper: I made it twice, and it came out perfectly crispy every time!

But because I was nervous to begin with, I made 10 cm (4 inch) tartlets and 5 cm (2 inch) mini-tartlets, which are easier to bake evenly (and easier to share). I also used every trick in the book to avoid having problems: I folded the dough over the edge of the pie mold (to keep it from shrinking in the oven), I pricked the bottom with a fork, and I scattered almond powder over it before adding the filling (this helps absorb moisture and prevents the crust from getting soggy).

We had free range concerning the choice of the filling. For my first batch of tartlets, I used fresh raspberries and blueberries and cooked them separately with sugar. For the second batch, I made a quick lemon curd, and topped the tarts with lemon-flavoured icing. I hadn't iced anything in ages, and I had never tried to make patterns before... which I guess is evident from my pictures. But at least I got to use my icing syringe for the first time ever!

I had never made frangipane before, and was surprised at how easy it was. It was basically like making a pound cake, but with almond powder instead of flour. I had a little bit of trouble spreading the frangipane over my second batch of tartlets, because I had over-filled them with very liquid lemon curd, and so the layers got blended a little. Fortunately, since they are the same colour, you can't really tell. :-)

I really enjoyed making these Bakewell Tarts - and eating them! I liked that they were not too sweet, and I loved the different textures in every bite: the crispy pastry, the gooey jam, and the light, spongy frangipane. It's definitely a crowd pleaser. In fact, I was supposed to take my second batch over to a dinner party last week. Unfortunately, that was the night I got sick and had to go to the emergency room, and so my friends never got to taste the Bakewell Tartlets. My in-laws did, however - and they loved them!

Many thanks to Jasmine and Annemarie for this great challenge!

Adapted Challenge Recipe:
Bakewell Tartlets (raspberry, blueberry and lemon)

Makes eight 10 cm (4 inch) tartlets, or twenty 5 cm (2 inch) mini-tartlets

For the sweet shortcrust pastry
225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

For the frangipane
125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

For the raspberry filling (fills half a batch)
250ml (1 cup) fresh raspberries
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch

For the blueberry filling (fills half a batch)
250ml (1 cup) fresh blueberries
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch

For the lemon curd (fills a full batch)
6 eggs
200ml (3/4 cup) lemon juice (4-6 large lemons)
200g (1 1/4 cup) icing sugar
125g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, diced

For the lemon icing
(Adapted from Susannah Blake's Cupcakes)
2 tsbp lemon juice
100g (3/4 cup) icing sugar

To make the pastry:
Sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Add in the cold butter, diced (or grated). Working quickly, use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour, until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract and incorporate it into the flour mixture. Add in the water slowly, putting just enough to obtain a barely sticky, cohesive dough. Form dough into a ball, cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (longer is better).

To make the fruit filling:
Put your selected fruit into a small pan and combine with the sugar and cornstarch. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often until fruit loses its consistence and juice. Raise heat to medium-heat and continue cooking and stirring about 10 minutes, or until your fruit has reached your desired thickness (in this case, I kept it fairly liquid).

To make the lemon curd:
Whisk the eggs, lemon juice, and sugar together in a saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and whisk constantly until the mixture is thick enough that you can make lasting traces in it with your whisk. Remove from heat, add the diced butter and continue whisking until butter is melted.

To make the lemon icing:
Put the lemon juice in a bowl and gradually sift in the sugar, stirring with a spoon until the sugar is completely blended. You want to end up with a thick mixture.

To make the frangipane:
Beat the soft butter with the sugar until fluffy and light yellow. Add in the eggs, one at a time (the mixture will curdle: this is normal). Mix in the almond extract, then incorporate the almond powder and the flour. (Note: the instructions suggested using a stand mixer, but I did it by hand and it was fine)

To assemble and bake the tartlets:
Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.

Roll out your pastry dough to desired thickness (the recipe suggested 5 mm, but it seemed too thick to me, so I rolled it down to 2 mm). Cut out portions of the dough to fit your chosen mold: the dough should be large enough to comfortably cover your entire mold, with enough leftover to cover the top of the edges. (Note: do not attempt to stretch the dough to fit the mold: this will create too much gluten and harden the dough.)

When you are done with your first series of tartlets, gather the remaining scraps of dough and reform them into a large ball. Roll it out again and repeat the process as many times as necessary. (Note: the dough will get harder the more you manipulate it. As a result, the last tartlets you make may have a different texture - mine was still good, but keep this in mind if you want all your tartlets to be absolutely perfect: you might want to make fewer in that case.)

As you make the tartlets, prick the bottoms repeatedly with a fork and place the shells in the freezer for 15 minutes (or in the fridge for longer).

When you are ready, take the tart shells out and sprinkle the bottoms with almond powder. Spread a thin layer of fruit filling or curd on the bottom of the shells.

Top the tartlets with a thick layer of frangipane. Don't be afraid to cover the entire shell: the frangipane will rise, but it won't overflow.

Place the tarts on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20-thirty minutes, depending on the size of your tarts. The tarts are ready when the frangipane is puffed and golden brown. Let cool.

Once cooled, carefully break off the excess edges of the pastry and unmold the tartlets.

To ice the tartlets (lemon curd version):
Put the icing in a syringe and make your desired patterns. Alternatively, if you prefer very sweet tartlets, cover the entire top of the tartlets. Let set in the fridge.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Temporary Forbidden Fruit - Ham and Cheese Thumbprints

Last night, we were supposed to attend a barbecue, the first one this year. We were looking forward to seeing old friends we hadn't seen in ages. Our host had promised to make us Romanian meatballs, and I had prepared a summery dessert.

Unfortunately, Laurent and I ended up spending the summer solstice in the nearest ER. Without going into details, let's just say I had a sudden health issue: it was minor, but I needed to have it treated quickly, before it got worse.

Treatment at the ER is notoriously slow, especially if your case isn't overly serious. We left four hours after coming in, and considered ourselves lucky. We were also starving, having spent the evening barbecue-free.

We had some homemade pesto left in the fridge, so Laurent offered to make his go-to mushroom pasta recipe, and went to buy mushrooms at the all-night grocery store, while I went to the all-night pharmacy to get my antiobiotics (we live in a supremely convenient neighbourhood). Unfortunately, I was informed that I was under no circumstances to consume dairy during the treatment.

....Which meant no pesto, because of the parmesan. I tried to compensate its absence with herbs and olive oil, but damn, Laurent's plate smelled good!

It's only been a day, and I'm already realizing that I'd be a pathetic vegan, and a miserable lactose intolerant. For me, breakfast is either cereal with milk, or yogurt with fruit and granola, or whole wheat toast with light cream cheese and jam - all forbidden over the next few days. Lunch often (but not always) includes some form of light cheese. Dinner is more versatile, but of course I now find myself craving pizza and the like. I think I'd have an easier time being a vegetarian, by far.

Well, since I can't eat dairy, I might as well blog about it. It was Laurent's birthday last Friday, and one of the things I made for him was a variation on these Ham and Gruyere Thumbprints by Martha Stewart. I first discovered these a while back, when Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice made them. Ivonne wasn't too taken with the recipe, but I decided to give it a try, and rather liked these little morsels. It's funny, but it took me a while to realize that they were basically a variation on gougères, a.k.a. savoury choux. It was only once I had made the dough that I realized: "Hey, wait a minute, this is choux pastry!" It was all the more funny that I had made choux before.

I normally shape these thumbprints with a star-tipped pastry bag, as instructed. But this time, I accidentally inserted the wrong tip, and had already poured all the dough into the bag by the time I realized it. Since my pastry bag is very basic and doesn't include a nozzle, I just made due with the large round tip I had. The result was rather less pretty, but still tasty.

I also made a switch when it came to the cheese. We had some peppered Gouda that needed to be used, and which worked wonderfully when grated and mixed into the dough. However, I knew from experience not to use it as the filling for the thumbprints: for some reason, this cheese never melts, no matter how long you bake it in the oven. So I used smoked Jarlsberg instead.

These appetizers freeze quite well, so I like to make a large batch, to always have some on hand. Of course, I can't have any now... But I'll be able to embrace dairy again soon! In the meantime, enjoy the recipe here! And like I said, don't hesitate to play around with the cheese, or even with the ham: gougères are very versatile.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Comfort Food - Beef Rendang

Laurent was sick last week, and now it's my turn. Summer is just too inconsistent this year: we had wonderful sunshine and warmth on Wednesday, and now the weather is gray and rainy once again.

We had planned to attend a couple of shows at Montreal's Fringe Festival on Thursday. We had agreed to leave early and grab a quick pre-show bite in the Plateau (the Fringe area, and my former neighbourhood), at Rôtisserie Coco Rico, an old favourite of mine: their delicious Portuguese chicken has allowed me to survive during a good part of my years as an undergrad student.

But two hours before we were supposed to leave, I began to feel the telltale chills and sinus pressure. By 6 pm, I knew that the only way I was going to get through the evening was to forgo the Portuguese chicken (as much as I love it) in favour of something even more comforting: Vietnamese pho (soupe tonkinoise in French).

So we went to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, where I had a huge, piping hot bowl of chicken noodle soup. It made me feel better instantly, and gave me the energy to go to the Fringe after all.

It feels a bit strange, writing about the virtues of hot soup when everyone else (or so it seems) is blogging about cherries, ice cream and cold drinks. But I'll get there too, eventually... as soon as I get over this cold and the sun decides to show itself for good.

On the bright side, the cool-ish weather means I get to use my Dutch oven a little longer. My father-in-law gave it to me for Christmas, and I love it! It's my baby:

As you may have guessed, I have a special fondness for braised dishes. I love anything that simmers and soaks up flavours for hours, then comes out so tender that it practically dissolves in one's mouth. So, while I would love to wear my sundresses a little more often, I'm also quite happy to continue making comfort food for as long as necessary.

And so, I give you beef rendang. It is an Indonesian curry I made last week. Normally, it should be made in a wok, but I felt more like taking my Dutch oven out for a spin (the wok gets plenty of use anyway). This particular combination of spices was especially good. Usually, I make fast, sauteed curries, but taking the time to simmer the meat was definitely worth it.

A word of caution: this dish was very spicy. I can usually handle spicy meals pretty well, but this tested my limits. It wasn't so much that I had used too many chili peppers, but they had dissolved completely into the sauce during the simmering, and so the entire dish was hot and fiery, rather than containing pockets of heat. If you can't handle spicy recipes, it might be better to add the peppers in towards the end, or replace them with dried chili flakes.

Beef Rendang
Adapted from Le Grand Livre du Wok

Serves 3-4

1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
400 ml (1 3/4 cups) coconut milk
1/4 tsp ground cloves
500 g chuck beef, cut into 2,5 cm (1 inch) cubes
2 fresh small red chili peppers, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, cut lengthwise and crushed
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
Lime wedges, for serving

Put the coriander, fennel and cumin in a small frying pan and dry-cook them over high heat for about 1 minute, until they become fragrant. Do not let them brown. Crush them with a pestle, or in a spice grinder. Reserve.

Using a hand blender, puree the onion and garlic with a little bit of water, to obtain a smooth paste. Reserve.

Pour half the coconut milk in a wok or Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half.

Add the clove powder, coriander, fennel and cumin. Combine and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the meat and brown for 2 minutes. Add the onion-garlic mixture, the chili peppers, lemon juice, lemongrass, sugar, salt and remaining coconut milk. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 2 hours, until the liquid is reduced, the mixture has thickened, and the meat is very tender. Stir occasionally, and add water if you feel the liquid is drying up too fast (the meat should not stick at any point). Towards the end, uncover and cook over medium-high heat, until most of the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a very thick sauce. Serve with lime wedges and your preferred rice.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daring Cooks June Challenge: Chinese Dumplings / Potstickers

Today's the day? What day, you say? The Second Ever Daring Cooks Challenge Reveal Day!

... It's not a catchy title, but it gets the job done.

This month's challenge was hosted by the amazing Jen from use real butter. She challenged us to make Chinese dumplings / potstickers (a.k.a. "gyoza" in Japanese). As usual, the original recipe and instructions can be found at The Daring Kitchen, and you can also find some very useful tips and pictures on Jen's blog.

I... loved, loved, LOVED this challenge! Thanks to my mother, and the fact that I lived in Japan, I have been exposed to many types of Asian cuisine, but, oddly enough, I had never had gyoza before. I'd had various types of dim sum and rolls, and I know I've seen gyoza / potstickers around, but I don't think I had ever tried them, let alone made them myself.

Sucked to be me, I guess. I was missing out!

Uncooked dumplings

Jen had provided us with two kinds of filling (pork and shrimp), but we had room to play around on that level. The only requirement was to make the wrappers ourselves. It turned out to be a fairly simple, flexible process, involving only flour, water, and a little kneading. I had to play around with the water / flour ratio, but the dough was very forgiving.

The most time-consuming part was the making of the wrappers themselves, which involved a lot of rolling. Then, once they were filled, they needed to be pleated, which is definitely an acquired skill. But once I got the hang of it, it was actually very relaxing! I stuck to the proposed pleating method, but some other Daring Cooks created their own shapes, such as purses. Très chic!

Pork-filled dumpling

I made these dumplings twice, a week apart. The first time, I used the original pork filling recipe, which was very good: it reminded me of the xiu mai at my regular dim sum place. But I thought the dumplings might also taste good with a stronger, spicier filling. So, the second time around, I improvised a filling with ground beef, cumin, coriander seeds, szechuan pepper, and ginger. I went heavy on the spices, but because none of them are particularly overwhelming (except the szechuan pepper, which I went easier with), the result was aromatic, but not over-the-top, especially thanks to the coriander seeds, which added a fresh note. I recommend using whole cumin, coriander, and szechuan pepper, and crushing them with a pestle for extra aroma and flavour. It was definitely a hit!

Steamed dumplings

We were also given several options for the cooking method. I opted for steaming, because I hadn't used my steaming basket in ages. I also tried the potsticker method, which is a combination of pan-frying and steaming: you start off by frying the dumplings in a little bit of oil, then you toss a half-cup of water into the pan, cover quickly, and wait for the water to evaporate. The result is a dumpling that is crunchy on the bottom and steamed on top.

It was very funny to watch Laurent's reaction when I insisted that we try the potsticker method. The second I told him it involved throwing water onto hot oil, he immediately declared: "I refuse!". He was afraid of the fire hazard. The thing is, in his head, frying always involves a lot of oil, so the risk was magnified in his mind. I had to coax him into it, insisting that several people from The Daring Kitchen had already tried it, and that they were all still alive. The potsticker method is a little intimidating at first, to be sure, but I think it was my favourite, at least for this recipe: the texture is unbeatable. In fact, Laurent was completely sold on this method after the first bite! This project allowed me to rediscover the joys of steaming, which is also a great method, but I think frying suits this dish best.

Potstickers - delicious!

So, a very big thanks to Jen for allowing me to discover something completely new and oh so fun to make!

It's really best if you head on over to Jen's blog for precise instructions and pictures (especially regarding pleating), but here's a quick run-through of what I did:

Chinese Dumplings (Gyoza)

Makes 35-40 dumplings

For the dough:
250g (2 cups)all-purpose flour
12o ml (1/2 cup) warm water
flour for worksurface

For the pork filling:
250g (9 oz) ground pork
2 large napa cabbage leaves, minced
2 stalks green onions, minced
4 shitake mushrooms, minced
60 ml (1/4 cup canned bamboo shoots, drained and minced
30 ml (1/8 cup) ginger root, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp corn starch

For the beef filling:
300g (11 oz) extra-lean ground beef
2 stalks green onions, minced
120 ml (1/2 cup) canned bamboo shoots, drained and minced
60 ml (1/4 cup) ginger root, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds, crushed
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds, crushed
1 tsp szechuan pepper, crushed
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil

Dipping sauce:
2 parts soy sauce
1 part black vinegar
1 tsp (or more, depending on how much sauce you made) chili paste or garlic chili paste
A few drops of sesame oil

To make the dipping sauce:
Put all the ingredients together in a small bowl and mix.

To make the filling:
(Note: I sometimes find it easier to mince certain ingredients with scissors, rather than a knife. I did that for most of the ingredients in the recipe, except the meats, the ginger, the carrot, and the seeds: I just put them in a small container and cut away.) Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until you obtain a homogenous mixture (I followed Jen's advice and used my hands). Cover and reserve in the fridge.

Ingredients for the pork filling

To make the dough:
Put the flour in a bowl. Pour in half the water and stir with a wooden spoon. Gradually add in the rest of the water, stirring all the while, until you get a firm dough that is barely sticky. You may need to add a little more water. If you overdo it and it gets too wet, add more flour.

Knead the dough about 20 strokes. Cover with a wet towel or paper cloth, and let rest for 15 minutes.

To form the dumplings:
Form a flattened dome with the dough and cut it into four strips. Take one strip and cover the rest of the unused dough with the wet cloth. Shape the strip into a long cylinder, about 2,5 cm (1 inch) thick (use a lightly floured surface if the dough is too sticky). Cut the cylinder into 2 cm (3/4 inch) pieces. Roll each piece into a ball (I found it easier to make circular wrappers with this technique). On a floured surface, flatten each piece with a rolling pin to obtain a thin circle, about the size of your palm.

Cutting up the dough for the individual wrappers

Put a heaped teaspoonful of filling in the center of your wrapper. Fold the wrapper like a taco, and pinch the edges together. Make pleats in order to finish sealing the wrapper (see here for pictures). Place finished dumplings on a lightly floured plate.

Finished dumplings, awaiting their fate

To freeze the dumplings:
Place dumplings on a lightly floured baking sheet, without them touching each other, and put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, until they are hardened. Put in a ziploc bag. When ready to use them, just take them out and cook them them directly, allowing for a bit more cooking time.

To steam the dumplings:
Line a steaming basket with napa cabbage leaves, or greased parchment paper. Arrange dumplings in it, avoiding having them touch. Put water in a pan or wok and bring it to a boil (the recipient must be of the right size in order to avoid having the basket come into direct contact with the water). Put the lid on the basket, place the basket over the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes. (Be careful when you open the lid, as the steam will flow out and will be very hot)

My steaming basket in action (notice the price tag is still on)

To pan-fry the dumplings (potsticker method):
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large skillet and cook the dumplings upright over high heat, until the bottoms are nicely browned. Working quickly, throw 1/2 cup of water into the pan and immediately put a lid over the skillet (the water will sizzle and spatter, but don't panic). Wait until all the water has evaporated or been absorbed, before uncovering and reducing the heat to medium low. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Almost ready!

Serve the dumplings with the dipping sauce - and, if so inclined, a nice bottle of warm sake!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I did it again! - Butter Dipped Cloverleaf Rolls

I made bread again! I had no idea how addictive bread baking could be... Good thing I was never a fan of the Atkins diet!

Between this project and the one I did Tuesday evening (which I will post about some other day), I have spent the last two days covered in various types of flour. I felt like a kid playing in a sandbox.

I once again chose a recipe from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking. I think I'm going to stop giving the recipes from this book (unless I adapt them). Why? Because I want to try every single one of them: every time I turn a page, I think "Oooh, that looks good". Obviously I'm not going to make them all in a row, but I've already borrowed extensively from this book, and will doubtless continue to do so. So, out of fairness, I'll stick to pictures and comments - and recommend that you check out this book for yourself.

This time around, I chose to make "2511 Rolls". They are called that because they were apparently downloaded 2511 in a single hour on Marcy's website. I believe they were originally called "Butter Dipped Cloverleaf Rolls", and you can purchase the recipe here.

These adorable little rolls were a delight to make. They contain buttermilk, which I can never find here. Fortunately, I recently learnt that you can replace buttermilk with sour milk, which you can make by adding one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. It seemed to work, although the rolls came out tasting surprisingly sweet; I am not sure if this was intended, or if I just screwed up my sour milk, but I personally loved it. It reminded me of the "petits pains au lait" my mother used to pack in my lunch box: sweet little buns that disappeared in a flash.

The dough is quick to make, with no sponge or starter. After the first rise, the dough is divided into little balls, which are dunked into butter and placed into buttered muffin tins, in groups of three. This is how you obtain the "cloverleaf" shape.

All buttered up and ready to be popped in the oven

The rolls tasted buttery, to be sure, but without being heavy. They came out looking all crispy and golden, but remained soft and fluffy. I've always loved soft breads. It was a long time before I learnt to appreciate crusty, chewy, rustic breads: I was the type of child who liked her sandwiches with the crust cut off. Even today, I like to joke about my "American childhood" and my enduring "soft spot" for squeezable bread that practically melts on the tongue.

But I guess I'll try a crusty bread next time... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Seasonless Comfort Food - Corn and Crab Soup

Why would anyone serve piping hot soup in June? Well, it stands to reason when the weather is gray and chilly, as it has tended to be on and off lately, and when your boyfriend is sick, as mine was last week.

Laurent rarely gets the sniffles. In fact, he usually manages to get through the entire Canadian winter without catching a single cold. But, apparently, this year's cool summer start got the better of him, and he stayed home from work for the first time since I've known him.

Around here, lunch is typically a very simple affair. Laurent usually takes leftovers to work, or I make him a sandwich to go. I work from home, and just make myself some sort of sandwich or wrap and a salad when lunchtime rolls around. But last week, I decided to make him something more comforting, and settled on my mother's corn and crab soup.

This recipe is one of the first ones my mother ever gave me. She was born in Vietnam, and this simple, hearty soup incorporates many Asian ingredients: ginger root, coriander, soy sauce, and the all-important sesame oil. I never realized what a difference in flavour sesame oil makes until I made this soup myself. The trick is to not add too much, no matter how much you may be tempted to, or else the taste becomes bitter and overwhelming.

What I like about this soup, aside from its its wonderful sweet-and-salty taste, is that it is very quick and easy to make, with ingredients that I usually always have on hand. And it's full of good protein: ideal for fighting off a cold.

So, even though I feel sad that summer isn't quite here yet, I console myself with the thought that it means we can eat cool-weather comfort food for a little while longer. The time for crisp, cold salads and iced desserts will be here soon enough.

My Mother's Corn and Crab Soup

Serves 2-3

One 540ml (19 fl oz) can of corn, drained
One 110g (4 oz) can of crab, drained
750ml (3 cups) light chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten with a bit of water and some pepper
Sesame oil to taste (about 1 tsp)
Pepper to taste
Chopped coriander to decorate
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

In a heavy saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the corn and simmer over medium high heat for 10 minutes. Add the crab, onion, garlic, ginger and soy sauce and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Lower heat and incorporate the egg, stirring constantly. Continue stirring for 2 minutes. Season with sesame oil and pepper. Divide into bowls, decorate with coriander leaves ad sprinkle with Cayenne pepper if desired. Serve hot.

(Note: I like chunky soups, but if you prefer smooth, blended soups, you can run the soup through a hand mixer before transfering it to the bowls. You can also add more chicken broth or water if you feel it is too thick.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Punishment From the Kitchen Gods - Chocolate-Violet Macarons

The kitchen gods were angry at me this weekend.

It began when I spotted a puddle of green goo at the foot of the fridge, and discovered that one of the milk cartons inside (we always keep at least two) was discreetly leaking. Since we couldn't figure out which one it was, we threw both of them out. Did anyone else know that bad milk turns green?

Then, I discovered to my horror that, when I had stored a jar of homemade bolognese sauce in the freezer the previous evening, I hadn't shut the door properly... Fortunately, most of the things we had frozen were already cooked, and at any rate they hadn't had time to completely thaw. Just to be on the safe side, we threw out a half-empty carton of ice cream (which really wasn't that good and had been there since last summer) and some frozen microwavable dinners (which dated from the time when I didn't cook much - meaning, a long, long time ago).

And, while we were exploring the fridge and freezer, we opened the meat drawer and discovered some very old cheese which was in dire need of a trip to the trash can - we immediately obliged.

OK, so I haven't been keeping a watchful eye on the contents of my fridge... The kitchen gods had a right to be upset, I admit (so much food wasted!), but did they really have to curse my macarons so that they would look like this:

It looks like an exploded mutant, doesn't it?

Thankfully, not all the macarons came out looking quite as bad, but they were still far from perfect:

Macarons have been trendy for quite some time now, but they are still one of my favourite sweets to bake. Amongst the first treats I ever made were a batch of rough chocolate macarons (with no meringue, just egg whites mixed directly into the dry ingredients). I eventually moved on to the more advanced type, made with meringue and left out to dry so as to obtain that lovely smooth crust, and then sandwiched together with a rich, sweet filling. Either way, I loved their chewy texture and the distinct taste of almond powder.

I swear I have made better-looking macarons than the ones featured today - in fact, if I may direct your attention to my blog's banner? Actually, macarons are practically the only thing I can make better than my father-in-law - who, as I have already mentioned, is a truly amazing cook. He can make anything with astounding ease, and it nearly always tastes delicious. I, on the other hand, am still hit-or-miss a lot of the time. But I'm usually more successful than this when it comes to macarons...

I have a vague inkling of what went wrong. The syrup for the meringue was too cool and liquid, for one thing. I use an Italian-style meringue (made by boiling sugar with water and pouring it over egg whites as they are being whipped), as opposed to a French one (which is made by pouring plain sugar over the eggs); this method has always seemed to work better in my eyes, but it's a little more complicated than the other one, and I think I should try to go French one more time.

Anyways, because of this, my meringue was too liquid, so I tried to compensate by putting less meringue into the batter, which resulted in a grainy paste. But it had been a while since I had made macarons. Everytime I try to make them after a long period, they come out wonky. I should make them more often.

And, since I'm listing everything that went wrong with this batch, let me add that the colour was completely off (they were supposed to be peach-coloured), and the violet syrup I incorporated into the chocolate ganache filling was barely noticeable.

But, when all is said and done, a macaron is still a delicious treat, no matter how bad it looks. Rest assured that these little "beauties" will be gobbled up with pleasure till the very last one. But I'll save the recipe for when I get them right.