Thursday, December 30, 2010

How the Chef Aced Christmas

So, how was your Christmas?

Mine was pretty great. I did miss my parents, but the cheery atmosphere at my in-laws’ on Christmas Eve was strong enough to lift my spirits. With good food and cool gifts, it was a good time.

But let’s focus on the food. As usual, my father-in-law, a.k.a. Super Chef, had made a thousand different kinds of appetizers.

Puff pastry straws

Parmesan crisp and pesto "lollipops"


There were a lot more, like blue-cheese-and-pear-chutney bites, mushroom duxelle tarts, red pepper croutons, creamy asparagus-and-ham rolls, stuffed cherry tomatoes, and more that I’m forgetting, but the photographs didn’t turn out too well due to lighting conditions. Just use your imagination.

Dinner was *comparatively* simpler. Super Chef not being a fan of turkey, he chose a non-traditional route: meatloaf. However, we’re talking three different kinds of meatloaf: cranberry, kirsch, and truffled foie gras, all served with the best gravy I’ve had all year. And, of course, there were side dishes: potatoes à la dauphine, and broccoli au gratin.

And finally, the bûche (which, as you can tell, was photographed in a completely different environment. So much for visual harmony in this post...). Usually, he makes a cassis-flavoured one, but this year he went for orange liqueur. And when he realized that the bûche was kind of boot-shaped, he decorated it with an Italian theme. I wonder where he got all the tiny Italian flags…

But there’s more to come. Right now, I’m baking for the New Year’s Eve party, using one of my Christmas presents: Nick Malgieri’s Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking. Gotta love the holidays!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Daring Bakers' December Challenge - Christmas Stollen

Sorry about posting this a day late… You know how the holidays get.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

I was curious about what the Holiday-themed December Daring Bakers’ challenge would be. Last year’s gingerbread house challenge was a blast, albeit a lot of work. However, when I caught my first glimpse of this month’s challenge, before properly reading the recipe and ingredients list, my initial reaction was: “Oh no, it looks like fruitcake.” Fruitcake, you may have guessed, is not m favourite holiday treat.

Thankfully, upon closer inspection, the challenge was revealed to not be fruitcake, but stollen, a German bread served for Christmas. Technically, I suppose it is pretty close to fruitcake in spirit, with its dried fruit and nuts. But it’s also crustier, with a less dense dough, closer to bread than to pound cake. At any rate, after reading the full recipe, I was feeling pretty enthusiastic about the whole thing.

I kept close to the recipe we were given, only substituting dried cranberries for raisins. The recipe also called for candied citrus peel, which presented a special kind of dilemma for me. Candied orange peel is one of those things I know how to make, but don’t enjoy making. It’s a hassle to me. In fact, anything to do with cooking or stewing fruit tends to bore me, including making jam. Fortunately, my father-in-law, an expert in the matter, was nice enough to make a batch for me. Lucky me!

After letting the dough rise overnight in the fridge, rolling it to the required thickness turned out to be somewhat a challenge. Rolling the whole thing into a log shape, and then moulding it in a wreath was also a little tricky for me, as the seams refused to fuse together. But all in all, there weren’t too many problems with this challenge.

With its hefty dose of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, the stollen smelled divine in the oven, and it was hard to resist not slicing into it immediately after it was done. But I coated it in melted butter and icing sugar, as required, and waited patiently.

It was good. The dough was very rich, with a lot of butter and eggs, but it didn’t feel too heavy. Despite all the sugar and dried fruit, it was far from cloying. The stollen also toasted beautifully, and made for a delicious, filling breakfast. I ended up freezing half of it, for mornings when I need a little warmth and sweetness.

Happy holidays and happy new year to all the Daring Bakers out there! Thanks to this month’s hostess, Penny, and please take a look at the Daring Kitchen to see the challenge recipe and, and the Daring Bakers' blogroll to admire all the festive stollen that were made this month. Until next time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasonal Cheer - Buttered Rum Meltaways

Only two days until Christmas celebrations begin! As usual, December flew by. However, I’m reasonably on top of things, this year. For one thing, I’m neither travelling, nor having relatives visiting. On the one hand, it's rather sad, as it’s the first Christmas I’ll be spending without my parents: usually, I fly over, and they flew in a couple of years ago. But this year, no one seemed to be able to get away. On the other hand, when I looked at how chaotic the airport situation is in Europe right now, I think we’re all a little relieved that none of us had to go through that this year. Having known my share of delayed flights and missed connections, my heart goes out to all the people who are stranded at the airport.

For the rest, the tree is trimmed, and the gifts are bought, wrapped, and labelled. The big Christmas dinner will be hosted by Laurent’s parents, so all I have to take care of is baking or cooking for the odd pot luck or pre-Christmas party.

These little beauties are destined to a party tonight. Martha Stewart’s buttered rum meltaways. Just the name radiates Chrismas. With cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and a strong dose of dark rum (which, I discovered, is great for baking, but not for drinking), it’s the kind of cookie which I believe can only be appreciated around this time of year. Between the richness of the dough and the thick coating of confectioner’s sugar, these cookies really do melt in your mouth. I hope the people at tonight’s party will agree.

You can find the recipe here. A word to the wise: when the cookies are baking and you open the oven door to rotate the sheets, beware of the cloud of evaporated rum that will float out. I accidentally caught a good whiff – not something I was prepared for at ten in the morning!

Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Taking on the Double Down - Sicilian Sandwich

Today, my friend and fellow blogger Victor of Random Cuisine celebrates his blog’s second anniversary. Happy blogaversary, Victor, keep up the good work and the good cooking!

For this occasion, Victor asked some of us to take part in a very unique challenge: to make our own version of KFC’s infamous Double Down. This much talked-about breadless sandwich consists in two fried chicken filets, surrounding a filling of bacon, two kinds of cheeses, and “secret sauce.” While not quite as humongous as Friendly’s Grilled Cheese Burger Melt (a burger in which the bun has been replaced by two grilled cheese sandwiches), the Double Down is still an impressive piece of decadence.

My first thought after agreeing to take on Victor’s challenge was “How on Earth am I going to make this nutritionally acceptable?” I love me some fried food, but something about eating two stacked fried filets makes my stomach quiver in fear (oddly enough, this does not apply to burgers, as I’ve eaten my share of Bic Macs). So, I tried to think of something that could be stacked, and that wasn’t bread – because, of course, that would just result in a sandwich, and would defeat the purpose.

I finally stumbled on an idea while flipping through Stefano Faita’s Entre Cuisine et Quincaillerie: the Sicilian sandwich. Two thick slices of eggplant, breaded and grilled (or fried), and sandwiched around a slice of prosciutto and melted cheese. It sounded like a worthy Double Down substitute.

I followed the principle of the Double Down and used two different kinds of cheese: parmesan and smoked cacciocavallo. I replaced the bacon with crispy pancetta, and my “secret sauce” was a basil coulis. It was a pretty good combination, and very satisfying.

Thanks for the challenge, Victor, and congrats!

Sicilian Sandwich
Adapted from Stefano Faita’s Entre Cuisine et Quincaillerie
Serves 2

One large eggplant
6 slices of pancetta
Two slices of smoked cacciocavallo cheese
A few shards of parmesan cheese
A big handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF).

Make the coulis: Put the basil, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse until finely shredded. Gradually pour in olive oil, until you obtain a smooth, liquid sauce. Set aside.

Cut four 1 cm (1/2 inch) slices into the eggplant. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil, then coat them in bread crumbs. Heat some more oil in a pan over high heat, and fry the eggplant slices until cooked through and browned on both sides. Remove from heat and reserve.

Fry the pancetta in a pan over high heat, until crispy. Remove from heat and reserve.

Divide the parmesan, cacciocavallo and pancetta in two and place them over two eggplant slices. Drizzle with basil coulis, and complete the sandwiches with the remaining eggplant slices. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until cheese is melted. Drizzle more basil coulis, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daring Cooks December Challenge - Poached Eggs

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

I absolutely loved this month’s Daring Cooks challenge. Poaching is one of my favourite ways of preparing eggs. Often, I serve them for weekend brunch, on top of smoked salmon- or goat cheese-topped English muffins. Sometimes, I make them for dinner. I just love the texture of the firm white, and runny yolk – and it’s just about the healthiest cooking method you can think of.

It took me a really long time to master the poaching technique, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a real failure. The secret really does lie in adding vinegar to the water, which prevents the whites from spreading all over the place. For the rest, it’s really just a question of practicing and getting a feel for it.

However, this challenge still had a lot to teach me, as one of the challenge recipes was eggs Benedict, which I’d never made per se. Somehow, just knowing what hollandaise sauce consists of (mainly egg yolks and a whole lot of butter) made me shy away from making it, even though I’ve had it in restaurants. But part of me has always wanted to give it a shot, and this challenge gave me that extra bit of incentive I needed.

Hollandaise is basically a hot mayonnaise, with butter instead of oil. I’ve always been lucky with homemade mayonnaise, in that it has rarely ever failed on me. Apparently, this luck applied to hollandaise sauce as well: the emulsion thickened and held together without any trouble. I also made English muffins for the first time, and, while they were a bit too heavy, they had the right taste and texture. I made the so-called Scandinavian version of eggs Benedict, with smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon. It was really delicious, and the sauce was rich and creamy. I added a side of asparagus, which also go well with hollandaise.

Since I completed the challenge early, I had time left to experiment at bit. I tried something I’d been wanting to attempt for a long time, even though it’s not technically poaching: onsen tamago, or hot-spring eggs. In Japan, these eggs are left to cook, in their shell, for a long time in natural hot spring water, which is below boiling point. As a result, the eggs cook more evenly than when they are soft-boiled: the white is still quite soft, almost slimy, while the yolk is runny, but firm enough not to break when you crack the egg.

Since I (sadly) do not have access to a hot spring, I cooked the egs following these instructions. Onsen tamago are often served in soups, or sometimes just on their own. I served mine on rice, with stir-fried shiitake mushrooms. The egg mixed in with the rice for, giving it a rich flavour.

Finally, I tried poaching something other than eggs: salmon. I used this recipe, in which salmon is poached in a mixture of white beer and cream. It was pretty good, although next time I would alter the cream/beer ratio, as the beer flavour wasn’t all that obvious. Also, I had some issues with my camera that day, so the picture is a little icky.

This was definitely one of my favourite challenges. Thanks, Jenn and Jill!

Please check out the challenge recipes at the Daring Kitchen, and go through the Daring Cooks’ blogroll, to see what the other cooks have been up to this month.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Green with delight - Matcha Sablés

I have a tendency to want to put green tea in everything. Fortunately, with matcha powder, a little goes a long way. Also, it doesn’t come cheap, so I usually end up refraining myself. However, making matcha sablés was something I’d wanted to do for a long time.

We were having friends over for what you could call a “fancy pot luck.” Everyone had to bring something, and it had to be relatively gourmet. Amongst the tasty morsels were foie gras served on toasted pain d’épices, roasted peppers and chorizo, stuffed zucchini, and duck confit. For dessert, someone had brought homemade truffles, which Laurent and I complemented with homemade berry sorbet and green tea sablés.

I’d recently rediscovered the berry-and-green-tea combination at POP!, a Montreal wine bar. I’d indulged in a “Japanese-style” raspberry cheesecake, with a matcha-flavoured shortbread, and I just had to try to recreate the effect – at least the main flavours, if not the textures.

When I was a child, I used to find sablés quite boring, and too heavy. It took me a while to appreciate the rich, buttery taste, and the crumbly texture. As for these treats being heavy, I’ve reached an age where I don’t eat cookies by the handful anymore (except on a really, really bad day), so one of these babies is usually enough. And while I’ve learnt from experience that matcha powder doesn’t make everything better, it still manages to improve most baked goods.

Matcha Sablés
Adapted from Anita Chu’s Field Guide to Cookies

Yields around 25 cookies

200g (1 cup) butter, softened
140g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
The zest of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks, room temperature
280g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tsp matcha green tea powder

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and matcha green tea.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar, salt, and lemon zest, and beat until combined. Beat in the egg yolks.

Gradually stir in the flour and matcha mixture, until you obtain a smooth dough. Do not overwork the dough.

Divide the dough in two, and roll each half into a log that measures around 20 cm (8 inches) long and 5 cm (2 inches) wide. Wrap each log in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Stack two baking sheets on top of two other sheets, and line them with parchment paper.

Remove dough from fridge, cut the logs into 1 cm (1/2 inch) slices with a sharp knife, and set them on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for around 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden, rotating sheets halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Store in a airtight container.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers November Challenge - Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I love pies and tarts. I really do. I think, in most cases, I’ll choose them over cake. So this month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge, crostata, was good news for me! Crostata is a traditional Italian tart, made with short crust pastry. I’ve been wondering what the difference is between short crust pastry and short pastry (or pâte brisée) Apparently, the main difference is that short pastry contains water. And then, you have pâté sablée, which is closer to short crust pastry, but has a higher butter content. So many doughs, so little time.

I made my first ever crostata a few months ago, to bring to a dinner party; while I obviously didn't make it as part of this challenge, I thought I might as well included it here, since I haven't posted about it yet. I used pâte brisée, and made an apple filling. I quite like the rustic look of free-form crostate, and they’re so easy to make. But, although the dough was perfect, I found that the apples were undercooked to my taste.

The challenge required us to make pasta frolla (short crust pastry), which was easy enough to make. It was very crumbly, and I had trouble rolling it out evenly, but it was also quite forgiving, in that it allowed me to patch up any holes or tears very easily.

We were giving free range for the filling. Our hostess, Simona, suggested filling the tart with jam, or pastry cream, before baking it. But I wasn’t in the mood for a jam tart. As for pastry cream, I already knew how to make it, and I tend to prefer it unbaked. There was the possibility of blind baking the crust entirely and then filling it with fresh pastry cream and fresh fruit. That last option was most appealing to me, but it also had the inconvenience of not keeping very long. What to do, what to do?

In the end, I used a recipe from Marcy Goldman’s A Passion for Baking, a variation on the traditional French chocolate silk pie. Traditionally, silk pies require no baking – but since they contain eggs, they are considered a little risky that way. I’m not too afraid of raw eggs (coming from a country where people have regularly freaked out about mad cow disease and dioxin-contaminated chicken, I think I’ve grown a little blasé about food poisoning in general), but I did want my crostata to keep for at least a few days. Marcy’s version features slightly non traditional ingredients, such as sweetened condensed milk, and is baked long enough to ensure safety. “Sounds good to me,” I decided.

Having never used sweetened condensed milk before, I didn’t know what to expect. The thick, gloopy mixture that poured out of the can wasn’t particularly appetizing, but then I’ve learned not to judge an ingredient based on first impressions. And I was right, because this was one of the best tarts I’ve ever made. There was a distinctive malty taste from the condensed milk, but it wasn’t too invasive, and the chocolate was still definitely the star. The crostata was sweet, but not cloying (although I was glad I’d cut out some of the sugar in the crust), and the filling was creamy and almost fudge-like. Fudge in a crust – who wouldn’t love that?

Speaking of the crust, I’d blind baked it for 15 minutes before filling it, as I often have trouble with underbaked pie bottoms. I had rolled it out quite thinly, and it was evenly baked, with a nice, sandy texture that nonetheless held together. I did try to decorate the top with the traditional lattice pattern of dough strips, but because my filling was so liquid before baking, the strips looked like they were sinking into it. It just seemed like a bad idea, so I removed them.

This was a very pleasant challenge, and the pasta frolla recipe is a keeper. Also, the Untraditional French Chocolate Silk Crostata will from now on be one of my go-to recipes for dinner parties. Thank you, Simona, for these discoveries!

Don’t forget to check out the challenge recipes, and to go through the Daring Bakers’ blogroll!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Product Review - Dried Chanterelle Powder from O Gourmet

I was recently asked to do a product review for O Gourmet, an online food store physically located in Montreal. As their name indicates, they specialize in fine products. They have quite a selection, and their site is also very informative, even offering detailed guides about berries, plants, vinegars, mushrooms, and pâtés. They also offer a variety of local foods, which of course deserves a thumbs up.

Because I mentioned that I love cooking with mushrooms, they offered to send me some dried chanterelle mushroom powder. (By the way, these pictures were taken after I’d used up more than half of the powder for my test recipes – sorry about that.)

Although I’ve cooked with dehydrated mushrooms before, I had never used them in this form. I did some pondering before deciding what kind of dish to incorporate the powder in. Chanterelles aren’t all that easy to find in my neighbourhood (although you can find them in season at open-air markets), so I haven’t had the good fortune of tasting them very often, but I did know they had a fairly delicate flavour (especially when compared to shiitake or porcini), so I wanted something that wouldn’t overwhelm it. In the end, I created two recipes.

The first was a mushroom bread. I’ve been taking up bread baking more or less seriously again, after a lengthy break, and have been indulging in sandwiches made with homemade whole wheat bread on a nearly daily basis (I bake two large loaves every two weeks, slice them and freeze them for future use). Mushroom bread has always been on my list of things to make, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. It was also the first time I attempted to create an original bread recipe: until now, I’d merely followed published recipes, tweaking them here and there. I can’t say this is a particularly daring recipe (I followed generally accepted guidelines), but it was a great experience to find my own balance, and tweak the dough so as to obtain the kind of bread that I’m most fond of.

I chose to make rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. I incorporated the chanterelle powder directly into the dough, and also added some rehydrated dried wild mushrooms, to add some texture and flavour contrast. The result was very satisfactory (heck, I was pleased as a peacock with my first original bread), and while the chanterelles’ taste was subtle, you could definitely taste the hazelnutty hint in the crumb.

The second recipe I tried was a mushroom risotto. Once again, I tried not to overwhelm the chanterelles’ flavour. I sautéed some portobello and shiitake mushrooms separately, and sprinkled in the chanterelle powder as I simmered the rice in chicken stock, before tossing in the cooked mushrooms. The powder added some colour to the rice, and once again, the flavour was there.

I enjoyed experimenting with chanterelle powder. And, being a mushroom fiend, I have a feeling I’m going to be experimenting with other powders very soon!

Mushroom Rolls

Yields 12 small rolls

2 tsp instant yeast
500 ml (2 cups) warm water (about 37.7 ºC, 100 ºF)
2 tbsp olive oil
560 g (4 cups) bread flour
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp dried chanterelle powder
25-30 g (1 oz) dehydrated wild mushrooms (e.g. shiitake, oyster mushrooms, boletes etc.)

Rehydrate the dried mushrooms according to the package instructions.

Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast into it and whisk to dissolve.

Combine 140 g (1 cup) of flour with the salt and chanterelle powder, and whisk it into the water mixture, along with the oil and the rehydrated mushrooms. Gradually add the rest of the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon. Switch to kneading with your hands when the tough becomes too sticky and tough. The dough should be smooth, soft, and tacky by the end.

Oil the bowl and the dough with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.

Knead the dough for about 20 strokes, oil and cover again, and let rise for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Separately tack two baking sheets on top of two other baking sheets. Cover the top sheets with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it into 12 equal portions and form each portion into a ball. Place the balls onto the prepared baking sheets, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and let rise for 45 minutes.

Place a rack at the center of your oven, and another just below. Fill a heatproof baking pan two-thirds of the way up with hot water, place it in the lover rack of the oven, and preheat oven to 220 ºC (425 ºF).

Spray your rolls with water and put them on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. Remove the rolls from the baking sheets and let cool on racks.

You can freeze the baked rolls for future use.

Mushroom Risotto

Serves 2-3

150g (5 oz) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced
200 g (7 oz) fresh portobello mushrooms, stemmed and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
200 g (7 oz) carnaroli rice
1 litre (4 cups) homemade chicken stock
2 tbsp dried chanterelle powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the chicken stock over low heat.

Heat half of the olive oil in a skillet or wok, over medium-high heat. Add the diced mushrooms, salt lightly, and sauté until browned. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate or bowl, and reserve.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil, over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent, stirring quite often. Add the rice, and stir until the grains are coated with oil, about 1 minute. Pour in a ladleful of chicken stock, and stir constantly until all the stock has been absorbed. Pour in another ladleful of stock, then add the chanterelle powder, still stirring constantly. Continue adding the stock gradually, always stirring, until the rice is cooked al dente (if you run out of stock, add water instead). Toward the end of the cooking process, toss in the cooked mushrooms, and stir to combine and heat through. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Daring Cooks November Challenge - Soufflés

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided many of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

We had a great challenge this month, for the Daring Cooks: baking soufflés! It’s been a few years since I made my first soufflé, but perfecting a recipe or a technique is also part of the DC group.

Our hosts gave us several recipes and options, both sweet and savoury. Although the chocolate soufflé sounded mouth-watering, there have just been too many sweets around here lately, so I opted for the crab and artichoke recipe, which really jumped out at me. However, while we are fans of artichokes, we prefer them fresh (Laurent is always disappointed with the canned ones – except when they’re directly imported from Italy), and those aren’t really in season right now. So I substituted the artichoke with an equal amount of corn, as crab and corn are one of my favourite flavour combinations.

Overall, I don’t have much to report for this challenge. My soufflé certainly didn’t rise as much as others soufflés I’ve seen, but it was light and airy, and I loved the flavours. I was glad for the opportunity to experiment on that level, as I’ve tended to make the same old soufflés over the years. Although I didn’t have time to try more than one recipe, I did think of quite a few, and I’m hoping to test them out over the winter.

Thanks, David and Linda, for this challenge! Don’t forget to check out the challenge recipes at the Daring Kitchen, and to take a look at the Daring Cooks’ blogroll!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Family Jewels - Cha Gio (Vietnamese Imperial Rolls)

Today’s recipe is very special to me: it’s a treasured family recipe, passed on to me by my mother, who got it from my grandmother. It’s our recipe for Vietnamese imperial rolls, and it is spectacular.

I know every food-loving person goes around saying “My mother/grandmother (occasionally father) makes the best *insert homey, usually culture-specific food here* in the whole world!”, and swearing on my blender that in my case, it’s the pure and simple truth probably won’t convince anyone. But that fact is that I’ve been to more than my share of Vietnamese restaurants, and I have never found a cha gio (the Vietnamese word for imperial rolls) that even comes close to my grandmother’s. Well, okay, once: at my uncle’s restaurant in Brussels. And guess whose recipe he was using? My father agrees with me on this one: his mother-in-law’s rolls are unequalled worldwide (and we mean that literally: we’ve eaten Vietnamese food in a lot of different countries).

What makes a good cha gio? Well, for one thing, it has to be made with rice paper: wonton wrappers are for Chinese egg rolls, and have no place here. It also has to be crispy. And the rest of the secret lies in the filling. A few years ago, when I first expressed an interest in making cha gio, my mom made a few phonecalls to her siblings, nephews and cousins to get their input, and they all had different advice for the filling. Finally, she just gave me her own recipe – because who would use a recipe they weren’t convinced was the best ever?

This version uses a mixture of pork and veal, which actually isn’t entirely traditional: Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t normally use veal. However, my mother argues that using different meats makes the flavour more interesting, and I, having made versions with pure pork, pork-beef-veal, and pork-veal, agree that the latter is the most balanced one: pure pork was comparatively bland, and the version with beef was too fragrant. Did my grandmother use veal? Probably not in Vietnam, but given that she’s been living in France since before I was born, it’s likely that she did include veal in the later versions of her recipe.

Now, the big question: do my rolls measure up to my grandmother’s? Of course not. However, they are as close as I’ve ever tasted (except for my mom’s and my uncle’s). The method and ingredients are all there, now it’s just a question of tweaking and intuition – something I’ll only achieve with more experience. But in the meantime, I’m happy to share the basic formula with you all.

A note on mung bean vermicelli: in their dried state, they look like rice vermicelli, but are much tougher. Their purpose here is to absorb some of the filling’s moisture. If unavailable, don’t try to replace them with rice vermicelli, as the resulting texture might be too mushy – just leave them out and add only one egg to your filling.

Chinese wood ear mushrooms are easy to find in Asian grocery stores. In Montreal, they are usually labelled “black mushrooms” or “black fungus” – which doesn’t sound very appetizing, I know, but let’s face it, that’s what they are. They don’t have a lot of flavour, but they’ll add a slightly squishy texture to the filling, in a very good way.

Cha Gio (Vietnamese Imperial Rolls)

Yields about 30 small rolls

200g (7 oz) lean ground pork meat
200g (7 oz) ground veal
One 120g (4 oz) can of shredded crab, drained
One whole egg
One onion, very finely minced
1-2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
One medium carrot, very finely chopped
2-3 tbsp dried Chinese wood ear mushrooms
Dried mung bean vermicelli
1 tbsp nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 tsp sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Rice paper discs (bành tràng), 15 cm (6 inches) diameter
Canola oil

For serving:
Romaine lettuce leaves
Fresh cucumber slices
Fresh soybean sprouts
Fresh coriander leaves
Fresh mint leaves

For the nuoc cham (dipping sauce):
5 tbsp nuoc mam (fish sauce)
5 tbsp tepid water
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp hot chilli paste (optional)
1 clove garlic, finely minced or crushed

Cover the dried mushrooms in water and let them rest for about 20 minutes, or until fully rehydrated. Drain, pat dry, and mince very finely

In a large bowl, combine the pork, veal, crab, onion, garlic, carrot, and mushrooms, by stirring with a wooden spoon or by clean hand. Then stir in the egg. Your filling should be slightly wet, and hold together well. If it still seems too dry, add another egg.

With a strong pair of scissors, cut off 1 cm (1/2 inch) pieces off the tip of the mung bean vermicelli. Take care to protect your eyes, as the pieces have a tendency to fly in every direction. As you go along, mix the vermicelli pieces into the meat filling (don’t worry if they crack or break). Quantities are variable: your filling is ready when enough moisture has been absorbed by the vermicelli to give it a significantly drier feel; it should still hold together.

Stir in the fish sauce and sesame oil, and season with pepper to taste. At this stage, you can take a small piece of filling, form it into a ball, and cook it in oil, to check the seasoning.

Take a sheet of rice paper, dunk it into cold water for 10 seconds, then lay it down flat. It will soon soften and become pliable. Place a heaped tablespoonful of filling on top of the rice paper, about 2.5cm (1 inch) away from the edge closest to you. Shape the filling into the form of a small cigar. Fold the edge of the paper closest to you over the filling and roll the filling over once. Then fold both edges of the paper over, and finish rolling. Try to roll as tightly as possible, and avoid leaving air pockets inside the roll.

Set the finished roll aside, and repeat until you run out of filling. Take care not to let the finished rolls touch each other, as they will stick and tear.

To make the dipping sauce: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, making sure to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning (if too salty, add more water).

In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoonfuls of canola oil over medium high heat. Working in batches, place as many rolls as you can into the skillet, without letting them touch each other. Fry turning over as needed, until nicely browned and crispy on all sides. Serve hot, and eat each roll by wrapping it in a lettuce leaf and dipping it in the sauce. You can also serve do chua (pickled daikon and carrots) alongside. For a good do chua recipe, check out Andrea Nguyen’s website.

You can easily freeze the cooked rolls by putting them in a single layer on a baking sheet and putting them in the freezer for an hour, then put them in a Ziploc bag and keep frozen until needed. To reheat, bake the rolls in a preheated 200ºC (400ºF) oven, about 10 minutes per side, turning over once, until they are warmed through and crispy on the outside.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover - Cauliflower and Ham Casserole

I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to post today’s recipe. Mostly because of the way it looks.

See, if I try to shoot it before cutting it open, it looks like a perfectly nice, comforting, but unfortunately anonymous cheesy casserole. It could be anything hiding under that layer of cheese.

However, if I try to photograph it after cutting a piece out, it looks like… Well, it looks like this. And I don’t think I need to tell you what else it resembles, I think it’s crossed all of your minds.

So, lesson learned: it’s pretty much impossible to make this cauliflower casserole look good on a picture. Trust me, it looked even worse when served on a plate. And closeups? Forget about it. It’s just not a photogenic dish. I could lose the béchamel on the bottom layer, which would make it less liquid and less… un-food-like-looking; but then I would lose all the creaminess and richness. Although in all fairness, I added too much milk to my sauce: there shouln't have been that much liquid. Another lesson learned.

However, in spite of its appearance, this casserole is pretty great. It’s a one-dish meal, with all the vegetables, protein and calcium you’ll need for dinner. Running some ham through a food processor and adding it to the sauce really boosts the flavour.

So, for once, don’t look too much at the picture. I can guarantee that the smell of this baby coming out of the oven will make you forget all about its looks.

Cauliflower and Ham Casserole

Serves 4-6

2 heads cauliflower
5 medium slices of ham
80g (3 oz, 3/4 cup) smoked cheese, grated (e.g. mozzarella or Jarlsberg)
80g (3 oz, 3/4 cup) cheddar cheese, grated
4 tbsp flour
A pinch of nutmeg
Milk, as needed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF)

Wash and cut the cauliflower into fairly thick florets. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the cauliflower, until al dente. Drain and dunk into cold water to cool. Once cooled, pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels. Reserve.

Run the ham through a food processor, until it is cut very thin, almost crumb-like. Reserve.

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to brown. Whisk in milk gradually, a little at a time, until your béchamel sauce has acquired a smooth, but still rather thick consistency (it will liquefy more in the oven).

Toss in the ham and cheddar with the sauce and stir to combine. Add the cauliflower and coat the florets with the sauce. Season with pepper (salt will probably not be necessary, given the ham and cheese.)

Transfer the mixture to a casserole or baking dish, in an even layer. Sprinkle with the smoked cheese. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers' October Challenge - Doughnuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I had such a blast with this month’s challenge. It was just plain fun. There’s just something about homemade doughnuts that brings a smile to my face – and people around me.

Growing up in New York, I had my share of Dunkin Donuts as a kid. I always had a soft spot for factory doughnuts: the sweet, sticky icing, the sprinkles, the dough that somehow managed to be super soft and somewhat chewy at the same time…

And then, there were Belgian doughnuts, also known as croustillons, or oliebollen. They are merely balls of dough (sometimes made with beer), deep-fried to a crisp and served piping hot with a sprinkling of icing sugar. They are sold from carts on the street or during fairs, and served in large paper cones. They are one of my fondest sweet memories, and I really wanted to try making them this month. Unfortunately, time ran out, and I was only able to make American-style yeast doughnuts, following the Alton Brown recipe our hostess Lori had given us.

Like I said, these doughnuts were just fun to make – fun, and easy. The dough was soft and forgiving, and the only mildly scary part of the process was the deep-frying. I’ve said it before: I know how to deep-fry, I’m just always nervous when I have to do it on my own. But I was home alone on the day I was doing the challenge, so it was just me and the frying pan. However, these doughnuts fried up so quickly, they barely made a splash in the oil. I’ve honestly never seen my stove so clean after a deep-frying session.

I made two kinds of butter-based sweet icing: one vanilla, and one chocolate. Because I like to get extreme when it comes to chocolate, I added chocolate sprinkles to the latter. Actually, those doughnuts were supposed to be triple chocolate (oh yes, I would’ve gone there!), but I forgot to split the dough in two and add cocoa to one half. Oh well…

The doughnuts were very good, although I would’ve liked them to be a bit fluffier. But I think I deflated my dough too much when I rolled it to cut out the doughnuts. But they were still light, and tasty, and impressed people. I love learning to make things that I never would’ve considered tackling before. Thanks, Lori!

Don’t forget to check out the challenge recipes and the other Daring Bakers’ creative doughnuts!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' October Challenge - Stuffed Grape Leaves

Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

I think I cursed when I first saw this month’s challenge. Stuffed Grape Leaves. My nemesis.

Okay, maybe “nemesis” is too strong a word. The truth is, I only attempted to make dolmas once, for the February DC challenge on the theme of mezze. It had been a fairly epic fail, with my bundles unravelling as they simmered, and the result tasting watery and bland. I had more or less decided that the whole thing wasn’t worth the time and effort.

But after my initial reaction upon discovering the challenge, I decided to give stuffed grape leaves another shot this month. After all, the recipes provided by our hostess, Lori, were more detailed than what I’d used on my own, and they looked tastier, too. And the Daring Cooks are all about challenging ourselves.

But then I left on my trip. When I got back last week, I figured I had plenty of time. And then, I set my mind on various thing, and before I knew it, I was wondering what day it was, and “Huh, today’s the 13th… Oh, crap.”

So, I made them today. Still somewhat wary of dolmas (the rice-filled version), I tried the yebra, a version filled with meat, rice, and spices. It was fairly easy to prepare, with minimal chopping required. Then I rolled everything carefully, briefly cooked the rolls in oil with a few dried apricots, and finally, after taking a deep breath, covered them in lemon juice, salt, and water. Then I quickly placed a plate over them to keep everything in place and prevent what had happened last time.

The verdict? I can’t even begin to tell you how much better these were than the mess I’d created in February. The filling held together much more, which must have helped the rolls maintain their shape. And they had much more flavour than my previous attempt, thanks to the spices and the added ingredients in the simmering water. The recipe suggested adding tamarind to the liquid, but, while I had tamarind paste on hand, I chose not to use it, because I was using a non-stick pan, and tamarind tends to have a corrosive effect on those; but I can imagine that it would have worked well with everything else.

So, I want to give a great big “thank you” to Lori for pushing me to give stuffed grape leaves another shot. I can honestly see myself making these again: I’ve decided they are definitely worth the time and effort. In the meantime, I’ve frozen most of the ones I made today, and I’m looking forward to serving them again soon.

Don’t forget to check out the other Daring Cooks’ creations, and well as the challenge recipes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I'm back! - Wakame Salad

Greetings, all! My apologies for the prolonged silence, but life once again conspired against me. I had comprehensive predoctoral exams to deal with, and then I went to visit my parents for two weeks. I did cook a little with my mother while I was there, including some blogworthy dishes – but somehow, I kept forgetting to photograph and document them. You know how it is when you’re on holiday.

Anyways, I’m back now, and ready to try and breathe some life back into this blog. Although I’ll admit my choice of topic for this first entry in a long time is not necessarily the most alluring, at least for a lot of people: I’m talking about wakame, a.k.a seaweed, salad.

I can hear the groans and feel the shudders: “Seaweed, ewww!” Or not… A decade ago, definitely, but now? Most people living in large (and not so large) Western cities have tasted seaweed, albeit mostly under the guise of nori-wrapped sushi. And I’m fairly confident most foodies have given other types of seaweed a whirl – and that a reasonable proportion must have liked it.

My mother, who grew up in Vietnam, tells me that she used to eat seaweed all the time as a child, namely in the form of dessert (I haven’t yet attempted to make the sweet dish she described to me, but it has coconut milk in it, and it sounds quite tempting). I, however, like most Western-raised kids, scrunched up my nose at the very idea. Seaweeds were slimy, disgusting things that grew on the icky bottom of the sea and tickled your feet in the most repulsive way as you swam over them. Well, I still very much dislike being brushed by seaweed while taking a dip in the ocean (I don’t like to think too much about what lurks under the water), but I’ve become a true fan of eating seaweed. So has Laurent, who has taken to snacking on nori strips, instead of chips. He’s even tried out a recipe by Laure Kié, which is basically a pizza margherita sprinkled with arugula and nori strips at the last minute. Sound weird? I thought so too. But it was surprisingly good, which makes sense when you remember that tomatoes, like nori, have high levels of umami.

I, for my part, am partial to wakame. I overload my miso soups with them. And before leaving on holiday, I would eat them as a salad at least a couple of times a week. I usually use this recipe, which includes quick cucumber pickles (basically cucumbers that have been salted and pressed). The awesome thing about this salad, apart from the addictive flavour, is that it is really, really low in fat (even more so it you omit the sesame seeds, which are my own addition). The dressing, a mixture of rice vinegar and sugar, contains no oil whatsoever, and yet it’s full of flavour. Of course, if you really wanted to add some richness, you could probably add some sesame oil, which would definitely work well with the other flavours; soy sauce would fit in, too. But if you ask me, that’s not even necessary: the light sweet-and-acidic flavour already works. I also love the textures in this salad: the chewy wakame and the still-crunchy cucumbers are a real party in my mouth.

Granted, some people don’t, and never will, like seaweed. Which is fine, as long as they dislike it for its taste, and not because of what it is. I’m not going to run the list of common foods that should technically gross us out, because you all probably have a list in your head already. And I have my own hang-ups about certain kinds of food (I’m not going to tell you which, though – knowledge is power, and some of my friends love a good dare). But my disgust of seaweed is definitely one which I am glad I overcame.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' September Challenge - Food Preservation

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

This month’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge was a bit different than usual: it was focused around techniques, rather than recipes. This challenge was all about preserving food, either through freezing or canning. I’m a big fan of freezing, but canning was entirely new to me. The process seemed long and scary, and I’ve just never felt the need for it. Truth be told, we don’t have a lot of shelf space around here, what with all the kitchen gadgets and pantry staples like rice, oil, and sugar (not to mention four different kinds of flour). Recently, I’ve taken to making my own pickles, but I’ve never bothered to sterilize and seal them – simply because pickles around here never seem to last long enough to warrant the trouble!

Still, canning has always felt like something I should at least do once. So I went for it. Our host, John, had given us recipes for apple butter and bruschetta, but I chose to go a slightly different route (I hope that’s okay). I wanted to can something I knew I would use often, for different things: so I went for simple Italian tomatoes.

I got the “recipe” (more like a process) from Josée di Stasio’s book Pasta Et Cetera. Tomato season is winding down here, but I was still able to get my hands on some gorgeous red tomatoes. Prepping them for canning was easy, just a little time consuming: make a small, cross-shaped incision at the base of the tomato, then put them into boiling water for about a minute, until the skin begins to come off. Then dunk them into ice water. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them and remove the peduncle. Finally, cut them in half and remove the seeds.I ended up cutting them into large chunks, for easier future use.

Then, you have to put the tomatoes in jars, with a couple of basil leaves, pushing down to remove air pockets, and leaving a headspace of about 1 inch (2.5 cm). FYI, I counted about thirty tomatoes for eleven 125 ml (1 cup) jars. Then you put the closed jars (don’t wind the lid too tightly) into the canner.

In my case, the “canner” was a large pot of boiling water, lined with a dishcloth. NOTE: make sure to put the jars into the cool or lukewarm water first, and then bring to a boil (otherwise, the jars might crack from the thermal shock) Unfortunately, two of my jars were underfilled (I ran out of tomatoes), and started to float. This was not good, because the jars needed to be submerged with boiling water. Fortunately, we figured out a solution: more jars on top!

After 20 minutes of boiling, I took the jars out and let them cool overnight. Within minutes, they all made the characteristic “ping” sound that indicates all the air has been sucked out of the jar. And now, I have a stock of summer tomatoes to keep me through the winter! Now, if only I could find room to store the jars

Thanks, John, for this very interesting challenge, and also for all the information you provided! I learned a lot, and it was definitely worth the effort!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Last Summery Meal - Tuna Bean Salad

Fall has definitely arrived. I quite like this time of year, actually, and can’t wait for the leaves to start changing. Fall also signifies the return of my appetite for hearty comfort food, like stews, chunky soups, hot pots… Good bye gazpacho, hello osso bucco!

But, in memory of summer, here’s one last summery dish. Okay, actually, it’s something I made months ago, and completely forgot to post about. But I didn’t want it to go to waste. Plus, it can still make a nice side dish during the rest of the year.

This tuna bean salad is as simple as can be, and there are probably hundreds of it like it all over the food blogosphere, but it’s still a winner. This was pretty much an ad-lib, so proportions are approximate. This is one of the few recipes in which I use tuna canned in oil (Rio Mare brand, to be precise). I’m usually more of a water-canned kind of person, but this salad is really boosted by the oily richness. You can add salt if you wish, but the olives should be enough.

Anyways, let’s give summer a proper send-off, in order to welcome fall!

Tuna Bean Salad

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side dish

One 540 ml (14 oz) can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or substitute with any other kind of white bean)
One can of tuna marinated in olive oil
Juice of one lemon
A big handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
120 ml (1/2 cup) green olives, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl, making sure to include the oil from the tuna can, and toss.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Daring Bakers' August Challenge - Browned Butter Pound Cake and Ice Cream Petits Fours

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alasa or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I’m here! I’m here! I’m four days late and probably nobody cares at this point – but I do! The challenge is done!

For the second time in a row, the monthly Daring Bakers’ challenge featured ice cream. Which finally gave me the push I needed to go buy an ice cream maker. It’s a purchase I’d been meaning to make for a while, and every time I came upon a fellow blogger’s post featuring delicious homemade ice cream I would feel the urge to finally go for it… and then I’d put it off again. But now, it’s here, and Laurent is making his first batch of raspberry sorbet as I’m typing. (He’s really happy about the new gadget – had I known, I’d have gotten one months, maybe even years ago.)

This month’s challenge was a bit long, but worth the effort. Let’s start with the browned butter pound cake. We were supposed to make it and then pair it with ice cream, but it was so delicious I was tempted to just keep it plain and eat it as it was. I’d been hearing people rave about how insanely good browned butter made everything – they weren’t kidding!

But, well, I had the ice cream machine and everything, so I carried on. I stuck with vanilla ice cream, because I’ve never been a huge vanilla fan, and was curious as to whether the homemade variety would win me over. And I had some good vanilla beans lying around. The verdict: not bad at all! I still think vanilla ice cream is at its best when paired with chocolate sauce, but then, I’m a chocolate lover.

I’d made Baked Alaska once (one of my most memorable kitchen disasters), but the Petits Fours seemed more attractive to me – not to mention easier to store and eat in small portions. I have to say, cutting the frozen cake and ice cream into bite-sized pieces was hard work, and I ended up hurting my hand from the pressure. Glazing the pieces was literally a balancing act: my petits fours were a tad too tall, and kept tipping over from the edge of my fork and diving into the (very yummy) chocolate glaze. I also had issues with the ice cream melting while I was working. There were definitely some logistics to work out here.

The results were worth it, though. These petits fours are a great snack or dessert, and the different textures are great together. Not to mention that it’s muggy and humid as hell right now, so frozen treats are more than welcome!

Thanks, Elissa, for this lovely challenge! And my apologies to the Daring Bakers for being so late!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stalling for time - Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Sorry guys, no Daring Bakers' Challenge here today: my components are all currently baking or chilling as we speak. Will post in a couple of days, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, try some of these chocolate gingerbread cookies from Martha Stewart. They are on her cookie book's cover for a reason: they are indeed very, very good. Chewy, with a thin, crunchy coating of sugar, and packed with delicious flavours. I don't think I've ever made a batch of cookies that disappeared so quickly!

So, hoping that buys me a little time... Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' August Challenge - Pierogi

The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

Once again, I was under the wire for this month’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge. This is becoming a habit!

I’d eaten traditional Polish pierogi before, and was looking forward to trying out the challenge recipes. In the end, I only had time to try Anula’s family recipe.

Making the filling (which consisted in mashed potatoes, bacon, onion, and cottage cheese) was simple enough. I had some mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used, and you should know by now that I will eat mushrooms in anything, so I finely diced them, sautéed them with the onion, and tossed them into the mix. The filling turned a rather depressing shade of grey (Portobello mushrooms will do that), but I was pleased with the taste.

The dough wasn’t the easiest to work with, I found, although that was probably my own fault, as I suspect I may have overhandled it. It was a bit too rubbery, and had a tendency to retract when I rolled it – a tendency which only increased when I gathered the scraps and rerolled.

Also, I was a little sloppy when filling the dumplings – which is my way of saying I overfilled most of them. I was afraid they would burst when I tried to boiled them, so… I cheated a little. Instead of boiling them, I pan-fried them, then steamed them, pot-sticker-style. As much as I love pot-stickers (I’ve been a gyoza-addict every since that DC challenge more than a year ago), I would have preferred to boil them, as I remember having enjoyed the silky texture of boiled pierogi. But I was hungry, and tired, and this was all we were having for dinner, so I wasn’t taking any chances with it. I know boiled pierogi can be fried once they have cooled, but I wonder if what I ended up making still qualifies as pierogi? Oh well, call them “potato and cheese gyoza” if you wish, they were still good!

As predicted, the dough was a little tough. But I did love the filling. Only I had some of the latter leftover (probably because of all the mushrooms I had added), and decided it would be cool to make croquettes with it. Laurent, my deep-frying expert, obligingly took care of it – but, through no fault of his own, the croquettes disintegrated in the oil. Having said that, the portion we were able to salvage from the pan was actually really good (albeit unattractive as hell), like über-decadent mashed potatoes. I smell a culinary discovery!

My thanks to LizG and Anula for this fun challenge! I promise I will try properly boiling my next batch of pierogi! In the meantime, please check out the challenge recipes at the Daring Kitchen, as well as the Daring Cooks’ blogroll, for tons of creative dumplings!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A big helping of happiness

Today's feature on The Chocolate Bunny is called: "Why Valerie has had a smile plastered to her face these past few days." And here it is:

Laurent actually asked me to marry him almost two weeks ago, but I was waiting to tell my best friend in person before spreading the news on the net. I was finally able to see her yesterday, so... there you have it.

I am deliriously happy, and very excited about everything that is to come. There wasn't a doubt in my mind when I said "yes" to his proposal, and I'm absolutely certain I won't have any trouble saying "yes" at the church. I'd say "yes" tomorrow without any qualms. But we've agreed to have a real wedding (although that's pretty much the only thing that's been settled - details are still up in the air), so I get to enjoy being engaged for several months, while we sort everything out.

I do know one thing, though: I will not be making my own wedding cake. Not that I don't enjoy a challenge, but I think I'll have other things to worry about by then.