Monday, February 22, 2010

Birthday Banana Cream Pie

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What do you make for someone who doesn't like chocolate?  I could drown happily in a bowl of pure chocolate ice cream, no toppings needed.  I know several of my (crazy) friends dislike chocolate in favor of flavorings like vanilla and caramel.  I don't get it, but my friend Charmie is one of them.  But I know she loves whipped cream, and who doesn't like bananas?  So banana cream pie it was.  Sliced bananas are folded into a pastry cream and spooned into a flaky pie crust, then topped with whipped cream.  This pie is simple but delicious, not too sweet, and has great mouthfeel with clouds of airy cream.  Charmie loved it, and it was her first-ever birthday pie.  Will it be cake or pie on your next birthday?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beijing-Style Dumplings

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What possessed me to make dumplings from scratch last night?  My back ached and there was flour and pork everywhere.  In the end, though, they were delicious.  But if you make these with storebought wrappers, I won't judge.  I won't tell anyone.  Heck, if you waited to go out for dim sum to eat these, I'd understand.  But if you undertake this mission, recruit some helping hands and think of the light at the end of the tunnel.

So unlike the dumplings of Southern China that I'm used to, with their meat and seafood fillings, the shui jiao of the North tend to have vegetables.  This recipe from the LA Times uses a pork and cabbage filling.  I think a pork-and-shrimp filling will always be my favorite, but this was a welcome change of pace.  The pork and cabbage are tender, the rice wine lends a hint of sweetness, and the ginger a little heat.  It's my new recipe for the New Year.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Short Ribs and Corn Puddin'

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This is perfect cold-weather comfort food.  The short ribs require minimal setup and then simmer away until tender, and the corn pudding puffs up like a souffle but stays creamier in the middle.  The pudding might be a little bland for some, but the addition of some hot peppers or cheese would do the trick.  Some reviewers of the short ribs recipe suggested adding red wine or tomato paste, but I'd already made a beef stew with red wine recently and was looking for something different.  I'm also one of those people who likes beef for beef . . . why cover it up with 20 spices and seasonings?  You might as well eat chicken or tofu.  Aside from a few vegetables, these short ribs needed no enhancement -- they were perfect.

The corn pudding recipe calls for cornmeal (which I didn't have), but I read on Wikipedia that in the US the finely ground stuff is known as corn flour (which I did have).  I figured I would like the finer texture anyway, since I'm one of those rare people who doesn't care for cornbread and its gritty texture.  Plus, it was an excuse not to run out to the grocery store!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gougeres

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I've been afraid to try my hand again at pate a choux ever since most of my eclairs deflated upon coming out of the oven.  But I'm glad to say no such thing happened with my Gougeres!  They're French cheese puffs, flavored here with Gruyere and Parmesan.  Have them with a glass of wine in the afternoon.  The taste reminds me of cheese straws, but they're simpler to make than puff pastry made from scratch.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fish Steamed Chinese-Style

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Steaming is such a healthy and fast way to cook.  This delicate fish was flavored by ginger, scallions, and soy sauce.  I've lagged on posting so much I don't even remember what kind of a fish this was. My guess is some kind of snapper or bass, but I do remember it was delicious, just like Mom used to make. Although I haven't been posting, I haven't been idle either!

I baked these to make up for the lost linzer cookies around December.  I know I said I bake them only once a year, but Sis never got them for our birthday/Christmas.  So now they're Valentine's cookies!

I also cooked up a sauce from San Marzano tomatoes and discovered why they cost about $5 a can.  The taste really is complex and sweet, but at that price I soon went back to ho-hum tomatoes.

And I made pizza topped with eggplant and sundried tomatoes.  Okay, so maybe Joe did all the work, but I cooked and assembled my own topping.  And got stuck with kitchen cleanup.  But back to the fish...

HELLO!!!  Don't be afraid because he still has a head.  If that turns you off, don't go shopping with my mom.  She once asked if I wanted fish for dinner, then took me to the corner market and bought one from the tank.  I knew what was going to happen, but the sight of the fish flopping around while the man decapitated it almost ruined my appetite.  Do make sure it's been scaled and gutted.

So here's how you steam.  You can use one of the short, metal racks to elevate your heatproof plate in the wok or saucepan.  But the traditional way is to crisscross a pair of wooden chopsticks above steaming water.

Place some sliced ginger (about 1 inch) and scallions (about 4) in the cavity of the fish.  I don't think it's possible to overdo the scallions and ginger, which are only used as flavoring and will be discarded.  Place your fish on a plate, and position the plate on the chopsticks.  Cover and steam for 15 to 20 minutes, checking to ensure the water doesn't dry out.  Then drain the steaming water from the dish, and sprinkle some fresh scallions and ginger on top, which won't have turned limp and discolored from cooking.  Pour 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil on top.

Mom never did this part, not wanting to add unnecessary fat to food, but it's common to heat a few tablespoons of oil until it's crackling hot.  The effect is supposed to crisp the skin and brighten the vegetables, but I think you need a lot more oil for crispy skin.  Still, it's a nice sizzle.