Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cherry-Cream Cheese Hand Pies

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Cherry Hand Pie wrap

After Memorial Day every year I must make two things: pie and ice cream.  Summer fruits are delicious on their own, but they're also so good inside of a pastry crust.  And even after baking the flavor of the fruit was fresh and maintained its shape, and it didn't turn into that cherry goop I hate in storebought pies.  The cream cheese mixture adds a nice sweetness and tang to the cherries.  I can see myself throwing these in the picnic basket all summer.

Cat collage

I was bummed at not posting last week, but look what I've had to distract me!  Nearly a year after losing my best buddy and the sweetest cat in the entire world, Baby, we found Shnooky a little brother.  We got Dalton,1½ years old, at the local shelter.  During the day he sleeps under the bed, but at night he's a furball of energy.  He loves chasing the laser pointer dot and cries if he loses sight of it, and he likes to sing at 2 a.m. when the world is asleep.  We're working on changing his name, and Joe is pushing for Gandalf the Grey because he waves his paws around like he's casting spells.  You'd think I'd love that, considering the name of this blog, right?  I'm not sure yet that Gandalf sounds cute enough for this fella.

Cherry Hand Pie

I have a point to my digression.  I had done my baking prep, making the pie dough and quartering the cherries.  And since they were frozen cherries, I didn't have to wrestle with the pitter.  Then we got our new cat, plus my editor asked me to submit my next Boston Globe dining review a week earlier than we'd agreed on.  So no time for cherry pies.  The cherries stayed unspoiled in the freezer, as did half a batch of the pie dough.  For some dumb reason I didn't freeze both halves, so I substituted some storebought puff pastry sitting in my freezer and it worked great.  So when life gets busy, baking projects are salvageable!

Also, my next food review runs in The Boston Globe this Sunday, so check back here for the URL!

Update: This post made the Foodbuzz Top 9!

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Boston Globe Review: Sher-A-Punjab

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Sher-A-Punjab
Photos by Shirley Goh/Globe Staff
My dining review of Sher-A-Punjab is in today's Globe.  If you're in the Boston area, pick up a copy and flip over to the Globe South section.  It's the first of my occasional reviews of restaurants and other food places south of Boston.  And if you know about a place on the South Shore that should be reviewed, I want to hear about it!

I haven't really discussed my job on this blog, but I work at The Boston Globe as a copy editor on the news desk.  Some people ask me what that entails -- I edit metro, nation, foreign, and business stories, along with writing headlines and doing some page design.  In my down time I've written this food blog for fun, and now I'm enjoying this Globe South writing gig.

Sher-A-Punjab is an Indian restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts.  You can also read my review online at http://tinyurl.com/7laohzl.

Update: If you hit the subscriber-only pay wall at that first URL, you can try viewing it instead at http://www.boston.com/yourtown/quincy/articles/2012/05/20/modern_indian_cuisine_at_sher_a_punjab_in_quincy/.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hainan Chicken Rice

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Hainan Chicken Rice

We ate lots of Hainan Ji Fan when I was growing up.  This poached chicken dish originates from Hainan, an island in China just south of the mainland where my grandparents are from.  It's also a popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia, where my parents were born.  And my mom continues to make it in her New York kitchen, where she taught it to me on a Mother's Day weekend visit.  The best part is the rice.  After the chicken is poached, the water essentially becomes chicken stock, and that liquid is used to infuse the rice, making it flavorful and rich.  If you have homemade chicken stock on hand, substitute it for some of the water for more potent chicken flavor.  The rice is also imbued with garlic and a hint of ginger.

Raw Chicken
This is how Mom rolls.  I don't have a problem with the head, but I have no use for it either.
So I bought the usual supermarket variety.
The poached chicken may be too simple for those used to loud flavors, but soy sauce and hot sauce are served on the side and my dad always partook.  He's always been proud of his Singapore-grown tolerance for heat, but by contrast I've only graduated to mild.  Yes, I said graduated.  Hainan Chicken Rice is also Singapore's national dish.

Whole Family
My parents, brother, paternal grandparents, and my twin sister and me.  Once again, not sure which runt I am.
One of my earliest memories includes this dish.  I had peeled off some chicken skin -- which I love when roasted and crispy but not when poached and soft -- just as my mother often instructed me to because it's healthier that way.  And my paternal grandmother, who was born a peasant in Hainan and was not into waste one bit, objected, pushing me to eat the skin.  "Eat it!  Go ahead, eat it!" she said, as my mother told me, "Don't do it!  It's not good for you!"  Whom to obey, mother or grandmother?  I think it must have been my mother.  Their reactions summed up their food philosophies, and the memory still makes me chuckle.

Audrey collage
My twin sister with her daughter, Audrey, on Mother's Day weekend.
And this time a new generation of the family was introduced to Hainan Ji Fan.  My 16-month-old niece, Audrey, was a big fan.  I also decided she's now officially a Chinese lady.  When she would act up, my mother would chide her, saying, "Aiya!"  And Audrey, in a world-weary yet babyish voice, would sigh in echo, "Aiiyaaa!"

What are some of your quintessential family recipes?


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Fancy Twix," or Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

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Fancy Twix Bars

"Would I like a fancy, homemade version of a Twix?"  I asked Joe recently.  He said yes.  See, I'm not big on candy or candy bars.  My friend Charmie used to say I like "old people candy" -- Werther's and Raisinets.  Hard candies, gummies, and nougat don't do it for me.  I don't even know what makes a Twix different from a Snickers or Milky Way.  But when I saw this recipe at Tracey's Culinary Adventures, I thought the shortbread layered with caramel and chocolate looked pretty damn good.

If Twix tasted like this, I might be more of a candy bar fan.  Wow.  The shortbread is nice and crumbly when you bite into it, the caramel is smooth and rich, and the bittersweet chocolate topped with coarse salt is my favorite.  Don't skip the salt, which transforms the flavors of chocolate and caramel.  Tracey mentioned in her post that she halved the amount of caramel and thought the result was perfect -- I agree, but Joe wanted more caramel.  Depends on how much of a caramel fan you are.  Also, I like mine straight from the fridge because the bars get a little soft at room temperature.

This wasn't difficult at all to make, though you have to make the three components in stages and give them time to set.  I've done trickier candy-making, like homemade marshmallows.  If there's a deterrent to making this again, it's that a pound of butter -- that's right, four sticks -- goes into this recipe.  Two for the shortbread, one for the caramel layer, and one for the chocolate.  You can halve the recipe, but what would you do with the other half a can of sweetened condensed milk?  This will be a repeat in my kitchen, but we'll be giving a bunch away like we did this time.  Spread the love, and the calories.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

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Spanikopita slice

Spanakopita is a Greek spinach pie.  In this version, the papery-thin layers of phyllo pastry hold a spinach filling with leeks, scallions, dill, feta, Parmesan, and ricotta.  Agapi Stassinopoulos said on The Martha Stewart Show that the inclusion of ricotta is untraditional but makes the pie sweeter.  She happens to be Arianna Huffington's sister, and this is their mother's recipe.


Spanikopita dish

Joe and I liked this spanakopita, but we could have done without the ricotta and amped up the feta in this dish instead.  We really like feta, and I had followed the recipe and added only three-quarters of the 8-ounce block.  Our other criticism was we would have preferred a shallower pie with a lower ratio of spinach to pastry, because you get a big mouthful of spinach and little phyllo by comparison.  After all, there's three pounds of spinach in this dish!

Spanikopita collage

Like all spanakopita dishes it takes some time to put together, and my least favorite part is squeezing the water out of fistfuls of spinach.  I used thawed frozen spinach, but if you go the fresh route you'll still have to steam or saute the spinach to release the water from the leaves to avoid a soggy pie.  Also, I used a decidedly non-Greek cooking vessel -- the wok.  There was so much filling it would have come up to the rim of my saute pan, making it difficult to stir.

Spring 2012

But when it's all assembled and ready to go in the oven, the house has started to warm up and you can just sit back and wait.  And think back to last week when it was sunny and springlike, instead of cold and grey like today.  And then dig into some good spinach pie.