Friday, December 31, 2010

Mom's Braised Asian Ribs, and My 100th Post!

Mom's Braised Ribs

One of my pet peeves is calling a dish "Asian," but I didn't know how else to describe these ribs made with mirin, sake, and fish sauce.  After all, nothing gets labeled as European Salad Dressing or European Spice Rub.  I often call my family's dishes Chinese, Malaysian, or Singaporean, but this one is a mix of Japanese and Southeast Asian flavors.  Mom says she got the idea from some cooking show, probably one of the Taiwanese or Hong Kong shows she watches, and copied the general idea.  So while I was visiting in New York the week before Christmas, I showed her how to make carrot cake while she taught me this recipe.  She's cute -- I think she intends on doing a recipe swap every time I visit.  She says my dad adores these ribs, and after Joe tasted hers he was excited I was making them too.

One thing worth mentioning: In my hurry at the supermarket, I didn't realize I bought boneless country-style ribs.  This resulted in the fattier pieces becoming juicy and fall-apart tender, while the leaner pieces were a bit tough and dry-textured.  Buy spare ribs, not too lean, with bones in them.

Oh, and it's my 100th post!  Yay!

Braised Ribs
From top-left: The ribs are seared on each side; ginger and garlic are sauteed briefly; the ribs simmer in mirin, sake, water, fish sauce, and ketchup; they are braised until the meat is fall-apart tender.  Think ketchup is a strange ingredient?  The condiment originated in Asia, and some say ketchup comes from a Malaysian word.  The sauce is delicious, lightly infused with ginger and the other flavors, so pour it over.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies

These Stained Glass Cookies are works of art.  Hold them up, and you can see through their candy centers. They can look like red glass ornaments on your cookie trees, and the cutouts in turn can be decorated with colored sugar and adorn another cookie tree.  They were a gorgeous addition to my Christmas cookie baskets.

Stained Glass Ornament Cookies

These ornament cookies look almost too pretty to eat, like they should be hung up on a real tree to catch the light.

Stained Glass Cookie Trees

And for some variation, a light brushing of water followed by a sprinkling of colorful sugar also makes your cookies festive.

Stained Glass Cookies
The method couldn't be easier.  After the cookies bake for a few minutes, pull them out and sprinkle crushed hard candy into the cavities, then bake a little longer.  But Joe and I were doubtful, and you should have heard us preparing.

I don't think the oven is hot enough to melt the candy.

Of course it is! ... but if I pile it too high, will it overflow?

Is the the candy going stay in place or flow like a river?

I can tell you that the candy will spread, but only so much.  So you may want to sprinkle a little extra in the points of those stars and snowflakes.  And our little mounds of crushed candy sat taller than the cookies, but did not overflow.  Try it ... I bet people will tell you they've never seen anything like it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cookie Mania, and Brown Butter Crispy Rice Treats!

Holiday Cookie Basket

Nothing spells holiday love like these wrapped baskets of cookies.  This year Plum Cherry Crumb Bars, Brown Butter Crispy Rice Treats, and Stained Glass Cookies and Sugared Cookies were added to the Linzer Cookies my sister demands I make every year.  Unlike past years when I stressed and swore over torn and cracked dough or runny royal icing, these were fairly easy-going and fun.  And luckily I finished them and shipped them off before I got hit with this nasty cold.

Holiday Cookie Baskets

To make the Plum Cherry Crumb Bars, follow the Raspberry Crumb Bar recipe I made in October and substitute with Sarabeth's Plum Cherry Jam.  Yes, it's pricey, but like we said, "Mmm... No time like the holidays to splurge on $10 jam."  To make the Linzers, follow the Linzer recipe I used last year.  I'll share the recipe and technique next time for the Stained Glass Cookies.  For now, let's talk about Brown Butter Crispy Rice Treats.

Browned Butter Crispy Rice Treats

These are like your childhood favorites, but browned butter, real vanilla bean, and salt give them subtle grown-up touches.  I thought this was a gluten-free treat, but discovered that Rice Krispies have malt in them!  And a wheat-free cereal I found also had malt, so that means it's wheat-free but not gluten-free.  I intended them as a treat for Joe's sis, but I'll have to continue my hunt for gluten-free cereal.  Also, although I'm a chocolate lover, I don't advocate for the use of chocolate here because it overwhelmed the other flavors.

Rice Krispy Treats

These are made much like the way you made them as a kid with mom.  The butter is just cooked on low heat a little longer to brown it, and a scraped vanilla bean is added.  Can you see the vanilla specks in the melted marshmallow?  The cereal is added, then the mixture is poured into a pan and smoothed out.  They're more moist than the back-of-the-cereal-box recipe, so I let them sit out overnight.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Cinnamon Honey Butter

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Honey Butter
Photo updated November 2012
This post is really late -- I meant to have it up before Thanksgiving!  But then I went to New York and taught Mom how to make the Sweet Potato Biscuits in a recipe swap, and she taught me to make Chinese Shrimp-Stuffed Eggplant.  And right after that was the baby shower for my sis.  Then Thanksgiving happened, and I cooked for two days.  So I'm finally taking a breather to tell you about what are now my most favorite biscuits I've ever made.  And don't skimp on that Cinnamon Honey Butter!  It didn't sound like my thing, but it's dangerously good.  They made another appearance on Thanksgiving morning, and again at the dinner table.

Baby Shower
But before that I was exhausted with making these shower lollipops and pink velvet cupcakes.  From top left: The cupcakes are easy enough, if *ahem* your sister would only stock her kitchen with a mixer, whisk, or dry measuring cups; my twin sis with another prego friend; everyone loved the "Bun in the Oven" candles, which came in a box that looked like a stove/oven and smelled good enough to eat; and making these chocolate and pink white chocolate lollipops were easy enough, except making dozens will keep you up til 3 a.m., as we discovered.

Back to the biscuits.  I was getting obsessive about finding the right recipe.  I didn't want a fussy recipe that called for yeast and required waiting for rises.  Drop biscuits would give me misshapen lumps.  I wanted biscuits -- really tall, crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside.  I was drawn to this recipe because the sweet potatoes are flecked throughout the dough, rather than being one dark shade of orangey-brown.  And they smell really darn good.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
I didn't have any self-rising flour, so I used a substitution (see the recipe), and it worked perfectly.  The dough will be sticky and have the texture of cottage cheese, but don't overwork it.


I did have reservations about using melted butter when you always hear that the secret to flaky biscuits is cold ingredients.  So I made the recipe as directed, but stashed the cut-out biscuits in the freezer for 20 minutes before baking, for some insurance.  They came out nice and tall.  No flat hockey pucks here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mom's Shrimp-Stuffed Eggplant


Shrimp-Stuffed Eggplant
New photo updated Oct. 2012. 

You might think shrimp and eggplant are an odd combination, unless you've had this dish at dim sum.  I love it.  Mom still finds it weird to have me snapping shots around her and trying to note every little detail, but I got the recipe!  In exchange, I showed her how to make sweet potato biscuits, which I'll be posting soon.

Shrimp-Stuffed Eggplant

The eggplant is sliced on the diagonal, and then sliced again (but not all the way through) to create a pocket to hold the shrimp.  The slices are then filled with shrimp, and browned in the pan.  Because eggplant sucks up oil like a sponge, eggplant dishes can be greasy.  Mom uses the Chinese method of quickly frying for color and flavor, then steaming the rest of the way through to avoid more oil absorption.  The dish is finished off with the usual oyster sauce, and Mom's addition of mirin adds complexity.  Use Japanese eggplants, which are slender and long, rather than the short and bulbous Italian variety.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Banana-nut bread and the chocolate chip cookie make a good couple.  These Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies have the flavor and lightness of banana bread, with the taste and chocolate hit of chocolate chip cookies.  They're fun and easy to make, and just what I was looking for after slightly fussier apple crostatas and bar cookies.

Halloween 2010

I've been doing more, but my baking and cooking projects don't always end up on the blog.  Some I consider too ordinary or ubiquitous.  Sometimes I neglected to take photos.  Sometimes, as in this case, the recipe just didn't work out.  I had been looking for a pumpkin biscotti recipe but they're so few.  This recipe was halfway to a disaster.  The flavor was good, but they didn't get to the correct, hard biscotti consistency and had chewy middles despite repeat stints in the oven.  I finally decided that pumpkin puree must be too wet for proper biscotti, and that the storebought variety I'd tried before probably uses some industrial powdered pumpkin flavoring.

My pumpkin-carving didn't go so great either, since I cleaned it the week before and let it sit, and it grew moldy.  In the end, I carved a simple face in a very thick gourd since stores were sold out of pumpkins.  I had to envy Joe's pumpkin (bottom right), since he did a better job and his pumpkin is still mold-free.

Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk

These cookies went waaay easier.  Surprisingly, the recipe called for oats and some whole wheat flour, and I used some white whole wheat flour I had on hand.  Everybody's favorite start to cookie dough is that mixture of butter, white sugar, and brown sugar.  The remaining ingredients are added, and then scooped onto a cookie sheet.  The cookies bake up small, but I had a big yield of over 40.  The recipe calls for cutting up your own chocolate chunks, but I didn't realize and had bought 60% cacao chocolate chips.  But they were perfect, nice and big with a deeper, grown-up flavor.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Raspberry Crumb Bars & Citrus Bars

Raspberry Crumb Bars & Citrus Bars

These raspberry crumb bars got inhaled here at home and will be making a repeat appearance, but those citrus bars?  Never again!  It's not that they weren't good, because what lemon bar isn't good?  Especially one with the addition of lime?  But where the raspberry crumb bars were relatively simple and fun, the citrus bars demanded more elbow grease and then ran into technical issues.

Raspberry Crumb Bars

The raspberry crumb bars involved making an almond-y dough that would serve as both the base and topping.  The base gets baked briefly in a cookie sheet lined with parchment, then cooled and spread with jam.  Then the remaining dough is scattered on as a topping and baked.  When cool, a bench scraper works well as a cutter.  They were bagged with the citrus bars as thank-you gifts to volunteers at an event I organized and excitedly received.

Citrus Bars

The citrus bars?  This one photo speaks to my stress with this recipe.  There were lots of lemons and limes to juice, and the limes took more work.  And then I used a rimmed cookie sheet as directed for the base, but the dough came up to the rim, leaving no room for the pourable fillling!  So I moved and pressed the partially baked dough into this 9x13 pan and the rest into an 8x8 square pan, and poured the filling on top.  It worked, but some dough pieces floated to the top and it wasn't attractive.  But confectioners sugar covers up all sorts of ugly, so I was still able to gift them.

Now I did make this once before, halving the recipe and baking it in this 9x13 pan and it worked out just fine, if you want to try it.  But I'd had enough with this try, plus it's a heart attack special with the 8 eggs, pound of butter, and 4 cups of sugar (which I cut down to 3 cups without a problem).  But I really recommend those raspberry crumb bars!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple Cranberry Crostata

Apple-Cranberry Crostata
I put this crostata on my "to-make" list months ago, but I was waiting for the right time.  I always think of October and November as pie-baking time, for those of the apple, cranberry, pumpkin, and sweet potato variety.  Sure, I could have made apple pie in July, but there's something about the aromas of an apple pie warming up the house on a chilly day.  This apple pie is easier than most, since the rustic crostata has no pan and requires only a single crust folded up at the sides.

Crostata in Pan
But maybe that was too free-form for me, because I had this compulsion to also try the tart in a square pan.  I don't know. . . squares and clean rows appeal to me.  It tastes good either way, but I like the sugary crust of the round crostata.  A slice topped with some whipped cream is all the better.  The cranberries lend a tartness you don't get in ordinary apple pie.

Cranberry Apple Crostata
Clockwise from top-left: I used the food processor for even slices -- except they weren't so even and I sliced my finger on the blade, so it's the knife next time for me.  I used Granny Smiths and MacIntoshes.  The dough is rolled out into a large circle.  The filling is mounded in the center, and you can dump it all at once or lay out concentric circles.  The square tart is assembled and baked, then topped with apples cut out from dough scraps.  The round crostata has its sides folded up, is brushed with egg wash, dusted with sanding sugar, and ready to go in the oven.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pane Bianco

Pane Bianco

I couldn't help but be impressed with the shape and layers on this bread the first time I saw it on King Arthur Flour's blog, Baking Banter.  The one on the bottom is mine, filled with sundried tomatoes, basil, and cheese.  The one on the top is better -- I'm annoyed to admit -- and made by Joe.  It's got the same ingredients in different proportions, plus ham and pepperoni.  They're like our pizzas -- I'll scoff when he goes for the meat lover's variety, and I'll choose tomato and basil or eggplant and caramelized onion.  I do love meat, just not a whole barnyard of it.  But this time it just made the bread so moist and flavorful.  Although this bread may look complicated, it's actually a cinch to pull off.  Honest!

Pane Bianco
Bottom row: The risen dough; after spreading the filling, the dough is rolled up and then snipped to reveal the layers; my loaf is shaped into a figure-8.  Top row: The dough was rolled out and spread with cheeses, sundried tomatoes, and basil; the baked loaf had layers of the filling, pepperoni and ham, and bread.   

I'm not a fan of garlic powder, so we spread half a head of mashed roasted garlic on each bread.  And in addition to the cheese blend, we added chunks of fresh mozzarella.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Maple Ice Cream in Waffle Cone Cups

Maple Ice Cream

Who doesn't love maple, or maple ice cream?  Scoop it over waffles for waffles à la mode, or nestle scoops in little homemade waffle cone cups like I did here.  In my mind, maple is a fall flavor and very New England, perfect for these parts and this time of year.

Maple Ice Cream
Use the real deal here -- only 100% pure maple syrup.  Not pancake syrup, not maple-flavored syrup.  I know it's more expensive, but Trader Joe's sells this bottle at a fair price.  Like most ice creams, it gets slightly cooked into a custard before chilling in the fridge, churning in the machine, and firming in the freezer.

Do I recommend buying a waffle cone iron?  Not really.  Storebought ones are plenty tasty, but we got this as a gift along with our ice cream machine.  I adapted a recipe to make cups instead of cones, using a cupcake tin.  I'd tried just molding the cookie around and in little bowls, but the cupcake tin worked the best.  When it's fresh off the iron, immediately push it into a cupcake well using a coffee tamper.  After 5 seconds, gently ease the tamper out -- while the cookie is pliable and has taken on the cup shape, but before it hardens up and molds around your tamper.  Leave them in the cupcake wells until they cool and harden.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mascarpone Gelato

Mascarpone Gelato
I had been looking forward to trying this gelato, and Sis had been nagging me to make it.  Would I make it again?  Probably not, because of how much it cost!  The recipe calls for two tubs of mascarpone, and I was shocked they cost $4.99 each.  That means you're making a $10+ quart of gelato!  So I wasn't even upset when Joe returned from the grocery store with just one tub, and I halved the recipe.

The gelato recipe also didn't get a thumbs-up.  I thought it was all right, but both Joe and Sis complained the lemon flavor was too aggressive, and lemon aside, it just failed to wow them.  I found that funny, since I used only the zest of one lemon.  And I left the pine nuts out, since no one wanted them.  The Mascarpone Gelato recipe is on this page.  If you know of a better one -- and if it doesn't cost over $10 to make -- let me know!  I've got another ice cream post on the way, a winner that I make over and over again.  Stay tuned!

Tomato Tart Unbaked
And some gratuitous photos of a tomato tart with roasted garlic and fontina I made, just because the colors look cool.

The colors got very muted after baking.  Plus, I didn't have time to snap a photo before it got eaten at a potluck.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Singapore Mei Fun

Singapore Mei Fun

I was happy to tackle this dish since my dad is from Singapore, (though my parental sources informed me it was created by Cantonese people who thought the flavors were like Singapore's, not Singaporeans).  Also, because I attempted it a couple of months ago with the result of mushy and crumbled noodles.  Happily, all went right with this attempt, and I have another old favorite under my belt.  In a departure from the recipe, I used roast pork (char siu) instead of ordinary pork for added flavor.  There are roast pork recipes online, but most people, myself included, just buy it from the restaurant.

Singapore Mei Fun
I learned that all rice vermicelli (mei fun or mi fen) is not created equal, and that certain types hold up better to stir-frying.  Also, don't stir-fry the noodles so long that they fall apart on you.  My mother recommended this brand from Thailand since she's used it before, but I can't say more beyond that on what brands to look out for.  Let me know if you have more guidance in this vein.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beef Chow Fun (Beef with Rice Noodles)

Beef Chow Fun
So I spent a hectic few days in New York, and learned this recipe from Mom.  I wanted to take her out someplace for a belated birthday dinner, but she didn't feel like going out.  She really wanted to cook with me.  I decided not to push for a restaurant if she wouldn't enjoy it, plus I took away a lesson for one of my favorite dishes.

Magnolia Cupcake & Pandan Mooncake
And it was way better than a restaurant meal I'd had earlier in the week.  My sister and I agreed Bellini on Manhattan's Upper West Side was awfully underwhelming for Italian food.  Dessert was another disappointment, at the famed Magnolia bakery.  My devil's food cupcake was all right but nothing exciting, and the frosting was just too sweet.  The Crack Pie at Momofuku's Milk Bar was good, if a bit on the too-sweet side, but it wasn't as addictive as its name would have you believe and I was disappointed after all the hype.  Ippudo with my friend Bao, who writes some dining pieces for The New York Times, was a real winner -- delicious pork buns and ramen noodles that are nothing like what you get in the cheap plastic packets.  I also had some mooncakes (yue bing) with the Mid-Autumn Festival not far away, and this pandan version was not only flavorful but very pretty.

Beef Chow Fun1
But back to the important stuff.  This dish is often called Beef Chow Fun on restaurant menus, and the wide, flat rice noodles are called sha he fen.  They're only sold fresh, not dried, and sometimes they're already sliced and other times sold in a sheet.  Look for them and the bean sprouts, which lend a nice crunch, at your Asian market or Chinatown. 

Beef Chow Fun2
And Mom says the Chinese restaurant secret to getting that beef so tender is a pinch of baking soda.  Sounds weird, I know, but it works!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Peach Cobbler

Peach Cobbler

I always look forward to peach season.  I had been planning to bake an easy cobbler I used to make years ago.  Glancing at the card I dug up from my recipe box, one thing bugged me: The recipe listed boiling water as an ingredient for the biscuit topping.  Don't cookbooks and cooking shows endlessly preach the virtues of cold biscuit ingredients for maximum puff and flakiness?  I mean, the recipe worked great all those years ago and family and friends loved it, but I felt it was time for a new recipe.  This one's almost as easy.  And it was a bonus that it called for buttermilk, which I had left over from another recipe. 

Peach Cobbler Collage
I made the cobblers in ramekins and mini-pie dishes because the baking dish I pulled out looked too large for the filling. Also, I just love baked goods in mini form. It wasn't until I popped them in the oven that I realized the recipe didn't call for any cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices. My old recipe card didn't either. I know some people think cinnamon gets in the way of unadulterated summer peach or autumn apple flavors... what do you think? In the end it tasted great, with summery peach sweetness and a buttery biscuit topping. And yet, I really could have done with a hit of cinnamon, and I was wondering if I preferred the old biscuit topping after all. That's life, huh? Especially for picky ol' me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I think this satay would make my Malaysia-born mom proud.  I love ordering it in restaurants, dipping the perfectly grilled strips of meat into a peanut sauce.  The recipe calls for chicken, but my red meat-lover self used beef; both are common.  The sauce takes some time to put together but is great and complex, not like those flat, sugary peanut sauces you find in chain restaurants.

Some of the ingredients, like tamarind, were unusual for me, but don't let that put you off.  Despite my heritage I don't cook a lot of Malaysian, Singaporean, or Chinese food, since I learned to cook on my own rather than from my mom.  But I've been picking up a dish here and there, and getting less intimidated with each one.

Satay on grill
One other minor note: some of the recipe instructions tell you to process ingredients to a smooth paste, but don't knock yourself out.  Ginger and lemongrass are very fibrous, so my spice paste was a bit chunky and stringy.  In the end, though, it all smells great on the grill.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chef Dennis' Corn Fritters

Corn Fritters

Chef Dennis writes about the delicious and healthy recipes he creates at a Pennsylvania prep school at More Than a Mount Full.  The squidgy cafeteria burgers, limp fries, and watered-down, soup-consistency ketchup of my youth can't be found on his blog.  Recently I saw a recipe for corn fritters he made that I just couldn't resist.  These were not just pancakes flecked with corn kernels, but crispy, airy, and slightly sweet.  What I was really impressed with was that the leftovers returned to their crispy state the day after when reheated in a toaster oven.  This is a perfect use for that farmers' market corn.

corn fritter 2
The batter is easy to throw together, and I love how colorful it is.  I had no scallions, but I have plenty of chives in my garden and they were a delicious substitute.

Corn Fritter
I used my trusty tablespoon scoop to measure out the fritters, and fried them until golden brown on each side before draining on paper towels.  They were excellent sprinkled with some fresh herbs and eaten with roasted vegetables.  They look smaller than the ones in Chef Dennis' photo, but I churned out 25.  Recipe after the jump.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Prosciutto Ring Bread

Prosciutto Bread
I don't know what possessed me to bake bread on a 95-degree day, but it sure was good bread.  It finished baking before I headed out the door.  Later I got a call from Joe...

J: Can I have some bread?
Me: Can't you wait? I was going to take more photos.
J: I can't eat it because you haven't finished documenting??
Me: Fine, but don't hack it apart too badly!!

Only another blogger would understand.  Anyway, a good deal of it was missing when I got home, which you can take as testament to how good it was.

Prosciutto Bread
Clockwise from top left: Prosciutto di Piccolo was the more affordable alternative to Prosciutto di Parma ($16.99/lb!), but we agreed the bread could have used more since the pieces seemed to have shrunk during baking.  I'd also consider substituting small chunks of sausage next time.  The dough looks curdly at first, then kneads out smooth.  Roll it into a ball on a floured surface, then into a rope, and finally into a ring.

Prosciutto Bread1
Clockwise from top left: The ring before rising; the ring after rising; brushing with melted butter; and using a wooden peel to ease the bread onto a baking stone.

Prosciutto Bread Piece
It's a very rustic bread, with a nice crisp crust and a sturdy but moist crumb.  Try it!