Saturday, February 23, 2013

Coconut Nian Gao

Coconut Nian Gao

For years I've been looking for the right Nian Gao recipe.  Do you have a treat from childhood that you want to re-create, but it eludes you?  As I described in my failed attempt last year, my mom would sometimes make Nian Gao, the aptly named "new year cake," when I was a kid.  She would melt and slowly caramelize sugar, then steam the cake.  Once I could not wait for it to set, and stuck my finger in to get a taste.  I hadn't learned the concept of not leaving behind evidence, and my mother found a fingerprint in the cake.  Oops.  The thing about mom is that she never wrote down recipes, and usually didn't measure ingredients or time her cooking.  She just had a knack for it.  But it's been a number of years since she made Nian Gao and she doesn't remember all the specifics, so her instructions to add "a little of this" and "cook this for a while" just aren't successful for me.

Nian Gao

If I couldn't re-create the cake of my childhood, I figured I might as well try something completely different.  My friend and colleague Wendy shared this recipe by her husband, Joe, for a Coconut Nian Gao.  The part that makes it radically different is that it's baked.  That part made me do a double-take, too.  In fact, when I told my mom about it, she was doubtful but wanted the recipe to try as well.  And when I ticked off the list of ingredients -- butter, eggs, brown sugar -- she said, "This isn't Nian Gao!"  And I told her, trust me, it tastes just like it, with improvements.  It isn't as dense and hard as the storebought versions.  The edges bake up more like a Western-style cake, so it's easier to cut because it's less sticky.  And the coconut milk, butter, brown sugar, and eggs add subtle flavor and richness, but not so much that it tastes very different from what you're used to.  It's got my endorsement.  Happy Year of the Snake!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chocolate Pots de Creme

Chocolate Pots de Creme

If you celebrate Valentine's Day, I hope it was a good one.  I view it as a commercial holiday, but always worthy of a good dessert. In years past I've made desserts that Joe would like, but they're usually flavors that don't appeal to me (like the combination of peanut butter and chocolate).  I did the same this year and will cover that in another post, but this year I also made something for me.  These are Chocolate Pots de Creme I've been eyeing ever since I saw them on Facebook around New Year's.  They are creamy, indulgent, and very chocolaty.  They're also gluten-free.  And they are the easiest thing in the world to make.

Chocolate pots collage

The only difficult part is chopping a block of chocolate.  I should stick to buying bars from now on.  You just toss the chopped-up chocolate in the food processor, pour in some hot milk and cream to blend, and you're almost done.  Blend in an egg, some vanilla, and allspice.  Pour into cups or ramekins, and chill for a few hours.  The recipe filled exactly two 6-ounce ramekins, perfect for a Valentine's Day dessert.  But I plan to treat myself to the recipe throughout the year.  Joe also got me flowers for the occasion -- I wonder if I can keep the cats from eating them?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Boston Globe Review: Kam Man

Kam Man
Photos by Shirley Goh/Globe Staff

Happy New Year!  Or, as my family says, Xin Nian Kuai Le!  I hope all of you are safe and warm after Blizzard Nemo.  I fell behind with posting, which wasn't important when coping with the storm.  On Friday a statewide driving ban was issued in Massachusetts, but exceptions were made for some people including the media so off I went.  Driving home from the Globe in the blizzard was surreal and a bit terrifying, and it made me a staunch supporter of the ban.  Then the power got knocked out just before I arrived home, along with the heat.  It was a punishingly cold night, but electricity and heat returned the next day.  Joe did lose a couple fish because the tank got so cold, but otherwise we were fine.  My thoughts are with friends and others still without heat or electricity.

I hope there will still be reason for celebrating, with the Year of the Snake beginning today.  For this story I reviewed the biggest Asian market south of Boston, Kam Man in Quincy.  It's got just about everything you need for your new year in one location, including a bakery and huge housewares section.  And beyond Chinese products, it also covers Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Indian, and Thai cuisines.  I also write briefly about Chinese New Year customs.

Read on to find out what I thought:
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I'll leave you with some wintry scenes I snapped with my phone.

snow collage