Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pumpkin Dumplings

Source: The Sweet Dynasty Dainty Desserts (Hong Kong SCMP Publication)
Preparation Time: 1 hour 45 mins

Autumn/Fall is the season for pumpkins and squash and the beautiful colors of bronze, orange, yellow and green are a spectacular sight for anyone who enjoys this season. Instead of the usual pumpkin pie, I opted to use the squash for this dessert dumpling, which is equally sweet and delectable.

This dessert cookbook is an old publication from Hong Kong and it contains alot of recipes that showcases the many possibilities of making desserts and sweets with simple ingredients and mostly of an Asian flair.

Any squash will do for this dessert and I simply picked up a cut up piece from the grocery store, all cut up, cleaned and ready to be used. As with most Asian sweets, this dumpling is made with glutinous rice flour which gives a chewy result to the end product. The squash must firstly be steamed to a very soft texture and then mash to paste texture. The glutinous rice flour is added into the mashed squash when it is still hot and incorporates beautifully. Sugar is also added as the sweetness of the squash itself is not very apparent after the steaming. The kneading and blending in this process is to be done patiently till a yellowish soft dough is formed. The bronze orange color will not be outstanding until the dumplings are already cooked.

I chose lotus nut paste for the filling and other choices may be substituted as long as that it is in the dry paste form and not watery. The dough is quite soft and malleable and indeed very easy to roll into shape. The dough is divided into balls of 50gm each and pinched out flat to contain a 25gm paste ball of the filling. The trick to an easy wrapping is to shape the filling into a round ball shape, placing it in the middle of the flatten dough and slowly bring the edges of the pumpkin dough by gathering in an anti-clockwise directions till the edges all gather to the centre and start rolling the complete pumpkin ball in your palms with a little pressure from the bottom hand palm, forming a slightly flat bottom. The lines that shapes the pumpkin sections are indented with the back of a knife by slowly applying pressure from top to bottom. When making anything with glutinous rice flour and steaming it, always line the steaming plate with waxed paper or else it will stick to the plate after cooking.

The stalk was made from melted chocolate. To give it a bark rough appearance, I used a toothpick to pull streaks in the piped out chocolate sticks and I let them harden in the freezer. Possibly the dumplings were still a bit warm when I attached the chocolate stalks, they soften a little. The dumplings tend to be sticky when they are just out of the steaming pan but once cooled down to room temperature, they are more easier to pick up. Throughout the whole process, I would say the most time consuming and effort goes into the wrapping part and the scoring part to shape the pumpkins. Other than that, these dumplings are very pretty and will surely be a sweet ending to any Autumn dinner gathering.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stuffed Fuzzy Melon with Preserved Radish

Fuzzy Melon is only available in Asian stores and I was introduced to this gourd vegetable when my father in law cooked it in a soup dish long time ago. Its shape looks like a cross between zucchini and the usual cucumber and its outer skin is fuzzy, hence the name. As with all the Yin & Yang teachings in the Chinese cooking, this melon gourd has a cooling effect and is a good dish during summer. Although it is autumn now, my palate still prefer light dishes with subtle tastes and minimum ingredients.

The texture of this melon is suitable for braising and steaming as it is firm before cooking and its lacking of taste makes it easy to pair with other flavors. There is certainly a great amount of juice in it as I didn't have to add additional water at all during the steaming of this dish and the natural juice was extracted through the steaming process and produced its own gravy.

The addition of the chinese preserved radish gives a crunch texture to this dish and I didn't need any additional salt as it is slightly salty in itself. For the stuffing, I used minced pork but minced beef can be substituted if preferred. Simply marinate it with dark soy sauce, pepper, sesame oil and chinese cooking wine just before the stuffing process. I added some minced scallion into the meat mixture while the Chinese preserved radish are diced thinly and added inside the melon cavity before the stuffing of the meat and sprinkled again some on top of the meat before the steaming. I cut the melon into thick slices of approximately 2.5 inches and used a melon scoop to make the cavity. Once steamed, the melon is softened but still holds its shape and structure and the preserved radish goes very well with the meat stuffing itself.

Ingredients :

1 medium size fuzzy melon (cut into 8 to 9 pieces equal size of 2.5 inches each)
200 gm minced pork or minced beef
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
pinch of pepper
1 tsp corn flour
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cooking wine
60gm Chinese preserved Radish (wash & cut into small dices)
1 leaf of scallion (minced)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small piece of ginger, minced
corn flour, mixed with water to make corn starch

Method :
  1. Prepare the steaming water.

  2. Mix the dark soy sauce, pepper,corn flour, sesame oil and cooking wine into the minced meat. Add in the minced scallion.

  3. Scoop and make cavities inside each slice of melon. Dip finger into cornstarch and spread around the cavity.

  4. Fill in some of the preserved Radish. Cover with the minced meat mixture, till the surface of the melon. Sprinkle some more radish on top.

  5. Dip finger into cornstarch and spread around the sides of the cavity hole to seal the meat to the melon. Place all melon pieces into a deep plate to contain the gravy later.

  6. When the water boils in the steamer, place the plate inside and turn down the heat to medium. Steam for 25 minutes.

  7. Open the steamer lid and scatter the minced garlic and ginger all over on the gravy that the melon yields and steam for a further 10 minutes. Add steaming water if necessary.

  8. Remove and serve while hot.
Serves 4 persons

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bacon & Mayo Bun

Source: 65C Water Roux Bread (Taiwan Chinese publication by Yvonne C)
Total Time : 3 hours (Mixing, Rising to Baking)

With some remains of the water roux starter dough from the last post, I attempted another recipe from the same baking book. Basically, the quantity of all ingredients are the same and the extra starter dough keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 days and only needs to be left to room temperature before mixing it into the new bread dough mixture.

For the second time round, I was confident on what to expect from this type of bread dough. After the mixing of all the ingredients, the dough appears to be sticky and heavy. Before kneading, coating the hands and work surface with bread flour is necessary. Working with this dough requires gentle strokes as it slowly becomes firmer after kneading and the incorporation of extra flour from the work surface and hands helps accelerate the process. This particular bread dough is very slow in rising and it seldoms expand too much after the recommended time. A crusty surface always forms after the resting period. For this bun, the shape required is oval or oblong.

The whole dough was then divided into 60gms portions and then rolled out individually to an approximate 3 x 4 inch size with 1/2 inch thickness. The said dough is then let to rest and rise again for another 1 hour. They are then brushed with egg before lining each with slices of bacon and mayonaise. It is better to remove the fat from the bacon as the baking will release all the fat and the buns will get too greasy. I sprinkled oregano after the piping of the mayo and my only mistake was that I forgot to line the baking tray with parchment paper, hence I had to use the scrapper to slowly release each bun from the hot trays.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Home Alone

After a whole week alone at home with the kids, I am exhausted! Kids say the darndest things and do the dreadful things. Perhaps I have been doing this stay at home mum thing for too long now, everytime Curry tells me that he will be out of town, I start to feel the stress building up. Being away from extended families whom I might be able to dump the kids with for a few hours or just simply let them play with cousins is such a disadvantage.
I started potty training with Prince D this week and as expected, he is never co-operative. Of all the parental duties, this is the one that I really dislike the most. I just don't understand why is it so easy for little toddlers to learn to differentiate between people and makes preference for something in place of another and yet they cannot understand the use of pottys without us reiterating over and over again. I was in major high blood pressure condition when I potty trained Missy E then and I don't see calm days and smooth operation for Prince D who just has his own timing and thoughts for everything.
Sometimes I wonder on how one parent families do it. Thinking about those soldiers who are away from their own spouses and kids for so long makes me count my blessings that I don't have to go through the same thing. I love my kids but too much of them in a day without any other adult interaction makes me insane. Prince D is in his Terrible Two phases now, and causes chaos everywhere he goes and with a blink of an eye, he is nowhere to be seen. However, when he naps or simply drops down tired while watching the TV with me, he looks so angelic and harmless. As for Missy E, she is in that phase when everything matters to her and she feels that she has to talk all the time. The gift of gab does not sit with me for long as I feel that she is acting up when talking with her parents and forgets that she is only 4 years old. Smart kid but not street wise!
At this very minute, Prince D is walking in his sister's Princess heels while Missy E is daydreaming away till mommy says it is time to go for swimming classes. Sometimes I doubt that too many outside activities for both my kids now will be of any good but I cannot deny it that only through this mere 30 minutes or 1 hour time when they are out doing something, I am feeling peace and quiet inside. Being a stay home mom is all about balancing lives, whether it is my own, Missy E's, Prince D's or Curry's and I just have to go along on whatever my kids dictate and demand at the meantime with an obliged sense of parent's duties.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Turkey Ham & Scallion Bread Roll

Source: 65C Water Roux Bread (Taiwan Chinese publication by Yvonne C)
Total Time : 3 hours (Cooking, Mixing, Rising to Baking)

My illiteracy of the Chinese language did not prevent me from buying Chinese language cookbooks. I got this particular bread making book from the internet without any preview and I am pleased with my hasty but good purchase.

Using water roux method is new to me as I seldom see this method in my Western published cookbooks. This method is basically mixing 1 part bread flour to 5 parts of water and then cooking the mixture together on low heat till it all comes together into a wet paste form and the temperature 65C (approximately 150F) is the defining heat in the cooking process. This paste is then left to room temperature and used in proportions required in each bread recipes. The effect of adding this hot water dough into the mixing and kneading of a bread dough is to give it a more softer texture with slight chewiness, which are the main characteristics of breads and buns sold in Asian countries bakeries.

The original recipe is for a sausage filling, wrapped into the bread dough which is rolled into approximate sizes of 3 x 4 inches oblong/rectangular shapes and cut with incisions along the log but not all the way through as to maintain the individual rolls as 1 piece. It is then slowly stretched and each individual cut is twisted to expose the sausage and to form a round flower shape.

I substituted with turkey ham, of which I normally buy in one whole block as in the canned Ham and cut it into rectangular sticks of 1 x 3 inches to fit into one portion of bread dough, weighing 50 gm each. In order to produce professional and uniform results, the weighing of the individual bread dough pieces must be adhered to and the dough must be let to rise for a longer period before and after the filling to ensure proper texture at time of baking. One good advice in making any bread, whether Western or Asian types is not to rush the resting and rising period of the dough. I opted for a crescent shape instead of a circular flower shape and used black sesame seeds as sprinkles on the surface. The addition of scallion gives these rolls an attractive color, which didn't fade much after the baking and adds more taste to the slightly crusty surface as it dried out and gives a crispy bite. Egg wash was first brushed onto the shaped dough and acts as glue for the sesame seeds and scallion.

The result was good as the inside was soft and slightly chewy and crusty on the outside. This bread roll is good for breakfast and also for afternoon snack for the kids.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Apple & Almond Cream Tart

1 day into Autumn/Fall season and I am feeling the joy of baking again. Throughout the whole summer, my laziness caught up with me and the enthusiasm of baking simply faded with the hot sun and pool days. I didn't like the idea of the butter melting beyond room temperature faster than I was ready to start creaming it and the oven temperature rising like the sun outside kept me at bay till now.

With cooler temperature and hungrier appetite, what is better than to have a warm buttery tart filled with the sweet smell of Autumn apples. We picked too many apples 2 weeks ago and there are possibly 20 more MacIntosh sitting in the bag and 6 more in the fridge. MacIntosh is Curry's favorite and I have no idea why he likes it as it gets soft easily and a bit difficult to bite into when they are tart too! I like my apple super crunchy and light, like Washington Red and Gala and I believe my choice is the majority one in this household. Since Curry is out of town for another 4 more days, I better start cooking up his apples before they rot of neglect from us!

As I was not keen to make the flaky pie pastry which takes more effort and needless to say, butter fat, I opted for the more easier to make butter tart dough. Except for the messy crumbling of the butter pieces into the flour with my fingers, this dough is a cinch to make. As long as it is left rested for a certain period in the refrigerator, it is easily rolled and shaped into the tart moulds. I made the tart case more thicker as I like to savor the buttery flavor which is tender and melt in your mouth texture. The addition of salt to the dough gives it a salty bite that complements with its sweet filling of almond cream butter and the sweet and tartness from the apples.

I only managed to use 2 apples for this 4 of a 3 inch tart each. Mini sizes are my preferred choice when making pies, cakes and tarts as I love individual servings without the cutting and dividing. And of course, they look prettier served as a whole. The filling consists of grounded almond which is available in stores and usually used for making macarons. I blended it with room temperature butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Each tart is filled with 2 big spoonfuls of the almond cream and spreaded evenly with an angled spatula. The apples are then cored and cut into slices of half and then quartered. If I had better patience, I would have created a better circular arrangement of the apple slices but instead I formed the outer rims and started to stack towards the middle, hence the uneven look.

As they bake in the oven, the almond cream started to bubble and slowly set in with the apple slices. Before the baking was done, I sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on top of each tart to create the brownish topping. Without it, the apples will look pale after baking. When I made the cinnamon sugar, I limit on the amount of cinnamon as I am in the view that spices should give only a subtle aroma rather than overpowering the baked tart.

I am pleased with the almond cream filling as it sets softly in a custardy texture and the added vanilla gave it a sweet smell. The apples tasted better after baking and it is surprisingly sweeter in baked form rather than in its original form. Missy E and I had to share one tart at a time as I feel guilty of overeating on this buttery tart. But every fork we digged in made us wanting for more! The tender tart crust just goes so well with the sweet almond cream custard and soft apples. With a cup of black coffee or tea, this tart is a good start towards a good Baking season!

Friday, September 19, 2008

September Bento Days (3)

Today's Bento boxes were made for both Missy E and Prince D. Missy E wasn't herself since yesterday when her grandpa and papa left for Hong Kong yesterday. She was so sad and started to sob at the airport and I wasn't expecting it. How would a 4 year old know the sadness of seeing people off at the airport? Well, one girl was sure sensitive and that was my own daughter!

When outsiders tell me that my daughter is matured for her age, I doubted it. But after yesterday, I better reassess my evaluation of her. Every summer, her grandpa visits but this year's was the shortest stay but the time that she spent with him was the most of all time. It is amazing to me on how grandparents bond with their grandkids easily and yet finds it difficult to talk to their own children . I have the same problem talking to my own mom but with my grandma, I think she knows more details of me than myself sometimes!

Initially I thought of making a Bento for Missy E to cheer her up as her playdate today was also cancelled. Looking outside when the sun is brimming over the September cloud and cool breeze, I thought we venture out for a picnic at our backyard. Why let the sunshine goes to waste and lunch boxes eaten inside the house? I hate the idea of winter coming but I love autumn, when grass is still green and leaves turning brown and red. Despite all of us dressed in long pants with sweaters, the kids enjoyed their outdoor al fresco dining.

Still practising with my sushi rolling and I find easier to do if I don't emphasize too much on precision and conformity to the book. I made Futomaki sizes as Missy E seems to have more appetite for lunch than any other meal of the day. I used cut ham, pickled Japanese radish and cucumber sticks as fillings. For the second tier of her Bento box, I skewered some large green grapes and included some pieces of dried apricot. To fill up the box, I cut up some pieces of Monterey Jack cheese which is a good choice for nibbling as it is not as salty as Cheddar and a small Japanese cake, similar to the lotus paste mooncake in taste.

For Prince D, I let him have the same sushi rolls with cut grapes and cheerios. As expected, he munched on the sushi roll and all the fillings come dropping out. Sometimes I wonder if my boy will ever grow up as he is such a baby, still babbling and very baby mannered. I remember Missy E at his age was already able to feed herself properly on a table and started with the chopstick. While Prince D still eats his food from his bowl... literally! He just shoves the content all to his face, similar to drinking soup from a bowl. He will never taste spaghetti till he is 4!

Missy E is all happy now and asking for another picnic soon. Her emotions sure swings but I think she will grow up to be a very understanding person with passion for life and compassion for others.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Banana is a fruit that I don't really give much thought about. It is the most available fruit all year round, even in my cold New England part! I can't say I don't like it nor can I say I love it. It is just a fruit of necessity that I automatically get a bunch at the groceries every week and to fill my countertop basket, normally eaten when I need something sweet to perk up my mundane day and a snack for the kids and also acts as Curry's occasional lunch pack filler.

Back in Malaysia, we get all sorts of bananas, small, medium, plantains, red, green and milky. The much loved Banana Cake needs no introduction over there, which is quite akin to the Banana bread here. If made correctly, the soft texture of the buttery cake infused with Banana flesh is very addictive and after a few slices, the richness sets in and I would choose coffee as the accompanying beverage to wash down the sweetness that the cake yields.

I have always wanted to make this dessert but never bothered to look for the Banana Leaves and I thought they don't exist in my neck of the woods. When my mum visited me and commented that the Asian stores here have complete stocks of everything and even better than those back in Malaysia, I didn't believe her then. But after finding the Banana leaves, I surely agree with that statement. If I was in Malaysia, I would just go to my grandma's place and cut down the leaves from her Banana trees and probably get lucky too with a bunch of ripen bananas, pluck fresh from the tree itself.

Nagasari is an Indonesian dessert of cooked rice flour with added cornstartch or tapioca flour, wrapped inside a piece of banana leaf with slices of banana inserted into the rice flour paste and all steamed to firm consistency. My mum used to make these banana packages but somehow her version was different with added palm sugar, hence a brownish color of the rice paste and not white like mine. And she used a special flour called "Hon Kwoe flour" from Indonesia, which is made of mung bean which gives a better and firmer texture than the rice flour recommended by my recipe book.

The cooking of the rice paste was not difficult, just mixing the rice flour and tapioca starch which acts as a thickening agent together with lots of coconut milk and sugar. All cooked to thick and paste consistency and spooned into cleaned and cut ready banana leaves. Overall, the banana slices are there to give color and accentuate the taste of the dessert rather than being the overpowering ingredient. The coconut milk gives richness to the rice paste while the banana leaf infused it with subtle fragrant, similar to but not as powerful as the Pandan leaves.

The steaming firms up the paste and shaped each package into a square shape. The Nagasari must be left cooled to room temperature before serving and I prefer to refrigerate mine and eat like a snack.... just like peeling the Banana but I am peeling Banana leaves instead and getting something white and square rather than long and yellowish. And it is a good dessert if you like the flavors of coconut milk with banana together.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September Bento Days (2)

Missy E started her Pre-K school this week and I am exhausted. After a nice and lazy summer, waking up to early mornings and getting everyone ready to get out of the house by 8 am is no fun. Perhaps I cannot have any break at all from my daily routine as everytime I slow down a bit, I find it difficult to re-charge again and get back to doing things. Hence, this week's Bento got postponed till today, which is almost the end of the work week already and I hope Curry doesn't complain of the simple Bento that I made today from leftovers and preserved pickles that I digged out from their bottles in the fridge!

When we first moved here, Curry was very sarcastic about American sports. Baseball is a slow game, football is not wholly a foot game as in the football that we know all over the world and ice hockey is a game of angry young men with sticks! After 7 years, he is totally Americanized and I cannot recall how many times we had to fight for the remote control when the sports seasons starts and all I ever wanted to watch was new series of the seasons on the other usual channels while he sits patiently waiting for the first strike, first home run and looking at Tom Brady as with all the other female fans of the hunky sports star! We came to a compromise to watch the peep screen at the same time and unwillingly switch sizes all the time and our eyes are spoiled in the name of TV viewing. And how surprised am I to hear he said that he will manage his company's soft ball team for this season and he wanted a lunchbox when I offered despite so late into the week, as he will be very late for dinner! And sometimes I wonder, if he manages the team outside and manage nothing at home, am I doing too much myself to the extent that Curry is so comfortable that he forgot he has to do some managing in this household too, regardless how micro! Sometimes, men are so insensitive.

For today's Bento, I included some leftover of the Chicken Roulade that I made on Tuesday night for a potluck dinner. I just pan fried them and added some dill mustard to go along as dipping sauce. For the rice, I cut up some of the Kimchi and stir fry it with the rice together with some peas and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The ubiquitous Japanese Radish pickle filled up the main box nicely. For the smaller box, I cut up some tomato, grown by Curry himself in our small patch, chuck in some grapes and slotted in a small cup of watermelon pieces.

Chicken Roulade

I have made this dish for countless times and I think the idea came from a French dish that I saw once in a cooking magazine, of which is too long to recall now. There is something fun about rolling up meat to contain vegetables and also other types of meat. Although it can be time consuming and sometimes labor intensive, the end product is always pleasing to the eyes and good to eat. It is the idea of combining all types of textures and flavors into one bundle and eating it in one bite altogether that makes eating it the fun part .

In the past, I used to wrap up the pounded chicken breast fillet with extra layers of bacon to infuse it with the smokey flavor and to contain the rolled shape of the chicken but I omitted the bacon this time partly due to the fact we are trying to eat healthy in this household and cutting down on the additional meat part is a better choice.
Any types of vegetables can be substituted in place of the carrot and celery but preferably those with firm texture and can be cut to strips for easier wrapping. Alternatively, minced meat infused with herbs and spices can be the filling if meat lovers are in town! The main focus is to produce colors inside the filling and to cook the chicken in a slow oven to release all its juices which will keep the pieces moist. Undeniably, the tying part of the roulades takes a bit of work and it is advisable not to pound the chicken breast meat too thin and tie the rolls just enough to hold everything together and not too tight for easier cutting later.
Recipe :

2 to 3 large chicken breast, pounded to 1 inch thick

1/2 of a large carrot, cut into 1/4 inch thick sticks & same length as pounded meat

2 stalks of celery , cut into 1/4 inch thick sticks & same length as pounded meat

1 shallot, sliced

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tbsp fresh dill leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper

drizzle of olive oil

  1. Season the chicken meat on both sides with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Let marinade for at least 1 hour.

  2. Mix the carrot and celery sticks together for an even distribution of color and put a handful into a piece of the pounded breast meat starting from one edge, filling to half of the meat spread.
  3. Sprinkle some shallot pieces and dill leaves and start to roll up from the edge nearest you.

  4. Cut cooking twine to the length of 12 inches and start tying from one bottom upwards in a circular motion, knotting at every turn. Continue with the rest.
  5. Preheat oven to 375'F.

  6. Turn on medium slow heat and drizzle a frying pan with a little olive oil. Add in all the rolled up chicken and pan fried on all sides for 5 to 8 minutes, to seal in the juices. Outside of the rolls will turn opaque and the inside remains uncooked.

  7. Drizzle some olive oil into a baking dish and transfer all pan fried Roulades into it and arrange them compactly. Sprinkle some more dill leaves on top of each Roulade.

  8. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes.

  9. Remove from oven and turn down temperature to 350'F. Wrap baking dish with aluminum foil, covering all sides so the chicken is contained inside and will cook through in its own steam.
  10. Return to oven and bake for a further 25 minutes, till chicken cooked through with all juices released.
  11. Once cooked, remove from oven and let the roulades sit in the same baking dish, covered for at least 15 minutes. Remove the twine and cut into 1 inch pieces.
  12. Arrange all parts in a shallow dish for better presentation. Drizzle the liquid juice from the baking dish all over the chicken pieces. Serve warm with warm salad of potatoes.

  13. For dipping sauce, mix 3 tbsp of brown mustard with 1 tbsp mayonaise, black pepper and 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Stir in chopped dill.

Serves: 3 to 4 persons (yield 12 to 15 pieces)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mini Pistachio Apricot Biscotti

I first made Biscotti 5 years ago at the Baking class that I attended in Massachusetts. From then onwards, I have made it my favorite cookie to make.

There is something very nice about making Italian Biscotti. First, it is very easy to make with the simple ingredients of all purpose flour together with baking soda and sugar are mixed with eggs to make a wet and sticky dough. Second, the varieties of additional flavoring and colors are endless and in my case, types of dried fruit and nuts. Biscotti comes in savory form too with olives and dried herbs as choices of complementary ingredients.

There is nothing rocket science about making these cookies. Once all the ingredients are mixed, the dough is then rolled into logs and arrange far apart from each other in the baking trays as they spread alot during the period in the oven. After the first 20 minutes of baking, the whole tray of Biscotti is taken out and cut diagonally across each log into smaller slices and returned to the oven for a further baking of 20 minutes.

I like crunchy and crispy cookies as opposed to the more preferred soft and chewy type in America. I enjoy the crunch in every bite of it and the crumbs crumbling all over. I chose Pistachio because of the nice green color it yields which doesn't fade with the baking and I cut dried apricots into small chunks and added them into the dough to give a tinge of sweetness and chewiness to the texture of the Biscotti. As I made a smaller batch using a smaller amount of the ingredients, I made the logs smaller and shorter, hence the smaller sizes of the cookies as compared to those that fits in those big jars in front of the coffee shop counter.

Served with a glass of milk, this crunchy Mini Biscotti is addictive. It is not loaded with sugar, hence not too sweet as in the sugar cookies that are available in the grocery stores and the light airy texture with crunchy dry crumbs makes it enjoyable to eat and less sinful to take more than 2 pieces!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Omelet and Green Bean & Vinegared Radish Sushi

Making Sushi roll is not easy. Time is required to really get used to handling the sushi rice which can be very sticky and rolling it up requires techniques too with delicate pressing and precision cutting. I made up these versions to practise my rolling and my aim was to get all the fillings in the middle .

I attempted to make the Japanese Omelet in a usual frying pan. A bit of folding is required to get the corners and I think I will invest in one of those Japanese square omelet pans next time to save me time. The green beans were blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes and rinsed in cold water to retain the green color and the vinegared Radish is cut into thin sticks and the same length as the beans. I made some Oboro sprinkles by simmering some slices of Cod fish and processed it in the food processor to get the sprinkles. With sake added and a little red coloring, the sprinkles is then pan fried to dry it up.
The color of the sprinkle is not so obvious in the sushi rice as I didn't add enough to the rice, hence showing in patches. As I used the Sushi type rice this time, it is more difficult to work with as I didn't expect it to be so sticky and a plastic glove is advisable next time! I like the color of the green bean and omelet and added some toasted black and white sesame seeds to the omelet sushi.

Making sushi is one of those cookery category that will be perfected with constant practice and I just need lots of patience and attention for everytime I make one. I like sushi as its varieties of fillings are endless and combination of the right colors of ingredients is very important to produce one that entices the eyes and palates.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Snow Skin Mooncake

Chinese Mooncake Festival is almost here and I couldn't be more excited. When I was young, my brothers and I would play with Lanterns and each had 1/4 piece of the baked Mooncake, with the original filling of lotus nut paste and salted egg yolk. Prices of mooncake goes up every year and it is considered a novelty which is only enjoyed once a year, around mid September of the Gregorian calendar or the 15th day of the 8th month in the Lunar Calendar, which is also a celebration of Mid-Autumn by the Chinese people.

The types and varieties of Mooncakes available now has multiplied and the choices makes my favorite Lotus Nut paste seemed so insignificant. The type of moulds available are as extensive as the pre-made fillings, which ranges from fruit pastes to bean pastes. Even vegetarian egg yolks are available.

My friend, Ling sent me a cookbook solely on Mooncakes and I was so tempted to try out everything. I have been studying the whole book for 3 months and having high hopes. As I can get the baked type at Chinatown, I opted to try making this Snow Skin or 'Ping Pei' version first. The saying 'You Never Know Until you Try' is very true in this attempt of mine and it looked easy in the cookbook illustrations but making them was no easy task. I was completely exhausted after making this batch and now I know why they charge so high a price for mooncakes. Well maybe mass production with modern technology doesn't count as effort but they sure save us, the over enthusiastic housewives alot of time of making them ourselves!

I was able to get hold of taro paste and red bean paste and so I proceeded to make 2 types. And I was so surprised when I opened the taro paste can.... it was brownish color, exactly like the lotus nut paste and all this time I thought the color would be light purplish, which I thought would be very nice for a plain white skin. Fear not as I reached for my blue and red coloring, mixed them together like Missy E plays with her paint colors and I got lilac to color the skin. As I love both white and black sesame seeds, I toasted some white ones and added them to the taro paste, while I added the black ones to the plain white skin which was to cover the red bean paste fillings.

The recipes all insisted on the ingredient called "Koh Fun" but I couldn't locate it and substituted with glutinous rice flour instead. My father in law told me that in Hong Kong, restaurants do use glutinous rice flour which is steamed beforehand and fried dry thereafter to make desserts. With a little info from the Blogsphere, I prepared the glutinous rice flour prior to adding the icing sugar and evaporated milk. The skin turns milky yellowish and if pure white skin is preferred, water should be used in place of the evaporated milk. The taro paste was more easier to work with compared to the red bean one as the later was more wet in texture and perhaps I should have refrigerated it before I started.

Both the wrapping and moulding part really worn me out! I did some admendment to the recipe by increasing the flour and liquid and reducing the icing sugar as I was not keen on producing something as sweet as those mooncakes sold in the stores. To start with, the dough resembles sweet pastry dough which is a little wet to the hand but not sticky and the rolling need to be done with gentle strokes or else it starts to fall apart in crumbs. I had to use a pastry scrapper to scrape it off the countertop and gently transfer to my palms and fill the fillings. During the whole process of wrapping, I found myself patching up here and there over the shaped dough and especially the white one as the red bean filling was oozing everywhere. It is very important to have an extra bowl of the cooked glutinous rice flour by the side as you need alot to flour the hands, the countertop surface and the mould itself. By the time I finished, I was a flour sack myself!

For a first timer, I think my Snow Skin mooncakes turned out successful, despite the uneven shapes and difficult rolling of a thinner skin for the white one that contains the red bean paste. My father in law tasted them and said it was good, firstly because it was not very sweet as those that he gets in HK and secondly, my addition of the toasted sesame seeds to the taro paste and also the white skin of the red bean paste mooncake, gave them a better taste together with the accentuated fragrant aroma that they gave out. I chilled them for 30 mins before serving them with hot tea. Since the sugar content is so high for these mooncakes, it is better served in small portions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September Bento Days (1)

Every Chinese household has its own version of Fried Rice. I am no exception. And I love fried rice for the fact that it is a one plate dish, complete with all rice, meat and vegetable. And definitely no skills required when all ingredients are dumped into the pan and mixed together.

I was a bit lazy today and didn't put on my creative thinking cap for the Bento. This is the only Fried Rice I make at home with 4 simple ingredients, overnight rice, diced ham, frozen peas and 1 egg. White, pinkish red, green and yellow.... still pretty for the Box and appealing to the palate. The egg was added last with a well made in the middle of the mixed rice, ham and peas and a drizzle of oil is added. I cracked the egg into the well and distributed the egg all over coating the rice mixture so that when it cooks, its yellow portion is spread all over the rice. I find doing this way keep the rice moist and not too dry after it has been dished up.

For the sides, I did my usual salmon patties, with canned salmon forked and added dill, salt & pepper, shallots and bread crumbs. I pat them into shapes last night to speed up the pan frying this morning. I added the shallot and dill to cover the fishy smell that permeates from the cooking and it is advisable to do so to keep my neighbors in their bed and not smelling fish early in the morning! Raw celery, cut into sticks with Ranch dressing on the side filled up the Bento box.

As I haven't got my supply of fancy cups yet for my Bento box, I made fruit jelly in a small stainless steel condiment cup which I managed to find at Walmart. I love plums and this one was a smaller version that I got from Trader Joe which is juicy sweet and fits perfectly in smaller boxes. Curry is crazy about Japanese rice crackers and wasabi peas and so I included 2 packs for his nibbling.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mixed Fruit Jelly

I grew up with this dessert which is served cold and always a good choice after a greasy and heavy meal. My mum is still the one making a plate of jelly at every family gathering back in Malaysia but I believe she is not as fancy as me when all she uses is just coloring and cut into diamond shapes. Regardless, the whole plate is always cleaned up before you can steal a second piece.

Jelly or 'Agar-agar' as we used to call it back in Malaysia is very easy to make. Its main ingredient is the white and translucent strip of Agar agar, which is derived from the gelatinous part of sea algae and seaweed. The strips are first soaked in water to soften it and then cook in simmering water with other ingredients and act as a setting agent. Similar to the uses of gelatin, agar agar is used mostly in Asian cuisines and desserts . Similar to kelps and seaweed, agar agar is a good supply of iodine, calcium and other minerals and a good substitute for gelatin if vegetarian dishes are to be prepared.

These days, I normally reach for the powder form agar agar as it is easier to measure in terms of water requirement and always yield the same texture. Seldom do I use the strip form as my measurement of water is never exact and the texture sometimes turn out to be wobbly and sometimes too firm to be called jelly anymore! Either way, I love the plain translucent color and prefer not to add any colors but opt for extra ingredients instead, as in this Mixed fruit version.

Making these morsels was really easy and quick but unmolding them from the molds was another story. First I ran warm water on the bottom of the molds to create the air contraction inside and slowly push each jelly out with care as not to deform or break its shape. With luck, I got most of them intact but it took me some time to extract each one.
It is better to reduce the water requirement when the jellies are to be molded as it will be easier to release them from the mold if the texture is firmer. Arranging them nicely on a big plate creates a pretty presentation and having a piece is a nice end to a heavy meal as it is light and sweet. Having them for snack time instead of the heavier pudding cups is also a good idea.