Monday, May 31, 2010

Cookie Cutter Fish

I had a lot of fun!

This is my May entry for Royal Food Joust by the Leftover Queen: Cookie Cutter Fish. Ravioli-size pizza pocket: Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Skim milk mozzarella, spinach, herb and garlic infused San Marzano Tomatoes sauce, hot capicollo, and hot cacciatore in handmade whole wheat pizza dough.

Cookie Cutter Fish almost sounds like a real species of fish.  This is ravioli sized pizza pockets made with whole wheat dough and skim milk cheese, striking a delicate balance between flavour and calories. Applewood Smoked Cheddar is chosen to add smoky and sweet aroma to the pizza pocket, I used a mozzarella with low moisture content to create the mouth watering stringy effect of melted cheese.  Spinach is my green of choice.  I needed the iron, and warmed spinach offers the perfect texture and structure.  Egg or, in my case, egg replacer is used in making my whole wheat pizza dough. San Marzano is a type of tomato that is particularly tangy and zesty.  They make great sauces.  Capicollo and cacciatore are cured ham and sausages, but their spiciness was not noticeable with all the cheeses.  It does add a beautiful hickory aroma with a small kick.

Because of the shape of my pizza pocket, the 'fins' cooked way faster than the 'body'.  I learned the tomato sauce has to have some moisture (i.e. don't drain the sauce or cook it too long) for the whole 'fish' to cook evenly.  Also, adding fresh herbs directly into the pizza pocket created overly pungent flavours, so the herbs were cooked into the sauce first.

They are so cute!

Ingredients: makes 40 little fishes. The ingredients are not set in stone.  Basically, just use whatever you would normally put inside a ravioli or calzone.  You can also use your own pizza dough recipe instead of mine.
1 cup Spinach (finely minced)
1 cup Mozzarella (finely minced) or 2 cups if grated.
⅓ cup Applewood Smoked Cheddar (finely grated)
3 cup Pizza or Pasta Tomato Sauce or diced tomato
⅓ cup capicollo (finely minced)
½ cup cacciatore (finely minced)
2 Tbsp kalamata olives (pitted and finely minced)
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 leaves of basil
2 tsp oregano (leaves only)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

2 cup whole wheat flours
2 eggs
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon olive oil


1. In a large bowl, dissolve honey in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.
2 Stir the egg and salt into the yeast mixture, then mix in the whole wheat flour until dough starts to come together. Tip dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until all of the flour has been absorbed, and the ball of dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes.
3. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
4. When the dough is doubled, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half, making sure one half is slightly bitter than the other one.  Form into two tight balls. Let rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled.

Sauce Mixture:
1. Over low heat, simmer the tomato sauce with garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper for at least 10 minutes or until the sauce has become viscus.
2. Remove from heat and put the mixture in a blender. Blend until all the ingredients are fully blended. Set aside to cool.
3. Mix all the cheese, sausages, spinach, olives in a mixing bowl.  Once the sauce has cooled, mix the sauce in with the rest of the ingredient.  (We don't want to melt the cheese yet.)

1. Roll the both balls of dough with a rolling pin until it will not stretch any further.  Shape does not matter.
2. With a small spoon, scoop a teaspoon amount of the sauce mixture onto the smaller sheet of dough.  If you are using a particular cookie cutter, center the sauce inside the cookie cutter. Resist putting too much mixtures!!
3. Once you have positioned all your mixtures.  Gently and carefully cover them with the larger piece of dough. With your fingers, mold the dough around the mixtures and press down to seal it. Don't be shy and use some force. Then use your cookie cutter to cut them and place them in a pan. (Optional: feel free to use leftover dough to add patterns onto the pocket)
4. Beat an egg and add a pinch of sugar or honey. Brush the egg mixture onto the pizza pocket.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Bake for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on the size of the pocket) in the preheated oven, until the "fins" are a little browned and golden.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dinner Almost Impossible: May

Cheese + Greens + Egg = Cookie Cutter Fish!

Sorry for the lack of  blogging. It has been a tough week and I almost canceled my Dinner Almost Impossible.  Thanks to Dennis, I persevered and pulled off the dinner.  This month's ingredient is Cheese, Greens, and Eggs.  Sound pretty easy right? Dennis is allergic to eggs, and cheese is a problem for our low calorie diets. 

Initially, I wanted to make parsley gnocchi, but I didn't quite like my experimental ones enough.  Then, I wanted spinach ravioli, but that's pretty unoriginal.  Then, I thought about making calzones, which is also not very original.  But what if I marry ravioli and calzone? 

For the rest of the dinner, I decided to keep it very simple.  We had some very unimpressive salmons last months during Dine Out Vancouver event, so I decided to make pan-seared salmon, with only salt and pepper.  Hoping to just bring out the natural flavours of the fish and show the party that salmon doesn't have to be dry. 

The photos turned out a little odd. I think it has to do with the lighting.

This is the appetizer.  The cheese here is Italian imported buffalo mozzarella.  This cheese has relatively show calories and buffalo milk is easy to digest for the human body.  The combination here is very simple: cucumber, tomato, cheese, basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. 

Simple Wild Spring Salmon prepared in the same way I prepare Crispy Fish Filet.  However, I pulled it off the pan to quickly and the skin came out soggy.  I have to remember that I must allow longer cook time, with big patch of fish.

Now for the star of the night:
Aren't they cute?

Cookie Cutter Fish.  They are ravioli size calzones with spinach, skim milk mozzarella, and whole wheat dough.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This week!

I am rather behind in my chocolate class.  I haven't done half of the reading, I haven't even started the assignment due this Friday, and there are an exam next week.  The advance level wine class starts this Saturday.  I am suppose to read a whole book before the class and I am still on chapter one. 

And!! Dinner Almost Impossible for May is this Friday!  I think I have some idea of what I am going to cook. The ingredients for the month is: egg, cheese, and greens.  This is a particularly challenging ingredients for me, because Dennis can't eat eggs, and cheese is definitely bad for our weight loss.

I can easily make an omelet and call it quits, but what's the challenge in that?   I got the permission to use egg replacer, but I would still like to honour the versatility of eggs in my dish.  Having worked as a Cheese specialist for a year, I really want to make use of the vagueness of this month's ingredients and showcase several of my favourite cheeses.

Btw, would you guys be interested if I start producing print-friendly versions of my recipes?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Japan: Kochi Part 2

The city center of Kochi was a shopping district with pedestrian covered walkways.  There were farmers market selling beautiful fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish.  In the center of everything were several closely packed restaurants and izakaya.  Many of them looked like this one in the picture, boasting local breweries and fresh seafood.

We did not meet anyone who spoke English in Kochi, and most writings were in hiragana, which I can't read.  We couldn't read the menu and the waitress couldn't speak English.  What did we do? We ordered everything on the chalkboard from right to left, and alcohol from left to right.  From the content of the dishes, we then tried to match the text on the board and try to figure out other dishes using these characters.  Dennis ordered katsuo tataki immediately.  Of course they had it.

This restaurants had absolutely the best sashimi we ever had.  The fish were fresh, delicate, and flavourful.  We didn't quite know what we were eating, but they were good and beautifully plated. Maybe you can help us identify them.  I also had raw octopus and horse sashimi.  After so much hype, horse sashimi was unimpressive.  It was tough and gamey.  I think I accidentally ate whale, but we wouldn't know.  I did not appreciate the fish (in the photo below) until I learned to filet fish myself later.  It was a perfectly fillet fish: clean, paper thin, and intact, showing off the skill of their chefs.  Next to us were 3 businessmen eating lightly and drinking heavily. They look over at us and gave us an approving node.  Good job finding this gem of a restaurant, they seemed to say.

I loved their alcohol list.  All the nihonju (saki) was listed and ranked according to their sweetness, acidity, and bodiness.  For example, a +13 sweetness was the sweetest and -13 was the driest.  Our favourites were all in the medium-dry range around -8 with moderate acidity and body.  (We should do this for wine list. This was so informative.) This one (photo right) in particular was so good that we decided to try to buy a couple before we leave the city.

I don't remember how much the meal cost, but it was worth every penny.  Dennis and I would fly back to Japan just to eat here.  This is definitely one of the best restaurant ever been to in the world.  Too bad I was too drunk to recall much of it.  All I can remember was uncomfortable seat and amazing food.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This is the part two of Can you Eat: Dandelion?

Collect the dandelion into your fist and pull them to expose the base.

In Greek cuisine, horta (χόρτα lit. 'greens') are a common side dish, usually eaten cold and seasoned with olive oil and lemon.  Lots of different kinds of greens can be used, depending on the area and season.   Dennis's family uses wild dandelions for horta. You can also buy it at farmer's market or Whole Food, $2.99 for a small bunch.  Why buy them when you can pick them for free?
Our result after an hour of picking. This will only make 8 servings of horta.

Cut off the root and separate each leaves and stems.

Discarding thick stems, flower stem, and damaged leaves.  The flower can be used for tea, but that's just focus on making horta for now. For the larger leaves, you want to make sure it is not too tough.  Bend the base of the stem and if it makes a nice crisp snap! sound, then it's good.  If it is soft and rubbery, then you might not want to us too much of these rubbery ones.

Now, you want to wash these THOROUGHLY.  Unless it is grown in your own back yard, you don't know what it has collected. Even if you picked them in a forest, there can have a bit of critters. In fact, mine came with a lovely zoo of snails, bugs, and spiders.  If your sink is not big enough, use your bathtub.  Let the leave sit in the water bath for a good 30 minute for the dirty to loosen and collect on the bottom.

Once they are washed, boil the weed in a pot. The longer you boil them, the more tender they will be.    Just taste them once in awhile until they are at your desired tenderness.  It took me 3 hours.  Once it is ready, mix two or three teaspoon of salt into the pot.  Then drain and use a tongue squeeze out the extra liquid.  The leftover liquid can be made into a nutritious soup/tea by simply adding some lemon juice.

For the traditional Greek horta, simply mix ½ cup of olive oil and ½ cup of lemon juice.

However, I have a different sauce in mind. Here is my version of horta:

½ bulb of garlic (minced)
1 small tai chili
½ cup of lemon juice
½ cup of olive oil
1 tsp of salt

I mixed all these ingredients together and mix it into the horta.  Chilled and serve.  The final dish is spicy and garlic-y. Sort of like Chinese' marinated seaweed.  Absolutely delicious.  If you prefer something milder, use less garlic and boil them.

Dennis has already worked through a third of this before I had a chance to take any picture.

For showcasing DandelionI am submitting this post to Weekend Herb Blogging, a world-wide food blogging event (created by Kalyn's Kitchen, now maintained by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once) with the goal of helping each other learn about cooking with herbs and plant ingredients.

If you'd like to participate, see 
who's hosting next week. WHB is hosted this week by Astrid of Paulchen's FoodBlog.

Dandelion on Foodista

Can You Eat: Dandelion?

Pesky little weeds... but you can eat them!

I have been looking forward to adding a Can You Eat This? Series to my blog. This is inspired by Yaya, Dennis's 83 year old Greek grandmother who still goes net fishing and picking wild herbs and berries. "You will never go hungry in Canada," she always says.  I can't wait to blog about her herb garden, fruit trees, and grape vines in the backyard. She is the woman who gave me the fundamentals to European cooking.

One of her family's favourite dish is horta, or boil greens.  Boil greens? What is so exciting about boil greens?  This grandmother goes for a walk around city of Vancouver and harvests wild greens from parks, forests, and alley way.  "Burns calories and get free vegetables,"she would say with a huge grin.  There are about 80 different kinds of greens that can be used for horta depending on the area and season.  Although dandelion is just one of them, there are 11 different types of dandelion all with different texture, flavours, and cooking methods.  Some can be eaten raw as salads, pickled, or stewed with lamb.  The flowers can be made into wine and the roots can be made into caffeine free coffee.

According to Wikipedia, dandelions contains more nutrients, health benefit, and medical benefit than spinach. "A cup of dandelion leaves contains 112% daily recommendation of vitamin A, 32% of vitamin C, and 535% of vitamin K and 218 mg potassium, 103 mg calcium, and 1.7 mg of iron. Dandelions are also an excellent source of vitamin H, which is proven to aid in weight loss when ingested."

This time, Yaya is going back to chemotherapy on Thursday, and she was eager to show me how to make horta before that, just incase.  She went into her garden and the alley way behind her garage to show me the seven different dandelions readily available around her house.

This is red dandelion (photo above). You can buy this at Whole Foods at the cost of you left arm. Or you can look around your house, parks, forest for this weed.  Yaya "cultivate" them (a.k.a. allow them to grow) in her garden. They have broad leafs and red stems.  They do not form the yellow flower with the white fluffy parachute seed ball.  These is the most popular form of dandelion for consumption and they are very versatile.  They are a little bitter and especially nice in saute with sweet pepper, egg plant, and avocado.

This is white dandelion (photo right). They look very similar to red dandelion except without the red stem. They do not form the yellow flower and the parachute seeds either. These are also been cultivated in Yaya's garden on her home-composted soil.  Usually, the leaves would not be as broad and luscious.  These are more tender and less bitter.  If they grow in the shade, they can be even more tender and delicious.  They are suitable for salads.  There is a third one which is some sort of cross between the white and the red type.  These have white broad leaves but red stem.

Then, we have the typical broad-Lobe dandelion, the one that grows out of control everywhere.  These are Yaya's flavourite dandelions, because they are packed with flavours and very tender when young.  These are easily identifiable by their yellow flower and white parachute seeds.  Instead of growing upwards, these tend to grow outwards with the leaves mostly flat on the ground.  When picking them, look for the small ones that grow in the shade.

I could not find the English name for this 5th one, vourva in Greek (photo below). We only found one in our two hour field trip.  Yaya instructed that this should be eaten separately from the rest, because of its distinct flavours. They are more common in Richmond. 

There is also a similar looking plant called false dandelion, pahoradiko.  They are fuzzy with curly broad leaves (dandelion has toothy leaves).  They are often mistaken for dandelion, but they are also edible.  Yaya boils them all together.

Next post I will talk about how to pick, clean, and cook them.

Dandelion on Foodista

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chocolate: The Origin Part 3

This is the third post of the Chocolate Origin Series:
Origin Part 1
Origin Part 2

During normal pressing process, the chocolate liquor first undergoes hydraulic pressure system in order extract certain percentage of cocoa butter. The extracted butter can be kept either in liquid or moulded form. The leftover cocoa solid material (cocoa cake) can either be broken into smaller pieces (kibbled) and sold into the generic cocoa cake market, or ground into cocoa powderused for hot chocolate, baking, chocolate ice-cream, etc.

Another popular pressing process involves treating the cocoa nibs or the liquor with an alkali solution (alkalizing), which reduces the acidity by increasing the normal pH factor from about 5.0 up to 8.0. This treatment is also known as "dutching".  This process makes the chocolate darker, gives it a milder, but more chocolaty flavor, and allows it to stay in suspension longer in liquids such as milk. However, cocoa butter extracted from alkalized liquor is more pungent and a less desirable odor.

Watch from 2:15 and onwards to see how cocoa butter is extracted by artisanal chocolate maker.

So when does the chocolate we eat actually get made?
Finally, chocolate that we eat is made from the process called Conching. The cocoa powder, the butter, and sugar are added back together at a predetermined ratio and melted.  If milk chocolate is been made, then milk would be added here.

"Conching" is a long process of intense mixing, stiring, and aerating of heated liquid chocolate. During this long process various off-flavored, bitter substances as well as water vapor evaporate away from the chocolate. The long intense mixing action assures complete coating of every solid particle with cocoa butter, giving the chocolate a well developed and delicious flavor and texture. As a rule, the longer chocolate is conched, the smoother it will be. The process may last for a few hours to three full days, or even longer.

After conching, the liquid chocolate may be shipped in tanks or tempered and poured into molds for sale in blocks to confectioners, dairies, or bakers. It may also be converted into proprietary bars for sale direct to the consumer market.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Introduction to Wine: Basic Styles Part 2

This is the third post in the Introduction to Wine series.
Basic Type
Basic Style Part 1

This post we will explore wine's sweetness. Do you remember your first impression of wine or beer when you were young? "Yuck!" was my impression of my father's Hennessy XO Cognac at 12 years old. My impression of alcoholic beverages was pungent, sour, and smelly. I didn't understand how people liked that stuff. Then, there was the super fruity punch and Mike's hard lemonade in high school, you know, when drinking was "cool". Then, it was the white Zinfandel and sweet wines in university. Other wine drinks used to mock me for liking sweeter wines, but the same people are now buying expensive German Auslese. Wine is like clothing. Different styles of wines become popular over time. Nothing wrong with sweet wines.

Grape juice is naturally sweet, but, as it ferments (to make wine), the yeast feed on the grape sugars during fermentation. The juice becomes less sweet.  Yeast will die once he alcohol reaches 15% or when all the sugar have been used. Any sugar remaining in the wine once in yeast are dead will determine how sweet the wine is.  Often, the fermentation is halted artificially to ensure certain sweetness level.

The majority of the wine out there will be dry, because the yeast will have turned all the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Most red wine and the majority of white are dry, although some are drier than others.  When you cannot taste any sugar at all in the wine, it is referred to as bone dry. If there is a subtle hint of sweetness, it is off-dry.

Medium sweet wine will usually be white or rosé. To make a medium wine, the winemaker will either remove the yeast from the juice before all the sugar has been consumed or add unfermented sweet grape juice to dry wine.  A medium wine should have sweetness but not be cloying or sickly. Many popular wines from Germany and as well as Blue/White Zinfandel Zinfandel from California.

Sweet wine is very sweet.  Often the sugar will make the wine feel thicker and richer. The best sweet wines are made from grapes so rich in sugar the yeast dies before all the sugar is consumed. Often sweet wines will be balanced in flavour due to refreshing acidity in the wine.  Sauternes, Asti, and Port would be some examples.

Dine In Challenge Day 7

This is the official last day of in my Dine In Challenge.  I had same breakfast, left over dumplings and salad for lunch. However, I wanted to cook something special to celebrate my last meal.

When I went back to Taiwan two years ago, my parents introduced me to this famous restaurant that was famous for their Salt Baked Fish.  Asians love their fresh fish, and they love eating then in their purest form: raw or steamed.  I suppose salt baking in the a creative twist on steaming: steam the fish in their natural environment.  When the fish (expensive) arrived at the table, the server ceremoniously unwrapped the tin foil and removed the bed of salt covering the fish.  He served the fish with a light ponzu sauce.   The fish was okay.  Yes it was moist and fresh, but nothing exciting.  My parents, being my parents, decided to use this opportunity to start a sermon about the how people ought to eat fish this way.

I have always wondered: how hard is it to salt bake my own fish? So I decided to put it try it out. First I needed a lot of salt, a whole fish (trout), and a binding agent... hm egg replacer! The theory behind salt baked fish was to steam the fish inside the salt.  Since salt does not melt or evaporate, I really don't see the point of salt baking in terms of enhancing the flavour.  I suppose that was the whole point: eating fish at its purest form. I do like my fish in its purest form with some more flavours.  I added a little bit of ground coriander seed, clove, and star anise to the salt crust.

Handling salt crust was similar to handling that blue corn meal two days ago.  It seems to stick but not glutenous. I wrapped the fish in salt and threw it into the oven.  Then I dawn on me that I have no idea how long it should cook.  Let's try 30 minutes.

The aroma of baked salt was filled the kitchen. It was a beautiful intensified fish aroma.  I sticked the meat thermometer into the fish crust and 30 minutes was too long. Skin peeled off easily and the flesh came off the bones. The fish tasted like overcooked fish.  I think I didn't put enough spice either.  I think I need a different fish too. Again, the whole experience was rather anti-climatic.  However, this was probably fish at the lowest calorie.

The fish was very crumbly.

By Day 5, I dropped two pounds, without any exercise.  I believe I have my light carb-less dinner to thank for the weight loss.  Dining in is challenging when I tried to plan nights out with friends, usually people default to meeting at restaurants and pubs.  Packing nutritious lunch is also pretty hard.  Thankfully, I have a lot of leftovers, but I do wonder how other people manage their lunch on workdays.   Because my weightless is going so well, I am going to stick to dining in as much as I can, unless when it is logistically impractical.  Let's see how long I can go without eating out.

Do you guys want me to keep taking pictures of things I make?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Not to do With: Fish

In 2001, a group of high school graduates rented a large yacht for their prom and spend 2 days cruising around the Great Lake.  They managed to caught some large fish and, thinking the fish is fresh, the group shared it as sashimi.  Three weeks later, the entire graduating class had to be treated for parasite infection, except for 3 young gentlemen.  Apparently, these three boys drank very heavily during their little trip on the lake, killing not only their livers, but also the parasite.

I have a parasite phobia (I suppose it's a pretty good phobia to have), but Dennis and I love fish and especially sashimi.  My mother often lectured Dennis and I about our sashimi bingeing behavior siting some stories about people getting tapeworm from eating sashimi.  If you have been reading my blog for awhile now, you would know that this type of 'stories' don't sit well with me and my research begins.

Sashimi is not made from fresh fish
Contrary to popular perception, sashimi are NOT made cut from freshly caught fish.  Instead, fish are frozen in specialized freezer (min. -20˚C) for at least 7 days, before they are safe to consume raw.  This is legally enforced in Europe and U.S.  In B.C. and Alberta, there are also the same regulations regarding sashimi. By freezing the fish at this temperature for a long time, parasites that naturally lives in the fish are killed. The chance of a person getting parasite from eating sashimi in restaurants around Vancouver is smaller than getting into a car accident. Some fish can be eaten fresh too.  For example, worms in large tuna are exceeding rare

Farmed Fish vs Wild Fish
Contrary to popular perception, wild fish are not necessarily better or more hygienic then farmed fish.  In fact, wild fish often has more problems than fish from a well kept farm. For example, wild salmons contain more parasite than farmed one, because it was born in fresh water and most likely caught in fresh water. Farm-raised salmon is served pellet food, which is ground-up, processed fish meat. Any parasites in the fish meat are killed in the processing and grinding stages. Since salmon only obtains dangerous to humans parasites via food, farm-raised salmon simply isn't exposed to them.  In fact, many sushi restaurants in Vancouver to serve steelhead salmon (farmed salmon in BC) raw and fresh.

Isn't farmed fish terrible?
If farmed fish is done wrong, yes, it can have a lot of problems.  This is why people should always buy fish from a reputable fishmongers that sourced well maintained, chemical-free fish. Whole Food offers these regularly.  You can bet that cheap-all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants do not source healthy fish.

In Japan, sashimi can come from fresh fish. 
Actually, most of their fish nowadays comes in frozen now.  Yes, this is traditionally done this way.  You can also find chicken sashimi in Japan.  Would you ever eat raw chicken outside of Japan?

Can I ever prepare sashimi at home?
Yes!, Look for sashimi-grade fish.  While there are no regulation regarding the grading of fish, reputable fishmongers offers high quality flash-frozen tuna (both ahi and albacore) for sashimi.  However, always practice food safe.

Do not rinse your fish.
Water do not rinse off bacteria.  Instead, it promotes the growth and spreading of bacteria on fish. It also alters the flavour profile. This applies to all meats. Don't do it. Tell your fishmonger to not do it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dine In Challenge Day 5 and 6

Hey! Not the same breakfast. Vicky my doctor has fixed my liver, so now I have moved on from blueberry pencil shaving smoothie to blueberry sandy smoothy!  Dennis had a taste: he found it repulsive.

Friday, I spent the entire day making that Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada. By the night time, I had no clean pots and pan.  All I had left was chicken broth in a pot and bamboo steamer... but the bamboo steamer would fit perfectly on top the pot.  I threw some ginseng and goji into the broth, set it to boil. For the steamer, I cleaned some boneless and skinless chicken thigh to make Green Onion Chicken.  Baked some coconut oil, garlic, green onion, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, red chile, sesame oil to sprinkle on top.  Oh, and a side salad.

Who needs pots, pans, plate?

Dennis still hates the ginseng soup.  I wonder why I keep trying to make him drink it? hmm~~ hehehe.

Saturday was super boring.
Same breakfast, left over Enchilada for lunch, leftover chicken strips (leftover from making the Enchilada) and steam broccoli for dinner.


These are made with white dumpling skin with my grandfather's folding method

My grandfather was a large banquet chef, and his dumplings were very famous in his home town, so I have been eating and wrapping dumplings as long as I can remember.  He taught me the the ribbon fold you see in the picture above. This specific folding style is for dumplings eaten for celebration, such as new years and marriages.  By folding the dough this way, he added extra doughy texture to the dumpling and also prevented it from coming apart when he panfried them.  There are different other folding method for dumpling meant for boil or steam.  However, it really doesn't matter how you fold it, as long as it stays intact.

I simply pinched these shut, nothing fancy. These will stay perfectly intact in a boil or steam.

There are a lot of ways to make, cook, and eat dumplings. There are a lot of types of dumplings too.  It's pretty unscientific and everyone has their own recipe or secrets.  If you are new at making dumplings, don't bother rolling your own dough, large grocery store or specialty asian market carries pre made dumpling skins in plastic packs.  A pack of skins is good for about 2.5 pounds of meat.  Once you are familiar with making these, then try your hand at making the skin.  I prefer to make the dough skin myself, because Dennis and I don't eat white carbs anymore and we love thick doughy skin. yum. 

Traditionally, dumpling is made with ground pork, and some are made with shrimp or vegetables.  However, I have successfully made delicious dumplings with ground lamb, beef, chicken, turkey, tofu or mushroom.  It's like sandwich and wraps, sky is the limit.  Here are some basic "building blocks" of dumpling mixture:

(1) 90-99% ground meaty stuff: ground meat, minced vegetable (such as lettuce, asparagus, broccoli), mushroom, fish, or chopped shrimp.  Pork is great because it is tender (not chunky) and fatty. Sometimes restaurants would ground the pork with additional lard and pork belly to make it extra yummy. Ground chicken or turkey can be a little on the dry side, but you can ask your butcher to ground only from the thighs.  You can make great dumpling out of just meat + salt + pepper, or you can make it more interesting by adding other things. Keep reading for ways on how to retain moisture.
(2) 5-9% minced flavour basis: finely minced onion, green onion, or shallots would give the dumpling lovely aroma it needs. Add some minced garlic too!  To balance these strong pungent flavours and the meat, I like to add parsley or cilantro.  However, do not go overboard with these things, you want your  meat mixture to stay relatively intact inside the dumpling.
(3) 1% Salt, pepper and other seasoning: mix salt and white pepper with the ground meat.  You can also add other seasoning (such 5 spice) too! If I am making lamb dumpling, I would add basil, oregano, and/or thyme. Again, don't go overboard with seasoning either.  Dumpling itself is not suppose to be packed with intense flavours.  Ideally, hearty, subtle and well balanced flavours are the way to go.
(4) 2% Water + aromatic oil: this is the not-so-secret-anymore ingredient to good moist dumpling.  You need about 2 tablespoon of water for a pound ground meat.  Mix few drops of sesame oil, coconut oil, chili oil, or other aromatic oil into the water into the water before mixing it with the meat ensures the oil is distributed evenly.  This step is especially important when you are using chicken or turkey.

Here is a sample of my "recipe":

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium size shallot (minced)
  • ½ bulbs of garlic (minced)
  • 6-8 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 tbsp fleur del sal (salt)
  • 2 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tbsp water + few drizzle of sesame oil
  • A pack of dumpling skin or your handmade ones (see bottom)

1. With chopsticks or fork, mix everything together, well.
2. Put the skin in one hand
3. Put less than 1 tablespoon of meat mixture on the skin
4. Dap water around the outer edge of the skin.
5. Fold the skin in half and seal the dumpling; careful to make sure little air are trapped inside
6. Using your thumb and index finger, firmly pinch the dumpling shut.

Boiling: Boil a pot of salted water. Put your dumpling in. They should be ready within 5 minutes. When they float, they are good to eat.
Steaming: 20 minutes or less
Pan frying: Heat a non-stick pan at low heat, coat the pan with about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Lay the dumpling in on its side. Turn frequently.  These are ready when you start seeing brown spots.

Important Tips:
1. Resist the temptation to pack too much inside the dumpling.  It will cook unevenly and explode if it's too big. (The picture on the left has too much meat for store-bought skin).
2. Flatten the meat mixture a little when you fold the skin over so your dumpling is more like a pillow than a foot ball.  This will help it cook in a pan. If you are boiling it, it really doesn't matter.
3. Don't tab the circumference with too much water, it would get soggy. You just want to wet it a little so it can be adhesive.
4. Use cooking sheet and lay them out separately.  Raw dumpling like to stick to each other and the surface they sit on.
5. The trick to dumpling is the sauce. Make a good sauce to go with it. Use your imagination.

Homemade dumpling skin:
2 cups of flour
½ cup of water
1 pinch of salt
Optional: sugar

1. Mix everything together. Add more water or flour if necessary.
2. Kneed the dough until its ready.  (A.K.A. Flatten the dough with one hand and fold it over on itself, and flatten again.  Rinse repeat for at least 10 minutes. You want the texture is consistent, and when you poke it, it doesn't bounce back)
3. Use a knife and cut it into slices. Same thickness as a slice of bread.
4. Take a slice and roll it out into 5-6 inch tube, and cut into 6 pieces.
5. Cover the dough with plastic wrap to prevent drying.
6. Take one of the small piece and roll it between your hand to make a small ball
7. Flour a flat surface and flatten the ball with the palm of your hand.
8. Take your rolling pin and roll our the ball. Regularly turn it in circle so you don't end up with a square.
9. Lay them out separately on a cookie sheet. These skins like to stick to each other and the surface they sit on.
10. Cut and roll out the rest of the dough.

That is a French rolling pin and whole wheat dough. See the not-so-round dumpling skin on the left? That's what happens if you don't turn your skin often when you roll it.

Important Tip:
1. For those who rolls a lot of dough, resist flattening these with all your force. Dumpling skin should have a perfect balance of doughiness and tenderness.
2. Turn your skin often and on small radians to ensure your end product is circular. If it is not, that's okay too. Fold the dumpling diagonally on the two widest point.
3.  Ideally, you want the center to be thicker than the edges.  You would need a French rolling pin for that.  However this is optional, I have made plenty lovely dumplings with a regular rolling pin.

Feel free to roll one skin and make a dumpling immediately before rolling out all the dough.  This is my personal preference.  It is more space conscious and I think the dough is more tender this way.

What about those fancy foldings?
Use your creativity and imagination, there are no rules with these as long as they feel sturdy and there are no holes. Youtube has plenty of demonstration of various folding methods.

What if there are holes?
You can either pretend they are not there, or you can just pinch them shut with a little bit of water. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

The May Daring Challenge!

I have joined a group of foodies where members are challenged to a monthly cook-off and I would lose my membership if I don't cook.

This month is my first month! Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

Mexican is completely foreign to me, and I had to scoured the city for ingredients: 2 pounds of fresh Anaheim chiles, Tomatillos and Masa Harina.  Particularly, Masa Herina was very difficult to find. Even Famous Food ran out; apparently, lots of people ordered it for the same day I needed it. I wonder why~ I ended up using blue cornmeal.

I started grilling the chiles at 6:30am and the dish was done by 1:45 pm. I used every pan and pot in the house.  I cut my finger, burned my arm, and set parchment paper on fire. There was grey and blue cornmeal EVERYWHERE.  I found corn starch on my face.  I use blue cornmeal instead of masa harina, because I though the blue would look great with the white jack cheese and green chile.  Well, both the cheese and the chiles turned brown in the oven, and I am pretty sure my tortilla was wrong.

Several mistakes, repeats, and seven hours later....

It tasted like Mexican Lasagna with a little bit of a kick. I think it can use more cilantro and cheddar cheese.  I really liked my doughy blue tortilla. The grilled threaded chicken was surprisingly pleasant.  This is possibly the best Mexico dish I have ever had, though I haven't had much Mexican food... The dish is egg free and gluten free though!

Would I ever make this dish again? Maybe once in a blue moon.  Or when I figure out some shortcut.

Barbara's recipe:

1. Roasting the Anaheim chiles is a critical part of the Green Chile sauce. More information about how to do this is included below, but please resist the temptation to rinse the chiles to remove the skin or seeds. You will lose lots of flavor if you do this!!
2. If using a broiler to roast the chiles, lining the broiler pan or baking sheet with foil greatly simplifies the clean-up process!
3. You may want to consider using gloves when peeling and removing seeds from the chiles. I keep a set of gloves in the kitchen for just that purpose. All it takes is one hand to the eye or nose for a lot of pain to set in!
Variations allowed:
If you have already mastered a chile-tomatillo enchilada sauce or would rather try something else, feel free to make any homemade Mexican-style sauce that will make you feel daring, whether it is a complex mole sauce, a tomato-based sauce or simply uses ingredients that you have readily available in your area. For ideas, see the links below.
Instead of chicken you are free to use any pork, beef, bean or vegetable filling you'd like. If you don’t have access to ready-made tortillas and don’t want to make them, you can use other kinds of wraps (dosas? savory crepes?) or omit them and just do the filling and sauce.
Thanks to Natalia in Rome, Kris in Thailand, and Audax in Australia, we recognize that some of you may not have access to fresh or canned tomatillos. Audax has offered the following alternatives to tomatillos:
I've done some research on substitutes for tomatillos and came up with green gooseberries (which you can easily get in Australia and New Zealand) which look and taste very similar to tomatillos but gooseberries can be tarter than tomatillos so use only 3/4 of the recipe amount or add some sugar. A number of recipe sites in Australia mentioned this substitute and they stated it was a good sub for tomatillos.

I just got a phone call back from a mate of mine who does a lot of Tex-Mex cooking he suggests green tomatoes with tamarind paste (1 kg tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of tamarind paste) which he says is the best sub he has found - the tamarind paste is very tart and adds that unique taste. Also he says that green tomatoes with equal amounts of lime juice and prune juice (no added sugar) is better than lime juice alone.
Be sure to season your filling if you are not using boneless, skinless grilled chicken. While the sauce is flavorful, the chicken or other filling you use should be seasoned if you are not using boneless, skinless grilled chicken.
Preparation time: Below are the approximate prep times for each step of the process. The sauce is the most time-intensive, but it can be made ahead and several of the steps can be done simultaneously. See additional information below for more preparation times and tips.
Roasting/preparing chiles and tomatillos: 30 - 60 min.
Assembling/simmering enchilada sauce: 30 min.
Grill chicken: 10 - 15 min.
Assembly/ baking enchilada stacks: 30 min.
Equipment required:
• Grill, broiler, or gas stove to roast Anaheim chiles
• Grill, broiler, or saucepan to cook tomatillos
• Bowl and plastic wrap to cover the bowl or a paper bag to steam Anaheim chiles
• Blender or food processor to puree tomatillos (or very finely chop)
• Small frying pan (for frying tortillas)
• Baking dish – either one large (10x15 inch) or individual gratin dishes
• Cheese grater
• Knives for cutting chicken and roasted chiles
• Spoons for stirring sauce
• Tongs are helpful for turning chiles as they roast, chicken as it grills and tortillas as they fry

1½ pounds Fresh Anaheim chiles (about eight 6 to 8 inch chiles) 24 ounces 678 grams - roast, peel, remove seeds, chop coarsely. Other green chiles (NOT bell peppers) could probably be substituted but be conscious of heat and size!)
7-8 ounces Tomatillos (about 4-5 medium)212 grams - peel, remove stems
4 cups Chicken broth (32 ounces/920 grams)
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons yellow onion, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ tsp Kosher salt (add more to taste)
¼ tsp Black Pepper (add more to taste)
2 tablespoons Cornstarch (dissolve in 2 tablespoons water, for thickening)
Hot sauce, your favorite, optional
2 Boneless chicken breasts (you can also use bone-in chicken breasts or thighs)
3 tablespoons Olive oil or other neutral vegetable oil (use more as needed)
Kosher salt and pepper
12 Small Corn tortillas (5-6 inch/13-15 cm). (you can also use wheat tortillas or other wraps)
6 ounces grated Monterey Jack, 170 grams (other cheeses (cheddar, pepper jack, Mexican cheeses) can be used. Just be sure they melt well and complement the filling)
Cilantro for garnish, chopped and sprinkled optional
Roasting Fresh Chiles
1. Coat each chile with a little vegetable oil. If you are doing only a couple chiles, using the gas stove works. For larger batches (as in this recipe), grilling or broiling is faster.
2. Lay the oiled chiles on the grill or baking sheet (line pan with foil for simpler clean-up). Place the grill or broil close to the element, turning the chiles so they char evenly. They should be black and blistered.
3. As they are completely charred (they will probably not all be done at once), remove them to a bowl and cover with plastic, or close up in a paper bag. Let them rest until they are cool.
4. Pull on the stem and the seed core MAY pop out (it rarely does for me). Open the chile and remove the seeds. Turn the chile skin side up and with a paring knife, scrape away the skin. Sometimes it just pulls right off, sometimes you really have to scrape it.
Green Chile Sauce
1. Put a medium saucepan of water on to boil and remove the papery outer skin from the tomatillos. Boil the tomatillos until soft, 5 to 10 minutes. You can also grill the tomatillos until soft.
2. Drain and puree in a blender or food processor.
3. Return the tomatillos to the saucepan along with the chicken broth, chopped green chiles, minced onion, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper.
4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the cornstarch/water mixture and stir well. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and reduced to 4-5 cups, another 10-15 minutes.
6. Adjust seasonings and add hot sauce if you want a little more heat.
Stacked Green Chile and Grilled Chicken Enchiladas
1. Heat a gas grill to medium high or build a medium-hot charcoal Coat the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Grill the chicken until just cooked through, 4-5 minutes a side for boneless chicken breasts.
3. Cool and then slice into thin strips or shred.
4. In a small skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Dip the edge of a tortilla into the oil to check – it should sizzle immediately.
5. Using tongs, put a tortilla into the pan and cook until soft and lightly brown on each side, about 15-20 seconds per side (at the most).
6. Drain on paper towels.
7. Add oil as needed and continue until all 12 tortillas are done.
8. In a baking dish large enough to hold four separate stacks of tortillas, ladle a thin layer of sauce.
9. Lay four tortillas in the dish and ladle another ½ cup (4 ounces/112 grams) of sauce over the tortillas.
10. Divide half the chicken among the first layer of tortillas, top with another ½ cup of sauce and 1/3 of the grated cheese.
11. Stack another four tortillas, top with the rest of the chicken, more sauce and another third of the cheese.
12. Finish with the third tortilla, topped with the remaining sauce and cheese.
13. Bake until the sauce has thickened and the cheese melted, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
14. To serve, transfer each stack to a plate. Spoon any leftover sauce over the stacks and sprinkle with cilantro, if you wish. The stacks may also be cooked in individual gratin dishes.
Additional Information:
Roasting chiles: Whether you roast the chiles on a grill, under the broiler, or use the gas burner element on your stove will affect the time it takes. If you do all the chiles at once on a grill or using the broiler, it will take 15- 30 minutes, plus time to steam (10 minutes) and time to peel and remove seeds (20 minutes).
Cooking tomatillos: If you boil the tomatillos, it will take 5 -10 minutes. If you grill them, it will take 2-5 minutes. If you broil them, it will take 8-12 minutes. This can be done the same time the chiles are roasting. After they are cooked, they need to be pureed, which takes a few seconds in a blender.
Cooking chicken: If you grill your chicken, it takes about 5 or 6 minutes per side for boneless chicken breasts- depending on thickness of breasts. Other pieces (thighs, for example) or bone-in chicken will take longer. If you roast your chicken, a bone-in breast takes about 30 minutes (depending on size). Be sure chicken is done but not overcooked, since it will be in the oven in the last stage of the recipe.
Corn Tortillas (from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen)
Makes about 15
1 3/4 cups masa harina
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
Pour hot water over masa harina, cover and let sit 30 minutes. Add (additional) cool water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is soft but not sticky. Divide the dough into 15 balls and cover with plastic wrap.
Heat a large (two burner) ungreased griddle or two large skillets, one on medium-low and one on medium-high.
Put a ball of dough between two sheets of plastic. If you don’t have a tortilla press, press to a 5-6” circle using a heavy frying pan or bread board or other heavy, flat object. Put the tortilla into the cooler pan or cooler end of the griddle. The tortilla will probably stick, but within 15 seconds, if the temperature is correct, it will release. Flip it at that point onto the hotter skillet/griddle section. In 30-45 seconds, it should be dotted with brown underneath. Flip it over, still on the hot surface and brown another 30 seconds or so. A good tortilla will balloon up at this point. Remove from heat and let them rest while cooking the remaining tortillas. Use quickly.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dine In Challenge Day 4

Never thought I would ever post things on time, eh?  Tomorrow is a big cooking day.  I am cooking for a challenge and I am not allow to reveal the dish and the recipe until tomorrow.  Hint: it's mexican, it requires 2 pounds of chili, and a minimum of 4 hours prep + cooking time.  So! I am going to do all my tomorrow's blogging today.

Today, I had pencil smoothie in the morning with blueberry (yes back to blueberry). Yes, banana AND an apple.

For lunch: remember those dumpling I was making yesterday?   Here they were, going into the pan with lots of oil.  Because of my pork phobia, I cooked these at low heat and overcook them.  The dumplings would have a crispy doughy skin and a juicy (hopefully) center.  The result was a little carcinogenic (burnt), but I preferred it this way.  For sauce, I mixed together soy sauce, red chili, ginger, garlic, green onion, cilantro, rice vinegar, mirin, and sesame oil.

The color of the sauce was pretty.

After lunch, Dennis and I went out to our respective appointments and also to hunt down the last few ingredients for tomorrow's secret cook-off.  By the time we got home, it was already 7:30 pm and we were starving. First, I preheated the oven in anticipation of the Grill Lamb Chop with Olive Tapenade Herb Crust.  Then, I quickly chopped off the salad: cucumber, tomato, pepper, avocado, and curly leaf parsley.  Season my lamb chops, threw them into a pan for 3 minutes, and threw them into the oven for 10 minutes.  Dinner was ready by 8 pm and I was blogging about it at 8:45pm. 

The picture turned out so good, that I am going to edit the recipe post with this photo.

Chocolate: The Origin Part 2

The is the second post of the Origin of Chocolate.  Here is the first post of the series.

Instead of a solid mass, the inside kernels of the cocoa beans consist of tiny stems and unfurled leaves. After the beans are roasted, they are put through a winnowing machine which removes the outer husks or shells, leaving behind the kernels. Because they are not solid pieces, They break into smaller particles or sections call cocoa nibs which contain their inherent cocoa solids and cocoa butter (approximately 50%).  This is the fundamental ingredients for making chocolate.

Cocoa butter is the natural fat found in cocoa beans (sort of like peanut butter). About 36% of the fat in the cocoa bean is "good fat": mono- or polyunsaturated fat and oleic acid (the fatty acid also abundant in olive oil). Of the saturated fat content in cocoa butter, over half comes from stearic acid.  This saturated fat is not harmful for human body, because stearic acid have a neutral impact on blood cholesterol.

Cocoa solids is the nonfat component of chocolate.  We can find this at grocery store sold as cocoa powder.  Cocoa solid is the source of the aroma and flavours of chocolate.

Milling: After roasting and winnowing, the nibs are then ground into a thick liquid called chocolate liquor, which essentially is cocoa solids suspended in cocoa butter. Despite its name, chocolate liquor contains no alcohol.

Pressing: The processing now goes in a couple of different directions. Some batches of chocolate liquor are pressed to extract the cocoa butter, which leaves a solid mass behind that is pulverized into cocoa powder. The remaining cocoa butter is reserved to help in chocolate-making.  Other batches of chocolate liquor are used directly to make chocolate.

First 1 minute 20 second of this video shows the process.  Ignore the rest, it's confusing

Dine In Challenge Day 3

Again, pencil smoothie with peach flavour - just to change it up a bit.  It has a nasty puke color and smelled a little wrong.  I always forget about the banana!

Time to do an inventory check on my fridge: vegetable check, spices check, protein check, and herbs check.  A pound of ground pork at the bottom of the fridge was staring at me.  I am such a disgrace of a Chinese: I don't like pork.  I like the taste, but I have a parasite-phobia, and I can't comfortably bring myself to handle raw pork.  However, it was time to suck it up and make some dumpling.  I needed a few make-from-scratch product for the freezer in cause Dennis gets hungry when I am not around.  Dennis and I have been avoiding white flour products, so I also had to make dumpling skin from scratch from whole wheat flour.  This was probably going to take all day, and it did.  I should have just bought ground turkey or chicken, but I wanted to make some legit dumpling so I can blog about it later.

Anyway, I mixed ground pork with salt, white pepper, and curly leaf parsley. Of course, the not-so-secret ingredient: water with a drizzle of sesame oil.  Looks like these won't be ready for lunch: saran wrap and back in the fridge.   Time to make lunch.  I made another huge salad, whole wheat pasta, and lemon pepper chicken. For pasta sauce, we used Yaya's pesto sauce: oregano, basil, flat leaf parsley, and copious amount of garlic and olive oil.  I made this in the beginning of the year and store it in the fridge.

Jean bought me a bottle of kalamata olive oil.  I got to ask her where she bought it.  It's the best olive oil I have never had. It was perfect for the gigantic salad of tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper.

Curly leaf parsley for garnish.

Dinner was nothing special.  Wednesday is usually the leftover day.  Last of the tomato soup from the weekend, leftover salad from lunch, and leftover ground turkey from yesterday.  I spent the rest of the night rolling dumpling skin.  Twenty dumplings were set aside for lunch tomorrow and the rest went into the freezer.