Friday, March 30, 2012

Teriyaki Chicken 照燒雞

Teriyaki is such an easy sauce to make. I didn't know that until I made it myself. The ingredients can be a little hard to get, but if you have a Chinese supermarket, I'm sure they will carry mirin, michiu, and soy sauce.

First off, there are two types of alcohol in this sauce: mirin and mijiu. Mirin is a Japanese sweet rice wine. Whenever your dish needs a little kick on the sweet side, use mirin. On the other hand, michiu--a Taiwanese rice wine, brings out the flavor of the meat.

These are the three main ingredients you will need from left to right--mirin, michiu, soy sauce
I guess the alcohol is optional. As long as you have a really flavorful soy sauce, you can forgo the flavor that mirin and michiu give you.

So here is the ingredients and simple step-by-step instruction:

If you use chicken breast or chicken leg and the skin is still attached, you can leave out the oil in the first step. You will get a lot a lot a lot of oil from the chicken skin when you put your meat in the pan. 

Before you start cooking though, you can prepare some rice, noodle, or burger buns. I always keep leftover rices in the fridge in case I spontaneously need rice. If you have sandwich bread ready or better burger buns, toast them in the oven with some butter. When the chicken is done, layer it with lettuce, tomato and mayo to make yourself a teriyaki chicken burger!

You can use the sauce recipe to make any teriyaki dish, like teriyaki salmon, teriyaki broccoli, or teriyaki patty. If you are cooking for more people, simply double the recipe. Just remember that sugar and mirin are half the portion of soy sauce, water, and michiu.

The sauce is almost done at this stage

Thursday, March 29, 2012

When you have time for breakfast

Nothing beats a nutritious breakfast. When I set the alarm fifteen minute early and make breakfast, I find myself more energetic than usual. I can also concentrate better throughout the day. My mom always told me to eat like a king for breakfast and eat like a pauper for dinner. Although I really like Trader Joe's Maple Cluster and Gluten Free Cranberry Granola (I can eat them any time, anywhere, all the time), I know I should add in some veggies or a fried egg.

A recipe that I picked up from the Vegetarian Time is very time appropriate for rush hours in the morning. When you wake up, turn the oven on to 400, go brush your teeth and wash your face. Come back to the kitchen when you're more awake! Then heat a skillet and sautee some chopped onion, mushroom, carrot...anything or just onion. Add fresh or frozen spinach to the skillet, topped with sliced tomato, sprinkle some olive oil, salt, pepper, parmesan, and THEN! crack an egg in the middle. Bake the whole thing while you get dressed. It should take less than 15 minutes in the oven. who am I really kidding? I doubt anyone wakes up as early as me every morning just because I look forward to breakfast. Try this recipe over the weekend. It's really a no fuss breakfast food. The best thing is you can leave it in the oven for fifteen minutes while you check your Facebook notifications or read the morning newspaper.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Surfas and Soft Pretzels

I took a very spontaneous trip to Surfas at Culver City today. The weather was nice and class was over early, so why not? I've always wanted to go to Surfas, but never let myself go. I know I would walk out broke if I ever make the pilgrimage to culinary mecah. I heard that you can get any spices, any delicates, any tools--whatever you need in a kitchen.

I did not take any photos because I was intimidated by the STRICTLY NO PHOTOGRAPHY sign. Sure enough, when I took my first step into the store, I know I can't possible just get Valrhona's cocoa powder. On display is Whitelily flour; there was corn meal, unbleached bread flour, and unbleached all purpose. So first item that landed in my basket was bread flour. Then I walked to Aisle 10 and saw an entire five tier rack full of cupcake liners--paper, aluminum, and some with patterns, some plain. There goes 500 white cupcake liners in the basket. As I continued my journey, a sales greeted me and asked me if I need assistance. Well...I do want some matcha powder. He was very efficient and guided me to the tea section. Unfortunately, a small 3 oz box cost $40. I guess I can save my matcha adventure when I go to Kyoto.

Anyways at the end I bought more than the cocoa powder I intended to buy, which was not surprising at all. Anyone who loves their kitchen would worship Surfas. If you're ever in Los Angeles or strolling around Culver City, go to Washington Blvd and take a look at Surfas yourself!

Surfas got me so excited to bake! I've been wanting to make soft pretzels for the longest time! And they are soft temptations when I go to Disneyland. One of the many things I bought from Surfas was coarse sea salt. That with the bread flour will certainly gimme the best pretzels, I hope.

Golden pretzel with coarse sea salt
It's such a long recipe, so I'm just going to post the ingredients list and explain the process in words.

First off, take a large bowl and pour warm water and yeast. Wait about 5 minutes for the yeast to wake up.  Then add in the melted butter, follow by whole wheat flour and sea salt. You can use any salt you like for the dough.

If you want to make sweet cinnamon pretzels, then I would add a tablespoon of sugar. I brushed some cinnamon butter mixture after baking and found the pretzel a bit too salty. But the sodium level is just right for a savory pretzel.

After adding whole wheat flour, add a third of the bread flours. Since I like to knead my own bread, I use a wooden spoon and incorporate everything until a dough forms. If you like the no-fuss stand mixer way, then just attach the dough hook and slowly pour the bread flour into the bowl until the dough cleans away from the bowl.

If you are kneading your dough then add enough bread flour until a rough dough forms. On a lightly floured surface, use the ball of your palm to push the top of the dough out, then fold it back and rotate the dough 90 degrees. Push the dough out again with the ball of your palm and fold back. Keep on rotating and pushing and kneading until a smooth surface forms. By this time the dough should barely kiss your hand. Press a finger 1/2 inch into the dough, if the finger impression does not disappear then you're ready to let the dough rest for 40 minutes. I like to keep my dough loosely covered in the oven or the microwave.

After 40 minutes, the dough should have doubled in size. Weigh the dough and divide into 14 balls. With parchment paper ready on the side, roll each ball out into thin strips. It should be longer than your forearm, about the length of a baking sheet. When you first start rolling, roll with the ball of your palm too so you can distribute equal weight on the strip. As the strip gets longer, roll with both palms in the middle and exert a small force to push the dough out. ***Give the sides enough dough to stretch out but keep the dough fat in the middle. Make the tips skinnier than your pinky.

To shape into pretzels, hold the strip from the tip and criss-cross them to make a large loop. Then twist the loop and fold the tips back. Repeat until you get 14 pretzels.

Notice how the tips are skinny and the middle of the loop is fat. The knot is from criss-crossing the tips, twisting the loop, and folding the tips back.
At this stage, preheat oven to 450F.

Now add baking soda to water and boil them together. When the water is ready carefully drop a pretzel into the water. Wait 30 seconds before flipping it and cook for another 30 seconds. Take the cooked pretzel out and let rest on a wire rack. When you get enough to fit on your baking sheet (about 6), brush some egg wash on the pretzels and sprinkle with some coarse sea salt. Then bake for 15 minutes.

Bubbles are coming from the baking soda. Baking soda gives pretzel a tan before baking.

This is a cooked pretzel after boiling.
While the first batch it baking, continue to cook the rest of the pretzels.

If you want sweet pretzels, simply brush the pretzel with egg wash, bake it then brush another layer of cinnamon sugar glaze after you take it out from the oven.

For the sugar glaze I mixed nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar and butter together then brush them on after baking
Wait for the pretzels to cool down a little before you dig in! It's a great idea to have a cheese fondue on the side to dip your salty pretzels in!

Steaming hot pretzels from the oven

Monday, March 26, 2012

Applesauce Carrot Cake

I've been looking for ideas on what to bake next. There are so many recipes out there I want to try, but so little time on my hand. Whatever I decide to make have to click with me. When I'm on tastespotting, I'm just like a child oohing and aahing at every delicious treats. In my browser, a pile of saved recipes are all yelling and begging me to try them.

What clicked with me last weekend was carrot cake. I enjoyed a fluffy carrot cupcake from Dots a few days before my take on carrot cake. The cupcake had less sugar, which balanced perfectly with the slightly more sugared cream cheese frosting. And the frosting wasn't sky-high. There was just enough for you to indulge in that mini cake.

I tried this applesauce carrot cake from The Baker's Dozen Cookbook. It's not a fluffy delicate like the one from Dots, but it certainly has deeper flavor. Adding the applesauce also makes the cake more moist, but I think it makes it a bit more dense too.

To cut down on the fattiness, I dotted the cream cheese on top instead of frosting and layering the cake. I definitely miss the cream cheese frosting on my cake though.

For my next trial with carrot cake, I'm going to leave out the applesauce and see what that do to the cake. Maybe I'll get low fat cream cheese and just indulge myself in cheesy sweet frosting.

Dotted cream cheese frosting on applesauce carrot cake

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Time Traveler's Soup

Cold weather makes me crave for hot and steamy soup. It reminds me of Shanghai when my mom always prepared a pot of soup for dinner. In the dining room, a wide floor length glass opens over looks a river and a row of parasol trees (梧桐). I would sip my bowl of soup and watch the leaves roll in the coooold air. I missed home. I missed how it smelled like dinner after school. I missed how the family would sit around a large round table and share stories of the day. A simple bowl of soup can bring up so much memory. Now that the bowl is empty, it reminds me how precious those memories are.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A little too late for pi day

First time making a savory pie. It's amazing how you use the same butter pie base but once you change the filling, it's not a dessert anymore.

I love to make pies with my hands. I like that feeling of butter and flour crumble on my finger tips. The key to an easy and no mess pie is to work fast! Rub the butter and flour together as fast as you can. Then sprinkle some ice cold water to bring everything together. If the butter is melting, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it for 10 minutes. Afterwards, quickly roll it out thin and pat it down in the pie dish.

Since I was planning on filling my crumbly pie shell with feta cheese and garlic and crimini mushroom, I thought why not add some pepper and paprika into the pie dough? Well turned out you can't really taste the extra flavor in the pie because the butter overpowered them. I think I'll skip my fancy little additions next time and see if there's a difference.

Roasted Tomato, Mushroom, Squash Feta Cheese Pie
I didn't follow any recipe, kind of just pulled random things from the fridge. The basic ingredients is eggs, cheese, and milk. If you add frozen spinach it would turn out to be a quiche-like pie and maybe use double the cheese topped with pepperoni to get pizza pie! Yummm...let the pie shell be your canvas and food your paint. Enjoy!

Make the dough first. You can even stop after step 8 and freeze it.

Change the filling as much as you want but keep the eggs and milk.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Berry Delicious Scones

You can't always have your way, and that's when you substitute what you don't have with something less satisfactory. You might not have a date on Valentine's day, but a best friend will do--less desirable, at least you weren't alone. In another instance, I didn't have a vase at home, but I was eager to celebrate Spring with some fresh flowers, so the milk bottle came in handy.

There is also many substitutions in baking. Lemon + milk give you buttermilk. Baking powder mixed in flour give you cake flour. Heated milk and heavy cream with half a lemon give you ricotta cheese. Instead of fretting over what we don't have, we should focus on what we have instead. Life is much simple that way.

I guess scones are pretty easy to make too, especially when I'm taking it easy this Spring break. Measure the dry ingredients and take out some cold cold butter, then rub them all together into corn-meal texture. Last add some milk and sour cream and knead a cup of frozen berries into the dough. You can use any fruit you want from the freezer: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or even a mix of those. I used Trader Joe's mixed frozen berries! $2.99/bag is a good deal. You can bake them or blend them with yogurt.

Berry Delicious Scone
Follow this recipe to make your own afternoon treats. If you don't have berries, use raisins. If you run out of unsalted butter, just use salted butter and forget about the 1/2 tsp salt. If you run out of flour....I can't think of any substitution.

Refer to the photos below for more detailed instructions. I find the dough a little difficult to work with because they are crumbly and sticky. I didn't do a good job of mixing so some part of the dough had more milk than others. But always stay calm cause you don't want to bake fear into your scones.

Rub cold butter into the dry ingredients. Work with finger tips to prevent the butter from melting too fast in your palms.  To give myself more time to work, I chill my butter in the freezer when I'm preparing the ingredients.
Don't over knead the dough, just do it until they barely come together. It's easier to work with frozen berries because you won't taint the dough too much during the kneading process.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moist Flourless Chocolate Cake for All Occasions

Vibrant daisies from Carlsbad's Flower Fields

Traveling is a tiresome activity. You need energy to laugh, to keep up a good spirit. The best cure for a tired body is warm chocolate cake and a book in bed--the add on would be bathing beneath the warm spring time sunlight as you enjoy yourself in a timeless manner. How I love lazy days.

We don't have that many laid back days to so we should never take "free" time for granted. After all, there is no free lunch.

Layer cake batter with a chocolate ganache inside to create the lava texture

My day comes with a 30 minute preparation, and it will stay in the fridge for up to three days. When you bake it right away you get oozing chocolate lava cake, and the leftovers become flourless chocolate cake. They can then be blended in moose or cookies as sub ingredients. There is too many reasons to stay in a lazy mood and just indulge in chocolate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Today's Snack is Hummus on Pita

I love to snack--in front of the computer and TV, when I'm reading, typing, studying, driving, daydreaming. I snack whenever and wherever. For this reason I hate crumbly food. They can be a bitch to clean if you don't watch out for where you're eating. I once end up with apple crust all over my chest after browsing

The lesson I learned from experience is to pick a crumb-less snack. I'll save pies and biscuits for better times.

My snack preference led to my recent addiction over hummus. What can go wrong with a thick bean paste and a sturdy piece of pita? One cane of garbanzo beans made enough hummus for me to snack on for the last three days.

Roasted garlic hummus on pita

I can't remember when is the last time I made hummus. I think it was when I first got my Vitamix. I followed the Vitamix recipe and made a white sesame hummus. This time I roasted some garlics and blend it along with some chilly pepper. I also squirt some honey during the blending process to balance the savory flavor.

This is the recipe that I used. They are all very standard ingredients. I wonder what spices are used in a traditional hummus? You'll see an update soon because hummus is unlikely to go away anytime soon because midterms are coming up. I need my lovely crumb-less hummus & pita to fuel me through all-nighters!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Soup on a Lazy Day

A few days ago was one of those days where I find myself tugged in my blankie and did absolutely nothing. My lack of energy means that the fridge was empty, nothing but frozen mackerel, half an onion and a carrot. I guess that's enough to make a cup of warm soup. Dig deeper into the fridge I uncovered gochujang! (The paste was so dry--from lack of use--that I bended my spoon when I struggled to get a spoonful out)

Star ingredient for a spicy stew: Gochujang
It's a spicy bean baste similar to Japanese miso. Gochujang gives soup a spicy kick, and it is commonly used in Korean beef stews or in tofu soups (soondubu). There is nothing better than a cold night with a cup of spicy soup for TV dinner.

So I sautéed the onion first with garlic. This is my favorite step in cooking, the fragrance that cooked onion and garlic gives out. Yummmmmm

As I added all my ingredients, I started wondering which type of alcohol I should add. Is there a rule to what type of wine you should use? My own rule is if the soup is dark use red wine, light then white. If it's an Asian dish use either Japanese milin or Taiwanese mijiu--both made from rice but the Japanese one have a sweeter taste. Since I am using gochujang, a Korean ingredient, I decided to go with Japanese milin because ern...the two countries are right next to each other so the flavor should be similar?

The only type of wine I would advise NOT use in cooking is cabernet sauvignon! The wine is too strong, and it will end up flavoring the dish too much. The strong flavor is also hard to blend with the other ingredients. I'm not sure if there is a specific wine better for cooking or not. I usually just save a glass or two of wine in the fridge for cooking. What you think?

A tip I learned to remove floating fats and bits of whatever in a soup is to put a sheet of baking paper large enough to cover your pot. The baking sheet does a good job at absorbing oil. After simmering your soup simply remove the baking sheet and you're left with a clear soup.

Here is the recipe if you want to cozy up on your couch too. I love how soups can hold abundant amount of flavor. Feel free to use any type of fish fillet, but probably go with some leftover or cheap fish because the flavor will end up sort of bland in your soup. As for the veggies, add potatoes for a thicker base and more tomatoes for more citric flavor, perhaps some lemon juice to keep it light.

Friday, March 2, 2012

No More Excuses but Yes to Shake!

Summer is coming! At least in Los Angeles the sun decided to come back out again! I love to complain about the weather in LA to friends living on the east coast. Like a few days ago when I took out my winter jack cause it was 60 (or 15C) in the day. I had on a scarf and pulled down my boots from the top drawer. What a perfect chance to take out my winter gear again (har har, I miss my President's Day weekend at New York when I had to sleep with woolen socks and long PJ pants).

I like how cold weather gives you the excuse to munch on hot chocolate or warm cookies. You tell yourself your body will burn it off in the cold. But then I give myself the same excuse when the weather gets hot. A smoothie isn't that bad; I'll go out and be active cause it is hot...then I'll burn off the ice cream.

No enough of excuses! I need to curb my sweet tooth period. That way I can taste the world's cuisine before I develop type II diabetes.

If you are like me who love sweets and need it at all times, try this healthy shake made of kale, cashew, date, and cocoa powder. The veggie and cashew fills you up, and the date and cocoa powder kicks up the taste without giving you a sugar hype.

Four ingredients + water to make a healthy shake!
The best part about this shake is that you actually get the real shake consistency! The magic lies in the cashew. The cashew powder thickens the drink, so if you prefer your shake so thick you can barely get it up the straw, then double the cashew from a thin layer to a thicker layer in the blender. I also added a few cacao beans and two spoonfuls of cocoa powder for stronger flavor. After blending the three together on Variation 5 speed for a minute or two, you should get the following result:
Cashew & cacao & chocolate powder
With that as your base, fill your blender up with either date or honey as sweetener and fill the cup with kale.

Kale is such a versatile veggie plus it is super healthy. I've heard about kale chips, salad, stews...My most favorite way is still to blend it up into a shake though. It's too fibery for my liking, and it takes a while to cook down.

What I have at the end of all this hard work, thank you vitamix, is some guilt free shake that will replace my lunch today...if I can stop myself from entering the kitchen.

"I'm no ugly shake!"

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time to use up leftover almond meals

My roommate and I dug in before the almond honey cake could cool!
A problem with obsession is you tend to dedicate so much time, effort, and resources, and at the same time ignoring your conscious and abandoning your senses. When the crave fades, however, you're left with a big mess. You question yourself, what have I done? have I lost my mind?

What I have in my kitchen is bag after bag of almond meal--some are grounded with the brown almond skin; some are silky and some lumpy. They serve as constant remainder that I only made one successful batch of macarons with a frill out of I don't know how many batches.

Time to get rid of them. And lower my blood sugar from regular stuffing of tasty almond sugar cookies.

Urgh but almond meal have such limited use. After googling some almond meal recipes, I found out that people mainly make muffins or financier from them. Nothing really arouse my interest until I stumbled across Mmingcook's almond-honey cake post!

No guilt cake for tea time!

What surprised me was her recipe used neither flour nor sugar. Also the ingredient list was short and very accessible. Any home baker would have baking powder, honey, salt, and eggs at home. So preparing the ingredients was no biggy.

Maybe not everyone has honey at home. I didn't have the liquid type of honey the recipe called for, all I have is some honey solid I got from Shanghai. The recipe called for 1/2 cup of honey, so I dissolved 2 tablespoon of the honey below with half a cup of boiling water. Then let the honey dissolve and add the mixture with the rest of the ingredients when the mixture cooled a little.

If you don't have honey, I think you can use sugar instead, but be sure add some liquid. The batter can be very heavy. I thought I made a total mess by substituting honey water for honey because when I poured the batter into my brownie pan, the batter didn't form a smooth ribbon-like texture. I had to dump the thing into the pan. But the cake came out very fluffy. 

I guess the lack of gluten from flour contributes to the lightness. Plus the egg whites helped the cake rise a little, and perhaps the hot water helped too? Like how fluffy cupcakes sometimes call for hot liquid? Anyways if you're looking for a light alternative to tea cake, definitely try this recipe. 

PS If you don't have almond meal on hand, simply pulse 2 cups of almonds with some confectioner's sugar. Adding the sugar absorbs some almond oil that might sip out in the blending process.