Friday, July 27, 2012

Traveling Back to Time on Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies reminded me of my grandparents' deli. The store had everything a kid could dream of--cigarette candies, gold coin chocolates, chocolate balls wrapped in soccer ball pattern foil paper. My favorite of all was the peanut butter cookies. They were stored in a large plastic jar and placed high high high on the shelf. Maybe it was the only treat I couldn't reach and the only one thing my grandparents won't give me, the peanut butter cookies were my favorite. I always sat below the cookie jars while I peeled lotus seeds. They gave me motivation, perhaps today is the day when my grandma would award me a piece of cookie.
Chocolate soccer balls

I don't remember if I ever get to try one as a kid. My grandparents never had time to attend to their grandchildren. I only found out later that my grandparents didn't own a deli, they owned the biggest snack wholesale in Southern Taiwan. When I finally tried the cookies, I think I was in second grade already. Can you imagine longing for something throughout your childhood and only to have that wish satisfied years later? What can I say...the longing and the grease made it the best cookie ever. It was so greasy I got shiny lips and finger tips. 

It was the last and only time I had a peanut butter cookie from my grandparents' store. Traditional cookies and candies disappeared slowly in Taiwan. Supermarkets replaced corner delis, and Snicker bars, M&Ms, potato chips filled the shelves. Occasionally I spot some of my childhood candies at hip candies store, but they're much more expensive now. It's funny how the suggested retail price is 10NTD when the store charge you 50NTD.

Replication of a traditional deli at a tourist spot in Taipei

That's my little story about peanut butter cookies. I didn't make peanut butter cookies. It was the idea of making cookies that brought back my memories. What I made last night was oatmeal raisin--thick and chewy. Something about eating cookies make me feel like a kid again. 

What you need to make 2 dozen small cookies or 1 dozen large cookies:

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
100g brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
95g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
100g raisin *(I used dried blueberries)
120g old fashioned oatmeal
90g walnut pieces
(recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

In a bowl, cream butter till fluffy, add sugar and beat for another 2 minutes until butter and sugar are incorporated. Alternatively, use your hand and mix the two ingredients together. Add the egg and mix till you get a smooth paste. Add salt, flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. With a spatula incorporate everything until they just come together. Add raisin, oatmeal, and walnut. Make sure they are equally distributed among the batter. Don't over mix. 

Using a 2 tablespoon ice cream scoop (or measure out 28-30g of cookie dough), drop cookies one inch apart on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. While you're waiting for the cookies to chill, turn on the oven to 350F. After chilling in the fridge, bake for 10-12 minutes or until sides are slightly browned.

For larger cookies, use a 4 tablespoon ice cream scoop or measure out 50-60g of cookie dough.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brioche is a Rich Indulgence

About a year ago, I went on a scavenger hunt for brioche because I wanted to replicate Fred 62's brioche French toast. Even though French toasts are made from stale bread, the ones at the diner absorbed so much cream beforehand that beneath the crusted skin was a moist toast. I tried looking for brioche at artisan bread shops, even visiting Whole Foods and farmers market, but it was so frustrating that none of the places I visited sold brioche. At last I resorted to a tang zhong milk bread from Yamashiro at Little Tokyo. Although I had a great breakfast, I'm still hoping to make French toast from brioche one day.

First take on brioche at Anne's
I don't recall ever seeing brioche at bread shops, although I've had some at Little Next Door for brunch. A simply rich chocolate chip brioche with a dark cup of latte made my weekend so much merrier. I love how brioche has butter coats your tongue into silk and makes every bite of bread melt in your mouth like a piece of chocolate. There's nothing more delicate than brioche...

I am very blessed to learn to make brioche bread last week from Anne Willan. This is the best summer job anyone can ask for--surrounded by food and antique cook books. If it wasn't for the recipe testing, I would have never dared to make brioche. Brioche recipe is intimidating...with the extra amounts of butter and egg,the dough is simply too sticky and far too challenging for an amateur like me.

Nevertheless, I DID IT! It was a very exciting experience. I pretended that the dough I'm throwing against the counter is the fat spy who reported me to the police when I exceeded the 2 hour parking limit. That nasty woman deserves to be slapped on the counter on all sides! And for 10 minutes long!

What you need for your brioche dough is:
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup milk, lukewarm
330g all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten together

Later you'll need 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, 100g grated cheese of your preference, and more flour.

In a rather flat bowl, let yeast dissolve in milk for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour onto workspace and sprinkle sugar and salt on top. Make a well in the center and pour egg mixture and milk into the well. With one hand mix the liquid together, then slowly add in flours.

When you get a sticky dough that's coming together, use a scrapper to cut through the dough and incorporate all the leftover flour. Gather the dough in one hand and throw it against the workspace with force. Then with the other hand repeat the same motion. Stop when the dough peels off like a rope, about 10 minutes. Pat dough into a ball.

Grease a large bowl with vegetable oil and coat the dough on all sides with oil. Lay a towel or plastic wrap on top then let dough rise for 1 hour or until double the size.

On a lightly floured surface, remove the dough from the bowl and gently knead the dough to let air escape. Place butter in center and fold over it with the dough. With your palms squeeze the dough and butter together. Butter might ooze out and the dough will reject the butter at first. Flour the surface again and knead dough for 1 minute. Gather dough and throw against counter for 2-3 minutes. Add grated cheese, reserving 2 tablespoons for topping. Knead cheese into dough for another 2-3 minutes.

Butter loaf pan. Pat the dough out into a square, 1" longer than your loaf pan. From the bottom, roll the dough away from you. Squeeze the gaps together then fold the sizes inward and squeeze the fold to seal. Insert fingers under dough and flip the dough over as you drop it into the loaf pan. Smooth the side and make sure all corners are covered by dough. Cover pan loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for a second time, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400F. Make egg wash with one egg and 1/2 teaspoon water. When the loaf pan is almost filled, brush top with egg wash, leaving a quarter inch space on all sides of the dough, so the egg wash doesn't glue the bread down during the baking process. Sprinkle on the reserved cheese and bake for 25 minutes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tomato Basil Spaghetti

It's been quite a while since I last updated. Too much has happened and my head never spun around to cook a proper meal at home. First was the moving then came the unpacking, which is still in process (even after two weeks). The first place I organized was the kitchen, however, and I was able to make a delicious plate of spaghetti for lunch the other day.

It is a simple recipe that calls for tomatoes, basil, and grated parmesan. That's all it takes to make a light meal for summer. With the temperature high above 90s (or even higher in other cities) you really don't want a heavy meatball in your stomach while the heat weighs down on you.

I personally don't have much appetite in the summer. To me, comfort foods like mac-n-cheese and chicken soup are for colder days. All I want in the summer is fresh produce or lemony, vinegary, cold dishes; such as, stone fruit salad, lemon verbena ice cream, cold soba noodle, and sushi.

What you need for a light spaghetti meal is
4 tomatoes
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, diced
2 twigs of fresh basil or more/ 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt & pepper

remove tomatoes' core
with a knife, make an X at the tip
boil a pot of water and bath tomatoes in boiling water for 8-10 seconds
remove tomato skin
chop up the tomatoes into 1/4 inch chunks
heat a skillet on medium heat with some olive oil and fry shallot and garlic till fragrant, 3-5 minutes
add the tomatoes into the skillet, season with dried or fresh basil, salt and pepper
stir occasionally and remove from heat after 15 minutes
while tomato is cooking, boil linguine as instructed on the package
drain noodle, keeping a few tablespoon of noodle water, mix noodle with tomato sauce
use a large fork and twirl the noodle into a huge lump, untwist onto a shallow bowl
sprinkle with parmesan and basil

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Unagi Don: Broiled Eel on Rice

Two pieces of broiled eel on top of rice

I'm getting more and more lazy to head out to eat. Traffic and long hours of commute is killing any desire to drive. Although I have been craving for Japanese food for the past week after work, I just rather stay home and rummage in the fridge for dinner. It's weird how I'm not tired of washing dishes but I am very very very annoyed of stepping on the brake and the accelerator.

So what I saw first when I opened the fridge was microwavable rice. Yes! I've just saved 29 minutes from making rice from the rice cooker. Not 30 but 29 minutes because the rice needs one minute in the microwave. It's okay I can live with one minute.

soy sauce in riceWith rice ready, let's make a rice bowl! I love any dinner that has a salty sauce to go with rice. As a kid, I could never finish my bowl of rice without some sauce to go with it. It's a habit my great grandparents passed on to me. I heard that sodium satiates you faster, and it's cheap. So people would sprinkle salt or soy sauce over their rice and have some steamed veggies for supper. This way you won't feel like you didn't have enough for dinner. It's not that my great grandparents were pouring soy sauce over my rice bowl, but the habit is they would take a spoonful of juice from say a slow-cooked pork.

Any time I have rice I try to pair it with a saucy dish. Today I made Unagi Don or broiled eel on rice. It's a common Japanese dish that is sweet but heavy on soy sauce. The easy way to make the dish is buy pre-broiled eel from Asian market and make the spreading sauce at home.

The eel usually comes in air tight package, and the fish look long and thin out at the tip. If you're not eating it immediately, put it in the freezer, and defrost before broiling.

What you would need for a Unagi Don is:

A bowl of rice
A package of broiled unagi or eel
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1-2 tablespoon sugar

Open the unagi package and broil it in the oven for 8 minutes
In a small sauce pan, cook soy sauce, mirin and sugar on high heat
Taste the soy sauce for more sugar (salt is not necessary because soy sauce is very salty)
Let the liquid boil for 5 minutes to cook off the alcohol
When the sauce is nice and hot, carefully pour two table spoons over the eel, pop it back into the oven
Spread the rest of the soy sauce on rice and mix well
Take the eel out from the oven after 8 minutes, slice it up into 3 inch pieces
Lay eel on rice
And enjoy!