Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Char Siu and Char Siu Bao

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The Daring Cooks returned to China this month to make BBQ pork and then transform that luscious pork into steamed or baked pork buns.

The challenge was hosted by Sara from Belly Rumbles. She provided several recipes: one for the BBQ pork like you see in most shops with a bit of red food coloring and having maltose and another without those ingredients. She also shared a dough recipe for baked buns and another for the steamed. Read all those recipes plus plenty of detail on the making of the dishes on the DC site.

We opted for the recipe without the food coloring in order to avoid buying things that we’d probably never use again. It really was fantastic and simple. The hardest part of this challenge was not eating all the pork before getting the buns together.

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Char Siu (Cantonese BBQ Pork)

1 teaspoon (6 gm) salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon (3 gm) ground white pepper
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) sugar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine
1 teaspoon (3 gm) five spice
(1 tablespoon=15 ml, 1 teaspoon=5 ml)


  1. Trim the pork loin to remove fat and tendon and slice lengthways so you have two long pieces, then cut in half. Place in container that you will be marinating them in.
  2. Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine.
  3. Cover pork well with ⅔ of the marinade mixture. Marinate for a minimum of 4 hours, I find it is best left to marinate overnight. Place the reserved ⅓ portion of the marinade covered in the fridge. You will use this as a baste when cooking the pork. Haha – we didn’t read this, just marinated it in the whole lot. we then boiled down the leftover marinade once the pork was removed and used it in our buns.
  4. Pre-heat oven to moderate 180˚C/350°F/gas mark 4.
  5. Place pork in a hot frying pan or wok. Sear it quickly so it is well browned.
  6. Place on a wire rack over a baking tray and bake for about 15 minutes or until cooked through. bbq_pork_bun 007

For the pork buns, I used a recipe that I’d used successfully before. It looks quite similar to the challenge recipe, though I didn’t really stop and compare line by line. I also baked half the buns and steamed the other half, using the same dough for the whole lot. I’d never had a baked pork bun before (am quite addicted to the steamed variety) and enjoyed both tremendously. The real advantage to making your own is that you know what’s gone in to the mix and there are no big disgusting fatty or gristly bits lurking inside.

The recipe for the dough is from The Cooking of Joy and is quite excellent. I have used both rice flour and all-purpose flour for the buns. I do prefer the more delicate taste of the rice flour, though the AP version is fine.

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Char Siu Bao

makes 16 buns

For the dough:
1/2 packet yeast (a little more than 1 teaspoon)
3 cups flour
1 cup milk, warmed
3/8 cups sugar
1/4 cups vegetable oil

For the filling:
1 lb. char siu pork, either homemade or from a store, diced
2 tablespoons char siu sauce

For baked buns:
egg wash or milk to glaze
sesame seeds (optional)

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Mix in the rest of the ingredients for the dough and knead. Cover with a moist cloth or seal tightly and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour.bbq_pork_bun 012
  2. Toss the diced pork with the char siu sauce, adding a teaspoon or two of warm water if necessary.
  3. Divide the dough into 16 equal parts. Take one piece, roll it into a ball, and flatten with your hands. Stretch the circle out so that it is about the size of your palm. (You could use a rolling pin to do this, but there's no need.)
  4. Add about 1 tablespoon of filling to the middle of the dough. Cup your hand so that the dough comes up around the filling. Using the hand not holding the dough, pinch a bit of the edge, pull it up and away from you. Then grab another piece further away from you and continue around the dough, rotating as you go. Once you have gone all the way around, twist what you have left between your fingers and seal.
  5. Place the bun sealed side down on a square of parchment paper. Proof for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Add water to your steamer and heat on high. Once the water is boiling, place the buns in your steamer and steam for 13-15 minutes.
  7. For the baked buns, brush the tops with glaze. Optionally roll the buns in sesame seeds to coat.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 min or until golden brown.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Tea-ing up with the Daring Cooks

Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

We occasionally make a tea-smoked duck that we just love. However, we decided to try something new to us and made a roast chicken breast that had been brined in tea.

In a word, Holy Cow. It was go-o-o-d. The monkey kept saying that this was one of the best chicken dishes he’s had. I’ll take that as a compliment.

The chicken had a delicate tea flavor – you could tell it was there, but it wasn’t overpowering. And it was perfectly juicy. The great thing is that it was very simple – the only hitch being that with anything brined you have to plan a couple of hours in advance.

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Of course I didn’t exactly measure the ingredients, but here’s how it went down  - please adjust to suit your taste:

Tea-Brined Chicken

1 chicken breast, bone-in

approx. 6 cups boiling water
2 tea bags – we used smoked Osmanthus, which is much milder than a lapsang souchong. Any black tea would do, really. So would an herbal tea, though that would result in a totally different dish..
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 small bay leaf

In a large non-reactive bowl, steep the tea in the boiling water for about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and herbs and let it cool to room temperature. Taste the brine – it should be just slightly salty, not overpoweringly so, or you’ll end up with unpleasantly salty chicken.

Add the chicken, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator so the meat has a chance to warm a bit while the oven heats.

Heat the oven to 425 F.

Remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry. Place the chicken on a rack and roast until the meat registers 150 F. This will take about half an hour. Cover and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing to serve.

here’s an interior shot of that precious, juicy bird. There aren’t any more photos as we were busy tucking in!

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Thank you Sarah for introducing us to the idea of cooking with tea. We’ll most definitely do it again – and I am still planning to make lentils cooked in tea, as soon as time permits. For that recipe and many other wonderful tea dishes, check out what the other daring cooks created this month.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Best. Duck. Ever.

So guess what we had for dinner last night…..

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We’d long talked about whether it was possible to grill a duck, but shied away fearing that all the fat would cause massive flare ups, burnt skin and much sadness.

Our fears were completely unfounded. Cooked over a low heat (about 20 or so coals on either side of the bird), we had the most amazingly flavorful, non-fatty, crispy skinned duck ever. Even better, this technique means that the house wasn’t smoky and the oven didn’t need cleaning afterward.

Here’s the scoop – note: you want to start this about 5 hours (or more) before serving.

Rotisserie Duck

1 duck (about 4-5 pounds)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp fresh rosemary
2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1 tsp salt

Mince the garlic and rosemary. Crush the fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle if you have one, or otherwise bash them up as much as you can. Mix the herbs, fennel and salt, then rub inside and outside the duck – it will coat the bird fairly thinly. (I tried to rub the herbs under the skin, like I do with roast chicken, but couldn’t manage to separate the skin from the meat in any reasonable way – therefore settled for some on the inside as well as outside).

Let the duck marinate in the rub for at least 2 hours, preferably more.

Light about 40-50 coals in your grill, then when they’re hot, separate to piles on each side of the grill, parallel to the way your rotisserie runs. Place a drip pan in the center (this is required in order to avoid sadness and also gives you the opportunity to make awesome roasted potatoes in duckfat a little later on).

Impale your duck on the rotisserie and cook. Cooking time will be 2 1/2 hours total. Check the duck periodically – you might want to drain some of the fat out of the drip pan. About halfway through, prick the skin all over so that the fat runs out even more readily (it’s easier after the skin’s crisped up a bit). Add more coals at this point too.

Keep cooking, siphoning off the surplus fat until the meat is tender and the skin’s lacquered, about 2 1/2 hours total.

If you want to take this over the top, after 1 1/2 hours, drain the drip pan so that there’s only a minimal amount of fat in it. Toss in a handful of quartered yukon gold potatoes. Then keep cooking as above.

no more pictures, because we were too busy eating!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Chinese Feast

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The October Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Shelley of C Mom Cook and her sister Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood. They challenged us to bring a taste of the East into our home kitchens by making our own Moo Shu, including thin pancakes, stir fry and sauce.

Because we live in San Francisco where excellent Chinese food abounds, we rarely cook it at home. But Moo Shu has long been one of Mrs. Monkeyshines’ favorites, so we were happy to give it a go. The primary recipes were culled from the Book Chinese Cookery by Deh-Ta Hsiung. Astoundingly, we have a copy of the same book: the Monkey picked it up on a remainders table while living in London over 20 years ago. It was one of the few possessions he had with him when he moved to California.

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We do occasionally dip into the book for inspiration, though we also have a standing joke about it as nearly every recipe calls for the same 4-5 central ingredients, one being Shao Hsing Rice Wine. To celebrate the Daring Cooks’ challenge, we bought a bottle of Shao Hsing Rice Wine of our very own.

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We planned a Chinese feast using selections from the cookbook as well as a couple of other sources. Our meal included:

The mu shu pork was pretty good – we used frozen bamboo shoots and fresh tree ear mushrooms, so the flavors were more vibrant than you sometimes get in a restaurant. Still, I’ll probably continue to rely on local restaurants as it takes a while to make the pancakes. The bonus on this front, though is that our sister in law turns out to be an excellent pancake roller!

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Moo Shu Pork:mu_shu 024

Serves 4
Preparation time: 25-30 minutes
Cooking time: 6-8 minutes

2/3 cup (1 oz) (30 gm) Dried black fungus ('wood ears')
½ lb (450 gm) pork loin or butt
¾ cup (3½ oz) (100 gm) bamboo shoots, thinly cut
3 cups (6 oz) (170 gm) Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage), thinly cut
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
4 tablespoons (60 ml) vegetable oil
2 scallions
1 tablespoon (15 ml) light soy sauce
2 teaspoons (10 ml) rice wine
A few drops sesame oil
12 thin pancakes to serve


  1. Soak the fungus in warm water for 10-15 minutes, rinse and drain. Discard any hard stalks, then thinly shred.
  2. Thinly cut the pork, bamboo shoots and Chinese cabbage into matchstick-sized shreds.
  3. Lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of salt.
  4. Heat about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in a preheated wok and scramble the eggs until set, but not too hard. Remove and keep to one side.
  5. Heat the remaining oil. Stir-fry the shredded pork for about 1 minute or until the color changes. Add the fungus, bamboo shoots, Chinese cabbage and scallions. Stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes, then add the remaining salt, soy sauce and wine. Blend well and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the scrambled eggs, stirring to break them into small bits. Add the sesame oil and blend well.
  6. To serve: place about 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of hot Moo Shu in the center of a warm pancake, rolling it into a parcel with the bottom end turned up to prevent the contents from falling out. Eat with your fingers. (See Final Preparation and Serving section below for more complete details.)

Pancakes:mu_shu 014

Makes 24-30 pancakes
Preparation time: about 10 minutes plus 30 minutes' standing time
Cooking time: 45-50 minutes

4 cups (960 ml) (560 gm) (19¾ oz) all purpose flour
About 1½ cup (300ml) (10 fl oz) boiling water
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vegetable oil
Dry flour for dusting


  1. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Gently pour in the water, stirring as you pour, then stir in the oil. Knead the mixture into a soft but firm dough. If your dough is dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, to reach the right consistency. Cover with a damp towel and let stand for about 30 minutes.
  2. Lightly dust the surface of a worktop with dry flour. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until smooth, then divide into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a long sausage and cut each sausage into 8-10 pieces. Keep the dough that you are not actively working with covered with a lightly damp dish cloth to keep it from drying out.
  3. Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat pancake. Dust the worktop with more dry flour. Flatten each pancake into a 6 to 8 inch (15 cm to 20 cm) circle with a rolling pin, rolling gently on both sides.
  4. Place an un-greased frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat to low and place the pancakes, one at a time, in the pan. Remove when little light-brown spots appear on the underside. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.

Hoisin Sauce:


While most restaurants, or at least those at which I have ordered the dish, serve this with plum sauce, none of the cook books or online recipes that I have seen have referred to that as being traditional. Most that reference serving it with a sauce call for it to be served with hoisin sauce. The home-made hoisin sauce was really great too - we had some fermented black beans (bought that way, not another refrigerator reject), and all the other ingredients. It was thinner than the store-bought sauce, but quite yummy.

4 tablespoons (60 ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30 ml)  black bean paste
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey OR molasses
2 teaspoons (10 ml) rice wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml) garlic powder
2 teaspoons (10 ml) sesame seed oil
20 drops (¼ teaspoon)  Sambal or other hot sauce (optional, depending on how hot you want your hoisin sauce)
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml) black pepper

Simply mix all of the ingredients together by hand using a sturdy spoon or with your immersion blender.

Steamed Eggplant

this recipe is from Jamie Oliver

Our steamed eggplant was a success and, whilst perhaps not an authentic Chinese dish, it made a nice accompaniment to the moo-shu pork.

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2 medium purple aubergines (we used 2 large Chinese eggplants – the long thin purple kind and made a half recipe)
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce
• 3 tablespoons sweet chilli dipping sauce
• 2 teaspoons sesame oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
• 4 spring onions, sliced
• 2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
• 1 large handful of fresh coriander, roughly sliced
• 1 large handful of fresh basil, roughly sliced
• 1 large handful of fresh mint, roughly sliced
• 1 large handful of yellow celery leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put some water in a pan and bring it to the boil. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways and place them in your steamer with the cut side facing up. Steam them for about 10 minutes – to check whether they're ready, simply squeeze the sides gently and if they're silky soft then they're done. Remove them from the steamer, place them in a colander and leave to cool.
Now make your dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. When the aubergines are warm this is the perfect time to flavour them. Cut them up into rough 2.5cm dice, then dress them and toss. Serve immediately as a salad, tapas dish or as a vegetable next to any simple cooked fish. Just really tasty!

As for the other components of our Chinese feast – we have to admit that they were not as successful as the Moo-shu pork. We tried a steamed beef recipe from Deh-Ta Hsiung that looked just like the picture in the book. It tasted like the pictures from the book too, and the texture was not very nice, a bit like wet cardboard. But drowned in home-made hoisin sauce, was acceptable. 

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We made daikon cakes. These were a Vietnamese recipe, so not exactly traditional, but we love them when we go out for dim sum. The recipe I’d found on the internet, though, was a disaster. Very pasty and floury. There's a good daikon cake to be made and this was not it; we're now on a mission to find a better version.

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Wish we could have served her a better birthday dinner. (Happy birthday Myint!!) But to reiterate, the moo shu was good. Thanks Shelley for inspiring us to push ourselves out there a bit! We did have a great time in the kitchen this weekend and that's what counts!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Plum Cake

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Years ago, we made a plum cake using one of the zillion recipes we have on hand. Or maybe from one I found on online.  Of course it was divine. Of course, I have no idea where the recipe is.

I tried various others, but they were never quite as good. This time I set out to make a plum cake and to simply forget about finding that recipe and just make one that I might like and that, by writing down the recipe, maybe I’d be able to recreate the next time. Given my iffy track record with cakes, this was either a worthy stretch or a really stupid idea.

Fortunately, I really do like this cake. And now I can make it again. ‘Cuz it’s written down right here. To give credit, it’s a bit of a mashup of a Cook’s Illustrated recipe with an Epicurious recipe, with my own modifications (less sugar, cardamom) thrown in for good measure. Best of all, it’s pretty fault tolerant. I know that because it initially went into the oven without my having added the milk. Which meant pulling it back out of the oven, hastily pulling off all the pretty plums, stirring in the milk, slopping only some of it all over the counter and floor, then putting the plums back on top and the whole mess back into the oven before the cake decided to go completely flat, gummy and/or revolting.

For me, a cake that can survive that and still come out well and showcase the yummy plums that are in the market right now, that’s a cake to remember and to make again.

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Plum Cake

1 pound sugarplums or fresh Italian prunes
2 Tbsp red currant or black currant jelly
2 Tbsp brandy
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt 
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

  1. Cut the prunes in half and remove the pits. Of course, you can use regular plums too – i just like the way the prunes look and fit in the pan.
  2. In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt the jam with brandy, then add the prunes and gently stir to coat. Cook until the jam is just thickening, maybe 4 minutes, then set aside to cool. baking 009
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9” cake pan or springform pan.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar in a medium-sized bowl.
  5. Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and cardamom (don’t mix it in yet, just dump it on top of the sugar/butter).
  6. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then whisk in the milk and vanilla and milk.
  7. Add the liquids to the bowl with your sugar and flour and mix until combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the plum halves skin side down on top.
  9. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cakes part (not through a plum) comes out clean.
  10. Cool on a wire rack. Top with powdered sugar if you want to get fancy with it.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Consommé Achievement


When we joined the Daring Cooks, our hope was that we’d be urged to make the things that we’d otherwise never dare to make. This month’s challenge, consommé, certainly rose to the occasion. We do make stock routinely, and even stock so rich, it’s jellied when cold, but had never dared to try to clarify it beyond simply straining out the bones and vegetables used to make it.

To the uninitiated, clarifying stock is an exceedingly counterintuitive exercise: just when you’ve strained your broth, you add eggs whites and ground meat to it, making your semi-clear soup dirty again. Hmm.. And for us, it meant being patient and trusting the recipe - not exactly a strong suit in the Monkeyshines household. Then presto! Suddenly those bits you threw into your soup come together in a ‘raft’ and you have gorgeously clear consommé below.

We’ll start at the top to share the process we followed, and you can also visit the Daring cooks site for complete instructions and several recipes.

When we typically make stock, we use the bones reserved from chicken breasts used in some other meal. I then roast them with the onions, carrots and celery, add water, bay leaf, salt and pepper. This time, we used chicken wings and only lightly baked them as we wanted to experiment with a supposedly proper ‘white’ chicken broth. In the future, I’ll stick to my habits as it’s a) easier b) cheaper c) honestly, I like the flavor of the roasted chicken and aromatics more.

Light Chicken Consommé


2 lb chicken wings
2 stalk celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound ground chicken
4 egg whites
1 cup crushed ice


  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Roast the chicken wings until they’re just turning golden (or richly gold for a stronger chicken-y-er broth)
  3. While the chicken is roasting, heat the oil in a large stockpot and gently cook the vegetables.consomme 002
  4. Add the chicken wings to the stockpot, then cover with water – you want the water to be about 1” above all the other ingredients. According to the challenge tips, you should always use cold water to start your soup – this way it’s less likely to get cloudy.
  5. Add a bit of salt and pepper – less than you think you’ll want.  Simmer the stock over medium-low heat until the broth tastes chicken-y. You don’t want the stock to boil – bubbles should just lazily and slowly break on top. This may take 2-6 hours depending on how low your heat is, how roasted the meat was, etc. Over time, the broth will be reducing, which is why you don’t want to over-season it at the start.
  6. Skim off any fat or scum occasionally as the broth cooks, but don’t stir your soup or you might make it cloudy.
  7. When you’re happy with the taste of the broth, strain it into another pan and remove the meat and veg. Some people re-use this stuff, I usually find it’s too flavorless to want to use at this point. consomme 010
  8. Clean your stockpot and return the broth to it. Return to a simmer.
  9. Now simply disengage what you think you know about cooking and play along. This is a very important step.
  10. Cook the ground chicken in a skillet until just cooked. Don’t brown it, but you don’t want any more draining juices. Let cool before proceeding.
  11. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the crushed ice (we just whacked a few ice cubes in a baggie with our meat mallet). Add the ground chicken to this. consomme 012
  12. Pour your egg white concoction into the stock and slowly stir 3 times. consomme 013 
  13. Let it return to a simmer and don’t stir it any more. Remember to trust the recipe. It’s helpful to just go away for a while and read or watch TV or something.
  14. Maybe 15 minutes later, come back and check – suddenly you’ll have a raft forming! Using your ladle or the back of a spoon, gently push a hole in the center of the raft. consomme 014consomme 015
  15. Maintain the hole in your raft, and spoon off any scum or foam that rises through it. You need this hole to see that some how by magic, your broth is becoming clear. consomme 018
  16. Keep cooking until you’re satisfied with the taste and clarity of the stock. Then carefully ladle the consommé through the hole in your raft – this way you don’t get any dregs from the bottom of the pot or from the raft. consomme 020
  17. Pour it into a nice clear bowl so that you can marvel at what you just made! It’ll probably be lighter in color than what you started with, but have all the richness of flavor. Be sad since you refrigerated it overnight and you can’t get a decent picture as condensation is forming on the bowl, yet you’re too impatient to just wait.

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Peta also challenged us to serve the consommé with our favorite accompaniments. For us, that meant a loaf of Country bread made from the Tartine cookbook:

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and also tiny agnolotti stuffed with veal, prosciutto and cabbage:

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We garnished our agnolotti en brodo with a leaf of fried sage.

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Peta, thanks for a wonderful adventure! Will we actually go to the work to made consommé again? doubtful. But are we glad we gave it a try? Absolutely. Did this whole adventure persuade us that recipes are made to be followed? Umm.. maybe. Old habits do die hard.

Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Savory Bacon, Potato and Cheddar Muffins

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On holiday this year, we were treated to some marvelous, groundbreaking, dare I say earth-shattering savory muffins. These muffins boldly went where no muffin had ever gone before. These muffins were bursting with crisp bacon and oozing cheddar. If we weren’t in in a place where I was wearing swimwear for most of the day, I’d have probably eaten the entire tray.  So naturally, as soon as we were home, in the safety of swirling fog and figure-hiding sweaters, we had to try to re-create them.

The basic recipe is noted below. Certainly there will be variations over time – the addition of onions, perhaps, or spinach if it’s on hand. But I am confident we’ll return to this version just as often.

I’d meant to add a but more cheese on top (gilding the lily anyone?), but the filling was so cheesy that we decided to forego that extra step. No matter, the muffins rose exuberantly and the cheese did manage to escape just a bit, both on top and on the sides, to create it’s own individual garnish. So they aren’t elegant, but the crispy cheesy bits are, of course the best part.

Bacon, Cheddar and Potato Muffins
makes 8-10 muffins

2/3 cup bacon – about 3 thick slices
1 medium russet potato
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin tin.
  2. Cut the bacon into small bits and cook gently until just starting to crisp. Set aside to cool.
  3. Cut the potato into 1/4” dice, then cook in the microwave 2 minutes to par cook. If it’s easier, you could shred them and then pre-cook too or maybe use leftover mashed potatoes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Dice the cheese into 1/4” dice
  5. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until they’re combined, then whisk in the milk.
  7. Working quickly, add the eggs, milk, cheese, bacon and potato to the flour and stir until it’s all just mixed.
  8. Spoon the mix into your muffin tin, then bake for 18 minutes or until cooked through.


Serve piping hot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: My Indian Kitchen by Hari Nayak


Growing up in the United States, the Indian food that Linda knew was what mom made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. It was fast and easy: simply cut up the turkey legs, sauté with onions and raisins and a whole lot of curry powder and call it done. To this day, she still has an enormous aversion to the thought of curry. Even to leftover turkey. And don’t get her started on fruit with meat… Sorry mom. Dave on the other hand grew up in the United Kingdom, where good Indian food is a way of life. Much to his dismay, Linda would flinch every time he mentioned going out for Indian food (although inevitably she’d enjoy her dinner immensely.) Even so, Dave’s Indian home cooking experience was mostly restricted to Beef Curry Casserole, from a cookbook by the venerable British cook Katie Stewart. Although this is a tasty dish (which we still make from time to time), it only conveys a hint of what Indian cuisine has to offer.

We were therefore excited about the opportunity to review My Indian Kitchen: Preparing Delicious Indian Meals Without Fear or Fuss by Hari Nayak. We both were intrigued by the concept – could we actually make a decent Indian meal without fear or fuss? Perhaps Linda could overcome her aversion to the thought of curry. And perhaps we could find tasty, authentic Indian dishes to make that don’t require 45 obscure ingredients and 8 hours in the kitchen. It was certainly worth a try! Furthermore, this attractive, large format book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful pictures of both ingredients and finished dishes, inviting us to try out the recipes.
As the book illustrates, Indian food is more than just curry and there are numerous recipes here from throughout the Indian sub-continent, but with an emphasis on dishes from southern India where the author grew up. My Indian Kitchen provides a wealth of tasty recipes including vegetarian soups, grilled meats and even chai crème brulée. The introduction covers some basics of Indian cooking, including a review of some of the vegetables, herbs and spices that are frequently used and a useful section on some basic techniques. There is also a page on pairing wine with Indian food, although the complex spices and heat in many Indian dishes makes this a challenge and it seems that beer is the alcoholic beverage of choice for the author to enjoy with his cuisine. We were particularly happy to see that, although Chef Nayak provides many delicious recipes, he also encourages us to explore spice, herb and flavor combinations of our own. In a highly uncharacteristic move however, we actually stuck pretty close to the recipes, except when we noticed at the last minute that we were out of something.

The recipes are divided into 9 chapters: Indian Spice Mixes, Chutneys and Accompaniments, Appetizers, Soups and Dals, Vegetables and Cheese Dishes, Fish and Seafood, Poultry and Meat, Bread and Rice, and finally Desserts and Drinks. The first chapter, covering masalas (spice powders and pastes), is extensively cross-referenced throughout the book, as these aromatic concoctions form the heart of the flavor profile for many of the dishes.

As we read through the book, we quickly divined that the secret to making Indian food efficiently is having your masalas ready to go in advance. With that in mind, we designated our first cooking day simply for getting ready for the rest of the week.
For our advance preparation we chose to make homestyle garam masala, mint chutney, and vindaloo paste. We decided we’d test the timings suggested by the book and they were for the most part pretty accurate. The cilantro mint chutney came together in a little over 5 minutes. The garam masala took nearly 10 rather than the 5 minutes described in the book, but we pounded it by hand rather than using an electric spice grinder.
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  mint chutney                          garam masala
We did come a bit unstuck in making the vindaloo paste. The recipe calls for soaking dried red chiles for an hour or so, then blending them with additional spices in a food processor. The wet chiles plus their soaking liquid meant that the spices merely travelled round and round our processor for 5 minutes until we gave up and pounded them out slowly by hand. We’d make the recipe again, but either using fresh red chiles or grinding the dry chiles with the spices first and then adding the liquid to soak.

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right: after 5 minutes in the food processor, the spices are still whole

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left: after a good bashing with the mortar and pestle

Pork Vindaloo
We’ve often ordered lamb vindaloo in restaurants, but had never even thought of making it at home. According to the book, vindaloo is originally derived from a Portugese dish known as Carne de Vinha d’ Alhos (meat with vinegar and garlic), and is a characteristic dish from Goa. Our home-made version was a bit different than what we recall from restaurant versions, but not in a bad way: it was wonderfully complex and rich.
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Masala Lamb Chops
Buoyed by our success with the vindaloo, we tried the masala lamb chops a few days later. These are seasoned with the homestyle garam masala that we’d prepared in advance, as well as a few other herbs and spices. They’re optimally marinated overnight, but we’d overlooked that detail and marinated them for maybe 2 hours. Nonetheless, they were delicious and super quick to prepare. We served them with Basmati Rice with whole spices. This was delicately flavored and the method of cooking the rice was a great success - every grain came out fluffy and separate.
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Paneer and Spinach Samosas
We were getting quite cocky when we decide d to try our hand at making samosas with home-made paneer. Making the paneer was a blast. It came together as if by magic and took quite a lot less time and fuss than we’d expected. On the other happam_curry 033and, making the samosa dough was honestly a bit of a challenge – we had to add quite a bit more water than the recipe called for to get the dough to be even remotely pliable, then it still took significant brute strength (and our pasta roller + rolling pin) to roll it out. However, once it was all done, these were some of the best samosas we’ve ever had. The difficult dough turned perfectly crisp and almost sandy after shallow frying and the finished product wasn’t greasy at all. We’ll certainly make them again using this recipe. Not often, but occasionally, as they were a treat and we still have the lamb filling and the traditional potato and peas filling that we want to try.
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Northern Chickpea Curry (Chana Masala)
Chana masala is another favorite – this chickpea stew is the definition of comfort food on a cool day. Ours turned out quite fiery as we used fresh red chiles instead of dried and also our green chiles were quite spicy. It also used a bit of our homestyle garam masala. This dish could easily be made as hot or mild as you like and, like everything we tried from the book was quite delicious.
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Stir Fried Okra (Bhindi Subzi)
We’re huge fans of okra, but had never succeeded in cooking it on the stove without it getting slimy. Until now. According to this book, the trick is in making sure that you completely dry off the okra after washing. Whatever it took, this was delicious; the fried onions and delicate spices were a perfect foil to the earthy notes of the okra. Again, it went together quickly and we’ll definitely make this dish again and again – it’s much easier than firing up the barbeque which had, ‘til now, been our go-to method for making okra.
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Smoky Fire-Roasted Eggplant (Baingan Bharta)
We’ve saved the best for last. This eggplant was out of this world. We made quite a lot of it as an accompaniment to the Masala Lamb Chops, and are only a bit embarrassed to admit that we ate it all. Every single bite. It could have made a lovely lunch, but it tasted so good that we just couldn’t stop.
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So, does the book achieve its aim to create delicious meals without fear or fuss? It does. For the most part, the ingredients were easy to acquire, and in a few cases where something more unusual was included, Chef Nayak offered tips on the flavor profile so that we could work out an appropriate substitution. Nothing that we tried was technically daunting, and armed in advance with just a few spice mixes (masalas) we made a number of delicious Indian meals, even midweek. These masalas, toasted and ground from whole spices, are key to achieving the depth of flavor that defines good Indian food. It does pay to prepare in advance, however, and some of the recipes may take quite a long time if you have to stop to make each spice powder and paste along the way. But we honestly don’t think you could cut things much shorter and still make something that tastes quite as good.
Chef Nayak provided clear, simple directions and whenever we had a question, we always found the answer within his book. We really liked his style: he is informative about the background of each dish and offers suggestions on complementary dishes for each recipe. His voice is calming and confident, not loud or gimmicky as has lately become common with a lot of food writers. We scarcely dipped into the recipes that are offered in My Indian Kitchen and we’re looking forward to trying many more. That is, if we can tear ourselves away from that smoky eggplant…
This review was originally published on the Daring Kitchen Cookbook Review.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Appam my soul! More tasty Indian food!


Or, the challenge in which we actually follow the recipes for a change.

We’ve been on quite an Indian food kick lately, so we were excited to try making Appam for this month’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge. We had previously ventured into this region’s cuisine when we made Dosas in one of our first Daring challenges, way back in September 2009. Appams, also known as hoppers, are quite a different beast: a fermented rice-based batter that is made into a thin, lacy crepe and served with curry. Our gracious host Mary also provided several delicious recipes for curry and accompaniments, which we were also enthusiastic to try. Thanks Mary, for a different and delicious challenge!

Whilst we loved the flavor of the appam, we think we still need a bit of practice, since our renditions weren’t particularly pretty, We did manage to get them to be a little crispy around the edges, which provided a nice contrast to the softer interior – however they were never perfectly round and one bit always seemed to stick to the pan. Nevertheless, it’s the taste that counts and they were very tasty indeed. Here is our first rendition of the challenge recipe:

Servings: Makes about 15

1 ½ cups (360 ml/300 gm/10½ oz) raw rice
1 ½ teaspoons (7½ ml/5 gm) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) sugar
½ cup (120 ml) of coconut water or water, room temperature
1 ½ tablespoons (22½ ml/18 gm) cooked rice
½ teaspoon (2½ ml/3 gm) salt
about ½ cup (120 ml) thick coconut milk (from the top of an unshaken can)


1. Soak the raw rice in 4 to 5 cups of water for 3 hours.
2. Dissolve the sugar in the coconut water or plain water and add the yeast. Set aside in a warm area for 10-15 minutes, until very frothy.
3. Drain the rice and grind it in a blender with the yeast mixture to make a smooth batter. You can add a bit of extra water if needed, but I did not. Add the cooked rice, and grind/blend to combine well. You can see that it is not completely smooth, but very thick—that’s about right.
4. Pour into a large bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for 8-12 hours. You not only want the mixture to rise and collapse, but to ferment. When it is ready, it will have a slightly sour and distinctly yeasty smell. Don’t worry--they are mild tasting when cooked!

The batter:

5. Add the coconut milk and salt, and a bit of water if necessary, so that you have a batter that is just a bit thicker than milk. Notice how it bubbles after you add the coconut milk. I recommend test-cooking one before thinning the batter.
6. Heat your pan over medium heat. Wipe a few drops of oil over it using a paper towel. Stir the batter and pour in 3-4 tablespoons, depending on the size of the pan. Working quickly, hold the handle(s) and give the pan a quick swirl so that the batter comes to the top edge. Swirl once only, as you want the edges to be thin and lacy.
7. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Uncover and check. The center should have puffed up a bit, and will be shiny, but dry to the touch. When ready, loosen the edges with a small spatula and serve immediately. These need to be served hot out of the pan.


We also made a tasty shrimp curry to go with the appam:

 Shrimp in Coconut Milk (Chemeen Pappas)


Servings: 6
This is a creamy, spicy and delicious shrimp dish. When you cut the shrimp in half lengthwise, they curl like corkscrews. Unlike many curries we’ve made, this one came together really quickly. We’ll certainly make it again.

3 tablespoons (45 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml/3 gm) mustard seed
1/8 teaspoon (⅔ ml/½ gm) fenugreek seeds
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
2 cups (480 ml/480 gm/½ lb) thinly sliced onion
2 teaspoons (10ml/8 gm) minced garlic
1 teaspoon (5ml/4 gm) minced ginger
2 fresh green chiles, split lengthwise
2 teaspoons (10 ml/10 gm) tomato paste

Ground masala
● 4 teaspoons (20 ml/7 gm) ground coriander
● ½ teaspoon (2½ ml/1½ gm) paprika
● ¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml/¾ gm) cayenne
● ¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml/¾ gm) black pepper

1¼ teaspoons (6¼ ml/7½ gm) salt
¾ cup (180 ml) coconut milk
1 ½ pounds (750 gm) medium or large shrimp, shelled and deveined and sliced in half lengthwise if large

1. In a large skillet with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot add the mustard seeds and cover until they stop popping. Add the fenugreek seeds and stir until they color lightly. Add the curry leaves (they will sputter and spatter), wait about 20 seconds, then add the onions and fry until they are soft, but not brown.
2. Add the ginger, garlic and green chiles and cook for one minute. Add the tomato paste, dry masala and salt and stir and fry for another minute. If it dries out, add a few drops of water.
3. Add ½ cup (120 ml) of the coconut milk, along with 1 cup (240 ml) of water. Increase heat to medium-high and cook at a strong simmer, uncovered for 5-10 minutes to thicken the sauce and blend the flavors.
4. Add the shrimp, and cook, stirring, until they have all changed color and curled up. This will take less than 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Add the remaining ¼ cup (60 ml) of coconut milk, bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Taste for salt and serve immediately.


Since we had leftover coconut milk we tried another challenge recipe, Carrots with Tropical Flavors. The picture doesn’t really do them justice: they were delicious…


1 pound (½ kg) carrots, about 5 medium, peeled
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
about 8 fresh curry leaves
2 tablespoons (30 ml/15 gm) minced seeded green cayenne chiles
3 tablespoons (45 ml/27 gm) minced shallots
2 teaspoons (10ml) rice vinegar (I used lime juice)
1 teaspoon (5 ml/6 gm) salt
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml/1 gm) sugar
½ cup (120 ml) coconut milk
¼ cup (50 ml) water
coarse salt, optional
cilantro (coriander) leaves to garnish

1. Julienne or coarsely grate the carrots. Set aside.
2. Place a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then add half of the curry leaves, the chiles and the shallots. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring.
3. Add the carrots, stir, and add the vinegar, salt, sugar and mix well. Increase the heat and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until they give off a bit of liquid.
4. Add the water and half of the coconut milk and bring to a fast boil. Stir, cover tightly and cook until just tender, 5-10 minutes, depending on size. Mine took about 5 minutes. Check to ensure the liquid has not boiled away and add a little more water if it is almost dry.
5. Add the remaining coconut milk and curry leaves. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with coarse salt, if desired, and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.

Round 2: Vindaloo!

We had another go at making appam, and although we were aware of our stick-to-the-pan problem from the first attempt, I’m afraid these weren’t any prettier. We’d tried to make them thinner by using the thin coconut milk from the bottom of the can, but it didn’t help at all. They were, however, still an excellent way of mopping up our tasty pork vindaloo, which came from My Indian Kitchen: Preparing Delicious Indian Meals Without Fear or Fuss by Hari Nayak which we had the good fortune to review this month.

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Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.