Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers, September: Lavash Crackers & Toppings

This month's Daring Baker's challenge covered something I've always wanted to attempt: crackers. I've done skillet flat breads, fry breads, and pizza, and this month's lavash reminded me of all those things. The plus, of course, was its wonderful crackery crunch. For this, I'm thankful for this month's DB hosts, Sheltie Girl and shellyfish, for assigning lavash crackers as September's assignment. As we do every month, we received the assignment at the beginning of the month, worked on it, and now, on the assigned day, are sharing our findings with the blogging world.

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We had to top our crackers, and I used stripes of dill, paprika, and garam masala.
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings



I was a little paranoid about the dough because it didn't seem to rise as well as I thought it should. Also, the recipe said I should be able to pull a gluten window after the first kneading, but I was never able to really get one. Happily, it was lovely to work with and was sturdy enough to roll out thinly and still handle.
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings

I laid it out on my big baking sheet, over parchment paper, and striped it with dill, paprika, and garam masala.
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings

I used a pizza cutter to score it with diamonds, then baked it until it was golden brown along the edges and uniformly golden across the center.
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings

Then I snapped it along the scored lines into larger diamonds and plated them for my SAS party.
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings

I LOVE it.
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings

Especially with a little curried salmon spread! Nom nom, I just lav my lavosh!
Daring Bakers September: Lavash Crackers with Toppings

Whoops, almost forgot to post this!

Vegan Salmon Spread: 1 tub Tofutti (better than cream cheese!), 1 Tbsp Dulse flakes, 1/4 cup finely diced onion, 1 clove totally smashed garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, mix it all up, salt and white pepper to taste.

Non-vegan Salmon Spread: 1 tub cream cheese, 1/4 cup canned and sorted salmon (deboned and shredded, in other words), 1/4 cup finely diced onion, 1 clove totally smashed garlic clove, mix it all up, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, salt and white pepper to taste.

And yes, the vegan and non-vegan versions are pretty similar in taste. For those of you sea veg lovers, you'll know what I mean!

Need curry powder? I highly recommend and frequently use a close approximation of the AB blend! And by "close approximation, I mean "without the closely monitored measuring."

You can see my lavash on Photograzing and Tastespotting, because it's the closest to fame I'll ever get.

Check out other DBers crackers here and this month's recipe at shellyfish's blog here or Sheltie Girl's blog here.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pacific Rim, Week 5: Chinese 4

Week 4 of Chinese cuisine! We're all getting more comfortable working the woks. Really, the only rough part is gracefully handling our wok jets. Those suckers get hot!* We've all got a good grasp on our velvet marinades, though (in other words, knowing that every slice of meat should get it, and that it makes a huge difference in texture when doing stir-frys). I'm constantly impressed with my classmates' knife skills.

One of my teammate's plates, clockwise from spring roll: beef lo mein, shrimp chip, orange chicken, ma po tofu, stir-fried shrimp with lobster sauce, curried pineapple rice, Hunan beef
Pacific Rim: Week 5



My plate, clockwise from shrimp chips: ma po tofu, curried pineapple rice, spring roll, stir-fried shrimp with lobster sauce, Hunan beef, and some beef lo mein buried in the middle.My deep, dark secret: I always cringe when I pay for my culinary classes. Even though it's at a community college, they're still not cheap (for me) at $245. So, it's a nice bonus that we get to take the leftovers home. I brought home enough leftovers for four meals this week, and it was pretty much the same last week. Woot!
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Stir-fried shrimp with lobster sauce. Lobster sauce has no lobster in it. It's basically a dressed up black bean sauce that was supposedly developed to be served with a lobster dish called Lobster Cantonese.
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Beef lo mein--good stuff, if you're a lo mein fan
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Egg rolls/spring rolls. I won't lie--I love wrapping spring rolls. When I was a kid, it was one of the first jobs my mom entrusted me with in the kitchen, and it was one of the kitchen chores I didn't (usually) run away from. I love the way these were plated. Nothing special--just some sprouts sprinkled around--but it looked so elegant. Much more elegant than my Lincoln Log Pyramids of Lumpia, anyway. ;D
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Curried pineapple rice. The golden raisins were a wonderful touch, and they looked so much nicer than the rat-poo-looking raisins the original recipe called for. I also think they have a mellower taste than black raisins.
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Hunan beef. Mmmm ... Each person in my group stir-fried this differently, but it all tasted the same. One followed the recipe closely, frying up the aromatics first, then adding the veggies, then removing the veggies to cook the beef, then adding the veggies, then the sauce. The next added the aromatics, then the beef, then took the beef out and cooked the veggies, then added the beef to the veggies, then sauced it. I first did my aromatics, then the beef til it was mostly cooked, then added the veggies, then the sauce (literally, a one-skillet meal). The next, who's always afraid of burning her garlic, ginger, and scallions, did the veggies first, then added the aromatics to them, took them out to cook the beef, then added the veggies, then sauced it.
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Mapo tofu. I was pleased to see that Chef had taken the Martin Yan recipe for this, which is the recipe I use when I make mapo tofu. I usually slice the tofu into much smaller cubes, but I think the intent was to make the tofu easy to remove for those who don't enjoy it. We use so many chives as garnish, I think I eat a full serving of veggies just from chive garnish alone.
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Orange chicken. Again with the double fry technique. After I took the picture, we stuffed some nicely sliced orange pieces all over to finish the plating. Chef was very cautious about reminding us not to be like certain chain Chinese joints that add more orange peel than chicken to the dish.
Pacific Rim: Week 5

Notes:

*There's nothing as invigorating as cooking with upwards of 90,000-120,000 BTUs. My kitchen science may be a little shaky here--I did really poorly with that part of science that had to do with energy. So, in my bumbling way: A BTU is a British Thermal Unit. A single BTU will heat one pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit. If you placed a pound of water, or 2 cups, at 78 degrees on heat, you would need to raise its temperature 134 degrees, to 212F, to get it to boil. Since it needs to go up 134 degrees, you'd need 134 BTUs to do it. A higher BTU heating element will do the job more quickly. The average commercial range delivers 15,000-32,000 BTUs. Home stoves seem to cap out at 20,000 BTUs and below, with some manufacturers calling 11,000 BTUs the high-output burner.

Velveted chicken is often blanched, while meat (beef, lamb, whatever) is not--it's just tossed into the stir-fry. As noted above in the Hunan Beef section, there doesn't seem to be a better way to cook meat and veg stir-frys when considering what order in which to cook things. I knew we were in a hurry, and that's why I tried to take the most straightforward route.

Shrimp chips are awesome, but maybe I think that only because I grew up eating them. They're like shrimp-flavored cheet-os, only without the annoying orange goop that ends up stuck to your fingers. Chef told us he thought that more restaurants didn't use them because they seemed low class. I don't care. I'm glad he brought them and reminded me of their existence. They look so much like styrofoam, it's scary. And when you hold one between your lips, it makes your lips tingle as if all the little air pockets made when frying them are sort of gently closing against your lips. I know, weird, but I dig it. Plus, they come in more colors than Mardi Gras! Chef intended them to be a garnish for the shrimp with lobster sauce, but we just ended up eating them on the side for dessert.

I forgot to photograph the Soft Tofu and Spinach Soup! But I'll make a note about tofu. If you drain it before using it, it will better absorb the flavor of your dish's sauce and main ingredients. Of course, it's easier to drain firm tofu: rest the whole block on a cutting board, incline the cutting board so it can drain into the sink, and put something like a stack of plates or another cutting board with cans sitting on it to apply a firm and steady pressure to the tofu. After about 30 minutes, you can slice your tofu up and add it to your dish just at the end of cooking, long enough for it to soak up the flavor, but not so long that you turn its soft, silky texture into something that can become almost unpleasantly firm (thought that firmness doesn't really bother me). Read more!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pacific Rim, Week 4: Chinese 3

There was a lot of frying this week! Such is the way of a Chinese kitchen. It's a good thing we have stacks and stacks of woks! Clockwise from noon: chicken with snap peas and wild mushrooms, Asian pork ribs, firecracker noodles, chicken chow mein (with its accompanying noodles at center), fried rice with ham and shrimp, and shrimp toasts.
Pacific Rim: Week 4


Through the heat lamps--one of my classmates decided to film a little flick with his wee camcorder.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Buddhist Monk's Soup, featuring lentils, coconut milk, squash, and rice noodles. This vegetarian dish was very satiating and tasty.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Fried rice with ham and shrimp
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Asian pork ribs with a sweet glaze--steamed for quick cooking, then finished on the grill.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Shrimp toasts, coated with a lot of sesame seeds, which didn't taste as strong as it looked. Two of my classmates are cooking up the fried rice in the background.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Noodles for chicken chow mein--fried, in the classic Westernized style. The noodles are placed on top of the main components of the dish--in this case, chicken and veggies.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Chicken chow mein without the noodles on top. I would've chopped the choy sum up a bit more. It tastes a lot like bok choy, but is a little more delicate. It looks a lot like bok choy with rapini growing out of the top.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Chinese lemon chicken, made with the somewhat intimidating "double fry" technique. Deep frying in the fry-o-lator is one thing, but deep frying in a large, open, round-bottomed wok and having to move very quickly makes you stop breathing at times.
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Firecracker noodles, which is very much like the Filipino pancit bihon, and just as sincerely lovable and addictive and reminiscent of home!
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Chicken with snap peas and wild mushrooms. Mmm ... who doesn't love peas?
Pacific Rim: Week 4

Notes:

Aside from baby backs, good pork ribs can take a long time to cook if you want them to become tender. Unless you steam them. You can simulate steaming them by just baking them in the oven with a tight cover.

Buddhists are vegetarians, but they often add a zing of spice. For our Buddhist monk's soup, we added Buddhist Nuoc Leo, which is chili sauce.

In the U.S., chow mein is often used as a generic term for Chinese noodle dishes. Westernized chow mein is often served with fried, crispy noodles, as shown here, while authentic chow mein is simply stir fried, yielding a soft noodle. Meanwhile, lo mein is originally a soup, or noodles cooked in hot water, similar to Italian pasta. Though all of this noodle info is debatable.

The kind of crispy chicken you find in dishes like lemon chicken is fried twice--first deep fried, then stir fried at a high heat to really crisp it up. While you should batch fry, especially with that second fry, using the same wok for later batches may leave black specks on the food as food burned to the wok flakes off. Don't ask us how we learned this. I'll just say, "The hard way."

To give it a "fried" look, some chefs cook white rice with a brown colorant to make their fried rice a "very brown" color. Others just douse the rice with soy sauce. You don't really need to do either; in fact, a pale rice is closer to the real deal. Fried rice isn't necessarily fried, but its ingredients usually are stir-fried. Finally, to make a good fried rice, use cooled rice instead of hot rice, which will get mushy if you try to continue cooking it in the wok straight out of the steamer. I usually use cold rice the day after I've made it so its had a chance to firm up and dry out.

As chef explains it, shrimp toasts were invented by the Chinese for Americans. He punched the point home as he read the ingredients list, emphasizing the first ingredient: 1 loaf of white bread. The sesame seeds are a UK variant.
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Pacific Rim, Week 3: Chinese 2

All your dishes belong to us! Here's the night's dishes ready for service. We prep everything and then cook it all right before service, timing the dishes so they're ready to serve (eat) at the same time. Chef gives us the time he thinks they should be ready, and that's what we aim for. They all sat under the lamps for just about 5 minutes. This week, hooray, no wok fires (that I saw).
Pacific Rim: Week 3


I piled my plate up to ensure I'd have leftovers to bring home. Last week, my classmates ravaged the dishes and looted the leftovers before I could get there from the dishwashing station. Clockwise from 9 o'clock, we've got Oriental Pearl Balls, Szechuan Stir-Fried Shrimp, Fried Tofu and Vegetables in Oyster Sauce, General Tso's Chicken, Egg Roll, and Pork Lo Mein in the middle.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

This week's soup was Hot and Sour Soup, Hong Kong Style.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of these. The pork filling was fine, but I never like the wrapper's doughy texture. I'm used to the super-thin wrappers, which crisp all the way through, that we use for lumpia.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

The Oriental Pearl Balls were basically a pork dumpling filling rolled in short-grain rice and steamed. I liked them, but not everyone could handle the all that pork flavor. I wanted to really pack the rice coating on, but Chef was afraid we didn't have enough to hit all the meatballs. I'd never seen anything like these. At least, not out of a pork dumpling, covered in rice.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

I love shrimp. We roasted the shells and made shrimp stock.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

This was good, and a lot of the lo mein haters in class really enjoyed it, but I'm not the hugest lo mein fan. You'd think I would be--I usually love noodles. Fat noodles just always seem too doughy for my preferences. I prefer Hong Kong style noodles.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

I really liked this. Frying tofu to firm it up and change its texture is such a great idea. Also: Mmm, snow peas.
Pacific Rim: Week 3

Notes:

According to Chef, "Hong Kong style" means the dish is really colorful, "just like Hong Kong." Sometimes, also according to Chef, this means food coloring is used to bring out those colors. My opinion on it, or at least on this opinion of his, is a whole other post. ;) Chinese food is beautifully colorful, but that's thanks to the quick-cooking technique stir-frying allows. Okay, and also in part to food coloring. Stir-frying not only helps retain vibrant colors, but it helps preserve fresh, clean, strong flavors and crisp, bright textures.

Quick cooking also means having a meticulous mise-en-place. Line up all your ingredients, as well as all your preventative measures. While authentic Chinese food isn't usually as saucy as Americanized Chinese food (as Chef put it, "Americans like their gravy"), it's no good to dry the ingredients out, either. This prevents the flavor in the wok from distributing evenly. It's a good idea to keep some hot stock on hand to add as needed. It's also good to keep your serving plate nearby so you can just scoop the stuff right into it.

Seasoning a wok right before cooking is easy. Just pour some oil into the bottom of the wok, toss in some salt, smear it all over the inside of the wok with a paper towel, and put it on the heat.

If there's stuff stuck to the bottom, cleanup is easy; just add some water and bring it to the boil; any stuff stuck to the bottom should lift right off. Never put a seasoned wok into the dishwasher--you'll wash your seasoning off! For that matter, don't scrub it with an abrasive pad and dish detergent, either.
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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pacific Rim, Week 2: Chinese 1

School started up again last week! This semester, I'm taking Pacific Rim Cuisine and Principles of Human Nutrition, which is an online class and will contain no tasty cooking experiences. Most of these weekly recaps will be only photos because my chef-instructor doesn't want his recipes to get out. ;) Our class has been split into groups, and this week was our first week in the kitchen. I think we did well! Only two wok fires, and one of them was Chef's. ;) Working with wok jets will be fun! Our breakdown for the semester is something like 5 weeks of Chinese, a couple weeks of Vietnamese, a week of Thai, a week of Japanese, a week of Filipino, a week of Korean, and a week of Asian Fusion. We're starting with Chinese cuisine. We spend the class time cooking, then feast at the end! This first week in the kitchen featured a pretty simple fare, but it was tasty all the same!

Pacific Rim: Week 2



Chicken fried rice--simple stuff. Cold rice (since fresh, hot rice will probably get mushy if you try to fry it) wokked up with some scrambled egg, peas, and velveted chicken. Chef's a Kikkoman soy sauce brand fan, believing it has good flavor without being too salty and overbearing. It's the stuff I grew up on! If white rice could be considered light, then it's because it's done up in this version. The peas were a nice touch, adding some fresh, sweet pops here and there. The velveted chicken, as in the moo goo gai pan, was silky, moist, and tender.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Kung pao beef, featuring velveted beef--the velveted beef was tender and flavorful. A low heat came from fresh Thai chilis, and the roasted cashews added a nice earthy crunch to the dish's texture.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Dumplings with jade sauce (tender, melt-in-your-mouth chicken dumplings, and jade sauce, which is like Chinese pesto--basically spinach, garlic, ginger, cilantro, basil, and a slew of oils, vinegars, sauces, and spices). The ginger makes this dish, filling out the flavors with a pleasant, low-pitched zing.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Moo goo gai pan, featuring velveted chicken--the slurry-thickened, gingery sauce with a dash of five-spice powder was a class favorite.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Wonton soup--ginger shines again, steeped into the chicken broth for this soup featuring pork wontons and thinly sliced roasted pork. Awesome porky flavor! The wontons are cooked in salted water before being added to the soup, which is then served right away so the wontons don't turn to mush and fall apart.
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Egg drop soup, Honk Kong style--as Chef explained it, Hong Kong style means it's colorful, made so here with yellow food coloring!
Pacific Rim: Week 2

Notes:

Velvet marinade is made up of eggs, cornstarch, and oil. Sometimes, only egg whites are used, sometimes, only egg yolks for sturdier meat like beef, and other times, the whole egg is used--it's a matter of preference. Basically, toss meat in the beaten egg, coat in cornstarch, and then marinade the meat in oil. Velveting meat will help prevent it from drying out in the wok during stir-frying and gives it a velvety texture. If you've ever stir-fried chicken at home and not gotten that soft texture you get at your favorite chopstick shop, it's probably because you didn't velvet your chicken!

When cooking in a wok, don't throw in a huge amount of stuff at once. Cook in batches, or your meat and veggies will release too much liquid, leaving you with soup or some boiled concoction. Be especially mindful to batch cook if you're stuck with an electric stove since electric stoves don't generate the kind of heat you need to stir-fry a big batch of food at once.

If your wok catches on fire (yeah, I've done it), take it off the heat. You can let it burn out, squelch the oxygen with another wok on top of it, or throw some salt on it, then use the salt to help you scrub the burned crud out of your wok. ;)


For veggies like the simple long beans in the top photo, cook them to crisp-tender, and no more. As Chef explained it, soft veggies are for Italian sauces, not stir-frys!

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