Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spicy Vegetable Fried Rice

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Fried rice is an Asian staple, whether it is flecked with pineapple chunks and doused with curry powder (Thai), or studded with bites of roasted pork (Chinese). I love making homemade fried rice. This allows me to control the quality of ingredients and the amount of sodium, something that can easily get out of hand at a local take-out spot.


I actually use plain brown Jasmine rice from Trader Joe's for my fried rice. It makes it a touch healthier, and you can barely tell a difference once it is seasoned. Definitely plan to cook the rice in advance--once it's done, I like to spread it out on a sheet tray to cool and dry out. The key to good fried rice is to have relatively dry cooked rice.


I also like my fried rice a touch on the spicy side. I use garlic, ginger, and Sichuan chili bean paste--the main source of heat in this fried rice dish. I used basic vegetables like onion, carrot, and peas, but you can easily add any of your other favorites as long as they are all cut to about the same size so they cook evenly.


This rice is technically not vegetarian because I add some scrambled egg at the end for protein. You can easily omit the egg, or even replace it with shredded chicken, or char siu (in the past I've cubed up leftover char siu pork tenderloin in this rice and it was fantastic!). Regardless of what you use for veggies or protein, this has so much more flavor than your standard fried rice.


Spicy Vegetable Fried Rice
Serves 2 to 4

1 tablespoon canola, vegetable, or peanut oil
3/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 tablespoon Sichuan chili bean paste
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 scallions, sliced
4 cups day-old plain cooked rice (I use brown Jasmine rice)
2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 eggs, beaten

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick or well-seasoned wok. Add the onion and carrot and saute for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the chili bean paste, garlic, and ginger and continue to saute for another 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant and golden. Mix in the peas and scallions and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the rice and saute to combine, allowing the rice to dry out in the wok a bit as you continue to stir, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the soy sauces and saute for another 1 to 2 minutes to combine, then push the rice to one side of the wok and add the beaten egg to the vacant side.

Allow the egg to cook, occasionally stirring the egg to gently cook until it's no longer runny. Then combine the cooked scrambled eggs into the rice to finish it off and serve immediately.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cheeseburger Dumplings

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The Creative Cooking Crew challenge for the month of February was to "substitute, elevate, or transform" a typical burger. I decided to take this challenge in the direction of transforming a cheeseburger into a dumpling. I'm sure none of you are shocked by this. I'm kind of dumpling obsessed.


Instead of creating a typical dumpling shape, I decided to make large, flat, round dumplings in a puck shape and pan-fry them. This is more along the lines of a burger shape, and essentially the size of a slider. You can find a video on how to create these puck-shaped "closed satchel" dumplings on this blog post, if you like. After following the steps in the video, simply pinch the dumpling closed, twisted off any excess dough as needed, and then flatten it into a round, flat disc.


The filling is comprised of ground beef and seasonings, including mustard and Worcestershire sauce, as well as some grated Cheddar cheese. You can easily make some tweaks to this basic recipe to add your favorite burger fixings, such as caramelized onions, sauteed chopped mushrooms, and crispy chopped bacon. Personally, I think they're perfect just the way they are.


There's a place called Ted's Restaurant in Meriden, CT which is famous for their steamed cheeseburgers. Although I've never tried one, I've seen them featured on television. Basically, the patties and cheese are steamed separately, and then put together on buns to create incredibly juicy burgers. When this dumpling filling is wrapped tightly with the dough and then pan-fried (a two-step process that both crisps and steams them), the filling steams within the dough and yields a result not unlike these famous burgers.


When you bite into the crispy and chewy exterior, the first thing you noticed is a burst of juicy, cheesy goodness. It's as if the juiciness from the steamed beef filling combines with the melted cheese to create a cheesy broth that is as luscious as it sounds.


I went a little light on the seasonings (dumplings generally sway on the lightly seasoned side because they almost always are enjoyed with a somewhat salty dipping sauce), but feel free to add more if you prefer, although I think dipping these dumplings in ketchup is the way to go and creates a perfect balance of flavor. They taste exactly like a juicy cheeseburger with ketchup, but with an extra awesome crispy and chewy "bun." And for the record, even though these look like Chinese pan-fried buns (or bao), I didn't use actual bao dough (which contains yeast), which is why they're still dumplings and not buns.


Check out this month's roundup of recipes at Lazaro Cooks.


Cheeseburger Dumplings
Makes 12 large dumplings
(Dough/assembly adapted from Asian Dumplings)

Filling:
8 ounces ground beef
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons mustard (yellow or Dijon both work)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (or any cheese you like on your burger, but do NOT use pre-shredded cheese as it contains anti-caking agents--please grate your own cheese)

Dough:
10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3/4 cup just-boiled water (boil water, then let it sit for a minute off the heat before measuring)

Canola or peanut oil, for pan-frying
Ketchup, for serving

To make the filling, in a medium bowl mix together the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper until combined. Add the grated cheese and mix. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

To make the dough, place a large mixing bowl over a damp paper towel on your work surface, to keep in place while mixing. Add the flour and make a well. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour while you add the water in a steady stream. Mix together until you have a lot of lumpy bits, then knead the hot dough in the bowl until the dough comes together. Add water by the teaspoon if the dough does not come together.

Continue kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface (only flour if necessary, and do so sparingly) for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (my mixing bowl was very large so I finished kneading directly in the bowl and it was just fine). The dough should bounce back when pressed with your finger, but leave a light impression of your finger. Place dough in a zip-top bag, seal tightly, pressing out excess air, and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the bag and soften. After resting, the dough can be used right away, or refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature before using.

To assemble the dumplings, remove the dough from the bag, turning the bag inside out if the dough is sticky. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in half. Put half back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing it closed to prevent drying.

Roll the dough into a chubby log and cut into 6 pieces. If your pieces are oval, stand them on one of the cut ends and gently squeeze with your fingers to make them round, like a scallop. Take each piece of dough and press each cut end in flour, lightly pressing the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.

Next, flatten each dough disk into a thin circle, about 1/8 inch thick, either with a tortilla press (lined with plastic wrap), or with a heavy flat-bottomed object like a frying pan (also lined with plastic). Alternatively, use a dowel (which is a good lightweight rolling pin alternative for fast and flexible dumpling making) to lightly roll out each disc into an 1/8 inch thick circle.

To finish the wrappers, place wrappers one at a time on your work surface, and flour only if sticky. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center of the dough. This is what the Chinese call the "belly" of the wrapper. You want to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size, but still retaining a thick "belly" in the center. This ensures an even distribution of dough when the dumpling is sealed. Use the rolling pin to apply pressure to the outer 1/2-to-3/4-inch border of the wrapper. Roll the rolling pin in short downward strokes with one hand while the other hand turns the wrapper in the opposite direction. Aim for wrappers that are about 4-to-4 1/2-inches in diameter. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portions of dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if planning to refrigerate dumplings for several hours, also dust with flour to prevent sticking). To assemble a dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Use a spoon to center 1/12th of the filling (about 1 1/2 tablespoons--you can divide it up in advance into 12 balls if you like) atop the wrapper, flattening the filling a bit and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wrapper clear on all sides. Then fold, pleat, and press to enclose the filling and create a closed satchel. Try to make large pleats so that the dumpling is not too thick on one side. After pinching the opening closed, twist off any excess dough and discard.

Set the finished dumpling closed side down on prepared baking sheet and flatten it into a puck shape. Assemble more dumplings from the remaining wrappers before working on the next batch of dough. Keep dumplings covered to prevent them from drying out.

When all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours and can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on their baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and frozen for up to 1 month. To cook after freezing, partially thaw, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before cooking.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, smooth side down, in the pan. The dumplings can touch. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add water to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (about 1/3 cup water). The water will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let the water bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the water is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Flip each over to crisp the sealed (pleated) side for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Serve dumplings immediately with ketchup for dipping.

*Note* Feel free to dress up these dumplings by adding some of your favorite burger fixings into the dumplings. You could add some caramelized onions, sauteed chopped mushrooms, or even crisp, chopped bacon right into the filling.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

French Onion Soup

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French onion soup has a very special place in my heart. For many years, I would actually order it at every single restaurant I went to that offered it, just to compare and determine which versions I liked best. You'd be surprised how many restaurants offer sodium-heavy broth with giant chunks of onion within. There needs to be more finesse in making a proper French onion soup.


The onions should be slowly cooked and caramelized until they are dark golden and almost falling apart. I like to lightly salt my onions right off the bat, because it allows them to begin releasing water immediately. I also cover the pot to really allow them to sweat and soften before any browning even begins.


I finish caramelizing them uncovered. It can be a time consuming process (and your onions will shrink like crazy--I started with over half the pot full of onions and ended up with a thin layer along the bottom), but it's really worth it to develop the wonderful onion flavor prevalent in this soup.


Many onion soups feature already soggy bread, which does fall apart beneath the cheese and soak up lots of the yummy broth, but I prefer having at least the surface of that bread still boast a bit of a crust. Anything beneath the surface absorbs soup and softens, but I like a bit more texture with my croutons.


The cheese on French onion soup is probably the most popular aspect. Traditionally, it's Gruyere, and sometimes Emmentaler (Swiss) grated over the top. I've seen many restaurants use a round of Provolone cheese, which I'll admit is the perfect shape to top the soup, and also offers nice flavor. I've seen Irish or English onion soup recipes use Cheddar to top the whole thing off. That's not a bad idea either, but I will stick to my beloved Gruyere for this round.


French Onion Soup
4 to 6 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 cups sliced onions (About 3 to 4 onions, depending on size)
Kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef broth or stock
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1/2 a baguette (or other crusty bread), sliced and toasted (if using a baguette, slice on the bias to create more surface area)
8 ounces grated Gruyere

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt, and mix to coat evenly with the butter. Cover the pot and allow the onions to sweat and soften, stirring occasionally for about 15 to 20 minutes. Continue cooking, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

Add the garlic and bay leaves, and saute for a couple minutes until fragrant. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat and simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Dust the onions with the flour and cook for another 5 minutes with the heat on medium low, as to not burn the flour. Now slowly whisk in the beef broth being careful to smooth out any lumps. Season with salt and pepper, increase the heat to high, slightly cover the pot and bring the soup back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for 10 more minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Adjust seasoning as needed.

When you're ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Float a couple baguette slices (or one large piece of toasted crusty bread) in each bowl on top of the soup. Sprinkle the slices with the Gruyere and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

If you don't have oven-proof bowls, you can arrange the lightly toasted baguette slices on a sheet pan, sprinkle the cheese over the top of each slice, and broil as directed above. Then float the Gruyere croutons on top of the soup in each bowl.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Banana Bourbon Pancakes

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Pancakes. A single word that elicits memories of Sunday mornings and pools and pools of maple syrup. Whether your best pancake memories come from a box of Bisquick or your local brunch hot spot, pancakes have a place in many people's hearts for sweet and decadent comfort, whether they are enjoyed first thing in the morning or very late at night.


I recently picked up a copy of Pancakes by Adriana Adarme and decided to expand my pancake repertoire with her creative and delicious-sounding pancake recipes (both sweet and savory). My first pass through the book yielded a lengthy wish list of appetizing recipes. Many of them appear very easy to make and utilize basic ingredients.


I could find only one real issue with the book. Several recipes state they are gluten-free, but in fact aren't. Anyone who isn't paying close enough attention may mistake the following recipes for gluten-free based on the notation, but should beware they do contain gluten: Smoked Gouda Sweet Potato Latkes, Falafel Cakes, and Zucchini Fritters. I would imagine, though, that anyone with an actual allergy would be aware of this, but someone less familiar who is cooking for someone gluten-free may not notice the error immediately.


With that said, it was a challenge selecting my first pancake exploit from the book. A lot of the recipes offer comfort, especially during this time of year when the snow is piled high outside. Faced with a very ripe banana, I decided to attempt the Banana Bourbon Pancakes. I actually had a teeny tiny bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon which was the perfect size for the task at hand.


Although the recipe calls for two bananas, my one large banana was sufficient for the recipe. These pancakes were very easy to make, but tasted complicated. I love the boozy accent both within the pancakes and also in the syrup. The original recipe states it makes 8, but I comfortably ended up with 9 pancakes using 1/4-cup batter for each.


I would definitely make these pancakes again in the future (especially when faced with ripe bananas in need of a purpose), but would also love to try some of the other enticing recipes within the book. I can see a bright future for this pancake cookbook in conjunction with my skillet. A very bright future.


Banana Bourbon Pancakes
Makes 8 to 10
(Adapted from Pancakes)

Bourbon Maple Syrup:
1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
Pinch of salt

Bananas:
1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 ripe bananas, thinly sliced (I used 1 large banana instead)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dry Mix:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Wet Mix:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, shaken
1 large egg
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons melted butter, cooled
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Butter or vegetable oil, for the skillet

To make the syrup, add the maple syrup and butter to a small saucepan over moderately high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately lower the heat to low, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until slightly reduced. Using a spoon, skim the foam from the surface and discard. Stir in the bourbon and the salt and cook for an additional minute. Keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the bananas, in a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the bananas, sugar, bourbon, cinnamon and toss lightly until bananas are evenly coated. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes until the bananas are lightly browned. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, measure out the buttermilk. Add the egg, bourbon, melted butter, and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined.

All at once, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter should have some small to medium lumps.

Preheat your skillet over medium heat and brush with 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter or a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Using a 1/4-cup measure, scoop the batter onto the warm skillet. Add 4 to 5 slices of banana to each pancake, pressing them in lightly. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until small bubbles form on the surface of the pancakes, and then flip. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook on the opposite sides for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown.

Transfer the cooked pancakes to a baking sheet and place in a preheated 200 degree F oven to keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, adding more butter or vegetable oil to the skillet when needed. Serve immediately with warm bourbon maple syrup.

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