Monday, November 30, 2009

The Dim Sum Experience

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It's no secret that I love dumplings. I recently purchased a gorgeous cookbook (Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch) focusing completely on dim sum, from dumplings to veggies, pancakes to sweets. It uses lovely illustrations by the author herself in place of photographs, and actually makes the book seem like more of a personal journal of family recipes as opposed to an overly processed cookbook that has obviously been handed down through many levels of publishing hierarchy before finally turning up in bookstores. I can't explain it, but it just seems almost like Ellen Leong Blonder speaks directly to me through her recipes, diagrams, and exquisitely painted renditions of tasty dim sum staples. It also gives a lovely glimpse into the world of Asian teas to pair perfectly in this traditional "tea lunch" experience. Anyone who knows me knows that I take cookbook selecting very seriously. I own over 100 but each and every one that I have purchased myself has been analyzed for hours (ie me reviewing it and many similar books in the comfort of my neighborhood bookstore) before I've selected the chosen few. I'm a perfectionist in every aspect of life, and picking cookbooks is definitely no exception :)

With that said, I made dim sum for the very first time yesterday! It was no easy feat. Partway through, I actually considered giving up and just ordering Chinese food, my mouth was drooling and the dumplings just wouldn't form themselves fast enough to satisfy me. Instead of choosing to simply "make dumplings" I decided to "make dim sum" which is entirely another thing. I selected three different dumpling recipes to make as well as another dim sum staple: scallion pancakes. Between making three different fillings, doughs for all four, and finally assembling each and every product by hand--rolling out the tiny blobs of dough, filling them, shaping them into ugly masses that I was somewhat ashamed to serve, being the perfectionist I am--I was grateful to have my sister manning the stove and cooking them off as I prepped them. Otherwise we would have never eaten! I think the dumplings seemed less ugly once they were cooked, although some of the steamed ones stuck to the steamer. I probably should have lightly oiled it since I wasn't using the oiled-cake-pan-method Blonder mentioned in the book.

As soon as dumplings were cooked off, we kept them warm in a 200 degree oven (even the steamed ones as there were so many and we needed to cook them in batches). As the cook, I ate last, frying up the last of the scallion pancakes in a now-abandoned kitchen while my sister and brother-in-law enjoyed hot dumplings in front of the tv. My plate of dim sum was more room temperature than anything. The few just-cooked dumplings I tried were amazing, but as the heat escaped, some of the flavor seemed to as well. My reheated dumplings today were reminiscent of the first ones I tried, but with yesterday's hunger came a desperation to eat regardless of the temperature of the food, and yet they managed to satisfy as only food that is the result of hours of slaving can manage to do.

I made pork potstickers first... I found that the cabbage in the filling didn't really wilt as it was supposed to and remained in pretty big pieces which made it hard to fill such tiny dumplings. Next time I might chop the cabbage more than shred/slice it, but otherwise, the flavors were good with notes of spicy ginger bursting in your mouth as you bite into it. I adapted the three-mushroom steamed dumplings and made it with two mushrooms instead, using fresh shiitakes and creminis. I also couldn't find wheat starch so I used flour dough instead. These dumplings were tasty, but a few stuck to the steamer, and they tasted MUCH better hot than room temperature. My pork and shrimp siu mai were perhaps the easiest and tastiest. Forming these dumplings were a lot easier than mastering the "potsticker pleat" if you will. Also the filling had great texture, with chunks of shrimp and diced water chestnuts giving it a surprising balance of crunch against the ground pork. The scallion pancakes were my finale, and I rushed through them and forgot to lightly salt them before closing them up, but they still tasted fine, especially with the dipping sauce. I also deliberately left out the shortening. I'm against using hydrogenated fats and this recipe will not change that fact.

All in all, I think my dim sum experience was a success! It took hours longer than I expected, but with careful planning next time, and prepping parts in advance, I think my next foray into the dum sum arts will be even better. I may even try and enjoy each dim sum dish as a separate course in order to enjoy them all hot as soon as they're cooked... prep them all and then cook off each one, and actually eat it while the next one cooks. Doesn't sound like a bad plan. I have loads of filling left over for the three dumplings I made (that's my one complaint about the recipes, they make a lot more filling than seems required for the amount of dough specified), so I froze the fillings and will use them next time I want to cook off some dim sum. It will certainly save a lot of work!

Mushroom Filling

Pork and Shrimp Siu Mai Filling

Pork and Cabbage Filling for Potstickers

Reject-Looking Potstickers :)

Pork Potstickers

Steamed Mushroom Dumplings

Pork and Shrimp Siu Mai (raw)

Scallion Pancakes (before frying)

An Array of Dim Sum a la Victoria :)


*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review. I purchased the book myself. My opinions are always my own.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Victoria is Bad

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So, I'm completely aware of the fact that I dropped off the face of the Earth after Stocks, Sauces, and Soups. I promise, Chef Robotham didn't kill me. After S, S, & S, I began and completed Intro to Baking and Pastry and even got my final grades for the term already (4 A+'s and 2 A's... you can't win 'em all, I guess, haha). In my baking class we prepared everything from biscuits, muffins, angel food cakes, pies, croissants, danishes, cookies, sticky buns, cinnamon buns, eclairs, baguettes, soft dinner rolls, and challah. I have a bit of experience with amateur baking, so the cookies, muffins, etc were a bit less exciting to me, but what I really enjoyed the most was laminating dough for the croissants and danishes as well as shaping the breads, everything from the baguettes to the lovely braided challah! Here are a few pics...

Angel Food Cake

Biscuits, Baguette, and Muffins

Braiding Challah

My Gorgeous Challah!

Laminating Dough for Croissants and Danishes

Cross-Section of Laminated Dough... Check Out the Layers of Butter and Dough!

Croissants

Danishes

Making Sticky Buns
Sticky Buns, Mmmm!

Moving on to cooking in my non-school life... Thanksgiving was a couple days ago. We celebrated it at my sister's house this year, and I definitely helped out with several dishes. I made two desserts, some mini angel food cakes drizzled with chocolate ganache and a pumpkin banana mousse tart. I also made the garlic mashed potatoes, worked on some cranberry sauce, sauteed green beans with garlic, and whipped up some homemade turkey gravy from the pan drippings (using the oh so wonderful calculation for making a medium viscosity sauce, 11.5% roux to liquid, and equal parts fat to flour for the roux).

Also, for the first time ever believe it or not, last night I made eggplant parmesan. I've made chicken parm about a billion times, but never eggplant and considering that it's one of my favorites, I think it was about time! There isn't much of a recipe, but I will share what I did... I peeled and sliced up two large eggplants, salted them to release some of the bitter water, then dried them off, used the standard breading procedure of seasoned flour, seasoned eggs, and then some Italian bread crumbs. I lightly fried them up in olive oil to get them nice and browned and cooked through. Meanwhile I used a couple large cans of crushed tomatoes to make the sauce. Next time I'd do three cans to make sure I have enough for the pasta too (we ended up using jarred sauce to serve the pasta). I started the sauce with some chopped garlic in olive oil, added the tomatoes, salt, pepper, dried oregano, and basil and just let it simmer while I worked on the eggplant. Finally, I layered an 11X13" pan with sauce, eggplant, more sauce, shredded mozzarella, and so on for three total layers. On the very top I also added some parmesan to the mozzarella and then baked it at 350 for about 20-25 minutes until the cheese was nice and bubbly! Here are some photos from Thanksgiving as well as last night's dinner :)

Mini Angel Food Cakes

My Brother-in-Law's Amazing Turkey!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce, and Stuffing

My Plate of Yummies :)

Eggplant Parmesan with Whole-Wheat Linguine



Sunday, November 8, 2009

Soup Season

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Although today is a beautiful day here in New England, soup season is on its way! I'm a big fan of soups and stews year round, and especially now even on this lovely day I've found a reason to make a pot of soup: carrots and ginger! The two go together like macaroni and cheese (my personal favorite combo). I just finished my Stocks, Sauces, and Soups class at Johnson and Wales, and was thus even more compelled to use some of my recent learnings to put together this soup. Enjoy!

Carrot Ginger Soup
Makes about 1 quart

1 lb carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
2 T. fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
4 cups chicken stock or broth, heated
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 T. honey
2 T. heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, ginger and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables for about 10 minutes. Add the hot stock to the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 30 minutes. Skim off any excess fat or impurities from the surface as it simmers. Remove from heat, add the ground ginger and honey, and then puree the soup using either an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor. Adjust the seasonings with more salt and pepper if necessary and then temper in the heavy cream as a final liaison.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Saucy Queen

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So after last week's burn fiasco, I decided that I needed to make the two sauces I didn't finish making in class. On Friday I not only made these sauces but paired them with dishes so it would seem less wasteful to practice just for the sake of practicing. I made a mornay sauce which I served over toast, turkey sausage and a poached egg. I also made bearnaise sauce which I served over steak, classic combo! I think both sauces turned out well and hopefully if I'm asked to recreate them in class for my practical exam they will be a smashing success :)

Today, we had a substitute chef in class as my chef is at a conference for a few days. He was hilarious and awesome and reminded me of Wolfgang Puck, one of my favorite chefs. He actually did a lot of demos in class, which I really enjoyed and learned a lot from. We learned how to make a consomme as well as some brown sauce compounds (I made a madeira sauce). Also we worked on our knife cuts, and today the chef used mine as an example to the class on what they should strive for, and it of course made me feel pretty awesome! We're going to be tested on those as well, so although mine are far from perfect, I'm glad that they are in really good shape. Check out the photo above for some of my knife cuts. They're still a work in progress, but clockwise from the left we have julienne (1/8" by 1/8" by 1 1/2"), brunoise (1/8" dice), and macedoine (1/4" dice).

At lunch today I experienced a couple of firsts. I tasted my first sweetbread (thymus gland), which was delicious as I expected it would be. I also had venison (deer) for the first time, which was good but had an unusual "gamey" flavor which I wasn't really expecting. Still, it was tasty. It was cooked sous vide, which was my third first since I'd never eaten anything cooked sous vide (vacuum sealed and cooked slowly in water) before. All in all, I think it was a pretty productive day!

Toast with Turkey Sausage, Poached Eggs, and Mornay Sauce

Strip Steak with Bearnaise Sauce

Madeira Sauce

Special Functions Menu

Ravioli with Short Ribs and Foie Gras in Truffle Butter

Sauteed Sweetbreads with Saffron Madeira Cream and Pearl Onions

Shaved Fennel and Baby Arugula with Lemon Pepper Vinaigrette and Parmesan Crisp

Sous Vide Rack of Venison with Juniper Crust, Apple Demiglace, Scalloped Potatoes and Asparagus

Peppercorned Duck Breast with Wild Rice, Oyster Mushrooms, Pinot Noir Reduction

Caramelized Apple Tartlet


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