Thursday, March 25, 2010

Heaty-Cooling Happiness

Today, I am listening to French songs and making bad translations in my mind. I am playing Hell's Kitchen on Wii and burning the food. And I'm glad our sensitive stupid smoke detector won't smell the TV. I am in Asia, which is now home and when in Asia, do as the Asians do (but not so much on my part because I'm a brat). 

Today, as I've seen many do, I will drink green tea, drink lots of water, eat more vegetables, cut down on my sugar and smoke. And I will eat mandarin oranges because you might be over Chinese New Year but I'm not. (No punctuation intentionally in that last sentence. Am I talking to you or to Chinese New Year? Excuse my random thought.) It would have been great to surprise you and come up with some fancy Chinese dish that I don't know the authentic taste of, but I can't seem to get enough motivation to cook for myself when my husband is away. I try but my lonely kitchen adventures aren't as blog worthy.  So I tell you this: as of April Fools' Day, I'll start taking this more seriously. Ironic much?

So anyway, we were recently at a friend's house and it was explained to us that in... I don't know what to call it... Chinese nutrition habits/culture, there are "heaty" foods and "cooling" foods. These balance out the hot and cold energy in your body, which is basically balancing out your acid/alkaline balance. It just sounds more abracadabra when you say heaty/cooling.

But today, since there are no fancy Chinese dishes to be made in our kitchen because I am unskilled like that and since I was going to eat mandarin oranges (which are heaty and can give you a sore throat, according to Chiren and Pam's explanation; but just juicy, watery and sweet according to me) then I had to make something cooling and preferably also with Chinese origins. Now, go ahead and laugh but I'm teaching you how to make Iced Peppermint Green Tea and you should learn to drink green tea. Minus the sugar.  

Update: This recipe was featured on the Gojee Top 3 Drinks section for the first week of February 2012 under Non-alcoholic Drinks.
Iced Peppermint Green Tea: (Inspired by Memoria)

4 cups of water
3-4 peppermint green tea teabags 
1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice

For those of you who want to sweeten it, you can add half to three quarters of a cup of sugar to your 4 cups of water. I personally recommend that if you choose to sweeten it, use honey. Honey, by the way, is a neutral food and has a balanced yin/yang. Don't ask me anymore questions about this. I don't know any more than I'm telling you. Besides, Google is your best friend. Just treat it right and it'll give you what you want. You can also use plain green tea and add dried mint or a drop of mint extract. I didn't use too much lemon because I can't take a lot of it but feel free to add more to your own.

Now, get your jug. Put your tea bags in it. Pour hot water over your tea bags until they're covered. Only until the tea bags are covered. Don't fill up your jug. Now let it soak while you count to 40 (or 41 if you don't like even numbers like me) for a milder taste and up to 2 minutes for a stronger flavor. I prefer a stronger green tea taste. Top up the rest of your jug with cold water. Add ice to your glass before you pour. Oh, and you can also add the lemon wedge like me. It makes you feel special. Now, go find a mandarin orange while I go get another one and another glass that I'm frosting in the freezer. Be gone.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Easy Way Out

Around a year ago, I visited a Croatian restaurant with some friends (one of which was Croatian). It felt nice to go with someone who had knowledge of the food and after faring well with some interesting (for lack of a better word) Chinese dishes, I was ready once again to try something new. Soon enough, I realized that Croatian food was a toned down version of Middle Eastern food and I suddenly felt a little more comfortable in my seat. But seriously, let's get to the point. What really stood out was called Strukli, a cottage cheese like dumpling thing coated with bread crumbs and pan fried to golden ooziness. So on a gloomy day like today, I decided that I was far too lazy to make the cheese from scratch (after Googling the Strukli recipe) and chose to make mozzarella sticks instead. And no, I'm not lazy enough to get them store-bought! Ha! But I know you're too lazy to get up and make this so don't judge me for picking the easy way out.    
Mozzarella Sticks
You'll need:
1 pack low moisture mozzarella
1 egg, beaten
1 cup and a half of bread crumbs
1/2 a teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 a teaspoon of dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying

** You can add or remove any of the herbs. You could also mix half a cup of Parmesan with 1 cup of bread crumbs instead of a full cup and a half of bread crumbs.

Cut your mozzarella block into "sticks". Dip each stick into the bread crumbs until fully coated and then dip it into the beaten egg and then into the bread crumbs again. Place your doubled breaded mozzarella sticks on a plate and cover in cling film. Freeze for an hour or two or until they get firm and the bread crumb doesn't... crumble. Heat your oil and fry for up to a minute, turning once. Drain your sticks on a paper towel lined plate. Serve.

Marinara Dipping Sauce:

1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of mixed herbs (Your pick. I picked dried basil, oregano and thyme.)
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil and saute your onion until translucent.  Add your garlic, tomatoes and everything else and cook for 25-35 minutes on low heat.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chaussons aux Pommes: The Story of Saving Apples

Have you seen Where the Wild Things Are? I had been wanting to for a while and finally got around to it this afternoon. You really should make the time for it. I don't know if most kids would enjoy it but it blew me away. I'm still feeling that happy-sad-imaginative-weird feeling that kept washing over me throughout the movie. The music is great too. So... that's that.

Onto apples. That fruit that I've always claimed to like yet rarely ever buy. There are so many things you could do with an apple too (apart from piercing its skin with your teeth and trying to get all the juice to run directly into your mouth so that it doesn't run down your hand and onto your arm and get all sticky and ant-attracting). 

A week ago, we were watching a cooking show when this guy made this lovely looking grilled apple dessert thing with whipped cream, cinnamon and brown sugar. Really nice stuff. So on our next trip to the supermarket, we pick up some apples and go on excitedly about how we're going to go straight home and try out that lovely looking  grilled apple dessert thing. We ended up watching 3 shows in a row instead and going to bed early.

Time passes and the apples remain in the fridge. I eat one. He eats one. The rest keep each other company, still all together, red and green, in the fridge.   

I generally suck with using up all the vegetables/fruit in the house. What is it about me that makes them go bad? They're borderline suicidal in our house. So I decided that before the apples die of boredom, I will have to use them! I will be a waster no longer! 

Apples to be rescued:   
Chaussons aux Pommes
2 tablespoons of butter
3 cooking apples 
1/4 cup sugar 
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of allspice
A few walnuts, broken up
A little less than a handful of raisins
A squirt of lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon flour
3 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold 

1 egg yolk, beaten with a teaspoon of water
Extra caster sugar for sprinkling

Core and peel the apples. Cut the apples into small pieces. Melt the butter in a pot. Add the apples. Cover the pot and cook for 7-10 minutes. Add the sugar to the apples as well as the raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, allspice and flour. Stir for a few seconds until the flour dissolves and cook until the sugar caramelizes. Add the lemon juice and cook for another 5 minutes or until the apples become soft and coated with sugar. Leave to cool for a while. Cut puff pastry into rectangles. Spoon the apple mixture over half of the pastry leaving a margin. Brush the margins with the egg glaze. Fold the pastry and seal the edges. You could seal the edges using the tines of a fork.  Place on a damp baking sheet and slice 3-4 vents in the top of the pastry. Brush the pastry with more glaze and sprinkle some caster sugar on top. Let it rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.  Oven at 220 degrees Celsius. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 190 degrees Celsius, and continue to bake until golden and puffed up.  Cool slightly and serve. Let me know how it goes. 
Happy killing apples before they kill themselves. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Story of a Pound Cake

My mind has been busy with ideas, whims and wishes. Now after 2 years of exceptional lethargy, my mind is awake and I want to run and dance and swim and, surprisingly, bake. And what evil did I wish for this morning? Dense, buttery, velvety pound cake. 

Looking back, I was never one to cook, let alone bake. I would run away at the sight of someone needing help in the kitchen and I was uncooperative and clumsy, to say the least. But like everything else that changes (because "Change is the only constant," according to a friend's Facebook status), I yielded. More on that later though.

Today, I baked a pound cake. It sounds commonplace and unimaginative but did you know that it was created in the 1700s? No, you didn't and neither did I, until I Googled it earlier today. You should too. I'm not going to get into the timeline of the pound cake right now but I do know that the recipe has reasonably changed since 1796. 

In all honesty, I don't know how Amelia Simmons baked it in a slow oven for 15 minutes because mine took 65 minutes (exactly as the recipe called for) on 175 degrees Celsius. But then again, Amelia Simmons wrote a cookbook called (and I'm serious here): American Cookery: or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Puff-pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and all kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to plain Cake. 

Amelia Simmons has just proven to both of us that she probably talked too much and that a food blog is nothing to be proud of when a female orphan, according to the book cover, attempted to write a ridiculously long titled book with uncomfortable clothes on and no internet access and succeeded.

I got the recipe I used from Food is Luv but I'm the type of person who can never stick to a recipe or instructions for that matter so this is my slightly modified version:

Pound Cake: (makes 1 loaf)
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups of cake flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (Not included in the original recipe but I wanted a dense cake with a softer, slightly lighter texture.)

*The original recipe called for 1 extra egg yolk but I eliminated it. It also had only 1 teaspoon of vanilla but I couldn't resist adding another.

Grease your pan.  Get a bowl and whisk the cake flour and salt. If you need cake flour substitutes, Google it or ask me. If you use all-purpose flour instead, your cake will have a coarser texture. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until they're light and fluffy. So pretty. Don't forget to scrape the sides of the bowl as you go along to eliminate build up. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is properly blended in before adding the next one. Add the vanilla with the third egg and mix again until it looks mixed well enough. Alternate adding the flour and the cream, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix for 5 minutes. Your final texture should be thick and smooth. After you pour your batter into your pan, bang it a few times on a table. It sounds strange but just do it. It kills the air bubbles and gives you better texture. 

Put your cake in the oven. You don't have to preheat the oven for this recipe. Strange again but it worked great. Oven at 175 degrees Celsius. Bake for an hour. Your toothpick or knife should come out dry and if you poke it with your finger, it'll bounce back. If you're still left with cake residue, bake for another 10-15 minutes. It should be a medium-dark golden brown. That's the way it's supposed to be since it develops a great crust thus retaining the moisture inside. 

When you take it out, let it cool for 5-10 minutes then run a knife around the edges to loosen the sides. Flip it oven and set it gently on a cooling rack.

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