I AM BACK!

After almost a year worth of sabbatical, I am back!!!

What got me busy to begin with you ask? Well, I was pregnant and had a child while doing full time research and engaging in building a start up company at the same time. So, things got a little slow in the kitchen and even slower in the kitchen life follow up. 🙂 I still cooked, a lot, just couldn’t find the leisure to brag about it.

So am I less busy now so I start cooking again? Well, not really. However I have found new and creative ways to better and efficient time management. I am coming back with ever more recipes and ideas! Please stay tuned!

PS. Man, it feels great to start talking about food again! Miss you all.

Suzhou-style savory meaty mooncakes – Happy Mid-autumn festival!

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If you have ever had Chinese mooncakes, the chances are you had the Cantonese-style ones, which are usually filled with various sweet fillings (good for long preservation) such as coconut crunch, red bean paste, etc and the outer layer is a hardened skin (easy to package).  

It is much easier to get Cantonese-style mooncakes as they preserve much better and longer than the much more demanding type: Suzhou-style mooncakes.  It is the best when just fresh out of the oven to enjoy Suzhou-style mooncakes and the flakey crispy layered outer skin and the meat filling inside makes it literally impossible to mass package with preservatives without breaking it or spoiling its flavor.

I am from Shanghai, where we consume the Suzhou-style mooncakes the most.  It is a ritual to line up after the traditional dimsum shop on the day of mid-autumn festival and enjoy the hot mooncakes with family members while appreciating the full moon.  🙂

Since it is a lengthy and labor intensive process, I will jump right into the topic of making them today.

Ingredients:

Filling:

1 lbs of 70% ground pork

1 medium egg

3 cloves of garlic, very finely minced

1.5 tbsp of ginger, very finely minced

3 tbsp of green onion (only the green portion), finely minced 

Sesame oil

3-4 tbsp of Sugar

2 tbsp of Aged soy sauce

2-3 tbsp of Soy sauce

Salt and pepper

Oil dough:

1 – 1 1/4 cup of all purpose flour

4-5 tbsp of lard

Water dough:

2 cups of all purpose flour

6 tbsp of WARM water

4-5 tbsp pf lard

5-6 tbsp of sugar

Now crack the egg into the ground pork and mix all the filling ingredients all at once with hand.  Make sure the filling is not too runny.  Cover the filling up and let sit in the fridge to cool for at least 30 min.

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We will make the water dough first.  Let the lard melt a bit in the warm water.  Mix the flour, water, lard and sugar well, you should be able to create a dough that stretches to semi-transparent smooth texture.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrapper and let sit in room temperature for at least 30 min.

We make the oil dough second.  Use hand to mix the flour and the lard, throughout the mixing process the lard will melt slowly and combine well with the flour.  You should be able to get one big dough to form but upon touching, the dough has some flakey texture and that is ok for the oil dough.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrapper and let sit in room temperature for at least 30 min.

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Now divide the water dough and the oil dough into about 16 equal-sized pieces and make sure the once you are not using are still being wrapped so that the doughs do not dry out while you make other mooncakes.  Roll out one piece of the water dough, spread one piece of the oil dough onto the rolled out water dough.  Mix with hand, form a bigger ball, and roll out the mixed dough again.  Roll the dough out to as thin as you can.  A good estimate of thickness is if you were to divide up the filling to 16 equal portions, can your dough wrap all over each portion.  Turn the oven onto 350 F.

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Once the mixed dough is rolled out to desired size, add the filling and close it up on the top.  Place the wrapped mooncake with the closed-top down, use your hand to re-shape the mooncake a bit to make sure it is round.  Bake with top down for 15 min and flip and bake for another 15 min.  Flip again and give it a finishing touch and bake for another 5 min.  Do this for all the 16 mooncakes. If you would like a more baked look on the outside, give the exterior a light brush of egg-wash for the last couple of minutes in the oven.

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If you cannot finish them all at once, I suggest you bake the once you want to save for later at 320F each side for 15 min and finish with another 5 min.  And then put the mooncakes side by side in a container straight to the freezer.  You can reheat them up in microwave for a couple of minutes and then into a preheated oven at 350F for another 10-15 min.  Make sure you eat them all within a few days to ensure the best tasting!

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Happy mid-autumn festival everyone!  🙂

PS. for the first-timer eaters, the filling should be succulent and juicy, bursting with flavors of the pork with a hint of sweetness and saltiness and all other supporting spices. The higher the fat content of the ground pork, the better it helps with the juiciness. The skin should be flaked easily, presenting thin crispy layers. It is so sumptuously delicious that you will never look back! 🙂

Homemade rhubarb strawberry jam

It has been a while since I last updated as I have lately been much more caught up with things in the other side of my life: scientific research. I have not stopped cooking though, just few less experiments recently, lol. A couple of weeks ago, the rhubarb plants in our garden were getting so huge that husband harvested a good chunk of them and with strawberries stocked, I decided to make a rhubarb strawberry jam.

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Ingredients:
4 cups of fresh rhubarb stocks, chopped into small chunks
2 cups of cleaned strawberries (you can adjust the ratio depending on what you have at hand or your preference)
1 tbsp of lemon juice
1 – 3 cups of sugar (depending on how sweet you like your jam, I don’t like it too sweet, so I had even gone for 1/2 a cup)
2 packets of Gelatin (or Pectin whichever you can find, tune the amount to your liking)

In a large pot, throw in the chunks of rhubarb stock first. In medium high heat, cook for about 8 minute, until it turns mushy. Add the strawberries and cook for 2 minutes. To break down the mixture, use a handheld mixer and submerge into the mixture for about 1 minute or until everything presents a smooth blended consistency. Add the lemon juice and stir to mix well. Add the gelatin or pectin and be sure to mix very well so as to avoid creating lumps later on due to uneven distribution of thickening agent. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add all the sugar and mix well. Turn off the heat and can the jam immediately. Make sure you use cans and lids that have been sterilized properly – for example, submerge them in boiled water in a deep pot and continue to heat for 20 min or so. Let the jam sit in the cans in fridge for at least a day before serving.

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The jam should be stored in the fridge for longer shelf life, it will probably be very good for about 4-6 weeks. If using more sugar or acidic substance, ie lemon juice, it can be enjoyed longer and vice versa.

The jam is SOOOOOO good on toasts, or mixed in with plain yogurt, and it tastes so refreshing and cooling during the hot summer days!

Homemade “Green” Gnocchi

I had a ton of arugula from a farm harvest that would take forever to finish if eaten as part of salad. I decided to make gnocchi with them. 🙂 You can imagine achieving same results with spinach.

Ingredients:

To make arugula puree
4-5 cups of fresh arugula leaves
1/2-3/4 cups of assorted nuts (I used walnuts, cashew and some almonds)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

To make gnocchi
1 cup of arugula puree
1 egg
6 medium-sized potatoes (about 3 lbs)
Salt
1-3 cups of flour (depending on how wet the puree is, how big the eggs and the potatoes are, you need to add flour slowly and stop whenever the dough reach desired consistency)

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In a food processor, mix all the ingredients in the first part and blend until the mixture becomes puree. Scope out the puree and set aside. In a large pot, boil the potatoes in the pot for about 1 hour or more until the potatoes are soft enough to be easily mashed. Bring the cooked potatoes under icy cold water and peal the skins off. Note that you need to do this very fast and the potatoes still need to be warm when being formed into a dough. Use a towel help peel the skins. Add back the arugula puree and mix the mashed potatoes and the arugula puree well. In the food processor, mash the mixture until there is no visible potato lumps. Let the mixer cool in the food processor for about 20 min. The mixer should present a gooey consistency. In a bowl, beat the egg until the white and the yolk mix together.

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Transfer the potato puree mixture and the beaten egg and salt all to one large bowl for kneading. Add 1/2 cup of flour first and 1/4 cup in increment or preferably a pinch if you are patient. Knead the dough until it reaches the consistency where it is moist but not sticky, and somewhat dry. Knead gently after a ball is formed for a couple more minutes.

Cut the dough into a few smaller pieces and roll each piece out into a snake-shaped long tube. The tube should be about the thickness of your thumb. Use a knife to cut every 1/2 or 3/4 inch and dust with flour when putting away. If you want to curl the gnocchi, use a fork but otherwise they are great just the way they are right now. Put the made gnocchi in a freezer and freeze over night before ready to use. If you plan on eating them later, place them in a bag and keep them frozen. They will last at least a couple weeks in the freezer.

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They were fantastic, especially the color! Paired with homemade pork bolognese sauce, they will be the bomb! Thanks for checking in.

Honey Maple Almond Butter

If we piece all the information together, husband has an addiction to nut butter, I recently got a new model of food processor with higher power, the almond butter has been ridiculously expensive – the conclusion: I decide to make my own almond butter or nut butter from now on, lol.

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs of organic raw almonds (just how much I had at hand)
1/2 tbsp of honey
1/2 tbsp of maple syrup
1 tbsp of olive oil, optional
salt and pepper

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In a food processor (mine has about 720 watt in power) with its medal S-shaped blade on, combine the almonds, honey and maple syrup and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the food processor on and let go for about 30-35 min or until reach desired consistency. Add olive oil occasionally, especially towards the end, to help the consistency of the texture. Open up every couple minutes and use a spatula to move the mixture that got stuck on the wall down to the blade. Feel free to use more olive oil, honey or maple syrup to your liking depending on the sweetness and the texture you prefer. Easy as that!

To change up the flavor, try adding cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, chocolate, or I am thinking of putting in some cayenne, red chili, or jalapeño next time to experiment a bit.

Tips: if you roast the almonds beforehand for a while and let out the nutty oil somewhat, it will shorten the time needed to in the food processor or a lower-power food processor will do since it does not need to work as hard.

Husband gave two thumbs up after trying and has been all over this jar of goodness! 🙂

Cooking in High Elevation

Living at an elevation of 5430 ft means a lot of things, and it definitely means cooking is different from most places. It’s dry and arid, and most importantly, the air pressure is lower.

That means, water boiling point is lower, things take longer to cook. Baking goods rise a lot easier. Doughs need more water than sea-level preparation. So, when you find my recipe timing, or temperature, or liquid volume a bit *off*, please adjust and tweak the recipes according to your liking and your location.

If you are living in even higher elevation than me, then a great guide I found was here, suggestions made from research done by CSU:

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/p41.html#cook

I find this brochure tremendously helpful especially when I cook somewhere at low elevation and I use the advice reversely. It constantly reminds me of how a change in the environment affects the technique and the outcome.

Enjoy cooking! 🙂

Pickled duck gizzards

Lots of Chinese eat seasonally like rituals, so does my mum. When it got to the tail end of spring and summer time lurked, my mum would start to make tons of seasonal dishes, pickling some duck gizzards was one of these dishes. I got some already cleaned duck gizzards in nearby Asian market and decided to follow my mum’s suit.

Ingredients:
1 lbs of duck gizzards
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized ginger root, peeled and minced
2 green onions, finely chopped
3-4 red chili peppers, chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup Chinese cooking wine
1 cup Chinese wine pickling sauce
Salt and pepper

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Heat up the coconut oil in a pan in medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, green onion, and red chili peppers. Stir fry until smelling the spices’ aroma. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat off and set the pan aside.

Heat up 4 cups of water in a kettle and another 4 cups in a pot until boil on medium heat. Add gizzards into the pot and let cook for 3-5 min. Drain the water in the pot and run icy cold water on the gizzards for about 1 min. Pour the boiled water from the kettle in the pot and transfer the gizzards back into the boiling water in the pot. Add the spice mixture from the pan to the pot. Let simmer on medium to low heat for about 10-35 min depending on how cooked you want the gizzards be. Add salt and pepper to taste. Take out all the gizzards and run icy cold water on the gizzards for another 1 min. If you cook the gizzards in the water long enough, with all the spice mixture in it, you can reuse the broth for other things — I made some pho with that broth. 🙂

In a air-tight container, add the gizzards, throw in some of the spice mixture, cooking wine and pickling sauce. Refrigerate the container and wait for at least 2 days. Slice up the gizzards before serving.

Serve it as a cold appetizer by itself with a bottle of cold light beer, or get creative. I threw a few slices on husband’s grilled cheese sandwich the other day and as someone just tried the gizzards for the very first time, he was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed it! 🙂
Hope you will like them as much as I do too!

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PS. I made this quick noodle dish that took literally under 15 min that used duck gizzards as the side protein and garnished it with a lot of colorful vegetables. Another way to eat the gizzards. 🙂

Sichuan-style aromatic spicy frog legs

When it comes to eating, the Chinese and the French seem to be in sync on a lot of notes – so is the case with frogs. On a frog, the most delicious part is frog legs, it is meaty, tender, and juicy with a mild flavor which can be easily seasoned into anything you like. I love frog legs, they were definitely a treat during my childhood when my mum had a craving for frogs. Lol. Today, I am going to prepare a dish that is spicy, savory and well-balanced using frog legs.

Ingredients:
4-5 full frog bottoms or 8-10 individual frog legs (chopped into pieces according to joints, optional)
2 stems of green onions, finely chopped, separate the root white parts and the top parts
4-6 red chili peppers, chopped
2 tbsp of ginger, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 slab of rock candy
4-5 tbsp of spicy bean paste
1 tbsp of soy sauce
3-4 tbsp of coconut oil
1 tbsp of sesame oil
4-5 tbsp of Chinese cooking wine
Salt and pepper

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Clean the frog legs and put all of them in a container, pour in the Chinese cooking wine, rub in salt and pepper, let sit for at least 10 min.

Heat up coconut oil in a large wok. Turn the heat to medium and add rock candy and red chili peppers. Keep stirring until the candy melts and one can smell some aroma coming from frying the chili peppers. Add root parts of green onions, ginger, garlic, and spicy bean paste. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir until you see the oil turns reddish.

Turn the heat up to high. Throw in the frogs with the cooking wine. Stir constantly and turn the frog legs to make sure the largest thigh pieces turn white and opaque. Add the top parts of the green onion and the soy sauce. Stir to mix well. Add the sesame oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Once the frog legs all turn white and opaque, put on a lid and turn the heat back to medium. Let simmer for about 5-8 min. If the meat falls of the bone with slightest touch with fork, then the frog meat is fully cooked. Serve immediately.

It was such a wonderful treat! I am looking forward to cooking the other package of frogs a different way! Thanks for checking in! 🙂

Fun twists on the classic mashed potatoes

I am really not a starch fan, because I always feel like being deprived of my chances to enjoy other foods as I get filled up so quickly on even a few bits of starchy food. But with some small twists, starchy foods can go from blandly filling to deliciously satisfactory. Here is on how to make mashed potatoes with some fun twists.

Ingredients: (yield 4 servings)
4-5 medium-large potatoes, peeled, chopped into large bite-sized chunks
2-3 Heirloom carrots, chopped into small bits (if the carrot is large, 1 should suffice)
4-5 cremini mushrooms, finely chopped or minced
1/3 onion, chopped into small bits
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 stick of butter
3-5 tbsp of milk (or add small amount first and add more depending on how you like the texture)
1 tbsp of olive oil
pinch of ginger powder
Salt and pepper

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Boil water in a pot. Put in all the potatoes and cook for about 30-40 min. Use a fork and see if you can poke through effortlessly to determine if the potatoes are completely cooked.

When the potatoes have about 5-8 min to go, heat up olive oil in a pan in medium-high heat. Add the garlic, the carrots, and the onions. Cook for about 3-4 min until the onions are translucent and if you chopped the carrots fine enough, they should be soft as well. Add the mushrooms, the ginger powder, a tbsp of butter, salt and pepper and stir to mix well. You want to be a little heavy with the seasoning as the seasoning will cover the potatoes as well. Cook for another minute. Turn the heat off and pour everything into a bowl for later use.

When the potatoes are completely cooked, drain the water and put the potatoes back into the pot on very low heat. Start mashing with the potato masher. When the potatoes look somewhat mashed up, add the rest of the butter, and start mashing away as the potatoes continue to break down and mix with the melting butter. Start slowly adding the milk and continue mashing. Add every from the bowl into the pot of the potatoes and mix well. Mash the potatoes or add more milk until it reaches your desired consistency.

And it is ready to serve. The color of the mashed potatoes is so much more appetizing as it now has the yellow, orange, red from Heirloom carrots (why I chose them at the first place) and the earthy brown from the mushrooms! I served this mashed potatoes with the fun twists along with medium New York strip steak and some sautéed green vegetables. So delicious! 🙂

Roasted spaghetti squash

I love the taste of spaghetti squash, so light, crispy, yet tasty! It is a wonderful addition to a meal that balances out other rich, heavy, sumptuous dishes. Here is what you will need.

Ingredients (yield 4-5 servings)
3 lbs spaghetti squash
1 medium beet, chopped into small cubes
Orange zest
Lime zest
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper

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Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cut the squash into four quarters. On a large flat baking sheet, drizzle on a thin layer of olive oil. Put the spaghetti squash onto the sheet with the side with flat cuts facing down. Roast for about 30-40 min in the oven or until when you can poke through the squash using a fork without much resistance.

Meanwhile the squash is roasting, heat up olive oil in a pan. Add the chopped beets and stir to coat everyone with the oil. Add the garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 4-5 min until the beets are somewhat soft.

After the squash is done, use a fork and a spoon to scrape out the squash flesh. You can use the spoon to provide a stabilized point and use the fork or vice versa. The flesh should not be long, thin and beautiful yellow strands coming out super easily. Once collected all the flesh into a bowl, you can drizzle some extra olive oil, salt and pepper and stir to mix the seasoning well.

Pour the beets on to add some vibrant dark red color and a little bit sweetness. Add the orange and lime zests to give the color a pop and a refreshing touch!

I served this dish as a substitute for the grains, along with some pan-friend vegetables and marinated spicy chicken thighs. It went so great with everything! 🙂 Enjoy!