Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jamie Oliver's Salmon Tikka

I have a fangirl crush on Jamie Oliver. I was ravenous by the time I got home from work today, cooked this in 20 MINUTES, and it was among the best things that I've ever made. All thanks to Jamie Oliver.

It's super simple. Start by heating up some naan in the oven on low heat, then begin making lemon yogurt dressing. Dice up 1/2 a cucumber and reserve half of that. Add the other half to 4 Tbsp plain yogurt and stir in salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. 

Salmon: cut into 1 cm thick strips, rub with tikka sauce (I just used Trader Joe's Masala Simmer Sauce), and pan fry on each side for 2-3 minutes. Remove naan from oven and lay on plate, cover with salmon, drizzle on yogurt dressing, then throw on some chopped cucumber and cilantro garnish. In my case, I had no cilantro but arugula was just fine. Now feast.

Jeni's Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

I'm an ice cream fanatic. Long before I owned this ice cream machine, I found this recipe on Serious Eats on how to make ice cream without a machine. While the results were flawless, it was a tedious process that I was weary to repeat. On top of making the custard, you have to whip up heavy cream until it incorporates air, fold it into the custard, freeze in an ice cube tray or cupcake tin, then blend together with more cream. And not only is it tedious, but it also always called for a hearty portion of heavy cream, so it's much even less healthy than most ice creams already are.

Last winter, I visited Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio. Their ice cream was amazing, but David told me that they didn't have their best flavor: lemon blueberry frozen yogurt. I found the recipe online and adopted techniques from the Serious Eats article to make it without a machine, and the results were quite tasty but too much work. For my very first batch on my Cuisinart, I wanted to remake this recipe and see how it compares. Turns out, the texture was much better and it was also much easier to make. I still need to try the original for comparison purposes. 

Juice/zest lemons to yield 1/2 cup juice and 1 Tbsp zest. One lemon was adequate to yield enough zest, so I juiced that one and then used bottled lemon juice to make up the rest.

In a bowl, add 2 Tbsp of lemon juice and a 1/4 oz packet of gelatin. Let the gelatin bloom for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, on the stove at moderate heat, add the remaining lemon juice, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, and 2/3 cup sugar. Heat until it boils and all the sugar melts, then remove from heat. Stir in the gelatin mixture, whisking well to combine. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups whole milk yogurt with the 1 Tbsp lemon zest and stir. 

To the yogurt, fold in the sugar/gelatin mixture and 1/2 cup heavy cream. I also added 1 Tbsp vodka for freezing point depression purposes. Cool in the fridge for several hours, or I just popped it into the freezer and proceeded to the next step. 

In a saucepan, add 3/4 cup blueberries, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 tsp water and cook at moderate heat for 4 minutes until the blueberries are saucy. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl, and then refrigerate (or in my case, I popped this into the freezer too).

In the time that it took to make the blueberry sauce, the lemon yogurt mixture in the freezer should be adequately cooled. Pour into the ice cream machine and churn for 20-30 minutes. By this point, the blackberry mixture in the freezer should be adequately cooled as well. Transfer to a Tupperware  alternating scoops of yogurt with spoons of blueberry sauce, then freeze for several more hours until firm. 

Recipe: Lemon Blueberry Frozen Yogurt from Food and Wine
Would I make this again? Yes, I've made this before and will continue to make it again and again

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another new toy

I was going to hold off on opening it, but once the package arrived, I couldn't resist.

It's my combined birthday/Christmas/Chinese New Years present from the parents. My mom said that I shouldn't use it to only take pictures of food...but I can't promise that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New toy

I got an email notice from my apartment's front desk to pick up a package, which confused me since I haven't ordered anything recently...

:OOO It was from David and I am beyond excited. She is a beauty. I'm making ice cream tomorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Creme Brulee

I used heavy cream in both my pumpkin cheesecake and my mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, but I  bought one carton too many. Since my family is pretty traditional Chinese so they never use heavy cream in recipes, it was pretty likely that the extra carton would be thrown out unless I figured out something to do with it.

I decided to attempt one of my favorite simple desserts: creme brulee. So I read some recipes from Alton Brown and the Pioneer Woman for general directions and then downsized their proportions relative to my 1 cup of heavy cream that I wanted to use up. This can feed 2-4 people, depending on how much each person is willing to share. It was enough to fit into two small glass pyrex containers (I had no ramekins). My mom, my sister, and I split one, while my dad ate the entire other one because he liked it so much. And thank god that it tasted good. I burned my finger last night while making this, so I would be even more pissed had this turned out horribly

Separate two eggs. Reserve egg whites for a separately use (I like to take 2 egg whites and add a whole egg to use for omelets). 

Whisk together egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar until mixture is light yellow. 

On the stove, warm a cup of heavy cream until it is steaming. Pour heavy cream in some kind of pitcher cup (so that cream can be poured out in a smooth stream). Gather your dexterity and slowly stream the heavy cream into the egg mixture while simultaneously using the wire whisk to mix quickly with the other hand. You want to whisk quickly so that the cream doesn't cook the egg custard.

Pour into ramekins or small oven-safe glass bowls and place bowls in a cake pan. Fill cake pan approx halfway with hot water. Bake in the oven at 325F for approx 45 minutes until set. The center should be barely quivering.

Sprinkle the top with a thin layer of sugar, then return the creme brulee to the oven. Turn the broiler on and watch them carefully until the top has caramelized. I burned my fingers taking them out :/ (You can also use a blowtorch in this step, but who owns a blowtorch?) Refrigerate overnight and dig in!

Would I make this again? Definitely

P.S. I'm getting a DSLR for my combined birthday/Christmas/Chinese New Years present, yeyuh. The picture quality on this blog should soon improve dramatically.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jamie Oliver's Everyday Green Chopped Salad

I wasn't feeling well yesterday morning/afternoon, so I just laid in bed and ended up in the all too familiar Youtube black hole. I couldn't stop watching food videos (I'm a weirdo I know) and this one seemed especially delicious. I NEVER crave salad and I used to hate eating any salad that I make because those are so boring, but no more of that nonsense. I went to Whole Foods with my mom and sis, and we picked up some veggies and sherry vinegar in addition to Thanksgiving necessities.

Key points from Jamie's video:
  1. For the dressing, use a 3:1 ratio of oil to acid, a dash of salt and pepper, plus any additional add-ins. I used extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar, but lemon or lime or balsamic would also work, plus dijon mustard and honey.
  2. The best way to dress a salad is with your hands.
  3. Avocado brings all salads to the next level!
The recipe is all common sense, but I feel much more comfortable making a complex salad after Jamie Oliver has convinced me how easy it is.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, thanks to the Voltaggio Brothers

I'm thankful to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family for the first time in the past 5 years. When I was still at Northwestern, it was way too expensive to fly from Chicago to LA for a few days, so I either stayed with a friend's parents or had people over for a Thanksgiving potluck. But my current residence in DC is only a 2 hour flight from my parent's new house in Alabama, so it became much more feasible.

I called my mom a couple of weeks before my flight and she sounded like she wanted to make Chinese food instead of cook a turkey... so I volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner. She was elated by the idea (obviously) and I was suddenly terrified by the burden of responsibility. I spent a few days scouring the internet to brainstorm recipes and one of my favorite blogs, Tang and Bolster, pointed me to the Voltaggio Brothers' Best Thanksgiving Recipes. I figured that I couldn't really go wrong with recipes from the Voltaggio brothers of Top Chef fame. I picked and chose several dishes to attempt rather than the whole set (since there's only four of us who would be eating). On Wednesday night, I made the cheesecake, the stock for the gravy, and the cranberry sauce, and everything else was made the day of. Here are the results, counting back from worst to best:

6. Classic Gravy - This turned out way too soupy :( I was a little surprised when I was reading the steps since it didn't say anything about using turkey drippings which is what many gravy recipes call for, but I went with it anyways. The first part of the recipe didn't say to pressure cook the gizzard and heart with the chicken wings, but later on it calls for both of these pieces to be mixed into the gravy, so I just skipped on adding the organs since I didn't have any cooked ones on hand. The flavors were good but the texture was a disappointment, so perhaps it's the missing organs that would've made this recipe a success.

5. Cranberry Orange Compote - This is the best cranberry sauce that I've ever had, since I've only had prepackaged/canned ones in the past. Cooking fresh cranberries makes such an immense difference, and the orange makes it pop. Unfortunately, I'm not a big cranberry sauce fan because I think the sweetness does not go well with turkey so I could only stomach a little bit. I didn't make stuffing because I hate stuffing, and it might be time to give up making cranberry sauce too for future Thanksgivings.

 4. Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette - This was a good recipe, but I realized once and for all that I hate brussels sprouts and nothing can change that. The flavors went very well together and I loved the bacon, apple, and onion pieces. I just wanted a veggie side dish, but in retrospect, a chopped salad would've been tastier.

3. Traditional Mashed Potatoes - Delicious! It's a very simple and traditional recipe that is impossible to mess up, especially considering the sheer amount of cream and butter that I stirred in. I cut the suggested amount of cream down by half after reading some comments because it seemed like it would be too soupy, and that turned out to be an excellent decision.

2. Traditional Roasted Turkey - I was caught off guard by how good this was. The turkey is stuffed with onions and apples, then covered with a homemade herb mayo. The mayo took a lot of effort to make and in retrospect, it would've been the same thing if I bought some store bought mayo and added herbs. Nonetheless, the mayo added an incredible moistness to the turkey. It was cooked just right throughout so I'm pretty pleased with the results. My only qualm is that most turkeys come injected with a saline solution (the labels say 8% saline) whereas my mom purchased a Butterball fresh (which only has 4% saline). I realized this the day of so I didn't have time to brine it and it was a tad undersalted, although nothing a good dousing of gravy couldn't fix. Everything I had control over (the moistness and the flavors) came out perfectly.

1. Caramelized White Chocolate and Pumpkin Cheesecake - This is the best cheesecake in the world. Really, you should believe me. I'm a cheesecake fanatic so I a) order it everywhere and b) make it all the time. This is definitely the best one I've ever made personally, and possibly the best one I've ever eaten. Even my mom agrees; she hates sweets and detests desserts, yet even she had a second slice after tasting a small sliver. I made one earlier this week for work because the recipe is complicated so I wanted to taste test it first (plus it was for someone's birthday) and everyone raved and asked for the recipe. I'll make a more detailed post about this later on.

This is my plate. I had a second helping of everything, plus cheesecake :DD I'll have plenty of energy for Black Friday shopping tomorrow. 

Would I make this again?
Gravy: no
Cranberry sauce: no, due to personal bias against cranberry sauce in general
Brussels sprouts: no, due to personal bias against brussels sprouts in general
Mashed potatoes: maybe, I'd like a healthier recipe
Turkey: maybe, it's great but I rearely use the same turkey recipe twice
Pumpkin cheesecake: definitely, my family practically inhaled it

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why learn to cook?

A redditor explained it perfectly:

"I remember reading a story about a guy who had gotten divorced in his early 30s and in his funk, his family decided it would be a good thing for him to spend a week visiting his aunt and uncle in a different state ... He was moping and feeling sorry for himself, but on the first morning there, his uncle woke him up early for breakfast. But breakfast was not made yet. So, he watched and talked to his uncle while his uncle cooked breakfast.

His uncle made cheese scrambled eggs with hash browns and onions, a side of room temperature salsa, bacon, melon and buttered wheat toast with local honey. He also had a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a cup of brewed coffee. When he gave his nephew the food, everything was cooked to perfection. Everything that was supposed to be hot was still hot. The nephew dug in and loved every bite, but at some point made some comment about his uncle not having to go all out to please him.

His uncle responded that what he made was a simple, typical breakfast, and that he had not done anything unusual ... for him. He went on to say that everyone sets standards for themselves. Breakfast for many people is just eating sustenance and they have never thought about how they could perfect every step in the process so that you end up making a meal that is the best that you can do. But if they do strive for "better" continuously, at some point the quality of what they produce ends up being consistently very high.

It was more a statement on how you live your life. Cooking can be a reflection of your approach to everything. Do the best that you can and if you burn the toast, do it again, right. Food can be both an expression of how much you care for others as well as a reinforcement for how much you care about yourself.

For everything you want to cook, there are things you can do to make sure it tastes as good as you can imagine it could taste, and there are things you can do that will minimize the chance that it will not turn out well.

So, let's think about that breakfast for a minute. There are numerous videos on youtube that teach you to cook perfect scrambled eggs. They explain the temperatures, how long to beat them and how to beat them. How hot the pan should be. How do you minimize the chance that the eggs will stick. How to season them, and when. How a heat-tolerant spatula makes the best utensil to stir the eggs. When you add cheese and what kind of cheese at what temperature. When do you remove them from the heat so they don't overcook.

Same with bacon. Same with hashbrowns. Same with everything.

If you want to be a better cook, strive to be one. Take everything one step at a time ... you might try learning to cook a new dish every day, or a new dish every week. Cook things multiple times and strive to get better each time.

Taste as you go, and if what you are making needs something to enhance the palette of flavor, figure out what that is.

Flavors are much like scents and the way we perceive them is similar. We can taste multiple things at one time ... top notes, bottom notes ... after tastes. Pay attention to those subtle differences and learn to manipulate them to achieve blends that are more satisfying.

For all we know for sure, we live once. There is no reason to live a life eating substandard food. Food is important. Food is sustenance, but a good diet can add ten years to your life, while a bad diet can cut 30 years off your life.

We are creatures with limited means to interpret the world around us ... and food is a sensory experience ...

Striving to be a better cook is a noble and worthwhile goal that pays off with a lifetime of rewards ... every time you eat. And it can be as much an expression of love as a kind word, a hug, or great sex.

It can be a gift to yourself and those around you.

But no pressure."


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Food highlights of SF weekend

1. Hazelnut macaron from Miette

I explored SF while David was in meetings all day on Friday and I discovered my favorite place in the city: the Ferry Building. There is so much good food! I was literally walking and drooling the whole time. I had to keep telling myself, no Helen you are not hungry enough, do not get that cupcake or that ice cream. But then I saw the macarons at Miette and I had to give in. The jar of Hazelnut macarons were running out, so I knew that it must be the most popular flavor. I purchased and savored a single one (see how much self control I have? tee hee) and it was perfect: amazing texture, strong hazelnut flavor, and double the size of your average macaron. Win.

2. Company dinner at Town Hall

David's company treated us out to dinner on Friday night. There was a cocktail hour with unlimited apps (veal meatballs! fried chicken! cheese puffs!), drinks, and a seafood bar. I had a ball at the seafood bar in particular because unlimited mussels, clams, and lobster tail is a dream come true for me. Dinner consisted of four courses and was also quite delicious. I was too self conscious to take pictures of everything I ate, but I did sneak in a photo of my main: alaskan halibut with salt roasted fingerling potatoes, cippolini onion confit, chanterelles, and sweet vermouth. Mmm.

 3. Coffee at Blue Bottle

I dragged David to the Ferry Building with me again on Saturday because I just had to go again. This time we waited in line for Blue Bottle Coffee, and I was beyond excited because I am a coffee fiend. This was spectacular and totally worth the 20 minute wait.

Soy decaf mocha with a leaf

Delicious belgian waffle to complement my coffee. This was perfectly sweetened, although missing the signature caramelized pearl sugar.

4. Cooking class at Cookhouse, no pictures :(

The company held a cooking class event, in which teams cooked dishes and competed for who made the best one. We won with our angus sliders with pickled onions and chipotle aoili, and they were fantastic. $15 each iTunes gift card prize was not too bad either.

5. Bread pudding from Tartine

Our second long line of the trip. I like waiting in long lines for food because all these people reinforce that the wait must be worthwhile. I dragged us out of bed relatively early and we headed over, unshowered and still in pajamas essentially, and stood in the cold for about 20 minutes before we ordered our bread pudding to share and some pastries to go (David may resent me for this). And it was...okay. Like good, but not waking up on a Sunday to stand in the cold good. It was a tad too sweet and eggy, and the seasonal fruit topping could be more interesting. I had one of their morning buns for lunch the next day on my flight, and that was just okay as well.

Everything looked enticing

Sadly, Tartine's bread pudding was not as good as M. Henry's

6. Dim sum with Obama (not really)

After our bread pudding at Tartine, we headed to Great Eastern for Dim Sum, and miraculously ran into my high school friend, Shauna. Jk, it was planned. 

I didn't take any pictures of the food itself, but here's me with their storefront window photo of Obama eating there, so it must be good. I'm sure Romney would've gone to Yank Sing instead had he wanted dim sum.

7. Trying a new cuisine (Austrian food!) at Naschmarkt

Following lunch, we frolicked a little on David's aunt's farm with her baby goats and ducklings, then headed out for dinner. I've always wondered what spaetzle and wienerschnitzel are, and today I learned: spaetzel is a type of pasta, winerschnitzel is breaded veal cutlet. We can appreciate good food and this was delicious, but also not something I would eat frequently because it doesn't really suit my palette.

Quark spätzle with smoked chicken, yellow corn, tarragon and mushrooms

Double cooked pork belly with sautéed green cabbage, truffle oil, fingerling potatoes and baby carrots

8. Hot taro milk tea from Fantasia, no pictures :(

So good! Seriously, try taro bubble tea hot, it will change your life. They steam it like they would a regular latte, and you eat the boba and tea with a spoon.

9. Karrot cupcake from Kara's Cupcake, no pictures :(

Lastly, I grabbed a cupcake from Napa Farms Market in the SFO airport. This shop was so cute. I'm a big softie for organic, locally grown, sustainable, Californian-style food. There were so many dining options here and I was drooling all over the place (this happened a lot during this trip I guess), but I wasn't hungry enough to go wild. I ended up just picking Kara's Cupcakes' famous karrot cupcakes and snacked on it during the plane ride, complemented with a cup of airplane coffee. So yum and definitely the best carrot cupcake that I've ever had.

In conclusion, now I'm back to the grindstone. 

Here's a baby goat from David's aunt's farm, wearing a sweater. I'm dying from the cuteness. P.S. They also had alpacas.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Guess what we made for Halloween

(Coworkers be thinkin we're cray)

Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Buttercream

I bought a cake decorating set a couple of months ago and was a little nervous to use it, until now. And it helped me create hands down the most beautiful and delicious things that I've ever made. Because I had so much free time from Hurricane Sandy, I made a ton of food within that short period of time, including a dozen of these. I brought seven over to a friend's house for dinner, and a little kid followed us with puppy dog eyes as I held the plate of cupcakes. His mom wouldn't let us share one with him sadly, but even without sharing, us four girls managed to polish off all seven of them, which is quite a feat.

Mash two ripened bananas, then add 2 Tbsp milk and 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, then stir well.

In a separate bowl, beat together an egg, 1 stick butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup white sugar. 

Mix together the butter/sugar mix and the banana mix, then fold in a little over a cup of flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon. Mix until well combined.

Bake! In a preheated 350F oven for 18 minutes

Once you're done baking, allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make yo frosting: 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 stick softened butter, and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.

Beat until creamy

And frost!


The spread. All I did during the hurricane was eat and Facebook, indeed.

Source: Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Buttercream
Would I make this again? Definitely, this will be on the menu of my future bakery