2014-02-23 15.00.48A proper winter has finally descended on the mountains of the Lower Mainland in British Columbia.  If you ask any winter outdoor enthusiast, it has been a long time coming.  There is nothing worst than long days without the prospect of snow in the mountains.  Well, all that changed this week, with 1.4m of snow falling in about 7 days.  Egg-cellent.  Before heading up to the mountains with friends, I thought I should prepare weapons-grade chocolate brownies to give us that little mental (and sugar) bump we’ll need in the early afternoon.  After much research, I’ve cobbled together some good ideas from a number of recipes, and added my own decadent twist to the noble brownie.

INGREDIENTS

  • 185g dark chocolate
  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 90g of all-purpose flour
  • 45g of cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of milk chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup of Skor toffee bits (though you can substitute any other decadent bits to spike your brownies)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

1.  Start by setting your oven to 360F and letting it warm as you prepare the ingredients.  Butter the base and sides of a 20cm x 20cm brownie pan.

2.  Set up a bain marie, and as it warms up cut your chocolate and butter into pea-sized bits of awesome.  Stir the combination together in the bain marie as they melt together, until the mixture is uniform.  Remove from heat and let cool.

3.  While the chocolate-butter mixture is cooling, combine the flour and cocoa powder together in a bowl (I recommend using a sifter or a fine sieve to get rid of any clumps).

4.  Next, get out your electric whisk out, and combine your eggs and sugar together until you get a thick, aerated  batter (about 4-7 minutes).  This is a critical step.  You want to try to incorporate as much air as possible into the mixture.  You’ll notice the mixture’s colour lightening up as more air is incorporated.

5.  When your mix is complete, gently incorporate your melted chocolate mixture into the batter.  Once you have a uniform mix, add the vanilla extract and work in the flour-cocoa mixture until you get a creamy, consistent brownie mix.  Resist the temptation to simply pour the mixture directly into your mouth.

6.  What you now have is a typical brownie base.  Though I suggest a chocolate-Skor combination, feel free to switch things up (e.g., dark and white chocolate bits, chocolate and peanut butter bits, walnuts and chocolate…etc) because the batter will be able to handle it.  It’s like a delicious chocolate canvass.  For the purposes of this recipe, add the chocolate chips and Skor toffee bits into the brownies and gently mix until evenly dispersed into the mix.

7.  Bake your brownies for 25-35 minutes (depending on your oven).  You know they’re done if, after removing the brownies from the oven and giving them a giggle, the centre of the brownies do not wobble and you get a shiny layer on top of the brownies.  Let the brownies cool outside of the oven.  Then…get in there and if your feeling naughty add some vanilla ice cream.

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This post is one of my early ones (from ages ago) and most popular ones, but I’ve always hated that it was full of typos (I’m a typo machine).  As such, and to satisfy myself that I’ve done this amazing recipe justice, I’ve decided to re-post it, as well as the explanation of the name.

Fish-Fragrant Pork SliversThe recipe below is my take on the one from a book called Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, an authority on Chinese cooking in the West. I can honestly say that the result is fabulous – as is the cultural and culinary explanations that precede every recipe in her excellent book – however I found her writing to be imprecise and the instructions sloppy. The key to cooking this recipe (and most Chinese dishes, I imagine) is mise-en-place; you need to have your little bowls of seasoning and ingredients waiting to be tossed into the wok or frying pan (I use the latter).

So, where does the name come from?  According to Fuchia Dunlop’s book:

The so-called fish-fragrant is one of Sichuan’s most famous culinary creations, and it epitomizes the Sichauanese love for audacious combinations of flavour.  It is salty, sweet, sour, and spicy…  This delicious combination of flavours is thought to have originated in traditional Sichuanese fish cooking, which would explain why other ingredients prepared in teh same way would have instantly recalled the taste of fish, hence the name.  Some food experts, like the famous chef Xiao Jianming of Piaoxiang Restaurant in Chengdu, say the flavours conjure up the actual taste of tiny crucian carp (ji yu), which are widely eaten in Sichuan…  The term may also be connected with the fact that whole crucian carp, which are particularly delicious, are sometimes actually added to vats of pickling chillies to improve their taste.

Here’s what you need for this recipe (serves 3):

INGREDIENTS (BROKEN DOWN INTO HANDY BOWLS)

75ml of cooking oil (groundnut or peanut oil, or corn oil)

Pork
300g of lean pork, cut into thin 3mm x 3mm x 3cm slivers (“julienne” them)

Marinade
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 tablespoon of potato flour (potato starch is a decent substitute)
1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine (if you don’t have any, use sherry)

Sauce
1½ teaspoons of white sugar
1½ teaspoons of Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do)
¾ teaspoons of light soy sauce
½ teaspoons of salt
¾ teaspoon of potato flour (again, potato starch will do in a pinch)
3 tablespoons of stock (chicken) or water

Bowl 1
2 tablespoons of chilli paste

Bowl 2
2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger

Bowl 3
75g of bamboo shoots
1 handful of cloud-ear mushrooms

Bowl 4
1 spring onion, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

Ok…get to work. First, chop up your meat, make the marinade, and then combine the two. Make sure to thoroughly coat your meat and let your it marinade for at least 30 minutes. If you have a rice cooker (if you don’t, buy one!) you can start making the rice.

Next, take your cloud-ear mushrooms (which will likely be dehydrated) and soak them in very hot water for 30 minutes. While the mushroom are hydrating, boil some more salted water and blanch the bamboo shoots for about a minute or so. Rinse them in cold water and then julienne them in slices similar in size to the pork.

Now, get to work preparing the contents of the other bowls, which should be self explanatory. Once the mushroom are ready, chop off any hard, nubby bits, and then slice them into strips the size of the pork and bamboo shots.

You should now be locked and loaded – which is good because the next step will be fast and furious. Season your wok (if you don’t your meat will stick) and heat up the 75ml of oil over high heat.

Once the oil is nice and hot, throw in your marinating meat and cook until the pieces are white on all sides (about 1-2 minutes). Then, keeping your wok over the heat, push your meat to one side of the wok and tilt the wok at about 30° so that the oil pools opposite the meat. Put your chilli paste into the oil (but not the meat). Mix up your paste/oil mix until well incorporated in the oil (about 30 seconds) and try not to let any meat drop into it.

Next, add the garlic and ginger in the chilli-oil mix until you can smell them.

This is the home stretch. Level your wok and rest it on the heating element. Throw in the bamboo shoots and cloud-ear mushrooms, and fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the sauce and mix quickly, then toss in the spring onions. Mix for about 10-20 seconds and serve immediately.

For some reason , adding booze to a desert seems to infuse it with a fun bit of naughtiness.  You could say the same about other kinds of food, with greater or lesser success.  Vodka-laced penne sauce?  Meh.  Brandy-soaked tiramisu?  I’ll take seconds, please.  In my quest to find an excuse to cook intelligently with booze,  I decided to combine Grand Marnier macerated fruit with this nice little Pavlova recipe.

This time 'round I left the whipped cream on the side to accommodate someone with a lactose intolerance.

This time ’round I left the whipped cream on the side to accommodate someone with a lactose intolerance.

A Pavlova, for those who don’t know, is said to have been named for a Russian dancer – Anna Pavlova – after her trip to Australia and New Zealand, which explains why the desert is so popular in that part of the world.  Below is a version of the recipe that I hope will make her – and my Kiwi relatives – proud.

INGREDIENTS

Meringue

  • 4 large egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cream of corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Whipping Cream

  • 2 cups of whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon of white sugar

Boozy Fruit

  • 4 cups worth of assorted blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
  • 1-2 tablespoons of white sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

First, set your oven to 300F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In pencil, draw a 9-inch circle on the paper (you can just guestimate the diametre, and your circle doesn’t have to be perfect).

Next, prepare your fruit by placing them all in a deep bowl, and mixing in your Grand Marnier and sugar.  Feel free to put in less sugar if you want the desert to be less sweet – the Grand Marnier is already quite sugary.

While the fruit is absorbing the Grand Marnier and sugar, take you eggs and whisk them with an electric mixer until soft peaks start to form.  You know that you have soft peaks when you remove your whisk and the frothy peak forms but then droops back down.

Gradually add your sugar as you continue to beat the eggs until everything has combined.  I like to then gradually add my vanilla extract an corn starch at this stage, right before you can form firm peaks with your egg mixture.  Alternatively, you can gently (you don’t want to punch out any air) fold in the vanilla extract and corn start after you’ve hit the “firm peak stage”.  Do not beat beyond firms peaks.  You will know you’ve done so because your mixture will look dry and may leak some liquid.

At this point, if you’re ambitious you can put the mixture into a piping bag and make your Pavlova base, but I like to make mine with a large wooden spoon.  I do so by first by filling the 9-inch circle on my parchment paper with about 1/2 of the egg mixture.  Then, with the rest of the mixture, build up some wall on top of the outside of the meringue base so that you get a large, meringue basket.  The magic happens in the basket, ’cause this is where you’re going to pour in your boozy fruit and whipped cream.

Bake your Pavlova in the oven for 1 hour.  A trick I use is to actually keep the oven door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon that I’ve soaked ahead of time (to saturate it with water and make it less likely to burn/char).  You’ll know your Pavlova is properly cooked if you tap it and it sounds hollow.  Let the Pavlova cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar.

You’re almost done.  Right before serving, make whisk your whipped cream until it start to solidify and gradually add your sugar until you get your preferred consistency.  Place the cream in the middle of the Pavlova’s centre.  Then, drain your fruit (I recommend drinking the delicious boozy run-off…) and decorate your Pavlova.  The effect of the final product is quite lovely, and I can guarantee you’ll be amazed at the positive reactions and comments you get.

Also, this desert is fabulous for dinner parties because you can make the base up to 8 hours ahead of time…if you have the will power to leave it uneaten for that long.

It was minus 30C during my most recent trip home, and that is most certainly mac ‘n cheese weather.

2014-01-02 13.23.10Mac ‘n cheese has had a renaissance these past years, and with it a plethora of recipes have surfaced.  I’ve tried a few of them – all delicious in their own right – and I think that I’ve come up with a nicely balanced one that has the right mix of gooey-ness, cheesiness, and saltiness.  This is not what you ate on Sunday nights in your dorm room.  That said, I will always have a special place in my heart for the fluorescent orange mystery powder and fossilized macaroni that mixed together so beautifully, and that tasted so good.  If cooking is ever to be demystified, I guess the simple preparation of Kraft Dinner is as good a way as any.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups of macaroni
  • 1 glug of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 big clove of garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1½ cups of panko
  • 2-2½ cups 2% milk
  • 1 handful of pancetta slices, chopped thin and short.
  • 2½ cups grated cheddar cheese (smokey if you can find it)

INSTRUCTIONS

Start by setting your oven to 375F.

Then, boil the 2 cups of macaroni in well-salted water, until tender.  Strain them, put them in a bowl, pour in a glug of olive oil, (just enough to coat the macaroni) and then mix around until the pasta is covered.  This will keep them from sticking together. Set aside.

Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika in a bowl.  Next, melt your butter in a frying pan at medium heat, cook your minced garlic for 20 seconds or so (making sure not to burn it), and then mix in the flour mixture until well combined (2-3 minutes).  You’re looking for a thick paste, but not a dry one.  This is like a kind of hoser roux.  Add your milk and the pancetta slices to the mixture, and stir constantly until the sauce is thick and consistent (make sure to break up those clumps).  This should take about 8-10 minutes.  I would recommend you leave the sauce a little loose (i.e., not too thick)- you may need the extra moisture to ensure that the cheese melts properly, and you can always evaporate the extra liquid.

At this point, still at medium heat, add your cheese 1/3 at a time, making sure that each batch melts down properly (though a few clumps of delicious cheese never hurt anyone).  Carefully, give the mixture a taste, and adjust the seasoning if required.

Pour the lake of cheesy goodness into your bowl of macaroni, add in 1 cup of panko, and mix everything together properly.  Pour the whole combination into a casserole dish, cover everything with the remaining cup of panko, add a few sprinkles of paprika for colour, and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes because your mac ‘n cheese will be lava-hot.  Also, letting it cool will allow the flavours develop (this tastes good reheated the next day, too).  I recommend using a big spoon to ladle this bad boy onto your plate…and don’t be shy about seconds.

For years, my culinary white whale was the beloved Tarte Tatin.  It’s especially regrettable to be unable to make a pie with such an interesting provenance – the Hotel Tatin and the hands of the Tatin sisters.

tarte tatin

I can imagine the Tatin sisters rolling in their grave as I fumbled and flubbled the recipe.  For some reason, every time I tried to make this delicious pie, the caramel never really came together properly, the apples were always “meh”, and the crust was never quite good enough.  Well, I am glad to report that after research and much trial (and much error…) I have a successful recipe, though it is a twist on the original.

This is slightly more work than a traditional Tarte Tatin, and arguably lacks the original’s rustic appeal, but I find the final product prettier and more appealing.  Also, once you have the crust down, you can use it for any number of French-style tartes.

EQUIPMENT

  • Rolling Pin
  • 9″ tarte dish with a removable base
  • Large frying pan (large enough to cook the 7-8 apples) with a lid (if possible)
  • Oven mitts

INGREDIENTS

CRUST

  • 125g of chilled, unsalted butter (do yourself a favour and buy the more expensive butter)
  • 220g of all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 40g of sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-2 tablespoons of cold milk

FILLING

  • 7-8 Granny Smith Apples (NB:  The apples will shrink, so use more than you think you’ll need.  At worst, you can just gorge on the left-overs).
  • 1 cup of sugar (though you can use 3/4 cups if want it slightly less sweet)
  • 1 stick/120g of butter

INSTRUCTIONS

CRUST:

Start by making your crust, which may take a little longer is easy once you get the hand of it.

Mix together your flour and sugar evenly.  Chop up your cold butter into pea-sized blocks, and then work the blocks into the flour-sugar mixture until you get a sandy consistency (this usually takes about 3-4 minutes).

Mix together your egg and milk, and whisk the two together until the blended.  Make a well in the sandy flour-sugar-butter (referenced above), pour in 2/3 of the the egg-milk mixture, and mix together the two with a fork.  it will eventually get lumpy and you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and use your hands to gently kneed everything together just until you get a consistent dough.  If the dough is still dry/crumbly, add some more of the egg-milk mixture.  You’re shooting for something moist but not sticky.

Shape your dough in a round, flat mound, wrap in plastic wrap, and then place in the fridge for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, roll out your dough to about the thickness of two quarters/a one pound coin.  Make sure that the dough sheet is larger than the diametre of the pie dish.  If your dough is a little sticky, dust just enough flour on it to prevent it from sticking to the table.  Lay the dough into the pie dish, tuck in the corners,  and work the dough up the sides of the dish.  Ideally, the dough should rise higher than the sides of the dish (by about 5mm) because the dough will shrink a bit during cooking.

Poke holes with a fork in the dough at the bottom of the pie dish and then put the crust in a fridge for another 30 minutes.  Turn on your oven and heat to 400F.

After your crust has chilled for 30 minutes or so, take it out, put in some baking/pie weights in the middle, and bake blind for 10-12 minutes.  Carefully remove the pie weights and continue to bake for another 10 or so minutes (i.e., until the crust is baked right through).  Remove the crust from the oven, trim the sides to make them uniform (this is a great trick, and another reason to have high sides on your pie crust), and keep it at hand because its almost magic time.

FILLING:

Ok…so the crust was a pain, but the filling is easy and satisfying.  Core and peel your apples, and cut them into quarters.  Do not cut the apples any smaller, or risk them dissolving away.  Heat your frying pan to medium heat and melt the butter completely.  Take the pan off the heat, mix in all of the sugar until dissolved (if you can’t get it 100% dissolved, don’t worry).

Place the apples in the pan with the curved side down, turn up the heat to high or medium-high (i.e., as high as possible without burning the caramel), and then let your apples bubble and caramelize away.  Keep an eye on the apples, however, to avoid having the caramel burn.  I also like to cover the pan for the first 6-8 minutes to make sure the apples get cooked.  Continue to cook until you have a nice, golden caramel covering your apples (about 12-14 minutes).  They should be like amber jewels.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:

Once you have removed the crust from the oven, and the apples are ready, delicately arrange the caramelized apples in the crust, and then carefully pour the caramelized syrup over the apples.  Wait for the molten hot syrup to cool, bust out the vanilla ice cream, and eat your face off!

With the advent of more social media toys to make blogging more fun, I have decided to give my blog another try.  It’s also a great way to track all the yummy recipes I tend to lose behind my stove…

This isn’t a food related post…strictly speaking.

 

Recently, I’ve been addicted to a great app called “Mushroom Garden”.  It’s wildly popular in Japan, and if you play this game you’ll understand why.

The point of the game is to raise mushroom and collect numerous “mutant” mushrooms.  It’s a bit like Zombie Farm, and is totally addictive.  The mushrooms/funghi are super cute, too.   Amazingly, the app is free(!) so there’s no excuse not to give it a try!  Available on iPhone/iTouch or Android.