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Monday, January 31, 2011

Festivities of Food - Chinese New Year

It is almost Chinese New Year again. This year it falls on February 3rd. It is going to be the year of the Rabbit. As traditional as my family is, I feel that these traditions have been slipping away from me slowly year after year. I used to spend my Chinese New Years in Taipei, and the festivities ran from street stalls selling Chinese New Year specialty food to department stores decorating their ceilings and walls with splashes of red and gold. It was hard not to be a part of the traditions and celebrations. Today, it is still a holiday I treasure because it is one of the few times people look back and remember the rich 5,000 years+ of Chinese history and culture.

I have my own way of a Chinese New Year pre-party and that involves, of course, making a lot of Chinese food.

Oxtail Steak and Tricolor Eggs
I started with my spin on steak and eggs. I made an oxtail stew as steak and served it with tricolor eggs made with pickled eggs, duck eggs, and chicken eggs. Duck eggs, like many other food, represent good luck because of its pronunciation which resembles other words that mean good fortune and good luck. 

Whole Wheat Pasta Sheets
Fresh Tagliatelle

We made whole wheat tagliatelle from scratch. Not Chinese, I know. But having noodles is important because the long strands represent longevity. We stir-fried the noodles with Taiwanese sausage and garlic, adding some oyster sauce and sugar in the mixture. It was fresh and delicious.

Sweet Sesame Rolls

Using the fresh pasta dough, I made some sweet sesame paste and rolled it up for a sweet pastry. Sweets bring a sweetness to life and that is one tradition I cannot pass up!

Traditional Chinese Pastry
Sweet Mung Bean Filling

Mung beans, not eaten as often in the Western culture, have many health benefits. One of which is a cooling factor to your body to balance the yin and the yang. That is why many drink sweet mung bean soup in the summertime. Mung bean can also be made into a sweet paste and used as a filling in pretty much anything. I made a traditional mung bean pastry with layers of flaky pastry wraps and a sweetened mung bean paste in the center. Chinese tend to like enjoying food that is either long (noodles) for longevity or circular (pastries like this one) to represent family unity.

That concludes my chinese cook-off over the weekend for fortune and for everything good in life. Eat a lot and you will bring all the luck to you and your family!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Molecular Gastronomy with Chef Whitney Werner

It has been almost 3 weeks and I am still enjoying my series of birthday presents from my hubby! I have been waiting for this one - molecular gastronomy class at Sur La Table with Chef Whitney Werner. We definitely had our fun!

Chef Whitney Werner, creating edible lemon drop

Chef Whitney has been a part of Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Tavern on the Green in New York, Beverly Hills Hotel, and Whitney's (his own restaurant). He specializes in creating foam as a part of molecular gastronomy and is currently the Executive Chef at the Beach Club in Santa Monica.

We started the class making "Green Eggs and Ham". Spherical green eggs, or creamed spinach, were created via the chemical reaction between Calcium Lactade Gluconate and Algin Water.

Making Spherical "Green Egg" (creamed spinach)

The egg white portion is actually truffle foam, created using the Foamer with Nitrogen Dioxide to keep the foam lasting longer. These green eggs were served with ham, or prosciutto crisp, and garlic butter toast. Pretty, isn't it?

My Green Eggs and Ham

Next on the menu was Salmon and Crab Involtini. Involtini was served with a light fruit salad comprised of lime and orange slices to introduce a tart citrus flavor and topped with some miso foam.

Salmon and Crab Involtini with Citrus Salad and Miso Foam

Although I enjoyed making the green eggs and ham the most, this was by far the most interesting course. We created an edible lemon drop with lemon foam, vodka snow, and croquante. Once again, lemon foam was made using Nitrogen Dioxide to turn vermouth lemon curd into foam. Gelatin sheets were also added for stabilization since the mixture was not very thick to begin with. The vodka snow was so much fun to watch - combining the use of Liquid Nitrogen and a Mixer.

Liquid Nitrogen

Let it Snow, Vodka

We assembled our lemon drop and enjoyed every last bite of it. What a great way to spend an evening!

Edible Lemon Drop
See my Molecular Gastronomy post Part I for a list of recommended starter items to get into modern cooking!

Monday, January 24, 2011

New! Teriyaki Chicken Bowl

I wonder how many times I walked up to a food court vendor in a mall, feeling very indecisive about what my hunger means, and resorted to "Can I have a chicken teriyaki bowl, please?" Yup. Countless times. I do ask for brown rice when they allow substitutes, though.

As I pay for my order, I stare at a plastic round bowl being filled with a few scoops of brown rice, a few pieces of glazed teriyaki chicken strips, a small scoop of steamed broccoli, and a few slices of steamed carrots. The staff slaps on the transparent round cover, throws in a pair of chopsticks, and hands the heavy packed bowl over to me. As I stare at my teriyaki chicken bowl, I get excited about the sweet, juicy flavor of teriyaki marinated chicken while knowing that those steamed broccoli and carrot pieces will have no flavor whatsoever.

Teriyaki Chicken Bowl - teriyaki rice sandwich, broccoli pesto, and spicy carrot purée

After a great workout tonight, I was feeling motivated. I vowed to make a memorable and unique teriyaki chicken bowl full of flavor. I created a vertical teriyaki bowl with teriyaki chicken sandwiched between two stacks of brown rice. I always found it impossible to have to mix the teriyaki chicken into the center without making a mess. I made an easy teriyaki marinade and sauce with mirin, sake, soya sauce, sugar, and corn oil. The teriyaki bowl is topped with creamy broccoli pesto and served with spicy carrot purée. One bite into the dish and I knew the flavors worked perfectly together as I had imagined. Finally! No more plain teriyaki chicken bowl - until I find myself hungry at a food court again, that is.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To the Kingdom of Thailand

I have only recently discovered interest in Thai cuisine - my apologies, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. By recently, I mean the past month or so. Thai cuisine places a lot of emphasis on incorporating all five tastes at once: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty, which is a little overwhelming for my taste. What I have discovered, though, is that if you can find the perfect proportion for each flavor and pair it well with side dishes, you may be able to experience an explosion of flavors like you never had before.

Thai Style Pineapple Fried Rice, served with Chicken Satay

There are two food staple of mine whenever I visit Southeast Asia - Spicy Black Pepper Crab and Pineapple Fried Rice. Pineapple fried rice has several variations in its seasoning, including the use of fish sauce, curry powder, soya sauce, etc. I opted for curry powder, salt, sugar, onions, and fresh pineapples, topped with dried meat (adds a delicious salty richness to balance out the sweetness of pineapples and cranberries), almond slices, and cranberries. The key to making a great pineapple fried rice is to scoop the fried rice into the pineapple boat, cover it with foil, and bake at 225-250F in the oven for 15 more minutes in order to infuse the scent of fresh pineapple into the rice.

Our pineapple fried rice dinner was served with chicken satay (marinated in peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, curry powder, brown sugar and hot chili sauce), and a sweet chili sauce dip. When I work up my courage one day, maybe I will attempt the Spicy Black Pepper Crab.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

East Meets West

Chinese cuisine is probably one of my favorite food to make - not only because it is so delicious that I always eat it all, but also because it is my version of comfort food. Oh, not to mention the fact that I do have all kinds of mom's and grandma's recipes. Growing up, dinner was always served family-style in the dining room: a bowl of steamed rice, three different types of dishes on the table, and a bowl of hearty soup. Mine is going to differ somewhat.

Spicy Chicken over Rice, served with Cilantro Slaw and Chicken Cheese Balls

My westernized version of chinese food combines three types of flavors on the plate, featuring the ingredients chili peppers, cilantro, and chicken. Spicy chicken is served over steamed rice, accompanied by cilantro slaw and chicken cheese balls. The cilantro slaw is a typical Chinese "small plate" that is meant to be served right away like dinner rolls to keep people entertained while waiting for the main dishes to arrive. These small plates are usually served cold, with fairly light flavors that lean more toward sweet and/or sour flavors to avoid overpowering the hot entrée. Although I served it with the main dish, it is a refreshing appetizer as we waited for the spicy chicken and rice to cool down. I also created almond crusted chicken balls with melted cheese in the center. This hot snack is addicting and fun to eat.

Almond Crusted Chicken Cheese Balls

I am participating in the 10 with 5 Challenge created by Rosy + Tart, where I would need to create 10 dishes with no more than 5 ingredients each! So here is my first 10 with 5 recipe:

Chicken Cheese Balls
(Ingredients: 8oz skinless and boneless chopped chicken thighs, almond slices, cheddar cheese cubes, 2 tsp of  milk, 1 tbsp of garlic paste or chopped garlic)
Recipe: 1) Grind chopped chicken with milk in a food processor, season with salt & pepper. 2) Mix in garlic and form mixture into small balls (add crushed almond slices if mixture is too sticky). 3) Insert one cheese cube into the center of each ball and roll the ball in almond slices until these slices cover the entire area. 4) Bake in preheated oven at 375F for 20 minutes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spiced with Salsa Ranchera + Salsa Verde

Our weekend getaway to Denver a few weeks ago has left me with lingering memories of green chiles, the very, very hot kind. Although my Mexican dinner tonight failed to match up to the same level of spiciness, it at least tasted very, very good.

I think I may have to experiment with "ghost peppers" one day, the hottest peppers on earth. Spiciness of peppers is measured in terms of Scoville units. To give you a broad idea, the Serrano Peppers I used tonight are between 10,000 - 23,000 units. Tabasco is between 30,000 - 50,000. Habanero, which I consider very hot, is between 100,000 - 350,000. Well, these "ghost peppers" exceed 1 million Scoville heat units. It was even recently offered to be used in hand grenades!

Huevos Rancheros & Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde

Anyway, back to my dinner. I made a chicken enchiladas with salsa verde sauce and huevos rancheros with salsa ranchera. I was excited to combine both types of salsa into one dish for dressed up colors and added variety, despite the fact that huevos rancheros is a traditional breakfast dish comprised of fried tortillas, fried eggs and salsa ranchera. I thought the dish turned out both refreshing and satisfying, all thanks to my green chiles craving!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Alinea's Transparency, of Manchego Cheese

As I lazily sipped on my sunday afternoon coffee, I couldn't help loving one of my many birthday presents from my husband - the Alinea book. Just the evening before, I was enjoying every page of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a thoughtful, much-desired gift from my best friend. I must confess that life is good.


Reading Alinea is like being transported to a different world; a world of ideas, inspiration, and aestheticism. I have much respect for Chef Grant Achatz, a true artist and creator of today's culinary world. To Chef Achatz, the gnarly roots of an overturned tree has inspired him to create the famous dish Salsify; the accidental shattering of a wineglass makes him question how he can create raspberries that fragile. I started noticing details, things I have not seen before, and wondered how delicate it would be to replicate my memories through food.

Transparency of Manchego Cheese

Recent obsession of Manchego cheese has led my husband to conclude that we would have to create Chef Grant Achatz's Transparency of Manchego Cheese. The thinly sliced Manchego cheese melts over olive oil pudding, roasted garlic, roasted red and yellow peppers, fresh sourdough croutons, manchego squares and dice, dehydrated Niçoise olives, white anchovies, and garnished with baby arugula and spring flowers. Aside from Transparency's literal visual meaning, I believe Chef Achatz is also referring to the transparency and elements of traditional appetizers, such as cheese, olives, olive oil, bread, garlic, etc., being reassembled here.

So, the two of us spent the better half (conservatively speaking) of our day assembling the different components of the dish. Here are a couple steps along the way if you are interested...
We pitted and pitted those tiny olives...
Finally dehydrated, 5 hours later...

Charring peppers in open flame

Chilling olive oil pudding
Every bite was an explosion of flavors: salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy. I was eating through a million layers of flavors, at once - so amazing. And so delicious. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fast Food Reversal

What if I told you that I have found a way to healthy-fy fast food like chicken tenders + ranch, potato wedges + ketchup, and chips? How about the fact that I beautified it? Or used molecular gastronomy to trick you into thinking that you were eating these but you really weren't.

Pork "tenders" with cream gravy, portobello mushroom "wedges" over ketchup
 and crispy kale garlic "chips"

Tonight I made "pork" tenders with cream gravy sauce, accompanied by portobello wedges with ketchup and crispy red Russian kale garlic chips. I knew it was a success when Jason, my husband, took a bite of each and thought he ate chicken with dipping sauce and potato wedges with ketchup. He was not fooled, unfortunately, by crispy kale due to familiarity, but the thin, crunchy texture of kale, along with its garlic salted flavor, reminded me of those potato chips that were always so addicting to me as a kid.

The trick to making the portobello mushroom resemble potato wedges is to grill the portobello for a few minutes first to give it a smoky, burnt flavor that will remind you of the slightly burnt taste of potato wedges. To ensure that the portobello softens enough on the inside while staying crunchy on the outside, I then dipped them in an egg batter and coated them with a thin layer of bread crumbs. Frying them for a few minutes that way will give you the potato wedge appearance and taste.

To much of my surprise and satisfaction, fast food reversal works!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Indulge, in chocolate, kahlua and frosting

Kahlua makes a wonderful ingredient in drinks and desserts during the holiday season, especially for coffee lovers like myself. I have never been much of a baker, which is why the easiest way to enjoy my Kahlua would be to add it to some hot coffee and steamed milk - creating my very own version of post-dinner coffee.

Mini Kahlua Chocolate Cupcakes with Kahlua Frosting
Well, enough of the coffee for now. Family was coming over for dinner and I am sure they would appreciate some cute and delicious mini-cupcakes. So, I combined chocolate, espresso, and Kahlua and made the best tasting cupcakes of all time! The Kahlua was infused by poking some holes into the mini cupcakes while they were still warm. After they cooled, I ladled some Kahlua frosting over the top and added semi-sweet chocolate chips to resemble snowy mountains, or the holiday version, winter wonderland.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Molecular Gastronomy Part I: Deconstructed Pesto Plate

There has been a recent trend of molecular gastronomy in the culinary world, and it has definitely intrigued me. Chefs like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz deconstruct dishes to their simplest forms and reconstruct them in tasteful and artistic ways, combining science, food, and art. Take a look at these photos and you will see what I mean.

Here is what I know about molecular gastronomy: Step 1 - learn to deconstruct a dish. Understand the different components of a dish and how they work together. Without knowing the basics, how can you rebuild it to your own interpretation? Today, I experimented with pesto, my husband's ultimate favorite.

Lemon Cream Pasta with Pesto Salad

Components: Basil leaves, cheese, lemon, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper
Appetizer: Fresh bread sandwich with pesto butter, garnished with lemon peel
Salad: Basil salad with shaved parmegiano-reggiano and lemon vinaigrette
Entree: Lemon cream pasta

After using these ingredients in different ways and different forms, I think I learned a thing or two. Stay tuned for Step 2 of my molecular gastronomy adventure!

Here is what I would recommend to get started:

Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)

Molecular tools

Molecular Gastronomy Artistre Spherification Starter Kit with tools

Molecular Mixology Kit