Category Archives: recipes

Fried Sesame Balls (Jin Deui 煎堆)

Angela Liu’s mom, Wan, came over from her home in Malaysia to help with Angela’s baby delivery and care. As a bonus, Wan instructed Angela and a few friends how to prepare various Cantonese dishes.

DSC09584The first dish was fried sesame balls. I was especially excited to take her lesson on this, as sesame balls straight out of the fryer are a real treat. Like fresh bagels, sesame balls, once cooled, just aren’t the same.

DSC09617FRIED SESAME BALLS / GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS

INGREDIENTS

Red Bean Paste:

1 pound red beans

8 cups water

Glutinous Rice Balls:

1 3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup oil

1 pound glutinous rice flour

1 cup sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water

1 cup white sesame seeds

Peanut oil for frying

PREPARATION

Soak the red beans in cold water for two hours. Drain and discard the water. Add the cups water to the beans and bring the water to a boil. Cook the beans over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours, until they are tender.  Purée the cooked beans in a blender. Heat the puréed beans in a hot wok with the sugar and oil to make a paste. Let cool.

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Mix the water slowly until the flour forms a ball, adding water as needed, to create a dough of thick pie dough consistency.

Pull off about a 1/2 inch marble of dough. Flatten into a concave disk about 2 inches in diameter.

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Make a small marble of red bean paste. Place it in the center of the dough disk. Seal the dough to make a ball and roll it between your hands to make it round.

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Roll the ball in the sesame seeds and coat it thoroughly. Roll the ball between your hands to press the seeds lightly into the dough. Place on a plate and continue to make additional balls.

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Heat the oil in a wok to a low frying temperature (about 325°). Lower heat to medium-low (warning: higher heat will cause the sesame seeds to burn). Put a batch of five balls into the hot oil and roll them around in the oil periodically for about the first two minutes of cooking. They will start to brown.

Press each ball down with a flat spatula against the bottom of the wok for about 10 seconds until it begins to puff, then release it and move on to the next ball. When done with all the balls, return to the first one and press it down against its edge, shaping it back into a ball, for another 10 seconds until it begins to puff again. Release and proceed with the other balls. Continue this pressing for about eight minutes, until the balls have become golden brown. drain on paper towels.

Here’s a secret: The more you press them, the larger the ball will puff and the thinner the shell of the ball will become! So if you like the balls thin and delicate, press away!

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Serve and eat while warm and crispy.

Makes about 4 dozen sesame balls.

NOTE: Glutinous rice flour can be found in any Asian market. Here is a photo of the brand we used.

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Every St. Patrick’s Day, supermarkets run sales on their corned beef and I hunger for that old familiar taste. This year, as I did last year, I bought some corned beef and tried cooking it sous vide again. I think I perfected my recipe this year.

I tried a couple of different recipes last year (cooking at 135° for 24 to 48 hours, with the spice packet sprinkled around the beef), but the recipes didn’t quite give me the familiar texture I recalled from my youth, and the spices clung to the beef. I searched again for recipes online, combined ideas from different ones – this one, cooking at 178° for 10 hours  – and I ended up with what I had been searching for.

As with all other preparations, the cooked corned beef lost 40% of its weight by throwing off juices. Wrapping the spices in cheesecloth kept the meat clean, while still flavoring it.

The meat was perfectly cooked, fork tender yet not flaky, and retaining its luscious fat.

DSC04723SOUS VIDE CORNED BEEF

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds corned beef (from supermarket, vacuum packed with spice packet)

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved or quartered (depending on size)

1 head cabbage, washed and cut into six or eight wedges

PREPARATION:

Heat water in sous vide cooker to 178°.

Remove beef and spice packet from vacuum pack. Wash beef well and place in a gallon Ziploc freezer bag. Wrap the spices a piece of cheesecloth (several layers thick) and tie with string into a bag.  Place atop beef in the freezer bag. Suck air account and seal.

Place beef flat in the sous vide covered in 178° water, weight down with the rack, and cook for 10 hours.

Heat 8 cups of water in a large cooking pot and until almost boiling (best, below 178°). Turn off heat.

Drain the cooking liquid from the cooking bag into a container, with the wrapped spice ball.

Place the beef from sous vide bag into the hot water in the cooking pot, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. This will remove the excess saltiness from the beef and flavor the cooking water. Put the beef back into the Ziploc bag, suck the air out, and reheat in the sous vide cooker at 178°.

Pour cooking juices and spice ball into the cooking pot, with the vegetables. Bring to a boil and cook for about 45 minutes.

Remove the corned beef from the sous vide bag and slice across the grain into 1/2 inch slices. (Because the beef is so tender, it doesn’t need to be sliced thinner.) Serve with the boiled vegetables and ketchup, if desired (I find the ketchup adds a nice sweet and sour element to the salty beef).

The corned beef slices and vegetables reheat well in the microwave, but be sure not to overnuke the meat!

Homemade Soy Milk

I was elated that a new local Chinese restaurant had freshly made Chinese crullers – “fried devils” (You Zha Gui or You Tiao) and salty soy milk soup (Xian Dou Jiang). The You Tiao were wonderful, but the Xian Dou Jiang was curdled; it tasted fine, but I like it in a creamy/custardy style. I looked up recipes for Xian Dou Jiang online and tried making it with supermarket plain soy milk, but was dismayed with the flavor. The recipes warned of the need to use unflavored soy milk, but even the boxed soy milks I tried labeled “plain” has been sweetened, completely ruining the taste of the Dou Jiang.

So I looked up how to make soy milk. I found various recipes (for example, the one from Chowhound) and many recommendations for a $100 machine to make it. Not wanting to wait or spend the money until I could find if I could make Dou Jiang as I remembered it, I experimented with a few of the recipes and have come down to this one that works for me.

Dried Soy Beans

Dried Soy Beans

First the soybeans. I went to my local Asian supermarkets and looked for dried soybeans in the dried beans section. No luck. I found they’re so popular that they’re kept with the fresh produce. A manageable sized bag of about 3 pounds of beans sold for under $3. Note that dried soybeans are round; they don’t look like edamame.

I also needed a way to squeeze the milk from the blended soybeans. I didn’t think that regular cheesecloth would be fine or strong enough to stand up to the pressure of being squeezed hard, so I tried “Ultra Fine Cheesecloth” that I found at Sur La Table.

Here’s the recipe I ended up with. It produces about 10 cups (1/2 gallon and 1 pint) of soy milk, which works out to about 80₵ per half gallon.

2 c dried soybeans (about 13 oz)
1 slice ginger

Dried and soaked soybeans

Dried and soaked soybeans

Soak 2 cups dried soybeans overnight – at least 12 hours. Drain, rinse, and pick over the beans to remove any pebbles or other debris (I’ve never found any, but you wouldn’t want to put rocks into your blender!) The beans will have swelled to about 5 cups and regained their bean shape.

Blend the beans in batches: 1 cup of beans with 2 cups of fresh cold water. I run my blender on Chop for 30 seconds and then Puree for about 1 minute, to make a smooth paste. It comes out with a layer of foam.

DSC02624Pour the pureed beans into a strainer lined with 4 thicknesses of the cheesecloth, set over a pot to catch the milk. Let it drain while preparing the next batch in the blender.

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Take up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist, squeezing out at much of the remaining milk from the beans as you can. Dump the dregs into a bowl; reserve for use in other cooking (it’s a good protein source – I stir fry mine with leftover rice and vegetables to make fried rice). Repeat with the remaining beans, producing about 10 cups of raw soy milk.

DSC02641Put the soy milk and ginger slice into a large pot and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring periodically, scraping the bottom of the pot with a flat nylon turner and watching it to ensure it doesn’t boil over. As it starts to steam, watch very closely since it will quickly foam up and boil over! As the foam rises, quickly remove the pot from the hot burner and stir, letting the soy milk cool in the pot. Strain the milk to remove the ginger and store in containers.

Refrigerate and use as soy milk, for Dou Jiang or Dou Fu Fa. It should keep for about 3 days. Freeze the soy dregs in a freezer bag for later use.

There will be a skin stuck firmly on the bottom and sides of the pot – scrape off as much as you can with a nylon turner. Soak and wash the pot with a nylon scrub pad to remove the remaining soy coating.

Sous Vide: Chuck Roast

I’ve cooked short ribs of beef sous vide and am pleased that the result tastes like very good roast beef. But having done it, it seems a little pointless to take days of cooking to make one expensive cut of meat taste like another expensive cut. So I decided to take an inexpensive cut of meat to see how sous vide cooking might transform it.
I read several blogs of others’ experience cooking various beef cuts sous vide. Beef round roasts and steaks appear to be too lean to cook well sous vide, but chuck has enough fat and connective tissue to benefit from the cooking method. So I bought a supermarket boneless chuck roast and looked for a recipe.
I found a recipe entitled “24-Hour Melt-in-Your-Mouth Beef with Mushroom  Sauce” by Hillary Nelson and tried it. Her recipe provides good background information, photos, and detailed instructions.
I followed the recipe fairly closely, trimming the fat and silver skin from my 2 1/2 pound chuck roast. Removing the silver skin involved cutting into the roast and I ended up with 3 thick pieces, which I sliced in half, resulting in 6 pieces each about 1 1/4 inches thick. I put 2 pieces into the bottom of each of three 1-quart Ziploc freezer bags and added 3/4 cup of marinade into each bag, saving the unused marinade for the sauce. I sucked most of the air out of the bags using a straw, but wasn’t concerned about the little bit of air remaining, since the beef was totally covered with the marinade. Cooked the chuck in my Sous Vide Supreme at 135℉ for 24 hours.
Continued with the recipe, making the mushroom sauce (the recipe says to “add onions to the pan” but didn’t say how much onion, so I sliced and cooked one medium yellow onion). It took about 20 minutes to reduce the liquids down in a large frypan to a sauce-like consistency and didn’t need any further seasoning.
Dried the beef pieces with paper towels and seared them in a hot pan with oil, as instructed, for 30 seconds on each side.
Although the pieces weren’t very pretty, given their odd shapes from cutting the silver skin, they were reasonably sized servings.
The meat came out an appealing medium-rare and the taste was terrific! Texture somewhat like a beautifully tender strip steak and the marinade gave it a delicious sweet taste. I was so happy with the results that I decided to write up this experiment to share it immediately. The sous vide preparation turned my $3/pound chuck into a $12/pound steak; quite a deal!
Thank you, Hillary Nelson, for your recipe! My next trial will be with grass-fed beef from my Amish beef purveyor, now that the farmers market season will soon be starting.

Fresh Pumpkin Pie


It’s National Pumpkin Pie Day, so to celebrate, I made my first fresh pumpkin pie! Thanks to the information at PickYourOwn.org, I learned the difference between pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins and found one of the former at my local Whole Foods. Since they were selling for $2.50 each, I picked the biggest one they had, weighing in at 4.15 pounds, which worked out to 60¢/pound – significantly cheaper than usually recommended alternative butternut or acorn squashes in the supermarket.

As directed in the detailed, illustrated, step-by-step instructions by PickYourOwn, I cut the pumpkin in half (using a heavy Chinese cleaver), cut off the stem, and scooped out the seeds and stringy insides. I steamed each half on a steamer basket, covered, in my tall stockpot (on high heat for 15 minutes, then lower heat for another 10 minutes). The skin came right off in one piece.

Rather than roll out whole graham crackers, I bought a box of graham cracker crumbs and made a graham cracker pie crust with the crumbs, adding sugar and butter as per the box’s instructions (mixing the ingredients in my food processor). I spread the fairly loose mixture into a pie pan and pressed it into the pan using a matching pie pan on top, then baked the empty crust for 8 minutes as instructed to make it golden brown.

I cut the pumpkin flesh into big chunks and used my stick blender to puree it. I ended up with almost 6 cups of pumpkin puree. It was quite thick – not at all watery.

Trying for the freshest flavors, I hand-ground whole cloves, allspice berries, and fresh ginger using a mortar and pestle and mixed together the PickYourOwn recipe’s ingredients. I ladled the pie mixture into the pie shell, to within 1/4″ of the top and loosely covered the edge of the crust with strips of aluminum foil, crimped over the edge of the pie pan. I baked it as instructed using my convection oven at 425° for 15 minutes, then 350° for another 45 minutes.

The doneness testing knife came out clean, so I removed the pie from the oven and let it cool while I ate dinner.

Not wanting to scratch my new pie pan, I cut the pie with a plastic spatula. When I licked the spatula clean, though I was horrified! It didn’t taste quite right. I realized that in my multi-processing effort to cook an eggplant parmigiana for dinner while preparing the pie, I had neglected to add the honey to the pie filling!

Resigned to discard my failure and cook another pie tomorrow, I finished eating my eggplant then tried the slice of pie I had previously cut. To my surprise, it tasted quite good. It wasn’t the classically sweet pumpkin pie I was used to, but I thought that my Mom would actually prefer it to the normal sweet version, since she doesn’t care for sweet desserts. The crust was yummy; the pie mixture had soaked into the crumbly crust, giving it a nicely toothy texture.

So I’ll wait a couple of days before using the excess pumpkin mixture and some of the remaining puree to make another pie – this time, hopefully, remembering to add honey to see how sweet it turns out. Meanwhile, I can guiltlessly devour the rest of my under-sweet pie knowing I’m benefiting from the anti-oxidant virtues of the superfood pumpkin, with less sugar! I’ll freeze the leftover pumpkin puree – and go buy another pie pumpkin, cook, puree, and freeze it, since it’s been very hard to locate canned pumpkin.

Here’s PickYourOwn’s ingredients, cut down by about 1/3 to reduce the amount of excess pie filling for a 9″ pie:

Pumpkin Pie Filling

2/3 cup sugar – or 2/3 cup Splenda, or 1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (another superfood!)
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 large eggs
2 cups cooked pumpkin puree
1 can (12oz) of evaporated milk (I used the nonfat version)

Slow Food: Hairy Melon


Inspired by a delectable Slow Food evening at Saturday night’s IWFS-Columbus dinner hosted by Jack & Vivian Davis, and having enjoyed Julie & Julia, yesterday I tackled the challenge of preparing a dish with Chinese hairy melons grown by Roger & Sherran Blair.

Slow Food is a movement I learned about in my Barolo, Italy vacation with the Blairs 2 years ago. The movement was founded in nearby Bra in 1986 in reaction to the opening of the McDonalds hamburgers there. During our week in Piedmont, we savored our dinners and 4-hour dining experiences and came back looking for the opportunity for more.

The Slow Food philosophy: “We believe that everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. Our movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy – a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet.

It’s a philosophy akin to that espoused by Michael Pollan in his books In Defense of Food and The Omnivor’s Dilemma. I should write a blog on those books, but until then, I’ll just note that I was impressed his pragmatic, non-preachy observations and conclusions. Advancing the careful and aware production, preparation, and consumption of real food – in contrast to the highly-processed stuff we all buy today – Pollan has convinced me to change my old eating habits, and he has influenced my thinking about the food industry.

Meanwhile, back to the hairy melons. Every spring, I give Roger & Sherran packets of Chinese vegetable seeds to try in their garden – veggies that they don’t find in the local markets. It’s always an adventure to see what comes up. The first product this year from these seeds has been two large hairy melons (mo gua in Chinese). A few years ago, they took that year’s hairy melon crop to Wing’s Chinese restaurant and Kenny had them stir fried with pork for us. Sherran & Roger invited me to dinner and asked how to cook the melons without pork, for dinner in their Kosher home. I picked up the melons on Sunday morning and volunteered to cook them after consulting my collection of Chinese cookbooks.

Most of the recipes I found for hairy melons – or “fuzzy melons” as they’re also known – were for soup (like wintermelon soup). Alas, soup wouldn’t fit into the dinner menu. In Kim Chee Lee’s Chinese Cooking, I found a simple recipe for Stir-Fried Fuzzy Melons, but was afraid the taste would be too delicate to accompany the grilled steaks on the menu. On the next page of the cookbook is a recipe for Abalone Mushrooms and Green Vegetables in Oyster Sauce. It sounded like the delicious dish that Mom and I often order at Central Seafood in Hartsdale, NY. Mom has been excited about the health benefits of eating a variety of mushrooms (and we were delighted with a Braised Mushroom dish at a dinner Ray Chen invited us to at the new Three Ocean Restaurant in NYC’s Chinatown last week). Since fuzzy melon takes up the taste of the sauce it’s prepared with, I thought combining the recipes would work well.

I drove over to the New Asian Supermarket (which has the best selection of Chinese produce I’ve found in Columbus), and bought fresh King and Shitake mushrooms and baby Shanghai bok choy. I also found some Mushroom Stir-Fry sauce to substitute for Oyster Sauce (trying to keep Kosher – oyster-flavored sauce is made from oyster extract).

As this was a first-time preparation for me, I tested my approach with a little of the ingredients and tweaked the combined recipe. Since the recipe cooks so quickly, I decided to prepare all the ingredients at home and take them to the Blairs to cook just before dinner.

The dish was a big hit. The melon was tender, but not mushy, and as expected, took up the flavor of the sauce. The King mushroom slices were nicely chewy and contrasted with the tender Shitake mushrooms. The green Shanghai bok choy provided another textural and color accent. The entire dish tasted umami! And it was so guiltless, healthwise. The seven of us happily ate almost the entire double recipe (some of us had three or four servings!).

The actual cooking time was less than 15 minutes, but the preparation was quite time-consuming (about 3 hours for twice the below recipe, but that included the trial run). Though the mushrooms, bok choy, and sauces were not from local sources, the preparation was certainly in the spirit of Slow Food, celebrating the home-grown melon as an experience to be savored, lovingly prepared for and enjoyed with good friends.

As in cooking Julia Child’s recipes, I’ve found that spending hours carefully preparing a dish or a meal for family and friends, then savoring it with them, can and should be a tremendously enjoyable experience. At times, it can even be sublime.

Stir-Fried Hairy Melons, Mushrooms, & Shanghai Bok Choy in Mushroom Sauce

INGREDIENTS (for 4-6 side-dish servings)

1 large hairy melon (football-sized)
1 knob ginger, peeled and julienned
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb baby Shanghai bok choy
½ lb fresh Shitake mushrooms
½ lb fresh King mushrooms
2 T cornstarch
peanut oil, for cooking
1 T sesame oil

Seasoning Sauce:
¼ c soy sauce
¼ c mushroom stir-fry sauce
¼ c sugar

PREPARATION

Peel the hairy melon. Scoop out & discard the seeds and inner membranes. (If smaller melons are used – like zucchini – the seeds are tender and don’t need to be removed.)
Slice vertically into quarters.
Cut across into1/8” thick slices, using a mandolin, if available, to ensure uniform thickness.

Cut the King mushrooms across into thin slices (about 1/16” thick).
Remove the stems from the Shitake mushrooms. Wash to remove dirt.

Blanch the bok choy and Shitake mushrooms separately in boiling salted water for 1 minute.
Drain & put into ice water to cool. Drain again. (This process preserves the color of the vegetables.)

Mix together the soy sauce, mushroom stir-fry sauce, and sugar.

Mix corn starch in 3 T cold water.

COOKING

Heat oil in deep fry pan, pot, or wok over high heat.
Stir-fry melon slices. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes, until the slices start to cook. Remove melon from pot.
Stir-fry ginger and garlic. Stir-fry until garlic starts to brown.
Add melon back to pot. Stir and cover to steam 2 minutes. (Add a little water, if needed.)
Add mushrooms, stir-fry, cover to cook 1 minute.
Add bok choy, stir-fry.
Add seasoning sauce (use more or less, to taste). Stir and bring to a boil. Add water or chicken stock, if needed, to make enough liquid for sauce.
Stir in cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce.
Stir in sesame oil and serve.

Chinese Long Beans


I gave my friends Roger & Sherran a pack of Chinese Long Bean seeds in the spring. Today, we got to try the grown beans from their garden.

Also known as Yardlong Beans, these are a staple in Chinese markets. They are also great fun for kids – I tell them they’re “Jack and the Bean Stalk” beans because of their unusual length. Fresh from the garden, they were more tender than those from the store because we picked them fresh at only about 18″ long. Rather than searching my Chinese cookbook collection for a recipe, I found one online by famed restaurateur/chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (he’s been serving Chinese food for decades in his NYC restaurant Vong). I modified his recipe somewhat, since Pop taught me to blanch Chinese long beans in oil to cook through their tough skin.

The result was delicious! The beans had a much meatier taste and texture than American green beans. The onions and red bell pepper added an umami savoriness that plain stir-fried beans don’t have.

Since I knew I’d be using a small pot of oil to blanch the beans, I used the oil first to puff up a batch of instant sizzling rice cakes that we had as an appetizer with a fresh tomato and mozzarella salad. The beans were a delicious accompaniment to the perfectly grilled marinated chicken breasts Roger prepared. Watermelon closed out the tasty, healthy meal. Yum!

Chinese Long Beans with Cracked Black Pepper
Recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, modified by Rod Chu

2 cups peanut oil

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds Chinese long beans, washed and thoroughly towel dried, cut into 3-inch lengths
1 medium red bell pepper, peeled (see note) cut into 1/3-inch dice
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Heat the peanut oil in a small saucepan to 375°. Blanch the beans in the hot oil, a handful at a time, until they begin to blister (30-60 seconds). Drain and set aside each batch while blanching the rest of the beans.

Saute the onion in 1 T oil over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add red pepper and stir-fry to soften the pepper, about 1 minute. Add the long beans and stir-fry until the beans are slightly softened and browned in spots, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and stir to coat. Add the water, cover and cook over moderately low heat until the water has evaporated and the beans are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce and cracked pepper and cook for 1 minute. Adjust sugar and soy sauce to taste. Transfer to a platter and serve.

Next time, I’ll try adding a couple of cloves of minced garlic.

NOTE: Peeling bell peppers

There are two basic methods for removing the tough outer membrane from bell peppers. The classic method is to roast the peppers over a gas flame, searing the skin until it’s black in spots. I used a long handled barbecue fork to hold the whole pepper, skewered through the stem end, over the flame of Sherran’s industrial range burner. However, I found the skin rather tedious to remove when seared this way. (I recall another tip was to put the seared whole pepper into a paper bag to rest to loosen the skin; I didn’t have a bag handy nor the time to try this time.)

The easier method I’ve used is from Thomas Keller’s (of The French Laundry and Per Se restaurant fame) recipe for Ratatouille, from the movie: Heat oven to 450°. Halve, seed and de-vein the bell pepper. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and dice. This works well for doing multiple peppers, since they can all be done at once. However, I didn’t want to heat up the oven for just one pepper this time.