Off to Hong Kong for a week to work at the Hong Kong Art Fair.
I won’t have many free days to explore and take pictures, but hopefully I’ll get a few good snaps in. And of course, a few good eats.
Yes, these were homemade, just…not in my home!
Today on RecipeRelay, Megan (who I’ve gotten to e-friend through working with RecipeRelay), got down and floury with some homemade baguettes. I didn’t think anything could get more exciting than the homemade tofu experience recounted by Sarah last week, but I was wrong! This is a recipe I will SURELY be using here in Guangzhou, where fresh baked, artisan bread is a rarity.
Good ingredients always yield a good product. So I’m excited to share that to top off Megan’s post, the ladies at RecipeRelay and the folks at King Arthur Flour have organized a giveaway! Just head on over to the blog post before 10pm EST tomorrow (May 19th), and share your favorite bread recipe in the comments (winner will be announced next Tuesday). One lucky reader will receeive a 5lb. bag of King Arthur AP Flour, a 5lb. bag of Bread Flour, a 1lb. bag of instant yeast, and a handy dough whisk (it’s okay, I didn’t know what a dough whisk was before today, either). Anyway, everyone will be a winner, because you’ll automatically get Megan’s awesome recipe for her pea shoot and ricotta canapé.
And finally, don’t forget to check out Megan’s blog, Delicious Dishings. She made some Bruins-inspired cupcakes the to kick off Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. I think I’ll need to ask her to whip up some for the Sharks. Anything to sweeten up their recent Game 2 loss
For some people, a simple dinner means boiling a pot of water and pouring it over Cup-O-Noodles. Voila!, dinner in five minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against that. In fact, I remember the occasional busy Sunday afternoon growing up, we’d do the same thing. Right before or after basketball practice/girl scouts meetings/Costco trips/piano recitals, my parents, rushing from one child’s needs to the next, would “make lunch” by pouring boiling water out of an old tea kettle into four Cups-O-Noodles, setting the chopsticks over the rim of the styrofoam to keep the lid closed. After five minutes worth of cleaning up, cleaning off, and cleaning out the car, lunch wasn’t something on the to-do list anymore.
But a “simple” dinner to me doesn’t mean something I can heat up in five minutes (although, that would be nice, and in case you didn’t know already I obviously don’t have kids yet). A simple dinner is something that I can prepare with minimal attention, I get with easy prep work, and can use up whatever I have lying in the fridge. Oh, it also helps if it pairs well with the last bottle of Shiraz in the cabinet.
Homemade pizza is on the top of this simple dinner list. To be more specific, this homemade pizza is on the top of my simple dinner list, because it really is so. easy. to. prepare…especially when I have leftover tomato sauce in my fridge from the night before. I first read about it on The Wednesday Chef blog earlier this year, and couldn’t believe when all I had to do was let a basic, lightly kneaded dough sit for about an hour, flatten it out, top it, and bake it for 10 minutes. Sometimes, I use the hour the dough needs to sit to paint my toenails or write a blog post. Other times, I use this hour to clean up around the house. The other day, I used this hour (plus some) to go play a round of badminton with B and then shower up.
What’s better, since we both love thin crust, the quantity of dough the recipe makes is best split into two, and the other half saved in the fridge to be rolled out for a second night’s dinner. So, this is a recipe where I don’t have to go to the store for any ingredients, I get to play in the kitchen, yank and knead and punch dough around like it’s play-dough, then play a round of badminton, “cook” dinner, and also have some left for another night’s dinner, all in one easy recipe? You can see why it’s one of my favorite ‘simple’ meals.
I mentioned that I don’t have to go to the store for this recipe. On a hot, tiring day, this is the best news ever. We’ve gotten into the habit of having mozzarella in the fridge, because we can get a good deal on decent mozzarella near our house (a huge block, imported, far from the real good stuff and anything local, but it’s cheese!). And on top of that, whatever I have around in the kitchen then gets scattered over the top. Often times it’ll be anchovies from the pantry or roasted garlic, and if there’s no tomato sauce leftover in the freezer then simply canned whole tomatoes (like Luisa does in her original adaptation of the recipe). I’ve added spring onions, mushrooms, caramelized onions– all leftover groceries that haven’t been used up in other dishes, all from the wet market. For my most recent pizza, I splurged on imported pepperoni at the store, and I happily doused the pizza with a layer of the meat, thinly sliced green onions, sliced shallots, and minced hot chinese red peppers.
I’ve gotta warn you– if you try the recipe, even if you take it word for word, you probably won’t get it quite right the first time. Nor even the second. Every time it will taste really really good, but it won’t be near perfect until your fourth or fifth time around, because the dough takes some getting used to working with. The thickness is hard to gauge until you’ve baked it, and there’s absolutely no way of knowing how each oven cooks the dough. I, personally, am happy to say I’m near perfect in the making of this pizza…which I guess tells you how many times I’ve made this since I saw the recipe in February, right?
the Perfect Pizza Dough
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 packet (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast (like Fleischman’s)
- 1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp. good olive oil
- 1 1/4 cups spring water
- Pour flour and salt into a large bowl. In a measuring cup, heat the water for about 20–30 seconds. Mix the yeast, sugar, and olive oil with the warm water, stirring until yeast and sugar is dissolved and let this sit for a few minutes. Create a well in the bowl of flour and slowly pour in the liquid, using a fork to stir the flour in. Keep pouring/stirring until everything is incorporated. At this point, the dough will be loose and shaggy. There will be a little excess flour at the bottom of the bowl, but that’s fine.
- Dump the mixture onto a clean surface and start to knead, drawing in the loose flour. Knead for a few minutes, or until fully incorporated and dough is smooth and springy.
- Lightly coat a clean, dry bowl (I just wash and dry the original flour bowl) with olive oil, and place the ball of dough into the bowl, turning over once or twice to coat with olive oil. Cover this with a damp tea towel and set aside. Now, you can grate your cheese and prepare whatever other toppings you plan to top the pizza with, or go check your Facebook for a bit.
- After one hour, the dough should be roughly doubled in size, and lightly dotted with bubbles. Turn the dough over on a lightly-floured surface (there will be enough oil to keep in from really sticking), and punch the dough down– literally, give in a few good whacks with your fist. Split into two even parts, wrap one with saran wrap and store in the fridge or freezer for another use. Or prepare to make two pizzas.
- At this point, preheat the oven to the highest temperature– my oven goes to 550F.
- Knead the dough in front of you once or twice over itself, and roll into a ball. Start to flatten out the dough– I like to use my fingertips first and then use a roller to get it nice and thin, but even pulling and pinching can do the trick if you like a thicker crust. I try to get the dough as thin as possible without tearing, because both B and I like a thin crust.
- Spread a generous bit of olive oil onto a large baking sheet, and transfer the rolled-out pizza dough on the sheet. Now you’re ready to assemble the pizza, using whatever combinations of tomatoes/cheese/miscellaneous toppings you desire.
- Place the pan on the top rack of the oven– I’ve found that this will prevent the bottom from burning too quickly in my regular baking pan (if you have a pizza stone, you’re awesome and don’t have to heed this cooking advice). After about 15–20 minutes, turn the oven to broil, and let the toppings sizzle, watching carefully. Take the pizza out of the oven after another minute or two, and let it rest for five minutes for the flavors and cheese to set.
- ENJOY it with a good glass of wine or beer.
Like garlic and onions, I feel like most Americans (myself included) have gotten so accustomed to the year-round supply of supermarket lemons and limes that we forget they are just like every other growing food– seasonal. And regional.
Limes are not easily found in this part of the world, even though you would think our proximity to the heavily-used lime regions of Thailand would result in its spread into Southern China. As I approach a full six months of having moved to China (holy cow!), I’m getting a good idea of the availability and seasonal transitions at the market, but there’s still a lot for me to learn. You may remember the time when I was excited to bring home a ripe, juicy, large lime, only to discover it was an orange!?
You can imagine how excited I was a few months ago when, as a friend was leaving post, he mentioned he had a “lime lady”. I made sure to take careful mental notes as he described which alleys to turn left, approximately how far down the street to go, and most importantly how to say lime in chinese– 请柠檬, which directly translates into green lemon. I realize what I’ve just described may sound like some sort of illegal venture, but we frequently acquire goods in this manner in Guangzhou. In this city of shopping, we have friends who have shown us their “cable lady”, their “computer guy”, their “cheese people”, their favorite “pearl shop”, and the “box folks” (where they sell wooden boxes for all your mahjong desires).
The lime lady isn’t particularly easy to get to, nor is she particularly friendly, but thanks to her, I can now sit back and enjoy a margarita (on days when we don’t indulge in a cooling Pimm’s Cup), complete with a salted rim and a wedge of lime.
Classic Limey Margarita
- 4 oz. silver tequila
- 1 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
- 1 oz. grand marnier (or preferably, Cointreau)
- 1/2 oz. simple syrup
- Run a lime around the lip of two tumblers, and dip each into a plate of kosher salt to coat the rims.
- Combine ingredients with crushed ice in a cocktail shaker
- Strain, pour into two small tumblers over ice. Garnish with a fresh lime.
for a pitcher–
- 2 cups tequila
- 3/4 cups lime juice
- 3/4 cups cointreau
- 1/2 cup simple syrup
- Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher with ice.
- Make new friends.
We miss Mexican food a lot here. It’s like they say, you never know what you have until it’s gone– and growing up in California, where there are no shortage of tacos and burritos and hot dogs wrapped in bacon (those are Mexican, aren’t they?), we’re suffering a bit here. Not to mention, I would kill for an elote from Café Habana right now (plenty of fresh corn at the market– but no cojito cheese for miles!)
When the recent issue of Saveur magazine rolled around, with it’s tantalizing cover of crispy tacos and bold text boasting “Secrets of Mexican Cooking”, I was determined to find a recipe that I could recreate, or at least adapt, here in Southern China. After all, I find there to be many similarities in Asian and Latin cooking– there wasn’t that huge Asian Fusion spike in the 90’s for nothing, let me tell you…
But I soon realized that most authentic Mexican recipes call for very specific dried or fresh chiles, or the need for good tortillas– none of which I are available here. I toyed with the idea of substituting local chinese dried chilies in place of the New Mexico or Guajilo chiles. Though excellent and powerful in Chinese cuisine, I doubt they would garner the same savory Mexican flavor I am craving (would they? Does anyone know?). Perhaps my trip to Mexico City in the summer will be just as much a pantry expedition as it will a reunion with friends…
In the meantime, I’m still seeking out some good recipes and some good tricks to recreate the flavors of Mexican cuisine in my own kitchen. This weekend I made this shredded chicken taco dish again, an easy adaptation for a Guangzhou kitchen. Looking through a huge list of recently bookmarked Cinco de Mayo themed recipes, I re-discovered the website Muy Bueno Cookbook along with this recipe for a mango salad, reminiscent of the chile sprinkled mango and jicama sold from carts on the street corners in downtown LA. Rather than a chunky salad, I preferred to scale it down to a salsa, and with magoes and cucumbers both sold prolifically at the wet market, it was a no-brainer. The recipe called for plenty of chile powder in the salad, but I wanted a more nuanced spice in this salsa, and so also grabbed from the piles of mild peppers at the market.
Growing up, I would frequently sit on a stool in the kitchen as I watched my mother cook in the kitchen. She would educate me as she went along on the importance of cleaning up as she cooked, setting things out before she started stir frying, and making sure to wash the dishes as she went along. At the time, I thought she was just being nitpicky, and franky hated these “lectures” I got when all I wanted was to watch the garlic and ginger sizzle at the bottom of the skillet. But I now realize that she was simply teaching me the basics of what all good chefs know– setting your mise en place, making sure your workstation is sanitary and organized. Funny how everything your mom tells you when you are little suddenly makes sense when you’re older…
She also showed me other important skills, one being how to wield a knife. My mother could (and still can) pulverize garlic into the tiniest minced flecks, slice ginger into the thinnest slivers, and artfully cut carrots and firm tofu into perfectly-square little cubes. The Chinese believe that the proportion of shapes and sizes of a dishes’ components play a big part in the flavor and taste of a dish. Hence, the Chinese have an extensive vocabulary for the prep work of different cuts of meat and vegetables– significantly more than their Western friends.
Whenever I’m prepping a dish like this salsa, spending much longer than anyone typically would to make sure the shallots are appropriately, I compare them to how my mom used to do it. When people make salsa and their tomatoes are cut into huge, uneven chunks, the onions are in unappetizingly large pieces, and the cilantro is not even chopped, I am a little uneasy. Maybe you’d say I was spoiled– I’d say I was taught well. In any case, I’d consider this a secret to a good salsa, or a salad, or any freshly chopped mixed vegetable dish.
- 4 small, ripe yellow mangoes
- 3 kirby cucumbers
- 3 shallots, minced
- 1 small bunch chinese celery (or, one rib of regular celery), leaves discarded
- 2 mild green peppers, minced
- 1 mild red pepper, minced
- 1/4 cup cilantro, stemmed and packed, finely chopped
- juice of one lime
- salt, to taste
- Peel and cut mangoes into a small dice. The easiest way to do this, I’ve found, is to: cut the stem-end of the mango off so you can easily and securely set the mango on its end on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice the peel off, downwards, along the length of the mango. Keep turning and trimming the peel off until your mango is “naked”. Then carefully cut the meat off the pit in the largest slices possible, and dice from there.
- Seed the cucumbers, cut into spears and then a small dice
- Combine shallots, celery, red and green peppers with lime and salt to taste. Mix well, allowing the shallots to macerate in the lime juice to lessen its sharpness. Combine mango and cucumbers, and toss to mix thoroughly.
- Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 20–30 minutes. Can be prepared a day ahead, if necessary, but shouldn’t be kept more than a couple of days– which probably won’t be a problem!
Yield: approx. 3 1/2 cups of salsa, or enough to feed 10–12 people for a taco dinner!
Nowadays breakfast is sometimes a slice of toast, yogurt with granola, or oatmeal, and more often than not just a cup of strong coffee. Growing up my family didn’t have very many elaborate breakfasts, and although we were required to have dinner together every night, breakfast was a come-as-you-awaken sort of deal. When I go home to visit my folks these days, it’s still the same deal. Living on my own, it’s the same deal.
Unlike many families my dad was the one in charge of breakfast in our household, also assuming the roles of lunch packer, sandwich maker, waker-upper, and school chauffeur when we were growing up. He was the only one in our house that was able to get out of bed at 6am each morning every day of the week. On the weekends when there was no school and no early morning piano lessons, if we were out of bagels or croissants he would flip open the Joy of Cooking and make a batch of pancakes, which is to this day one of my favorite olfactory memories growing up.
This weekend, I thought of my dad and his pancakes as I looked up a recipe for cinnamon buns. I was inspired…what was I inspired by? I think I saw something online about cinnamon rolls, and knew I had all the ingredients in the pantry [flour (check), sugar (check), yeast (check), cinnamon (check) Yes!] So I felt inspired (which in cooking terms, also means I had a craving…), but I didn’t have much after that. We never had these growing up– my dad never made them, we never asked for them. Not as if something this sweet and buttery would have made it to our kitchen table, anyway. As I was scouring the internet for the perfect recipe for cinnamon rolls, I desperately wished that I had a frame of reference– a smell, a secret ingredient, a method of preparation– to refer to, as I would with a recipe for pancakes. But I didn’t, and relying on my own kitchen gumption, I decided to mash-up two different recipes, roll up my sleeves, and see if I could make these cinnamon rolls work. Intending to make a mere dozen, I ended up producing a whopping three dozen cinnamon rolls. But don’t worry, two dozen were gone by Saturday evening thanks to sweet-loving friends (sweet, loving friends?).
So, here’s my take on cinnamon rolls. It’s the first time in awhile that I wasn’t completely sure I was going to have success with a recipe. Thankfully, it wasn’t the first time that I didn’t have success with a recipe.
In an effort to keep all my lovely readers and friends thin, here is my adapted recipe, halved, and adapted a little more.
adapted from the Smitten Kitchen and Homesick Texan recipes
For the dough:
- 1 cup whole milk
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
- 3/4 cup packed golden brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 Tbsp. Bailey’s liqeur
- 1 Tbsp. fresh brewed coffee
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- Mix the milk, butter and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugar melt. Turn off the range and allow the mixture to cool slightly, about 30 minutes.
- When the mixture is warm (you can stick your finger in to test it out), stir in the yeast. Let this sit for a minute.
- Add 4 cups of flour incrementally, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go along to make sure the liquid is incorporated nicely. Mix in one egg. Cover with a lid, and let this sit for 1 hour.
- After an hour, mix the remaining 1/2 flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Incorporate into the batter, turn onto a floured surface and knead a few times until dough is smooth but still slightly sticky. Cover with a tea towel and let this rest for another 20 minutes.
- While the dough sits, mix filling, incorporating the brown sugar and cinamon.
- Making sure the surface is still adaquately floured, roll out dough to about 11x16 inches, the dough should be at least 1/4–1/2 in thick. Spread the room temperature butter on the rectangular piece of dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on the three sides closest to you. Pour the cinnamon sugar mixture over the butter, creating a thin, even layer, if necessary spreading with your hands.
- Starting at the longer edge furthest from you, roll the dough inwards, towards your body, pressing and tucking with a bit of pressure to make sure the roll sticks to itself.With the seam side down, cut the rolled log into ~3/4 inch slices.
- Brush two baking dishes with butter, and arrange the rolls about 1 inch apart on the dishes. Let rolls rise for another 30 minutes (a lot of rising, I know!). Preheat oven to 375degrees
- Bake at 375 for 18–20 minutes, or until tops are golden. It’s best to bake these on the top rack, so the bottoms don’t get too browned and crisp.
- Remove from oven, and invert onto a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Once relatively cool to handle, flip rolls up and glaze. (To make glaze: combine all ingredients, stir until smooth)
yield: between 12–16 cinnamon rolls
Yes, these looked as good as they tasted. They should have, with the amounts of butter and sugar. Like the pancakes my dad made, I hope one day I’ll perfect this recipe so my kids will have something to talk about.