Monday, October 12, 2015

Tea-Smoked Chicken Legs & Duck Breasts (熏雞)

During a trip to Taiwan a couple of years ago, my parents-in-law introduced me to this shop near their home that sold all sorts of smoked meat.  They were known for their smoked chicken legs in particular, and I could not stop thinking about it when we came back home!  As with most things, if I couldn't find it easily in the store or at a restaurant, I would get the itch to figure out how to make it myself. (^_^)v  Since we live in a condo we don't have a traditional smoker, but luckily for me, my friend Audrey knew of a recipe that could be done with just a lidded wok and a steaming rack!

The original recipe from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young and Alan Richardson is super easy, but it will make your house smell smokey for a couple days after (I try to double the recipe usually and freeze it to make it worth it :P).  It keeps quite well vacuum-sealed in the freezer, and you also get some delicious concentrated chicken broth to use after the steaming step.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chinese Steamed Buns - Mantou (饅頭)

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the soft inside fluffy parts of bread.  Crust can be ok, but by and far it is always the fluffy insides that I love to sink my teeth into when eating a piece of a bread.  Chinese steamed buns, or mantou (饅頭) are like the fluffy insides of a fresh baked loaf of bread, without any of the hard or dry crusts that comes with regular bread.  Unfortunately, most of the mantou you can buy at the grocery stores here in the U.S. are always too dense or dry for my liking, and I missed the ones my mom used to make which were chewier and fluffier, with a bounce.


Asking my mom for a recipe though usually amounts to "just add a little of this, and some of that and mix until it looks/feels about right." So... I turned to Google Search and browsed a bunch of sites, read some comments, and chose to Frankenstein together several of the ideas.  I specifically wanted to try and make black sesame and sweet potato versions.  It took a few batches, but I'm pretty happy with how it finally came out for the sweet potato and plain versions.  The black sesame ones, alas, will still need some work (didn't help that I overcooked them and they kinda burned too - I REALLY want to make a Totoro version!!!). (。-_-。)

My poor deformed and burned Totoros
Feel free to play with the ratios of flours.  If you like a denser feel, you can try replacing some of the AP flour with bread flour (50% AP, 25% BF, 25% CF for example).  Most recipes call for adding a bit of lard or canola oil - I chose to use butter instead, but you can replace with equivalent amount of lard/shortening or 1TB of oil.

I need to start my baking earlier for better lighting... (^^ゞ

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Taiwanese Braised Pork Belly Over Rice - Lu Rou Fan (滷肉飯)

I traveled to Taiwan for the first time when I was about 10-years-old.  Even though we were Taiwanese American and my parents cooked Chinese and Taiwanese dishes all the time at home, nothing quite beats being in Taiwan itself when it comes to the food.  It would be another decade before I ever visited again, and during those ten years, the dish that stuck out in my memory was this simple looking bowl of braised pork belly over rice that you could get from just about anywhere in Taiwan for less than $2 USD.

When we first bought our Instant Pot pressure cooker, one of the first things my husband wanted me to try to make was lu rou fan.  It took a while for me to get around to it though because my first stovetop attempt didn't come out the way I liked and it was SUCH a huge pain in the butt to cut up all the pork belly into tiny tiny pieces.  It still is, but at least this time it came out delicious! (*^ワ^*)Super happy with how one of my favorite comfort foods turned out, considering I was cobbling together my own version on the fly after reading a ton of different recipes over several weeks.  I also sometimes add diced eggplant to make myself feel better, but steamed broccoli also goes well with it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Drunken Fig & Strawberry Preserves

Last month my brother-in-law and his wife moved into a house that had a backyard filled with mature fruit trees, rampant tomato plants, and an herb garden.  With more figs and tomatoes than we knew what to do with, I decided it would be a great chance to try canning for the first time.  Actual canning success is debatable (I think it sealed? @_@) but the fruit preserves themselves were pretty tasty I think!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Oxtail Pho with Instapot

Growing up in Southern California's Little Saigon, I was introduced to Vietnamese cuisine from a young age while visiting the homes of my Vietnamese friends.  I've been especially spoiled by the pho made by one of my best childhood friends, Kaitlin.  Her pho has pretty much ruined pho for me at restaurants - I rarely order it when when we go out to eat Vietnamese food because all other broths just taste so bland compared to the one she makes. 

After eating and watching her make it so many times over the years, I finally braved the attempt to try it myself about three years ago. ( ≧Д≦) It was such a disappointing and blah result for the many hours put in that I was too traumatized to try again - that is, until now.  My desire to try again may or may not have coincided with her moving too far away for me to visit regularly.  (j/k, miss you Huong, not just your pho!) \(★´−`)人(´▽`★)/  This time around I had a pressure cooker, as well as the same brand of pho spices that my friend uses, and I will have to say it is the closest I've ever gotten to her broth - which makes me one happy mama! ヾ(*⌒ヮ⌒*)ゞ

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Earl Grey Tea Macarons

I've been so ecstatic about having an over 50% success rate in the macaron shells from my last post that I had to try again to make sure it wasn't a fluke.  And two batches later my success rate is increasing - I think only the green tea ones had a few hollows, and they again all had feet and were smooth! ヾ(@^∇^@)ノ*happy dance*  I made the matcha sesame macarons again (though I forgot to add the black sesame seed decoration on top this time), and an Earl Grey tea flavored macaron, also from Shiawase Days (senpai noticed me! o((*^▽^*))o).  Seriously though, check out Amy Lu's blog - love her beautiful photos of all the super cute desserts she makes!  I always get so hungry looking at them.  Since I did a couple things differently, I'm posting the recipe here with my changes as a note to myself.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Green Tea Macarons with Black Sesame Buttercream

YUUUUSSSS!!! >50% of this batch of macarons came out perfect. (*/∇\*)And they were all smooth topped and had proper feet! The failed ones were the ones that came out hollow but hey, those are still edible and I'll take it! It's been ages (if ever) that I've been this happy with a batch of macarons.  They are the cookies that refused to be conquered.  Honestly, they aren't even my favorite cookies!  I keep making them though because I'm stubborn and I love the challenge of trying to make them precisely because I have not mastered it.  Every time I have an extra egg white I try to practice making a small batch, and although I sometimes feel like it's playing roulette, it is so rewarding when they do come out correctly.  There is also an infinite number of flavor combinations that one can play with so it never gets boring.

This attempt came about because I've been on a black sesame kick and had a spare egg white left over from making kasutera.  I love this recipe from the food blog Shiawase Days as it makes a small batch using just one egg white (extra large egg), has a simple ingredient list, and her ingredient amounts made exactly the right amount of batter and filling.  One thing she does differently that I hadn't seen much of was to bake at a much lower temperature for a longer time to prevent browning, which I think I will be doing now too as my oven tends to run hot.  She also piped 2" rounds, resulting in fewer cookies, but my template was closer to 1.5" so I was able to get about 26 shells.  I still need to work on my technique (sometimes I wonder if it's the way I pipe the batter that causes some to be hollow and others not??) but will definitely be using her proportions going forward.  (⌒▽⌒)☆

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Black Sesame Chiffon Cake

Been months since the last post...but o welps, better than no post right? (#^.^#)  I made this cake completely on a whim - just randomly thought to myself, "Hm, wonder if there's a good black sesame cake recipe out there?" and of course there was.  Yay Google Search.  This recipe comes from a Taiwanese food blogger from Australia going by Green Cilantro, though sadly, it seems she hasn't posted anything new in the last couple of years.  I pretty much followed it to the letter with an extra step, and listed more weight measurements.

For the most part I think the cake turned out great, except mine was no where near as tall as hers, despite using a pan that was about 9 1/2"- 10" in diameter like she had said in her post.  Perhaps I over-mixed it and deflated the egg whites too much when folding them in, but my batter just did not fill up my pan very much even before baking.  The finished cake was still plenty fluffy and light in texture though, so not sure what's up with that.  ヽ( ̄д ̄;)ノ At any rate, it was an after-the-fact trial run for my tot's birthday cake next month and I was pretty happy with the results, especially as it is not overly sweet.  Hopefully I will get better pictures of it next time with a proper camera and update this post later. (^v^)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Blackberry Crumb Bar

It's been a busy couple of months for us here - half of it spent recovering from various colds it seems.  Since cherry picking season opened up last weekend here, we thought we would head out for a fun day with friends picking fruit, letting our kiddos run around, and having a picnic.  The day started out with both Miss A and her buddy feeling a bit under the weather, a cloudy sky to match the mood, and chilly temperatures at a time of year that is normally blazing hot.

The day didn't seem to be getting any better when we finally arrived after driving over an hour to find that farm after farm was closed or at capacity for U-pick cherries.  Due to the California drought and general poor growing conditions, every farm's cherry crop was super light and picked clean after opening just for a couple days.  After driving around in circles for a good 40 minutes, we settled on two other farms to pick white peaches and blackberries instead.

Both Miss A and her buddy finally got to wander about the fields and stuff their faces full of fruit, and the sun even came out as well so a good time was still had by all. :)

The girls even helped to pick some of the fruit - though most of it ended up either squashed in their hands or stuffed into their mouths.(⌒▽⌒)It's important to get them started early on earning their keep right? (^_−)☆

I knew I wanted to make a dessert with our fresh blackberries and settled on modifying this blueberry crumb bar recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but wanted a bit more crunch so I added some rolled oats and chopped honey roasted almonds to the crumb mixture on top.  The result was a crumbly, buttery bar with just the right amount of crunch and tangy sweet fruit.

Since toddler was fussy I didn't have much of a chance to take nice photos so everything was just quickly shot with my iPhone this time, but I promise it tastes good! (At least I think it does.  I don't even know anymore.  It's been a very long day with a crying, sick, and clingy toddler and this was one of the few things she was willing to eat, so that's saying something right?)  f(^_^;)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fresh Strawberry Pie

Spring is in full swing here - with some days so blazing hot it feels like summer.  Thanks to that, my allergies are also on full throttle with all the blooming plants everywhere.  Though we are still getting the occasional chilly day here and there, the weather otherwise has been going to the mid 70s and up, bringing with it the first batches of beautiful ripe strawberries for the season.

Even though there are at least 6 other vendors selling strawberries at different stands throughout the farmers market we go to, one vendor consistently has the longest line for their berries - often to the annoyance of their neighbors since the line blocks their stalls.

Since we bought quite a few strawberries, I wanted to try my hand at a fresh strawberry pie - especially since I failed to make a pie last week for Pi Day.  I grew up eating mostly Chinese and Japanese food, but my mom would occasionally buy American food as a treat for us - usually in the form of Western-style desserts or fast food and frozen food when she didn't feel like cooking.   My hands down favorite was when it was strawberry season and she would buy a fresh strawberry pie on sale for $5 from the Marie Callender's restaurant near our house.  Piled high with strawberries that glistened like jewels, and topped with whipped cream, those pies never lasted more than a day in our house.

I tried a few times in my early 20s to bake pies...but they always ended up completely and utterly DISGUSTING.  Uncooked gummy dough.  Dull and tasteless fruit.  Tons of wasted ingredients.  It was enough to turn me off trying to bake pies from scratch for nearly 10 years!

I finally got up the courage to try again after coming across this recipe for a sourdough pâte brisée from the Bojon Gourmet while chatting with a friend and wondering if there was such a thing as a sourdough pie crust.  Who knew? :)  Being older and wiser (and with a bit more means than a recent college grad), I now had proper baking tools at my disposal, including an investment into a nice ceramic pie plate from Emile Henry for this new attempt at pie-making.  It also helped to watch YouTube videos on how to fraisage dough. (^_−)☆ 

Much to my surprise, the blueberry-apple pie I made using the recipe from the Bojon Gourmet was an edible success!  As was my attempt at a banoffee pie a few weeks later!  All of which led to today's attempt to do a fresh strawberry pie and recreate my childhood tastebud memories. The result?  My tastebuds (and tummy) were pretty darn happy. (⌒▽⌒)

Monday, March 9, 2015

A's New Play Table - An IKEA LATT Hack

I've been itching to do something crafty for my toddler, and when I came across the idea for "hacking" the IKEA LATT table and chairs set to customize it, I knew this was it.  There are tons of other blogs out there that have done this already and I basically combined my favorite ideas from several different hacks all into one, and wanted to share my experience.