Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Buttermilk Biscuit Testing - Butter or Shortening or Lard?

I have been baking biscuits for many years.  The ones that I love the most are the ones that I made for my boys.  Of course, they are all grown up, so I bake for my grand-kids.  There are times, for whatever reason I don't know why, the biscuits just don't come out the same.  A carton of buttermilk is only used once, then, the rest end up discarded ... despite the fact that you can use buttermilk for a few other dishes.  It's quite easy when you have a crowd, but for a single serving, it becomes challenging.  I decided to test on my biscuits using three different shortenings - lard, vegetable shortening, butter.
I really thought the lard would have tasted better but there is no "SHANG WEI" - "wonderful aroma".  It was disappointing.  I remember using the actual 'renedered' pork fat - that we saved after cooking fat pork when I was young for Chinese pastry.  The pastry tasted very nice.   I actually had never used "Lard" out of a box to bake the biscuits.   I have seen the bacon grease used to make biscuits, and I have used it by mixing it with butter chunks, etc.  It turned out quite tasty.  The biscuits made with self-rising flour is always the fluffiest, but I want to control all the ingredients, so all purpose flour is used.  To make the test production portion size small, I used the following measurements:
Preheat oven 435'F - 450'F - depending on the power of your gas oven or electric oven.

Butter Buttermilk Biscuits:
Portion:  4 to 5

1-1/2 Cup all purpose flour, shifted with the followings 3 times
1/2 Tb Double acting non-aluminum baking powder (Red or Silver can)
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/8 tsp Baking soda
1/4 Cup cold butter cut into chunks
Rub the butter and flour together between thumb and fingers until they form flat flakes. 

Then, Add
1/4 Cup Buttermilk - if the flour mixture feel dry, add water a teaspoon at a time.
Tips:  The dough should feel quite moist..

Mix gently at first with spoon maybe or with hand till flour is moistened.  The dough should be shaggy and moist.  Then, mix gently in fold and layer, add bit more buttermilk, then, fold and layer motions to form a flat disc.  Roll it out with a rolling pin with gentle press or simply pat it down with floured finger tips to disc shape.
Then, cut out with biscuit cutter or with a rim of a glass cup.  Transfer to baking sheet.
If a tender side is desired, place biscuits close to each other on top of a aluminum foil.  Then, fold up the aluminum foil to make a wall.
Bake till golden brown.

Shortening Buttermilk Biscuits:
- use the same ingredients as above, but replace butter with vegetable shortening.

1/2 Cup all purpose flour, shifted with the followings 3 times
1/2 Tb Double acting non-aluminum baking powder (Red or Silver can)
1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/4 Cup cold vegetable shortening, or room temperature
Rub the shortening and flour together between thumb and fingers until they form flat flakes. 

Then, Add
1/4 Cup Buttermilk - if the flour mixture feel dry, add water a teaspoon at a time.

Mix, form, and portion the same as above, and bake till brown.
Actually the picture below shows that the biscuits could use some more liquid.

The result - You can see the difference. 
But I am not quite convinced that my test is true.  So, I will repeat it three more times to say, the ingredients listed here will produce the same results each time.

No, I am not crazy.  I just finished baking twice the Banana Buttermilk Biscuits the other evening and plain ones.  The results?  I ate them all... do I have pictures for evidence?... I will check on it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Polly's Cashew Chicken - YIAO GUWO JI DIEN

Sometimes, you really wanted to eat well, and wondered what to do with all those celery in the vegetable compartment?  Make fresh health drinks, eat raw, etc... a number of recipes come to mind, then, again, noooot... I don't know why, but sometimes, you just don't feel like it.  But this time, I see a jar of nuts that I bought from COSTCO with various types of nuts in it.  And I noticed there are bunch of cashew nuts in it more than other nuts.  The Cashew Chicken! I thought.  Cashew Chicken is not our traditional family dish when I was growing up.  Because cashew nuts were not available at the local markets,  they are imported.     But here they are, right before me are the great tasting cashews.   So, for my office lunch, I made this in the morning right before I left the door.... nope! it didn't last till lunch time.  I end up eating it as a breakfast.  

Tip:  In Chinese cooking, you often stir fry ingredients and set aside to stir fry the next ingredients, then combine them together for the finale. 

I remember my mother always marinate the meat in KATAKURIKO (Japanese potato starch) with some seasonings.  It makes them taste tender, seal the flavor, etc.
1/3 - 1/2 Cup Cashew nuts - Toasted in some olive oil in the Wok and set aside.
Slice chicken breast thinly (as you know they normally shrink and become thicker as they are cooked.)
Marinate with 2 tsp of KATAKURIKO and pinch of salt (potato starch or Corn starch.  *FYI - Cornstarch prepared food tend to form 'water' in the overnighted dish in refrigerator.)
White ground pepper
Some water
3 Defibered/deveined celery sticks - sliced slanted into 1/2 chunks.  To defiber - pull down (toward back - convex side) at the stalk joint where leaves start to grow and pull down toward the root.  It will pull the stalk fibre off to make it more tender and less fibrous when chewing.) 

 I didn't remembered about thinly slicing the chicken until afterwards, as I have not cooked the chicken this way for a while.  Then, I remembered what my mother said, to slice chicken fairly think for better taste.
Stir fry the chicken breast - Medium high heat just enough till most of the pink is gone. 30 seconds to 45 seconds.  Normally for a larger family dish, meat will be taken out and set aside and celery is stir fried next in the same Wok and in the same oil left behind.
 As this is a small batch, and I am in a hurry, I add the celeries.  Stir fry for 30 seconds at medium high heat. 
 Add Cashew nuts.  Add salt and white ground pepper to taste.  
** If  liquid is desired in this dish, add 2 Tablespoon of water.  This will cause the interaction with the starch enveloping the chicken slices and thicken.  Otherwise, make the starch slur and add to the Wok and bring the liquid to boil and cook for a minute longer.  
Remove from heat and serve.
 Taste the celery.  If you like the crisp state that it is in.  It's done!.

Family Hamburger Steak - Nie`O ROU Biean

We were very lucky when it comes to exposures to various food types in our younger days.  We were exposed to TV dinner, waffle, sausage, apple sauce, chocolate cakes, Hershey chocolate bars, Foremost ice-creams, milk shakes, soft drinks, ketchup, hotdogs, and hamburgers that other kids in the neighborhood have never seen or heard before.  This is one of our favorites that my mother prepared for us.  I always enjoyed it because I can't believe that on one plate, you can have rice, meat, vegetables, and a fruit all together and served with our favorite TONKASTU sauce (*thick Japanese Worcestershire sauce.)
Serves 2
Wash and clean  1/4 head of cabbage - finely julienned.  Set aside
10 oz ground chuck (home grounded)
4 Tb onions fine brunoise
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
Pinch fresh ground black pepper
Cooked rice to serve with
Sliced apple of your choice
Japanese TONKATSU sauce (thick Japanese Worcestershire sauce)

It's important that the cabbage is finely sliced.  My mother can slice them hair thin-threads.   This will effectively taste less 'bitter'.  Mix all the ingredients, except cabbage in a gentle tossing motion until all is mixed well without the fat to get gelatinized/integrated with meat.  Pan fry the hamburger.
 Serve with rice, cabbage, and apple slice.  Topped with TONKATSU sauce.

Lion Head - Pork Meatballs Stew

It's getting a bit challenging trying to translate or interpret some of our family's favorite dishes.  The LION HEAD is a description of well seared large pork meatballs, then simmered with Chinese Nappa Cabbage - BAI TSAI, dried SHIITAKE - DONG GU, Firm TOFU, Bean thread,... It's our father's favorite dish.
My mother makes it the best.  And here is mine. 
I made enough to serve 4.
1 Quart Chicken Stock - home made & pre-frozen
2 C to 4 C water - (2 Cups come from the hydrated dried mushroom below)
3 hydrated SHIITAKE - dried Chinese mushrooms - Microwave it with enough water to cover the mushrooms (leave a small plate on top to keep the mushroom in the liquid.)  Place the bowl over a microwave tray to catch spilling liquid.  Bring the water to boil. Remove from microwave and set aside to hydrate in liquid.  *transfer liquid to the pot when ready to add mushroom into the stew
1-1/4 lb of ground Pork - fatty pork is preferred, but mine is 95% lean.
130 grams - 1 small can - water Chestnut (discard liquid and washed & rinsed well) - chopped
3 grams of minced fresh Ginger (Tip:  cut and prepare fresh ginger into various size and Freeze them in plastic bag.  Use the ones you want.)
1 Large egg
32 grams of chopped green onions - about 3 slender American green onions - Stir Fried in teaspoon of Olive Oil till browned.
Salt to taste - at least 1 to 2 tsp will be used in meat - Tip:  season the liquid as you go.
White ground pepper.
(Click on any of the pictures to view in larger size.)
 Water chestnuts are my father's idea.  He told me that since our ground pork is so lean, add chopped water chestnuts to give the nice fluffiness and at the same time it gives the enjoyable crispness.   Normally you would put the fresh chopped green onions, but I wanted to try with pre-stir fried green onions.
 Mix well by tossing motion.  Do no stir crazy in circling motion with the chop sticks or spoon.  That will make the meatball 'tough', unless your intention is to make the meatballs with gelatinized texture.
 Instead of pan frying the meatballs because I do not have the normal rounded end cone shaped Chinese iron WOK like my mothers, which will keep the rounded shape of the meat as they fry, I decided to test my new tool - meatball baker pan (I got it from the AVON catalog.) 
 If the pork is really fatty, this would really helped in getting rid of the extra fat.  But on the other hand, normally when pan fried in the Wok, some of the fats are left in the Wok to complete the stew, and it gives a lots of flavor.
 Here is the hydrated mushrooms.  I only used three.  Cut them into quarters.  Add to the stew.  Wash and rinse the Chinese Nappa Cabbage well.  Cut the broad leaf into halves - lengthwise.  Then cut into 2 to 3-inch chunks side ways.  Add Nappa Cabbage into stew. 
Open up your Firm or extra Firm TOFU package.  Drain the liquid.  Set the TOFU on a plate with rim or bowl and place a plate on it to extract some more water.  Drain.  Repeat 2 times.
Cut into nice large chunks.... like 1-1/2 inch size.
Add salt and white ground pepper to the soup, as needed.
** Be aware of the "fake" Bean thread vermicelli.  This one I have turned out to be it!  I forgot that the good bean thread vermicelli in this brand is always "individually" wrapped and tied close in red and white ribbon.  This one is in one whole plastic bag.  Also, the good bean thread vermicelli's brand has blue coloring on the plastic wrap at one end.   I totally forgot to be careful when I purchased it.   The whole thing turned into glue like when added to the stew. 

To hydrate bean thread, add the bean thread vermicelli into a bowl of hot boiling water.  In this one, I just took out the mushrooms and quartered it and added to the stew.  Then, I reboiled the liquid in the microwave and added the bean thread vermicelli.  When soft, use scissors and cut the both ends of the vermicelli, so it will not be toooooo loooong.
 Add the bean thread vermicelli at the end  - like three minutes before serving.  Otherwise, you will not find them - all dissolved into the soup.

Serve with soy sauce as dipping sauce.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

TSAO NIEaN GAO - Stir Fried Rice Cake

TSAO NIEaN GAO is one of our family's favorites - and especially my father's 'snack' food.  The ingredients are package of dry Glutinous Rice "medallion" cake (usually found in the cold food section together with TOFU or Noodles in the Asian food market.  "NIEaN GAO" itself means YEAR Cake, savory flavor.  And we eat them anytime throughout the year.

1 package Rice Cake - I find the Korean type Rice Cake very good.
1/2 Cup Celery stalks - chopped
1/4 Cup Green onions - chopped
Nappa Cabbage - sliced lengthwise, then, cut into 3" strips
1 package Bean Sprouts or 5 Cups
1/4 Cup Ground pork
Cooking oil - 4 Tb
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
white ground pepper
 Wash the bean sprouts in a large bowl thoroughly to get rid of "these unknown acidic odor" - they are disgusting.  I don't know how they grow bean sprouts now a-days, but after washing them with a tablespoon of salt.  Rinse them and let them soak in clean water for about 10 minutes.  Then, strain them well.  Set Aside till needed.
  In a pot of hot boiling water, cook the Rice cake medallion until soft.
 As they started to cook, the rice medallion will start to rise to the top and water will come to boil.  Cook for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Leave them sitting in the strainer in the water to keep from stuck to each other into one big glue.
 Quickly stir fry the ground pork in a Tablespoon of oil.  (Make sure the wok - Teflon coated or stainless steel or iron wok -  is quite HOT before adding the oil; and add the pork after the oil is glistening.) Stir fry the pork quickly and set aside quickly.  Some pink at this point is okay.
 Add green onions first and stir fry and bring the flavor out.  Add celery - stir fry 30 seconds.  Add Nappa cabbage and stir fry them well for 2 minutes.  Then add bean sprouts.  Stir fry for another minute. Add cooked pork meat and mix well.   Remove from heat, but reserve any liquid behind in the wok.  Set the vegetable mixture aside.
 Add 2 Tablespoon of cooking oil to the liquid.
Add 1 tsp of soy sauce first, sugar, salt, and white ground pepper.  Taste test.  Add more soy sauce if needed or salt or sugar to balance the taste.
 Strain the cooked Rice cake and add to the Wok.  Add some water if needed.  I added 1/4 cup water.  I need to infuse the flavor into the rice cake at this time.  Cook down the liquid. Stirring occasionally to unstick some of the rice cakes that are stuck to each other..
 Medium high heat - Cook down the liquid.  And allow to caramelize the sauce onto the rice cake.  Medium heat - Do not stir the rice cake any more, but occasionally lift some to check if browning is happening.
If you have a Teflon coated Wok, be mindful of the temperature.  Preferred cooking ware for Chinese cooking is the old fashion iron Wok, but if you have a Teflon coated wok, watch the temperature carefully, do not leave on high or medium high heat too long.
 Add the vegetable mixture back and incorporate with the rice cake medallions.   Taste and add any seasoning, if needed.
  This one looks better?
 or this one looks better?  ... naaaa... it's the same! 
Enjoy!  and an hour later, my father would say, "it's time to eat FUN (rice)".  Meaning it's time for dinner.  Don't let Mom hear that.   Just go cook rice..... :-)

Chinese New Year Cake

Chinese New Year Cake came quickly and brought many happy thoughts.  It brought quite a few fond memories in our life as family having lived in different countries.  Chinese New Year Cake is one of the favorite items that my mother has been preparing for us since we left South Viet-Nam.  Back then, we just go out and select and buy the ones we like best from the local street merchants and markets.  Sometimes, we thought, "it's too much."  But when we heard that she wasn't making it this year -- we Panicked!!  So, I stepped in and made some.

Ingredients to the first group of Chinese New Year Cakes were made from:
6 Cups of Glutinous Rice powder --- One and half packages of "Glutinous Rice" Powder - It's normally packaged in "Green" writing.  The package with the red writing is "Rice Powder".  (By the way, the Rice Powder is great to use on the baking peel to transfer bread into baking stone.)
2 Cups of brown sugar - Whole package of Asian Brown Sugar (in the picture below.)
Sweet Jujube (pictured below -- worded "honeyed Date" << date is the straight translation
And 2 Cups boiling wate
Greased parchment paper.
Large top pot large enough to hold one Large bamboo steamer.
Or use Stainless steamer.
Bamboo steamer is really a preferred steamer.  The bamboo steamer allows the steam to escape upward evenly and steams the product without causing the steam droplets to accumulate on the food to make them 'watery'.

If you are using the parchment paper to line the cake mold, please remember to grease them with vegalene spray or vegetable oil.  I did not think about this until after completing the cake.  While the normal recipe calls to use the plastic wrap, please don't.  Unless you are using a heavy duty Food Grade certified non-leaching plastic wrap and PVC free, etc, please use something else.   Oiled/greased baking pan would have worked as well to slide out the steamed sticky cake.  Here, I used the parchment paper, but please don't forget to grease it with vegetable cooking oil.
Prepare 3 removable bottom 4" cake molds lined with greased parchment paper.
You see four cake molds below, but one of them is aluminum pie tin.  To make a nice 2 to 2-1/4" height cake, you only can fill three molds with this recipe.  Otherwise, you can make one gigantic round cake - 12-inch cake mold - the size of your bamboo steamer.
 Boil water and remove from heat and dissolve the brown sugar in it.  Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes - depending on your kitchen temperature.  Because you will be mixing it into the glutinous rice powder, and you do not want to burn your hand while mixing it.  But the sugar water should be hot enough to dissolve the glutinous rice powder and for your hand to handle, but not cold.
 Bring the steam's water to full boil.
 Mix the glutinous rice powder with your brown sugar water.
Mix well to form into good smooth paste.
 Sweet Jujubes - about a cup or so - enough to make the decoration on the top.

 6 Cups of Glutinous Rice is enough to make 3 rounds of 4" Cake mold size and one pie tin mold.   or 3 full 4" cake mold.    These cake mold's bottoms are removable.  It will be easier to push the cake out when done.

 Steam for 2 hours over high heat.
And warning!! have at least 4 cups of HOT  water ready at 1 hour of steaming and check the boiling water level of the pot.   Replenish the pot with HOT boiling water!!

New Year Cake type #2
 While the first group of the New Year Cakes were being steam, I started to work on the variation type #2 that I concocted - using Microwave.
Ingredients are 1 package and Half of the "Glutinous Rice"; 1 Cup Dark brown sugar + 1 Cup regular sugar.
And add it to 2 Cups hot boiling water.
 Bring the water into boil - turn off the heat and add sugar to dissolve.
 Let the boiling water to cool off for 5 minutes.  Add to "Glutinous Rice Powder" in a large mixing bowl.  Mix well to form paste.
 Place in a microwaveable bowl.  Put all the goodies you want.
I put sweet Jujube, chopped - pressed down and covered with the mixed glutinous rice, then, topped with Jujube sliced lengthwise.  The other half is filled with sweetened Taro root paste.  (from my other blog:
Taro root filling:
300 g  Pre-peeled Large Taro, cut into small chunks and cooked (microwaved), and mashed
2 Tbsp Milk
1/2 C sugar

Microwave the Taro root chunks on a plate with 1 Tbsp of water and covered with microwave plastic cover shield.  Use "potato" setting to cook till tender.  Stir from time to time to make sure that they are cooked evenly and not overcooked to become 'petrified'.
Remove from the microwave and let it steam for few minutes without uncovering.
Add all ingredients in the food processor.  Process until it becomes paste like consistency.

Press the Taro paste down and cover also with the rice mixture.

Place the bowl on the microwaveable tray filled with 1/4 cup of water and cover with microwaveable lid.  The microwaveable tray also helps in safely removing the hot bowl from the microwave.  Especially the "glass" bowl like the ones that I am using.
Please be careful when using the glass bowl that will be cooking to high temp.  If it's surface touches the "cold" anything, it will crack. 
 Let's see how it goes!

 Seems to be forming....
 Seems to be gelatinizing...
 Seems to  be cooking...
 Ah!, the other cakes are done!  
 Well, the Microwaved cake looks very wrinkly - not enough steam to cook it through (translucent) and raise it.
 All right, back to the drawing board.
To save the microwave flopped cake, I transferred the cake onto a large ceramic plate (heat resistant) or I guess you could place it on top of a cheese cloth that is oiled.  I know that in the recipe book, it says to use the plastic wrap, but I don't think those plastic wraps are PVC safe or meant to be cooked in high heat like 'steaming'.  So, if you are using the plastic to cook -- just because your mother has been using it and others... please make sure it is food grade and health safe.
Then, placed in a larger size stainless steel  steamer to accommodate the plate size that the cake is placed on.    Steam cook until the cake is transluscent - about an hour.

And warning!! have at least 4 cups of HOT  water ready at 1 hour of steaming and check the boiling water level of the pot.   Replenish the pot with HOT boiling water!!

Voila!  the cake is SAVED!
 Use knife to slide around the edge to release the side of the cake from the steamer - Do this while the cake is still piping hot.   Let it cool for about 5 minutes.  Then, take it out to cool completely before eating. 

 Yeah, right.... cool completely - it will take another 2 hours before it cools off completely - can't wait.  While it is still warm, I sliced piece of this.  I know how the Jujube side taste because that's my favorite side.  I sliced the Taro root filled side of the cake.
Bomb!  I love it !!! It taste soooo goooey and delicious  !!   And, yes, I went and delivered them to my mother and families.