Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Beer-Battered Adobo-Fried Chicken

This is easier than you think. Trust me.
I chose a Filipino/Pinoy twist on this flavor profile because - and I cannot stress this enough - I wanted to. You're going to eat this so you make sure that it's something you want to eat. I love the sour-salty-kinda-sweet of adobo, so I thought it'd go perfect for the fatty fried chicken. You always need a little sourness to cut the richness to make a complete dish.

Sidebar: Filipino cuisine is highly individualistic, so when I tell you that there is no real recipe for Chicken Adobo, even though it is considered to be one of the most popular dishes in the Philippines, please know that nobody can agree exactly how to make it. The only thing everyone agrees must be there is vinegar, and that the dish must be stewed in the vinegar. Almost every incarnation I've seen of it has garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves, but that's about it for similarities. Filipinos, like Americans, have a great deal of difficulty agreeing on a lot of things.

When I say Adobo-style, I mean the chicken is marinated in mostly the same flavors that I personally use for my adobo, and then will be deep-fried for chicken. I absolutely adore the adobo flavor profile, and I hope that you will, too! It reminds me of my mom and how she would cook but gives me the wonderful crunch of fried chicken that I also love. I have, however, changed up a few things to make it work for this recipe!

Adobo-style Fried Chicken
  • 1 lb chicken thighs
  • 1/4 c white vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1 Tbsp each white and Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
  • Two fat pinches of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c water
  • Thyme, dill, and oregano from the garden, all chopped up fine
    • I wouldn't normally put this in adobo; I just have a huge surplus and I really need to start using it up. Plus, I'm growing it - I may as well use it!
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Chili powder
  • A bottle of beer
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c semolina or cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Enough oil for deep-frying
This is a recipe that must be started the day before you do your chicken. Smash the garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle, along with the peppercorns. Scoop all of this delicious goodness into a bowl and mix with the vinegar, honey, and water. Add your thighs and let sit in the fridge, covered, overnight. In the morning, you'll drain the chicken and pat them dry. Next, you're going to steam your chicken!

A good rice cooker will get you far in life! It's NOT a uni-tasker!
When steaming the chicken, you can use a pot of water and a steamer basket or a rice cooker with a steaming feature. No matter what you use, make sure you add in the lemon, sliced, as well as the bay leaves to the water. Always add flavor when you have the opportunity to do so! You'll want to steam these for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces and if they are bone-in or not. I love bone-in chicken, but it can be sometimes hard for the novice cook to ensure things get fully cooked-through when you're dealing with bones. Steaming the chicken first will also give you some of the crispiest skin you'll ever hope to achieve!

Make sure you set your timer accordingly! These are boneless skinless thighs, so I'll only need 20-25 minutes. 

When your chicken is done steaming, transfer to a sheet pan or plate and let them cool in the fridge until you're ready to deep fry. If you like spice, sprinkle some chili powder or chili flakes right on top to let them sit until you're ready to fry! Let me also note that you can, if you like, sous vide the chicken if you have that piece of machinery at your disposal. I prefer steaming because I think it gives the chicken skin a better texture than the sous vide method does. Not only, but most folks can steam something more easily than they can get their hands on a sous vide machine! Please know that there are a lot of safety rules when it comes to using hot fat. Grease fires are a threat, but you should know that if you take the proper precautions.

Precautions to Consider
  1. You must not overfill your pot with fat. Remember that your oil will rise in size, so I usually fill my pot about halfway full from the top since I don't have a deep-fryer at home.
  2. Monitor your temperature with a thermometer. Invest in a candy thermometer! I love the glass kind that hooks on to the side of your pot that you can easily wash. 
  3. Oil + Water = BAD. Liquid from the batter or oil is okay in small doses, but please don't dump any liquid directly into your hot fryer.
  4. Don't overfill your hot oil with your food! When you introduce a new item into your hot fat, you'll lower the temperature. When you lower the temperature, you'll risk oil seeping in and making your stuff really greasy and gross. Be patient and fry in batches!
  5. Keep your chicken warm in the oven by holding it at 200 degrees F, since you'll likely only be frying a couple of pieces at a time.
  6. In case of fire turn off the heat immediately and cover your pot with a lid. Do not attempt to throw water on your fire. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby if you're really nervous. 
Keep all these things in mind and you are ready to deep-fry, safely, and with confidence! Are you excited? You should be. Once you get a proper handle on deep-frying, you open yourself up to the possibility of things like churros or doughnuts! 

We are making a battered chicken today, but I usually do a three-station dredge when making fried chicken at home. Don't ask me why I felt like doing a beer batter tonight; I just did. To make a proper deep-fry, you have to make a proper frying prep station. They'll usually consist of your classic:
  1. Flour
    1. Dredge your chicken in flour!
  2. Egg wash
    1. Mix some eggs with a little water, and dip your floured chicken in there to 
  3. Flour/breadcrumb/spice mix/whatever-you-have
    1. Give your stuff a final delicious roll in all of this goodness and set aside on another plate!

There are a lot of ways to do this last station of your chicken coating, and all of them can be highly preferential. Some like bread crumbs, some like batter, and some like just plain flour. All of these methods are absolutely correct, in my humble opinion, because there's no real way to do fried chicken that isn't totally delicious! Usually, if I'm feeling a little lazy, I'll simply take my flour into a paper sack along with my spices and shake my chicken pieces around inside and then set them on a sheet tray, spread out, so it can come up to room temperature. The trick: let your flour "sit" on your chicken for about 30 minutes to get a crispy skin!

Sidenote: I think it's only fair to note that I personally don't often like to do a lot of batters at home. I do love a tempura batter because it's light and airy, but the main reason I don't like doing a batter is that it can get messy, fast! That being said, it takes up far less space and dirties fewer dishes. If you have a smaller kitchen as I do, I think you'll appreciate that. When deciding which one you want to do for your own fried chicken, know that the main difference is that if you do a breading station, you'll let your chicken sit on a plate or a sheet pan until it's ready to deep fry. If you do a battering station, you'll need to take your items straight from the batter into the fryer.

No matter which way you like to do it, know that your chicken is already cooked, so you'll only need to worry about frying that delicious stuff until it's totally golden-brown and delicious! If you're curious as to which kind of oil might be best for you to deep-fry your items in, Taste of Home did a comprehensive list here. I keep canola oil in my house for everyday use, so that's what I use. 

When Ready to Cook, combine your flour, semolina, baking powder, and beer in a medium mixing bowl and whisk until just combined. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes while you prepare your oil. You're going to want to deep-fry this around 350-375 degrees F, so set up your pot with enough oil to have the pieces fully submerged. Turn your oven on to 200 degrees and set up a sheet pan on the middle rack with a cooling/draining rack so your cooked food won't be sitting in a puddle of its own fat. Make sure you have a spider or a pair of tongs handy.

Give these puppies a quick dusting of cornstarch before dipping in your batter to make sure it sticks!
To prepare your chicken for the batter, simply toss your chicken pieces in cornstarch before dipping! Why? It'll help it stick, of course! I usually use beer for my battering, if I do it at home, but you can use a mixture of soda water and vodka, too! I love to use alcohol in my batters because they evaporate more quickly and at a lower temperature, and that you won't get as much gluten in your batter as a result!

It should all float!


Dip your chicken in the batter and make sure it's coated thoroughly. Give the piece a little shake to make sure that you don't have excess batter and gently lay your chicken in the hot fat, carefully. Let it simmer in that hot fat, monitoring the temperature. If the oil's temperature doesn't go down significantly in that first dredge, you can add another piece...but only if you have room to let both pieces float freely. I do two pieces at a time and monitor my temperature carefully to make sure that everything is cooked properly. It should only take 1-2 minutes on each side to get a perfect golden-brown. When you've reached a browning that you like, remove your chicken from the oil and pop into your oven to keep it warm.

Deep-fry in batches until all of your chicken is finished. Turn off your oil and set somewhere to cool, but - for the love of all that is holy - do not throw your hot oil, or any oil, down the sink. To dispose of it, it must first be at room temperature or cool. You can find a local restaurant that has a deep fat disposal dumpster behind the facility, or you can strain it into an old plastic bottle and dispose of it in the trash if you're desperate. You shouldn't have a large amount of batter left, but you can feel okay throwing it away when it's done, as it's not the best thing to reuse at this point. Clean up around your counter and wash your hands thoroughly. Make sure you get everything in the sink before serving your meal; you have time.

These are Lion's mane mushrooms, beer-battered and deep-fried! They look like nuggets, don't they?

Serve this with mashed potatoes and gravy, with macaroni and cheese, or with a nice side salad. You can also use this same batter to deep-fry some local mushrooms before you do your chicken. Enjoy the zing of the chicken with the fatty deliciousness of the deep-frying method! You've done wonderfully and I'm so proud of you.

Thanks so much for coming along with me on this recipe for fried chicken. I hope you all enjoyed it! I hope you're staying at home, staying safe, and practicing social distancing while wearing a mask while you're outside. Remember, it costs nothing to be kind to your neighbor, and being kind - right now - is wearing a mask while you go outside. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Yum.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Southern-Style Biscuits

Forgive the quality of my counters; I've beaten the bejeezus out of them over the years.
I  mean "American Southern" when I say "Southern-Style Biscuits." I know the American South has come up quite a bit in the news lately with all of the "controversy" about the Confederate flag, and a lot of folks are preaching "Heritage not hate" as if a five-year-long existence of a poor try for a country is somehow as deep and culturally significant as a place like Ireland or France or Russia or some other European country that these folks have taken lineage from. I do love American Southern food, however, so let me just summarize:

Biscuits, Cornbread, Catfish, and Fried Chicken = GOOD. 
Racism, Historical Erasure, and White Supremacy = BAD.

We love our food here in America, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with keeping that delicious food while chucking some not-so-nice things out the door! In America, what we call a biscuit is what folks in (as far as I can tell) every other part of the world would call a scone. It's a fluffy, flaky delight that we here in the states serve plain, with honey butter, with jam, or smothered with gravy. It's an American regional staple that was once considered a delicacy, but I'll save that story for after you've read the recipe.

Southern-Style Biscuits
yields 9 - 12, depending on size

  • 12 oz all-purpose flour 
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • A fat pinch of salt
  • 1 oz sugar 
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 oz butter, shortening, or vegan butter substitute 
  • Buttermilk or Almond milk with a splash of white vinegar as needed
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Mix your flour, leavening agents, salt, and sugar in a medium-sized bowl, ideally a metal one you've had in the fridge for about 10 minutes before starting this process. Chop the butter into cubes and dump them into the flour. Using your fingertips, not your whole hands, quickly and firmly rub the cubes of fat into the flour mixture. The idea is to break up the butter into small, pea-sized pieces without melting the fat. Reall push and pinch and rub the flour into the fat, as if you're trying to snap your fingers. 

If you want your biscuits to be a little more tender, you can substitute 1 oz of the butter for olive oil instead!

When all of this is ready and well-mixed enough, make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add your two egg yolks. Add in a splash of your chosen milk, say a third of a cup to start with, and use a spatula or a pair of chopsticks to mix them together in the middle until the yolks are all broken up. Stir together, adding more liquid as needed to form a nice dough that's soft and pliable, but doesn't quite stick to your hands.

Mixy mixy!

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and get out your favorite rolling pin. Roll the dough out and fold it in half, dusting flour gently as you go to keep it from sticking. Roll out and repeat folding again until you can visibly see layers, which will take two or three turns. When you think you have enough layers, use a ring cutter or a drinking glass to cut out your biscuits.

I like at least four turns in my biscuits because I like to have a lot of layers.  Make sure to beat the dough down with the rolling pin between each turns to help the glutens relax! 

Tip: Use plenty of flour on your cutter. Do not twist when you cut! Push straight down and pull straight up!

Arrange your biscuits on a lined sheet pan. Biscuits are social creatures, so it's alright if they're touching each other like this! They really like to hold hands, so don't put too much space between them.

Biscuits really like to hold hands!
It's at this point that you may pop them in the fridge or freezer to keep cold if you don't want to eat them right away. I do recommend chilling them for at least 20 minutes before you bake them, but it's not necessary if your butter and milk mixture was quite cold. The real trick to biscuits and scones like this is to keep your ingredients as cold as you can before they go into a hot oven. This way, the fats won't simply melt out, but will rise up quickly and create steam to push your dough as high is it can go, and create those gorgeous layers that we all love to have. Either way, you should bake right when you're ready to eat them, as nothing is quite as good as a fresh-baked warm biscuit. 

While you're deciding on freezing or baking straight from the counter, a brief history of Southern-style biscuits is in order! They were once considered to be a delicacy during Civil War times in the South. They were once so revered, they were reserved only for Sunday suppers when Southern American families would reconvene after church services. If you're even more curious as to the different kinds of biscuits that American Southern families would typically eat, check out what Robby Melvin has to say about them below:




When you are ready, bake your biscuits at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then rotate your pan in the oven, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until they're golden-brown and delicious-looking. As you can imagine, the baking time will be a little longer if you're baking from frozen instead of just cold, but you should rotate them, either way, to ensure even cooking. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before removing and consuming. I like mine with honey butter, but you can use these for any application. Feel free to add things like chopped fresh herbs, shredded cheese, dried fruits, and more to suit your tastes and needs. This recipe is extremely easy to personalize, so I invite you and encourage you to show me what amazing things you can do with a simple base like this to start from. 

Thank you so much for reading and following along with me. It's come to my attention that my reach is quite far on Instagram, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for coming on these food journies of going back to basics with me. I know we're in a tumultuous time where a lot of us are realizing that we need to keep our hands busy to keep from going stir-crazy. I'm here to tell you that mastering the basics of cooking is much simpler than you might think and that the road towards it is paved with mistakes. Learning is meant to be paved with mistakes and pain along the way, but it's all worth it in the end. ...I wonder if we can use that as a metaphor for something?

Be sure to follow me on Instagram if you haven't already done it. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Warm wooden counter or cool granite slab? What do you think?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Strawberry Rose Tartlets

Do you like my tartlet pans? I got them at Sur la Table!
I think I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "Strawberry and roses. Is that going to be okay?" Yes, and here's why:

Strawberries are sour, sweet, and can be incredibly fragrant. Roses are astringent in flavor but incredibly fragrant as well. Both are perennials. Both are edible. Both are growing in my garden. When you balance astringency with sweet and sour flavors the right way, it creates something magical and whole in your mouth. The idea of a tartlet is to have full and complete flavors all in a small package. If you've already gotten a good crop of goodies happening in your own garden, or perhaps have a neighbor with a good garden that is willing to share their harvest of berries with you, I think you should do these berries the proper respect by treating them with love and elevating them to be the best things they can be. Be forewarned, this recipe takes time, but it is absolutely worth it.


Strawberry Rose Tartlets
yields 6

Strawberry Filling

  • Garden fresh strawberries, about a pint and a half
  • 3 large leaves of lemon balm, chiffonade
    • Why grow this stuff? Not only is it delicious, but it keeps mosquitos away!
    • Don't have lemon balm growing? Use basil, oregano, or tarragon instead. Any soft and fragrant herb will do nicely!
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp dried lemon zest or 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • Petals of 2 roses
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 c tapioca flour

Olive Oil Tart Dough

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2.3 oz good olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • Enough vodka to make it all come together, about 4 Tbsp


Start by gathering strawberries and washing them in a large bowl with a solution of water and a little apple cider vinegar. Then hull and cut the strawberries in half before tossing them with the sugar, salt, roses, lemon balm, and lemon peel. Stir very well and cover with either a clean tea towel or plastic clingfilm. Let sit overnight. Yes, overnight. This is crucial because you're going to want to draw out all of that delicious pectin. While you're waiting, you can make the dough, as well.

Not all of the strawberries absolutely have to be perfectly red when a baked product is involved. Pick white ones, too!

Simply combine all of the dough ingredients in a small bowl with a fork or a pair of chopsticks until it becomes one ball of dough. Wrap all that with clingfilm and let it sit overnight as well. The dough will be incredibly crumbly, and that's okay. While we wait, let's talk about the history of strawberries!

Strawberries are native to the Americas. Yes, that's right, these babies are All-American Beauties. They used to be called 'strewn berries' by ye olde English because they grow low to the ground and seem to be 'strewn about'. They're incredible perennial evergreen plants, but I even hesitate to call them evergreen as I've seen their leaves turn a brilliant purplish-red in the winter with my own eyes. So long as you keep them mulched heavily, they'll grow and stay verdant in the depths of winter, but don't think that they're indestructible. They do need some care and fertilizing to make deliciously plump berries each year. Colonists were so fond of them that there are records of them shipping the plants and berries back to Europe as early as the 1600s.

I spoke about strawberries recently in my "Real Girl Guide to Victory Gardens" blog, so I'm sure you all must know that I love the plants a great deal. When growing strawberries, please plan for a sunny patch of garden, and plan for plenty of space over the coming years. Strawberries make their own babies in the summer and fall, so be sure to have lots of room for them unless you plan on putting them in planters and giving them away to friends. Like asparagus, they get bigger each year with the deeper the root system, so do be patient with them. The strawberries you likely get in the grocery store are likely going to be strawberries coming from plants that are not only juiced up with fertilizer but at least a few years old.

Have I lulled you to sleep yet? Are you awake? Is it the next morning? Have you had your coffee? Oh, good.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and use a rolling pin to roll out your tart dough between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Line six small tart pans with your dough and make sure to press into the grooves as much as you can to get that signature tart shape. Pop these puppies back in the fridge until you're ready to fill and bake.

Drain the juice from the strawberries into a small saucepot and bring to a simmer. Let cook for about 3 minutes until slightly syrupy in texture. In the meantime, toss the macerated strawberries with the tapioca flour, and then pour the simmering syrup onto the strawberries, stirring gently. Drain that new mixture into the saucepot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer until thick and delicious, a little less than five minutes. Stir and let cool to room temperature before adding the strawberries back in.

It might get messy, so do yourself a favor and make the cleanup easy for Future You. 

Once the strawberries are folded into your thick and jelly-like syrup, you can line a sheet tray with foil or a Silpat mat to catch any spillage that may occur. Spoon your fruit filling into your chilled tartlet pans and bake at 350 on the bottom rack of the oven for 25 minutes, or until the filling has swollen up from the heat and the tart dough is lightly colored. The filling will recess into its tart shells with time as it cools.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for at least 20 minutes. You may pop them out of the pans afterward, but do not eat them for at least 2 hours so the pectin may set. If you cut into a berry pie or tartlet like this before the pectin sets, it'll never go back to being gel-like and forever be runny.

It's worth the wait. 
This recipe is something I threw together from what was growing in my garden. The best part about that sort of thing is that it was basically free to make, which I'm sure that we can all use. It is my true and sincere hope that after the pandemic is buried in the ground then we'll be able to come out of this traumatic experience with a good garden and a good amount of knowledge on what to do with all the things growing in there. Chefs like me are all struggling to find our purpose nowadays with restaurants being closed and operating at limited capacities. Some chefs are closing their restaurants permanently. Some are switching gears and turning their restaurants into community kitchens because they, too, got bit by the non-profit bug like I did once upon a time. One thing we can all say with certainty is that the world will never be the same, and I for one am not mad about that.

I think that this pandemic has exposed a lot about the curious animal we call American citizens. A lot of us are viewing common courtesies as 'infringements on rights' and today we saw a large amount of police brutality in Minnesota on those protesting the death of George Floyd. Police are tear-gassing the protestors, and just a couple of weeks ago they let a slew of white protestors with AR-15s holding up signs demanding that their restaurants and salons open back up. Can you guess why the former was treated differently than the latter?

I hope I can look back on this moment in history in 10 years' time and know that I live in a better 'today' than I did 'yesterday.' I hope that we can all look back on 2020 and feel a little wiser and a little more self-sufficient. I also hope that you all write things down. Yes, you! You should write down what's going on today in the world and how you feel about it. Someday, a child may read about it in a textbook and have a real person's account of what's gone on in the days during the great COVID 19 pandemic.

I hope you're all doing well and staying safe. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Favorite Kosher Carrot Cake

Have your cake and eat it too!
A lot of you are learning to bake. I've seen and joined groups called "Quarantine Cooking" and am absolutely loving your progress. I think it's a lot of fun to bake and that it's easy to do, and being a person that's classically trained, I suppose that I take quite a bit for granted. So many are intimidated by baking, so I thought it'd be fun to give you my easiest recipe that's also one of my most-delicious.

My favorite thing about cakes at home is that you have absolutely no pressure to make it look perfect. Is it nice to do it for the 'gram? Of course! But don't be brainwashed into thinking that there's only one kind of beautiful cake. You can dive headfirst into that rustic-looking style and use flowers and herbs straight out of your garden to decorate the top of your cake. You'll take the pressure off yourself, and you'll dirty fewer dishes.

Favorite Kosher Carrot Cake
yields 1 full sheet pan, or a 4-layer cake

Cake

  • 240 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 g tapioca flour
  • 275 g granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Chinese long peppercorns ground quite fine (or grate some off with a Microplane)
  • 198 g vegetable oil
  • 113 g/1 stick vegan butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Mexican vanilla
  • 1 1/2 medium carrots, grated finely, roughly 300 g
  • ** You may add a few handfuls of chopped nuts to this cake. I like pecans, but walnuts are great in this cake too!
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 227 g vegan cream cheese
    • I like Daiya's brand the best for this application
  • 113 g/1 stick vegan butter
  • Roughly 2 cups Powdered Sugar
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a half-sheet pan by lining it with either parchment or a Silpat mat. Mix all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl with a whisk. Melt the butter together with the vegetable oil and mix it together with the dry ingredients using a wooden spoon. This method is called reverse creaming, but please don't ask me why. 

This is one of those recipes that you can add different spices to suit your tastes, so please have fun!

Mix together the eggs and vanilla, and add to the flour-fat mixture a third at a time. Make sure this is wholly incorporated before adding in the grated carrots. The finer the grate on the carrots the better, so don't be afraid to use the smaller bits. The carrots in this recipe are what provide moisture, and the fine grate lets you get lots of it released into the cake. When all of this is combined, you can pour the batter into the pan, and spread evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake is done. Remove from the oven and let cool.

While it's baking, let's talk a little about what kosher and pareve are, since I tend to write about it a lot. I'd like to clear up quite a few misconceptions and with the rising amount of antisemitism online I think it's appropriate to be loud and proud about my culture. Why do I feel that way? I feel this way because ignorance leads to fear, and fear leads to hatred. It seems like everyone in America is at least playfully antisemitic nowadays, and I don't entirely think it's their fault. I think there's a lot of media bias and a lot of cultural bias against Jews, not to mention that a lot of folks seem to think that the Jew is some exotic creature instead of just the gal next door. This idea of the 'other' leads down many paths, but most of them are to genocide.

In the holocaust alone, approximately 11 million people were killed for this culture. This is not including the others killed by the Nazis. I read somewhere that if we were to take a moment of silence for every soul lost in the holocaust, we'd be silent for something like 10 years. Living loud and proud about the culture you inherited is going to not just empower you, but give others that share your culture the courage to live loud and proud themselves. Being your wonderful radical self is a defiant act in a society that tells you what to be. Being kosher or having pareve items may sound foreign; so let's just clear up what they are and why I cook that way.

To keep kosher is, in short, to keep to the strict dietary standards set by Jewish Law. Most have heard of "don't mix milk and meat," and that's one. Another is to not eat cloven-hooved animals, such as pigs. I don't always keep kosher, as I do consume pork products on occasion. I do, however, keep dairy and meat separate because both my husband and myself are lactose intolerant. Actually, he's severely lactose intolerant, whereas I just get really gassy if I have ice cream. 

When possible, and at home, I do try to keep kosher and tell myself that if G-d wanted me to keep kosher my entire life He'd have made a whole Jew instead of half-and-half. Yes, yes, I know there are going to be a lot of more orthodox Jews on here telling me that there's "no such thing as half a Jew." Genetically, there is where religiously there is not. The other half of me is a full-blooded native Filipino, and they are pork-heavy people. To balance the love of all of my cultures, I tend to not buy pork to cook in my home, and instead only eat it when I'm out. If I did have dairy in my home, I'd have to have separate plates, cookware, tools, and silverware for when I wanted to have dairy-based meals or meat-based meals. 

Pareve (or parve) is a food that is neither meat or dairy. These things are pasta, rice, eggs, vegetables, etc. When you have a pareve cookie or pareve cake, that means that this cookie or cake has no dairy nor meat in it. Do I still have eggs in it?  Yes, so it is therefore not vegan. One might look at pareve or kosher baking as the stepping stone towards vegan baking. All of the baking I do at home is pareve. I can remain pareve thanks to the many wonderful vegan products out there that replicate milk, butter, and cheese in a baking scenario. It is because of these products, I can quite literally have my cake and eat it too. 

Now, should you be eating pareve desserts? If you're even mildly lactose intolerant, I'd seriously suggest it. I don't know how much healthier it is for you than the dairy-laden alternative, but I can tell you that at least some calories are cut with non-dairy items, and there are certainly less saturated fats. I personally know I've felt much better now that I cut dairy almost entirely out of my diet. If you're baking at home more, that means you're likely eating more goodies at home. So why not eat some nice goodies by cutting back here and there, and inserting gorgeous vegetables...like carrots?

When your cake is cool, you may work on the frosting. Simply whip your butter using the paddle attachment on your standing mixer until it's quite soft, and then add the cream cheese, whipping slowly until wholly incorporated. Whip on medium-high to get some loft before adding the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Mix slowly to start, and then mix on higher and higher speeds. The trick is to get it to be your desired consistency without it being too terribly sweet. I like it a little thinner, as it's better to spread on this cake. 

I wish more folks would bake cakes in a sheet cake form. It's so much easier to layer!
My trick for getting layers on a sheet cake is thus: 

First, turn your cake out of the pan and then trim all the crunchy edges off. Measure with a ruler the length and width of your cake. My width ended up being 28 cm, so I knew to cut that in half to 14 cm. The length of the cake was 40 cm, so of course, I would cut it in half at 20. Next, frost your cake evenly with your smooth and delicious icing. Cut your cake into your 4 equal pieces, and layer each piece atop one another. Et voila! Now you have a four-layer carrot cake, with not too much frosting on it. 

See? There it is, just stacked atop one another! EASY!
You can garnish with carrot chips or candied nuts, if you like, or just have it plain like this. This cake is sweet enough to stand on its own merit, in my opinion, so I don't like to let it get too frilly and fussy. I think a good portion of what we like to see, especially on Instagram, is a cake that's too pretty to eat. Cake, however, is meant to be eaten, and with so many of you all learning to bake at home, I think it's more than fine to love the things that are delicious and without frills. 

Good luck everyone! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hickory Nut Cake


Memorial Day is upon us, so I thought it would be fun to dive right in to some American culinary history, featuring one of our many indigenous trees that just happen to produce some delicious nuts. The Americas are home to many different kinds of trees, and the nuts of said trees can be foraged at no cost to you, other than a simple "please" to the owner of the land that you're on. I've got a neighbor that has a hickory tree and an oak tree, so they let me gather nuts and acorns as I please. In return, I like to bake them some cookies every so often, or - if you like - a delicious cake, such as this one. Remember, a neighborhood full of victory gardens is made even better when you share your bounty; so be good and share and share alike!


Hickory Nut Cake
Recipe adapted to be dairy-free from American Cake by Anne Byrd
  • 11 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz tapioca starch
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 8 oz vegan butter
    • I like Earth Balance, but you can - of course - use dairy butter if that's what you have
  • 14 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 c almond milk
  • 1 tsp good vanilla extract
    • I like this Mexican vanilla from Global Goods Inc. Use code "LFVanilla" to get 30% off!
  • 1 c hickory nuts, chopped
    • If you can't find any, you can use walnuts instead!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take a 10" tube pan and butter and flour it liberally. Don't skip this step, and don't be skimpy on the flouring of this tin. The cake batter will rise and will need something to cling to!

Sift together all of your dry ingredients and set aside in a bowl. Separate your eggs, and set those aside. Combine your milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into a container and set aside. Grab yourself a large bowl and a long spatula, and set that aside as well. 

Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer on medium for 2 minutes and then on high for another 2 minutes. Lower the speed to medium-high and add your sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time, until all but 2 oz of it are left in your container. Let that mix until sugar is completely incorporated, and add in your egg yolks, one at a time. Scrape all of that goodness into your large bowl and give your mixing bowl a quick wash with soap and water. 

Using your spatula, stir in your flour mixture, alternating with your milk mixture, until everything is just incorporated. Go slow, as you're stirring by hand, and you don't want to overwork it. Take the remaining sugar and your 4 egg whites into your now clean mixing bowl and whip it with a whisk attachment on high until stiff and glossy peaks form and the mixture has tripled in volume. Fold in your egg whites gently in thirds. Fold in your chopped nuts as gently as you can, as you don't want to knock out all that lovely air.

Pour your batter into your prepared mold and smooth the surface. Bake at 350 for 55 - 60 minutes, never opening the oven until the 45-minute mark hits. Then, you may open your oven and rotate your pan once, and let finish cooking. Err on going towards the 60-minute mark, as this cake can be a little doughy if not cooked well enough. You want your cake to be a nice golden-brown, and to have a lovely crack going down the middle of the cake. While we're waiting for the cake to bake, let's learn a little bit about the hickory nut and the history of this cake! 

Hickory nuts come from - you guessed it - hickory trees. We here in the midwest are more than familiar with hickory wood, as it's incredibly popular to use for BBQ smoking. Hickory also makes beautiful furniture. Their nuts are a little bit of a pain to harvest, and the nutmeats are small, but they're quite buttery and delicious. They grow quite fervently here in America, so you'll likely not have a problem finding a neighbor that'll be happy to get them off their lawn. If you don't have a hickory tree, nor a neighbor with a hickory tree, I highly recommend heading over to Burnt Ridge Nursery, an awesome small business, that has hickory nuts in stock!

The hickory nut cake was specifically a favorite of President James Polk. Although the civil war began years after his presidency, this cake was still popular during that time, where not every township had a proper general store that was able to get regular shipments of walnuts or pecans during the war, and most folks wouldn't mind sending their youngins out to the field to gather nuts and acorns for supper. Through necessity comes ingenuity, and the classic tube cake shape was a great way to ensure a cake was going to rise instead of falling flat in a simple circular cake pan. The civil war is timely now not just because we're in a pandemic and every day feels like an episode of Little House on the Prairie, but because Memorial Day is coming up next weekend and that holiday was established to honor the fallen of the Civil War. You can find all sorts of fun tidbits of information on Memorial Day here. Is it a bit of a reach, just to justify making a cake? Sure; but who cares? You learn something and you get to eat some delicious cake. It's a win-win.

If you are curious, or if you still have a few minutes before your cake is done, check out this fellow here, teaching you all about hickory nuts and what to do with them.



Is your cake done yet?

Remove from the oven and let cool on the rack, right-side-up, for 20 minutes. After that timer's gone off, turn your cake tin upside-down and let cool entirely. Most tube pans have feet that will help give air between the surface of the cake and your counter, but if yours doesn't, you may balance it on a bottle to let it be suspended instead. To serve, run a knife or spatula around the edge of the cake tin. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve!

So light.
This cake is just fine on its own and has absolutely no need for extra glazing or frosting. Have it with a cup of coffee or some green tea. It's light as a cloud, thanks to the tapioca starch, and I know you'll have a great time baking this cake. It makes quite a bit, so feel free to take a slice with you to the grave of a fallen soldier, light a candle, and offer it to them. Remember, Veteran's Day is for those that are here with us that have served, and Memorial Day is for those that have fallen.

I hope you're all keeping your spirits up! If you make this cake, leave a comment below, and feel free to share this recipe around with your friends and family. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Siopao Asado

Kumain ka po na?
Hello, all! These gorgeous siopaos lit up my Instagram the other day, and a few of my friends have asked me for my method on how to make them. I want to jump right into the recipe, but first I'd like to give a quick note on Filipino Siopao versus Cantonese Char Siu Bao:

Char siu bao and siopao are quite similar because siopao is the indigenized version of this Cantonese classic. The Philippines were a mecca of trans-oceanic cultures coming together, so it's certainly no surprise that dishes are shared between them. Most Filipinos love siopao, and why shouldn't they? They're a hot pocket full of delicious meat with a dough that doesn't flake. It's soft, squishy, keeps hot for a long time, and oh-so-pretty. I learned how to make Charsiu Bao in culinary school, and have since made my own version of siopao. I like the Chinese-style bun dough better than the one you might find in a siopao recipe online, just because the end texture feels a little nicer, in my humble opinion.

Chinese-style Asado
yields a good portion of meat for dinner, and plenty for your siopao
  • 2 lb pork butt
    • You can make this with chicken as well!
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 oz honey
  • 2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1/4 c dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 c tuba vinegar
  • 1/2 c banana ketchup
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 c stock
    • Veggie, pork, chicken, or whatever you have!
  • 1 c water

Bun Dough
yields enough for 6 large buns/bao
  • 224 g all-purpose flour
  • 4 g yeast
  • 135 g warm water, 
  • 100 g sugar
  • 15 g lard or shortening
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder mixed with 1 tsp water

Siopao Filling
  • 3/4 c Asado, shredded
  • Sesame or peanut oil to coat the pan
  • 2 oz carrot, brunoise
    • The tiniest dice you can manage
  • 1 scallion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c stock
    • Chicken, beef, or vegetable!
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp banana ketchup

Take the protein of your choice and cut it into large cubes, about 2" pieces. In a large bowl, whisk together the banana ketchup, cracked peppercorns, spice powder, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and honey. Toss the meat pieces in the mixture and cover; marinate for 2 hours or overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Use a large, cast-iron pot and add just enough canola oil to coat, and heat on a medium-high flame. When the oil is nice and hot, add in your marinated meat pieces and sear for 2 minutes. Add your water and stock to the bowl with the marinade, give it a stir, and dump in that gorgeous liquid to your pot. Add in the carrot, celery, and bell pepper along with the garlic. Bring to a boil and pop in the oven for 3 hours. 

When it comes out of the oven, a fair portion of the liquid will have cooked off. You can now remove the meat from the juices and turn the pot on to a low flame. Fish out the aromatic veggies from the broth and discard. On your cutting board, shred the meat with a pair of chopsticks or some forks. Add the meat back into the pot and simmer down until saucy and delicious. As I'm sure you can tell, this will be more than enough to make buns aplenty, but I assure you that this Asado is good enough to eat on its own as a wonderful entree! I suggest having it with some coconut rice or in some tortillas with lime juice. This is a savory delight, so please have something deliciously tangy with it, such as pickled vegetables. 

To make the siopao filling, take the Asado that's now cooled from last night and sautee it with a little oil, the carrot, and scallion. Add the flour, and cook for one minute to get rid of that raw flour taste. Add the remaining ingredients and cook down until it has a thick consistency that is still saucy. Remove from the pan and let cool to at least room temperature.

To make the bun dough, simply combine the yeast, half the sugar, flour, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer and stir until combined. Let sit for 10 minutes before adding the remaining sugar and lard and turning the machine on to mix for another 10 minutes. Turn out into a lightly oiled container and allow to proof for 1 1/2 hours or until the mixture has doubled in size. When it has, turn it out onto a floured surface and punch it out and roll it out until it's about an inch in thickness. Spread the mixture of the baking powder and water over, and fold the dough over to encapsulate it. Roll out, then fold again, and knead by hand until it's quite satiny in feeling. This shouldn't take more than ten or eleven turns. Pop it back into your oiled container and let it sit for another 30-40 minutes.

Take your dough and roll it into a log. Cut it in half, and then cut each half into thirds, leaving you with six lumps of dough to make your bao. Cover the lumps with a clean tea towel and work each lump of dough with a rolling pin, one at a time. I could tell you how to roll yours, but I am frankly so bad at it that I think it's best if I leave you with a video on how this awesome person does theirs.





I always try to pleat mine, but sometimes my pleats don't work out, or I accidentally roll out my dough too thin on the bottom. That's okay! Just flip the bao over and steam them upside-down. No matter how you fill and seal your siopao, it's okay - it's going to taste good, so don't put too much pressure on yourself if you mess up one or two. Either way, fill and fold all six of your buns with that delicious filling you've made, and let them rest on the counter while you get your steamer ready, about 20 minutes.

My steamer is a little worse for wear since I've had it for 10+ years!

A note on steamers: If you have a metal steamer, they will do just fine in the dishwasher. If you have a bamboo steamer, like me, you should never ever put them in the dishwasher. Wash them by hand with soap and hot water, and then treat with a little oil each time you use them. Respect and care for your tools and they will repay you tenfold. Please keep in mind that a wok is usually what's used to make a steamer work, so make sure you have one of those as well. I think a good steamer is an essential thing in a person's kitchen, so you might want to make an investment in your future healthier self and get one. You can buy them online, of course, but it's probably safer and cheaper to just head on over to the local Asian store in your town and pick one up. I assure you they've been wearing masks and gloves since far before this Covid19 nonsense all happened, and I personally feel better shopping there versus the American grocery stores near me, but that's another blog post.

I steam mine with a bamboo steamer that I purchased at the local Asian grocery store. Always make sure that you oil your steamers with canola or sesame oil before you begin, and line your baskets with either paper or cabbage leaves. My cabbage isn't big enough, yet, but I have a lot of spinach in my victory garden, so I used that. (What's a victory garden? Find out here!)

Steam your siopao in the wok steamer for 8-10 minutes, and for the love of all that is holy: do not open the lid for anything. You're going to want a nice, steady simmer to keep that steam going. As long as the water level is good, you're in the clear!

These siopaos are delicious afternoon snacks, a great lunch, or just a delicious dinner. My husband and I ate all six of these together, and that filled us up for the rest of the night! You can make siopao with things other than Asado filling, using the bun dough to help stretch any saucy leftovers you might have. I hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to bug me with any questions you might have along the way!

Happy cooking and happy eating!



Monday, April 27, 2020

Mulberry Lemon Muffin Loaf

So easy!
I love this recipe because it's consistent and easy to pull together with any soft fruit you have lying around, and you can easily modify to fit your tastes!

Mulberry Lemon Muffin Loaf
adapted from On Baking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz tapioca flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 5 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 oz vegan butter, coconut oil, or lard (solid fat only please)
  • Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 8 fl oz (1 cup) oat milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Last year's mulberries from the freezer 
    • Or whatever small round fruit you have that's frozen; 5 oz of blueberries will do


Prepare a loaf tin by buttering and flouring or lining with parchment paper. I am the proud owner of a sort of funny "ridged" loaf tin that I had acquired from a garage sale before the Plague hit us all, so I decided to use that for this endeavor. If you are like me and collect random tins from thrift stores and garage sales, fooling yourself by saying "Oh, I'll use this for X Y Z applications", I should like for you to take this opportunity to prepare that special tin for this endeavor. After all, when else have you ever used that thing? If you do have your heart set on muffins, however, this yields a dozen large muffins, that should be filled in paper cups lining your standard muffin tin.  

Combine both flours in a medium bowl with the baking powder, granulated sugar, and salt. Chop the butter into cubes and dump it into the flour. Using your fingertips, pretend you're making a pie and rub the butter into the flour. I like to do this until the butter is quite small, almost like little rice granules are hiding in the flour mixture. I then add the lemon zest and do the same thing. I like to do this because I think it helps release the essential oils of the lemon into the flour, which will permeate the entire batter. 

Wash your hands now, starting by wetting with hot water and lathering separately with soap. Scrub between the fingers, under the fingernails, and then the top of your hands, all the way up to your wrists. Look out the window over the yard, or parking lot, and have a quick daydream about lounging around your living room in a long gown, telling everyone who'll listen that you used to be beautiful once. Rinse your hands thoroughly and pat dry. 

Combine the oat milk and eggs in a large measuring cup using a pair of chopsticks or a fork. Stir in the vanilla paste and lemon juice and mix until everything is mixed well. Make a deep well in the middle of your dry ingredients and add your liquid ingredients. Make sure you scrape the edges of the measuring cup with that spatula!

Next, stir gently three times clockwise, then three times counter-clockwise. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl all the way around, and then repeat that same method of stirring. You should have a loose and lumpy batter that everything has come together for, without dry spots. Take this now and add in the frozen mulberries, as many as you want, and fold in gently. I only had a cup and a half left, so that's what I used. 

It's not gonna look cute at this stage.
Pour your muffin batter into your prepared molds of choice and then let sit on the counter, undisturbed, and covered with a loose and clean tea towel. You're now going to want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees and let the muffin batter rest until the oven gets hot. While we're waiting, let's learn a thing or two about different mixing methods for any quick bread recipe you may find.

As mentioned before, this recipe is adapted from a textbook I bought in culinary school. My own copy of the textbook is now a tattered mess, but it's gotten me through the baking portion of culinary school and talks about mixing methods. In this recipe, it says right up top that this is the muffin method, and I will tell you now that yielding entirely to the muffin method will yield tasty results. 

The muffin method is simply sifting all dry ingredients together (flours, baking powder, salt, sugar) in a large bowl and then separately mixing the fats (which are usually either melted butter or oil) with the milk, extracts, eggs, etc. in another separate bowl and then dumping the liquid into the dry. Simply mix until just barely combined, fold in the soft fruits and whatnot, and bake. Why have I changed the method for this application?

In short, I like to do a combination of muffin and scone method for this loaf, because I think this makes this particular recipe just that much more versatile, and you can bake in big loaves as well as small cups. Muffins wrapped in paper cups are a joyful staple in the breakfast world, but few things are more satisfying to me than slicing into a big cake-like loaf and enjoying that slice with coffee in the morning. It only feels like I'm having cake for breakfast, which is enough to get me through my day.

The scone method might also be called the biscuit method if you live in the United States, where we love our buttermilk biscuits. To the rest of the world, however, our biscuits are versions of scones, and the method we use to make them is a classic method for making good quick bread. Simply take all of your flours, leavening agents, etc., and sift them all into a big bowl. You can cut in the fat with biscuit cutters, knives, or your own fingers until the butter is quite piece-y and pea-sized. Mix in your liquids, roll out onto a floured surface and cut into shapes before either freezing or baking. This method is done this way instead of the muffin way because this method desires one thing above muffins:

Layers.

You get a "layer" in a baked good by having a solid, chilled fat sort of hanging out in pockets, between little blankets of dough. You'll want this chilled and solid because when this cold item hits a very hot oven, it'll melt quickly and the water in this butter will boil and therefore create steam. The steam shoots upwards and forces the flour to rise up, too. As the oven continues to cook, the heat solidifies the structure that the butter has made the flour create, and you get layers as a result when they come out. 

Since we've been reading this, you might want to check your oven and see if it's hot enough. If it has reached its desired temperature, pop your muffin loaf in on the middle rack and bake the loaf for 45 minutes at 350, rotating once halfway through to ensure even cooking, or until it's golden-brown and delicious. While you're waiting, would you like to hear why the heck I want to put the "layers" principle in my muffin loaf in this way? 

When you're baking a larger mass like this and you want the muffin texture to remain, I think it's important to give your leavening a little bit of extra help. Cool-ish, tiny pockets of fat will result in larger bubbles in this loaf, but I personally like that because I like to slice the loaf and sometimes toast it under the broiler. These tiny extra 'pockets' of air where the fat once was are quite pleasant for an extra smear of butter, jam, or cream cheese. It's also nice because when you bake in a long loaf, you get that glorious crack all down the top, and that crack is the extra texture that I simply adore. Better and better still, I personally have found that baking them this way helps them last a day or two longer than the kind of muffins I bake with the butter being in a more liquid state. I have a lot of theories as to why, but I also am a person that says "who am I to argue with consistent results?"

Some might also be wondering why I let my muffin batter rest instead of just baking it. I like to let my muffin batter rest for two reasons, the first of which being gluten. Gluten is a great thing for baking, but too much of it will result in a bread-like texture for your muffin, which is not exactly what I want for this. Think of gluten as a net, trapping the air and fat and all the other goodies into a solid mass after baking, but we don't want too much because gluten results in chewiness instead of the cake-adjacent texture that someone would generally shoot for in a muffin. For all of these reasons, the muffin batter resting means the gluten will relax, and the acid in the lemon juice will have some time to snip away any excess gluten we might have lying around wanting to thwart our muffin's efforts at perfection. 

The second reason I like to do this is because of moisture. If one were to let the muffin batter go straight into the oven without a rest period, they would still get a muffin, but I don't think that the end result is as nice as letting it rest for at least twenty minutes in a cool space before baking. This is not an absolutely necessary step, but I do think that anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

After your 45 minutes has passed, peek into the oven to see how your loaf is looking. This all should look like you have a shiny, golden-brown top with a little crack running down the middle and the surface should spring back when touched. If these parameters are met, feel free to evacuate your loaf from the oven and allow to cool for at least ten minutes, in the tin, before removing to a cooling rack. If they are not met, then you likely only need another 5-10 minutes in the oven.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve with coffee! 
This muffin loaf can easily be modified with any soft fruit you may have in the freezer and is designed to let you bake something quick and simple without dirtying up too many bowls. I love this muffin loaf recipe because it's versatile, consistent, and - above all else - easy to whip up in an instant. I think that the humble quick bread should be a part of every good cook's repertoire and I call on you, dear reader, to take up your wooden spoon and claim this skill for your own. When the Plague has left this land, we will be armed well with basic baking skills, and hopefully, the confidence to make our own continental breakfasts at home. It is my sincerest of hopes that once we all are safe enough to leave our homes, we'll have a renewed sense of ability and confidence in the kitchen.

Good luck, everyone! I hope you're all staying safe, staying hydrated, and staying a safe distance apart from everyone else. Don't forget to wash your hands often and wear a face mask every time you go outside of your own home.  

Happy cooking and happy eating!