June 30, 2010

What's This Spicy Chinese "Mapo Tofu"?

My mom has made mapo tofu since I was itty bitty.  I'm not a huge fan of spicy food but since you eat this with plain white rice, it cuts down on that upfront hit and the flavors are so good, you'll make yourself handle it.  Mapo Tofu is a traditional chinese dish - main ingredients are tofu, pork and black bean sauce/paste. You can find this dish in most chinese restaurants.

Once I started to cook for myself, I'd find myself craving my mom's dishes and end up calling her to tell me how to make it for dinner.  This is one of those recipes that when your mom makes it, it always taste SO much better.  Don't get me wrong, what I made was tasty but somehow, it just wasn't the same.  

Since it normally calls for ground pork, which I don't normally buy, I like to substitute with ground turkey. However, turkey doesnt have that fatty content like pork so to bump up the flavors I like to first incorporate it with soy sauce and garlic powder.  This step you can omit if you'd like. 

Also, since I just mentioned I'm not a fan of highly spicy food, the below is based on my taste. I admit, I'm weak. I'm sure you will want to almost double the chili sauce and black bean sauce as you taste throughout the cooking process. For the chili sauce, I linked to what I use in this dish, and you should be able to find this as well as the black bean sauce in most asian grocery store.  

Spicy MaPo Tofu
Adapted from mom's recipe
Serves 5-6

1 container of soft tofu, cut into cubes (make sure it's not the super soft/silky type)
1/2 lb ground turkey (original recipe calls for ground pork but I tend to replace with turkey)
1/4 cup soy sauce (or less)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp tapioca flour (you can use cornstarch or rice flour as well)
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp minched ginger
1/2 cup chicken broth (you can substitute with water if you don't have)
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
1 scallion, chopped

1. Mix the ground turkey with soy sauce, tapioca flour, salt and pepper.  This dish is best served with rice (especially when the sauce gets on every grain of rice = happy place) so cook that first and it will be ready when you finish making this dish.

2. In a hot, deep pan with oil, cook the ground turky and break up into small pieces - cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Turn heat down to medium and add in the ginger and the garlic - it's okay if the turkey is not all the way cooked. 
3. Add in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chicken broth, chili sauce and black bean sauce. Give it a good mix and let it sit for 2-3 minutes.  You can taste and always add in more chili sauce based on how your desired spice level.
4. Next, add the tofu.
5. Making sure your cornstarch and water combo is mixed, slowly add to the pan and give it a good mix. Let this cook for a few more minutes.  Taste and if you want more spice, add more hot sauce, salt or pepper. 
5. Sprinkly on top with chopped green onions. This is best served with hot white rice. 

June 28, 2010

What's the Chip without the Guacamole?

If you're from Texas, you best love guacamole.  If you don't, I don't know you.  Whether it's served with fajitas, toppings on enchiladas, part of a taco salad, one of the layers in 7 layer dip or as a dip on its own, you'll notice that it comes served in a variety of ways.  Smooth, chunky, lots of tomatoes and onions incorporated or just plain.  Me? Just give me a bag of chips and the dip and I'm one happy lady.

My colleague, Sarah Bodenman "Bodie," is an excellent cook and we tend to share recipes or simply talk food.  In fact, this morning, she gave me a recipe for a Peach Shortcake with Vanilla Whipped Cream dessert!  The torture of having to read the recipe, realize it's only 9:00 am and yet you still desperately want to eat dessert before breakfast or lunch. 


Bodie shared this recipe with me last year, and the first time I made it, it was a major hit.  I've added/omitted a few things just based on my preference, but I haven't used another recipe since. Read the steps first before you buy the ingredients.  I've put in comments on what Bodie's recipe calls for vs. what I've changed/omitted so you can make it based on what you like!  For instance, you may love red onions and green onion while I do not (I use shallots intead).  I also use double the avocados and tomatoes so the recipe below makes a lot more.

You will be hard pressed to find leftovers after two days.  If you make this recipe, let me know if you change it up. I'm always looking for new ways!

The Best Guacamole Your Chips Will Ever Meet, Seriously
Adpated from Bodie's recipe

5 cloves of garlic
2 large jalapenos
2 large roma tomatoes
Big bunch of cilantro (tips/leaves only)
6-7 small/medium ripe Haas avocados
2 large shallots (you can substitute w/1/2 of an onion if you don't like shallots)
1 orange (zest and juice)
2 lemons (zest and juice)
Olive oil
Dash of hot sauce

1.  Be prepared for lots of chopping.  If you do not have a food processor, start chopping the garlic cloves, jalapenos, one bunch of cilantro, shallots and one tomato.  I like to roughly cut them into smaller pieces and them put them all together on the board and chop them together.  For the tomato, I cut in half, squeeze the juice into the bowl where you'll be making the guac. so you only chop the meat.  Halfway through chopping the mixture, I add in a tsp of salt and then continue chopping.  You want the mixture to be a pesto-like consistency and once done, I push this mixture to the side of my cutting board.
**Bodie calls for only 1/2 a roma tomato. I love tomatoes and always like to add more.  Also, she uses 1 jalapeno instead of 2 - again, it's all up to preference and how much of a kick you would like.  I added in shallots in this step. Bodie uses a red onion and does not incorporate the onion until later.  Personally, I dislike the taste of raw onions but find that using two shallots adds that necessary flavor without being as overpowering as an onion.  Again, what makes this recipe so great is that you can easily adjust to what you like!
2. Peel and core all the avocados. Take 1/3 of the avocado halves and mush them in the same bowl with the tomato juice you squeezed out.  The other halves, chop up into cubes - whichever size you like to eat with your chips. 
**Bodie uses about 3-4 avocados.  I tend to make a bigger pot having a Ross and a mother who loves avocados =)
3. Chop up the other tomato into cubes similar in size to the avocado.
**Bodie puts in the other 1/2 of a roma tomato here.

4. Add the pesto mix to the mushed avocados and mix to incorporate. You can start by adding 1/2 to 3/4 but I end up using the entire mixture.
5. Fold in the cubed avocados and tomatoes. Add in some chopped cilantro here too if you like the taste, which obviously I do.
**Bodie adds in the chopped red onion as well as chopped green onions (light green/white parts only).
6. Add in the zest of the orange and one lemon.  Then squeeze in the juice of the orange and lemon.  I taste and then almost always squeeze the other lemon as well, but you should taste and add to your preference. 
**Bodie does not add in the zest (I have an odd fascination with zest and whenever I can, I find myself automatically adding it) and uses juice from 1/2 an orange and 1 lemon.

7. Add in a good swirl of olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt.  Be careful with the salt.  Add, taste and then add more if you need to.  Also, if you know what chips you are serving with, taste the guacamole with the chips if they are salted.  I like to add in a few dash of hot sauce here too. :) 
8. While it will be hard to resist, I like to cover and let it sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes to an hour. This really lets the flavors of the cilantro, jalapeno, shallots and juices mesh. 

June 21, 2010

Peaches Divine

You may have noticed from my past comments that I consumed six peaches in one day. Three days later, I realized I ate a total of 14!  You haven't lived until you've eaten these "special" peaches.  My first time back to Taiwan, my dad's cousin's mom made these seasoned, marinated, pickled peaches with asian, salted dried prunes.  In fact, I'm eating a peach as I type.  Heaven. 

My dad, sister and I have a shared obsession with asian dried prunes as snacks. They can be dried prunes, olives, anything. They can be sweet or salty or even a little bit of both.  One of our favorites is this - it's a dried prune that is a bright brick red, salty and is delicious on its own, added to tomatoes, watermelon, mango or even drop a prune in a glass of Sprite.  For the tomatoes, cut the top hole out (basically the stem part you'd cut out anyways) making sure not to cut it all the way through.  Then you push one of these prunes down into the middle of the tomato - best with a very juicy large tomato (no romas) - and let it sit for a day.  Then you can just eat the tomato starting from the top and you get this delicious, salted, very flavorful tomato and juices.  You can find a variety in most Asian grocery stores.  Also, you can find dried prune powder - ooofffh! Sprinkle some on top of watermelon....so good.

So why hadn't we thought to use it with peaches until just a few years ago? I don't know but I'm so happy now!  These peaches are best if they are small and very hard.  Once you marinate these, they can get soft fairly quickly - but that's okay, because its so good, they are usually gone within the first few days.

Asian marinated peaches

6-8 asian, salted dried prunes, red version
4 tablespoons of asian, salted dried prune powder
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8-12 small, very firm/hard peaches (soft ones will get too mushy after a few days)

1. Wash your peaches and bring a bit pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add in the peaches and let it cook for roughly 30 seconds. Very quick. Goal here is to get rid of that fuzzy outer layer or anything that is on the skin - prep so peaches have best absorbing/marinating power.

2. Transfer the peaches to a large ziploc bag and add in the sugar, salt, dried prunes and the powder.  Without closing the bag, roll the peaches/bag around so that it is incorporated and mixed well.  Taste and if it needs more powder or sugar, you can add.
3. Let it sit out on the counter with the bag OPEN to let the steam from the peaches out.  This is critical because you don't want to trap extra condensation from the heat of the boiled peaches and then get mushy peaches.  Once cool, zip it up and lay it on its side in the fridge for at least a day.  Putting it on its side is important so each peach can sitting in the juices created by the mix of peach juice, prunes and sugar  It will be good to rolls these around throughout the day so that all sides can absorb the flavors.  Peaches will start turning a pale red and start absorbing the yummy juices.  Just try and only eat one.  I dare you.

June 17, 2010

Pork Sinigang alla Chef Alcaraz

When I started my new job, I spent a few days in Dallas where my newly married sister and bro-in-law also lived.  They were awesome and fed me dinner those few days - what a treat! :)  On the first night, they took me to the awesome restaurant, Abacus (review here), where they had truffled risotto. ...  Sorry, distracted remembering how plate licking good it was. 

On the second night, Eric made his famous pork sinigang, a classic Phillipino sour soup, which I have never had!  He showed me the steps and also gave me a couple packets of the flavoring - Mama Sita Sour Tamarmind Mix - so I could also make it myself.  It's a tumeric based soup, which if you don't like that sour flavor, you probably don't want to try.  This is served with plain white rice and Eric also adds a little bit of soy sauce.  Hilda and I like it a tad more soupy. 

What is great is that you can add in any type of veggies into this dish. Bok choy, chinese cabbage, asian white carrot, anything!  Since time is needed to simmer and tenderize the pork, I'd recommend making this dish on the weekend.  

Or!  You can make this in the slow cooker!  In the morning, put everything in the pot - pork, water, tomatoes, shallots and mix - and let it cook all day while you're at work.  When you come home, done!!!  If you want to add veggies, you can add them when you get home so they don't get too mushy from 8 hours of slow cooking.  Add and turn the slow cooker to high and let it cook for 20 minutes.  How easy is that?  Easy.

Pork Sinigang Soup alla Chef Alcaraz
Serves 4

1/2 pack of Mama Sita tamarmind mix (go to any asian store and they will have some type)
1 rack of pork ribs
2 roma tomatoes sliced
2 shallots sliced

1. Clean and cut up the pork ribs into invidual ribs. Put in a big large pot with 5 cups of water.  On low heat, let it simmer for roughly 45 minutes to tenderize the meat.  Don't try to cheat because when you actually eat this, you'll love how the pork just falls off the rib with your fork. Can you say happy? 
2. Add in the shallots and the tomatoes.  Turn the heat up to medium and let it cook a little more.  Here, you can add in those additonal veggies I mentioned - white carrots, bok choy, whatever you have in your fridge. Let this cook until those veggies are cooked. 

3. Then add in 1/2 pack of the seasoning.  You can add 1/3 first and taste, then add more if you like.  I like a very strong sour flavor so I tend to put 1/2 to 3/4 of the packet.  

4. Serve in a bowl with a scoop of white rice. Pour some delicious soup over and add two ribs and veggies.  Done!  So good!  With a fork and spoon is the best way to eat this in my opinion - if you didn't cheat on the tenderizing, the pork will fall off with your fork and you can pile a scoop of rice, soup and a piece of pork on your spoon for one delicious bite.   

June 08, 2010

Chinese Cake Cupcakes

As mentioned in my previous post, I made cupcake versions of the Chinese birthday cake. Compared to the actual cake, I prefer the big cake since you'll end up having more fruit.  With these little suckers, you can't fit as much fruit. 

All the baking ingredients are the same - you need to make the custard, cake, simple syrup and whipping cream. Recipe in previous post.  Since there are a lot of steps, you can make these over the course of two days, which helped make the process feel less arduous. You can make the custard and cake the night before and then the assembly and whipping cream the next day.

For the cake batter, it made 22 cupcakes.  I lined each cupcake with those paper cupcake shells and poured the batter to approximately 3/4 of the way up.  Same temperature and I baked for 10 minutes - this will vary depending on your oven so just keep a watch.  Cake should be a light golden brown.

After they cool, I peeled away the paper wrapper and cut each cupcake in half horizontally.  I poured/brushed simple syrup on the insides of the two cupcake halves.  For the bottom half, I then added a good layer of the custard, slices of strawberries and then a small dollop of whipping cream.  I put them into new, fresh cupcake paper holders.  On the top half, I also added a layer of custard and then placed on top of the bottom half.  So going from bottom up - cake, custard, strawberry, whipping cream, custard, cake. 

On top of the cupcake, I added another dollop of whipping cream by putting the cream in a ziploc bag, cutting the edge and used as a pastry piper.  Yeah, didn't work out that great, and I ended up having to spread it evenly with a knife afterwards.  For added decoration, add a few slices of strawberries or any other fruit.  Finally, done! 

If you are taking these for a party, make sure to sample one, two or even three  just to make sure they're good enough.  And, yes, it's okay if it's for breakfast.  They're so light that you'll barely feel it and it has fruit so has to be good for you, right?  Enjoy!

June 05, 2010

Chinese Birthday Cake for My Dad!

I'm definitely not a baker and far from a good one but with the help of my sister, we made a pretty darn delicious birthday cake for my dad. For every birthday growing up, my parents would bring home a chinese birthday cake from Chinatown.  Simply delicious.  They are so much lighter, filled with fresh fruit and more importantly, not too sweet. 

For normal birthday cakes, I barely touch the icing and frosting because it's so sweet.  Not on the frosting on Chinese cake, I devour it completely. However, finding the recipe for chinese cake is hard!  Do a search and you will mainly see questions asking for the recipe.

So for my dad's birthday, my sister found a recipe online and the pictures looked pretty darn good.  This was definitely a time consuming process, but I think well worth it for those special occasions.  Beware, you end up going through a ton of utensils, pots, pans and mixers.  Also, I must say that we did a good job decorating the cake too!  Now, I really want a pastry bag so I can pipe.

The cake was such a success that I decided to make them into cupcake versions.  They were just as good but took a little longer because of the added steps of cutting each individually.  I'll post those pictures in another post with an update on how to assemble.

Also, note that the recipe has some very odd portions.  The recipe online was translated from different metrics but I simply estimated and it worked out fine. 

Chinese Birthday Cake
Serves 8-10

Step 1: Making the Custard
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk (broken in 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

1. In a small pot, mix the flour, sugar, salt and 3/4 cup of the milk together until smooth.  Put on the heat and mix constanty.  Bring to a boil.
2. It will get thick really quick (roughly 1-2 minutes) and make sure to constantly stir. Once thick, take off the stove.  Take the remaining 1/4 cup milk and add in the egg.  Mix together and then add to the custard, add back to the stove and mix quickly so the eggs do not cook.  There should be no lumps but if there are, you're not whisking hard enough!  Remove from heat and add in the vanilla.  Let it cool in the fridge for at least two hours.  You can actually make this a day in advance and leave it in the fridge until you need to use it.
Step 2: Making the Cake
6 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup cake flour
0.8 cups sugar split into 2 even portions (odd measurement, i know, but eyeball it and it's just under 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
Zest from one orange

1. Preheat oven to 340 degrees.  You will need two springform pans and butter/flour each.  Line with parchment at the bottom. 
2. Separate the egg yolks and whites.  Put the egg whites into your mixer and the yolks into another mixing bowl.  You will need a hand mixer as well.  For the yolks, add 0.4 cups of the sugar and with your hand mixer, give it a good mix until light yellow and fluffy.
3. Next, mix the egg whites until it starts to get foamy and form drippy peaks. Slowly add the rest of the 0.4 cups of sugar while it's mixing.  Continue to let it mix until you have firm white peaks.
4. Take half of the egg white meringue and add to the egg yolk mixture. FOLD to incorporate.  Slowly add in the flour and continue folding. Next, fold in the milk, oil, vanilla and orange zest.  Last, incorporate the remaining egg white meringue until well incorporated. This should only take a few more folds.   
5. Divide mixture evenly between the two pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes.  I like to set my timer for 15 minutes and look at it through the window to check to make sure it's cooking well.  This was done in 18 minutes so it really depends on your oven.  Color should be a light brown and spongy to the touch. 
Step 3: Simple Syrup
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water

1. Add together in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Once done, let it cool.

Step 4: Cutting all the Yummy Fruit
4 kiwi peeled and sliced
1 pint blackberries
2 pints strawberries

You can actually use whatever fruit you like and even canned peaches.  Simply up to your taste or whatever fruit is in season.

1. Wash and start slicing the fruit while the cake is cooking.

Step 5: Whipping Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4-5 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1. Put your mixer bowl and whisk in the freezer for 5 minutes.  Cream beats best with cool tools. 

2. Beat the cream on high until it starts firming up.  Add in the vanilla during the mixing process.  Slowly add in a tbsp of the powdered sugar at a time until it's sweet enough to your taste.  I actually ended up putting 5 tbsp.

Step 6: Finally, Assembly!
1. Once the cake is done, let it cool and sit on the counter.  Spread/pour the simply syrup on one side of each of the cakes to keep it moist. Don't worry, it doesn't make your cake sweet.  I put one of the cake flat side down.  Spread a layer of 1/3 to 1/2 of the custard on the first cake.  Then add a slew of sliced fruit on top. Add another layer of custard on top of the fruit.  This will be hard and I simply put blobs and then tried to spread around as best as I could with a knife.  I didn't use all my custard but you can. 
2. Take the second cake and with the flat side facing up, put it on top.  Then start cover with the whipped cream all on the sides and on the top.  
3.  Now add additional sliced fruit on top for decoration and enjoy!