Friday, August 30, 2013

Made with Consternation Part II (Mint Macarons)

Alas, once I tried making mint macarons with my friend Angela, and it utterly failed. We had no feet and the green color vanished while baking. But we ended with with some nice mint milano cookies.

I told Bryan of our failure, and he begged for me to make mint macarons for him anyway. So for the second batch of macaron baking day with my siblings Chef Sherbert and Chef Hans, I tried mint again (see part I for orange and coffee chocolate macarons).
We discovered we didn't have green food coloring, however, so Hans went on his green food coloring quest.

Chef Uy: Well, we have red food coloring, let's just use that.
Hans: NO WAY. MINT MUST BE GREEN. I'LL DRIVE TO HEB RIGHT NOW TO BUY GREEN FOOD COLORING IF I HAVE TO. IF WE SPEND ALL THIS TIME MAKING THESE MACARONS, THEY BETTER LOOK GOOD.

I told him to buy gel or powder rather than liquid but wasn't sure how the beaten egg whites would hold up while waiting.  He couldn't find gel or powder, but despite liquid food coloring (and sitting in Texas heat for 30 min) my poor meringue thankfully still turned out green.

Next time I might fold them a little more so they're not as lumpy and puffy, but in the end we had 15 cute chubby little mint macarons.
Hans: We spent ALL this time making a few bite sized morsels .___.
Ingredients
Macaron shells:
3/4 cups ground almonds
scant 1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
2 extra large egg whites
1/2 cup superfine sugar

Filling:
4 oz mint chocolate, finely chopped
scant 3/4 cup heavy cream
mint extract
fresh mint leaves, grated

Directions
Macaron Shells: 
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and a piping template underneath.

Sift ground almonds, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa in a bowl.

Beat egg whites with a mixer until whites form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the superfine sugar until egg whites are glossy, fluffy, and hold soft peaks.

Fold the almond mixture, one third at a time, into the egg whites with a spatula. When the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, keep folding mixture until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbonlike consistency.

Spoon batter into a plastic bag (or piping bag). Cut a corner cut off and pipe small circles (about 1 1/3 inches in diameter) onto prepared baking sheet. If the circles hold peaks instead of flattening, gently fold the batter a few more times.

Tap the baking sheets to get rid of air bubbles. Let stand out at room temperature for 30 min, until they form a hard shiny skin on top.

Preheat preheated oven at 325 F for 10 minutes. Let cookies cool completely before filling.

Filling:
Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until just boiling and pour over chocolate. Stir until smooth. Let cool for 15-20 minutes, stirring until thick.

Assembly:
Size match macarons and align so that the bottom cookies faces up and the top cookies face down. Spoon ganache into plastic bag with corner cut off and pipe to sandwich macarons together.

Macaron Notes in Part I
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Friday, August 23, 2013

Made with Consternation Part I (Chocolate Macarons)

I am not a book buyer. Especially not recipe books, when there are thousands of recipes and blogs online. When Borders went out of sale, and my mom and sister bought a ton of cookbooks, I thought, "What a waste of money and space." But this book (Macaroons: For the ideal bite sized treat) has allowed me to make the perfect macaron.

So from now on I'll keep my mouth shut.
Macarons are annoyingly finicky and time consuming. But the results...*sigh* there's no cookie more beautiful. I recruited Chef Stephanie (Sherbert) and Chef Hans. I'm not saying it went smoothly at all, but if we three Uy kiddos (one, a gangly teenage boy) can bake a perfect macaron, that's pretty good. 

Chef Hans: Isn't food supposed to be made with love? I'm not feeling love in this. I'm feeling...consternation. 
Chef Uy: "Made with consternation" is hardly a great tagline for baked goods. 
We couldn't decide what flavor to use for the filling. Hans wanted orange, while Steph wanted coffee.

Chef Hans: You know those orange flavored milano cookies? Those are epic! There aren't coffee milano cookies for a reason. 

In the end, we did half and half. Only we couldn't tell which one was which.

Dad: I'm going to keep eating them one after another until I manage to try both flavors. 
Chef Uy: You're eating ALL of them!

Anyways, I could not believe how pretty they came out, especially since the almond meal was starting to border on almond butter consistency. Not only are they flat, shiny, and have feet, they're not hollow either!
Ingredients
MACARONS:
3/4 cups ground almonds
scant 1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
2 extra large egg whites
1/4 cup superfine sugar

GANACHE FILLING:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
scant 3/4 cup heavy cream
Coffee Variation 1: instant coffee powder
Orange Variation 2: orange zest and orange extract

Sugar 101 Notes: 
Confectioner's sugar (aka powdered sugar or icing sugar) is bought at the store and contains cornstarch! Superfine sugar (aka baking sugar) is only granulated sugar that is more finely ground (we used a food processor).
Granulated sugar is plain old sugar. 

Directions
MACARONS:
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and a piping template underneath.

Sift ground almonds, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa in a bowl.

Beat egg whites with a mixer until whites form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the superfine sugar until egg whites are glossy, fluffy, and hold soft peaks.

Fold the almond mixture, one third at a time, into the egg whites with a spatula. When the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, keep folding mixture until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbonlike consistency.

Spoon batter into a plastic bag (or piping bag). Cut a corner cut off and pipe small circles (about 1 1/3 inches in diameter) onto prepared baking sheet. If the circles hold peaks instead of flattening, gently fold the batter a few more times.

Tap the baking sheets to get rid of air bubbles. Let stand out at room temperature for 30 min, until they form a hard shiny skin on top.

Preheat preheated oven at 325 F for 10 minutes. Let cookies cool completely before filling.

GANACHE FILLING:
Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until just boiling and pour over chocolate. Stir until smooth. Let cool for 15-20 minutes, stirring until thick.

ASSEMBLY:
Size match macarons and align so that the bottom cookies faces up and the top cookies face down. Spoon ganache into plastic bag with corner cut off and pipe to sandwich macarons together.

Notes: The amount you fold the macaron batter is crucial. If you don't fold enough, they're too stiff, too high, and don't look smooth. If you overfold, then it becomes too liquid and then piping is a big mess. 

We had some difficulty with the ganache; the original recipe called for 3.5 oz chocolate for 3/4 cup heavy cream, but that was rather liquid, even after refrigerating for some time. We melted some chocolate chip and stirred it in to thicken it nicely.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Honey Nectarine Tarts with No Bake Coconut Crust

Because of the heat, I wanted to avoid turning on the stove or oven, and wanted to see if there were any no bake tart crusts and found this one at The Kitchn

Chef Uy: I found a crust using flax, sunflower seeds, ginger, coconut, and prunes that you don't need to bake! Isn't that cool?
B: Eww!!!... why do you have to ruin everything!?

Now, let me tell you I despise prunes. When I was a kid, my mom made the most beautiful and delicious looking chocolate banana cream pie, the recipe on the cover of Cooking Light. Then I bit into it, expecting lucious chocolate, and got a mouthful of prunes. Traumatizing, perhaps?

Thus, I couldn't believe that I was actually buying prunes. But the picture was so beautiful I had to try it.
The crust originally called for lots of ingredients I didn't have, like sunflower seeds, flax seeds, etc for the crust so I used nuts. I used my mini tart pans with removable bottoms so it was easy to take out.

The nectarines were hard to arrange in a rose because they were so crisp, but who cares, because they were SO delicious in the end - love that crunch! However, I do think riper peaches/nectarines would be easier. Happy (non) baking!

Honey Nectarine Tarts with No Bake Coconut Crust


Ingredients
CRUST
1/2 cup combination of nuts (1/2 cup pecans + 1/2 cup almonds, etc)
1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped (plus more if needed)
1/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut

FILLING
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
honey, to desired sweetness
1 nectarine (or peach), thinly sliced

Directions
To prepare the crust, place the nuts and coconut in a blender and pulse until ground. Add prunes and blend until well combined and sticky enough to hold together. If necessary, add more prunes to get the right consistency. Divide the mixture between removable bottom tart pans and press evenly onto the bottom and up the sides. Refrigerate or freeze for 2-4 hours to harden.

Beat heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks. Fold with plain yogurt and honey, then fill the crust. Thinly slice the nectarine and arrange the slices on top of the cream in concentric circles. 

Gently remove the tart shells from their pans and serve.
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Spicy Sichuan-Style Lamb with Cumin and Sichuan Eggplant Stir-Fry

When I think of Sichuan, I think of Dad. He loves the flavors, but can't handle spiciness, and he has to mop the sweat off his forehead.

When I went back home recently, my family had discovered a great new Sichuan restaurant...good authentic Chinese is certainly lacking in my hometown. We judge Asian restaurants by the number of whites vs Asian customers...we were alarmed to see a number of white people, ordering egg rolls, fried rice, and crab rangoons that would make any Panda Express proud. But, to our delight, if you order from their traditinal Chinese menu, their Sichuan is awesome.

We ate there the first time on a weekday, then went back a few days later when my relatives visited, then they returned a third time less than a week later for a family friend's birthday. By then, the lady knew us. My family then returned a fourth time for another event.

I think we're subconsciously trying to make sure this little hole in the wall restaurant survives.
Anyways, I wanted to try make some dishes for myself, so here's here are two great classic sichuan dishes to make. The both use green onions and cilantro, so it's a easy way to use up those herbs (I always have trouble finishing them off before they go bad). 

------------------------

Spicy Sichuan-Style Lamb with Cumin
From Food and Wine

Ingredients
3 tablespoons canola oil
1-2 tablespoons ground cumin (to taste)
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
ground black pepper
1 lb thinly sliced lamb
1 white onion, chopped
scallions, thinly sliced and cilantro leaves, for garnish

Directions
In a large bowl, combine canola oil with the cumin, crushed red pepper, soy sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, sugar and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the lamb and onion and turn to coat. Marinate for 10 minutes.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet until very hot. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil and swirl to coat. Add the lamb and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the scallions and cilantro. Serve with rice.

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Sichuan Eggplant Stir-Fry
From Tyler Florence on Food Network.

Ingredients
asian eggplants, cut into 1 inch pieces
vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
ground black pepper
2 green onions, sliced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh red chile, sliced
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
toasted sesame seeds and cilantro, for garnish

Directions
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high flame and add the oils. When you see a slight smoke, add a layer of eggplant, stir-fry until seared (you may need to add water to prevent burning). Season with pepper. Remove the eggplant to a side platter.

After all the eggplant is out of the pan, add the green onions, ginger, garlic, and chile; stir-fry for a minute until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup water, then add eggplant back into wok. 

Add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Cook until the sauce has thickened and eggplant is done. Garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro and serve.
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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Watermelon Ginger Agua Fresca

I love watermelon. As a kid, it was my favorite fruit and I'd pretend I was Yoshi (the green one, of course) from those classic Nintendo 64 games, gobbling up all my watermelon. 

On a side note, I once ate an watermelon in one day with my roommate; I basically had a watermelon baby in my belly. 
Anyways, at my request, we bought a huge watermelon when my relatives came to visit but we never got around to eating it. So I decided to make it into a drink; mom makes agua fresca using lychee juice and watermelon. I lost my taste for lychee juice thanks to my friends' mixed drinks of lychee and vodka; instead, I found this light recipe from Bon Appétit. I never had ginger in my drinks before, but lately I've been obsessed with ginger and I had some in my fridge. 

I must say, this tastes as a refreshing as it looks. 

Ingredients
2 cups watermelon, chilled
1 cup ice
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
sugar, to taste
fresh ginger, grated
lime or lemon slices, for garnish

Directions
Cut watermelon into chunks, removing seeds. Refrigerate until chilled.

Crush ice in blender. Add watermelon, lime/lemon juice, and sugar. Grate ginger over the blender so the juice goes into the drink. Blend.

Garnish with lime or lemon slices and serve. 
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mango Mousse in Chocolate Cups

I always wanted to make those pretty chocolate cups seen in fancy bakeries. They're not terribly complicated to make but they're tricky to remove on one piece. I like how my mini springform pan turned out except a huge chunk broke off. But if you look from one angle, you can't tell.

Chef Uy: Look what I made! It's a chocolate cup!
B: Wow that looks amazing!!!
Chef Uy: *shifts angle*
B: You cheater!!!

I guess it's kinda like life; show the good side first and hide the bad. Well, whether pretty or ugly, it all tasted excellent.

Mousse inspired by Joe Pastry. I think I didn't dissolve the gelatin evenly as there were some chunks, and next time I might use only 1 tablespoon gelatin. The mousse hardened quite nicely once set though (unfortunately, it spilled out the open end so it didn't look so pretty)

Ingredients
Chocolate Cups:
2 cups chocolate chips, melted

Mango Mousse:
1 1/2 cups ripe mangoes (2-3 mangoes)
1 orange zested
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions
Chocolate Cups: 
Melt your chocolate in the microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring until smooth. 

Using a small spoon or paintbrush, spread chocolate inside your mold. Make sure you spread it evenly and thick enough so it can hold its shape when solid. Refrigerate 

Notes: Refrigerate or freeze your mold beforehand, if metal.  

I used a muffin liner, a muffin pan, and a mini springform pan as my molds to test which would work best. The muffin liner is messy and you need to place it inside a muffin tin so it holds its shape, but you can carefully peel the liner and get your cup. The muffin pan was a fail, as I couldn't remove the chocolate from the tray. The mini springform pan was the best looking one because it was smooth and even, but it one side cracked upon removal. 

Mango Mousse:
Peel, scoop, and purée the mangoes and the sugar in a food processor until smooth.

Pour purée into a small saucepan, warm it gently, then add the gelatin, stirring it until it dissolves. Zest your orange and mix. Allow it to cool, stirring it from time to time and put in the fridge for about 10 minutes. During this time, whip the cream until stiff peaks. Fold mango purée into whipped cream. Refrigerate to allow the gelatin to set.

You can eat the mousse immediately too *shifty eyes*
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Monday, August 5, 2013

Pecan Pie Bar

Bryan's dad loves eating nuts. Their house is filled with macadamias, pecans, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, and more. So no surprise his favorite dessert is pecan pie (just like my dad!), and I wanted to make a pecan pie for him. We were so busy during the week that we didn't have time to make it til the night before I flew home, starting at 11pm.

Did I mention I had to wake up at 4am for my flight home? I took the challenge.
Alas, this pie did not see the light of day so the photography was difficult
I was using this recipe from Joy of Baking, but we immediately digressed. They didn't have corn syrup and I didn't want to buy it so I just substituted sugar and water. And I didn't want the pie too sweet so I reduced the sugar. And then my assistant Bryan dumped a ton of extra pecans.

Chef Uy: Um, you just threw off the ratio of the filling...it doesn't have enough liquid now...
B: So add more liquid!
Chef Uy: But I don't know how much you added!
B: I don't know, don't you just add stuff til it looks right? 

Anyways, I threw in an extra egg in hopes of adding liquid. Then added triple sec for flavor because they had it. Then added orange zest because of the triple sec.

This is between a bar and a pie, I suppose. I couldn't take great pictures since it was midnight already. I was nervous how it would turn out given the "fuzzy" measurements, but the family ate half of it the first night and finished it the second. So I guess they liked it. Especially his dad, who ate a lot.

Ingredients
Crust:
scant 1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

Pecan Filling:
3 large eggs
scant 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 - 3 cups whole pecans
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 cup triple sec or bourbon
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 large orange zested

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray a springform pan.

Crust: 
In a small bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the butter and brown sugar until soft and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Then beat in the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse meal (do not over beat). Stir in the finely chopped pecans. (This mixture will be like crumbs.) Press the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 10-14 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling.

Pecan Filling: 
In a large bowl whisk or beat the eggs until foamy. Add the sugar, water, flour, salt,  and pecans and whisk until combined. Add flavoring (triple sec, maple syrup, vanilla extract) and zest the orange. Pour over the baked crust and then sprinkle with the chopped pecans.

Bake for about 25 -30 minutes in a psinrgform pan until firm and nicely browned. Let cool in the pan. Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator
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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Pancake)

Bryan asked if I ever ate Vietnamese tacos, and I said I'd never heard of them. So he had his mom teach me how to cook them.

I said they were more like Vietnamese omelets rather than tacos. Turns out, they're called Vietnamese pancakes or crepes. They call it bánh xèo ("sizzling cakes") but I can't speak Vietnamese to save my life. His mom gave me the bánh xèo mix to bring home to my family. The yellow color comes from some powder, which my mom nearly cut off to throw away.
Bánh xèo, bakes bass, and Mrs. Nguyen's secret nuoc mam sauce
I spent all afternoon chopping and washing the ingredients. His mom is a perfectionist in the kitchen, plucking each leaf from the stem and washing it at least 3 times. Her chopping skills put a food processor to shame. She de-shells each shrimp carefully to extract every morsel of meat and finely slices the pork like paper.

Me? I, uh, tend to not wash my produce thoroughly, and eat the stems of herbs and shell of shrimp. And my meat comes in slabs. 
Anyways, Mrs. Nguyen showed me what to do, and ordered Bryan to throw away trash.

B: What? I can do more than put away trash. Put me in coach! I can be useful!
Mrs. Nguyen: Fine, you can set the table then.
We fired up the grill since it tends to splatter and decided to eat outside since it was a lovely day. And I thoroughly enjoyed my bánh xèo.

Ingredients
Batter:
bánh xèo mix
1 can coconut milk
2 cups water
green onions, finely sliced

Filling:
1 lb shrimp, uncooked and de-shelled
1 lb pork, thinly sliced into strips
1/2 white onion, cut
cooking oil
bean sprouts

Topping:
romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
mint
basil
nuoc mam (fish sauce)

Directions
Prepare the bánh xèo mix (we added coconut milk and water) to make the batter. Add green onions.

On stovetop, add oil and saute pork and onions. When nearly cooked, add shrimp. When shrimp turns pink, pour the batter like an omelet, starting from the edges of the pan and moving centrally in a circular pattern. Tip the pan to spread the batter along the edges.

As the pancake begins to cook, add bean sprouts in the middle. When the edges become crispy and dry, use a spatula to lift half the pancake and fold in half (you do not flip completely). Let cook for additional 5 min. Transfer to plate. Repeat until all the batter is complete.

Add lettuce, mint, basil, and nuoc mam and serve immediately. 
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