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Plum-Wine Marinated Tomatoes

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This is a dish that I see in every blog post on famous sushi bars in Taiwan. It is usually served as an appetizer (using cherry or grape tomatoes) or as a dessert (using large tomatoes). The tomatoes are peeled and marinated for several days in a plum-infused wine syrup. I served it as a palate cleansing course at my summer party. I turned the marinade into a granita, and served the tomatoes on top of that. This is best when the tomatoes are at the peak production time during the summer.

Recipe: Plum-Wine Marinated Tomatoes (酒釀番茄, 漬番茄)

2 pints cherry tomatoes
6 Chinese preserved plums (話梅)
1 cup water
6-8 Tbsp of sugar (can be less if you prefer)
1 whole clove
1 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
1 cup of white wine or Rose (although some people use Cabernet)
Iced water bath

1. Lightly score the tomatoes at the bottom end with a paring knife. Take care to cut into the flesh as little as possible. The idea is just to pierce the skin about 1/2" long.
2. Blanch the tomatoes in small batches in boilin…

Fried-steamed buns 水煎包/生煎包

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This is essentially the same bun as the steamed pork buns I made before. But the buns are smaller. What makes these a little better (I think) is that they are made just like potstickers and have a cripsy bottom. The uncooked buns are placed in a hot pan with oil. Then a slurry of water and flour is added to the pan. The pan is then covered to steam the buns. Toward the end of the cooking, the water is all evaportated and the leftover flour forms a nice brown crust on the bottom of the pan. I think this is somewhat of a Shanghainese specialty. I started the dough at around 9:30am. Then I started to put together the filling at 11:00. I finished cooking everything by 12:10. It actually didn't take too long.


Still raw uncooked buns


Buns cooking in the pan -- they should be covered but I lifted the lid just to take a picture.


White sesame seeds are sprinkled before the end


Success! All the buns should be linked together by this bottom crust


Recipe: Shanghainese pan-fried-steam buns 上海生煎包

Dou…

Making Zong Zi 包粽子

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Zong Zi is a Chinese traditional food for the Duan Wu Festival, or commonly known as the Dragon Boat festival. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The story behind these bamboo leave wrapped pastries goes as follows. In the Zhou dynasty, a well-respected prime minister, Qu Yuan, wrote a sincere and constructive criticism on the government, and presented it to the emperor. As with many incompetent predecesors before him (and many more to follow) in Chinese history, the empror fired him. In his dispair, he jumped into the river and killed himself. The people of Zhou made these zong zi with rice and various food fillings, and threw them into the river in the hopes that the river creatures would eat these zong zi instead of his body. I suppose the bamboo leaves act as a delivery system so the food is not instantly washed away. It is somewhat of a romantic story. But what's really important is that this is one of the time-honored traditions for f…

Flounder fish balls (Quenelle, take 2)

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I tried to make French quenelle from the Gourmet cookbook a while ago, but they came out really unsatisfactory after a lot of work. The Chinese style fishballs we can buy from the market usually contain quite a bit of starch, some pork lard, and eggs. The texture is that of bounciness and "Q" -- a term we use in Taiwan to describe an elastic, toothsome crunch. I suppose this is the style from the south, i.e. Fu-zhou style (福州). But I have also heard that the Shanghainese style can be very different -- tender, fluffy, and fragile. This is what I wanted to achieve.

The recipes for typical quenelles or fish balls usually call for fish flesh, some starch, and egg white. The egg white provides albumin proteins that act as a binder to hold everything together. A common mistake of making fish balls is to process the meat for too long in a food processor. The ground mixture can become too hot from the blades and their proteins get "cooked" -- i.e. the proteins are fully de…

Making red bean Chinese New Year cake

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紅豆年糕

This is a must-have cake during Chinese New Years. I suppose most Chinese families were probably poor in the past and even eggs are considered luxuries. This might be why I hardly see any Chinese dessert recipes that contain eggs. Americans tend to turn their noses at desserts made with beans, rice, and other odd legume or grains. But these are common ingredients in Chinese diet that most people can afford. Rice is therefore made into a variety of products -- steamed as usual, fried into crispy cakes, long-cooked into congees, powderized and made into all sorts of pasties. Also, the Chinese medicinal thinking dictates that all that we eat influences our bodies. All foods are considered to have medicinal values. Certain foods are eaten during holidays and are very seasonal. Red beans, or azuki beans, are commonly used in desserts for the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans.

For the cake, one must first make the sweetened red beans. This should be distinguished from red bean paste. The fo…

A perfect fit

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Isn't it nice when things just fit each other perfectly without any planning? I totally did not plan to fit this melon half into this glass bowl.

Turnip Cake

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One of my favorite items at Cantonese dim sum is the turnip cake. The cake itself has a lot of daikon, which is known here in the US as the Japanese turnip. In Chinese it is called Luo-Bo (蘿蔔). It is a very versatile vegetable. It can be eaten raw, pickled, stewed, steamed, and put into soups. Normally raw radishes have a pungent taste when raw, but turns into a mellow sweetness when cooked. I think daikons have been bred to rid of its pungent taste. It is crunchy and refreshing when it is served as thin strands of accompaniment to pieces of sashimi. But I think its character is best presented when it is cooked. (for example in Japanese oden and stews) Here, the cake is made with cooked daikon, its juice, and regular rice flour (not glutinous rice flour). The Taiwanese version adds mainly fried shallots, while the Cantonese version adds pieces of Chinese bacon. My dad makes a healthy vegetarian version with dried shiitake mushrooms and homemade dried and salted daikon. I like the baco…

Steamed cream cheese sponge cakes

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This year it felt as if we jumped from winter to summer, and now it's backtracked to spring. I wrote about a Japanese cookbook I bought last year. I have made at least half of all the dishes in the book. The dishes are light and perfect for Spring and Summer, and have been adapted well for home cooking -- quick, easy, and made with fairly common ingredients. Today I craved some sweets but didn't want to make anything heavy with lots of butter. This recipe jumped out and truly, it is one of the easiest cakes I have ever made. Oh did I mention this is made in a microwave oven? The product is a light and fluffy spongy cake -- actually quite similar to the Cantonese dim sum cakes (馬拉糕). The author also suggested serving it with peanut cream -- basically peanut butter with sugar and heavy cream -- a taste of this reminds me of many Asian sweets and pastries that incorporate peanuts. American peanut butter and its derivatives (like Reese's Peanut Butter Cup) are so heavy on the …

Nectarine Mousse Cake

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There is an upcoming competition on desserts at work. So I am testing this recipe first before I make my entry. Let's hope I win because I actually think it turned out good enough -- a couple of things to improve, but mainly cosmetic issues. The cake is a classic French genoise -- no chemical (like baking powder) or biological (yeast) rising. The cake is purely risen based on the air bubbles beaten into the batter. It has just sugar, eggs, clarified butter, flour, vanilla extract, and pinch of salt. The final product has 2 layers of cake, with a nectarine mousse in between and on top, a peach glaze on the very top, and toasted cake crumbs on its sides.The recipe is adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook.

To make the nectarine mousse, first a nectarine puree must be made. Fresh chunks of nectarine is cooked with sugar and water, pureed , strained, and mixed with melted gelatin. the other part is whipped heavy cream (just slightly less beaten than the soft-peak stage)

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Attending the Martha Stewart show taping

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I admit I am a big dork for wanting to do this -- I've been trying to see a taping session of the Martha Stewart show. Well, I finally went! Here are my impressions:

The line and the mob:Obviously most of these people are ardent fans and have traveled a long way to do this. But the line was so long and some of the conversations were just unbearable, especially from the types who are aspiring to be Real Housewives of New York City.
The set: it looked a lot warmer and nicer on TV. In real life, it just looked too bright and harsh, and in a way...dare I say it...tacky!
Martha:very business like. Her sole job during the taping was to show up, display the TV persona, make a TV-entertainment-worthy episode, and get back to her most important job -- founder and virtual CEO of her company.
Waiting area and the bathroom: these are so NOT up to Martha standards. Ugh.
Audience warmer Joey: I would hate to have his job, although he is quite talented in doing what he does. The ooo-ing and aaahhh-i…

Cinnamon raisin swirl bread

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After the plain sandwich bread, I decided to attempt the cinnamon swirl bread. The dough is similar to the sandwich bread, with higher percentages of butter and sugar. The swirl pattern used to really fascinate me. I remember thinking to myself when I was eating a slice of the Pepperidge Farm cinnamon swirl bread "how did they get the swirl in there??" All it really takes is to roll out the dough, sprinkle cinnamon sugar, and roll it into a log again. The bread internal temperature reached 188F before I removed it from the oven. And I let the bread cool for a good 45 minutes before slicing -- supposedly the bread continues cooking after it's taken out of the oven. So if one slices into the bread immediately, it will not have finished cooking and the rest will cool down so fast that it also remains undercooked. This time the bread has a buttery soft texture without being gummy. I think next time I will add some toasted walnuts.


first the dough was shaped into an 8" w…

Making Biscotti

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Biscotti is the plural form of biscotto. Bis- means twice, while -cotto means cooked or baked. These crispy cookies are baked twice to give them a super crispy texture and a dry state which allows them to be kept for weeks. This is one of the easiest cookies to make. The dough is made with creamed butter and sugar, eggs, flavoring and fillings (like nuts, raisins, etc), and then the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking powder). It's quite a sticky dough. So the only tricky part is forming them into two long and flat logs for the first baking -- well-floured hands are necessary to avoid sticking. After they are baked to fairly firm and starting to crack on top, they are cooled slightly and sliced. The sliced cookies are baked again on both sides to dry them out quickly. I followed the recipe from The Best Recipe that included almond extract, orange zest and toasted almonds. Yum!

Making an American Sandwich Loaf

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Contrary to the European breads, the American sandwich breads are much softer and less crusty. This is mainly due to the use of lower-gluten flour and the addition of fat in the forms of butter, oil, or milk. I'm sure everyone likes the complex flavored European breads, which tend to have longer fermentation times and better starting ferment -- basically leftover yeasty dough from decades of bread making. But to make a nice soft PB&J sandwich or an Asian style breakfast sandwich (ham + egg), the American sandwich bread really offers the best texture. This recipe is from The Best Recipe (from people who publish Cook's Illustrated) and is very easy and efficient. The dough is made with all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder, milk, water, butter, and instant yeast. Isn't it magical that these amorphous ingredients can come together and become this beautiful looking piece of food?

After only ~40 minutes of fermenting, the dough was rolled to an 8"x8" square -- ba…

Orchid Show at the NY Botanical Garden

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The New York Botanical Garden is in the Bronx area, and is SUPER far from where I live. It took me a good 1.5 hours on the train and then 15 minutes of walking to get here. But the weather was gorgeous today, so I didn't mind the walking. The air was crisp and cool. The orchid show took place in the gigantic green house complex where a large number of tropical plants are kept. There are some interesting breeds of orchids, but overall I was somewhat disappointed by the variety on display. I thought there would have been more exotic species. Nevertheless there were many beautiful flowers to behold: