Showing posts from May, 2009

Flounder fish balls (Quenelle, take 2)

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


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

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

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

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 …