Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quince is not a number...

...it is a fruit. Well, so it IS a number also - the number 15 to be exact. In Spanish. As my [actually, not Spanish] coworker, Chinmayi confusedly thought when I typed to her that I had brought a "quince tart" into the office. It was sorta like that Abbott & Costello routine:

Bossy Lisa: "I brought in a quince tarte tatin!"
Chinmayi: "Does it have 15 slices of fruit on it? What kind of fruit is it?"
Bossy Lisa: "It's quince. Why 15?"
Chinmayi: "Quince is 15. What kind of fruit?"
Bossy Lisa: "Quince..."

The beauty of a simple tarte tatin always amazes me

Yes indeed, quince (rhymes with "wince" in English and sounds like "keen-sey" in Spanish) means 15 in Spanish, so Chinmayi thought I had put 15 slices of some elusive fruit on the tart. It was really pretty funny. Most people in the office hadn't heard of quinces. And I suppose, were I not the Michelin-star restaurant dining über foodie that I am, I too might not know what quinces are. But it seems like SO OFTEN I'll get some type of quince compote served to me with foie gras as one of my 8+ chef's tasting menu courses when Michelin-star dining. *DROOL*

Apple? Pear? Asian Pear?

So, when a different coworker brought a box full of quinces into the office in early December, I pounced on them. Seems most people weren't taking them that day anyway... likely because they didn't know what they were!

They turned brown before I'd even finished coring each piece!

I surfed the web looking for a tasty sounding recipe for these quinces and finally settled on this quince tarte tatin on epicurious. The ratings from those who had reviewed it were high, though it wasn't heavily reviewed to begin with. But I was gonna try it anyway.

Notice the sugar becoming...caramel colored

Butter/cream (dairy) is what turns cooked sugar into caramel...

You wouldn't believe what a strong perfume these fruits emanate. I had them at my desk for the afternoon and was overcome by the powerful fruity scent. Then once I had brought them home, they kept reminding me of themselves from my kitchen counter!

Cool that caramel quickly by placing the pan into a larger pan of ice

I'd never worked with quinces before but I assumed they'd be something like a pear or apple. But they really weren't. I'm not sure if the quinces I had were overly ripe or if they were normal, but they were sort of soft and not crisp like I'm used to apples/pears being. They were difficult to core because I felt like the core was rather wide, so I had to dig into each slice a bit deeper to get the core out. They turned brown almost immediately after peeling too. Good thing they were just going to be baked anyway!

My cast iron skillet was the perfect vessel for the job

The other way quinces are different from apples and pears is their flavor. While I consider both apples and pears to have a rather mellow flavor, quinces are tangy. Not as tangy as citrus, but definitely a standout taste. I hesitated before putting in the tablespoon of honey but was so glad I did afterward. It complimented the tangy quince flavor so nicely.

A simple food-processor crust

I followed the recipe precisely as it was written, with no problems. However, it's worth noting that I think I only used about 1 ½ pounds of quinces (weighed before coring & peeling). And I only baked the tarte for about 50 minutes before checking -- the quinces were nice and soft already, so out it came.

I probably could have rolled this thicker so as to fit the skillet perfectly
instead of having to tuck the sides down

It's always a scary moment when you overturn that upside down cake / jello mold/ bundt cake / tarte tatin. One holds their breath while praying that the whole thing has actually landed on the serving plate as opposed to merely a portion of said masterful creation. But as promised by the recipe reviews: my whole tarte was on my serving plate. WHEW!

Yah, not so pretty - next time, thicker crust cut better to size

This tarte tatin was stupendous!! It came together so easily. I loved how simple the dough was and how nicely it complemented the flavor of the quinces with the honey and cinnamon. I found myself wishing I had more of it after it was all gone. It might only have been improved with a dollop of crème fraîche or maybe even vanilla ice cream (I'm such an American).

Oooh the ugly crust certainly didn't affect the flavor or beauty of the end product!

I got so many compliments on this tarte - such is always the case. Make something simple and rustic and get applauded. It almost doesn't seem fair.

The quinces turn a beautiful reddish orange color as they bake

I'll be paying attention at my markets for more quinces now. They're an autumn fruit, but so are apples and we all know those are available year 'round... As I type up this post I can't help but taste that tarte again. And I want to make more!

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Christmas

I guess I don't need to tell YOU this, but my blog has definitely been neglected the last couple months. I wish this weren't the case, but it is. There are some things in the works around here and it's just not giving me time or energy to update my blog.
Lucca was the star of the Christmas card this year

For now I'm here, merely to wish you a very Merry Christmas. If that's what you celebrate, of course. It's what I celebrate so I can and will wish you a happy celebration of your own.
Mom puts poinsettias all over the house

Nutcrackers line the mantel and guard the stockings

I spent yesterday happily baking away at my parents' house and preparing to see family last night. This is what it's all about. My presents were all wrapped and under the tree. My Christmas cards had all been delivered. Cookies and fudge were made and distributed to various friends throughout the month. I'd watched my fair share of Christmas specials and listened to so much Christmas music that I officially hate "A Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney (sorry Beatles fans).

For some reason I've been making cream puffs for Christmas Eve
dinner for ~15 years
. It's our tradition! ("puff" recipe below)

Today we rose at 9am - oh the joys of all in the house being over the age of 30 15. We assumed our positions around the living room and opened our stocking gifts; taking turns to giggly "ooh" and "ahh" over underwear and See's candy and calendars and kitchen gadgets. Next stop: breakfast. Homemade French Toast every year. Then to tackle the rest of the gifts. We gaze upon the abundance which flows out from under the tree each year and can't believe how generous we've all felt. However, each year is the same "I thought we were going to spend less this year?" followed by "you know we can't do that!"

Even Lucca got a stocking...

Christmas is big in our house.

Decorations EVERYWHERE - both vintage and new

It's interesting and comforting how, at least for me, whether life is happy or challenging - there is always a magic at Christmas. Whether you celebrate Christmas or celebrate solstice or celebrate family or love or just celebrate not having to work today - enjoy the day.

Smile and enjoy today
And Merry Christmas.

Cream Puffs
(makes about 8)

1 cup water
1 stick salted butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Heat water & butter to a rolling boil. Stir in the flour all at once. Reduce heat and continue stirring until it forms a ball, ~1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Beat eggs in 1 at a time quickly. Drop ~1/3 cup of dough on a Silpat ~3" apart. Bake 15 minutes at 425 and then 20-25 more at 350. Make SURE your oven is 425 before you put them in or they won't puff!

Fill with your favorite pastry cream, whipped cream, custard, ice cream etc...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Haute chocolate

It's my absolutely, totally, completely, entirely, magnificently favorite time of the year: The Holidays. I start loving life around the beginning of October and there's practically nothing that can get in the way of my joy during the Fall and overall holiday season. In fact, I was just commenting the other day that I wished it was December 5th all the time. The reply back was "but then Christmas would never come". And my answer was "yes, but the anticipation of Christmas would be there...always." I love anticipating Christmas. I don't even love Christmas day because by then I'm already mourning the season's close. So right about now - I'm living it up! I'm watching all the Christmas specials on TV. I've decorated my house with *only* real pine (it would not be Christmas without the smell of pine trees inside). I'm buying ingredients for fudge and restocking my wrapping paper. I'm filling up on Peppermint Mochas and baking with cranberries. And I'm making hot chocolate at home...

"Haute" Chocolate? I think it's totally classy to make this at home, don't you?

Most people wouldn't even think of making hot chocolate from scratch, 'cuz it's just SO easy to rip open a pack 'o Swiss Miss and mix it with hot water. But People - making hot chocolate isn't really much harder and it tastes SO much richer. It's like drinking a chocolate bar!

I remember my mom used to make us hot chocolate when I was little. But I've never asked her what she put in it. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume milk, cocoa powder and sugar. However, since I wasn't sure and it was too late to call her... I decided to just make up my own recipe. I liked the idea of using my trusty Vahlrona so I opted for a 71% bittersweet chocolate instead of cocoa powder (though semisweet Nestlé chips will work just fine.)

Use WHATEVER you want here. Anything will be just fine - milk, cream, half & half...

We only keep nonfat milk in the house, however I almost always have a pint of heavy whipping cream around too. So when I need a "richer" milk for baking I typically go about 25% cream to 75% fat free milk. I figure that might sorta = whole milk? Fat free milk, half & half, 2% milk, whole... it'll all work just fine.
Sugar, chocolate, spices - check

I like the idea of adding spices to hot chocolate; typically cinnamon, but I wanted to do something a little creative so I decided to throw in a bit of five spice. It's very subtle but gives the chocolate a bit more complex flavor - which I thought was quite nice.

Make a paste with the spices or else they float on top
and it can be hard to get them mixed in

Whether using fat free milk or whole this hot chocolate is surprisingly thick. I didn't have any mini marshmallows around so I had to use a big one, but it is a REQUIREMENT to drop at least some type of marshmallow into your hot chocolate. I suppose some sweetened whipped cream will do as well.

Bring to just a boil - but watch it or it'll quickly boil over

It's been ridiculously cold here in California. Not getting out of the 40°s during the day. I ♥ it. I absolutely ♥ it. But ♥ing it doesn't mean it's not still darn cold outside. So make a big pot of this and keep your own lovies warm. It's that wonderful time of year to cuddle inside with them over a warm mug of chocolate.
THICK. RICH. Even with Fat Free milk!

Homemade Hot Chocolate for 2
2 1/2 oz. semisweet/bittersweet chocolate (~70% cacao)
2 cups milk
2 t sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t five spice
pinch of salt

Combine everything but the milk in a pot and heat over low until the spices combine with the melted chocolate to make a paste. Add the milk and bring to just a boil, stirring often.

Warm your hands on the cup and your body with the chocolate - Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sweetish fish

No not these. "Sweetish" like 'sort of sweet'. I know, it sounds a bit odd doesn't it? But lemme tell you - if you can stomach the decadence....it's GUUUUUUD.

Salmon with Brown Sugar and Garlic - mmmmm

The first time I had this salmon was at a high school girlfriend's house back in college (follow that?) I'd gone over to a BBQ while home for the summer and her parents made this on the grill. It was so deliciously delectable I knew I wanted to try it on my own. However I neglected to get the recipe - and I'm not totally sure there was a recipe anyway.

So over the years (quite a few of them in there) I've managed to sort of come up with my own recipe and while - yes, it's sweet fish. It's sublime!

Salmon swimming in brown sugar and butter *drool*

I suppose sweet fish isn't so far out since Teriyaki Salmon is frequently seen at Japanese restaurants and Miso Glazed Sea Bass isn't exactly un-sweet either. Yet each time I slather a piece of salmon with brown sugar it strikes me as a bit out there. I guess I need to get over it!

My recipe goes like this:
1 pound salmon fillet
4 T softened butter
5 cloves minced garlic
1/2-3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 t salt

Might not be a bad idea to fry that garlic a bit first

It might be good to cook the garlic a bit if you're not prepared for sort-of-delicious yet sort-of-disgusting, garlic breath post dinner. However I haven't ever cooked the garlic...I don't mind breathing a little fire.

Season your piece of salmon

Mince the garlic and make a paste with the brown sugar, butter and salt. I also season my fish with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover the fish with the brown sugar spread and wrap it in a piece of heavy duty foil. Then put it on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes at 400° (time will depend on the thickness of your fillet).

Slather it on - the more, the better (depending on your perspective)

Wrap it all up to bake

It's absolutely delish. I try not to prepare my fish like this too often since it sorta seems to take all that heart healthy goodness out of a beautiful piece of salmon. But once in a while it's okay to splurge, right? Let's look at it this way. How else can you get your Omega-3's with your dessert?

Somehow I don't crave dessert after eating this for dinner.
OK, well...maybe... um, not always.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No! My Fan!

As we all prepare to sit down with our families and friends and various other loved ones, we ponder on all for which we are thankful. At least that's what we're supposed to be doing. However I'd put my money down that most people are not doing that this Thanksgiving Eve... and instead are doing what I am doing: frantically cooking and baking.

My task for this year is the Naw Mai Fan sticky rice stuffing which is basically a staple at Chinese-American Thanksgivings. You'll often find naw mai fan stuffing [roughly: "no my fon"] wrapped inside chicken and crispy chicken skin and touted as a "house special" at big Cantonese restaurants - typically something you must order 24 hours in advance. But most of us Chinese-Americans also make a big pot to serve instead of (or in our case, in addition to) American stuffing made with bread.

Fan, means "rice" in Chinese ~ An important word!

After my Pau-pau died in the 1960's, my Auntie Frances stepped up and took her place; in quite a few ways, really. But one small way was in making the naw mai fan stuffing at each Thanksgiving over the last 40 years until her final one, last year. I had already planned to make the stuffing this year, though was planning on sharing the responsibility with Auntie Frances, not instead of. *sigh* But life goes on and we go on with it.

These are the rices I use. The Calrose is my "regular ole bok fan".

I can't believe how large these hom-mai (dried shrimp) were!

I believe I've mentioned our family Thanksgivings to you before. But if not, I'll give you a refresher... My mom is #11 of 12 children. 10 of those children lived to adulthood; got married; had families, etc. Our family has celebrated Thanksgiving together for basically all the years the family was aware of Thanksgiving (being Chinese immigrants this likely did not happen until the oldest kids were in elementary school learning about American holidays). These days we have our Thanksgiving celebrations in a church in the Central Valley of California. We outgrew Auntie Frances' home almost 20 years ago (I remember eating dinner in one of the bedrooms that year).

The fastest way to cook lop cheong is to steam it
with your rice after the water boils down

The slicing and dicing seem to always take the longest in any Chinese cooking

Somehow our Thanksgivings evolved nicely into "On" Years and "Off" Years. In the Off Years, those who juggle their in-laws will spend the holiday with them. And in the On Years everyone tries to come together in a sort of biennial reunion.

The dried shrimp [hom-mai] were so large, I chopped them up

Green onions don't need cooking, add great flavor and a beautiful color

What I'm basically trying to get to here, is the QUANTITY of people at our Thanksgivings each year. And we're talking just my mom's siblings, their spouses and offspring. In the Off Years we run in the 60's. In the On Year we're more like 80's. This is why we rent the hall at the local church.

Just keep chopping and adding to the pan

Having enough food for 80-some people is nothing to wave a hand at. But my 2 cousins and I have been the force behind the event for the last 5 or more years and it oddly gets easier as the years go by. Once you're engaged to be married or 25 years old - you are considered an "adult" (even if you don't act like one). And all adults bring something to Thanksgiving. Since I've been an "adult" for.... a few years, I happily bring salad or bread stuffing or yams or pies or... Naw Mai Fan stuffing, like I'm doing for the first time this year.

I scrub my rubber gloves with hot water and soap and then
"stir" with my hands. It's really the best way!

Folks, that is my large turkey roasting pan - FILLED!

Just like bread stuffing, each family makes it differently. Each family has favorite flavors and different reasons for putting specific items in the stuffing. I made Auntie Frances' recipe, which may or may not be my Pau-pau's recipe (tho likely very close to it, if not spot on). It's not a complicated or glamorous recipe, which is why I'll leave it with you here. As is so often the case with Chinese cooking - you sorta put in as much as you want of each ingredient, until it tastes right to you.

My aunties writing to each other 11 years ago with the recipe proportions

Auntie Betty brought me this recipe photocopied from an email Frances had written Betty for Thanksgiving 1998. And here it is in all its vagueness:

7 cups regular rice
7 cups sweet rice

2 pounds lop cheong

3 1/2 pounds pork sausage

~1 pound of dried shrimp
3 bunches of green onions

1 bunch of cilantro

I cooked everything separately and then combined them together (in my largest roasting pan, no less) in the same way I make regular fried rice.

It's good just by itself...but even better with turkey and gravy!

Can I just tell you how satisfying it is to work for a couple of hours on an [expensive] dish that lots and lots of people will be eating, only to finally sample the finished product and discover that it tastes exactly like... it's supposed to?! I was pretty pleased and happy with myself! And I know my auntie would be so proud. We'll miss her an incredible amount tomorrow, but she'd be happy to know that we're eating well.

Happy Thanksgiving!! Be thankful. One can always find something for which to be thankful.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ono ono

I know...I can't even really believe it myself... just how long it's been since I've blogged. The last 3 months have been out-of-control busy for me. Which isn't such a bad thing for life but a bad thing for all those 'routine' things I like to do. By early November, I'd been out of town 10 of the prior 12 weekends but I now intend to be IN town at least all the way through Christmas. It's a nice feeling - especially since this is a beloved time of year for me. I'm going to attempt to do some catch-up here on activities referenced (since I certainly haven't been around to do any baking). One that I've referred to a lot was my trip to Hawaii over Labor Day. It was quickly shadowed by this but I've finally found some time to go back and actually sort through my photos.
A view of Waikiki and Diamond Head from Deb and Nick's lanai (aka balcony)

Just how close the beach is to their building! And they have the pool too!

The reason I've titled this post "Ono ono" is because ono means "delicious" in Hawaiian and BASICALLY all I did in Hawaii was eat (and shop). It was far less about being a tourist and far more about visiting my very best friend and learning about all of her favorite spots.

One of Deb's FAVORITE jaunts: Leonard's for malasadas

If you've read my blog for at least the last few months, you'll know who Debbie is. I drop her name all the time. She moved devastatingly "far far away" almost a year ago and while phone calls and IMing and infrequent visits there or here are good - it's just not the same. But while it will likely just take time to get used to this, it's perhaps not so difficult to find a bright side regarding the location to which they moved: Oahu, Hawaii. Just a stone's throw north of Waikiki and essentially across the street from both the beach and Ala Moana Shopping Center. If a best friend must move somewhere, I'd certainly rather it be Hawaii than.... *trying not to offend anyone, but assuming you'll understand* North Dakota?..

Reunited, and it feels so good

Deb made me breakfast complete with Portuguese sausage (a staple in Hawaii)

Deb's first day free, she took me on an "Island Tour". From Leonard's in Waikiki for fresh malasadas, down through Kahala, and a stop at Bubbie's Homemade Ice Cream. Then up the East Shore past Kailua Bay on our way to Matsumoto's in North Shore for shave ice. We returned to Honolulu after a quick stop for poke-by-the-pound, just in time for dinner (which we totally needed. Not).

Kualoa Ranch. Scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed here

Driving along the H2 highway on our way back to Honolulu

The days were lazy and filled with shopping and eating. I was on my own for a couple of weekdays while Deb was working. And I spent them entirely at the mall. Note to all of you (like myself) who are materialistic snobs: luxury items are cheaper in Hawaii than anywhere else in the world. This was told to me by a friendly yet pretentious Chanel salesman. But I also observed this with my own wallet two eyes at Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Prices run ~10% cheaper and additionally, sales tax in Oahu is about half that of San Francisco.

Ala Moana Center (complete with lower priced luxury goods) is RIGHT across the street!!!!

The food, the food, the food... I'm not sure "Hawaiian" food is the type that would be loved by all. But Asians, especially American Asians ♥ Hawaiian food. It's Asian-tinted in a very unrefined manner. Ahi poke, spam musubi, sesame ramen, malasadas, shave ice with condensed milk, [incredibly good] tempura udon from the food court, Dole Whips, afternoon tea ON Waikiki Beach, all the high end seafood at Alan Wong's (ok maybe that's a bit refined...) I was seriously in heaven.
Malasadas from Leonard's

Char-Siu Tan Tan Ramen at Goma Tei

Matsumoto's shave ice with azuki beans, ice cream,
condensed milk and (I think) Rainbow flavored syrup. Front view and back!

Buy poke by the pound from Poke Stop -
Creamy Ahi in back (just ok), Sweet Onion Ahi in front (very good)

For my [very belated, by September] birthday, Deb took me to the Moana Surfrider Hotel for afternoon tea. It was incredible! We sat just at the edge of the water and ate our finger sandwiches while watching sunbathers, surfers and paddlers. I loved it! It was perfect!

The Banyan tree at the Moana Surfrider Hotel

We wait for our tea experience to begin!

Pick 'yer own tea! They had a lot to choose from!

Afternoon Tea by the beach? Can it GET any better??

I am ♥ing this!!

It seems Hawaii attracts a ridiculous number of friends, so Deb and Nick are certainly never all that lonely. The month of September I think they went 2 days without guests! This particular trip our friend Kevin was in town for some golfing, and though he did not stay with Deb, we got together to hang on the beach, drink some cocktails and dine at Alan Wong's.

Met up with Kev and friends at Duke's

It was a magnificent vacation. And I suppose, if Deb's gotta be anywhere other than home, paradise will do.