October 30, 2009

Japanese Onigiri (Rice Balls)

Is it just me, or do most people feel the need to detox after traveling?? All that eating out (and of course, drinking) made both of us crave really simple, clean food again when we got back home.

If you're looking for something healthy -- but don't want to live on celery sticks and carrots for the rest of your life, Japanese food is one of the cleanest and healthiest cuisines out there. With very little oil or fat in it, it basically consists of rice, vegetables, and fish. No wonder why the Japanese are so darn skinny! :P

While we didn't have any fish on hand, we definitely had rice (a staple in our home!) and pickled vegetables. I love anything pickled...especially Japanese pickles and Korean kimchee. Slightly salty and sour, their acidity pairs perfectly with a bowl of plain white rice.

Rice balls always remind me of Hawaii, where along with spam musubi (mmmmmm), they're sold at every grocery store, gas station, and Seven Eleven on the island. Maybe it was the cold Chicago weather that made me nostalgic for Hawaii, because I suddenly wanted -- no needed -- rice balls in order to get my diet back on track. Simple, clean, and full of vegetables (well...pickled seaweed and cucumber vegetables that is!), it was the perfect "welcome home" comfort food that we were so desperately craving.

Japanese Onigiri (Rice Balls)
Recipe by SC

Dried nori (seaweed)
Picked vegetables or fish

Add furikake to hot rice until thoroughly mixed. Using hands or rice mold, shape the rice mixture into a triangular or oval shaped ball. Stick your thumb in the middle to create a hole, and add desired filling into that space. Top with a little more rice, and wrap with nori.

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October 26, 2009

Toffee Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

It was my 5-year college reunion this past weekend...yeah, holy mackerel we're getting old!

Anyway, my alma mater has a very special place in my heart because #1, it's my first experience living outside of California (huge culture shock), #2, it's where I bought my very first pea coat and wool sweater (my freshman year roommate from Minnesota had to take me shopping for this), and most importantly -- #3, it's where AC and I first met!

Given all those life-changing events, I obviously owed it to Northwestern to show up for my 5-year reunion. That, and the fact that most of AC's friends were still out in Chicago was enough reason to hop on a plane and make the trek out to 40-something degree weather.

Though it was cold and raining (wouldn't be Chicago if it wasn't!), I had sooo much fun pretending to be 18 -- errrr, 21 -- all over again. AC and I walked around campus together, hung out with close friends, and of course for old times sake, drank like we were underage rockstars again ;)

We also brought these incredible, delicious cookies for our lovely Chicago friends who hosted us that weekend. Extremely chewy, buttery and rich -- these cookies remind me of those thin, flat lacey cookies that are sold at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Only, these are much much better.

I think it's the generous bits of toffee which melt and then "harden" into a wonderful chewiness that make this cookie so addicting. Or, maybe it's the slight sourness that comes from the dried cherries that I really like. Or the subtle addition of oatmeal that makes for a great texture. I can't really place my finger on it, but I do love this cookie... :)

Our friends seemed to also love this cookie as well. The husband of one of them told us that their allotment was almost gone the following day. Granted, she's pregnant -- but still :D

Oatmeal Toffee Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup toffee pieces

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and baking soda, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice during mixing. Add egg, and mix on high speed to combine. Add vanilla extract; mix to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the sifted flour a bit at a time on a low speed until well combined. Add oatmeal, cherries, chocolate, and toffee pieces; mix to combine.

Divide dough into three equal portions, and roll into logs using plastic wrap, approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. To bake, cut logs into 1/2-inch pieces. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a baking rack to cool.

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October 22, 2009

Curried Scallop Cakes

As you can probably guess from my last post, we had my parents over for dinner the other night for my mom's birthday celebration. It was a great idea (and we had tons of fun)...only, the whole execution part of it was not planned so well :P

In hindsight, perhaps going for a long hike that morning/afternoon was not the best decision. Because between that and picking up the ingredients afterwards, we barely had time upon getting back home to prep, clean (absolutely necessary!), cook -- let alone shower. In my haste, I think I incorrectly measured an ingredient in the curried scallop cakes that we were planning to serve as appetizers; they completely fell apart in the frying pan from lack of enough binder ingredients. Poor AC had the lovely pleasure of discovering this oh, about five minutes before everyone started arriving (isn't that always fun?). As he was scrambling to salvage all of our loose, crumbly scallop cakes, I was scrambling to get the rice started, chicken in the oven, etc. Luckily, last minute chaos is a game we've unfortunately become experts at :D. And after the initial "flurry of activities," the remainder of the night went off without a hitch.

I don't think you can ever go wrong with beautiful, fresh scallops -- especially when they're mixed with cilantro, curry powder, green onions, and dry mustard. This unique combination yields a fragrant yet delicate flavor that makes your standard ole' crab cake seem terribly bland and outdated.

While these cakes were supposed to be creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside, ours were slightly more "crispy" all around due to the fact that their lovely insides had decided to scatter themselves all over our frying pan.

...which, I think, is the perfect excuse to make these again sometime soon! ;)

Curried Scallop Cakes
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2001

1 1/2 pounds fresh sea scallops, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 large egg yolks, 1 large egg
3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)*

Mix first 9 ingredients and 1 1/2 cups panko in large bowl to blend. Cover mixture and refrigerate 1 hour.

Place remaining 2 cups panko on large plate. Form scallop mixture into balls, using 1 heaping tablespoon for each. Coat in panko, flattening slightly.

Heat enough vegetable oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat to come 1/4 inch up sides of pan. Working in batches, sauté scallop cakes until golden and cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer scallop cakes to paper towels to drain. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat on baking sheet in 350°F oven 8 minutes.) Transfer scallop cakes to platter.
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October 19, 2009

Double Chocolate Birthday Torte

It was someone special's birthday this past week. And like me, this person LOVES chocolate. So what better way to celebrate than with a sinfully rich, double chocolate torte?

Flourless chocolate cakes are usually my standard go-to for really intense and dense chocolate cakes. But for this special occasion, I was looking for something a bit more impressive and luxurious. I really didn't think that was possible until I laid eyes on this.

Good thing we live in SF, home to Girardelli and Scharffen Berger, because this recipe called for a lot of chocolate. There are essentially 3 different layers in it -- the bottom an intensely rich and dense chocolate torte, the middle a smooth and creamy chocolate mousse, and the top a light and airy whipped cream -- that together, create a decadent explosion of flavor. The velvety chocolate texture just melts in your mouth...and when your eyes are closed, it tastes even better (imagine that!). There were definitely a lot of oohhhhhs, ahhhhhs, and mmmmms that night ;)

Despite the fact that "small serving sizes are highly recommended" because of the cake's rich flavor, every single plate on the table was licked clean. Funny how that always seems to happen at our place...

Happy birthday, Mom! We're so lucky to have you -- love you lots :)

Double Chocolate Torte
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2000

8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

2 cups fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons red currant jelly melted with 1 tablespoon water

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan; dust with sugar. Melt chocolate and butter in heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and salt, then flour. Pour batter into pan. Bake until cake just rises in center (tester inserted into center will not come out clean), about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Cover; chill while making mousse.

For mousse:
Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk yolks, 1/4 cup cream and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Gradually whisk yolk mixture into bowl with melted butter. Whisk constantly over simmering water until thermometer registers 150°F, about 6 minutes (mixture may appear broken). Remove from over water; add chocolate and stir to melt. Set aside. Beat egg whites and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl to medium-stiff peaks. Whisk 1/4 of beaten egg white mixture into warm chocolate mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining egg white mixture. Pour mousse over cake in pan; smooth top. Chill torte until mousse is set, at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.

Run sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen torte. Release pan sides. Transfer torte to platter. Using electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup cream in medium bowl until peaks form. Spread whipped cream over torte. Top whipped cream with raspberries. Brush red currant jelly mixture over raspberries. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar.
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October 14, 2009

Spicy Chicken Claypot w/ Shiitake Mushrooms, Tofu and Napa Cabbage

You know when something's big and/or significant when it's all over Facebook. We've been having torrential downpours in the Bay Area for the past couple of days -- and I swear, everyone's Facebook status from around here was about the rain. I even had a friend in Japan ask, "Is everything ok in California? From all the Facebook status updates, it sounds like the world is going to end over there!" Which did seemed true at the time given the ominous dark clouds and never-ending sheets of rain. But also keep in mind that we live in California, and any hint of rain sends people into a hissy :)

Anyway, I actually love the rain because it reminds me of my childhood in Berkeley. It wasn't until I moved away to Chicago that I learned that rain does not equal winter, and winter is not always "pleasantly" cold. We've totally become wussies since moving from Chicago back to the Bay Area -- we were shivering in our apartment the other day, and I exclaimed, "It's freezing outside! How cold do you think it is?" To which AC responded, "Yeah, must be in the 50's today...probably not that much colder than Chicago." We looked up the weather online, and it ended up being 61 degrees! Chicago was only 48 degrees; how embarrassing. This does not bode well for our upcoming trip to Chicago in a couple of weeks...

Regardless of what the actual thermometer read (I swear it was colder than 61 degrees!), it still felt chilly enough to get our "fall/winter" appetites out in full force. AC has this killer chili recipe which I will post about later. But for now, here is an equally delicious and comforting cold-night dinner dish: Chinese chicken claypot.

What I love most about this claypot is its bold and flavorful sauce. The spiciness comes from the ginger and star anise, the lingering heat comes from the generous dose of sriracha sauce, the subtle sweetness comes from the hoisin sauce, and the heartiness comes from all the leftover braising juices and chicken broth. Soaking up this rich and complex broth are juicy chunks of chicken, soft and pillowy shiitake mushrooms, tender napa cabbage, and spongy pieces of tofu. There is something so soothing and comforting about this, especially on a cold rainy night.

Slurp up, my friends -- and stay dry!

Spicy Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Star Anise
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, January 1999

1 tablespoon peanut oil
8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
12 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps quartered
2 cups chopped green onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
4 whole star anise

6 cups 3/4-inch-wide strips Napa cabbage (about 1 small head)
7 oz (half a container) tofu, cubed
1-2 tablespoon sriracha chili sauce, or to taste

Heat peanut oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to bowl. Add mushrooms, 1 1/2 cups green onions, garlic and ginger to pot. Sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pot. Add chicken broth, hoisin sauce and star anise. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 1+ hour.

Remove chicken from pot; cool slightly. Cut meat crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips.

Meanwhile, boil mixture in pot until reduced to 2 1/2 cups, about 30 minutes. Stir in cabbage, tofu and chili sauce. Boil until cabbage is tender, about 4 minutes. Return chicken to pot; simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Discard star anise. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup green onions.
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October 11, 2009

Pecan Pie Bars

We had house guests this weekend -- which for me, meant making sure we had plenty of food around our apartment for them to snack. Good thing they liked sweets, because that meant more goodies for me to munch on as well :D

Anyway, I made this because #1, you can't get much sweeter than pecan pie bars and #2, this recipe claimed to be incredibly quick and easy. In fact, it was so easy that I was done before I even got a chance to pull out my camera and document anything! Seriously, fastest recipe ever.

Like its baking time, I'll try make this post equally short and sweet. Chewy, sticky and slightly gooey, the top layer has a nice crunch from the pecans amid all the filling. The incredibly flaky and buttery shortbread base, however, is what makes this even better than a normal pecan pie. I often find pie crusts too thin for all that rich and sweet pecan pie filling, so the thickness of the shortbread is pleasantly welcomed.

These bars were miraculously gone by the end of the weekend. Good thing this time, I could say it wasn't all because of me ;)

Pecan Pie Bars
Recipe from Gourmet, March 1999

Pecan Pie Filling
8 ounces pecans (about 2 cups)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Shortbread Crust
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Shortbread Crust
Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. Sprinkle mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and with a metal spatula press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. While shortbread is baking, prepare topping.

Pecan Pie Filling
In a food processor coarsely chop pecans. In a heavy saucepan melt butter and stir in brown sugar, honey, and cream. Simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, 1 minute and stir in pecans. Pour pecan mixture over hot shortbread and spread evenly. Bake in middle of oven until bubbling, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan and cut into 24 bars. Bar cookies keep, covered, 5 days at room temperature.
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October 08, 2009

Glazed Lemon Poppy-Seed Cake

You'll just have to trust me when I say that this is the most delicious cake/bread I've ever tasted. I'm usually fairly hesitant to make such dramatic, grandiose statements like that (because doesn't something better always come along??)...but with this one, I may just have to take the plunge.

I'm actually a little disappointed because I made this for a work event, and unlike most not-so-kind-on-the-waistline treats that I bake and am more than happy to give away...I felt a twinge of regret for not being able to keep the entire cake for ourselves this time. And no, I wasn't alone in those greedy sentiments :P. After our obligatory "taste test" (somebody's gotta do it!), AC was also wondering if we could save a couple of slices for ourselves.

What I love about this cake is that it's vibrant in both taste and texture. With fresh lemon zest in the batter and lemon juice in the glaze, the cake has a bright and intense citrus flavor that explodes in your mouth. Poppy seeds further liven it up with their fun and "poppy" (for lack of a better word) texture.

But what really brings everything together is the lemon glaze. Refreshingly tart and zesty, the sugary topping compliments the soft and fluffy cake perfectly. It's like what cream cheese frosting is to a red velvet cupcake -- delicious and absolutely essential.

Like most baked goods, this tastes best straight out of the oven when the exterior is slightly crispy, and the warm center is still giving off soft bursts of hot steam. This did very well at my company's bake sale, thankyouverymuch. I'm sure we'll be making it again soon! :D

Glazed Lemon Poppy-Seed Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, May 2007

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 t lemon zest (or zest from 1 whole lemon)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (I used a 8.5 inch loaf pan -- cooking time will need to be adjusted).

Whisk together flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and granulated sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in eggs until combined. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and poppy seeds and mix until just combined.

Transfer batter to cake pan, smoothing top, and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean and top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then invert onto rack.

Whisk together confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Pour glaze over warm cake, spreading it with a spatula to drizzle over edge. Let stand until glaze is set, about 15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.
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October 06, 2009

Pasta With Anchovies and Broccoli Rabe

A couple of months ago, AC and I became obsessed with those little canned smoked oysters that are usually served at dinner parties as appetizers or hor'devours. Slightly salty, briny, and incredibly smoky -- they pair perfectly with alcohol and rice, our two favorite foods ;). In our smoked oyster excitement, we enthusiastically thought that canned anchovies would be an equally tasty appetizer and decided to pick up a pack at Costco. Only, there were two problems. Canned anchovies were definitely NOT the same as smoked oysters when eaten plain! And we bought this stuff in bulk...

That left us with about oh, seven more cans of anchovies to eat through -- which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We quickly learned that anchovies are great for making caesar salads and Italian pizzas. But more importantly, we discovered this incredibly flavorful pasta dish (which has now made several appearances into our weekly meal rotation).

Ok, the photo just doesn't do it justice...so I'll try to explain what your computer screen can't convey. What you can't see or taste is the anchovy, garlic and hot pepper-infused olive oil that transforms the warm pasta into an intensely flavorful and unique dish. Slightly spicy and salty from those 3 bold ingredients, this pasta also gets a wonderfully crunchy texture from the toasted panko and broccoli rabe mixed in. Yes, it's hard to believe from the picture -- but these flavors are actually waaaay more complex and hearty than what your standard ole' tomato sauce can offer. In fact, AC now prefers this over marinara whenever we have pasta. What, aren't looks always deceiving?

Gemelli with Broccoli Rabe and Anchovies
Recipe adapted from Gourmet, 2007

1 lb gemelli or other corkscrew pasta
1-2 bunches broccoli rabe, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 C panko (Japanese crisp bread crumbs)
1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1.5 (3-ounces) cans flat anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes, or to taste

Cook pasta in a 7- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water 6 minutes, then stir in broccoli rabe and boil until pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes more.

While pasta is cooking, toss panko with 1 tablespoon oil in a shallow baking pan until coated and bake at 350 degrees, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.

While broccoli rabe (with pasta) is cooking, cook garlic, anchovies, and red-pepper flakes in remaining 7 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring until garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Drain pasta and broccoli rabe in a colander, then add to anchovy mixture in skillet, tossing to combine. Serve pasta sprinkled with some toasted panko and parmesan cheese.
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October 02, 2009

Homemade Dark Chocolate-Matcha Green Tea Truffles

This was another treat that we brought with us to NYC...and thank goodness we did. Because if we had kept these for ourselves, they would have been gone in 5 minutes. No joke.

Lately, I've been on this crazy matcha green tea kick where I seem/want to think that it goes with everything -- green tea granola, marshmallows, yogurt, chocolate, noodles (kidding...well, kinda). I blame it on my heritage, but in reality, it's a flavor that is gaining increasing popularity and appeal. I mean, if Starbucks is now serving matcha green tea beverages, it must be good!

Anyway, I think dark chocolate + green tea is a delightful and elegant flavor that gives classic duos like salt-caramel or chocolate-raspberry a run for their money. This truffle's creamy chocolate ganache is infused with a delicate green tea flavor, and the matcha powder coating heightens the intensity of both the dark chocolate and green tea. Unlike Godiva chocolates that have a too hard exterior and too runny interior (in my opinion), these indulgent ganache truffles have a more consistent texture where the entire truffle is this little soft morsel that literally melts in your mouth.

Isn't it pretty? Oh, and did I mention that dark chocolate and green tea are also healthy for you? Maybe we should have saved these for ourselves after all... :)

Green Tea Dark Chocolate Truffle
Recipe from The Food Channel

1/3 C heavy cream
1/4 C sugar
1/2 t matcha green tea
7 oz high quality Dark Chocolate (I used 70% Scharffen Berger), finely chopped
Matcha green tea, as needed to coat truffles

Combine cream, sugar, and 1/2 t matcha green tea in nonstick sauce pan and whisk to blend. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Immediately add 5 ounces fine chopped chocolate to hot cream mixture and gently stir to blend. Spread chocolate/cream ganache mixture in shallow dish and refrigerate until firm to touch.

Shape chilled chocolate ganache mixture into balls (using a melon scooper) and arrange on plate or baking sheet lined with wax paper. If chocolate ganache gets too soft to roll into balls, refrigerate briefly.

Freeze truffles until firm. Melt approx 2 oz chopped chocolate in top of double boiler. Dip frozen truffles in chocolate to lightly coat. Cool. Roll cooled truffles in matcha green tea powder to lightly coat. Store truffles in refrigerator until ready to serve.

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