July 27, 2010

Chinese Garlic Pea Shoots + Kung Pao Chicken

Two posts in one week?? Yes, I'm pinching myself as well. What is this, 2009 or something? ;)

Anyway, I guess this really doesn't count as a post because #1, this is the easiest and fastest meal ever and #2, I don't even have an "official" Bon Appetit or Gourmet magazine recipe for it. But don't be fooled -- anything pulled from my mom's cooking files is legit (especially when it comes to food from da motherland). It's just that "a little pinch here" and "handful or two there" is kinda hard to translate into tangible quantities. But I'll try my best...

Back in the day, AC and I used to eat this all the time. It's fast, fresh, and so much better than your typical Chinese takeout or delivery. The secret to great Kung Pao chicken is the marinade -- or cornstarch, really. The Chinese (I say that like they're some exotic specimen) use cornstarch for nearly everything. Usually it's to help thicken soups or sauces. But in this case, it's combined with the marinade to create a protective coating around the chicken pieces so that the meat doesn't dry out when stir-fried. That's probably why chicken is always unusually moist, velvety and soft in Chinese restaurants -- it's all because of the cornstarch, baby!!

Of course, letting the chicken sit in the marinade for a couple of hours will also make a huge difference. Sherry is another big ingredient in Chinese cooking: whenever you use soy sauce, use equal parts sherry to offset the saltiness. For the Choi version of this marinade, we do equal parts soy sauce and sherry, a drip (or two) of sesame oil for sweetness, a double drip of hot chili oil (we like our food spicy), and some hot pepper flakes for even more kick. Pour this along with a spoonful or so of cornstarch over the chicken, and you're ready to go.

Btw, the pea shoots are equally wonderful and simple -- they were actually going to be the highlight of this post! But then I got so caught up and excited about the whole cornstarch shebang, I couldn't stop myself. Yup, really living on the edge here. Anyway, my "spoonful of this" and "pinch of that" recipe for pea shoots can be found below. Enjoy! :P

Chinese Garlic Pea Shoots + Kung Pao Chicken
Recipe by SC

Garlic Pea Shoots
1 plastic bagful of fresh pea shoots, rinsed with H20
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 T olive oil
1/8 C water
white pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste
salt, to taste
[measurements are approximations]

Pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil into a large frying pan so that it covers the entire bottom. Heat on high until the oil begins smoking. Add minced garlic and stir until it just begins to become fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add washed pea shoots and stir-fry until greens wilt, about 3-5 minutes. Add a splash of water and immediately cover the pan. This will create steam and further "soften" the vegetables. Steam for about a minute more. Uncover and season with white pepper, garlic powder, and salt.

Kung Pao Chicken w/ Cashews
2 chicken breasts, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow red pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 - 1/2 C cashews or peanuts
1/4 C soy sauce
1/4 C sherry
1/2 t sesame oil
1 t hot chili oil
1 t hot pepper flakes
1 1/2 T cornstarch
oyster sauce, to taste
[measurements are approximations]

Combine bottom six ingredients together in a bowl. Pour over diced chicken and let marinade for a couple of hours or overnight. Heat large pan over high heat until it begins smoking. Add minced garlic and stir until it just starts to become fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and marinade sauce into pan, and stir-fry until almost cooked through (about 3-5 minutes). Remove meat from heat.

Pour a couple teaspoons olive oil into the same pan. Once the oil becomes hot, add zucchini, bell peppers, and onion. Stir fry until vegetables become soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add chicken and cashews, mixing over heat for about 1-2 minutes more. Lightly sprinkle about 1-2 teaspoons oyster sauce over mixture and stir. Remove from heat and serve.
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July 24, 2010

Buttermilk-Vanilla Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting

When someone turns the big six-o, you better make something good. But when that person turns 60 twice? You have got to make something even better.

Ok, so what lucky duck gets two birthday parties in one year?? Turns out it's my mom, who is turning the nifty sixty this coming fall/winter...but somehow managed to finagle an early birthday celebration this summer as well (I really need to learn from her negotiation skills!).

My sister was actually in town from NYC for her last home visit before moving to Hong Kong next month for work. So of course, we had to send her off the Wong way ;). Besides eating our way through Champa Garden, Boca Nova, Wood Tavern, and Asian Pearl (errrrr...my sister was supposedly "writing a food article" for the WSJ!), we also got together for my mom's early birthday celebration since everyone was around.

Which brings me to these cupcakes. Moist, soft, airy and slightly dense, these cupcakes are versatile enough to go with any type of frosting. It's not an overtly sweet cake due to the buttermilk in it, and its vanilla flavor is actually quite subtle -- almost unrecognizable. But the wonderful texture and "mellow" vanilla flavor works, especially when paired with an intensely rich, dark chocolate frosting. Mind you, this frosting will quickly become the highlight of any cupcake or cake ensemble. Everything about it, from the smooth and creamy texture to intensely chocoholic taste, is perfect. And besides, if this is the "editors choice" for chocolate frosting at Martha Stewart Living, it better to be good.

Lucky for us, these cupcakes were round #1...which means round #2 in a couple of months can only get better! Feliz cumpleanos!! :D

Vanilla-Buttermilk Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting
Recipe from Martha Stewart Living

Buttermilk-Vanilla Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini-muffin tins with paper liners.

2. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a mixer bowl. Transfer bowl to mixer, and add egg, yolk, water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on low speed until mixture is well combined and smooth, about 3 minutes.

3. Divide batter among liners, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown and a tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks for 30 minutes. Invert cupcakes onto racks, and let cool completely. (Cupcakes can be stored for up to 3 days.)

Dark Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Combine cocoa and the boiling water, stirring until cocoa has dissolved. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month, in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again.
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July 10, 2010

Cherry Clafoutis

3 appearances in less than 2 weeks -- that's how many times this bad boy was made. A little obsessed?? Perhaps. Good for our waistlines? Probably not. But are we still contemplating making another cherry clafoutis this weekend? Absolutely. Trust me, you'd be in the exact same boat if you got your hands on these as well. So don't judge.

While the recipe's official name is "brown butter tart", I think clafoutis is a bit more fitting. Besides sounding much more refined (which of course, is the most important part!), it's exactly what a rustic French baked dessert of black cherries should be: simple, elegant, and utterly divine. And to tell you the truth, when else can I say I made a dessert that semi-rhymes with my father's carefully picked first name, Otis? ;)

Anyway, this stunning tart is both easy-to-make and as mentioned before, dangerously addictive. The pastry crust is delightfully crisp, buttery, and sweet. And the smooth, rich filling which resembles baked custard or flan -- only better due to its brown butter depth -- provides the perfect contrast. Of course, you'll covet the bites that have soft, juicy cherries in them: not only do the meaty chunks of fruit add texture, but the juices that ooze out of them add a subtle sweetness and summery flavor as well.

Good thing cherry season is quickly coming to an end, otherwise this could pose a serious problem for us. Which actually reminds me, better make the most of it now... :P

Cherry Clafoutis (Brown Butter Cherry Tart)
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2009

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
30 fresh cherries, pitted (around 1 lb)

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Using rubber spatula or fork, mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to 15x4 rectangular tart pan with removable bottom. Using fingertips, press dough evenly onto sides and bottom of pan.

Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes (crust will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

For filling:
Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla; whisk until smooth. Cook butter in heavy small saucepan (using a light-colored bottom so that you can gauge the color of the butter) over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn), stirring often, about 6 minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.

Arrange cherries, stem up, in bottom of cooled crust. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over berries. Place tart on rimmed baking sheet. Bake tart until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool tart completely in pan on rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

Remove tart pan sides. Place tart on platter. Cut into wedges and serve.
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