Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taiwanese Style Fried Chicken

Whether we are talking about American Southern fried chicken, Japanese Chicken Katsu, Austrian Chicken Schnitzel, Italian Chicken Milanese (to name a few)... pretty much every country has a national recipe for "fried chicken".  Taiwanese style fried chicken may not be as familiar to most people as Schnitzel or Katsu - but it is really good, and deserves it's place in the fried chicken hall of fame!

5-spice powder and white pepper give this chicken it's unique flavor:

Taiwanese Fried Chicken:
2 chicken breasts

1/2 c. soy sauce
2 T. michiu (Chinese rice cooking wine)
2 T. sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 T. 5-spice powder
1/ tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
4 T. cornstarch
1 c. potato starch
1/2 T. 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1.  Cut the chicken breasts into thin, flat pieces.  Combine marinade ingredients, and mix into chicken pieces in a bowl.  Cover and store overnight in refrigerator, or at least 1 hour.  If you don't have or can't find Michiu, you can substitute with Mirin (Japanese rice cooking wine) or sherry.

2.  Mix the egg and cornstarch into the marinating chicken.

3.  Combine the potato starch, 5 spice powder, white pepper, and garlic powder.  (You could probably substitute the potato starch for cornstarch if you can't find any.)

4.  Dredge the chicken pieces into the potato flour mixture, and allow to sit for a few minutes.

5.  Heat 2 T. of oil in a large cast iron skillet on medium high.

6.  Fry the chicken for 2-3 minutes per side until done.  Drain on paper towels.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Other uses for tea: Chocolate Green Tea Marble Cake

There are several food blogs that I love to read.  On one site, I found an interesting looking recipe for Chocolate Matcha Bundt Cake.
What is Matcha?  Well, it's a very strong powdered form of green tea, traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies.  Prepared in that manner, it is rather bitter, and not the most pleasant of beverages in my experience.
Lately, it seems matcha is everywhere... including at Starbucks.  My husband's favorite Starbucks drink these days is a Green tea latte, made with a sweetened version of matcha, milk, ice, and a sugary melon syrup.  Personally, I think the Starbucks green tea latte in that form is rather disgusting... I just can't get over the taste of melon with my green tea.  Yuck!  But he likes it...
Anyway, trendy drinks aside, I was intrigued by this Chocolate Matcha cake, and decided to make it.  I made some revisions as I went along, and my modified version of the recipe is below.  You can find unsweetened matcha at any Japanese market.  The sweetened matcha (not real matcha, of course) can be found at most gourmet/health food stores - and I don't think there's really much difference in which one you use for a cake recipe.

Chocolate Green Tea Marble Cake:
3 c. sugar
1 c. unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 3/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Chocolate Mixture:
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. chocolate chips
Green Tea Mixture:
1 1/2 c. flour
3 T. matcha (green tea) powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 drop green food coloring

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Grease a bundt pan and "flour" with cocoa powder.  You could use flour, but then you could end up with a white residue on the outside of your chocolate cake... which doesn't look appetizing.  Cocoa powder will do the same job, keeping the cake from sticking, but will look much nicer in the final product.

3.  Sift the chocolate mixture (minus the chocolate chips) and the green tea mixture (minus the food coloring) together.

4.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Gradually beat in each egg, then mix in the milk and vanilla.

 5.  Add half the wet mixture into the chocolate dry mixture, and half into the green tea mixture.  Gently combine, add 1 drop green food coloring to the green tea mixture, and add the chocolate chips to the chocolate mixture.  You could omit the green food coloring... but for some reason, the batter just didn't seem green enough to me, hence the addition of 1 drop of food coloring.  I also thought that chocolate chips would add a nice touch to the other side of the equation, and in the end, I was glad I had made that decision.  More chocolate is never a bad idea!
6.  Drop 1/2 cup "blobs" of chocolate and green tea batter into the prepared bundt pan.
7.  Using a chopstick, or the blade of a butter knife, swirl through the batter several times.

8.  Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees, or until done.  Test by gently pushing down the top of the cake with a clean finger.  If it springs back, then it is done.  If it feels too wet, or doesn't spring back, the cake needs a little more time in the oven.  The original recipe called for a longer cooking time at 325 degrees, but with my bundt pan (the typical regular sized bundt), I've found that 350 degrees works better for me.

9.  Cool for 5-10 minutes before inverting onto platter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Onion Dyed Easter Eggs

Just in time for Easter... I thought I would post my favorite method for dyeing Easter Eggs without any messy food coloring or special Easter egg dye.

I've been making Easter eggs like this since I was maybe 8 or 9 years old?  It used to be a challenge - hunting down enough rubber bands in all the various drawers - sometimes I couldn't find any and would have to resort to yarn or string.  Use yarn or string if you must, but rubber bands always work the best.

Don't ask me what prompted me to start wrapping eggs with onion skins... I think I was obsessed with the TV show "Mr. Wizard's World", and thought that I was doing something "scientific" or something.  Back in those days, I was very confused about the difference between science and art... as my elementary school teacher could probably tell you... once I turned in a plastic bird, glued onto a piece of glass with sea shells around it as my "science project".  Haha.

All you need are eggs, onions, and some rubber bands.  The end result produces a nice marbleized effect... with a mix of browns, oranges, greens, and yellows.

Onion Dyed Easter Eggs: 
raw eggs (however many you want to make)
brown onion skins
rubber bands

1.  Peel and remove the dried brown skins from several onions.  I usually buy a bulk bag of onions, and just use the skins in the bottom of the bag that have already fallen off.

2.  Wrap each raw egg with several large pieces of onion skin, and secure in place with a few rubber bands.  You can also use kitchen twine - but I find that rubber bands hold a little bit better.

3.  Place each egg into a large saucepan, and slowly add cold water to cover the eggs.

 4.  Make a "Drop lid" out of foil.  (If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a drop lid, this is a Japanese cooking technique that involves placing a lid, smaller than the diameter of the pot, directly on top of the surface of cooking fluid.  It reduces the movement of fluid in the pan, and prevents large bubbles from forming that could disrupt fragile foods.)

In this case, I use the drop lid to prevent the eggs from moving around too much, so that the onion skin doesn't get broken apart.  Just tear a big piece of foil, and fold it inward to form a circle.  Poke a hole through the center, and let it float on top of the water in the saucepan.

5.  Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for 15 minutes.  (Leave the drop lid on.)

6.  Remove the eggs from the water with tongs, and let cool on a cutting board.

7.  When cool, remove rubber bands, and peel the onion skins off the eggs.  (It is best to do this while the onion skins are still wet).

8.  Store cooked eggs in the refrigerator for up to one week.

If you want your next batch to be an even yellow/brown color (without any marbling), you can re-use the cooking liquid, and use it to boil your next batch of raw eggs (without wrapping with onion skins).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zucchini Bread and the Anti-Drafting "Technical Art"

What do you do when you have a stack of zucchini in the refrigerator?  Zucchini Bread, of course.  My favorite recipe for Zucchini Bread is very old... a recipe I still have from my high school home economics class.  I still remember the week we learned pumpkin bread, banana bread, and zucchini bread - and I still have the old photocopied handout in my recipe binder!

Who takes home economics in high school anymore?  Well, apparently I did.  My high school counselor tried really hard to get me to take drafting instead... but I wouldn't budge.  If I needed more "technical arts" credit, it was going to be from something that interested me, and drafting was not it!  Consequently, I won the Home Economics award (a trophy) that year.  I think I still have that trophy somewhere... maybe I should find it and put it in the kitchen?  Haha.

Zucchini Bread:
2 c. zucchini, shredded
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
4 eggs
1 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. flour
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.

2.  Shred approximately 4 medium zucchini to make 2 cups.

3.  Combine zucchini, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Mix until combined.

4.  Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger with a whisk, in a large bowl.

5.  Dump the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients, and gently fold together.
6.  Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans.  Sprinkle tops with large sugar crystals, if desired.  (The sugar crystals are not part of the original recipe... but I found it improves the texture of the crust, and the eye appeal of the final product.)

7.  Bake for 1 hour.  Let pans cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto wire rack.  Cool completely before wrapping in plastic wrap to store (5 days at room temperature, or freeze for up to 3 months).

Monday, March 8, 2010

The un-Zombie tomato: Fried Heirloom Tomatoes

So I was at Trader Joe's the other day, and right now they have these big cartons of heirloom tomatoes (about $5 per large carton).  You know, those imperfectly shaped, oddly striped, green/yellow/red tomatoes that you only ever see in a garden, but never at the actual market?  (They look weird, but they more than make up for it in flavor.)

It's been years since I've found a tomato like that in a mainstream market - I'm used to the mushy, grainy, dark pink, not-quite-red varieties sitting for weeks in a jumbo heap under supermarket fluorescent lights.  I much prefer a tomato bred for flavor over shelf-life, but it's almost impossible to find them unless you have a local farm stand or farmer's market nearby.  My husband insists that he hates tomatoes - but because he has never had the experience of eating a vine-ripened tomato, picked right off the vine - I don't really believe him.  Those yucky "zombie" tomatoes at the supermarket don't really count as true tomatoes, in my opinion. 

So what was I going to make with these incredible heirloom tomatoes?  Fried green (and yellow) tomatoes, of course! 

Fried Heirloom Tomatoes:
2-3 large green or yellow heirloom tomatoes
2 T. unsalted butter
1 T. canola oil
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
1/2 c. cornmeal
1.  Slice tomatoes 1/4 inches thick.

2.  Sprinkle both sides of tomato slices with salt, pepper, and cayenne.

3.  Heat the butter and canola oil in a 12 inch cast iron skilled over medium heat.

4.  Put the cornmeal on a plate and coat each side of the tomato slices, tapping down lightly.

5.  Fry the slices on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until golden brown, then flip and fry another 2 minutes until done.

6.  Serve with hot sauce.  (Or enjoy plain!)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cayman Islands Copycat: Caribbean Style Dark Rum Cake

After returning from a trip to the Caribbean, my sister-in-law and her husband gave us a Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake, a specialty of the Cayman Islands.  It was vacuum-sealed in plastic, packed inside a hexagonal cardboard box.  How good could a vacuum packed cake really be?  We found out one morning when we had run out of breakfast danishes, and decided to give the rum cake a try...

The Tortuga Rum Cake was to die for!  Moist, sweet, buttery... with a delightful rum flavor.  So I decided this would be my next baking adventure... an attempt to duplicate the Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake.  I searched and found a similar recipe for a "Bacardi Rum Cake", but it utilized yellow cake mix as the base.  Now, not to knock cake mix - sometimes I like to use it - but I was in the mood to try something a little less "convenient".  So I kept searching, and found a recipe called "Almost Tortuga Rum Cake".  It called for cake flour and a certain brand of rum, and I didn't have any, so I made some substitutions and revisions.  It tastes pretty close to the original, as much as I can remember, and my picky husband even said "this is good" (which is high praise from him):

Caribbean Style Dark Rum Cake: 
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 c.)
3 T. + 1/2 c. canola oil
3.5 oz box instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 c. milk
4 eggs
1/2 c. dark rum (I used Bacardi Select)
1 tsp. vanilla

Rum Soaking Glaze:
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 c.)
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. dark rum

1.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a Bundt pan with butter, and sprinkle the walnuts on the bottom.

2.  In the work bowl of a food processor, add the flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter, and 3 T. of canola oil.  Pulse until the mixture comes together as coarse crumbs.

3.  Dump the flour mixture into a large bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients.  Whisk until the mixture is thoroughly combined.

4.  Pour the cake batter on top of the walnuts in the prepared Bundt pan.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until done.  Remove the cake from the oven, and set on a rack to cool.

5.  Meanwhile, make the rum glaze.  Gently heat the sugar, water, and butter in a saucepan until bubbly and sugar is dissolved.  Continue to simmer, while stirring, until slightly thickened.  Remove the pan from the heat, and add the rum.

6.  Slowly pour the hot rum glaze over the warm cooling cake, a little bit at a time until fully absorbed (about 5 minutes).

7.  Once cake is completely cool, turn out onto a serving platter.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Super Secret Pound Cake Recipe

I have a very specific memory from the age of 7 or 8 when my sister Carmen came over to visit and decided she was going to make a pound cake.  My parents had gone out for the evening... so we made the pound cake together.  It was fun, and the result was very good!

The next time I had a babysitter - it was my sister's friend Celine.  I remember telling Celine how my sister had made the best pound cake, so Celine decided she would make one too - to prove she could do it just as well.  Yecchhhh!  It was disgusting.  I don't know what she did wrong, but let's just say she did not have the same reading comprehension skills that my sister did - the end result was a flat brick that tasted strongly of baking soda (although the recipe in question did not call for any).

How hard is it to make pound cake?  It's not hard at all, if you have a super secret recipe! 

Super Secret Pound Cake:
Ready?  Shhhh!  I'm going to delete this in a few hours...
Ok. Did I mention this is a super secret recipe?  Here it is.  (Are you writing this down?) 
You will need:

1 pound of butter
1 pound of sugar
1 pound of eggs
1 pound of flour

Haha.  Ok, so I guess the recipe for pound cake is pretty self-explanatory, seeing as how it is called "pound" cake and all... so no need for "secret recipes" here.  But technique is key - if you don't combine those ingredients properly, your pound cake may end up being like Celine's pound brick instead.  Make sure you start with room temperature ingredients!  If you don't have a kitchen scale, you can make this volumetrically:

1 pound of unsalted butter (4 sticks, or 2 cups)
1 pound of sugar (approximately 2 cups)
1 pound of eggs (about 9 large eggs)
1 pound all purpose flour (about 4 cups)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. baking powder* 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

2.  Grease and flour 2 metal loaf pans.

3.  Weigh out your sugar, flour, and eggs (if you are doing this by weight).  Sift the baking powder into the flour.

4. Zest the lemon.  (This amount of lemon zest will give the pound cake a little extra kick of flavor, but it will not taste at all like lemon once you are done.)

5.  Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Make sure you do this for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  This step is essential because the creaming of the butter and the sugar causes tiny bubbles to form, which help leaven the cake.

6.  Add the salt, lemon zest, and vanilla extract.

7.  Slowly mix in the eggs, one egg at a time.  Make sure each egg is fully incorporated before moving on to add the next egg.

8.  Add about 1/3 of the flour to your butter mixture, and being mixing it in on low speed to prevent the flour from flying up all over the place.  Continue adding the flour and mixing, until all the flour is incorporated.  Do not over mix.

9.  Divide the batter between the 2 prepared loaf pans, smoothing down the tops.

10.  Bake for 1 hour, or until golden brown and done.

11.  Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before turning the loaves out onto a cutting board.  Then set on the wire rack for a few hours until completely cooled.

12.  Wrap with plastic wrap to store.  This will keep at room temperature for 5 days if wrapped tightly, or freeze for up to 3 months (double wrap to prevent freezer burn).

(*Original recipes for pound cake do not usually call for any chemical leaveners... but I add just a little bit of baking powder, mostly for insurance.  If you cream the butter and sugar well enough, you really don't need any baking powder at all.)