Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jack Skellington and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday of the year...  free candy, spooky decor, horror movies - what's not to love?  This year I decided to carve a trio of Jack-O'-Lantern's from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.  From left to right, we have:  1. The Pumpkin King,  2. Oogie Boogie,  and 3. Jack Skellington.  Will the little kiddies in my neighborhood recognize them?  Or is my little nod to the happy times in 1993 going to go way over their heads?  I will find out tonight...

In the mean time, what do I do with all the pumpkin seeds?  As a kid, I always looked forward to my dad roasting pumpkin seeds for us with salt and pepper.  It took several tries to get them just right and as good as the ones my dad made in the past - but I finally figured it out!  Last year I made Italian and Tex-Mex pumpkin seeds, so I thought this year I would mix it up a bit and try something new:  Pumpkin Pie flavor (salty and sweet at the same time, kind of like kettle corn) and Buffalo Wing flavor.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:
Seeds from 3 pumpkins
1/2 T. salt
Pumpkin Pie flavor:
2 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 T. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
Buffalo Wing flavor:
2 T. unsalted butter
1 tsp. sea salt
1 T. Tobasco sauce
1 T. Cholula hot sauce
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1.  Remove the seeds from the pumpkins.

2.  Discarding all the stringy orange goop, place the pumpkin seeds in a medium saucepan.

3. Add water to cover and salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

4.  Drain in a colander.  The seeds will be partially or almost entirely gray in color.

5.  You should have approximately 3 cups of pumpkin seeds.  Divide the seeds between the two bowls.  Add the Pumpkin Pie flavorings to one bowl, and the Buffalo Wing flavorings to the other.  Mix well until the butter is melted.

6.  Spread the seeds on foiled lined baking sheets.

7.  Roast for 10 minutes at 300 degrees.  Open the oven, and stir the seeds.  Rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom.

8.  Roast for another 10 minutes, then stir again and rotate baking sheets.  Roast for a final 10 minutes (watching closely to make sure the seeds do not burn), then remove from the oven.  Cool on waxed paper.

9.  When the seeds are completely cool and dry, transfer them to a plastic container to store.  Happy Halloween!

If you are interested in the Italian or Tex-Mex flavor, use the following seasonings instead:
Italian flavor:
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
1 T. parmesan cheese
1 tsp. Italian herb blend (oregano, basil, parsley)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Tex-Mex flavor:
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pork Zongzi: Steamed Banana Leaf Glutinous Rice

Zongzi (Chimaki in Japanese) are steamed bamboo leaf packets filled with glutinous rice and various flavorings.  They can be sweet or savory - and the leaves used can also vary.  I could not find bamboo leaves, so instead I used dried banana leaves from the Asian Market.

So far, I've made Zongzi twice, and the first time, it was a real challenge...  It was kind of awkward trying to fold the leaves together, fill them properly, and tie them.  But after doing a google search for "how to wrap zongzi," I found a few youtube videos demonstrating the proper technique. 

Pork Zongzi:
20 dried banana leaves
2 1/2 c. glutinous rice ("sweet rice" or mochigome)
1 lb. pork shoulder (pork "butt")
1 T. canola oil, divided
1 c. water
1/4 c. soy sauce
4-5 slices ginger
1 green onion stalk
1 star anise
1/2 tsp. szechuan peppercorn
3 T. brown sugar
2/3 c. raw baby shrimp (or chopped shrimp)
10 dried shitake mushrooms
1/2 c. peanuts
1 can quail eggs (optional)

1.  Rinse the banana leaves in cold water.  Then soak the leaves for several hours in hot tap water until moist and flexible.  Cook the glutinous rice in a rice cooker, or according to package directions.

2.  Combine the water, soy sauce, ginger, star anise, szechuan peppercorn, and green onion.

3.  Heat 1/2 T. of oil in a medium pot.  Add the pork, and brown on each side.

4.  Add the brown sugar, then add the soy sauce mixture.

5.  Add 1 extra cup of water, the peanuts, and the quail eggs, then simmer (covered) on low for 1 hour. 

6.  While the pork is cooking, soak the dried shitake mushrooms in hot tap water for 30 minutes.  Weigh down the top to keep the mushrooms from floating.  When rehydrated, slice into long thin strips.

7.  If you can't find baby shrimp, use regular shrimp and cut into small pieces.

8.  Once the pork is cooked, remove the pork pieces to a cutting board to cool.  Remove the quail eggs and cooked peanuts, and strain the remaining liquid to remove all the spices.

9.  Cut the cooled pork into small cubes, discarding any pieces of fat.  Return the pork to the strained cooking liquid.

10. Heat the remaining oil in a large wok.  Add the mushrooms and shrimp, stir fry for 2-3 minutes over high heat.

11.  Add the glutinous rice, peanuts, and the pork/broth mixture.

12.  Mix and cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until the extra moisture has been absorbed.

13.  To assemble the Zongzi, overlap two banana leaves, pointy ends towards the center.

14.  Hold the banana leaves together, and 1/3 the way from the left, gently bend the leaves towards you and form a cone.

15.  Fill the cone half way with the rice mixture, add one or two quail eggs if desired.  Then fill the cone completely with more rice mixture.

16.  Fold the top of the banana leaf over the filling, and wrap the remaining end around the side.  Using cotton kitchen string, tie the zongzi to secure.

17.  Continue until all of the remaining filling is gone.  It's a little tricky to form neat perfect pyramids... but it can be done once you get the hang of it.

18.   Set about 3 inches of water to boil in a steamer pot.  Place the zongzi into the steamer basket, and cover with lid.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and continue to steam for 1 1/2 hours until done.

19.  Serve hot.  Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap, and microwave for a few minutes to reheat.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mika's Coconut Mochi

My favorite kind of mochi is plain, unsweetened, and fried with just a little bit of soy sauce.  But I'm a big fan of sweet dessert mochi too... which I also enjoy plain, without any extra fillings.

This sweet mochi recipe (with a subtle coconut flavor) is one of my new favorites.  After making it several times, I think I have finally figured out the right proportion of dry to wet ingredients to give the proper chewy mochi texture.  I made the dessert in layers to give a little visual interest. 

Mika's Coconut Mochi:
1/2 lb. (1 1/3 c.) mochiko (glutinous rice flour)
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 can coconut milk (14 oz.)
1 tsp. coconut or vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. sea salt
food coloring

1.  Preheat a large steamer with 3 inches of water.  Place 3 greased mini loaf pans inside the steamer.  Set the water to boil while mixing the batter.

2.  Combine the mochiko, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Whisk to combine.

3.  Add the coconut milk and coconut extract.  Stir with whisk until thoroughly combined.

4.  Divide the batter between two measuring cups.  Tint one half of the batter green with a few drops of green food coloring.  Leave the other half white.

5.  Using 1/3 of the white batter, pour a thin layer into the bottom of each loaf pan.  Cover the steamer with the lid, and allow this layer to steam for 5 minutes.

6.  Remove the steamer lid.  Using 1/3 of the green batter, pour a thin layer over the first white layer.  Re-cover the steamer with the lid, and steam for another 5 minutes.

7.  Repeat steps 6 & 7 with alternating white and green layers until you end up with 6 layers total.  Continue to steam the rice cakes for another 35-40 minutes.  Remove the loaf pans from the steamer and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

8.  Using a rubber spatula, loosen the mochi from the edges of the pan, and invert the mochi out of the pan onto a cutting board.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap until cool, cut into squares.  Dust the squares in potato or corn starch, if desired.