Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Chewy" seems to be the recent theme.

Some nights ago, I volunteered to make dinner and tried making gnocchi from scratch. Why gnocchi? To be honest, it was completely random. There was a copy of the Metro newspaper lying in my kitchen a few weeks ago, and while carelessly flipping through it, I came across this short recipe for "Annie's Gnocchi". I figured, why not? and cut the clip out.

 So I finally got around to putting the recipe to use this week. I actually had no idea what gnocchi tastes like; I've never had it, and I wasn't particularly interested in having it either (carbs...). But the idea of making your own pasta from scratch seemed kind of fun, so just decided to try it out.

There's also the fact that I don't particularly like cooking. For baking, you measure and mix and knead, along with all the other stuff, in one short but productive session. Then you stick it in the oven and come back in however many minutes.

What I don't like about cooking is stuff like, Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours and stir occasionally. Which is what I did for the tomato meat sauce. It's annoying! Simmering for an hour and a half means you have to stand near the stove, for an hour and a half, so you can stir it every few minutes. What can you do in between those few minutes? Nothing! I tried to read while standing next to the stove, but I still don't like having to stop and look up from where I'm reading every few minutes, it disrupts my reading experience.

Something else about cooking is that it's not precise like baking. Yes, I'm one of those people. If I'm going to read instructions, I want them to be specific. But I guess cooking itself mostly comes from experience and intuition, rather than memorizing measurements and reading recipes.

After skimming the recipe, I basically realized that I didn't really need the recipe at all. Like how I just kept adding flour because I felt the potato dough wasn't firm enough to be kneaded, or the tomato sauce wasn't thick enough so I added more beef and let it cook longer... or how the potatoes took nearly an hour to soften under boiling water.

In any case, with additional broccoli on the side (veggies, my favourite part of any meal!), the gnocchi dish did, in fact, end up tasting quite good. I assume gnocchi is supposed to taste similar to any other sort of pasta-like dish--soft and slightly chewy. Sounds like success to me?

Because the potatoes took so long to soften so I could mash them, we ended up having dinner a little later than usual. I felt bad for making my grandparents wait, but... well, authenticity aside, now I can say that I've had gnocchi before!

A few days after my attempt at gnocchi, I wanted to use up the remainder of red bean paste and rice flour, so I tried crafting them into (pseudo) daifuku. I can't say it looked very pleasing to the eye, and it was chewier than I would have wanted it to be, but still edible for the most part. Oh well, irrelevant to me! I don't eat much of what I make myself, so I'm not the one taking the risks. Hah!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Glutinous rice flour, where have you been all my life?!

These past few days have been sunnier than the prior half of the week, which in turn put me in higher spirits. I still spent most of my time indoors, but it's just nice to wake up and see sunshine streaming in through the windows and the house brightly lit throughout the day. I've even made an effort to go out for short walks.

To top it off, yesterday, I successfully made red bean-filled mochi cupcakes! It's quite easy; basically use glutinous rice flour for the batter, and it gives a wonderfully chewy yet still cake-like texture. I used store-bought canned azuki beans for the filling, but I think next time I'm going to try to make the filling myself. I was too lazy to try this time around because, to prepare the red bean paste, the red beans need to soak for at least a couple of hours. But I also found the canned paste to be a bit too sweet for my liking, so in the end, it's probably better if I make it from scratch next time and adjust it to my own liking.

I actually did mix a bit of matcha powder into the batter, but I think I'll need to invest in some higher quality matcha for my next try, because it really didn't seem to have made much of a difference in the colour or the taste for yesterday's batch.

Nonetheless, I'm very happy with the result! The tops cracked nicely and the insides were not too moist, just the right amount of fluffiness. I'm glad I didn't put too much filling inside each one since the paste is quite sweet, but good in small doses.

At first I used standard-sized paper cups, but I tried using smaller ones for the second round and I think those were just the right size. Plus, some colour always makes things more fun. Yes, aesthetics matter very much in the overall dining experience!

Even my grandparents agreed that they were a success (yay!). We had a guest over for dinner last night, and we ended up giving her some cupcakes to take home after she commented on how delicious they were. I also took some to a friend's house in the evening, and came back with an empty container. Fattening up my friends is one of my favourite activities.

I'd recommend anyone to try making these, they really are easy to make and not time consuming at all. And it's always nice to experience that pleasant surprise, when you try something a little different and it actually works!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A slice of cake is all you need.

Well, there goes another Valentine's Day! A bit of a rainy one this year in Vancouver.

To be honest, this year I spent considerably less effort than I did last year when I made the painstaking Hello Kitty truffles. But to keep up with my annual chocolate tradition, I did try a chocolate cake recipe from the Ladurée recipe book for sweets that I received for Christmas from a dear friend of mine. I had been deathly sick with a stomach flu from Christmas Eve all the way through until New Years, so when I received this in the mail (via another friend) on New Years Eve, I was ecstatic.

The book is beautiful! Velvet cover, gold edges, and pretty pictures inside. So far, I've only tried two recipes from the book. Two out of the few recipes that don't take 4 to 24 hours of preparation. I don't think either of my attempts quite turned out the way that they were supposed to; regardless, they tasted all right.

For this year's Valentine's Day, I decided to try the soft chocolate cake.

Basically, it was a lot of double boiling, pouring and repouring mixtures, and eggs. The cake wasn't as professional or successful as I would have hoped, so I decided to top each slice with a ganache I made afterwards. For the ganache, I included coffee and orange zest. It actually made a pretty suitable topping for the cake.

Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you had a day filled with chocolatey goodness. Oh, look at that. "Chocolatey" didn't result in a red squiggly line appearing under it. Excellent dictionary.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A little early, but Happy Chinese New Year!

Since it is almost Chinese New Year, I decided to dedicate the efforts of my next baking venture towards a Chinese-style dessert. And on a whim, I tried making Hong Kong style egg tarts, or better known as "dan tat" (蛋撻). 

Egg tarts have been a staple in bakeries and coffee shops in Hong Kong since the beginning of time (and as far as I'm concerned, that's sometime before I was born). I tend to shrink away from making Chinese pastries or desserts, probably because I had them so often while growing up, that I would see it as a failure if the ones I made didn't taste exactly like the ones I would find in stores.

That, and also the fact that my grandparents are super critical of food, and the products of my baking experiments are not an exception. Certainly my grandparents would tell me if they thought any of my baked goods tasted passable or even good, but it is always followed by a word of constructive criticism, or sometimes they would simply comment with "it is too _____" or "it could be more _____" and leave it up to me to decipher their implications on what they generally thought of it.

While I don't mind most of the time--and it is helpful for an aspiring baker such as myself, of course--I also feel that they may be extra critical if I try making something familiar to them (ie. Chinese cuisine) as opposed to making something they would have never tried before, and sometimes I just don't feel up to the task yet.

Nevertheless, I decided to try my hand at the egg tarts. Instead of using tin foil cups (I did say I tried this on a whim), I used the silicone cupcake molds I received for my birthday last year. Other than the fact that I seemed to have made the crust a tad too thick, and that the bottoms of some of them were slightly burnt, the egg tarts turned out quite nicely!

I might adjust the recipe next time for the benefit of my grandma, who has diabetes, and maybe actually use foil cups.

Although I didn't exactly get a stamp of approval from my grandparents this time, perhaps I will attempt more Chinese pastries in the near future. It was actually kind of fun. Here's an early Happy Chinese New Year from me!