Sunday, March 18, 2012

Because you asked so nicely


Here is my version of dad's pork baodze.

1/2 lb ground pork
3/4 lb green cabbage
1/2 of a medium onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon dark soysauce

Chop the onion and cabbage coarsely then puree them in a food processor. I am not exaggerating. Process the veggies until they are a fine mush, or slurpee texture. Squeeze as much liquid out of the veggies as you can, then mix all the ingredients together.

Use the dough as described previously.  Assemble the baodze in the usual manner, proof for 20-30 minutes, then steam or fry for about 15 to 20.

I hope that demystifies things for you all.

As usual, here are some tips.

1. If you cut the dough into marshmallow size bits, that seems to be just right.
2. Don't put more than 1 1/2 ounces by volume of filling in each one, or they will take to long to cook.
3. This recipe makes about a dozen baodze, and you will have some dough left over. If you cut the left over dough into slightly larger blobs and steam those after they have risen, you will have mantoh, which are traditional, and more to the point, taste good with soup.
4. The type of veggies is not altogether important. I had cabbage, so that's what I used. The finished product will have subtle differences in taste depending on what you put in it.  Dad frequently used other things, typically a mix of napa and celery, or skipped the veggies entirely. "That's pure meat! No cheating stuff!"

You'll notice that this recipe is is made in human-size portions. Dad only ever seemed to make these by the gross, otherwise it was "not worth the trouble". It is true that when I was small, he was cooking for a household of 3 adults and 4 growing children, so vast amounts of food were probably in order. On the other hand, these days, who does that? That's just crazy. Personally, I am finding it very well worth the trouble to make a dozen baodze at a time.

Also, watch out while eating them. They make a sort of puddle of their own broth inside the dough which can scald an unwary or impatient eater.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back to the Baguettes


You know, I really was very happy with the way the original baguette recipe turned out. It was delicious. The thing is, I actually wanted to make a baguette like the ones you get at restaurants for putting cheese spread on. They're extra chewy, and they have holes in them. The original recipe didn't quite do that, besides being fiddly. So after all my other bread experiments, I returned to the idea of a baguette recipe for a lazy person.

1. Make the magic pizza dough recipe.
2. Let it lurk in the bottom of your fridge for a week. Really.
3. Preheat the oven to 470.
4. Poke the air out of the dough, but don't knead it.
5. Divide it in half, and pull and twist each half into a rope about 18" long.
6. Let them rise for about an hour.
7. Put them in the oven, and just before you close the door, pour about 1/4 cup of water on the floor of the oven.
8. No peeking for the next 20 minutes!

All those 'artisan bread' recipes, and all that hoopla, and all those arcane formulae, and all that nonsense? Totally unnecessary. The thing with dough is that if you mostly leave it alone, it will make itself! Just squish together the ingredients, let them sit around in the cold until they smell a little funny, let them poof up in a warm place, then cook them until the outsides are crunchy. Please try it, it's positively magical.

That was the enthusiasm part. Here's the slightly technical stuff. If you're feeling nervous, you don't need to read all the crap below, it's just me geeking out. As long as you follow the 8 steps above, you'll do just great.

- I cannot recommend a bread machine strongly enough. You put stuff in it, press a button and boop it makes dough. Awesome.
- You notice how much of this recipe is just waiting around. Yes, dough makes itself, but it does so in it's own good time. Fortunately, you can ignore it while it does its thing. I set myself a timer, or I will forget about it.
- The water on the oven floor is what makes the outsides of the baguette a little blistery and more chewy. I've heard some people recommend a couple ice cubes, but I don't have those in the winter. Why would I? It's cold out. In either case, it's important for the oven be very hot in order to turn the water into a cloud of steam, which means that:
- I really do want for you to have the oven on for an hour before you put anything in it, that isn't a mistake. For one thing, the stove top makes a nice warm place to proof the baguettes (do be aware that many ovens have a vent that comes out through one or the other of the back burners. This'll make a hot spot in that area, so make sure you don't put the dough right over it or you'll cook it to death), and for another, I'm assuming that you don't have a convection oven. My oven is a regular old not at all special electric, and leaving the oven on all that time ensures that the oven itself, not just the atmosphere inside it, is well hot before putting anything in there.
-This has to do with the behavior of ovens. An oven has a thermostat in it. That thing measures the temperature of the air inside the oven, and when the air temperature is up to say, 470, the oven says that it's pre-heated. Should be fine, right? Well, yes and no. When you open the oven, all that hot air flies out the door, and the temperature falls. That would happen no matter how long the oven had been on, but if the mass of the oven itself has not had time to accumulate heat, it will take much longer for the air inside it to return to the correct temperature, especially if you put a tray of relatively cold dough and a couple ice cubes in it. Moreover, after an hour, the heat is radiating off the whole oven evenly, not just off the oven elements on the floor. High, steady, even, heat and a shot of steam is what makes fancy looking bread.
- What if you don't want to wait a week for your bread? You can just leave the dough in a container on your counter overnight, instead of in the fridge, but this is slightly uncontrolled. In the winter, it works fine for me because the temperature of my house is pretty low at night. In the summer I think the dough would end up tasting pretty beery, because it gets really hot in here and the yeasts would go crazy in the heat for that long.

What did people do in the dark ages before they had instant yeast and refrigerators? Well, they woke up at 4 in the morning to catch the dough at the right stage of development, and they fiddled around with sourdough cultures which would get contaminated from time to time and wreck the bread, and pretty much had to make a profession of it for it to be worthwhile. Baker is not a noble family name, but it is a respectable one, I think.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Feed a cold


Feed a cold, they say. Feed it what, they do not. I assumed that they probably didn't mean my regular 2 toast 2 fried egg breakfast, but a breakfast without toast and eggs would make me feel despondent. This is like salad lyonaise, but with way less fuss.

a couple pieces of bacon
some leftover yam fries
a fried egg

And a little toast of course, gotta have toast. Details:

Yam fries are easy. Peel a yam and cut it into sticks, toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil, then bake at 425 for half an hour. Turn the fries over, and bake another 20-30 minutes depending on how dark you like them. They keep really well in the fridge for using in salads and for snacks. Heat them up in the frying pan for this salad.

The vinaigrette I used is equal parts really cheap, rather sweet balsamic, and a pretty nice, highly acidic sherry vinegar, plus some decentish olive oil. Add a pinch each of salt & pepper, a good chunk of lemon rind, and bit of chopped fresh oregano, then shake everything up. It's better after about two or three days in the fridge.

Then you wake up with a cold, throw the bacon, fries and egg in a skillet, stack them up on a heap of arugula when they're as cooked as you want them, spoon on the vinaigrette and smash it all together.

You know, I looked at the original recipe and all I could think was Wow. Who the hell wants to do all that first thing in the morning? Not me, for sure.

I'll tell you about the baguettes next time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

bacon pone

I made this bacon bread once before, but I think it looks a lot prettier this time. I used an enamelled pan, for one thing. My cast iron skillet did a great job on the onions initially, but the iron made the onions turn green by the next day. Very weird looking. Secondly, you simply don't need as much liquid as the recipe calls for. I think I reduced it by about half a cup- I left out the water and used sugar rather than molasses. Over all, it was a big improvement. Third-party taste test says it's a winner.

I do stick with my reccomendation for salad as an accompaniment. That's arugula and roasted squash, with some kind of hard cheese that had no label on it. It's pretty nutty, like a parmesan or asiago, and a little smelly, but that could just be my fridge.

Saturday, March 3, 2012



The pizza dough strikes again.

Make the filling first. You will need

1 lb firm tofu
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 lb frozen chopped spinach
1/2 bundle mung bean threads AKA plastic noodles
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 or 2 tablespoons sesame oil
salt, pepper, dark soysauce to taste
a little oil for frying

Put the onion, ginger, oil, and tofu in a 3 qt sauce pan and smash and saute them until all the water has cooked out. A sprinkle of salt will help. This will take quite a while, be prepared.

Meanwhile, boil some water in a small saucepan. When the water has reached a boil, add the bean threads, stir them around and immediately turn the burner off. Let them sit there until you need them.

When the tofu mix is dry, add the spinach and seasonings. Drain the noodles thoroughly, then mince them in a food processor. Add the noodles to the filling, and continue cooking until the mix is pretty dry. Taste for salt, and set the filling aside.

Use the pizza dough recipe, but use all-purpose flour and only half as much salt. I strongly recommend using a bread machine to make the dough, because it will really whale the heck out of the dough. It should be very smooth and soft.
Cut the dough into 2" bits, and roll them out so they are about 5" across. Don't make them evenly flat, they should have a fried-egg-like appearance. Put a generous 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each round, and pinch them closed. The pinching technique is the same as for the xiao long bao I made a while ago, as is the technique for rolling out the dough, it's just less dainty.

Slightly poofy
Let the baodze rest for about 20-30 minutes, and then you can either steam or fry them. If you steam them, make sure that you get the water in the steamer fully boiling for a few minutes to really heat up the trays before you put in the bao. Also, if you use a metal steamer like I have, cut a little square of waxed or parchment paper to go under each one or they will stick to the trays. No peeking while they cook! They might go flat.

For frying, heat a skillet to medium-high, and put in a couple tablespoons of veggie oil. When it's hot enough that the oil shimmies a bit, put in the bao, leaving about 3/4" between each one. Cover and fry for 2 or 3 minutes, then add 3/4 cup of water. Cover again and let them cook until all the water has gone and they are nice and brown at the bottom.

Steamed baodze are not so photogenic
Either way you cook them, they take about 15 minutes. Eat them right away. They keep all right, but are best immediately.


1. As you can see, the dough is not rested before use. This gives it a characteristically light flavor. It is also why it's important to beat it into submission before you roll it out; if you don't, the dough will be very rubbery and hard to work with. A bread machine will bludgeon the gluten in the flour to oblivion for you.
2. You can make the filling well in advance. I did mine the night before.
3. You can fill these with anything. This is just one of the traditional recipes dad used.
4. Bean threads! You can get these at asian markets. They are not the same as rice sicks. They have absolutely no nutritional value, they just add texture. You can mince them by hand, but why would you? Also, if you need to pad out the recipe for any reason, they're good for that.
5. Use enough salt. These ingredients are quite bland.
6. Firm tofu will not crumble up by itself. Either mince it first or use a potato masher. You could use softer tofu, but it is composed mostly of water, and will just take longer to cook and net you less actual food.

The fried ones are very pretty on the bottom