Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Steamed Chicken & Chestnuts


Pete & I made this once before, by which I mean, Pete made it while I had a beer or something. It was always one of my favorite dishes that Dad used to cook for his insane chinese Thanksgiving feasts, but of course he used turkey for that. I wish there was a way to make this a little more photogenic, but it really isn't a visually exciting food. Oh well. Makes up for it by being delicious. I think I got in trouble for eating all the chestnuts out of the dish when I was little. This is a small recipe, unlike the banquet-sized version Dad used to make.

1 cup sticky rice, like sushi rice or thai sweet rice. Arborio rice for risotto would probably work too.

1 lb boneless chicken
3 T white wine if you have it, or a small splash of rice or cider vinegar
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 T sesame oil
4 T light soy sauce
a dash of pepper
a little salt

12 fresh chestnuts

If the chicken is fresh, cut it into 1-2" pieces, and mix with the marinade ingredients. Let it sit for a good half hour.

If your chicken is frozen, put it in a covered container with all the marinade ingredients in the fridge until it thaws out. Stir it from time to time, it may take several days. Then cut it into bits. In either case, save the marinade.

Meanwhile, in a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the rice until it is opaque and slightly golden. Keep the pan moving or the rice will cook unevenly. Let it cool enough to handle, then grind it into a coarse powder. A little coffee mill is good for this, but a small food processor works pretty well too. Set the rice powder aside.

Use a very sharp knife to score a hole in each chestnut, then boil them for about 10 minutes. Peel off the tough shell, and the inner skin. It's ok to break the nuts into a couple pieces. Roll each chicken nugget in the crushed rice, then arrange the chestnuts and chicken pieces in a bowl so that they're evenly distributed. Drizzle the reserved marinade over them. Cover the bowl with tinfoil, poke several holes in the foil, and steam the whole business for about an hour, or until the meat reaches 175 degrees.


1. Thighs are very good for this. They take a little more goofing around with than breasts or tenders, but they have much more flavor. Just be sure to trim the excess fat and tendon off, or it will be gristly.
2. If you want to turn the dish out of its cooking bowl in an attempt to make it look fancy, remember to oil the bowl well before filling it. I forgot to do that, and had to squish it back together for the picture.
3. Do use a meat thermometer. I have no idea how Dad knew when this stuff was done back then. I think he probably just cooked the hell out of it and assumed it was ok. 175 is actually hotter than it needs to just be cooked, but you have to leave it in somewhat longer than that for the texture to come out right.
4. Don't be tempted to leave the inner skins on the chestnuts. They have a texture like wet brown paper bags, and are amazingly bitter. If your nuts don't skin easily, make sure they are scored all the way through the shell, and boil them for another minute. Leave them in the hot water and fish them out one at a time as you peel them. The moisture encourages the skins to come off.
5. I forgot that I own a steamer. However, that means that you don't need one either. I got a large pot, put about 2 inches of water in the bottom, dropped in a little bowl, put the chicken dish on top of that, then put the lid on the pot. Simple.

Chestnuts are a weird thing- they are slightly mealy because of their high starch content, and for the same reason, they are slightly sweet once cooked. They have a subtle, floral aroma, and have an almost meaty taste which must explain why they go so well in meat dishes, especially with poultry. Chicken and turkey compliment the nuts without overpowering their unique flavor. Aside from the chestnuts, the other thing that makes this dish interesting is the toasted rice powder. If you were to dredge the chicken in plain flour, or even untoasted crushed rice, the texture would just be gloppy. Toasting the rice gives it a firm but tender mouth feel. The principle is the same as for making risotto, which is why I am assuming arborio rice would work fine for this.

Man I still love this stuff.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wait, what did you say?


When I said I wanted to make one of these, David thought I said I was going to bake a Stalin. So I laughed at him and said yeah, I'm gonna bake a tiny gingerbread dictator. "Five Year Plan", David says, in a silly Russian accent.

I thought it was funny.

Stollen is not bread, it's a yeast-risen cake. It tends to be quite dense, and it has candied fruit in it. I think it is related to panettone, which is another thing I may try to make someday. Right after the lefse.

For the dough:

2 1/2 tsp yeast
2/3 c warm milk
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter
3 cups bread flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of allspice
2 cups mixed dried or candied fruit, cut into little bits

You may also want:

6 oz marzipan

1 oz brandy or rum
1 T butter
lots of powdered sugar

You can proof the yeast in the milk, if you want, but I use instant yeast so I don't bother. I put all the ingredients for the dough except the dried fruit in my bread machine for 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, I put in the dried fruit so it didn't get ground to paste by the beaters.

If you don't use a bread machine, you can do the mixing by hand, just be aware that the dough is extremely sticky. Unlike normal bread dough, this will not form a neat, easily handled ball. It will have a texture more like Jiff peanut butter, but springier.

Let the dough sit until it has doubled in size. Once the dough has risen, gently deflate it a bit then flatten it out on a well oiled cookie sheet. Squish the marzipan into a shape that fits well on slightly less than half the dough, then fold the dough over and pinch it closed around the marzipan. Let it rise until it has nearly doubled in size, then pre-heat the oven to 375. Bake the stollen at 375 for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 300. Bake for another 30-40 minutes.

Remove the stollen from the oven, and pierce the crust thoroughly with a fork or other sharp pokey thing. Put the brandy and butter in a small container and microwave just long enough to melt the butter. Stir or shake to emuslify the mix, then brush over the stollen. Generously coat the loaf with powdered sugar, then cover loosely until cool.


1. I used a combination of candied orange peel, dried cranberries, raisins, and dates in mine. Some people use chopped nuts, too, and some recipes call for mace or cardamom. Feel free to flavor it the way you like it, it's your cake!
2. There is no reason you have to put marzipan in it, or cover it with brandy and sugar. But I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to. (Some people prefer to make a drizzle of icing out of confectioner's sugar, which does make it less messy.) If you do go for powdered sugar and hooch, be very generous with the sugar. Most of it will tamp down into the steam from the warm cake.
3. The loaf will not get very brown. Don't worry, it's not supposed to. Stollen should be moist, not crunchy.
4. It takes a very long time for this dough to rise. The high concentrations of fat and sugar in it inhibit the action of the yeast, so you do need to be patient. This recipe took me nearly 6 hours to make.
5. Ohmigod this is insanely delicious.

Do you remember the first time you ever encountered fruitcake? That rather horrid, soggy, mortar-like confection that never gets eaten but always turns up at christmas?  Wasn't that a great disappointment?  It always had those shiny red and green bits of candied fruit, and smelled alluringly boozy, and tasted like car exhaust and rubbing alcohol. I kept trying to eat it for years, hoping that one day, I would find a fruitcake that tasted as good as it looked.

My search has ended. This cake is tender and rich, delicately sweet, meltingly chewy. There is just enough fruit to make each bite a little different from the last. It has an alluringly boozy aroma all right, cuz dammnit, I put actual booze on my fruitcake. The coating of sugar compacts into a thin, ever so slightly crunchy crust that dissolves almost instantly in your mouth. Glucose euphoria.

Not a Real Pizza


It's round, made of dough, and has cheese melted on it to glue down the other toppings. But I think that this is still not a real pizza, which must have tomato sauce on it. And mozzarella cheese. Everything else is negotiable. But this still looks pretty appealing. I found the recipe in the paper, and it does have many of my favorite things: blue cheese, nuts, fruit. Bread.

8 oz crumbled blue cheese
a dash of cream*
1 apple
a handful of arugula
pinch of minced fresh rosemary
salt & pepper

half a recipe of pizza dough

Pre-heat the oven as hot as it will get without being on broil.

Smash most of the cheese with the cream until you have a thick lumpy sauce. Keep a few crumbs for the top of the pie. Stretch out the dough and spread the sauce on it, slice the apple and arrange a layer over the sauce. Throw on a handful of arugula, the nuts, the rosemary, and the remaining bits of blue cheese. Dash on a tiny bit of salt, and a good amount of pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes.


1. *I didn't have cream, so I mixed a couple tablespoons of dry milk with about 3 tablespoons of water. It was just fine. You could use actual milk too, I guess.
2. The picture shows that I constructed my pie backwards, i.e. with the apples on top of the arugula. It was ok, but I like it when the leaves get crispy and slightly black around the edges, so I would rather have put them on the top.
3. My walnuts were raw and frozen when they went in the oven, which probably helped to keep them from burning up. Burnt arugula is ok with me, burnt nuts are not.
4. The original recipe did not call for arugula, but I think it adds something. The original also called for pre-cooking the crust a bit, which appears unnecessary and fiddly.

It may not be real pizza, but it is real tasty. The apple juices cook out and mix with the cheese to make a sweet-salty topping, the nuts are crunchy and buttery, the rosemary adds a little sharpness to balance the richness of the cheese. It's pretty good for lunch the next day, but straight out of the oven, when it's still hot, crunchy, and chewy, it is amazing.