Milestones

We’re back! 75% done with the first year of residency. But even more importantly…

2 days away from our first wedding anniversary!

And of course it’s a new year on the Lunar calendar. While this may seem like a bit of a side note, Lunar New Year has meaning for Sarah and I in addition to all the values, tradition, and culture that I grew up with. Because I proposed to Sarah on Lunar New Year.

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a quick snap for our parents on that day

For those unfamiliar with the story, Sarah was on her surgery rotation at that point in time in medical school. I had come home and began preparing a fairly traditional new year’s dinner consisting of dumplings, noodles, and fish (each dish with its own symbolism). In true surgery fashion, she ended up being delayed in the operating room that day. When she did arrive home, we had dinner together. Afterwards, there still remained the tradition of red envelopes. I had purposely made a show early on that evening about stuffing a few red envelopes with chocolate. While Sarah took a shower, I had wrapped up her wedding ring in chocolate foil and shaped it into the form of the other chocolates and stuffed it in a red envelope. So when Sarah opened her red envelope that evening, she discovered the ring. In a day already full of symbolism, why not add one more symbol to the list and start the year off right. We announced our engagement to our friends a few weeks later at a belated Lunar New Year gathering.

Being away from home on New Year’s is always tough for a day that is supposed to be spent with family. We’ve made the most of it the past few years by having our friends over to celebrate as in many ways, they’ve become members of our new family. This year in DC was no different (although we greatly missed our NOLA family). A few weeks ago, we hosted a bunch of my co-interns and friends at our annual Lunar New Year party. I’ve posted a lot of the recipes that I use already including peanut noodles and dumplings. But I have been holding out on my steamed fish recipe.

Steamed Fish with Ginger and Green Onions

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Ingredients:

  • Fish                                          1 whole, cleaned
  • Green onions                        6
  • Ginger                                     6 large slices
  • Cooking wine                        3 T
  • Salt
  • Soy sauce                                1/2 T
  • Black vinegar                        1/2 T
  • Sesame oil                              1 t
  • Sugar                                        1/2 t

We’ve been pretty spoiled living in New Orleans and having access to some really tasty and cheap fresh fish. For best flavor, try to get whatever local fresh caught white fish is available to you. I used rockfish for my most recent iteration.

To prep your fish, trim off the fins/spines, get rid of the insides, and descale (all this can be done at the store for you if you ask). Slice 3 evenly spaced slits on each side of the fish. Rub cooking wine onto the entire fish including the inside cavity and the slits. Lightly sprinkle some salt on the fish. Place your slices of ginger into the slits on each side. Smash 3 of the green onion stalks with the flat side of your knife. Place it on the bottom of a dish to line it. Place your fish on top of the green onions and place entire dish into a steamer. Depending on the size of your fish, it should steam for about 10-15 minutes.

As the fish is steaming, make a simple sauce to drizzle over. Combine soy sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar. Mix well in small bowl. Also slice remaining 3 stalks of green onion longitudinally into thin strips. If you want them to curl for added prettiness, place the strips into a bowl with water and ice.

When the fish is done, carefully remove in from the dish and place it onto a clean plate. If you put our green onions in ice water, make sure to dry them off on some paper towels. Sprinkle your green onions generously over the fish. Pour over the sauce. Serve.

-D

 

 

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Mulling things over

I first encountered mulled wine over a decade ago, at a Christmas market in tiny Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. I say ‘encountered’ because I honestly can’t remember if I tasted any – I was on a trip with my school orchestra at the time and was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, so I doubt I had the guts to sneak even a sip of alcohol in front of teachers. That said, I definitely remember the smell – boozy, vaguely sweet, spicy with cloves and anise. Inhaling that scent while wandering in the shadows of buildings that looked like gingerbread houses, browsing through stalls of handmade wooden ornaments, candied nuts, and nutcrackers was like walking through a Christmas story. I eventually needed something warm to hold so badly that I settled for hot chocolate. They use the good stuff over in Germany – real  chocolate melted down into hot milk, poured into plastic red cups so flimsy that I wondered if they would melt from the heat.

These days, I still have the wooden ornaments I brought back from Rothenburg, and I am more than old enough to trim the tree with a mug full of mulled wine in hand.  This year marks our first married Christmas, and the first year we’ve spent the actual holiday together, so we’ve been test-driving some new holiday recipes, evaluating for tradition-potential. Our families had very different holiday culinary traditions – my parents have always done a Thanksgiving redux – a roast turkey complete with all the trimmings – while Dennis grew up toasting over a giant hot-pot feast. This year we ate ourselves under the table with a giant portion of prime rib, but I suspect we may trial something different next year. Regardless of what main dish we eventually settle on, I suspect that mulled wine, in some iteration, will be a keeper.

Since you end up adding sugar, citrus, and handfulls of spices, we recommend choosing a cheaper bottle for mulling, though still one you would be willing to drink on its own – we opted for a bottle of 3-buck chuck (love being back in the land of Trader Joe’s). Also, while you can let this simmer away for hours, be aware that some of the alcohol might boil off while cooking. We suspect that we mostly had spicy grape juice by the end of our simmer, as we polished off an entire bottle with nary a buzz between us, and we really don’t drink often enough to be able to pull that off.

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Mulled wine

  • 1 750ml bottle of red wine
  • 1/3 – 1/2 C demerara sugar, to taste
  • 3T mixed whole cloves, allspice, cardamom pods, star anise
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange or grapefruit, quartered

Pour the wine into a crock pot or large stock pot and put on low heat. Tie whole spices in muslin or cheesecloth and add to the wine. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add citrus quarters. Heat until fragrant and spiced to taste (sample as you go!)

-S

 

Souper Flavorful Broth

An undeniable new coolness and crispness in the air undoubtedly signals the beginning of my favorite season. If I wrote a dictionary entry for fall, it would probably read: Fall (noun): A time for tromping through leaves, apple picking, root vegetables, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and all kinds of soup! See also: the best season.

Unfortunately, I’ve been spending most of these past weeks working the night shift from 5PM-6AM. Oddly enough, based on Sarah’s usual hours on transplant surgery from 6 AM-6 (usually 7 or 8)PM, I still get to see a bit more sunlight than she does now that our days are getting shorter. Being on opposite schedules sucks as I was also just working nights in the ED prior. In the past 2 weeks, I think we’ve only logged a total of 1.25 days where we’ve both been conscious in-person at the same time and able to carry on a conversation. So we definitely had to take advantage of this past Sunday by spending a good chunk of it wandering through Rock Creek Park. The leaves are already starting to fall and change color. We tromped through the park, scaling up rock faces, and catching each other up on the occurrences of the last 2 weeks as I occasionally dashed off to pursue a preying mantis. And of course, we had to talk about what recipes we want to try out this season as well.

Chances are if you’ve been to a ramen restaurant, you’ve noticed that many of them feature a 12-24 hour broth that is packed with flavor. Chances are that most of us also do not have that much time to spare when it comes to creating a broth/soup base. So here’s a little work around to get the most flavor in the least amount of time. One of my most utilized wedding gifts has to be the Instapot. This contraption  is awesome. Its easy pressure cooker function is key.

What is pressure cooking? 

Be nice to your pressure cooker and read the safety instructions prior to use. Rule of thumb to avoid explosive results: if the lid doesn’t want to come off, don’t pry it off and sure as hell don’t stick your face over the pot if you’re foolish enough to try to force the lid off.  Fun fact: the first pressure cooker was invented back in the 1600s by a French guy named Denis! In a pressure cooker, the closed system does not allow for liquid to boil in the conventional sense. Instead, as the temperature increases in the liquid, the pressure build up in the pot forces the heat energy/steam generated by liquid back into the food, raising the actual cooking temperature and forcing a lot of flavor back into the liquid. Another cool trick for pho broth which is supposed to be nice and clear is to make it in the pressure cooker so you can avoid having to constantly skim the top of the broth for impurities. All this because you never raise the temp to a boil which makes your broth cloudy.

The best part of making your own broth is that you can customize the flavors exactly how you want and end up cross utilizing a lot of vegetable or chicken scraps. Below is just an example of some ingredients I use for a chicken broth.

Asian-style chicken Broth

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Noodles, sliced shiitake mushrooms, Chinese mustard greens, bean sprouts, scallions, and a soft boiled egg

  • chicken bones/carcass scraps (you may roast prior for extra flavor)
  • carrots
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • onion
  • lemon grass
  • thai basil
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • white pepper
  • salt

Throw all of this into your pressure cooker. Fill it up with water and salt to taste and let the contraption do its thing. After it’s done, sieve out all of the scraps which should leave you a nice flavorful broth.

If you want the most flavor out of your ramen, everything (noodles, vegetables, egg) should be cooked in the broth after it comes out of the pressure cooker. Put your ingredients in a bowl and scoop some more broth on top of it to finish.

D

 

 

 

Explosion of patriotic flavor (小籠包 Part 2)

Sarah and I were both fortunate enough to have the 4th of July off this year. Unfortunately, the weather was rather uncooperative so we decided not to slog out to the National Mall in the humidity and rain for fireworks that may or may not have happened. Instead, we enjoyed a morning jog through the zoo, visiting our favorite pandas and great apes who were also enjoying a sleepy and lazy holiday in their exhibits, and came home to meddle about in the kitchen.

Since I had posted about the science behind soup dumplings or xiao long bao (xlb) prior, I’ve been dying to give it a shot at home. I will preface this recipe by saying that it is pretty labor and time intensive. Usually xlb is done with a pork broth and ground pork filling. I happened to have a chicken carcass lying around and leftover ground turkey so I made use of those instead. The finished product still tasted awesome.

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The Broth and Aspic

  • Chicken carcass/bones
  • Shiitake mushrooms                3
  • Green onions                                3
  • Ginger                                            1.4 cup, sliced
  • Basil                                                4-5 leaves
  • Water 
  • Salt                                                  To taste
  • Unflavored gelatin                     1 T to every 2 cups

Place all ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to a simmer and let it go for 45 min to 1 hr. Strain your mixture through a sieve so you only reserve the liquid. Mix in the unflavored gelatin (the broth needs to be hot at this point). Pour the mixture into a shallow pan and refrigerate. After a few hours, it should have turned broth jello aka aspic. Use a knife and score the aspic into small cubes and place back in fridge to reserve for later.

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Mmm savory jello

*You can skip the time intensive broth part and use prepackaged chicken broth or veggie broth if you desire. I like having a bit more control over customizing the flavors in the broth.

Dough

  • Flour                 3 cups
  • Hot water        1 cup
  • Oil                      1 T

Put flour in a bowl and slowly add in the hot water as you mix. Add in 1 T of oil and knead until you get a dough ball that is nice and smooth. Wrap your dough ball in plastic and let it rest for 1 hour.

Filling

  • Ground Turkey               1 lb
  • Garlic                               4 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                             2 T, minced
  • Green onions                 3, diced
  • Shaoxing wine              1 T
  • Soy sauce                        1 T
  • Sesame Oil                      1 T
  • White pepper                 0.5 T
  • Aspic                                1 cup

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix by hand, trying to incorporate the ingredients uniformly. Take a cup of your aspic cubes and mix them in as well.

The Sauce

  • Ginger                       1 inch, julienned
  • Soy sauce              2 T
  • Black vinegar       3 T

Combine all into small saucer.

XLB Assemble!

You have to move pretty fast in this process or else your aspic will begin to melt or your dough may dry out.

Take the rested dough and divide into 4 pieces. Roll out each piece into a long cylinder. Cut each cylinder into roughly 1 inch pieces. Squish each piece of dough with your hand into a small circle. Use your rolling pin to roll out the edges so you have roughly a 3.5 to 4 inch diameter circle. You can let the middle of the dough be a little bit thicker, but the outer edges should almost be translucent.

Place 1 T of your filling in the center of the dough and add an additional small bit of leftover aspic on top. The technique for making the pleats is exactly the same as the dumpling recipe except you just need to go in a circle. You should end up with a small dough nub on the top of your soup dumpling. Pinch it closed and give it a twist to finish.

Repeat this process with the rest of your dough and filling. Place your soup dumplings into a steamer lined with either a baking sheet or some napa cabbage. Steam for 5-10 minutes. Carefully remove from steamer basket and enjoy! Careful. It’s hot.

D

 

Southern Comfort Buttery Biscuits

Hello from moving-land! I’m writing this from the floor of our living room, since two men from the Habitat for Humanity Re-build donation program just walked out our front door with the last remaining soft thing to sit on. I just binge-ate about five of the gingerbread graduation cookies my parents shipped our way while contemplating exactly how we might tetris the remaining miscellany into the upper reaches of our moving pod and Dennis’ car. It’s gonna be tight (the car) or precariously balanced (the pod) or both (eek). Regardless, it’s officially happening, and we’ll soon be in DC! We may still be homeless, but we’ll be there! Progress! We’ll probably also be in serious need of some comfort food (and some vegetables, but whatever) and we’ll be needing to bribe my brother and his lovely girlfriend so that they let us stay with them in their apartment as long as necessary, which is where these biscuits come in.

It’s pretty hard to go wrong with home-made biscuits, but the difference between average and excellent biscuits is pretty profound. The key to these superb specimens is using cold butter and mixing the dough by hand, leaving discrete, nickel-sized amounts of butter remaining in the dough. Once baked these chunks of butter melt, they create ‘buddles’ (butter puddles), and flaky layers. If a batch or two of these don’t soften the blow of a 1,000 mile move, I don’t know what will.

Richard Miscovich’s Baking Powder Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • All purpose flour               5C + 1T + 1t (600g)
  • Baking powder                   2T + 1 1/2 t (28g)
  • Salt                                         2 1/4 t (12g)
  • Sugar, granulated              2T (28g)
  • Butter, unsalted, cold       2 sticks (210g)
  • Milk, cold                              1 3/4c (400g)

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a bowl.
  2. Cut or grate the butter into the dry ingredients. Mix in the butter with your hands until most of the butter is in large, flat shards about the size of a nickel. This can be accomplished using a pastry cutter or rubbing the dough between the heels of your hands. Do not overmix the dough – as mentioned above, the chunks of butter are critical to the texture of the final product.
  3. Add the milk and mix by hand until just incorporated – don’t worry if you still have a few spots of dry flour remaining. Turn the mixture onto a floured work surface and gently knead 6-8 times, until the dough just comes together.
  4. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 1″ thick. Fold one third of the rectangle in towards the center, then fold the opposite side over, as if folding a letter. Press down gently, rotate the dough 90 degrees, then repeat the letter fold with the other two sides, creating a square. Roll the dough out again, this time to a rectangle ~9″x 12″ and about 5/8″ thick. Let the dough rest, covered, for about 20 minutes. To cut individual biscuits, make a 3 x4 grid on the surface of the dough, then use a long, sharp knife to cut along the grid-lines, producing 12 biscuits.
  5. Place the biscuits evenly spaced on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Eggwash the tops of the biscuits only, being careful not to let the wash drip down the sides (this would inhibit rising). Bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

S

Aspics of Soup Dumplings (小籠包)

I’ll start this post off by warning you that this post does NOT contain a recipe. Rest assured, I definitely plan on posting one at a future date once I work out some kinks.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of soup dumplings aka xiaolongbao (xlb), they look something like this:

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Vegetarian mushroom medley soup dumplings from scratch

The act of consuming xlb is an experience in and of itself. The surgical precision necessary to pluck the dumpling out of the steamer basket with chopsticks requires the perfect balance of gentle manipulation and assertive force. Too soft a touch and you’ll never liberate the xlb from the bottom of the basket. Too rough and a tear liberates the liquid magic inside. Should you be successful in transferring the xlb to your soup spoon, you are nearly ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The smallest nibble unleashes the hot, savory soup from inside. As you finally consume the leftover filling, dumpling skin, with a combination of dark vinegar and ginger, you know you have made it in the world.

Although the last paragraph borders (okay fine…shamelessly dives headfirst into) the melodramatic, it is not an exaggeration to say that this particular food has launched an empire. But let’s switch gears and talk about the thing that makes soup dumplings special…namely, the soup. I used to believe that the incorporation of the soup involved the finest syringe injecting broth straight into a finished dumpling. This is decidedly NOT the case and instead involves a concept we discussed briefly in another post, hydrocolloids.

If you have ever bought a rotisserie chicken from the store and put it in your fridge, you may have noticed a gelatinous yellow glaze on the bottom of the container when you opened it the next day. If you tasted it, you would have noticed that this “meat jello” contained a lot of that chicken flavor. Therein lies the secret to soup dumplings. Back in the day broth would be made containing a lot of animal bones and/or skin. These particular parts contain a lot of collagen. Upon cooling the finished broth, one could skim the surface of it for all the leftover broth-flavored gelatin. Take a cube of gelatin, stick it into a dumpling with the filling, steam it, and the gelatin block liquifies and becomes the soup in the soup dumpling.

In the modern food industry, it is a hassle to continuously make broth, let it cool down, and skim the surface for the soup gelatin. So I asked Chef McCue how we do it today. He didn’t know for sure so did me a solid and called up his chef buddy in Taiwan who revealed that they utilize something called aspic.

Aspic is very simply gelatinized stock – stock + unflavored clear gelatin. Just like how your mom used to make jello, you heat up your stock with the gelatin mixed in, stir until it dissolves, and put it into a container that you put into the fridge. After a while the mixture turns to a broth jello that you can cut into cubes and use in your soup dumplings. Keep in mind that gelatin is a reversible hydrocolloid which is why it can turn back to a liquid upon heating. Another great thing about making aspic is that you can use it with a veggie stock (like we did with a mushroom stock) with great results.

D

 

 

 

Ball so hard

One of the perks of taking culinary classes is being able to experiment with techniques I would otherwise never have a chance to practice at home. This week, we had the opportunity to practice “spherification” with Chef Crawley in our spa cuisine class. I don’t know about you, but prior to this class the only “spherifying” I could do was use a melon baller. Look at me now!

Sadly, I can’t provide any specific recipes for these dishes because we made them up on the go and adjusted spices to taste, but I did want to talk a little about the technique of spherification and some of the nerdy science behind it all.

***CAUTION: FOOD SCIENCE AHEAD***

Spherification involves the use of something called hydrocolloids which are polysaccharides/proteins that have an affinity for water. Translated practically, they are used to gel/thicken. There are many examples of these substances which include agar, carrageenan, alginate, pectin, xanthum gum (which apparently is a byproduct of microbial fermentation), and gelatin. Deciding the exact proportions of each to use can be very nitpicky. Chefs pick and choose which one to use based on many factors which include personal preference, pH, and reversibility.

There are various techniques of spherification the scope of which is a bit beyond that of this blog, but suffice it to say, you can end up with some really cool textural and flavor components in a dish. The outside of the sphere has a somewhat gummy texture but breaking the membrane releases a torrent of flavor.

Unfortunately, this is probably not one of those things you will be replicating at home anytime soon. The ingredients are expensive. The technique takes some practice. I’d personally feel a little bit pretentious serving spherified food at a dinner party. Leave this one to the fancy restaurants.

D

 

The Mallard Reaction

No you didn’t read that wrong, this technique is actually a close cousin to the Mallaird reaction that creates that nice brown color that you want on the outside of steaks and toasted marshmallows.

The Mallard reaction is actually aptly named because it does have a little something to do with our friend,

mallard_glam

such gloss and elegance

If you’ve ever seen ducks swim, you’ll notice that they seem to possess the uncanny ability to dive underwater but come up looking all nice, shiny, and put together. All this is due to the fact that they have a special gland that secretes an oil that they use to preen their feathers and thus repel water.

Chefs have utilized this same concept to add shine to their dishes prior to plating. A great example of this would be grains. Cooked pearled couscous can look a bit dull and lackluster when just put on a plate. Now consider adding a bit of a neutral oil and giving that couscous a toss to coat the pearls before serving and all of a sudden you have something shiny and glossy that stands out on the plate.

D

Edit: April fools! Most of the information presented was actually true. Only the nomenclature is fake.

 

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Today I had the opportunity to participate in a ‘Viennoiserie’ course. According to Wikipedia (and a few slightly more legit food sources), ‘Viennoiserie’ means ‘things of Vienna’ and refers to refers to the family of pastries made from either a pâte viennoise (a leavened, sweetened dough so-named because of its origin in Vienna) or a pâte feuilletée (puff pastry dough).  Though I’ve attempted some pastries at home (we made croissants from scratch one ambitious Christmas) I haven’t explored the genre much, largely because (a) most of these pastries take several days to make from start to finish and (b) our little household of two doctors-to-be can only justify eating so much butter.

We started the day making blueberry muffins at the punishing hour of 6AM. While blueberry muffins are not technically Viennoiserie, I suppose they get rolled in there to widen the students’ repertoire, and perhaps to fill some of the waiting time while the yeasted doughs proof. I thought I knew how to make muffins, but discovered that I have definitely been taking some shortcuts.

1) When the instructions call for you to cream butter and sugar, you need to really get after it, turning the mixer up to what is probably best described as ‘medium-high’ and letting it rip until the whole mixture turns nearly white. I am usually too antsy for this.

2) Letting the eggs (and the aforementioned butter) come to room temperature before combining is actually important, as is incorporating them in fractions. Skip either step and you risk improper emulsification and separation of the batter. You also miss out on a key air-incorporating opportunity and will likely end up with flatter muffins. I am also usually too antsy for this.

The result of all that patience – the fluffiest, most tender-crumbed muffins I’ve ever been at least partially-responsible for baking. Delish.

Now for some pictures of fancy stuff…

S

The Cutting Edge

Sarah and I feel very fortunate to get to spend an entire month at Johnson & Wales for culinary school. Although we spent most of today figuring out all the logistics for this rotation, we did take time to do something very important.

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Sarah sharpening a knife with whetstone

Now if you’re like me, you might think sharpening your knife like this in front of your friends makes you look like a badass:

abw12og

In fact, you just made yourself look like a jackass because this is NOT sharpening but rather ‘honing.’ Honing does NOT sharpen a knife, but rather just straightens the edge. I could go on but Alton Brown does a much better job in this video.

There are many techniques for sharpening, but it seems most culinary people use a whetstone that you can lubricate with oil or water (I prefer water because it is a bit less messy). Today, Chef Todd recommended getting one with 1000 & 6000 grit. Unless you let your knives completely go to hell, chances are you won’t need something much coarser. There are plenty of great YouTube videos on how to use a whetstone appropriately.

Remember kids: Dull knives are way more dangerous and cause more accidents than sharp knives. Stay sharp!

D