Monday, December 12, 2011

Homemade char siu pork

I finally got around to checking out the Minneapolis-based counterpart to my local Asian market, Shuang Her, over the weekend.

It was a little disappointing to know how much better the Minneapolis store is in terms of meat selections -- there is a real butcher-type counter, rather than just a large fridge case of packaged meat.

So, I grabbed three pounds of skinless pork butt for about $9 and decided to try my hand at homemade char siu pork.

Char siu is one of those things that usually seems easier to buy, given how hard it seems to make at home.

I adapted this recipe and technique that I found online, and I'm thrilled with the result. My two favorite ways to enjoy char siu is wrapped in fluffy white dimsum buns or mixed into a sticky rice recipe from my friend Wendy (though, this was so tasty, I found myself just munching on it).

3 lbs of skinless pork butt and cut into pieces a little smaller than my fist

4 tablespoons light corn syrup (use maltose if you have it/can find it)
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) -- note, the original recipe calls for "Chinese Rose Wine" so again, if you have it on hand or can find it, go with it.
3 dashes white pepper powder
1 tsp red coloring (optional)
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Add all ingredients, except the pork, to a large bowl and whisk to combine.
Marinate the pork butt pieces with 2/3 of the char siu sauce  overnight. Reserve the rest of the marinade for brushing during cooking.
At 400 degrees, roast the meat uncovered for 20 mins, flip and roast another 15 mins.
Then, on a flat baking pan covered in foil, brush the meat with half the remaining sauce, and broil for 5 minutes until it starts to smoke, and you get a few areas starting to turn black and crisp. Flip the meat, drain the sheet pan if there is too much liquid, and broil the other side.
* if you don't live in Minnesota in December, you could also grill the meat for the final steps over a high heat grill.

The pork after first round of roasting

The pork after broiling. I used our *awesome* new toaster oven for the roasting and the broiling.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#LetsLunch: festive sides/family sides edition

Another month, another late LetsLunch post...

Sadly, I worked nights most of this past week, so I didn't do much cooking of meals, much less than side dishes. With it being my second-to-last week on the job, I used my free mornings instead to meet up with my former team in one of our bureaus for lunch, ran errands and got a spa facial on Friday. :)

I am SUPER excited to get started at my new gig at the Cooking Club. Hopefully that means this blog will start to get a little more love (though, it's entirely possible it goes in the other direction for the first few months while I get settled).

But, I will still continue to meet up with my world-wide LetsLunch group for our virtual food date once a month. This month, we chose festive holiday sides and festive family side dishes (I think...).

I made this for a potluck last night and from the empty dish we brought home at the end of the night, it seems to have been a hit.

This is my mom's Hot Crab Dip. She usually only makes it at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and every year, I think I end up single-handedly devouring at least half of it.

Mom's recipe calls for 1 block of cream cheese to 1 can of lump crab meat. This is a double batch and it fills a medium-sized round corning-ware dish.

Season the drained crab meat with two teaspoons of prepared horseradish (or more, to taste. I use heaping teaspoons). Also preheat your oven or toaster oven to 375.

Dried onion flakes, three teaspoons. You could probably use real onion (though a bit less, they're very strong) or some thinly sliced scallions if you're feeling extra fancy. Also sprinkle some salt and pepper at this point.

Mix in two blocks of cream cheese. This works a lot better when you leave the cream cheese out for a bit, maybe near a warm oven. These were right out of the fridge, and it was a pain to mix.

Finally add milk a spoonful at a time and continue mixing. Add no more than two tablespoons of milk (but usually ends up needing much less).

Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until warmed through and slightly browned on top. Cool before serving or risk seriously burning the crap out of your mouth. Serve with crackers or bread.


LetsLunch is a monthly virtual lunch date among food bloggers from around the world. Our fearless leader, Cheryl Tan can be found at  Want to join us? Search the #LetsLunch hashtag on Twitter and ping any one of us with your info. I'm @emmacarew

Here's a round-up of what everyone else posted this week:
Charissa‘s Coconut Date Balls at Zest Bakery
Cheryl's Auntie Jane's Potato Gratin at A Tiger In the Kitchen
Eleanor‘s Easy Festive Stir-Fry at Wok Star
Ellise‘s Lime-Chipotle Carrots at Cowgirl Chef
Felicia‘s Chinese Butterfly Cookies at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Fruitcake at HapaMama
Joe‘s Maine Homestead Holiday Dishes at Joe Yonan
Linda‘s Baked Salad at Free Range Cookies
Linda‘s Trinidadian Baked Pastelles at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Potato Latkes at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s “Not My Mama’s” Black-Eyed Peas & Greens at A Cook And Her Books
Maria‘s Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs at Maria’s Good Things
Patrick‘s Baby Pecan Pies at Patrick G. Lee
Rebecca‘s Grandmother Martha’s Potato Kugel at Grongar Blog
Steff‘s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crumble at The Kitchen Trials
Victor‘s Roasted Parsnips, Carrots & Delicata Squash Tossed With Sauteed Mustard Greens at The Taste of Oregon

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011, version 2.0 (Roasted, braised turkey)

Thanksgiving this year was a quiet affair. Having used up most of my vacation time for our wedding and honeymoon, I volunteered to work a half day at the paper, then we went to a good friend's house for a potluck.

The potluck was wonderful -- my first Thanksgiving with egg rolls. I think I may never go back!

But, that left us in the curious position of not having any Thanksgiving leftovers, except for a few slices of pie.

So, Friday night, we hit up Cub Foods and bought the smallest non-frozen turkey we could find (12 pounds) and a few other provisions for Thanksgiving 2.0.

I spent most of Saturday cooking our very first married Thanksgiving. Jake also points out that Michigan, his favorite college football team had a miraculous win on our wedding day, then had another big win on the day of our first married Thanksgiving. This appears to reaffirm that our marriage was, indeed, the right choice.

Having never actually roasted a turkey before, I did some internet research. I decided to follow Michael Ruhlman's Roast/Braise method, as the idea of keeping the turkey really moist seemed to be the biggest challenge.  Basically, you stuff the turkey with all the good stuff: onions, herbs, citrus, then fill your pan with stock making goodies: more herbs, more onion, some carrots, celery (I used fennel, it was grand), a little tomato paste, a little alcohol (I used half a bottle of Riesling, but beer, whiskey, probably anything would do), then add water until the dark meat is resting in it.

When the white meat is cooked to 160 at the fattest part, you remove the turkey (this is harder than it sounds...), slice off the dark meat, and put the dark meat back into the braising liquid for a bit, while you cover the white meat to keep it juicy, tender and awesome.

So, aside from probably using too much tomato paste (so the broth was redder than I would have liked), I think it turned out really well.

In Carey family tradition, I removed and devoured the turkey neck.

Here's the turkey after the initial "roast" stage. This was the maiden voyage for the roasting pan we received from our wedding, as well as the baster (which was metal, so hard to see how much liquid you've pulled into it) and the meat thermometer. What Ruhlman's recipe doesn't mention is that one half of the turkey may cook faster than the other, so on one of your basting times, pull the turkey out, get the temp on each breast, and rotate accordingly. He also fails to account for the 12 lb turkey and 2/3 a roasting pan full of liquid being REALLY FREAKING HEAVY. Use adult supervision accordingly for the lifting, turning, whatever.When the cooler breast has reached 160, that's when I declared it done.

So, while the turkey was roasting, then the dark meat braising (seriously, the meat on this thing was so tender, and stayed so moist even through the week of leftovers), I got to work on the other aspects: mashed red potatoes with roasted shallots, Wendy's pecan sweet potatoes, and stuffing.

Although I have grown to appreciate real, gourmet stuffing, I still love the Pepperidge Farm stuff my mom used to make from the bag. We made two bags (yes, for two people... deal with it). This year I branched out a little and crumbled in a little cooked "all natural" sausage (about 1 1/2 packages for the two bags), but truly, that's as fancy as I'll get.

Here's the finished plate: Clockwise from top left: mashed red, turkey, stuffing, mashed sweet with pecans, and bread (which I picked up from Diamond City Bread in Elk River, after reading a colleague's profile of the place)

At some point, I also decided on a whim to use up the rest of my buttery pie dough and make another pie. I had already brought two pecan pies to the potluck (one with a homemade crust, one with a store-bought crust, which happened during my frustrating with my sticky homemade crust), and two chocolate pudding pies (again, tribute to my mother. They're simple, but she made them, and I love them). This was my fifth and final Thanksgiving 2011 pie: and yes, I'm still using that damn Pioneer Woman recipe from last year

So, all in all, I would call Thanksgiving 2.0 a success. You can see Jake smiling as he piles up his plate here. Happy husband, happy wife, happy Thanksgiving. :)

Fancy-pants grilled cheese

So, I have some wonderful news to share! I recently accepted a job as the digital editor for a magazine called The Cooking Club. I am definitely sad to leave my job at the Strib but this is an amazing opportunity for me to combine my passions: digital journalism and cooking. Can't wait to get started, more details to come.

Now on to the food... 
Jake and I have been meaning to get to our neighborhood bar for their fancy grilled cheese and veggies sandwiches for a while now. The place is a little pricey, and we tend to frequent it for brunch, so a few weeks ago, we decided to have date night in and try to figure them out ourselves.

I started by slicing up a red bell pepper, drizzling with a 1/2 tsp olive oil and some salt in one giant ramekin and slicing a red onion with a little red wine vinegar in the other. I roasted at 450 for about 30 minutes while I got the other stuff ready. I also broiled for 3-5 minutes to finish them.

We put our double cast irons to work to toast the buns we bought. I brushed them with truffle oil on each side before grilling.

We used four kinds of cheese: Brie (spread on the bottom), smoked gouda, mozzarella, and fontina. I also sauteed some portobello mushrooms in a little red wine and black pepper. We grilled them with just the cheese, covered for a few minutes to get the cheese melting, then piled on the toppings.

The finished product. I used the heated top cast iron again to press down and heat the sandwiches from both sides.  We plated over baby arugula (which we both ended up stuffing into the sandwiches anyway) and a drizzle of truffle oil and salt.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#LetsLunch November: Food for seduction

This month my LetsLunch group decided to choose sexy or seductive foods in honor of our friend Rashda's book debut, The Djinn's Dilemma. I'm a bit late to the party, as I've been sick, but here's my post.

Others in our group picked smoky soups, stews, donuts and jellies. Food for love, food for romance, all to fit the theme of Rashda's new romance novel!

Me? I went back to the place where I first learned how to cook. I started cooking in college and when I started, I began with a lot of Rachael Ray dishes.

I remember reading a quote she had in Good Housekeeping:
""I knew my boyfriend was the man to marry when I asked him what he would like for his birthday dinner," Rachael Ray writes in her cookbook Cooking 'Round the Clock. "I offered up lobster, steak, fine foods of all nationalities, to which he replied: 'Can I just have some of your carbonara?' Whoa! I was right about him.... 

I had never heard of carbonara, but I knew I wanted to try it. Now I'm a newly-wed myself, and my husband absolutely loves when I make this dish. It's one of our favorites!

So, for November's LetsLunch, raise a glass to our dear friend Rashda for her book release, and dig in to some lovely, creamy carbonara.

Carbonara starts with bacon or pancetta. I only had turkey bacon in the house, so use a little extra olive oil when cooking. Once the bacon is cooked through, add 3 cloves minced garlic and lower the heat. Then add one small palmful of red chile flakes and 1/3 cup white wine (only use something you would actually drink! And if you're cooking for seduction, you ought to have an open bottle of wine on hand). While this is all going on, cook 3/4 a pound of pasta to al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water.

In a separate bowl, beat 2 egg yolks and 1 egg. While whisking continuously, slowly drizzle in about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to temper the eggs. Add salt and pepper and a big handful of shredded cheese. If you're using fresh herbs (parsley, basil, etc) chop and mix into the egg. If you want a creamier carbonara, add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup half and half or milk here. This will give the pasta a shiny, glossier finish and add a little decadence (as if pasta with bacon and tons of cheese isn't decadent enough).

Toss the pasta with the bacon mixture and mix well to coat, then pour the egg mixture over. Remove from heat and stir to combine. Let stand for 5-8 minutes and allow sauce to thicken. Serve with more cheese and freshly cracked pepper.

LetsLunch is a monthly meeting of food bloggers from around the globe. Send us a note on the hashtag #Letslunch if you'd like to join us! I'm @emmacarew

See what others have posted this month:

Rashda's Spicy Seafood Soup

Linda's West African Groundnut Stew

Joe's Overnight-Marinated Swordfish Stew

Grace's Pasta Puttanesca

Cathy's Roasted Pepper Jelly

Leigh's Apple Cider Donuts

Steff's Flirty Italian Snack

See you next month for festive sides!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Momofuku Milk Bar compost cookies

This is a story about failure and success. It's also about cookies. And kind of about family.

I'll start with the part about family. This weekend I finally set aside some time to bake cookies to mail to my brother and two cousins, who are freshman in college (the cousins, not the brother). I will probably never forget how excited I was the first time I got non-university and non-parent mail at my dorm. It was a card from my aunt with a gift card and it 150% made my day.

Usually, my brother and his girlfriend get monster cookies, so those were definitely on the list. But, I have been wanting to try this recipe since Jake and I had the real Momofuku compost cookies at Milk Bar a couple of years ago.

I used the recipe on Amateur Gourmet but I got a little carried away with the mix ins. I probably ended up with at least double what he recommends for baking ingredients and snack mix-ins.

Now, we get to the part about failure. Below, please marvel at my giant failure. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you get all excited about getting to add potato chips and M&Ms and Milk Duds to your cookies. You accidentally forget to add THE DRY INGREDIENTS. Key stuff, like the flour, and the baking soda and baking powder.  But, we scraped this scary stuff off the sheet and ate it anyway. It was kind of like cookie/candy/snack-brittle.

Back to the good stuff: success! and cookies! My cookies aren't quite as puffy as AG's are in the original recipe. But, I also used margarine instead of butter and, like I said, at least double his amounts for mix ins. Oh -- and the flour and leavening ingredients were added AFTER the fact.

But these cookies were very, very delicious. They were the first to go today at the office, between the bag of compost cookies and the bag of monster cookies. If I were to do it again, I would not use caramel candy melts or Milk Duds. The caramel really melts down at 400 degrees and you get weird caramel blobs sticking out of the edges of your cookies, which you later have to snap off so that the cookies are somewhat uniform for packing.

And, here they are. Three care packages, heading all over the country (Washington state, Colorado Springs, and Staten Island) for three college boys, whom I love and want to share baked goods with.

The moral of the story is this: it's important to love your family, and cook/bake them tasty things. It's also SUPER important to read the damn recipe and following the freaking directions.

Monster cookies recipe to follow....

Friday, October 21, 2011

Quick dinner: green curry and brown rice

I finally got my hands on a couple of big tubs of curry paste, one red and one green. Where did I find them? WalMart of all places. And they were super cheap.

This was a quick dinner I threw together the other night. It was delicious and took less than 30 minutes.

If I were to buy ingredients especially for this, I think I would have used cashews instead of peanuts, and I would have added water chestnuts.

I think it would also be good with a piece of white fish or some shrimp and peapods.

1 can coconut milk
2-3 TBS green curry paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 TBS oil
1/3-1/2 cup stock
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 can bamboo shoots
1 cup spinach leaves, chopped
1/3 cup peanuts
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces (I used two chicken thighs and it was a perfect amount)
cilantro to garnish

Heat garlic, onion and oil until fragrant. Fry curry paste with the garlic and onion, then add stock slowly to help break up the paste.
Add the pepper, bamboo, chicken and spinach and stir to cover with the curry mixture.
Slowly add the coconut milk and stir until completely combined. Heat 5 to 10 minutes more over medium heat.
Add peanuts for the last 5 minutes.

Serve over brown rice and top with chopped cilantro for garnish.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Honeymoon eating: the food in Hawaii

Food for honeymooners. One of the best parts about our trip to Hawaii was the opportunity to eat a radically different cuisine for two whole weeks. No one's body is really meant to eat take out or restaurant food for that many meals in a row, but it definitely helped that there was so much fresh food in Hawaii.

Here are some of our highlights:

Poke from Side Street Inn -- we went here on a recommendation from friends (they all recommended the pork chop, but neither of us are huge pork chop people). This was easily the best poke we had in Hawaii. Rich, buttery, and super delicious.

The spicy fried chicken at Side Street in was also awesome. The menu warns you you'll wait a little longer for it, but the extra 10 or so minutes were worth it. It was crispy and juicy, and almost tasted like it had been marinated in sweet spicy may ploy sauce.

Kalua-style pig sliders - these were awesome. I'm a huge fan of any kind of pork bun (especially char siu bao or Momofuku pork buns) and these were such a nice combination of salty pork with the sweet grilled pineapple.

This was our first experience with roadside fruit stands. We bough cold coconuts from a nice lady on the North Shore. She also let us sample lilikoi (passionfruit), which were incredibly delicious. Sweet but tart, and with seeds somewhat similar in texture to pomegranates.

The North Shore is also home to more food trucks than I have ever seen in Minnesota. Most of them specialized in shrimp. We stopped at one at the ruins of an old sugar mill and got garlic shrimp and mahi mahi. I love how many of the lunch plates come served with rice and/or macaroni salad.

Spam musubi are everywhere. Perfectly wrapped little bundles of white rice, spam, usually at least one other ingredient (egg, cheese, furikake seasoning are common). They're a nice snack, and even the ones in the convenience stores are not bad. I even picked up my own musubi press to make them at home.

Eggs N Things was another place that came highly recommended by our friends. We stopped there one night for breakfast for dinner. This is definitely the way to go, as we drove by another morning and the line was out the door.

The spread at Ono Hawaiian foods. This was on Anthony Bourdain's list of places to go in Honolulu. He stopped here for authentic Hawaiian plates, and we had the same. Poi, a kind of beef jerky, lomi lomi, purple sweet potatoes, coconut gelatin and of course, spam, all came alongside our meal.

In the windward side of the island, we stopped in a town called Kailua (the subject of a recent NYT Travel story) for lunch and went to Agnes' portuguese diner for malassadas for dessert. These were great. We also had more malassadas the night we were at Aloha stadium -- after the game, the vendor was apparently trying to get rid of the excess dough. We got a huge bag of freshly fried malassadas for $5.

Our big night out in Honolulu was at Alan Wong's. We had gotten recommendations to come here but also warned that it was expensive. We bit the bullet anyway, and had a really incredible night out. Above, the bread. It's incredible. Warm, light and fluffy on the inside. I was tempted to ask for more of these instead of ordering dessert.

Jake's tomato salad - a whole blanched tomato, then sliced crosswise, and served with cucumbers and li-hing (sour plum) dressing. He liked it so much he almost ordered a second.

And, because we were honeymooning, the staff not only brought us a complimentary dessert (after we had ordered separate desserts!) but we got to take home custom menus from the night with our name (they spelled it wrong, but oh well!) and signed by the staff.

On Kauai we went to a fun tapas place for dinner the second night. Our waiter talked us through the menu, which led us to things like this dish: poke served with avocado foam. The appetizers leaned more toward the style of being sort of couture food, eclectic but not too weird.

This was some kind of char siu dim sum ball. They were awesome.

And our final stop on the "Anthony Bourdain went there" tour was Puka Dog (he went to the one on Waikiki, but we went to the one in Kauai). I was hesitant to try this at first, as I'm not a huge eater of hotdogs, but I was sold when I heard they offered a spicy lilikoi mustard. I had mine with pineapple sauce.

Friday, October 7, 2011

#LetsLunch October edition: Brown Sugar Shortbreads for High Tea

Before I get to my post on high tea for this month's LetsLunch, I have two pieces of news to share!

First, I got married!
 (photo by Glen Stubbe Photography)

Which was then followed by two amazing weeks in Hawaii for our honeymoon:

(me, after our amazing dinner at Alan Wong's -- which we went to Cheryl Tan's recommendation!)

The second bit of news, is that I made my debut in the Star Tribune Taste section yesterday, with my piece about baking my friends' wedding cake in August (previous posts about my cake baking trials here, here and here). You can read the piece here.

But back to LetsLunch: this month marks my one-year anniversary of contributing to LetsLunch, after being invited by Cheryl late last summer. All of my LetsLunch posts are archived here.

I'm only an occasional food blogger, so I love coming up with a recipe and photographing it each month. This month I've been a bit busy (see previous two pieces of news) and we just returned from Hawaii last weekend.

The topic we picked for September, then slid into October, is High Tea. Who doesn't love a good cup of tea? Karyn, the recipient of the wedding cake baking, is the friend who first turned me on to looseleaf tea in college.

My boyfriend-then fiance-now husband (!) and I really got back into looseleaf tea last winter, leading up to the current moratorium on buying new teas.

(Our current tea stash and Teavanna tea maker)

When you drink a lot of looseleaf tea, you start to find out about how most tea really doesn't get brewed with boiling water and it really does matter how long you let the tea steep. I have little notes on all of my tea with the different specifics for herbal teas (tisanes -- there's no actual tea leaves in most of these blends), white teas, green teas, etc.

My LetsLunch to go along with the High Tea theme is a shortbread cookie with a dollop of pineapple-passion fruit jam -- both purchased at the Aloha Stadium swap meet in Honolulu.

RECIPE: Brown Sugar Shortbread (adapted from The Essential Baking Cookbook)
(makes one half-sheet pan of shortbread cookies)

8 ounces of butter, softened (two sticks)
3/4 cups soft brown sugar
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup rice flour, semolina or corn flour (I used instant masa flour)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp all spice

Preheat oven to 315 degrees F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a medium sized bowl cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy (at least 5 minutes).

Sift together the flours. Add slowly to the sugar and butter, with a pinch of salt and the spices. Mix with a butter knife until the dough comes together. Gather and knead for 1 minute.

Chill the dough for about 20 minutes, then press into your pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool the shortbreads 10-15 minutes in the pan, then make slices with a butter knife. Spread a tiny dollop of jam on each (about 1/4 tsp-1/2 tsp). Cool completely before eating.

LetsLunch is a monthly meeting for food bloggers and I was invited by fellow AAJA-er, Cheryl Tan. Our group chooses a date and a theme, then we all post our recipes on the same day.

Our group is always growing! If you'd like to join us, we'd love to have you! send a Tweet to us using #letslunch (I'm @emmacarew).

See what everyone else made this month:

 High Tea at The Kitchen Trials
Tea and Kaya Toast at Spicebox Travels
Rich Tea at Grongar blog
Little Lemon Meringue Tarts at Monday Morning Cooking Club