Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Zuni Cafe chicken

So, as I said in the last post, I'm finally getting with the program and trying Zuni Café's roast chicken recipe. And, as I said in the last post, the preparation is remarkably simple. Just clean and rinse the bird, pat it dry, coat with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and pepper to taste, loosely cover and let sit in the refrigerator for two to three days.

I went for the full three days and here's the chicken at the end of that time. You can see the skin's tightened up and dried out a bit. The green bits are sprigs of rosemary stuffed under skin at each breast and thigh. I forgot to mention those.

The cooking method's just a little more complicated:
"Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]

"Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle. [I think I did this with my chicken wrong side up, actually.]

"Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. [My chicken started sizzling before ten minutes were up so I turned down the to 450 degrees even without any signs of charring.]

After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. [Using well-seasoned cast iron doesn't hurt either.] Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, [15 for my 3 pound bird] then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. [Just five, but then I was recrisping the thigh skin. No mention here of using a probe thermometer to check for 175 degrees, but I did and found it creeping over 180 so a slightly shorter time or lower temperature next time.]

"Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

"Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, [Just the skin, not the meat. I think I cut a little too deep] then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools."

And tender and succulent it certainly was. Just as advertised. And remarkably easy to butcher into serving pieces, too. Nicely crispy skin, at least on the top side, and even the flabby skin on the bottom had been cured into palatability during the dry brine. The meat was a little too salty, and the drippings a lot too salty, but that can be adjusted easily. And all this without all of the extra oil and butter of the America's Test Kitchen and Good Eats recipes. The one big minus I thought was that, although it was really good chicken, it was just plain chicken and there's only so much to that simple flavor. Next time, I'm adding some spices or herbs or something to punch it up a little. There wasn't a hint of rosemary so just a few sprigs isn't going to do the trick. I think the herbs were in there just to prop the skin up away from the meat to help it crisp up better. Other than that, I'm quite happy with it. Now I've got to decide what to do with all the leftovers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A simple steak (ruined)

I don't eat a whole lot of beef, as you know if you've been reading a while and paying attention, and even less as a big slab of meat. I recently finished the last piece of the half a tenderloin I bought last November. (It froze quite well and that last piece seemed just as good as the first.) That worked out well so when I saw a good deal on sirloin yesterday I bought one to have it around just in case a good use turned up.

Meanwhile, I'm trying, only two years behind the curve, the Zuni Cafe roast chicken recipe. You probably already know about it, but it's a very simple preparation that relies on simple straightforward seasoning and careful cooking to get the most out of the meat. It's an interesting approach that I haven't often taken, but I find philosophically pleasing. So when I saw a Good Eats recipe for sirloin that is similarly humble in seasoning and complicated in technique, I thought I'd give it a try. It should be good for honing my skills at the very least.

Sirloin Steak
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

Prep Time: 2 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 16 min

Level: Easy [says you]

Serves: 4 servings

* 1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak, 1 to 1 1/4-inches thick
* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven on broiler setting. Make foil 'snake' out of aluminum foil to use to keep oven door slightly ajar so that broiler won't turn off if it gets too hot.

Brush steak with oil and salt and pepper, to taste.

Place a piece of foil on the bottom rack as a drip pan. Place another rack in the position above this and put the steak directly on this rack.

Cook steak in this position for 5 minutes. Flip steak and cook for another 5 minutes.

Move rack with steak to top position in oven, moving rack with foil and drippings just underneath, and cook for 3 minutes. Flip 1 last time and cook for another 3 minutes.

Transfer steak to wire rack and rest for 3 to 5 minutes. The above times are for medium doneness. Adjust cooking times up or down as desired.

My steak was on the thin side and I wanted it medium rare so I cut a minute off of each of the first two steps and thought I did for the latter two, but I misremembered them as 4 minutes each. This is what happens when I have the recipe displayed on the computer screen in the other room when I'm trying to cook in the kitchen.

It looks passable on the outside, I guess, but it's well done--just about ruined. I don't know a lot about cooking steaks and I could use some advice here from those who do. Are those times obviously too long for 3/4" thick steak? Are there warning signs I should have been looking out for? I did notice a good bit of juices accumulating on the foil under the meat, but it was mostly grease so I figured it was OK.

It's edible in a pinch, but not presentable. Still, I can tell that the flavor would have been good if I hadn't left it in the oven too long. And that's without marination, added fat, spice rubs or the like. There's some promise here, but I may ruin a few more steaks before I get the hang of it.

As for the Zuni chicken, I'm going to start the temperature low and the cooking time short before I start checking it. Better safe than another ruined dinner.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chinese bacon and cherry stir fry

I bought a big chunk of Chinese bacon a while back in a misguided attempt to improve my already fine scallion rolls. I only used a little of it for that and I've been looking around for a proper use of the rest of it. This recipe is adapted from the Bacon Cookbook by James Villas. He gives his version this half-hearted recommendation: "I doubt it's a dish you'll make a regular habit of serving at brunch, it is a delectable and unusual introduction to authentic Chinese regional cooking—and it's fun to make once in a while." Let's see if I can make something I can be more enthusiastic about.


1/2 pound lean Chinese slab bacon
3 or 4 small red and yellow sweet peppers, seeded and cut into thin rings
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tablespoon black bean paste
2 Tablespoons hot chili oil [I'm substituting for the genuine Szechuan chili paste I haven't got, but Chiu Chow chili oil is very nice too.]
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry rice wine
a few dashes of soy sauce
1/2 pound cup green beans, blanched
1/4 pound tofu, cubed
2 scallions, white and green, cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths
oil to fry

1. Steam or boil bacon until tender. [How long depends on the sort of bacon you've got and how thick it is. The original recipe says to boil it for an hour. The package instructions say steam for 15 minutes. I went with the latter and it worked out fine.] Let bacon cool. Remove bacon rind if it's there. Slice bacon against the grain 1/8 inch thick.

2. Toss garlic, peppers and green beans together with a generous pinch of salt. In another bowl combine bean paste, chili oil, sugar, wine and soy sauce.

3. Heat wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until really really hot. Add oil and bacon. Stir fry until lightly browned. [7 or 8 minutes says the recipe. 2 minutes says I.] Remove from pan.

4. Add garlic, peppers and green beans to pan. Stir fry 1 minute and remove.

5. Add sauce mixture and tofu to pan. Stir fry 1 minute. Return vegetables and bacon. Heat through. Stir in scallions just before removing from heat.

The recipe says to serve hot with fresh fruit and fried wonton skins. Sure, why not? I've got some cherries here and some dumpling skins in the freezer that I can fry up.

The sauce is a typical Szechuan hot sauce, but I like that so I've got no problem there. Spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, with lots of good pepper flavor along with the heat. You can just barely taste the individual flavors of the vegetables through the sauce, but the bacon, with its sweet soy glaze and inherent bacon-ness, is just as flavorful as it should be. It's chewy and a little tough, but it gives the dish a little more texture than some other cut of pork would have. Quite possibly I wasn't supposed to use cured bacon but I like it the way it is.

The crispy chips are fine. A bowl of rice to soak up this sauce wouldn't have been a bad idea, though. The fresh fruit, on the other hand, is quite a nice accompaniment, giving a bright freshness that the dish lacks. They're particularly nice in close contrast to a bite of bacon. A squeeze of lemon juice might have done the trick as well, but instead I'd suggest halving the cherries and stirring them in with the scallions so the warm cherry juice mixes in and sweetens the sauce. That not only improves the balance of flavors, it makes this into a rather interesting new non-traditional dish. I'm going to pretend that's what I intended from the start and go back and change the name of this post to reflect that, OK? Isn't that a more intriguing title than "Twice cooked Chinese bacon"?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mauritian beef curry and faratas

One last recipe with curry leaves for now and then I'll lay off, OK? I've managed to dry the rest of them by the simple expedient (recommended in a YouTube video on the subject) of leaving them spread on a plate in the refrigerator for a week. They're far less aromatic, but they do seem to have retained some flavor. I'll store the dried leaves for a few weeks before testing them out.

This recipe is from Mauritius which should make for a change of pace. I found it at the Recipes from Mauritius website by Madeleine Philippe.

Mauritian beef curry

1 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 Tablespoon crushed garlic
1/2 Tablespoon crushed ginger
1/2 Tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
1 sprig curry leaves
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 Tablespoons curry powder (hot or mild depending on your preference)
8 ounces canned finely crushed tomatoes
1 pound beef, cut in 1 inch cubes
1 cup or so hot water
2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Heat oil in a deep medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, thyme, curry leaves and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion becomes translucent.

2. Add tomatoes and half the cilantro. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until tomato looks and smells cooked. Add a little hot water if the tomatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan.

3. Add curry powder. Cook for five minutes more.

4. Add beef along with 1/2 to 1 cup of hot water depending on how thick you like your curries. Simmer until the beef if tender. How long this will take depends on the cut of beef you chose. I used the generic stew beef from Whole Foods so it took around an hour and a half. If the sauce is the thickness you want, cover the pot. If it's too thin, leave the cover off until it gets where you want it.

5. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice or faratas.

Faratas are the Mauritian versian of parathas are they're pretty simple to make.

Start with a soft, but not sticky dough: about 1 cup flour to 1/2 cup water (plus half a teaspoon salt) although I had to add a good bit of extra flour to get the right texture. Knead it up well and then divide into three for traditional 12-14 inch faratas or four (70-some grams each) if you're cooking them in an 8" pan like I am. Melt a few Tablespoons of butter (or ghee if you've got it).

Roll them out thin and brush or drizzle with butter generously on the top side.

Fold in half and butter again.

Fold in thirds and butter again.

Roll it up and stand it up.

Squish it flat and roll it out again. You can still kind of see the spiral there in the middle.

Butter generously once again and lay butter-side-down in your hot pan. Cook for a minute or two until the bottom is getting golden brown and the layers are starting to puff up.

Butter the top and flip it over. Let it cook for another minute or two.

Take it out and let it cool just slightly before serving it with your curry. Got any butter left? You know what to do with it.

The curry, to start off is beef in tomato sauce. Nothing wrong with that. The flavors of the herbs and spices are subtle, but always there adding an aromatic layer above those two. I should have crushed the garlic and ginger to bring them out more. A bit more (or a bit fresher) curry powder would hurt either. You're not going to mistake this for an Italian dish, but the tomato does dominate. Not the best curry I've ever made, but not bad and an interesting departure from the usual cuisines. You know, this is just the sort of dish that gets better in the refrigerator; I should withhold judgment until I try the leftovers.

The faratas are crisp and flaky in the middle and a bit chewy at the edges. Not loaded with flavor, but nothing a little whole wheat wouldn't cure. A very nice accompaniment to the curry and hard at all hard to make.

I had no idea flaky dough was so easy. I may be ready to try making croissants now.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pop up pancakes

Just a quick post as I try out this simple but unlikely cross between popovers and pancakes. I think I saw this as a guest post on the TheKitchn blog but it comes from MakeandTakes.com originally.

Pop Up Pancake Recipe - makes 24 muffins or fills a 9×13 baking pan

* 1 cup milk
* 1 cup flour
* 6 eggs
* 1/4 cup melted butter
* dash salt

0. Preheat oven at 400*

1. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend well. Let rest for a few minutes for the flour to hydrate.

2. Grease a muffin or popover tin. Pour batter into cups.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

and that's it.

The outside looks good, but the inside is a weird rubbery flan-like texture. Something's gone horribly wrong here.

Ah, I see what happened. I halved the recipe, but didn't trust that I halved the number of pancakes made too. Because who would make 24 pancakes? (Yes, I know. A family with four kids or two teenagers.) That means I filled six indentations on the muffin tin mostly full instead of twelve shallowly. I filled it to the level I did for proper popovers which turned out fine. The recipe didn't specify any level in particular so I just assumed to do it that way.

That's why, when I'm not feeling especially lazy, I try to be explicit and precise when I write up my recipes. You have to give your readers safeguards against both your and their assumptions. I think it goes back to an exercise my class did back in sixth grade. We had to write up instructions on how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then the other kids would follow them to the letter while deliberately misinterpreting every ambiguity. While willful misinterpretation is rather perverse, if you've ever written instructions for others to follow you know that the disparate interpretations of the readers are plenty to screw things up even with everyone well-intentioned. That's a good lesson to learn early.

All that said, I can't fault Marie who wrote the original recipe. If I hadn't screwed up my halving, I would have been fine.

So back into the oven for another twenty minutes. Still not done, but getting closer. I'm going to keep cooking these things until either they become edible or the smoke alarm goes off. Another twenty minutes and now the outsides are crisp enough that the pancakes can't shrink back down. I crack one open and find that it's nicely light and airy, but still just a little too moist and eggy. Another eight minutes then.

OK, that should do it. Crisp on the outside (for the moment. This is summer in Miami so they'll be getting soggy soon enough.), airy on the inside with thin strands of soft but still kind of rubbery and eggy dough. Ah, screw it. I think this recipe may have been doomed from the start from the volume measurements. The texture seemed a little thin at the start so I should have added a bit more flour. I don't think I'm a big enough fan of either pancakes or popovers to bother trying this again, but if you do, do please let me know how it turns out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Italian Cooking Show III

Last night I attended the third night of this summer's Italian Cooking Show at Mia Cucina on Miracle Mile that you've probably seen mention of on some of the other Miami food blogs.

Mia Cucina is an Italian kitchen furniture store so they had a dozen display kitchens over which to strew displays of the sponsors' products as well as a working studio kitchen in the back for the cooking demonstration.

We had Chef Riccardo Tognozzi of Blu Restaurant cooking dishes from the Lazio region:

Gnocchi di semolino - home made semolina dumplings
Saltinbocca alla Romana - Roman-style veal with ham and sage sauce
Ciambelle ruzze - Ring-shaped biscuits

and Chef Julian Baker of Cardozo Restaurant cooking Trentino Adige cuisine:

Speck con rucola e grana padano
Canederli Tirolesi - Bread dumplings with speck in hot broth
Strudel di mele - apple strudel

These were all quick and easy versions--Tognozzi didn't roll his veal scallops and Baker didn't soak the raisins or toast the pinenuts for the strudel--and I think the recipes were the better for it.

The audience got full servings of every dish which is a practice I'd like to commend to every cooking demo. And we got glasses of three wines from 24SunnyWine importers with refills even. I particularly liked Rosso Sicilia IGT's Rosso Sicilia (made from 85% nero d'avola and 15% merlot grapes) which had a balanced sweetness with a cherry tartness and a little bite at the swallow plus a long subtle but tanniny finish. Well, obviously, I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to wines, but it was tasty.

Of the dishes, I found the gnocchi the most interesting as it was a disk of stiff cream of wheat baked with butter and Parmesan (although all the Parmesan this evening was substituted for with Grana Padano, a rather milder crumblier cheese being promoted at the event, to the detriment of the speck salad I thought). If you can call that a gnocchi when it's made of different ingredients and cooked differently from what most people know as gnocchi then what is the essential essence of gnocchiness? It didn't taste particularly great, but philosophically, it's intriguing.

For eating, my favorite was the ciambelle ruzze--a dry cookie made with white wine, olive oil and anise. I could sit around eating these things all day long and I intend to make a batch so I can do just that.

After the cooking was done, they gave away a bazillion door prizes. I won a couple bags of pasta (which brings the number of varieties of pasta in my pantry up to an even dozen) and a bottle of Villa Caviciana Letizia 2005. The bottle says it's from Lazio too so I'll open it up when I make saltimbocca which turns out to be a lot less complicated than I thought.

There was a reception afterward where you got to dig into those sponsor displays I mentioned up top but I skedaddled pretty quickly instead. I hadn't paid the extra $10 fee for it and fair's fair. Plus, from the crowd reaction when my name was called for my door prize, I think maybe one or more of you, my lovely and charming readers, were present which meant there was the very real risk of someone attempting to talk to me. And, as I had chosen this event as specifically something I could say I've gone out and done when in fact I was just sitting quietly and staring attentively ahead while balancing a plate in my lap in a different room than usual, I wasn't really prepared for social interaction.

Reception aside, this was a pretty darn good cooking demonstration. They've got a few more scheduled for this summer and I recommend going.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The world's simplest ice cream

My actual plan was to make something rather complicated. It was going to be a Thai lime ice cream flavored with kaffir lime leaves, lime juice and zest (the regular sort, not kaffir, as my little kaffir lime tree hasn't borne any fruit yet) and ginger over a base of coconut milk and condensed milk. But when I opened my can of sweetened condensed milk I found it full of dulce de leche. Disconcerting, but you can make dulce de leche by heating an unopened can of condensed milk in the oven or immersing it in simmering water for a couple hours so it's explicable. It's not like the can was full of green beans. It must have been left to sit in an extraordinarily hot warehouse for a while. This is what happens when I shop at my lousy corner bodega.

Kaffir lime's not going to hold up against the caramel flavor of dulce de leche, but waste not want not. One can coconut milk plus one can dulce de leche equals one batch of coconut dulce de leche ice cream mix. I added a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla, but that's certainly optional. And, since it had thickened into pudding in the refrigerator, I stirred in a half cup of milk just before churning. Maybe it's getting a little complicated in practice, but it's simple at heart.

The texture is perfectly smooth, luscious and creamy. I was afraid that it was going to freeze up hard, but nope. Part of it may be that I gave it a full 20 minutes of churning, but I'm getting convinced that it's the coconut milk that really does the trick. I'm curious enough that I might actually try the experiments I mentioned last time to pin down just how strong that effect is.

The flavor isn't terribly subtle or sophisticated, but it's milk caramel with notes of coconut; Who needs subtle when you're straightforwardly yummy? The coconut flavor increases as it melts (which it does quite quickly) so there's some interesting variation between spoonfuls. I like that the flavor doesn't hit you over the head. Caramel flavors can often be big, bright and artificial. This ice cream's flavor isn't understated, but it isn't overstated either. It's just there at the right level.

If I were going to complicate this, I think I might add chocolate in some form and/or bananas. Or maybe pineapple and allspice would be nice.

And, on second thought, I don't think the flavor of kaffir lime leaf in my original plan would have stood up to condensed milk or maybe any dairy at all. Kaffir lime sorbet is probably a better idea. I'll have to work on that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fish poached in fresh chile oil

My post, back in March, about slow poaching fish in butter was no doubt received with a chorus of yawns. You guys can read the New York Times as well as I can and don't need me to tell you that adding a handful of scallions to their recipe is a good idea.

This is a variation on that technique using a recipe from another NYTimes article--this one about cooking over wood fires:
"That smoke is a guilty pleasure. It gives so much flavor, it makes most marinades and rubs unnecessary. But a bright and balanced sauce, like the honey-sweetened gremolata in “Seven Fires,” adds a note of sophistication.

"So does the fresh dried chili oil from Russell Moore, the chef and an owner of Camino, in Oakland, Calif., a restaurant where almost everything is cooked with a wood fire. This time of year Mr. Moore grills asparagus and spring onions, then tops them with a chili oil he makes from mild dried New Mexican chilies, pounded garlic and chopped mint. The result has so much body and flavor it’s more salsa than sauce. Mr. Moore describes it as “a super-rough harissa.”

"The recipe is really a template — you can use any mild chili, such as chihuacle or mulatto, and any herb — and drizzle it over whatever vegetable looks good that week, from artichokes to new potatoes to escarole to summer chanterelles. “You want all the freshness of the seasons in there, and three strong flavors,” Mr. Moore said."

I'm not drizzling it over grilled vegetables so at least I've got something original to contribute here.

I used:
2 ancho peppers [Dried poblanos. Quite mild.]
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup mixed fresh oregano and cilantro leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

I crushed the peppers by hand in a small bowl and added just enough boiling water to cover--no more than a Tablespoon or two--and let it hydrate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I crushed the garlic and finely chopped the herbs. When the time was up, I added both the the peppers, mixed in the olive oil and a couple big pinches of salt and let it rest in the refrigerator for a couple hours.

The fish I used was whiting, but something a little firmer would be a better choice. I changed the technique a little this time since I, on a whim, made hash browns while the fish was defrosting and the chile oil's flavors maturing. That meant the pan was hot and had some residual olive oil in it. I took it off the heat and added half an onion coarsely chopped so it could get a little head start in cooking before I added the fish. When it stopped sizzling and the heating element had cooled down I put the pan back on the heat, added about half the chile oil and a couple fillets of the fish, cubed. I let that cook over very low heat for ten minutes, stirring a couple times, before I was happy with the doneness of everything. I spooned a serving over the fried potatoes and added a little fresh chile oil over top.

The fruity flavor the peppers blended with the fruity olive oil and melted into the buttery soft fish which itself blended out into the oil to create a rich sauce. There's no heat, but there's warmth from the peppers that rounds out the flavors nicely. The herbs are subtle--there more as an aroma than an actual flavor. I wouldn't mind if they were stronger. I'd add more next time and maybe warm the mixture up over a low flame briefly to help the flavors infuse. Still, quite nice as is.

Maybe I should have had this with rice or bread to sop up the sauce, but serving it over hash browns actually worked. The fish and onions never browned or crisped so it's nice to have a little caramelized flavor and a bit of crunch. The onions were perfectly al dente, but you want some real crunch too. Also, the potatoes retain their separate flavor while everything else has blended with only minor emphasis if you're eating a piece of fish or onion and it's nice to have a little more variation bite to bite.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Steamed scallion and sausage buns dee-luxe version

The steamed scallion rolls I made a while back were good, but they were simple and straightforward. I was making another batch because they're such convenient snack food and I thought I'd complicate them up a little to a) see if I could improve the recipe and b) get a blog post out of it.

The dough stayed nearly the same:
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons sugar [I reduced this last time]
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk

Mixed, rested, kneaded, risen and rolled out.

For the filling I used:
4 Tablespoons chopped scallions
4 Tablespoons chopped garlic chives
1 link lop chong, microwaved one minute to partially cook and then sliced thin and chopped
1 chunk Chinese bacon about the same size as the lop chong, chopped and pan fried until cooked through
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil

If you compare, you can see that this coats the dough rather more densely and a lot more oilily. Part of that is the extra fillings, but I've also got a new somewhat smaller cutting board and couldn't roll the dough out as thin.

I rolled it up, sliced it into 2-inch segments, stood them up, let them rise and then steamed them for 13 minutes to cook through.

You can see the earlier version for more details if you're interested. I want to talk about how things went wrong here, because these aren't nearly as good as the first batch.

First off, take a look at these two rolls. See how the one on the left is deflated? That's what happens when you have too much water in your steamer leading to lots of dripping off of the cover. That roll was boiled, not steamed. I had nearly boiled dry over the three batches I steamed last time so I was being careful to have lots of water this time. Better to have just added some water after the second batch.

Second, there are some problems with the flavor. I described the dough last time as mild, but it was a nice sweet contrast to the savory fillings. Here it's been coated in sesame oil and its flavor can't come through. And that contrast between the mildly sweet dough and bright savory of the isolated bits of filling really worked. Here the contrast is between the light flavor of the lop chong and the heavy soy flavor of the bacon. One problem is that Chinese bacon shouldn't be fried as I burn the soy coating a little. You can find the pairing in recipes for sticky rice and turnip cake so they can work well together, but they need other strong flavors and textures in there too and this bun has nothing that can stand up to them. A baked bun, I think, might have had a chance.

And I'm disappointed that I can't taste the garlic chives at all. Darn. Both Chinese bacon and garlic chives go well with eggs so what I really wanted to do was to make another sort of Chinese bun I've had that uses all three, but I couldn't find a recipe. Just now doing some more research on Chinese bacon I find that the reason I couldn't find a recipe is that the creamy filling that works so well with the bacon and chives isn't a custard, it's a mayonaise. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Anyway, the lesson here is that scallion and sausage rolls work best just like that. Make my original version (and you should. It was really good and hard very hard.) with maybe some extra scallion, but that's the only change you should make.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

White sapote ice cream

Here are the white sapotes I got last week finally ripe (minus one that I ate just to see what they tasted like a bit earlier). As you can see, they've collapsed pretty sadly there.

Even more sadly, that liquid outer layer is nastily bitter. I understand that some varieties don't have that problem; this one has it in spades. I had to carefully wash off all that gunk while trying to retain as much of the inner flesh as possible. One was gunk all the way through. Then I had to remove the quite large seeds leaving only around a half cup of usable fruit and around two cups of waste. No wonder these haven't been commercialized.

Still, a half cup is enough for ice cream if I bolster the fruit with supporting flavors. The sapotes taste of lemon and vanilla with perfumy honeysuckle notes so it should be easy enough to work with.

The sapote pulp went into the blender with:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1/2 cup slightly-brown sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large pinch salt
1 Tablespoon agave nectar

The result is nicely thickened right out of the blender which is a pretty good sign. The flavor is a lovely lemon custard, but mild so I added another Tablespoon of sugar to bolster it for the freeze. Actually there may have been a bit more sugar and agave nectar than that; I didn't measure. I'm not sure about the vanilla either. And, yes, the results taste of lemon, vanilla and agave, but I could tell there was something more in there. I'm not sure if anyone else will be able to after churning, though.

The churning itself didn't go as well as I had hoped. I think it's time to start moving the churn from my hot kitchen into my cool living room before using it. I don't think there's anything chemical in this mix keeping it from thickening up, unless there's something weird in white sapote that I don't know about so it's probably just the heat.

The mix did get cold enough for a smooth texture even if I wasn't able to churn in much air. That just means it's got that super-premium density. It might freeze up kind of hard. Guess I'll find out tomorrow...

You can't really tell from the picture, but the texture turned out quite well--smooth, creamy and resistant to melting. All without a custard or cornstarch. That's interesting. I think the coconut milk is more important to this effect than the sapote, but I'll have to do a test to be sure. (What I ought to do is make batches of a simple vanilla Philadelphia-style ice cream substituting in increasing amounts of coconut milk for the dairy to see how it affects the texture. A shame I don't work at an agricultural college; I could get funding for that.) There are some unpleasant fibrous shards in there unfortunately. I must have missed a bit of seed when I was cleaning the fruit.

The flavor is more intense than it was in the unfrozen mix which is also unusual. Like I said earlier, there are notes of vanilla and lemon, but the fruit is in there too with a richer underlying flavor tying them together. There are malty notes and some banana in there. Maybe a bit of custard too, although I think the name custard apple comes more from the texture than the flavor. It's complex and it shifts over the course of a mouthful from round fruit flavors up front to more citrusy notes at the end. Really very nice; it went over quite well at the office. This is no particular surprise, though. Ice cream is a standard use for white sapote and lemon and vanilla common flavors to pair it with. New to me, though.