Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Xian Bing - Chinese Meat Pies

I've never been much of a baker. When I cook, I usually just wing it for better or worse. I love the freedom of not being chained to a recipe and how everything that you I make is distinctly mine. So, when I look at the exact science of baking, I turn away and unfortunately leave whole realms of deliciousness off my culinary map. A little while ago, I was flipping through an old Chinese cook book and found a recipe for 馅饼 - Xian4 Bing3 - Haam5 Bing2 - Chinese Meat Pies. The thing that caught my eye with this recipe is that the dough only required two things: Flour and boiling water. Now understand, I am a huge fan of savory pies and when the opportunity to make one without a whole lot of trouble or ingredients, I sprang up and got to work at once.

Xian Bing - Chinese Meat Pies

-1.5 cups Flour
-0.75 cups Boiling Water
-1 Boiled Chicken Breast
-2 Scallions
-Oyster Sauce
-Cooking oil

First, we'll start with the filling of these delicious little meat pies. Chop up the boiled chicken and scallions and mix them together with some oyster sauce to taste. You can actually use whatever the hell you want for the filling, any type of meat, any type of sauce and seasonings. In fact,you don't even have to use meat at all. Be creative and do what you like! Just make sure that whatever you have has some moisture to it and a lot of flavor, otherwise, the pies will be dry and flavorless.

That's it for the filling. Easy, right? Time to make the dough.

First thing to do is to dust your work surface with some flour so that things won't get sticky later. Keep some flour on hand in case you need more later. Put your 1.5 cups of flour (I used whole grain all purpose flour) into a mixing bowl and mix in the boiling water. Since I have no fancy gadgets, I used my hands to form the dough into a ball and to knead it for a few minutes. I must warn you, the dough gets pretty sticky so cover your hands with a bit of flour before handling the dough.
Now that you've got yourself a nice ball of dough, divide it up into smaller sections. There's probably better ways to do this, but I rolled it out in the air into a long tube and cut them into 8 segments. Next, take one of the segments and flatten them out on your well floured work surface. Once again, I don't have fancy gadgets like rolling pins, so I just used my hand to crush the dough flat. Make sure the edges are very thin compared to the center part. Put a spoonful of the chicken filling and put it on the center of the flat dough. Don't put too much!

Close the package of dough by bringing the edges together like so...

Now, flip the thing upside down so the crushed edges are facing down and smash the entire thing with the palm of your hand. Don't do it too hard, or they'll be a chicken flavored explosion. The result should look like these lovely specimens:

Heat a pan with some oil and cook them on medium heat, flipping when needed until the pies are golden brown and delicious.

And that's it! These things are best when they're fresh, so eat them up quickly. I'm sure you won't have too much trouble with that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Ah granola, the sustenance of hippies and tree hugging backpackers. A week and a half ago, I decided to take the plunge into the world of our long haired friends and tried to make a batch of granola. Looking up some recipes online, I was dismayed to find that most of them used a ton of cooking oil and sugar in the form of honey and maple syrup. After some more searching, I found out that it was the oil and sugar that made the granola clump together. This runs contrary to my notion of granola as a health food, so I decided to try to make my granola as healthy as possible.

I have made 3 batches of granola with varying methods, which I will explain later. An exact recipe is not necessary when making granola. You can just freestyle it and add whatever you want as long as it seems right to you. Anyways, this is how I made today's batch...

Dry Ingredients 1: Oats, Wheat Germ, Flax seed, Crushed Walnuts, Raisins, Dried Cranberries, Salt, Cinnamon
Wet Ingredients: Honey, Apple Sauce

You start by baking oats and wheat germ together in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes until they are slightly crisp. I made a relatively large batch with about 7 cups of oats and wheat germ together, so I let it sit in the oven an extra 5 minutes. Just make sure it doesn't burn.

In the meantime, mix all your wet ingredients in a bowl with the cinnamon.

Once the your tray of grains is nice and toasty, take them out and pour them into the bowl. Mix it thoroughly and add the flax seed and a bit of salt. You may add whatever other kinds of seeds you like in the granola at this point as well as sugar and spices. Add more of the wet ingredients if you think the mixture needs to clump more. Put the granola mixture into a greased pan and put it in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes, take it out half way through and stir everything. I was making quite a bit of granola and only had one tray, so I had to bake my granola for an hour, making sure that all parts of the batch got exposed and browned.

Once everything is nicely dried and brown, take the tray out and mix in some nuts and dried fruit. I used walnuts, raisins, and dried cranberries.

And there you have it, a delicious batch of granola. The first batch I made last week produced about a pound of granola. I ate it in about 2 days.

Now, I'll talk about the differences in the wet ingredients I alluded to earlier. The first time I made granola, I used oil and honey (I didn't have maple syrup on hand) as the recipes online recommended, but I used much less of it so it would be slightly better for me. The granola turned out really well, however, there were not enough clumps. This was to be expected since I did not use that much of the oil and honey.

With the second batch of granola, I used far less oil and honey, but added some low fat blueberry yogurt. This gave the granola a bit of a twangy taste coming from the yogurt, but once again, I did not add enough wet ingredients and the granola did not clump to my satisfaction.

The third time I made granola, I took out the oil entirely and only used honey and applesauce. I used quite a bit of it and the granola did clump well. However, even after an hour of baking, the larger clumps were still soft. This may be due to the nature of cooking with applesauce or perhaps I was just making too large of a batch on too small of a tray and the pieces did not get a good chance to brown and dry out. I've read that mashed bananas work well to hold granola together. Perhaps I will try using them next time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Snowboarding

Snowboarding can be a painful sport. I went snowboarding 3 days ago, but I still feel the bruises every time I lay down or walk. This was only the second time I went snowboarding. The first time was in March and we had a coupon that gave us lift tickets, rentals, and a lesson for something like $20. That was a pretty damn good deal since this time, I paid nearly $80 for a lift ticket and rentals.

The first time I went snowboarding was one of the most exhausting experiences I can remember. After learning the basics and falling down immediately after I got up, the remainder of the day mostly consisted of me falling down every 5 seconds and having to do a giant pushup to get myself back on my feet (while attached to a snowboard). Doing one pushup at a time? That doesn't sound so bad! Well, it is when you're doing it for 5 hours and when you actually have to push yourself up with all your might or else you won't generate enough force to get yourself back up. The thing that actually bothered me was that my boots were too tight. I have wideish feet, but the boots I rented were normal fit. So, this resulted in pain and then my feet going numb after an hour or so. Also, it was drizzling that day. At the end, I took off my jacket (not waterproof) and squeezed it out like a rag. About a gallon water rushed out onto the floor.

Despite all these things, I had a ton of fun snowboarding that time and decided to go again with some friends from college. We went to Catamount, in Hillsdale, MA and the drive alone would have been worth it. Taking 22 North, you can see on your right a wide valley that has been cleared as farmland. Since the valley has been cleared, you can see for miles and miles and have an unobscured view of the road ahead and on your right, the mountains of Taconic State Park. It was like a perfect painting of rural America. I drove on that same route on the way back. The view was made more spectacular by the setting sun, which made the landscape and sky eminate a golden glow. It was among the most beautiful drives I have ever taken and I regret not having brough my camera with me to capture the moment. Then again, the moment was made more memorable as I did not concern myself with its preservation.

Once we got there and got our equipment around noon, we only had about 4 hours to go before the slopes closed, since it was a Sunday. Everyone expected the mountain to be open until 6 or so, and resolved to continue skiing/snowboarding until the place closed without stopping for lunch. I don't miss meals, so I stopped for lunch and forgetting their promise to go hardcore, everyone else did as well.

Snowboarding itself was a mixed bag. First off, I was a lot better than the first time I went since I had a faint idea of what to do and wasn't falling much at all. Now that's out of the way, let's move on to the bitching.

There were waaaaaaaay too many people there. It was President's Day weekened and the place was packed. There were huge crowds of people at the base of the mountain and the trails had constant traffic. The so called easy slopes for some reason had extremely narrow lanes at their beginning. This is a problem since there were so many people, you had to avoid all these other people but stay in the lane. It is also hard for snowboarders to turn/slow down in a narrow corridor, or more accurately, it is hard for people who suck at snowboarding to do so.

A narrow lane wouldn't be much of a problem if all that lay to the sides was untended snow. However, this was not the case. To your right are rocks. To your left is a very very steep cliff (with a flimsy wire fence). If you are new at snowboarding and are only able to turn one way (toeside), this situation freaks you the fuck out. If you go too far one way, you'll bash your head on rocks and die. If you go too far the other way, you'll go off a cliff and die. Fun!

So, I proceeded down this narrow corridor very slowly. However, you cannot go too slowly on a snowboard without slowing down and you can't slow down without making turns, and let me remind you that this corridor is narrow and you can't make turns. So, the only way to go on is to barrel down as fast as possible. Since I was new to this, that seemed like a bad idea, so I just fell on purpose so I wouldn't have to go play speed racer on the edge of a cliff.

The temperature had been above freezing the two days prior and the snow on the mountain melted and reformed as ice overnight. This was bad news for me, since when I fell, I fell hard. I wasn't falling on fluffy white snowflakes, but on a deciptive layer of crushed ice. Underneath, it was all solid. I brushed the hell out of my knees, hip, and ass that way. Luckily for me, I didn't suck as much as snowboarding, so I didn't fall too often. Nonetheless, I got beat up quite a bit, though not too much, since I was able to run on the treadmill the next morning.

Anyways, this post has reached tl;dr length long ago and I'm going to stop. Two posts in one day. How's that for being frequent?

Chinese New Years After Action Report

Now that Chinese New Years has been over for almost a month, I have found the spare time to finally tell y'all how the big New Years party went. However, since it has been so long, I have forgotten everything other than a whole lot of family and friends came over and there was the playing of majiang, the eating of food, and much talk about exciting subjects like fiber intake and law school selection. Yes, that's right, fiber. My aunt and I talked about fiber and nutrition for well over an hour to the puzzlement of everyone else in the room who didn't share our concern for food.

Other than that, the rest of that day was forgotten. Luckily, I had enough foresight to photograph the event (well, the food, at least)...

From 12'oclock in this picture, we have Chinese buns, spring rolls, egg tarts, and oversized Indonesian shrimp chips. The circular box in the center has an assortment of candied fruits that seem to only show up around Chinese New Years.

This is what we had for dinner. White rice, spare ribs, stir fried vegetables, shredded pork, crab, chicken, mushrooms (recipe on this blog), shrimp, tofu, roast pork, pig's feet, and duck.

Lastly, we have some desserts. Picture is a sweet red bean soup, flan, carrot cake, and tiramisu.
The tiramisu, though not firm enough, tasted great. The flan was made by a family friend who specializes in baking desserts and it was absolutely delicious.

Hopefully, I will be posting on this blog more often in the future. I'll likely have another recipe up by the end of the week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chinese New Years - Spring Rolls

Chinese New Years is over, but the recipes are still fresh in my mind just as the food is stuck in my bowels. Just kidding, I shit like four times a day. Horray for whole grains. Today, I'll show all of you good folks how to make a batch of spring rolls.

Spring Rolls (春卷, Mandarin: chun1 juan3, Cantonese: ceon1 gyun2)

Ingredients: Spring Roll Wrappers, Cooking Oil, Eggs, Cabbage, Dried Shitake Mushrooms, Roast Pork, Mung Bean Sprouts, Water Chestnuts, Snow Peas, Salt, Soy Sauce, White Pepper

Let's prepare the filling first. The ingredient that will compose the plurality of the filling is cabbage. Cut the cabbage into thin strips and set it aside. While you're in the chopping mood, take some of those dried shitake mushrooms from last time and soak them in water for a half hour and rinse. Chop them up into thin strips along with some snow peas, roast pork, mung bean sprouts, and water chestnuts. You can use whatever you want in the filling, but this is how things are done in my parts.

Let me take some time to introduce some potentially unfamiliar ingredients. The first picture below show what mung bean sprouts (left) and water chestnuts (right) look like. Mung bean sprouts look similar to soy bean sprouts, but are thicker. The water chestnuts need to be washed, since they are often covered in dirt, and peeled. They have a very pleasant sweet taste to them. Both these vegetables (?) give the filling of the spring rolls a nice crunch to them and crunch is always good.

Mung Bean Sprouts (left) and Water Chestnuts (right)

Peeled Water Chestnuts Being Chopped

Rehydrated Dried Shitakes, Roast Pork, More Roast Pork, and Snow Peas

Cook the cabbage and mushrooms in a wok with some water until they're partially cooked. These things take the longest to cook. That's why they go in first. Next, we add the roast pork and snow peas. At this point, mix in some soy sauce, salt, and white pepper to taste. Lastly, mix in the water chestnuts and mung bean sprouts. They cook really quickly so we add them last.

Alright, the filling is now done. Set it aside as we get out our spring roll wraps. Open up the package and carefully separate each wrapping from each other and put them all in a pile. Beat a couple eggs in a small bowl. We'll use the egg to help keep the spring roll wrappers closed when we fry them up.

Now, we take some of the filling and place it one quadrant of the wrapper, leaving ample space around the edges. Roll the edge that is closest to the filling towards the other end. Once you get to the middle, fold the two side edges inward and then complete the roll. Use the egg wash to glue the loose flap at the end to the spring roll.

Now, we're ready to fry. Get yourself pot, fill that sucker with oil and turn up the heat. We used canola oil since we're cheap and it works just fine. Find a plate or pan for you to put the finished spring rolls on and put a couple layers of paper towel on the bottom to absorb any excess oil. Drop the spring rolls into the oil and wait for them to turn golden brown. Take them out, letting the excess oil drain back into the pot and set them down on your plate/pan. Repeat. Before you know it, you have yourself a whole lot of spring rolls! In our case, we made around 90 of them. You'd think that would be a lot, but after our not so little New Year's gathering, they were more or less gone.

A Lot of Oil (Above and Below)

Oh deep frying, the method of cooking that touches the heart in more ways that one. Things that are deep fried are generally delicious and these spring rolls are no exception. Just be aware that they aren't terribly good for you so you don't attempt to eat six of them at once for lunch or something like that. Speaking of which, I wonder how many of these Joey Chestnut could eat...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chinese New Year - Stewed Mushrooms

It's a very special time of year right now. But Steve, the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savoir, Jesus Christ is over and so is New Years. What are you talking about? Is it Black History Month?

Well, Black History Month is indeed very special, but it isn't quite here yet. No, my friends, it's Chinese New Years!

What is Chinese New Years about? Getting little red packets stuffed with cash while being guilt tripped on how you don't make enough money? Your grandma yelling at you for not being married? Every family member you know above the age of 40 telling you that you go find a Chinese girl lest you wallow in the misery of a life without "properly" prepared Chinese cuisine (which is considerably less awkward for me now considering I no longer have a white girlfriend)?

Yes, these are essentially the most important parts of Chinese New Years and indeed were the reasons why the holiday was originally celebrated in China over 50,000 years ago. However, though these things fill my breast with joy, when I think of Chinese New Years, I think about the food (inb4 twinkie, banana, etc).

Now, my mom is very secretive about her recipes, telling them to only a select group of people. In fact, she is so secretive about them, she cannot even accurately convey how to make the dishes to those such as myself who are trusted with this most valuable information. So, for posterity's sake, I will record, step by step, how to make some of these delicious recipes. This task is all the more important as I will need to be able to replicate these dishes to ward off the painful homesickness I will likely experience during law school. Also, in the event I marry a non-Chinese girl, this will larn her good.

The first thing we will make is...

Stewed Mushrooms
(approximate Cantonese romanization: meng dong gu)

Ingredients: Dried Shitake Mushrooms, Corn starch, Bean Paste, Pork Chop, Smoked Ham Hocks, Chinese Dried Scallops, Soy Sauce, Salt, Ginger, Garlic, Dried Tangerine Peels, Rock Sugar, Oyster Sauce, Cooking Oil

We start with this lovely barrel of dried shitake mushrooms. Look how lovely they are:

Next, we soak the mushrooms in water so that they rehydrate. Then, we rinse them a few times to get all the dirt and such out of there. Make sure you cut off the stems so they look purdy.

Since we're being Chinese, we need to add cornstarch. In our case, we added about 5 tablespoons of the stuff. Mix all the mushrooms so that they all get coated and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then, rinse away the cornstarch. I don't know how, but this is supposed to make the mushrooms have a smoother texture.

Whip out your wok, cause these mushrooms are ready to be cooked! But wait! We need to bring some flavor for this party first. Take your wok and add some oil to it. Bring the heat up to high and wait for the oil to get hot. Now, we add some sliced ginger, garlic cloves, and dried tangerine peels (soak before use). Brown them until the aroma starts getting out. Doesn't that smell good?

Once everything's a-browning and the armoa's a-releasing, add some (soya?) bean paste and the mushrooms. Add some water so the stuff doesn't stick to the bottom of the wok and some soy sauce and salt. Don't go overboard since we'll be adding more seasonings and sauces later.

Once you've tossed it around for a bit, transfer everything into a pot. Add water until everything is almost covered. Now, throw in a bunch of meat. In our case, we used a pork chop, 2 smoked ham hocks, and some Chinese dried scallops. Now, these dried scallops are called conpoy and these small ones cost $30/lb! I have tried to find out how to make these suckers myself so I can forgo my career in law and go into the lucritive scallop drying business, but I can't seem to find how they're made anywhere in the 10 minutes I spent looking online.

Anyways, back to cooking. Add some rock sugar for some sweetness and cover the pot, set the heat to high, and let the water boil. When the water starts boiling, lower the heat to medium and cook for an additional 1.5hrs or so depending on how much you have. Add more water in the unlikely event that everything gets dried up.

Once time's up, mix everything up with some oyster sauce and add some more corn starch to thicken the remaining liquid into a gravy. Oh, and don't forget the MSG! Just kidding! ; )

And voila, you have yourself a big mess of stewed mushrooms! They may not look terribly appetizing at first, but believe me, they're terribly damn tasty. The flavor of the mushrooms themselves is relatively subdued, but what really carries it is the flavor of the oyster sauce, meat, and dried scallops. The mushrooms are tender and melt in your mouth.

By now, you may have figured out that I'm living at home, cause I'm cool like that. In any case, I will try to document as many of my mom's recipes as possible. They probably won't be posted or even tested in time for Chinese New Years, but like I said, I'm doing this for posterity. I hope you learned something from this and perhaps you will try this and future recipes in your kitchen. I'll also make some noninstructional posts by and by and hopefully, they won't be too dull or poorly written. Anyways, 恭喜发财! 新年快乐! Now hand me some money, bitch!

Edit - Here is a picture of the finished product:

First Post!

Hi, my name is Steve and I have a lot of time on my hands. I graduated college in May of 2008 with a degree in Economics and have subsequently decided to go to law school. I've already been admitted to a number of schools, but haven't decided for sure on which one to attend as I'm still waiting on a few decisions as well as waiting for scholarship offers. I'll probably talk about law school a lot in future posts.

There ain't much in terms of jobs out there and I live in a small town in New England so I have a lot of free time. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, leaving me with even less to do. It really isn't a bad thing (the free time, that is), since will likely be my last chance to take it easy before the rigors of law school and the endless hours of work in the real world. Law school starts sometime in August of this year and right now, it is the end of January.

A lot of people have asked me what I do with my all my time. I usually say that I'm reading all the books I was supposed to have read and want to read, I exercise, I'm learning how to play guitar, and so on. With this blog, I will have one more thing to add to the list.