Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wonton Soup

I love a cooking challenge. I mean, I guess that's somewhat obvious, seeing as I joined both the Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers, guaranteeing myself two kitchen challenges each month. But I don't limit myself to just those challenges each month. In fact, since joining the Darking Kitchen, I have gained so much more kitchen confidence that daddy and I are not afraid of issuing new challenges whenever the mood or craving hits.

Well, such a craving hit this past weekend, when daddy asked how I would feel about trying to make wonton soup.

Truth? I was super nervous about making wonton soup.

Most recipes that I have looked up for Asian foods contain multiple ingredients that I just don't have, and that I wouldn't use often enough to justify buying.

But he seemed really excited about it, so I said yes.

We started by having chicken for dinner one night. You know, so that we could make stock. The leftover chicken and all of the bones went right into the stock pot with a couple of onions, a couple stalks of celery and a couple peeled carrots. Enough water to cover everything and the pot was left to simmer for several hours. The stock was then strained to make it as clear as possible, and set aside for the soup.

In the meantime, the chicken that was removed from the stock pot was shredded, chopped and set aside to make the filling for our wontons. Yes, I know that most Chinese restaurants use sausage for their wonton filling, but I was trying to maximize what I had. And, well, I am not a Chinese restaurant, and since I knew there was only so authentic I could achieve with this, I figured it would be fine.

To prepare the wonton filling, I combined the shredded and chopped chicken with Chinese five spice powder, soy sauce and a few tablespoons of the stock to bring it all together.

While the filling cooled, I cut (okay, julienned) (well, as close to julienning as I can do... I need to work on my knife skills) vegetables and finished preparing the actual soup. To make the soup, I combined the strained chicken stock with soy sauce and a splash of rice vinegar. The recipe that we saw actually called for rice wine, which we don't have, so I improvised. Carrots and baby bok choy were cut, cabbage was shredded, a couple of scallions were sliced, and all of the veggies were added to the soup to simmer.

And then it was time to make the wontons.

A teaspoon of filling was spooned into the center of each wonton skin, held on a diagonal:

Then, after using a finger to lightly wet two sides of the square, the dough was folded into a triangle:

Then the triangle was rolled into a crown shape by bringing the two points together, and again lightly wetting the dough to glue the ends together:

Once I had both wontons and soup ready, it was time to put the two together. I added the wontons to the soup, lowly simmering on the stove, and in just a few minutes, dinner was ready.

I was pretty impressed by what I saw - I mean, it actually looked like wonton soup. Yes, the wontons were a bit slipperier to serve than I expected... I think the wonton skins were thinner than those used by our local Chinese restaurants, and I may have let them cook in the soup a little too long. But overall, it was pretty tasty! It tasted sweeter than the wonton soup we usually have - either due to the rice vinegar or to the five spice powder in the wonton filling, but overall, it was really tasty and a very fun experiment.

Oh, and I served it with chicken fried rice to complete the meal. I don't think that I will ever be able to compete the local Chinese place, but it is certainly fun to pretend!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March Daring Bakers' Challenge - Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

Let me start by saying how much I love the Daring Kitchen. I have enjoyed every challenge in which I have participated, and many more that I saw (either through foodgawker, or just random food-blog hopping...) before I joined the kitchen myself. The challenges are well thought out, well planned and well executed. The hosts and hostesses put a lot of thought into their challenge recipes and always offer awesome ideas, tips and encouragement on the forums. It is always fun to see the inspiration for each host's challenge, too. This month, though, might just have the most fun story behind it.

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

And do you want to know the source of the recipe that they provided us? One of our hostesses, Jamie, found it on a piece of yellowed paper in her dad’s collection of clipped out and hand-written recipes from the 1970’s, no source, no date - nothing. But she tried it and loved it, and then she shared it with all of us! How cool is that??

From the moment I read the recipe and saw the pictures, I was very excited to try it. It looked good, it sounded good, and those eager bakers who started right away were giving it glowing reviews.

The dough recipe was very straightforward and easy to follow. There are many bakers out there who are afraid of yeast, and I can understand that - it can be temperamental, and there are definitely rules that should be followed when using it. Add to that the different varieties available (fresh, instant, active dry...) and things can get very confusing. I have been very lucky with my yeasted recipes, so had no fears entering into this challenge. The yeast was whisked together with the dry ingredients while butter, milk and water were set in a saucepan over low heat, just long enough to melt the butter.

The dough was actually worked somewhat like batter at first, with the ingredients being beaten together in stages, before the final amount of flour was kneaded in to create a beautiful, soft, smooth, silky dough. And trust me - the dough is absolutely, amazingly soft, smooth and silky.

Once the dough was set aside to rise, it was time to prepare my fillings. The recipe makes enough dough for two coffee cakes, so I considered making two different fillings, but one of the recommended fillings sounded so good that I didn't want to stray too far from it. Hostess Jamie recommended using a cinnamon sugar/nut/chocolate chip combination to fill the coffee cake and, well, how can you go wrong with that? Where I decided to change things up, though, was to make two different shapes for my two coffee cakes. And to fill them only slightly differently. So I chopped enough pecans to use on one coffee cake, and made two variations of cinnamon sugar - one using white sugar and one using brown sugar. And, of course, enough chocolate chips to use on both versions.

And there was one more aspect to the filling of this coffee cake, as indicated by the title - meringue. I have never used meringue in any kind of bread or cake recipe, but this one called for a layer of it to be spread over the rolled out dough, then covered with the above-mentioned fillings (or, really, any filling the bakers chose). Sounded very interesting to me, so I beat my egg whites nice and stiff and was ready to give it a shot!

Little miss helped a lot with the preparation of the coffee cakes. Of course she handled the punching down of the dough:

And did a not-insignificant amount of the dough-rolling:

She spread on the meringue:

And helped me sprinkle on the toppings, too:

I then handled the shaping portion of the process. Just like the stollen from December's challenge, the dough, once covered with its filling, was rolled up jelly roll style and shaped into a ring, which was then cut around the edges to give the final ring the look of a wreath.

I knew the wreath would be pretty, just from my experience with the stollen. Even so, I was amazed by what it looked like coming out of the oven. I did forget to coat it with egg wash before putting it into the oven, which would have given it a nice shine, but I really didn't miss it. It looked beautiful and smelled delicious.

As for the second half of the dough, rather than making two of these giant wreaths, I chose to follow the the inspiration of the filling and rolling of the dough, and I cut the rolled-up loaf into cinnamon rolls.

I have to say - both were absolutely delicious. The wreath was filled with the white sugar based cinnamon sugar, chocolate chips and included the chopped pecans. The cinnamon roll style version used the brown sugar based cinnamon sugar and chocolate chips. The meringue melted into the wreath style version, making the bread moist and delicious. Because more of the meringue oozed out (in a good way...) of the cinnamon roll style version due to the extra cutting and handling, it actually created a crispy, somewhat nougat-y flavor and texture to the filling. Both were amazingly delicious, especially when heated, and made for fantastic desserts, breakfasts and snacks for the short time they were around.

But that was not the end of the story. After this first attempt, I knew I wanted to try it again. The dough was just so wonderful - easy to make, easy to work with and so delicious, that the possibilities were endless. I had so many ideas, both sweet and savory, for variations of this challenge. But there was one variation that would not leave my head, and so I knew I had to try it before the end of the challenge month.

One breakfast treat that I have never attempted to make, yet that daddy and I always love from a bakery, is a cheese danish. And I just knew that this dough would make an absolutely delicious cheese danish style breakfast treat.

For my second batch, I halved the dough recipe, wanting only to make one cheese danish loaf. I also decided to give the dough one extra rise, as many of the bakers had indicated that this made the dough even better (which, thinking about the science of yeast and gluten and all that goes into bread baking, makes perfect sense). Once my dough was ready, I decided to try a new shape, too - just for the fun of it! I had seen before (and even attempted, with very poor results) braided filled breads, and they always look so beautiful. I thought that this dough, with this filling, was worth giving that another shot. So once the dough was rolled out, I lightly scored it to give myself guidelines, creating three sections. The middle section was for the filling - a layer of meringue, a layer of sweet cheese filling (a combination of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and one egg yolk - convenient, leaving me the one egg white for that meringue layer!), and a topping of seedless raspberry preserves. The two outer sections were then cut at approximately one inch intervals, surrounding the filling with strips of dough. These strips were then folded over the middle, on a diagonal, alternating from left to right and slightly overlapping in the middle to create the braid pattern. And let me tell you - that extra punch down and rise time for this dough absolutely made it a dream to work with. Not only did the dough roll out beautifully, but it behaved wonderfully during all of this scoring, filling, cutting and folding. I completely credit this dough for the results of this braid, because as I said - I have tried it before and had very different results.

Oh, so you want to see how it turned out?? Check this out:

It was beautiful. Seriously - nothing like the last time I tried to braid a bread. That one turned out far from beautiful. But this one I was really proud of.

And it was HUGE - it filled my 17 inch long baking sheet. And it smelled fantastic.

So for dessert that night, we tried it. And had seconds. And had it for breakfast the next morning. And I am trying like heck to control myself not to go grab another slice right now...

This recipe is definitely a keeper. And a make-often keeper. I can't wait to try different fillings, but I also can't wait to make them exactly these ways again - it is just that good.

Jamie and Ria, thank you so much for this challenge. Jamie, thanks for unearthing this wonderful family recipe and thanks to both of you for sharing it with us and for being such great, supportive hostesses!!

To check out the delicious, beautiful and creative coffee cakes cooked up by the other Daring Bakers, check them out here.

And to try the recipe for yourself, which I highly recommend, check it out here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rainbow Cupcakes

Last week I volunteered to bring a snack in to little miss's class for their St. Patrick's Day party. I wanted to think of something that would be fun for the kids, but also St. Patty's Day appropriate. I don't like Irish potatoes (you know, those sugar and butter treats rolled in cinnamon), thought that corned beef and cabbage might be a weird thing to send in for a preschool snack, and didn't think that Irish soda bread would satisfy 4 and 5 year old sweet teeth... So I started thinking about what decorations were associated with St. Patrick's Day - leprechauns, rainbows, shamrocks, pots of gold... Hmm... there must be a way to combine these in a fun, preschool-appropriate treat.

Knowing that cupcakes are always a hit, I decided to make St. Patrick's Day cupcakes incorporating as many of these ideas as possible.

I started with the rainbows.

Remember the rainbow cake I made for little miss's birthday last year? I thought that they'd be perfect in cupcake size. So we got to work.

Little miss helped mix up the cake batter. Yes, we used a box. We've been busy. Anyway, once the batter was ready, I measured it out into five bowls. Yes, measured. I am a bit fastidious like that...

A little bit of food coloring, a little bit of stirring, and we were ready to create some rainbows.

I wasn't sure exactly how much of each color I'd need to make sure that each cupcake had all five colors and that each well of the cupcake pan would have somewhere near the right amount (and, hopefully, close to the same amount...) of batter. I was actually a little nervous about that part, but after the first couple, I knew I was somewhat close and even let little miss help. As it turns out, I got it a bit wrong - I only got 17 cupcakes, when the box is supposed to make 24, and only 15 of the 17 were rainbow striped (the other two were random tie-dyed mixes of whatever batter was left, after I ran out of yellow and blue...), but luckily, there are only 11 kids in little miss's class. 11 kids, two teachers, 15 even gave them two extras just in case. Perfect.

The cupcakes came out pretty cool, I think:

So now it was time to make them Irish. Some cream cheese buttercream frosting "clouds" were adorned with gumdrop good luck charms. I don't have pictures of the actual process here, because it was pretty sticky detail work, which wound up being a bit frustrating, but the gist is that I used a rolling pin to flatten out gumdrops between two sheets of waxed paper. My intention was to cut out shamrocks from those flattened gumdrops to top each of the cupcakes. Like this:

Cute, right? But darn hard to cut out that small, even with a paring knife. The knife got super sticky after each cut and it was just tough to make them all come out right. So I decided to alternate patterns. In addition to the shamrocks, I made some gold coins (the easiest to make - just cut the gumdrops into slices horizontally!) and rainbows, too, to adorn the tops of the cupcakes.

When they were all done, I was pretty pleased with them. And according to the teacher, they were enjoyed by the kids. I know it was a lot of work for a room full of four and five year olds. but what's a party without a little bit of fun??

I hope you all enjoyed your St. Patrick's day as much as we did!

Monday, March 14, 2011

March Daring Cooks' Challenge - Ceviche and Papas Rellenas

Mid-March already? That means Spring will be here any day now!! I am more than ready for Spring - for the warmer weather and all that it brings, from playing outside to the promise of the fresh fruits of the summer. This month's Daring Cooks' Challenge gave a hint of the tastes to come in the very coolest of ways.

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra.

Ceviche is a very popular seafood dish throughout Central and South America, that is thought to have originated in Peru. It is traditionally made with raw fish that is "cooked" by being marinated in citrus juice. It both looks and sounds delicious and refreshing and very summery-tropical.

The only problem is that we are not big fish eaters in this house, and that none of us is all that comfortable with the idea of raw fish. What to do... Well, the first thing that I did was hop over to Google to search for vegetarian versions of this specifically non-vegetarian dish. As luck would have it, there are tons of options available for making this dish, or a dish very much in its style, without raw fish. I chose this one, using fresh mozzarella as the protein instead of the fish. Definitely in the spirit of the challenge, just making it so that the family will eat it!

The recipe involves lots of fresh, colorful vegetables, and the majority of the prep work involves the cutting, slicing or chopping of those fresh, colorful vegetables. Red onions are thinly sliced and soaked in cold water and the juice of one lime (I added the squeezed-limes to the bowl, too, just to get the most out of that lime).

Meanwhile, corn, red peppers and avocado are chopped and mixed together. The recipe also calls for chile peppers, but I didn't want that much heat in this dish, so I omitted it. I then added the cutest little mini-mozzarella balls to the prepared vegetables and mixed them together. I then drained the onions and added them to my bowl. The final step, to make it truly ceviche style, was to squeeze fresh limes over the mixture, sprinkle on some chopped fresh cilantro, and let the whole thing marinate in the refrigerator for the day.

While I was chopping veggies and preparing the ceviche, I was actually also preparing the second half of this challenge, as well. Talk about multi-tasking! The second portion of this challenge was papas rellenas, literally "stuffed potatoes." This is a dish that exists in one form or another throughout much of the Caribbean, but that is very traditional Peruvian fare. It is generally made from a dough made of mashed potatoes, wrapped around a filling of seasoned ground meat. So while I was making the ceviche, I was also roasting an oven full of potatoes for my mashed potato doughs. Yes, I know, mashed potatoes are usually made from boiled potatoes, but I prefer the flavor of roasted potatoes, so that is what I chose. I had two different ideas for my papas rellenas, so roasted two different kinds of potatoes - yukon golds and sweet potatoes.

The first idea that I had for these was a side-dish style stuffed potatoes, for which I used the yukon gold potatoes. I prepared a simple filling of broccoli and cheddar cheese.

The process of preparing these is very interesting. And messy. And requires patience and well washed hands. I scooped up the dough and flattened it into a pancake in my hand. A generous spoonful of the filling was then scooped into the pancake, which I then closed up around the filling to seal it up. The stuffed papas are then dipped once in flour, then in egg, then into bread crumbs. For these, I chose to use whole wheat panko bread crumbs. Once rolled, stuffed and triple dipped, the papas are deep fried to a nice golden brown.

The second variety that I chose to make, with the sweet potatoes, are what I called my dessert papas. For the filling, I chopped three types of apples (braeburn, pink crisp and mcintosh) and sauteed them in butter with cinnamon, brown sugar and dried cranberries. The process for preparing the dessert papas was the same as the side dish version, only much, much messier. Sweet potatoes are so much softer and creamier than yukon golds that the dough was very difficult (to the point of being very funny) to work with. Once filled, they were so soft that they were difficult to dip in the flour, egg and bread crumbs (not actually bread crumbs for this version - I chose honey-crunch wheat germ as the breading for the dessert version). But by the time everything was fried and drained, we were all very excited to see give everything a taste.

As it turns out, everything worked out really well! Our simple dinner (shredded beef) was beautifully complemented by both the ceviche-mozzarella and the broccoli and cheese papas. The ceviche was light and fresh and full of fresh flavor, and the papas were very filling, but made for a very fun side dish. I would imagine that using the meat filling would make them almost a meal in and of themselves, not just a side! As it was, they came out so big that little miss and I split one as our side that night.

And the dessert papas? The sweet potatoes were so smooth and creamy, and the filling was absolutely delicious. Like the side-dish papas, these were pretty heavy, so I am not sure I would recommend doing a double-papas night like we did, but I am really glad that I made both versions.

Kathlyn, thank you for being such an amazing hostess for such a fun, delicious and educational challenge! I love that you challenged us to take a step into your world, and that your teacher let you share this wonderful recipe with us.

To see the beautiful, fresh, creative and delicious dishes cooked up by the Daring Cooks this month, check them out here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Irish Soda Bread Bake Off

March means different things to different people. For some, it marks the beginning of Spring. For others, it's a time for college hoops. For yet others, it is all about St. Patrick's Day. In our house, all three of those things are important, but this past weekend, it was all about an early Irish celebration.

In preparation for a family Irish meal, little miss and I decided to make Irish soda bread. To feed the whole family, we needed to make two loaves. This was a perfect opportunity to let little miss shine a bit on her own. Instead of making a double batch, I took out double supplies - two bowls, two whisks, two mixing spoons - and asked little miss to try something new - instead of working together, I asked what she'd think about working side by side.

I have to say, this was a ton of fun. I'd measure an ingredient, hand it over to her, and she would do the same. I didn't touch her bowl at all. Occasionally she would look to me to confirm a measurement or to ask if she was doing something right, but when I tell you she did this on her own, I mean completely on her own.

I don't have too many pictures of the process since, well, I had my hands in my own bowl for most of the time. I have to say, this was really a fun experience for both of us. She really enjoyed the independence, and I really enjoyed watching her flourish. And seeing how proud she was to be trusted to do all of the tasks necessary for this recipe. Scooping the flour, pouring the buttermilk into the measuring cup - she did absolutely everything.

I also let her choose which dried fruits would go into which bread. She wanted one with just raisins, and wanted that to be the one I made. She wanted hers to have both raisins and craisins. I even let her decide how many raisins and craisins she wanted to add - no measuring required!!

The only part that I did for her was the oven part - putting the baking sheet in and taking it out. When they came out, we were so amazed. That's little miss's bread on the left, mine on the right. Not only does hers look fantastic, I kinda think it looks better than mine! We brought them both over to the grandparents' house for dinner and everyone was amazed and impressed. And everyone went for hers first.

I am a very proud mama.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Happy National Pancake Day!

Wait, you didn't know about National Pancake Day? Well, truth be told, neither did I. I mean, not ahead of time.

But, as luck would have it, we had pancakes this weekend, so today is the perfect day to share them here. Because these were no ordinary pancakes, oh no! These were so much more than ordinary. I came across these pancakes on foodgawker one day last week and just knew that I would not wait long to try them.

This recipe has two components - the pancake itself and the cinnamon swirl filling. The filling is a simple combination of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, beaten together until smooth. I suppose I should thank little man for his 5am feeding, because that was when I took the butter out of the fridge so that it would be soft enough to prepare this filling. You may now begin sleeping longer hours.

The pancake batter was a simple, pretty standard one, with half whole wheat flour, half all purpose, and minimal sugar. If not for that stick of butter and cup of brown sugar, I'd swear this was a recipe for healthy pancakes.

Once the batter was prepared and the filling was transferred into a plastic zip top bag with a corner snipped off (or, you know, a piping bag, if you have one), it was time to make the pancakes. After spooning the batter into the pan, as per normal pancakes, I piped a cinnamon swirl onto each using the prepared filling. As the first side cooked, the filling sank further into the pancake and began to get a bit ooey gooey. When the edges begin to dry, it is time to flip them. The second side of the pancake looks just like a regular pancake, as the filling does not sink all the way to the bottom. The filling does, however, melt significantly when it comes in contact with the hot pan. This is both a good thing (melty, ooey-gooey butter and sugar coats the entire side of the pancake!) and a bad thing (hot, melted butter and sugar oozes out all over the pan, and you don't want it to burn there. Or burn you when you try to wipe it up. I learned that the hard way.).

The resulting pancakes, however, are totally worth the effort:

How cool does that look?

Daddy and I switched off, and by the last pan-ful of
pancakes, he got a little creative with his "swirls," much to the delight of little miss. She chose to have the diamond and the zig-zag for breakfast. And the little mini one, too. Daddy got the smiley face. Me? I had a plate full of regular swirls, and boy were they delicious. These pancakes require no syrup, though I'd imaginethat would just up the decadent sweetness factor.
Or, if you really wanted to go all out, I suppose you could make a cream cheese glaze or other kind of cinnamon roll style frosting for them, but really, they are delicious all on their own. And they reheat beautifully in the microwave, so we are able to enjoy them for a few days.

So I repeat - Happy National Pancake Day!

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

For filling:
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

For pancakes:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs

Make the filling first. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and spices and beat until smooth. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag or to a resealable plastic baggie (you can cut the tip to use it like a pastry bag).

To make the pancakes, you can use the same mixing bowl in which you made the filling. Whisk together the flours, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add the milk and eggs and stir to combine.

Spoon or ladle the batter onto a hot, greased griddle then pipe a swirl of the filling onto each cooking pancake. Flip each pancake when the edges begin to dry, cooking them evenly on both sides. The filling may (will) ooze out a bit when you flip the pancakes. Don't worry about it.

Have a good breakfast!

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