Sunday, April 22, 2012

Silky Smooth Asian-Style Brown Sugar Custard Tarts

I know some people who get inspiration to cook from the food they eat at restaurants.  My Auntie used to re-make restaurant dishes at home all the time.  We'd go out to eat and she'd taste something she really liked, and then soon, she'd be concocting her own version at home.  She found it a real challenge to try to make something taste authentic.  And I loved watching her and asking a million annoying questions.

When I bake and cook, it's usually something I've seen on blogs, or something I have a craving for.  I've rarely, until recently, tried to re-make restaurant food at home, but now I see how satisfying it can be.  It was awesome when I made Chinese steamed sweet red bean buns at home -- like having dim sum without the grease and the wait!  I've also made baked barbecue pork buns with the help of my Dad (who made the filling) and this lovely, easy bread recipe.  I even glazed it and everything!  Most recently, I tried my hand at making Chinese custard or egg tarts.  Ever had them?  They're a sweet, smooth, barely flavoured custard baked with a flaky crust that's a cross between savoury and sweet.  I used to have them all the time when I was little, and never imagined I'd be making them myself at home.

But I did!  I wanted something special and cute to bring to my Mom as a surprise treat one day, and these tarts were just the thing.  They're relatively easy to make, and the custard feels so silky and lovely in your mouth, especially good when you eat them warm.  The recipe I used seemed odd at first -- measurements of liquids in grams and the half an egg yolk really threw me off!  It was also a recipe that made 7 tarts -- an odd number, I thought.  But I pressed onward, changing grams to milliliters, and carefully adding in just half an egg yolk.  It turned out fantastic!  And because I used brown sugar, it got an added caramel taste you won't find in the tarts at the Asian bakeries.

A few notes about the recipe.  It calls for evaporated milk, but not too much of it.  If you don't feel like opening a whole can just a few tablespoons, I think it's safe to say that regular whole milk or non-dairy milk (as long as it's not the lite kind) will work find.  Light cream (like the cream you might have for your coffee) would probably also be good.  Also, you'll need to get those tin foil tart shells to press the crust in. They're about 3'1.5 inch shells. You could try doing it in a muffin pan, but be extra careful when pulling them out, as the pastry shells are quite delicate.

Asian-Style Brown Sugar Custard Tarts
adapted from The Missing Lokness
makes 7 tarts

1/4 cup of Earth Balance margarine (or salted butter)
3 tablespoons of powdered sugar
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/2 a large egg yolk
2 teaspoons of evaporated milk

9 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup of brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons of evaporated milk

1.  To make the crust, cream together the margarine and powdered sugar until well combined.  Add the egg yolk and mix well.

2.  Add the flour and mix, slowly, adding the milk as you mix.  Keep mixing until you get a nice soft dough.  You might need to add a few extra drops of milk.  Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, make your custard.  First add the water to pot and bring to a boil.  Add the sugar and cook until the sugar has dissolved.  Set aside to cool.

4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and evaporated milk until well-combined.  Add in the cooled sugar syrup and mix well.

5. Take your dough out of the fridge and divide it into 7 little balls.  Press them into the tart shells and fill will the custard mixture, making sure to leave a bit of room at the top.

6.  Bake your tarts in a 375 degree oven until the custard jiggles slightly when tapped.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Salty, Crunchy, Sweet

Make these NOW! No, they're not cleansing. No, they're not healthy. No, they're not virtuous. In fact, you should definitely avoid trying to calculate the sodium content of these salty, crunchy, sweet, mustardy bites. Don't even bother. But they. are. so. good. They're just what I needed after a bad beginning to my work week. They have a pleasing, snappy crunch. They're just a little bit sweet and they satisfy every snack craving bone in my body.

And ... AND ... they are soooooooooooooo easy to make. Just four ingredients, a quick twirl in the oven, a toss now and then, and they're done. So easy. So good. Make them. You deserve them. You also deserve chocolate. Yup, that's right. Do it. With these snacks, I'm not even counting the days till Friday. Happy Tuesday.

Honey Mustard Pretzels
adapted from Country Cleaver
makes 5 cups

3 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tablespoons of honey
1/4 cup of honey dijon mustard
5 cups of pretzel twigs

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, honey and mustard. Add the pretzels and toss to evenly coat them in the mustard mixture.

2. Spread the pretzels out on a baking sheet and pop them into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Toss every 7ish minutes. When they're done, they should be a dark, caramely colour and you should definitely smell them.

3. Let them cool (if you can) and store in an airtight container. Snack away!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Creamy Vegan Mac 'n' Cheeze

Ever since I saw this post over at Eat Me Delicious, I've wanted to make vegan cheeze sauce. The vegan pumpkin macaroni and cheeze didn't make the cut for blog posting -- it just wasn't enjoyed enough my Ashley. But it looked sooooo delicious.

I've been on a vegan kick lately. I don't know if it's our latest addiction to vegan burritos (or in my case, burrito rice bowls!) or what... but I've been exploring vegan cooking and baking a lot more. During March break, I made a list of things I wanted to cook before the summer, and first on the list was vegan mac 'n' cheeze. I was never a child that grew up on boxed Kraft dinner -- it was a rare, rare sight growing up in my parents' home. It was Chinese home cooked dinners pretty much every night, and I have a Mom who hates cheese, so KD is not a childhood memory of mine.

I have made macaroni and cheese before -- and it was lovely. Creamy, and cheesy and comforting. But would a vegan version be the same? I did a little internet research and found that recipes for vegan cheese sauces could really be categorized into three categories: heavy on the nutritional yeast (like 1/2 cups worth) and thickened with cornstarch, sometimes helped with the addition of miso, squash-based sauces like the one Ashely tried, and nut or seed-based sauces (I'm not counting the ones that call for vegan daiya cheese -- that's pretty much a straight substitution). The recipes that I found the most interesting were over the Post Punk Kitchen, where Isa makes Mac and Shews (that cashews!) and Sunflower Mac. Both lovely-sounding but I didn't have enough sunflower seeds or any nuts and I kind of wanted a lower fat version.

Instead, I took the Sunflower Mac recipe and tweaked it, replacing the blended, soaked sunflower seeds with cooked red lentils. It worked quite nicely. Red lentils are so quick cooking, and if you add a little extra water and cook it an extra few minutes, they melt down into nothing, leaving a nice creamy sauce-like texture. Perfect! I got help from an immersion blender, some smoked paprika, a splash of soy sauce and a good helping of nutritional yeast. It was creamy and comforting and perfect served with macaroni and greens. Next time, I'll add a little bit of mustard or a squeeze of lemon juice to perk it up a bit and give it a "cheesy" tang.

I'm definitely making this again, and you should too! It's relatively quick, and the only special ingredient is the nutritional yeast, which is easy to find in health food and bulk stores. Does it taste like cheese? No. I don't think anything tastes quite like cheese, but it's good in its own right. Go try! Happy veganing!

Creamy Vegan Macaroni with Greens
inspired by Post Punk Kitchen
serves 2-3

2 cups of dried pasta
1 bunch of greens -- any kind you like; I used kale

1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 cup of red lentils, rinsed
3/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of vegetable stock
3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon of cornstarch
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
lots of fresh cracked black pepper

1. Cook your pasta according to the package directions. When it's almost done, throw in your greens and cook until tender. Drain and set aside.

2. In a medium sized pots, heat the olive oil, and add in the onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes or until things get translucent and fragrant. Add in the paprika, lentils and water. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, covered for 20 minutes, or until the lentils and broken down. Check every so often, and add water if necessary.

3. When the lentils are creamy and saucy, turn off the heat and add the vegetable broth. Blend using an immersion blender until you get a nice sauce-like consistency. Turn the heat back on to medium.

4. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water or broth and add to the sauce. Also add in your nutritional yeast and soy sauce. Bring the sauce back up to a boil and cook for a minute to allow the cornstarch to thicken it a little.

5. Add your pasta and greens to the sauce and mix well. Add in the pepper. Serve immediately.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sweet Rolls for the Long Weekend

It seems that every time I have a little bit of time off, I make bread. I made cranberry buns last March break, fruit and nut swirl rolls and New Year's day and this Easter weekend, I made these lovely citrus sweet rolls with dried cherries and cardamom.

But .. but .. I have so many other exciting things to share with you. More yummy Asian treats, a comforting classic made vegan and low-fat, and a crispy crunchy addictive cracker that's the perfect vehicle for peanut butter and homemade Nutella ...

Alas, I shall be festive and proper for once in the my life and give you these sweet rolls as an alternative to the hot cross bun that's so traditional this time of the year. If you're not feeling the icing cross or the Catholic undertones that go with it, or if you're just looking for something sweet and different to play with for Easter brunch, these are the rolls for you. They're light and sticky sweet from the simple glaze that goes one top the second you pull them out of the oven, and they go perfectly with a strong cup of coffee in the morning. The lemon zest and juice really wake up the spices in these rolls, and give them an extra specialness that every holiday needs. The dried cherries are a real treat, but in a pinch, dried cranberries would be great too. I'm also betting that if you're so inclined, some shredded coconut and almond flakes wouldn't hurt at all.

Are you off again tomorrow? If you're as lucky as I am, make these sweet rolls and relax on your last day of this long weekend. If you're back to the grind, tuck this recipe away and wait for a rainy spring weekend when you're itching to turn your oven on and give you taste buds a kick out of bed.

Cherry Lemon Sweet Rolls
adapted from Crumb
makes 16 little rolls

3/4 cup of almond milk
2 tablespoons of butter (I used Earth Balance)
1.5 teaspoons of quick rising yeast
1/4 cup of natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons of yogurt (if you're keeping this vegan, just add two extra tablespoons of almond milk)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
zest of two lemons, divided
1 1/4 cup of spelt flour
1 cup of all purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
1/2 cup of dried cherries, chopped

juice of half a lemon
2 teaspoons of natural cane sugar

1. In a saucepan, place the almond milk and butter. Heat slowly until the butter melts and the milk becomes warm. Pour into a large bowl.

2. Add sugar and yeast to the bowl and mix well. Let it sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes frothy. Add the yogurt, vanilla extract and half the lemon zest and mix until well combined.

3. Add the flours, cinnamon and cardamom, and mix until a sticky dough forms. On a floured surface, dump out the dough and knead, adding sprinklings of flour as needed. Knead for 5-7 minutes, or until your get a smooth elastic dough that's just a little bit sticky.

5. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes. If you're using regular instant yeast (and not the quick rise), you'll have to double the rising times.

6. In the meantime, prepare your fruit filling and glaze. For the filling, simply combine the rest of the lemon zest with the chopped cherries. Mix it with your fingers really well, so that the zest is evenly distributed. If you're planning to add any extra goodies, now is the time! For the glaze, dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice. Taste the mixture and make sure it's to your liking. Add more sugar or lemon juice as needed.

7. Once the dough as rise, punch it down and give it a couple good kneads. Divide your dough in half. Working with half the dough ball, roll the dough out into a 10'6 inch rectangle. Sprinkle half the cherry filling over the surface of the rectangle. Roll it up nice and tight and cut them into 8 equal parts. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat for the other half.

8. Cover your rolls again with a tea towel and let them rest for about 25 minutes. Bake them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the bottoms of the rolls get a nice golden brown colour. Pull them out of the oven and brush with the glaze.

9. Enjoy with your coffee and don't forget to share!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Celebration of Celebrations

I know I've been posting about milestones and celebrations lately -- because you know what? Sometimes things are a big deal. And when a big deal comes along -- and we all know they don't come that often -- things have to be special. I hinted a couple of weeks back about being covered in chocolate. Well, there's a good reason.

When special occasions come along that merit not one, but multiple celebrations, the one that ends things off should be a great one. The timing of our celebration was a bit coincidental -- St. Patrick's Day evening -- but the theme was much better than green beer and Catholicism. There was beer, but not much talk of the Irish Saint. Instead, we paired the beer with chocolate. Not fancy wine pairings and tastings here. No wine and cheese platters and fancy muscat grapes. Chocolate treats washed down with beer -- now that's a celebration.

I first heard of this party idea on CBC radio last Valentine's day, when they suggested this as a unique way to celebrate the day. Their version involved getting different bars of quality chocolate, and sampling a square or two with different beers. Each type of chocolate went with a certain type of beer. CBC's special guest beerologist Mirella Amato recommends the following pairings:

white chocolate: English Ales
milk chocolate: dark beers like Guinness, stouts and porters
dark chocolate: fruity beers, high alcohol beers (hello fancy Quebec bottles!)

The first time we tried this chocolate beer idea was in the summer. I'm not a beer person, so I couldn't tell you the names of the beers we tried -- but some were delicious. Coffee and chocolate porters, a really dark Guinness-like stout, those fruity berrylicious intense Quebec beers -- I remember this really yummy dark cheery one! The English ales I couldn't handle at all -- way too bitey. And the chocolate treats? Well, let's see .. Nigella's chocolate cloud cake, milk chocolate chip cookies, whole wheat brown sugar chocolate cookies, white chocolate and fresh raspberry blondies, and truffles! The dark ones rolled in coconut, the milk ones in cocoa powder, and the white ones with added chopped sour cherries. This recipe really helped -- you don't need the margarine. So did this one. And this one...yeah, there was tofu in the blondies!

This time around, we went easy on the white chocolate because it wasn't everyone's favourite, and I played with a silicone chocolate mold that my love bought me for Christmas. We used three different types of dark chocolate: regular semi sweet buttons, Callebaut bitter sweet chips and Lindt 90% chocolate bar (which melted like a dream and poured oh so smoothly!). We filled them with pistachos and honey, cashews and coconut. I think those were the most fun to make. This recipe really helped. Pistachios are ground and then mixed with honey -- so sweet and nutty. The cashews were ground up with the coconut -- no sweetener this time, but it came together with the help of a splash of almond milk. You simply melt chocolate, fill the molds half way and put them in the freezer for a few minutes. Then, pull them out, put your filling in and add more melted chocolate. So easy and fun!

What else? Milk chocolate brownies with cocoa nibs -- crunchy and so chocolately! A repeat of Nigella's cloud cake because that's everyone's favourite. White chocolate chips oatmeal cookies with dried sour cherries and coconut -- a surprising favourite! It's a spin off of this recipe -- the one that made me love butterscotch, and now, white chocolate. A fun and easy treat -- milk chocolate covered pretzel twists. And my personal favourite -- dark chocolate popsicles. If you make anything, make these. Recipe here. I replaced half the water with strong brewed coffee and didn't bother with the whisking for ice cream -- popsicles or rather fudgesicles were much easier.

I urge you have this chocolate beer party. I don't even like beer and it was a blast. It's rainy and cold outside -- what better way to spend the day than plan a party. You don't even need a reason. Good friends are enough. Get chocolated!