Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tofu and Sweet Potato Fritters--Bakwan Tahu dgn Ubi

After the porkapalooza over the weekend, I felt a need to step away from the meat.  So I thought I'd try a couple of dishes with tofu.

When I first tasted tofu many years ago, I hated it.  At that time, early to mid 70s, there was a push to convert meat eaters to vegetarians by making ersatz meat dishes with tofu.  You can still find remnants of this misguided effort in supermarkets that sell tofu dogs and such.  If you like a good hot dog, or even one that you might find at a bowling alley or an airport bar, rotating for god-only-knows-how-long on the bars of the wienermatic hot dog rotisserie, you will not like a tofu dog.  Moreover, if you like tofu, silken, firm, steamed, fried, or simmered, you will not like a tofu dog.  If suffering does indeed ennoble, a steady diet of tofu dogs should guarantee sainthood.

Bakwan tahu, on the other hand, are sinfully good.  In Indonesia, you would find these being sold from carts on street corners, one of a selection of fritters and chips fried to order.  Made with bean sprouts and finely julienned sweet potatoes, they are similar to Vietnamese banh tom.  You could easily add shrimp to these, and bakwan often do have shrimp, but I left them out since our niece is allergic.

They are good with cocktails, but then, isn't everything?  I served these without any sauce, but they would be good with some nuoc cham. They may be served with lettuce to hold and wrap them, or naked, as they are usually served in Indonesia.

The recipe can be easily adjusted to incorporate other ingredients.  The batter can be made slightly thinner or thicker by increasing or decreasing the water.  The bakwan can be deep fried or shallow fried.  If making ahead of time, keep warm in a very low oven until ready to serve.  They should not be made more than an hour ahead of time.

Bakwan Tahu dengan Ubi

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste
4 to 5 shallots, minced, then pounded to a paste

1 block of tofu, about 250 grams, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup finely julienned sweet potatoes
2/3 cup bean sprouts

oil for frying

Make a batter of the first eight ingredients.  Stir in the tofu, sweet potatoes, and bean sprouts.  Drop by large tablespoonfuls in hot oil.  Cook on both sides for two to three minutes.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve warm.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Porchetta--For My Mother's 85th Birthday

My mother celebrated her 85th birthday this week.  For her 80th we bought a roast pig from a Chinese market in town and served it Vietnamese style with banh hoi, lettuce, nuoc cham, assorted herbs,  and other accompaniments.  This time we went with an Italian theme.

I first had the pleasure of tasting porchetta in Italy several years ago.  Traditional porchetta consists of a whole pig that has been deboned, the meat seasoned with a flavorful herb paste, rolled and tied, and then slowly roasted on a spit.  We had it from a truck along the side of the road and at a supermarket down the hill from Assisi. We had it in Norcia, renowned for its pork and its cooks' skill in preparing porchetta.  Everywhere we had it, the pork was succulent, unforgettable.

In San Francisco, California, there's a truck at the farmers market at the Ferry Building on Saturdays that makes a very tasty porchetta sandwich. They start selling the sandwiches around 10:00 a.m. and are often sold out by noon.  Although the line can sometimes requires a twenty minute wait or more, it is definitely worth the wait.

The party was held at my brother and his wife's house, but I cooked the porchetta at our house.  Because there were twenty people, I thought it best to cook two roasts, each weighing a little over 9 pounds.  One was cooked on my Weber kettle barbecue with a rotisserie; the second was cooked on my gas grill using indirect heat.  Both turned out great, every bit as good as what I've had in San Francisco, but the heat was actually easier to keep at a steady low temperature (275º to 300º) using the gas grill.  I did have to lift and rotate the roast in the rack in the gas grill a few times, but that was easily enough done.

The only difficulty you might face in making the porchetta is finding the pork belly.  Although Asian markets sell plenty of pork bellies, I wasn't sure if I could get two large, uncut pieces to roll around the pork loin.  Not only was the butcher happy to sell me them, he trimmed them so I had nice rectangular pieces to work with, and he didn't even charge for the pieces he trimmed off.  If you are able to get the pork belly, this is a dish I would definitely recommend trying.  It's not difficult, and the finished roast is spectacular.

The rest of the menu consisted of antipasti and crudities with a feta and roasted pepper dip to go along with pre-dinner drinks.  One thing you can be assured of at one of our family celebrations is that you won't go home hungry, or thirsty.  A pasta salad, a green salad, grilled vegetables, caramelized onions, ciabatta bread, and arugula accompanied the porchetta for the dinner.  My sister baked two wonderful coconut pecan cakes for the dessert.

At 85, my mother is slowing down some.  She'll be the first one to tell you this.  Still, she takes trips I wouldn't have the energy for, flying to Chicago to visit her sisters for 3 days, to France for a week with my sister in March because there was a deal on flights and why not?  She still paints regularly and has just had another painting accepted for the California State Fair (one of nineteen oils accepted for this year's fair), her fourth painting to be in the fair.  She still enjoys a martini every evening, still drinking the cheaper gin for herself but offering the top shelf gin to guests and family.  Frugal as she is on spending for herself, she is generous with others.  I've had friends tell me how lucky I am to have her as my mother, and boy, don't I know it.

Here is the porchetta recipe for anyone interested.  A printable version is here.

1 pork belly, 6 to 8 pounds
2 TBS fennel seed, dry roasted, cooled, and ground
1 TBS black peppercorns, ground
10 cloves of garlic, peeled, chopped, and pounded to a paste in a mortar
3 TBS fresh rosemary, finely minced
1/3 cup fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 TBS kosher salt

Make a paste out of the herbs, spices and salt.  Spread over the pork belly one to two days before roasting.  Refrigerate.

1 center cut pork loin, the width of the pork belly
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
8 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 stems of rosemary
1 tsp juniper berries, crushed
3 cups water
3 to 4 cups of ice cubes

Make a brine by heating the water with the salt and sugar, stirring until they are completely dissolved.  Stir in ice cubes until dissolved.  Add garlic, rosemary, juniper, and peppercorns. Place in refrigerator if necessary to chill thoroughly before adding the pork loin.  Brine pork loin for 8 to 24 hours, no longer.  Remove from brine, rinse, and dry with paper towels.

Place dried pork loin on top of the pork belly so that it is near one end and lays across the width.  Roll the belly around the loin and tie tightly with butcher's twine every one to two inches.  It may be necessary to trim off an inch or so of the end of the belly so that you have a tight roll with no overlap.  Let rest at room temperature for about an hour before roasting.

Roast using a rotisserie or on a rack in a pan using low, indirect heat.  I would aim for a temperature of around 275º to 300º.  It should take about 2 1/2  hours.  You want to have an internal temperature of 152º in the center of the loin.   Let rest at least 1/2 an hour before slicing. 

This is delicious served in a sandwich with caramelized onions and arugula.  Be careful when slicing that you don't slice off the fingers of people reaching to break off a piece of crackling. 


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coconut Cream Puffs with Chocolate Caramel Espresso Sauce

Although my wife is not too fond of most western desserts, she does have an affinity for cream puffs. This, frankly, makes little sense to me since she doesn't care for whipped cream, chocolate, or most breads. She does like plain white bread and thinks it's marvelous how slices of store bought sandwich bread can be pressed down into little balls about a twentieth of their original size. She was thrilled when we were in San Francisco and came across a branch of Beard Papa, a cream puff franchise that apparently started in Japan. Of course, when you think of cream puffs, you naturally think of Japan, right?

In any case, I was trying to think of something my wife would like for dessert and I thought, "cream puffs." The puffs themselves are extremely easy to make, and I thought I could tweak the fillings to please my wife. Instead of doing a traditional pastry cream, I decided to use coconut milk.There's another change I'll add to the recipe the next time I make it, but since this one was for a teachers' meeting, I decided to be conservative.

The puffs are a little different from traditional choux paste. They use milk instead of water, resulting in a softer puff more like the ones made by the Japanese franchise. Other than that, the process for making them is the same.

The pastry cream is simply a traditional pastry cream made with coconut milk rather than regular milk. It would make a marvelous filling for a banana cream pie (or a coconut cream pie for those who prefer -- I don't like dessicated coconut in anything).

The chocolate caramel espresso sauce is simply gilding the lily. It's a simple caramel sauce made with a little espresso and some dark chocolate. I'm not sure the cream puffs needed it, but it was there for those who wanted it. For a dessert that can be easily made beforehand and assembled at the last minute, this comes across as quite elegant. More importantly, it is delicious.

Coconut Pastry Cream

1 can (1 3/4 cups) of coconut milk, I prefer Chaokoh brand
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, divided
4 TBS cornstarch
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Whisk together 1/4 cup of the coconut milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks in a bowl. Set aside.

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add with the pod to the remaining 1 1/2 cups coconut milk in a medium pan. Stir in the other 1/4 cup of sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Whisk the hot coconut milk mixture and add about a quarter to the egg mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Add the tempered mixture to the sauce pan, still whisking constantly, and cook over medium heat until the pastry cream simmers and thickens. Next, remove the pan from heat, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk until the cream is smooth.

Transfer the pastry cream to a container and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a “skin” from forming. Chill until cold and ready to use, at least four hours. The pastry cream can be kept for several days.

The puff recipe I found here at Epicurious.

Chocolate Espresso Caramel Sauce

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBS strong espresso
1 ounce dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 TBS unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water to a lively simmer over medium heat. It will take a while for the sugar to color; be patient. Once it starts coloring, watch carefully. Allow the sugar to become a walnut brown.

Add the espresso and melted chocolate to the caramelized sugar. The mixture will bubble up dramatically before settling down. Stir in whipping cream and whisk until smooth. Whisk in butter and allow to cool. Spoon over the filled cream puffs or on the side.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Semur Tahu

Although we eat tofu several times a week in our house, I almost forgot to make a dish to post for this month's Weekend Wokking.  And I was the one who had selected tofu!  So today I decided to make some semur tahu, a quick and tasty dish from Central Java.

 For a quick main course, you'd be hard pressed to find something easier than this.  A lot of Indonesian recipes include eggs, probably because they are a cheap source of protein.  You can add potatoes to it if you'd like, or remove the hard boiled eggs if you are vegan.  Served with rice and some stir fried greens, semur tahu is a satisfying meal.

Semur Tahu

4 blocks of tofu in water sold in plastic bags in Asian markets, each block about four inches square and one and a half inches thick or one of those plastic packs of tofu, about 18 ounces
1 small bundle of  soun (bean thread or cellophane noodles), soaked to soften in cold water, drained
4 shallots, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 TBS oil
2 roma tomatoes, seeded, diced, or 2 TBS ketchup
4 to 6 TBS (or to taste) kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 1/2 cups water
4 hard boiled eggs (8 to 10 hard boiled quail eggs would be nice if you have them)

Heat a frying pan and add the oil.  Fry shallots and garlic until just beginning to brown. Remove to a clay pot or sauce pan.  Cut the tofu into 1 1/2-inch cubes.  Brown in the frying pan and then add to the shallots and garlic.  Stir in the tomatoes, kecap manis, and water.  Bring to a boil and cook for 5ive minutes.  Add noodles and eggs.  Simmer for another 5 minutes or so.  Sprinkle with fried shallots and serve with rice.

I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to celebrate the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient. The host this month is  Tasty Curry Leaf. If you would like to participate or to see the secret ingredient, check who's hosting next month.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Banana Almond Cookies

There's always that dilemma when bananas are ripening faster than you're eating them.  Should you eat another now, or should you wait and save them for baking?  Do you really want another loaf of banana bread?

The nice thing about banana cookies is that you can have that banana taste without being stuck with a loaf that you are forced ;-) to eat in the next couple of days.  You can't slice off a piece of banana bread and give the rest of the loaf as a gift.  Cookies can be divvied out, given to family and friends, and still you get enough of a taste to scratch your itch.

The challenge for making banana cookies is making them crisp.  Fresh out of the oven, there's nothing wrong with a soft, moist cookie.  In fact, there's nothing better than a soft, moist cookie fresh out of the oven.  But after cookies have cooled, some cookies taste better if they are crisp.  Most banana cookies tend to taste like banana bread.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't satisfy that yearning for crispness.  I think I've found a way to get that crunch for those who want it.  For those of you who prefer a softer cookie, simply skip the last step.  Either way, these cookies will satisfy those looking for a banana fix.

Banana Almond Cookies

2 over-ripe bananas
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1 stick butter (4 ounces), room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375º.

In a food processor, pulse the blanched almonds with 1/2 cup sugar until almonds are finely ground.  Cream butter with remaining 1/4 cup sugar.  Then add the ground almonds.  Whip until thoroughly mixed.  Beat in eggs, then add mashed bananas.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix the dry ingredients into the batter.  When the flour has been completely incorporated, stir in the sliced almonds.

Using two tablespoons, drop the batter onto parchment lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 6 to 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.

For crispy cookies, allow the cooked cookies to cool completely.  Then return them to a 300º oven and bake for another 8 minutes or so. 

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.