Vanilla Extract

October 14, 2014

I’ve waited patiently for 10 months as my Vanilla Extract slowly steeped. I waited and waited for it to transform in the richly-dark, extravagantly-decedent vanilla that as I’ve wanted, but it just hasn’t happened. Don’t get me wrong the flavor is good (and the aroma is heavenly), but it’s slightly less potent than store-bought McCormick’s. After waiting so long I am somewhat disappointed that the Higher Intensity (Recipe #3 and #4) didn’t completely outshine McCormick’s. I guess there is a reason why McCormick’s is so expensive (and is Cook’s Illustrated vanilla extract of choice). So, I am now moving on to the same step that saved by last batch of vanilla extract from 2010; using a fresh set of beans to increase the potency.

Extract needs to be double extracted

Extract needs to be double extracted

After 4 years of experimenting with different recipes and techniques, the lessons of my project are……….

MORE BEANS EQUALS MORE FLAVOR. After experimenting with 8 difference recipes, it is clear that being stingy with your beans will yield worthless vanilla extract. But also, adding more beans only helps up to a point. There is a point of diminishing returns, beyond which you are throwing your beans away. In my opinion, that point appears to be recipe #3, between 150% and 165% of the minimum FDA-Formula. Extracting more flavor requires new techniques.

DOUBLE DUNK YOUR BEANS.  This is the secret step. Don’t throw away those used beans! Even after you have already used your beans to create an extract, they still have more flavor to give. Cut up your beans into 1″ segments and pre-soak them in enough vodka to make your next batch. Allow them to just sit for a year (or two) until you’re ready to make your next batch. The head-start will yield otherwise unachievable results. If this is your first batch, I still think that you need to swap out the beans for new beans after a few months. I was unable to match store-bought potency without using two sets of beans during the extract process.

AVOID EXTRACT-GRADE BEANS. While the consensus on the internet is that “Extract-Grade” or “Grade B” beans are most suited to make vanilla extract (mostly for cost reasons), I was so disappointed with their quality when I first it 4 years ago that I will probably never buy extract-grade beans again. And when I want them for other purposes, extract beans just won’t made the grade. Besides, the end result is cheap enough where I don’t really care if I pay 75-cents versus 45-cents per ounce.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. Those internet recipes that tell you to wait just a week or two are wrong (including Chris Kimball). After 2 months, you can begin to use your steeping bottle in recipes. While waiting beyond 4 to 6 months won’t do any harm, such extended periods of time won’t help the extract to become any more intense. If it is not strong enough after 6 months, switch your beans and use the old beans to pre-steep your next batch.

And the winner is……….

RECIPE #3. For the winning recipe I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka, equaling 166% of the minimum FDA-strength. The winning recipe cost just 75-cents per ounce to make. My supermarket charges $17 for a 4-oz bottle of McCormick’s, and $25 for a 8-oz bottle; roughly 4 to 5 times the cost of home-made vanilla extract.  However, if your not willing to invest the 4 to 6 months (and the $25) into the process, there are certainly less expensive places to buy Vanilla than your supermarket.

Other final thoughts……….

  • USE FRESH BEANS. While vanilla extract can last forever, the beans themselves seem to remain fresh for about a year. They tend to dry out (still there are additional steps you can take to re-hyrdate them). I think Vanilla extract could be made from dry-ish beans, but they are more difficult to slice open and remove the caviar; possibly dangerously difficult.  Personally, my experience with old and tough beans was terrible. While it ultimately boils down to the quality of the final extract that most concerns me, fresh beans are simply a joy to work with. I made the current year’s (2013) batch of vanilla from wonderfully fresh beans.
  • BEAN COUNT. Just as with shrimp, vanilla beans are sold based upon their size, with lower number per pound being more expensive. It takes, on average, 100 “Grade A” vanilla beans to equal one pound. The average number of extract-grade (“Grade B”) vanilla beans is 140 to 160 per pound. If your bean provider isn’t up front then I recommend contacting your seller before placing your order to ensure that you aren’t surprised.
  • THE PERFECT BOTTLES for gift are here. The amber helps protect the vanilla from light.
  • MINIMUM FDA-STRENGTH for vanilla extract . anything less is just vanilla flavored booze.

 

 

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Lobster Rolls

September 20, 2014

When this recipe first came out over a year ago, I really wanted to make it, but the recipe is so disjointed on their website (you need to follow three separate recipes) that I eventually became distracted with easier-to-follow recipes. Until recently, I saw the ATK episode that made it look so easy; so I gave it a try. I must have been a lot of “trick photography”, because the recipe was a lot of work and made a huge mess in my kitchen. I did have a problem with the lobsters becoming water-logged (discussed below); but overall, as you would expect, the lobster rolls were delicious. Just prepare yourself for a fair amount of messy work. 4-stars.

I hand cut a loaf to simulate the New England Hot dog rolls

I hand cut a loaf to simulate the New England Hot dog rolls

While I followed the cooking instructions exactly, my lobsters became waterlogged. While there are a couple of theories about why my lobster became water-logged: (1) allowing lobster to cook too long, (2) boiling lobster (vs. steaming them). Chris Kimball is convinced that it is the molting cycle of the lobster that determines whether or not the meat will be firm and dense or soft and water-logged. He gives a lengthy explanation here. Chris Kimball’s bottom line is this: lobster in Spring until early Summer and best. Late Summer lobsters are still growing into their softer-shells, whereas Spring lobsters are packed tightly into their hard, pre-molted shells. You may need to increase the size of your Late Summer lobsters by 1/4-pound to compensate. In reality, the molting cycle is a little more complex than Chris Kimball describes.

Comments:

  1. Many on the internet claim that boiling lobsters has a tendency to water-log them. Chris Kimball had tried to steam the lobsters instead (way back int 1997), and preferred steaming for its simplicity and efficiency. Yet, 17 years later he published this recipe using boiling without comment.
  2. I have never been able to find New England-style hot dog buns (sold by Pepperidge Farms), so I bought a beautiful Tuscan loaf from my local bakery and carefully cut it to mimic New England-style hot dog buns. The bread was fantastic.
  3. While fish is cooked to between 130 and 140 degrees, lobster requires higher temperatures because the muscle fibers are longer and need more heat to shrink. Chris Kimball recommends taking the temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into tail. It should reach 175-degrees.
  4. Chris Kimball also mentions that you can refrigerate the lobster meat in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. But this is a lot of effort to have “almost” fresh lobster.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $28 for four lobster rolls ($7 each)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here, here and here. The descriptions of how I cooked it today (including all three of Chris Kimball’s recipes) are given below:

4 (1-1/4-pound) live lobsters
1/3 cup table salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced celery
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh chives
Salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
6 New England-style hot dog buns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 leaves Boston lettuce

  1. Put live lobsters in the freezer for 30 minutes, which will induces a coma-like state. Meanwhile, bring 2 gallons water to boil in large pot over high heat. Remove 2 tablespoons butter from refrigerator and allow to soften.
  2. Add the 1/3 cup table salt and the lobsters to pot. Use tongs to arrange them so that they are completely submerged. Cover, but leave the lid slightly ajar. You will need to adjust heat to maintain a gentle boil. Boil for 12 minutes, and check that the thickest part of tail registers 175 degrees (insert the thermometer into underside of tail to take temperature).
  3. Use tongs to put lobsters to a rimmed baking sheet and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the lobster meat according to the following methods.
    1. SEPARATE INTO TWO: Set lobster on a cutting board. Hold tail with one hand and the body with your other. Twist to separate.
    2. TAIL MEAT: Lay the tail on its side, then use both hands to press down on tail until shell cracks. Hold the tail with the flippers facing you (shell will be facing down). With your thumbs on opposite sides, pull back on both sides to crack open shell and remove meat. You can briefly rinse meat under running water to remove green tomalley, if desired, and pat meat dry with paper towels. Use a paring knife to de-vein.
    3. KNUCKLES: Twist the “arms” to remove claws/knuckles from the body. Then twist the knuckles to remove from claws. Use the back of a chef’s knife to break the knuckles into 2 pieces at joint. Use the handle of teaspoon or skewer to push meat out of shell.
    4. CLAWS: Wiggle small hinged portion of each claw to separate. Use the back of a chef’s knife to break open the claws, cracking the first side, flipping, and cracking the other side. Remove meat.
    5. LEGS: Twist legs and remove from body. One at a time, lay leg flat on counter. Using a rolling pin, starting from claw and rolling toward the open end, push out meat. Stop rolling before reaching end of legs so you don’t accidentally get any of the shell.
  5. Cut the tail meat in 1/2″ pieces. Cut the claw meat to 1″ pieces.
  6. Whisk mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, chives, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cayenne together in large bowl. Add lobster and gently toss to combine.
  7. Put 12″ nonstick skillet over medium-low burner. Butter both sides of hot dog buns and sprinkle lightly with salt. Put buns in skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until crispy brown. Flip and continue to cook the second side for another 2 to 3 minutes crispy brown. Move buns to large serving platter.
  8. Line each bun with lettuce leaf, and spoon lobster salad into buns. Serve immediately.

Fried Rice with Peas and Bean Sprouts

July 29, 2014

While the fried rice is relatively straight-foward side dish to almost any Asian-inspired meal, such as these potstickers, it is not sufficiently balanced to eat without some kind of sauce. Fortunately, I had a scallion dipping sauce which added some flavor. The recipe comes together in about 10 to 12 minutes  Just 3 stars, lacking enough flavor to stand on its own two feet.

Basic fried rice, but a little bland

Basic fried rice, but a little bland

Comments:

  1. While the recipe calls for 4-ounces of Chinese sausages (lop cheong), I used 8-ounces of smoked ham.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess? Low/Medium.
Start time 6:30 PM. Last Batch at 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup frozen peas (preferably baby peas), thawed
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
6 cups cooked white rice (cold), large clumps broken up with fingers
1 cup bean sprouts (about 2 1/2 ounces)
5 medium scallions, sliced thin (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces Chinese sausages (lop cheong) or 8 ounces smoked ham

  1. Make sure you have 6-cups of cold, white rice. This is best if you cook the night before.
  2. Set frozen peas out to thaw for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce and soy sauce and set aside. If you are using Chinese sausage, cut them in half lengthwise, and then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. If using ham, cut into 1/2″ cubes. Also peel and mince your garlic. Thinly slice you scallions.
  3. Pre-heat 1-1/2 teaspoons oil in a 12″ non-stick skillet over medium burner.  Add eggs to skillet and cook for 20 seconds without stirring, then scramble for 2 more minute, ensuring that the eggs are in small pieces. The eggs should be just cooked through, but not browned. Empty egg into a small bowl.
  4. Put empty skillet over high-burner and pre-heat 2-1/2 tablespoons oil for 2 minutes. Add peas and saute for 30 seconds (add sausage or ham with peas but increase to 1 minute), add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add rice and oyster sauce mixture, and cook for 3 minutes until heated through, breaking apart any clumps.
  5. Add eggs, bean sprouts and scallions to skillet and cook for 1 minute until just heated. Serve immediately.

Pot Stickers with Scallion Dipping Sauce

July 22, 2014

While comparing different recipes is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, this may be my favorite ATK recipe of all time. These dumplings are filled with flavor, are tender on the inside with have nice carmelization on their bottoms. The soy based sauce is a little predicable, but the saltiness is so traditional that I haven’t yet strayed from the original recipe. The base recipe is very straight-forward, only requiring a little bit of patience during the filling/sealing process. Be careful not to overfill them or they will close properly, but you can squeeze some of the excess out if necessary. The only logistical problem is that the batches take 20 minutes and yield between 12 to 14 dumplings, so unless you have two non-stick skillets they are difficult to make for a regular sit-down dinner for 4 people; coming and going from the table every 20 minutes to eat 3 dumplings. But worth the inconveniences, I absolute love them and give them a full 5-stars.

Perhaps my favorite ATK recipe

Perhaps my favorite ATK recipe

Comments / Issues:

  1. My 12.5″ non-stick skillets (the Chris Kimball recommended T-Fal), makes 14 dumplings at a time, and based upon my wrappers I needed 3 batches. I froze on the batches for cooking next week; they cook the same way with no need to thaw.
  2. I used to be able to buy round gyoza wrappers from my local supermarket. While I guess I may be able to find a local Asian market, in the meantime I am using frozen .
  3. Be careful that the dumplings don’t stick to the sheet pan is step 3. Some of mine did, and I suggest a very light spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Sometimes I just use regular cabbage (rather than napa cabbage), especially around St. Patricks day because it tastes the same and is much cheaper.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $9. For about 40 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Last Batch at 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here and the dipping sauce recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared everything today are given below:

Filling:
3 cups minced napa cabbage leaves (from 1/2 medium head)
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 pound ground pork
4 minced scallions
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Dumplings:
24 round gyoza wrappers (see note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water, plus extra for brushing

Scallion Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium scallion, white and green parts, minced

  1. Minced 1/2 head of napa cabbage leaves, add to a colander and toss with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Set over a bowl and allow to wilt for 20 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to press down to extract any excess moisture. Empty into a medium bowl, combine the remaining filling ingredients and mix until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (up to 24 hours).
  2. When ready to assemble, work with 4 dumplings at a time to prevent the wrappers from drying out. Keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap. fill, seal, and shape the dumplings using a generous 1 teaspoon of the chilled filling per dumpling
  3. As you complete the dumplings, set the on a baking sheet and repeat step 2 until you have made all your dumplings. Once assembled you can refrigerate for up to 1 day, or freeze them for up to 1 month. (If frozen, do not thaw before cooking.)
  4. Line a large plate with two layers of paper towels, which you will use after cooking. Make dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in small bowl, which will make about 3/4 cup.
  5. Brush 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12″ cold non-stick skillet. Arrange 12 dumplings in the skillet with the flat side down, overlapping the tip as necessary. Put over medium-high burner and lightly brown dumplings for 5 minutes without moving.
  6. Turn down burner to low, and add 1/2 cup of water and immediately cover. Cook for 10 minutes until the water becomes absorbed and the wrappers are slightly translucent. Uncover and turn up the burner to medium-high and cook (again without moving) for 3 to 4 minutes until the bottoms are well browned. Put dumplings onto paper-towel lined plate (browned-side down) and allow to briefly drain, before setting onto a serving platter.
  7. Allow the skillet to cool until just warm and wipe out using paper towels. Repeat from step 5 with the next batch of 12 dumplings.
  8. Serve alongside the scallion dipping sauce.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream

July 9, 2014

I poured my heart into making my son a wonderful chocolate/coffee cookie-dough ice cream cake for his 15th birthday, but the regular cookie dough recipe turned much too hard when frozen. I have since experimented with a lot of different tricks and techniques, and am pleased to be able to offer some insight. I cut the flour down to 1 cup, and also tried to substitute liquids that remain softer when frozen; I omitted the egg whites, and used heavy cream which has less water. Also, I substituted vegetable oil in lieu of some butter to keep things soft. The butter that I did use, I browned to compensate for the substitution. The mini-chocolate chips also made the dough seem softer. The result is very good both in terms of texture and flavor. 4-stars, still a little room for refinements of the cookie dough.

Vanilla-bean, Cookie-Dough Ice cream cake

Vanilla-bean, Cookie-Dough Ice cream cake

The problem with using regular cookie dough is that it is meant to withstand the high-heat of an oven and then served either warm or at room temperature. When frozen, it becomes rock hard.

Comment:

  1. Be sure to use unsalted butter or the recipe will be too salty. If you must use salted butter, cut the salt down to 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. I used many of Chris Kimball’s techniques found here, but adapted them for the freezer.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $10
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time: 12:00. Dinner time: 5:00

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar (6-1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
2 large egg yolk
1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1 cups semisweet mini- chocolate chips (6 ounces)

  1. Melt the stick of butter in 10” skillet over medium-high burner for 2 minutes, and continue cooking butter for about 4 more minutes, swirling pan constantly, until the butter becomes dark golden brown and has nutty aroma. Empty browned butter to large heatproof bowl using a heatproof spatula. Stir 1/4 cup vegetable oil into hot butter.
  2. Add brown sugar, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Add egg yolk and heavy cream. Whisk for 30 seconds until the mixture becomes smooth with no sugar lumps remaining. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream:
1-1/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-3/4 cup heavy cream.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
1/3 cup light corn syrup.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
6 egg yolks.
1 vanilla bean.
2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing milk from stove-top. Place metal sheet pan in freezer.
  2. Add milk, heavy cream, about half the sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium saucepan. Use a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then use the back of the knife to scrape out vanilla seeds (caviar). Add both the caviar and the empty stalks to the saucepan.
  3. Warm over medium burner for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar.  Never let your yolks/sugar sit for more than a few minutes. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  5. Add the milk/yolk mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches 180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  6. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch.
  7. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into the medium bowl (discarding empty vanilla pods). The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool in about 30 minutes; stirring occasionally will help. Then place the bowl in freezer for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour to further reduce the temperature. The mixture will begin to freeze along the sides of the bowl, which you should scrape down to further reduce the temperature.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction.
  9. If making a cake, line your sheet pan with plastic wrap and lay ice cream in a roughly even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour. After an hour, use a rolling pin to work into an even layer. Freeze for at least 2 more hours before serving.
Cookie-Dough as a middle layer

Cookie-Dough as a middle layer


Shu Mai

February 28, 2014

The dumplings were beautiful and delicious, but take a fair amount of patience to assemble. You will need to practice a bit on the technique to pinch together the pleats; a total of 8 pinches per dumpling and then rotating the dumpling so that the pleats all swirl in the same direction. It’s definitely worth the effort. Chris Kimball recommends serving with a chili oil. While the chili oil was fine, I found it unsatisfying and would recommend skipping it altogether. If you decide to make the chili oil start immediately after putting the mushrooms to soak in Step 1.  I enjoyed a more traditional soy-sauce-based-dipping-sauce. I threw my sauce together without a recipe, but Chris Kimball has a few good alternatives; e.g. here and here.  Overall, the dumplings were a big success; 4-1/2 stars. Delicious flavors, and the cutest dumplings I’ve ever seen.

Delicious but needs dumpling sauce

Delicious but needs dumpling sauce

Comments / Issues:

  1. The Chili oil recipe yielded about four times as much as necessary, so I modified the recipe (given below) to yield a more reasonable amount. The Chili oil is quite hot, so be careful if you have a delicate palate.
  2. Fortunately, I was able to use my 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter and still get two full-size cut-outs for each 5-1/2″ egg roll wrapper. The original recipe calls for a 3″ biscuit cutter (but I wanted to use the one I already had in my kitchen).
  3. My local Chinese take-out charges $6 for 8 dumplings, so my $12 work of dumplings would cost me $30. However, these are much cuter, and I am always suspicious of the ingredients my local Chinese restaurant uses.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12 for 42 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The Chili Oil recipe is here. The descriptions of how I cooked both the Shu Mai and the Chili Oil today are given below:

Steamed Dumplings:
4 dried shiitake mushroom caps (3/4 ounce)
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs
1/2 pound shrimp
1/4 cup water chestnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine or can substitute dry sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package 5-1/2 inch egg roll wrappers (1 pound)
2 carrots

  1. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Defrost shrimp, peel and remove vein. Cut eat shrimp in halved lengthwise. Cut the pork ribs into 1″ pieces. Chop the water chestnuts, and mince 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Finally, grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger. After the mushrooms have soaked for 30 minutes, squeeze then dry, and cut into then 1/4″ pieces.
  2. Add the soy sauce to a small bowl, sprinkle in the gelatin and let it bloom for 5 minutes. Finely grate carrots on the small holes of a box grater.
  3. Meanwhile, place half of pork cubes into a food processor and pulse ten 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/8-inch pieces). Put ground pork in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1/2-lb shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse five 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/4-inch pieces). Add to the same bowl with other ground pork.
  5. Add soy sauce mixture, chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, cilantro, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mix until well combined.
  6. Use a 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter to cut two rounds from each egg roll wrapper. You can cut in stacks of 6 to 7 wrappers at a time. Cover rounds with moist paper towels to prevent them from drying out.
  7. Lay out 6 rounds at a time, brush the edges lightly with water. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling mixture in the center of each round. With each hand, lift opposite sides of wrapper and pinch to form two pleats. Rotate 90 degrees and pinch again to form two more pleats. Continue two more times until you have eight folds.
  8. Pick up the dumpling. Using your thumb and index finger (as if to form the OK sign, but with the Shu Mai in the middle) gently squeeze near the top of the dumpling to form a “waist.”
  9. Use your middle finger to support the bottom of the dumpling and pack down the filling using your other hand (or a butter knife). Place on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Immediately cover with damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
  10. Place a small pinch of grated carrot on the center of each dumpling; mostly for appearance. I have also seen a single pea used.
  11. Cut a round piece of parchment slightly smaller than your dutch oven and poke 20 holes, and put it over your improvised steamer. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray. I had to cook the dumplings in two batches, to make sure that they don’t touch. Be careful because they will plump slightly during steaming. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes per batch. Serve immediately with chili oil.

Chili Oil:
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1-1/2 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1-1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt

  1. Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until it measure 300 degrees on and instant-read thermometer.
  2. Remove pan from heat and stir in pepper flakes, garlic, soy sauce, soy sauce, sugar and table salt.
  3. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Discard garlic before serving.
Worth the effort

Worth the effort


Valentine’s Day Truffles

February 16, 2014

I made these truffles once before. While the cocoa powder coating was a disaster, my main complaint was the unbearable monotony of having 64 exactly-equal truffles. So this year for Valentine’s Day, I pulled out all the stops and made more than a dozen variations. They turned out beautiful, even though I sat home alone on Valentine’s Day (well, alone with my two sons). The variety started with two base fillings; (1) the chocolate ganache in the original recipe, and (2) a peanut butter filling. I formed both into round balls, and I describe below how I turned these two varieties into at least a dozen unique truffles. Overall, the truffles need to be made in two phases, (1) prepare the ganache/peanut butter balls (about 3 hours total), and (2) the final assembly (about 1-1/2 hours). The chocolate mixture needs at least 2 hours between the steps, and the peanut butter needs to freeze solid. Of course, they turned out to be a perfect 5-star.

A bucket of truffles

A bucket of truffles

It was important for me to try to make a lot of unique truffles. Here’s how I did it. For the chocolate ganache, I used to following techniques to make 10 different varieties.

  1. Cocoa powder coating.
  2. Rolled in chopped nuts.
  3. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  4. Same at #3, but using Dark chocolate.
  5. Made cups, putting a dab of melted Milk and/or Dark Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small truffle, then another dab of chocolate.
  6. Same as #5, but top with some chopped nuts. Between #5 and #6 there were 4 difference variations.
  7. I used a toothpick to decorate some of the milk chocolate truffles with melted dark chocolate.

For the Peanut Butter, I used to following techniques to make 4 different varieties.

  1. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  2. Same at #1, but using Dark chocolate.
  3. I made classic peanut butter cups, both with milk and dark chocolate.

Comments / Issues:

  1. Below there are three parts. I would recommend preparing the first three parts the night before you plan to do the finally assembly. The Peanut Butter balls especially need to be frozen solid of they will not slice. The next day, be sure to remove them from the freezer at the last-minute, and only in batches of about 7 to 8.
  2. Microwaving at 50% power on my counter-top microwave was not enough. I needed 80% power.
  3. The recipe says to use an 8″x8″ pan, yielding 64 pieces. I used a 7″x7″ pan and got 49 slightly-larger pieces. If you are using 1-1/2″ cups, then I would suggest the slightly larger size.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 4:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Lightly spray a 7″-to-8″ square baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of baking dish. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to baking dish.
  2. Roughly chop the chocolate and put in a medium microwave proof bowl. Microwave at 50% power (or 80% for a counter-top microwave) for 2 to 3 minutes; stirring once or twice. The chocolate should be mostly melted, but there should remain a few small pieces of chocolate. Set aside.
  3. In a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave cream for 30 seconds until it is warm to touch. Add corn syrup, vanilla and the pinch of salt; stirring to combine. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit, without stirring, for 3 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave butter for 20 second to soften and cut into 8 pieces.
  5. After 3 minutes, use a wooden spoon to combine cream into chocolate, then add small butter cubes one at a time, until everything becomes fully incorporated and smooth.
  6. Empty ganache into the prepared baking dish, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
  7. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days)

Peanut Butter Filling:
16-to-18 ounce jar of creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder for dusting your hands.

  1. Lightly spray a 4″x8″ loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of loaf pan. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, dry milk, and sugar until combined; you should have a stiff mixture.
  3. Empty peanut butter mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Freeze for at least 3 hours.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift to remove from loaf pan. Cut into thirty-two 1″ squares (8 rows by 4 rows).
  5. Keeping remaining squares as frozen as possible, work in batches of 8. Dust your hands in cocoa powder to prevent the peanut butter from sticking to your hands. Roll into round balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Cover balls with plastic wrap and freeze again for at least 2 hours. (I’m talking about cooking! lol)

Final Assembly:
1 pound Milk Chocolate
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1-1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (1/2 ounce)
1-1/2″ mini cup-cake liners
1 pound Bittersweet Chocolate

  1. Break milk chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a bowl set over simmering water (later you will melt the dark chocolate in step 8).
  2. Prepare the coating by sifting the cocoa and sugar through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl. Sift again into a pie plate and set aside.
  3. Wipe out large bowl from previous step with paper towel, chop nuts, and place in the freshly wiped bowl. Set aside.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift ganache. Cut into sixty-four 1″  squares (8 rows by 8 rows). If the ganache cracks while you are slicing, allow to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding.
  5. Use the dusting powder to cover your hands so that theganache doesn’t stick to your hands. Use your hands to roll each square into a round ball, re-applying dusting powder as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands. I would suggest rolling in big circles between your hands. If at first they don’t roll, eventually the warmth from your hands will allow you to succeed.
    1. For those truffles that you want to coat in powder, transfer to pie plate and evenly cover with powder, then lightly shake to remove excess powder.
    2. For those truffles that you want to cover in nuts, more them around bowl with chopped nuts, pressing the nuts firmly
    3. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    4. If some of your squares of ganache are small, then make in mini cup cake wrapper. Put a dab of melted Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small ganache ball, then another dab of chocolate to top. Sprinkle some of them with left-over chopped nuts.
  6. Working in batches of 6 to 8 peanut butter balls, cut those that you want to make into peanut butter cups in half, and leave the remaining peanut butter balls un-sliced.
    1. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate peanut butter balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    2. For those truffles that you want peanut butter cups; Put a dab of melted chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a half-ball with the flat side upward. Add another dab of chocolate to top, and smooth so that the top is flat. I would suggest doing the peanut butter cups last, so that you know how much extra chocolate you have. That will dictate how full you fill the cups.
  7. Return all unused peanut butter balls to the freezer.
  8. Break dark chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a same bowl containing the remaining milk chocolate. Continue to simmer pot of water, ensuring that the water doesn’t boil.
  9. As the dark chocolate melts, dip the tip of a toothpick into the melted dark chocolate and draw some designed some of the finished milk chocolate truffles; especially 5.3 and 5.4 (nut-less).
  10. Assemble the remaining truffles as you did in step 5 and 6, saving the peanut butter cups until last (and fill to a level based upon available chocolate).
  11. Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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