Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Firecracker Wontons with Chinese Pesto

Sometimes a recipe sounds good on paper, but execution is so-so. That's kind of how I've felt so far about the "Firecracker Dumplings" in Hugh Carpenter's "Chopstix" cookbook.

On the upside, the sauce looks good! It's a spinach + basil puree with Asian flavors & spices, and I like the bright green look of what Carpenter calls a "rich Chinese pesto sauce".

On the downside, the wontons themselves tasted pretty plain. So I added garlic, more salt. Also I substituted mirin for the dry sherry, as I think wonton filling was missing an element of sweetness (plus I didn't have sherry, and the combo of brandy + sav blanc didn't cut it). Not to mention the quantities are totally wrong: original filling was for more than 60 wontons, and only specified 30 skins! So here's the right way, I think 30 wontons is the right amount.

Firecracker Wontons
Makes 30 dumplings, serves 4 as meal or 6 as appetizer.

1 c. chopped carrots
2 green onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb. (~225g) ground chicken
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil (I like Spectrum Organics)
1/2 tsp Chinese hot bean paste
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 pinch red chili flakes powder
30 wonton skins (usually 1 small package)

Chinese Pesto Sauce (recipe follows)
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  1. In food processor, process carrots, onions, and garlic until finely minced.
  2. In a separate bowl, add ground chicken, carrot/onion mixture, and remaining spices. Stir with spoon or knead with fingers until well combined.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap & let rest at least 30 minutes.
  4. Fry up a little piece in a pan; adjust seasonings of filling.
  5. Make wontons: put about 1 tsp filling in center. Moisten 3 of 4 edges with water. Seal into triangle. Dimple the bottom of filling triangle in middle with thumb, then pinch widest 2 points together with some water to stick.
  6. Place on cookie sheet, covered with wax paper.
  7. DO AHEAD: freeze dumplings, or refrigerate up to 5 hours
  8. DO AHEAD: Make pesto sauce (recipe follows); can keep up to 2 days
  9. Cook wontons: boil a big pot of salted water. Add fresh or frozen dumplings to boiling water. When they float (about 3 minutes), skim with spider and remove.
  10. Toss dumplings with pesto sauce in large mixing bowl.
  11. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds
Chinese Pesto Sauce
Makes a little more than 1/2 cup

12 oz spinach leaves, washed and dried
8 basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp fresh orange peel, grated
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Sriracha or hot chili sauce (or hot bean paste)
  1. In a large pot, heat at least 8 cups water to a rolling boil.
  2. Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
  3. Blanch basil & spinach leaves for 1-2 seconds, swirling quickly, then immediately into ice water to cool. Drain and dry.
  4. Squeeze out excess moisture of spinach and basil in paper towels.
  5. Add basil, spinach, and all remaining ingredients into blender. Puree until smooth.
  6. Strain thru fine-mesh strainer (chinois).
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Will keep for about 2 days in the fridge.

NOTES: prepared everything tonight 1/28 for dinner with Beckey.

Sauce is REALLY delicious and flavorful, but needs a few mods. Because the wontons taste so mild, the sauce tends to overwhelm their rather delicate flavors. Here are my recommended sauce mods:
  • Use only 1 garlic clove, not 2: garlic was overpowering
  • Blanching spinach worked well, bright green & should help preserve a bit.
  • Cilantro is beautiful here, Beckey didn't notice it at all, and it adds a freshness and a hidden floral note to the orange which is nice
  • Much less orange peel, it's very strong and overwhelmed other flavors (maybe 1/2 or 1/4 tsp only, a few grates on the zester, taste & adjust)
  • Mirin worked really well as a substitute for dry sherry (specified in Carpenter's original sauce)
  • Less sriracha (one tiny squeeze); taste & adjust, mine was a bit too spicy, again, not wanting to overwhelm and allow the delicate sweetness of the chicken, carrots & green onions through.
  • Only 2 oz of spinach leaves necessary, not 12! About 3 loose cups worth.
  • No need to strain thru chinois, it was very uniform after the blender.
OOPS! forgot the sesame seeds for sprinkling on top. Still it was delicious.

Beer bratwurst and your own brats!

The weekend as a snack I decided to do some brats that I had defrosted. They turned out really well. I like cooking in beer, but I think the apple juice made the biggest difference, adding depth of flavor, warmness and of course some sweetness.

Beer Brats and Onions

4 bratwurst
1 whole onion, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 bottle of good lager (like Heineken or other lager)
1/2 cup apple juice (preferably unfiltered, organic)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt

  1. In a skillet over high heat, add apple juice, onion, sugar, and salt, stir to combine.
  2. Nestle brats in liquid, which should come up about 1/2 way.
  3. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Turn brats, uncover, and cook until remaining liquid has evaporated, and brats & onions start to brown, about 15 more minutes.
  5. Check brats for doneness (cut through, should be just a tiny bit pink in center, if at all).
Serve on a bun with Dijon mustard and some of the onions. Yum!

Things to consider for the future: making your own brats (recipe from Jack Schmidling's web site), or at the very least, incorporating the brat spices/flavors in the poaching liquid.

60% (9.6 oz) Pork, 40% (6.4 oz) Veal.1 lb
1 tsp pickling salt
1/2 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp Ground White Pepper
1/2 tsp dried Marjoram
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Celery Seed
1/8 tsp dried Ginger
1/8 tsp ground Mace
1/8 tsp ground Cardamom
2 oz Red Wine
  1. Grind meat through 3/16" plate.
  2. Mix non-meat ingredients in bowl and add to ground meat and mix thoroughly.
  3. Chill in freezer for 30 min.
  4. Mix again and grind through 1/4" plate.
  5. Stuff into sheep or hog casings and air dry for 30 min or until dry to the touch.
  6. Refrigerate or freeze for use.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Striped Bass with Charmoula

B. and I went to Whole Foods on Saturday to get some grub for her book club, and we decided to get some fish. We both like fish (B. especially so) and so we ended up with some nice wild striped bass filets. It's a very delicate white fish, similar to trout but perhaps less sweet.

The "charmoula" in this recipe is a Moroccan marinade/sauce, combining Mediterranean flavors with exotic smokiness/spice. Really delicious against the delicacy of the fish, and not overpowering. I could see using this same marinade on chicken or pork too, would be lovely. The sauce has a Spanish/Argentinian character to it as well.

Had a nice 2006 Cosentino CE2V Chardonnay to accompany. I think a beurre blanc would have gone better with the subtle toastiness of the Chard. Still, it was all delish.

Recipe adapted from the "Starting with Ingredients" book (which I like for finding recipes for a particular ingredient). Served with buttered green beans + garlic, sauteed kale, and brown rice

Striped Bass with Charmoula
Serves 2


2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp sweet Spanish paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh italian parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients up to (but not including) olive oil in blender. Turn on blender, and carefully stream in oil until it emulsifies. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in chopped cilantro and parsley. Set aside.

2 large filets striped bass

  1. Put fish and 3/4 of charmoula in bag, cover, and let marinate for at least 1 hr, up to 4 hours.
  2. Set oven to broil. Line baking sheet with Silpat or foil.
  3. Place fish on baking sheet, SKIN SIDE DOWN.
  4. Place under broiler and broil for 4 minutes, watching carefully in case it starts to burn.
  5. With large spatula, carefully flip skin side UP and broil for about 3-4 more minutes, until the skin starts to crisp up.
  6. Plate and serve immediately, with a little reserved charmoula on top.

Monday, January 18, 2010

infusions and bitters

Spent some time this evening cataloging my liquor cabinet. I've got:
  • Over 70 bottles of liquor, most of which are liqueurs for mixing
  • 11 bottles of bitters (not including my own custom mixes)
  • A few homemade liqueurs (apple pie mostly, and some limoncello)
Some favorites:
  • Vodka: so neutral, and makes a bunch of my favorite drinks. Great for infusion too, if you don't have easy access to grain alcohol. For "daily use" I like Skyy, and for "splurge" I like Ketel One or Grey Goose.
  • Gin: even though I have none in my cabinet right now, I like it a lot! Faves are Bombay Sapphire and Junipero
  • I love sweet/sour & bitter drinks, with preference lately to vodka: Vodka Tonic, Cape Cod, Salty Dog/Greyhound
  • Brown water (bourbon/scotch/rye): Blanton's and Gentleman Jack are two faves, although Ardbeg and Laphroaig are two other faves, must try more. Woodford Reserve is nice too. I wanna try Buffalo Trace and Old Potrero. Maker's Mark is passable but I prefer it to mix with ginger ale.

I've made a few infusions & liqueurs over the years. Here are a few:

  • Meyer Lemon-cello
  • Krupnikas (spiced honey liqueur)
  • Apple Pie (apple cider+juice)
  • Pineapple (fresh pineapple)
  • Bitters (a whole host of 'em!)

The base of most of these is Everclear, aka grain alcohol. You can only buy 151 proof in California, but a quick trip out of state can obtain 190 proof.

Infusions that I've liked in the past few years (all involve soaking in grain alcohol for a period of time, then straining off the solids carefully thru fine-mesh strainer (such as chinois) and/or coffee filter paper. BTW, if you have a vacuum pump + flask, you'll get much more effective filtering!
  • Pineapple: soak fresh pineapple in vodka or grain alcohol for 1-2 weeks, strain off the solids
  • Zesty Bourbon: soak lemon, grapefruit and orange zests in bourbon (this one is courtesy of Scott @ Cyrus in Healdsburg) for about 2 weeks
  • Cranberry: soak fresh cranberries for 4 weeks, strain off solids

Some other infusions that have done well over the years:

  • Cranberry Raisin: soak dried cranberries and raisins for a couple of months, discard solids. After 5-6 years or so, the flavor really mellows out nicely

Some that didn't do so well:

  • Fresh plum: from the trip to Petaluma to visit T's grandparents. We'll see what happens, but doesn't smell/look good at this point, looks kinda oxidized and gross.

As far as bitters go, I've come up with a few recipes that are pretty good, but they're top secret :) Suffice it to say that a trip to Bevmo for Everclear and a trip to the local health food store for organic dried herbs and spices will lead to some nice essence extractions, which you can use to blend your own concoctions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

a number of breads

I've made a number of breads over the last month, here's what I've learned:
  • You can't make a good no-knead pizza dough, because the hydration is way too high to handle the dough. It may taste good when you bake it up, but it handles very poorly
  • You can make a good wheat/rye hybrid bread with pretty short rise times, fluffy texture and no yeasty taste (my PG #1-3 breads are a testament to that)
  • Investing $25 on a small weight-scale (in my case, from Old Will Knott's online) has been a great investment for increasing the accuracy of my yeast and salt weights

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Years Day party wrap up

Final menu, for what turned out to be 11 guests:
  1. Lamb meatballs with greek yogurt (about 30)
  2. Stuffed mushrooms (about 25)
  3. TJ Goat cheese/caramelized onion puff pastries (2 boxes)
  4. Home-baked crostini + tomato/fennel sauce (about 15)
  5. Bacon-wrapped dates (20 pcs)
  6. Bratwurst with Dijon mustard (6 brats)
  7. 1 small veg plate (the smallest one)
  8. 3 apples, sliced
  9. Cheesecake
  1. Make 30 meatballs, which was more than enough. Seemed OK. Plenty left over. Good thing they reheat well and taste delicious on flatbread! People barely touched the yogurt sauce.
  2. Stuffed mushrooms were really easy and a hit; only one of about 25 left. A good vegetarian offering; several folks asked how I made them.
  3. TJ pastries always go fast!
  4. Crostinis with tomato spread all went, and then later, hungry Catchphrase players devoured the remaining crostini's w/o anything
  5. 6 brats were perfect for the 11 or so people we had; no leftovers!
  6. I'm happy I didn't do the tri-tip, was unnecessary; likewise, the pizza/flatbread would've been too much too.
  7. 3 apples were perfect; any more people, 6 would have been better. These were all gone.
  8. Veg tray was almost all gone.
  9. Forgot to serve the cheesecake!
  10. Get some Stevia, SweetNLow, or Splenda for those that don't use sugar with coffee (like Perry)
  11. I think the 2-5pm was a good time on New Years Day, was fun! Some stayed later, which was OK.

Bacon wrapped dates

These are always a hit, and disappear fast...today was no exception!

Serves 14

20 medjool dates
3/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 pound bacon strips, cut in 1/2

  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Slice dates to expose pit, and remove (don't slice all the way thru)
  3. Stuff with shredded cheese and close them up
  4. Wrap with bacon, and skewer with toothpick to keep bacon from unraveling
  5. Bake on cookie sheet for 15 minutes; flip, and cook for 15-20 more minutes (30-35 minutes total), or until bacon is crisp.
  6. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Stuffed mushrooms

Thanks to Giada DeLaurentiis & Food Network for this one


* 1/2 cup Italian-style dried bread crumbs
* 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
* 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 28 large (2 1/2-inch-diameter) white mushrooms, stemmed


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Stir the bread crumbs, Pecorino Romano, garlic, parsley, mint, salt and pepper, to taste, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium bowl to blend.

Drizzle a heavy large baking sheet with about 1 tablespoon olive oil, to coat. Spoon the filling into the mushroom cavities and arrange on the baking sheet, cavity side up. Drizzle remaining oil over the filling in each mushroom. Bake until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is heated through and golden on top, about 25 minutes. Serve.