Pescatarian/Gluten-Free Daikon Cakes

Daikon Cakes with Soy SauceDaikon or radish cakes are often a favorite at dim sum. My old co-worker J loved them so much that he categorically denied the existence of pork in them. The first time we went to dim sum together he tried to order them and I asked “I thought you didn’t eat pork?” He muttered something in response that indicated he had no idea there was pork, in the form of Chinese sausage or ham in them. The next time we were at dim sum we had a large group and everyone had been laughing as I helped J sort out what had pork in it–virtually everything but the chicken feet! He started to reach for the daikon cakes, but (in retrospect, I probably should have looked the other way) I reminded him there was pork. He looked crestfallen. Clearly, in his mind, these were pork free. Well, here’s for you, J, a pork free version of daikon cakes!

As I told Kay, the owner of the amazing Crow’s Wing Spa about these, she pointed out that they are also an excellent naturally gluten-free dim sum treat! As a committed omnivore in every sense of the word, I rarely cook things that fit dietary needs, so I was proud that this one catered to the needs of two very wonderful people I know!

What really inspired these though is my P-patch. In that I have only successfully grown my two kinds of radish (daikon and French breakfast). And exactly two peas. They were two very tasty peas though. And I’ve got radishes coming out my ears. So I decided to create the single furthest thing from a radish I could make from a radish: dim sum radish cakes! Using shiitake mushrooms and vegetable oil in place of the ham actually worked perfectly, so it became pescatarian–still need the shrimp paste to make it delicious!

Daikon Cakes

This takes a lot of time to make, but is great for making in large batches and storing for quick, fast meals. Plan to start in the evening and you’ll be ready for breakfast the next day!

Ingredients: 

2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 tablespoon Shrimp Paste, You can either use shrimp paste (as I did) or soaked, dried and chopped dried shrimp
1 pound Daikon Radish, grated (you can do this with a cuisinart if you want)
10 Dried Shittake Mushrooms, Soak in hot water for 15 minutes, discard stems, chop into small (pill sized) pieces
1 1⁄2 cups Rice Flour
1 cup Water
Salt & Pepper, Add to taste
Red Pepper, Add to taste
Vegetable Oil Cooking Spray
1 tablespoon Sesame Oil

Step 1: Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a medium to large skillet.
Step 2: Add the shrimp paste and cook for a few minutes, try to integrate it with the oil
Step 3: Add the shiitakes and the daikon to the pan, let it cook, stirring often, until the moisture is almost all gone (it might even start to stick to the pan, a good sign that it is done). Probably about 20 minutes.
Step 4: While the daikon mix cooks, whisk the rice flour into the water, eliminating all lumps.
Step 5: Combine the daikon mix and the flour mix. Adjust to your taste preference with salt, pepper and red pepper.
Step 6: Spray a 9in square (or similar) pan (pyrex or cake). Fill with mixture. Should be about one inch thick. Try to spread it evenly.
Step 7: Set a large bamboo steamer over a wok or place a bowl upside down in a large pot and the pan on top. Add water and steam the cake for 45 minutes.
Step 8: Remove from steamer, allow to cool for 30-60 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen, and invert on a plate. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Step 9: Slice into individual size slices.
Step 10: Heat sesame oil to high in a non stick pan. Place one slice in, cook till brown and crispy, flip and repeat on other side. Serve!
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Beijing part 1: Street Food Favorites

The people of Beijing are hardy stock–everyone perfectly dressed and coifed despite the frigid temperatures, a street life, food vendors included, that is not hampered by the dry cold that froze me immediately. Needless to say, one of the best cures for a half-frostbitten fingers is to hold something warm, something comforting, something delicious, between my hands. To heat my belly with the fire of spicy, delicious food fresh from the nearest bundled up cook on the sidewalk.

The man above is making the snack on the left, a thin, crispy egg wrapper filled with two kinds of sauce, one of the optional and spicy, lettuce and a giant crispy fried cracker-like thing. The version on the left is a softer, doughier example, with all the same fillings plus the addition of cilantro, chives and black sesame seeds. I remember only eggs being use to make the first one, while a batter was used in the second, though B insists the only difference was that the stone on which they cooked was spinning at the stand we bought the first one. Either way, after extensive research into this snack, my favorite of the street foods, I chose the one on the right as my favorite. And by extensive research I mean I ate a shit-ton of these. It’s a difficult task I take upon myself. You’ll notice that in neither of these examples did the camera beat my mouth to crepe.

I joked to B that all the street food seemed to be some combination of bread, meat and egg. Sometimes all three were included.

The photo to the left shows pretty much exactly that typical food. This is a flat bread, which is fried on a griddle with an egg, smeared with hot sauce and stuffed with lettuce and your choice of meat: options often included what we later found out was donkey and something that appeared to be the Chinese version of a Slim Jim. I’d show pictures, butwe opted out of the Slim Jim. Below, however you can see our Donkey McMuffin. We didn’t know that this was what we were eating at the time, it came up later in a conversation with my friend N. “Have you had donkey before? They sell it on the street, sort of a reddish sauce, they put it in bread with an egg….” Yup, Yup, we have.

Each day, as we set out to stroll the streets, we grabbed just about anything that caught our eye to eat. Even if we happened to be two blocks away from lunch. Or dinner. Which we were when I decided I might just need each of these.
We were on the way to dinner when I first picked up one of the fruit skewers on the right. I don’t know why I waited so long before trying one of these ubiquitous Beijing treats. Various fruits–this one has kiwis sandwiched inside a sort of small apple are surrounded by a crunchy candy coating. Each bite is a satisfying crackle as you break through the coating, followed by a refreshing feeling of cool, softened and sweetened fruit rushing into your mouth. Totally crave-able. In fact, I’d have to admit that writing this is making me crave one right now. Once I discovered these I bought them about every time I saw them, with various different types of fruit. The textural transformation from regular fruit is really exciting. Texture was also my reason for loving the bread pictures above on the right. This snack looks like a giant pizza when you see it being pulled off the griddle on its cart, but then they slice it all up and pass it over in a brown paper bag. Topped with a tasty sauce that does double duty, supplying a subtle flavor and also keeping the chives from flying off, the bread itself has that magical texture that manages to be both crunchy and chewy at the same time. It’s hard to describe it with out comparing it to the texture of cartilage or tendon, the slight crunch that gives way to perfect chew, and I know that doing so is a little gross, but keep in mind, the flavor was distinctly that of a type of bread–though no bread I have had before. B had to confiscate the bag when I was about three slices in, as we were on our way to a hefty lunch. I pouted.

Luckily you’re never far from your next delicious street food in Beijing, and I’m easily placated, especially when we run into this fried, meat stuffed bread, my very favorite. We ran into our first example of this when a window on the side of the street opened and a young cook shouted to us “Beef Bread” and then repeated it as we squinted at this odd sight. But then we bought “beef bread” (maybe it was beef bun? I’m doubting my memory now). These are made in similar fashion to the scallion pancake you get at most any Chinese restaurant, by rolling beef into a round, flat dough, then making it into a spiral and rolling it flat again, followed by a quick, shallow bath of hot oil. The dough is thin, crispy, flaky and extremely savory (I’m guessing a well honed hand in a combination of salt and msg), the meat is somehow perfectly spread between the various coils, each bite as flaky and meaty as the last.

And much like when I finished eating from a street vendor, as I reach the end of this post, I’ve completely forgotten the numbing cold and warmed myself from the inside out with thoughts of amazing, quick and dirt cheap food.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on hole-in-the-wall semi-restaurants and various regional foods found around Beijing!

Asian Dumplings: A Book Review

Baozi If I had to choose my two favorite foods, it would be noodles and meat, so the dumpling is my own personal superfood. Andrea Nguyen, my new hero, has recently written my dream book: Asian Dumplings. Yes, all about dumplings. Oh, dear. I’m drooling already, just thinking about it.

When my copy first arrived on the doorstep, thanks to her generous publisher, I opened the box and sat down on the couch. It was ten o’clock at night, I was exhausted, I had just returned from a long dinner meeting and just wanted to relax with my beautiful book. And then I opened the book.

My advice for readers of this book? Do not read without your favorite dumpling joint on speed dial. Two minutes in I was already begging B for a trip to the ID for a late night dumpling run. Five minutes in and I was debating going by myself, so as to prevent the need for sharing an order.

Luckily B. remembered that I had made some soup dumplings with K. the previous week and our leftovers (which I was supposed to share with her, oops, sorry, K.) were in the freezer and he was able to convince me a road trip wasn’t necessary.

What is it about this book? Aside from gratuitous pornography of the culinary variety, more specifically, DUMPLING PORN, it jumps around the continent giving recipes for things I barely thought of as dumplings, but love just the same, like Samosas, as well as for the classics. I was pleased to see all my dim sum favorites like har gow and shu mei, alongside the foodie favorite, Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings.

I was ready to write about how amazing and wonderful the book was without ever having dove into a recipe. But that, darling readers, would not be fair to you. Or me, and my incredible need for daily dumplings. When we were in Southeast Asia I declared I was born on the wrong continent because I did not have the opportunity to buy noodles in soup on the street each morning. I have now decided the problem is compounded because I don’t have a daily dumpling. I’m pouting, just so you know.

Regardless of my pouting, I went about following a recipe, so that I can be sure that I can give this book my seal of approval (HA! Like it didn’t already have it from name alone). In the morning before work, I put together my dough for Baozi. I came home to it and followed all the instructions. Soon enough I had the most darling little dumplings! Golden brown and crisp on the bottom, meaty and delicious inside.

I had chosen to make these because I had everything I needed in the house. Now I can’t wait to go out and get the ingredients for all of the other ones. Were my dumplings perfect? No, making dumplings is not like making Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, simple from the first time. There were ugly ones and broken ones, but they all tasted perfect, so I think that’s what matters.

Small Wonders of Summer Part 1: Padron Peppers

Pancetta Wrapped Padron Peppers

Pancetta Wrapped Padron Peppers

“What about a pepper could be that great?” I remember thinking, years ago, as I read Calvin Trillin’s piece on trying to get Padron peppers in the U.S. Well, Calvin, I’m sorry, I should never have doubted your impeccable taste espoused with such riotous wit. I have had Padrons a few different ways now, but this was the epitome of taste perfection. Nope, pure, Spanish, olive oil roasted with sea salt, you’ve been bested, but by an oh-so-worthy opponent: wrapping in delicious pork products.

Having found these fine specimens of capsicum, burn-inducing beauties at the Portland Farmer’s Market, I had no real plan for them. Stopping in to Laurelhurst Market for a little meat-buying, I had no plan for the pancetta I bought either. Then, like I was getting hit on the head with a hammer: Wrap peppers in pancetta. I had already eaten dinner that night, but I decided to test one. I took the thinly sliced pork product, its beautiful round spiral twirling easily around the pepper and placed it in the hot cast iron skillet. Seconds later as oil splattered willy-nilly, I nudged it, flipping it over. The browning made for crisp perfection, while the pepper retained but a shadow of its former crunch, leaving only its often formidable flavor, in the form of intense spice. Luckily the silky fat of the pancetta cooled my tongue. Ahh, Calvin, you may have lead me to the edge of the lake of snack perfection, but I have taught that snack drink in that cool, porcine water.

Whipped Lardo: How to Make my Holy Grail

Whipped Lardo

Whipped lardo is simply heavenly. A heavenly spread that was my holy grail of recipes. I’d eaten it at an underground restaurant type of meal and it stuck in my mind. Stuck so hard as one of the best bites I’d ever eaten that I scoured the internet, up, down and every which-way, without gaining even the first inkling of any idea how to make the dish. So it was taste and test time. For the last year I’ve made more attempts than I want to count, all equally failed, to recreate this dish.

It had been called ‘Whipped Lardo’ when I ate it, so yes, I began by making my own lardo. Good, yes, but was it making whipped lardo? No. So I kept going, rendering lard and whipping it, curing back fat right and left. Finally I had to give up. There was just no way I could figure it out without just a little hint from its creator.

Fate must have intervened, because a few weeks ago I took up a friend on an offer to attend that same underground restaurant type of meal. The cook was different, but luck would have it that the chef who made the whipped lardo, the wonderful and pretty darn cute Joel Cox, would be joining us in eating the dinner. So, fast forward to the car ride home, I’ve had a few glasses of wine and I finally feel courageous enough to ask “Joel, please tell me how you made that whipped lardo!”

And like a little child trying desperately to watch the beauty of the bubbles while also catching them in their hands, I listened as he told me the secret I had been missing. You grind the fat directly in the meat grinder. No actual lardo used, nor is there actual whipping. He told me the rest of the recipe, though I have to admit to having been so stuck on this part of the recipe that I only vaguely heard ingredients, so I improvised when I made it. He also explained that he had learned this recipe from the great Dario Cecchini, who you may have heard about in the book ‘Heat’ or seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

So what is the whipped lardo like? Like butter on overdrive, like meat in cream form, like flavor that is at once so simple and so complex that you must have another bite to figure out which one it is.

Whipped Lardo

1/3 lb of pork back fat or leaf lard (Joel said back fat, I used leaf)
1 small clove of garlic, mashed into a paste
1 teaspoon of Sherry Vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Salt, pepper, rosemary to taste

Grind the fat through the smallest setting on your meat grinder. Add the garlic and vinegar and begin massaging air into it. As you work with the meat, folding in air using a motion like a back rub or milking a cow, it will get softer and softer. Add in salt and pepper and rosemary and begin to taste. It will need a decent amount of salt to bring out the full flavors, though go more sparsely on the pepper and rosemary for that big pig flavor. When you’re done, spread it on a cracker or piece of bread and enjoy.

Secretly Salting (Who, Me?): Sweet Potato Whole Wheat Roti

imgp4170Hi, my name is The GastroGnome and I am a Saltaholic. I love salt. I love that regular old iodinized table salt, I love kosher salt, I love fancy Maldon and Fleur de Sel. I even love the book ‘Salt’ by Mark Kurlansky. Once I may have attempted to make my own salt. So now that that is all settled, I can explain how this relates to the delicious sweet potato roti that I made the other night.

imgp4177

See, I love making my own breads and pastas and what not, but it is often a lot of work. And sometimes a lot of waiting. So when I heard about how easy Roti was to make, I thought this was great. The fact that I could even use some of my quickly decaying sweet potatoes in it was even better.  But when I got around to actually putting together the dough, something was missing. I chopped up a few spicy peppers, my usual solution to the problem. That was nice but it didn’t solve my flavor issues. I opened the cabinet, in search of inspiration from my collection of spices, expecting to throw in a little bit of garam masala or something.

I found one better. I met Janna, the wonderful woman behind Secret Stash Salts the previous night and she had left me with two of her creations. Seeing the soy salt staring up at me, I knew immediately just how perfectly it would go with the spicy peppers and the sweetness of the sweet potato. It added both the salt and the extra kick I needed for flavor and my problems were solved.

We served our sweet potato and whole wheat roti with a simple cabbage and vinegar dish and it was great, as it really let the flavor of the roti shine. Also, if you are wondering, these are so easy to make, so please don’t hesitate!

Sweet Potato Roti

2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
2 medium sized sweet potatos
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 spicy pepper
1 teaspoon of Secret Stash Soy Salt

Peel the sweet potatoes, cube them and nuke them in the microwave for about 6 minutes, stirring around occasionally. When they are supersoft, take them out and mash them. I mixed mine in the kitchenaid, but by hand should work too. Mix the mash with the flour, the oil, the spicy pepper (finely minced) and the soy salt. Cover with plastic and let it sit for about half an hour.

Depending on the size and how good you are at rolling, this makes 10-20 roti. I didn’t roll mine superthin, maybe 1/4 inch, and I made them small so that I could eat a lot of them! Roll them out into (vaguely) round shapes on a floured surface.

To cook, simply put in a (ungreased) very hot cast iron skillet (or griddle if you have one). They will begin to bubble and brown after about a minute, then you flip them till they do the same on the other side.

Kale Chips from the Back of the Pack

kale-chip

Why am I so behind on these things? Every food blogger worth their cayenne laced salt did a version of these, probably about a year ago. But tonight, with a giant bag of kale that needed to be used up , like, you know, yesterday, I realized that there was a recipe I still needed to make. I may not be the first to make these or the first to realize their deliciousness, I may be late to the party, but I have to get my voice in their with the others–these things are awesome.

In a total of 20 minutes, my giant sack of kale went from nanoseconds from rotting to a delightful and healthful snack awaiting their munchie fulfilling destiny on my counter. The process was cathartic from the start, as I ripped the sturdy leafs from their woody stocks, spreading them on a foil covered cookie sheet. I sprayed heartily with olive oil and sprinkled liberally with a combination of salt, pepper and cayenne. In the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, and woo hoo! I’m all caught up on the reasons these are a staple of any food bloggers cabinet, including, in the future, mine.