Food Buzz


Friday, January 28, 2011

A new twist on gyoza!

I've been very busy networking and marketing my business but I wanted to make sure I told you all about my most recent epiphany!  I am going to try to cook things that are out of my usual comfort zone this year and even if the food isn't perfect, I will write about the mistakes I make.  

So... my first attempt to do this was last week - my Aunt was in town and I wanted to try making Gyoza (aka Japanese potstickers).  I had seen a few recipes online but decided on La Fuijimama's "Super Top Secret recipe."  I met Rachael recently (such a doll!) and have spent some time perusing her other recipes - she spent a great deal of time in Japan so I knew these would be great.

I was going attempt to make the wrappers from scratch but didn't have time to do it so I bought gyoza wrappers in the refrigerated section of the regular grocery store.  You can use wonton wrappers if that's what you find, but you'll have to use a biscuit cutter (or a drinking glass) to make those square wrappers round.  

Since we were eating with my mostly vegetarian sister and brother in law, I decided to make one with meat and one with vegetables.  Both actually tasted delicious!  
turkey gyoza mixture
vegetarian gyoza mixture

I followed Rachael's recipe exactly as noted except instead of using pork, I used lean ground turkey meat.  I thought that the meat would end up taking on the flavors of the filling contents (ginger, green onion, miso) and the turkey at the market looked a lot better than the very fatty looking ground pork.  Do check out her recipe as she has amazing photos and very precise directions showing how to pleat the gyoza.

my gyoza before cooking
For the vegetarian gyoza, I mixed a lot of the same flavors but instead of meat included crimini mushrooms (chopped small) and shredded carrot.  I also added hoisin just for another layer of flavor and to help the hard pieces of mushroom soften up a bit.  These sort of "hard" pieces made a few of the gyoza rip and the mixture didn't hold well together.  I might cook down the mushroom a bit next time (although following Rachael's directions did cook all the veggies through).

I found the pleating of the wrappers to be very intuitive.  Once I got a few of them down, I could have done 100 of them.  I was definitely "in the zone" while making them.

One thing to say about storage...  If you aren't going to cook them right away, do not store these on wax paper in a tupperware container, like I did.  Parchment paper worked much better.  Wax paper made the wrappers a little wet/mushy. These gyoza could also be prepared (but not cooked) days ahead of time (say, before the Super Bowl?) and frozen.

Don't go too crazy with the gyoza sauce, it is not complicated to make.  Definitely don't buy any of the bottled sauces in the "Asian aisle" in the grocery store - all you need is three ingredients: soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.  I threw some roasted sesame seeds in just for a little somethin' extra.

Unfortunately, my first couple of batches stuck to the pan, but I know that I didn't let them brown enough (too afraid of burning them!) I should have allowed more time for them to steam.

Have you attempted to make gyoza before?  How did you do?  What are some recipes that you've been afraid of trying?  I'd love to see some listed below!

Chow for Now!  :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chocolate brownie crack cookies to die for - and how to ship a food gift.

Ok, I may have edited the name of the cookie but it got you reading this, didn't it?  They are actually called Chocolate brownie crackle cookies due to the lovely little cracks that form when the cookies rise and bake in the oven.

I found the recipe for these by searching for a dessert that can be easily packaged and shipped without spoiling or breaking, because I wanted to send something yummy to my friend, Tina while she studies for the bar exam.  The soft, chewy interior of the cookie makes it a good candidate.  And I found such a genius way to package and ship that I want to share with you!

I took an empty Trader Joe's coffee can and took a sheet of bubble wrap, cut it to the height of the can and wrapped the inside of the can with it.  I cut out a little circle of bubble wrap and placed it in the bottom.

Then, I cut a piece of parchment paper (one my favorite things on earth) and wrapped that layer on top of the bubble wrap.

Finally, I stacked about a dozen or so cookies in the narrow column left in the center of the can.  I placed another round of bubble wrap on top and sealed the can with the plastic top.  I am lucky that the cookies were just the right size for the center column that was formed in the can.

To ship it, I wrapped the outside of the can with more bubble wrap and placed in a box that was padded with scrunched up newspapers.  I should have taken pictures but hopefully you get the idea.  The great thing is that the can is very lightweight and doesn't add a lot more weight to the gift.

I am happy to say that Tina received the cookies and she and her family enjoyed them.  Not one was broken and the flavor was great.  They did very well over a three day journey from LA to Orlando.

Do you have a favorite treat to give and/or send as gifts?  Any other hints for packaging perishable food items?  If so, I'd love to hear about it here!  Feel free to share with my readers.

Chow for now! :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Green Smoothies

Those of you who know me well, know that I was pushing green smoothies on everyone for a while a couple of years ago.... I was losing unwanted weight, getting endless servings of fruits and vegetables in one drink, my skin was clear and I was feeling good.  Then, why did I stop?  No good reason - some of the same excuses as to why I don't work out as often as I should come to mind "I got too busy."  I couldn't afford to (buy some of the ingredients)." "I didn't have time to shop for and make them."

Well, today I am trying to get back into it again.  I know that I have a hard time eating lots of fruits and veggies each day.  I sometimes forget to drink enough water.  I sometimes breakdown and buy Skittles.  Yes Skittles candies. (Don't judge!)  But when I drink these smoothies, I tend to be less likely to buy and eat junk food and I just eat healthier.

I first learned about green smoothies from Lisa Hubler who taught a one time "Stress less to weigh less" yoga course.  At the time I was stressed and found myself supplementing my diet with lots of junk because it was easy to grab and eat when I was busy a work.  I wanted to figure out a way to stop stress-induced eating and also relax my mind so this seemed like a great class to take.  Although I don't feel like I was hypnotized necessarily, I did feel relaxed during the class and learned a lot about what I could do to stress less.  Lisa introduced the class to the green smoothie concept which I was TOTALLY not interested first.  Who wants to drinks a green smoothie?  It sounded gross to me. I want my smoothies to be pink or orange and creamy (and chock full of sugar and fattening junk).  But I gave it a try and REALLY enjoyed it!  Turns out they are tasty AND good for you!  Over the years I've changed the ingredients up from the original but it's always healthy and never has any added sugar or milk or ice cream. Give it a try - I know it sounds weird, but coming from a sugar addict, you know it has to taste good.

Green Smoothie

1 small pitted apple (keep skin on), cut into chunks
1/2- 1 small banana, cut into chunks (to make the smoothie creamier, freeze the banana overnight)
1/2 c fresh or frozen frozen fruit (pineapple and mango are my favorites) cut in one inch chunks
1 1/2 c of coconut water* (or filtered water or fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice)
2 or more cups of raw spinach or raw kale (hard stems removed), ripped into smaller pieces
1 T flax seeds (freshly ground)**

Put all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.  You can mix it up with other frozen fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.  The lighter the color of fruit, the greener the smoothie.  If you use a lot of red fruits, the color of the smoothie will turn purple or brown. So keep this in mind if you have a difficult time stomaching certain color foods.

Before you say "KALE or SPINACH: are you out of your mind???"  Both vegetables are virtually tasteless when raw.  So you get the benefit of consuming a nutrient dense food in smoothie form!  And adding naturally sweet fruit makes it taste more like a smoothie shop smoothie without all the added junk.

*Coconut water has lots of amazing stuff in it - a very mild, fresh taste, lots of potassium, natural electrolytes, no fat, no cholesterol and no added sugar!  It is also pricey - so I give other options.

**Flax seeds are also a super food - rich with antioxidant properties, high in fiber, and good fatty acids. It is recommended that if you eat the seeds ground and that you buy them whole and grind as you go.

I am not a nutritionist or a doctor so do talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet.  Your kids will enjoy them too!

These smoothies are super filling, can be eaten any time of the day and have at least five cups of fruits and vegetables!

Money saving tip:  If you notice some of the fruits listed above are on sale when shopping,  buy a bunch of them fresh, cut up into one inch chunks and place in a freezer bag in your freezer.  This works great with bananas, pineapple, and all berries. When adding frozen fruits makes a thicker smoothie.

If you'd like other recipes, check some out here:

Have you tried a green smoothie?  Will you now?  Tell me more!

Chow for now! :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gadgets galore!

As most of the people closest to me know, I am a kitchen gadget freak.  I have a very big drawer in my kitchen that is stuffed to the gills with spatulas and whisks, garlic peelers, zesters and scoopers.  Note that each of those items is pluralized... That's just how obsessed I am.  But there are about a dozen or so gadgets that I use regularly that are must haves for anyone who cooks often.  I list them here.

Mortar and Pestle:  I got mine around ten years ago from my friend Tina and since I've moved to California (land of the avocado) I make guacamole in it at least once every month or so.  This is the only way to make it.  My culinary professor will not make basil pesto any other way than with a mortar and pestle.  It's nice in this age of technology that such a primitive tool does the best job.  I have found that the volcanic stone m & p work best!
Basting brush: I have a silicone one and a couple of bristle brush style.  I like the ease of cleaning the silicone one, but the bristled brush definitely holds more of whatever you dip it into (egg whites, oil, etc).  I use these to brush the top of fresh bread with beaten egg before baking it, to baste a turkey or chicken before roasting it and to lightly ice sugar cookies.

Heat resistant spatula:  I have a few of these in different materials, but I use the silicone one most often.  You can use it to scrape down the bowl of cookie batter or to fold whipped egg whites into angel food cake batter or to scape the bottom of a pot of potato soup. Most silicone spatulas are heat resistant to 400 degrees F.  It's great for use on non-stick surfaces because it doesn't scratch and they are typically dishwasher safe.

Hand held immersion blender: I have had my immersion blender for at least eight years... and use it every time I make soup from scratch.  I love it because you can actually stick it into a hot pot of soup without having to wait until it's cooled to blend as you would with a regular counter blender. You can also use it to make smoothies, blend salad dressing and make fresh whipped cream. I love it because it doesn't take up as much space as a regular blender and you can get one for around $20.  Mine is a Braun and I love it.

Stand Mixer:  For anyone who bakes, this is a must, many of you saw my past blog entry which showed how I won a KitchenAid mixer from the Bite Me sisters.  I have used it a bunch since I received it and I have to say - it's as good as "they" say it is.  Easy to use, easy to clean, comes with great accessories and you can even do things like make pasta and grind meat if you get the right attachments. 
Grater or microplane:  I use this to grate cheese over pasta, to zest any citrus fruit, to grate whole nutmeg or ginger and to grate chocolate over ice cream. You can buy different sizes (from course to medium) depending on your use.

Pizza slicer:  in addition to it's obvious use, I use this for cutting dough (ie. for breadsticks), for cutting baklava before baking.  It has a very thin, precise blade that can reach spots that a regular knife can't.  

Pepper grinder: I don't care what anyone says - you cannot beat the taste of freshly ground pepper.  When grinding whole mixed peppercorns you are going to get a fresh kick of flavor when you grind into salads, soups and sauces.  Way better than that pre-ground stuff in a can.

Sharp knives and sharpener:  I recently invested in a new Asian style knife and received some German style knives for Christmas.  Using those in place of my older knives was like night and day.  Lucky for me, I also got a great KitchenAid counter-top sharpener for Christmas that allowed me to sharpen all of my older knives, too.  Having a sharp knife is so important because a dull knife can slide off whatever you are cutting, but can still be sharp enough to slice you.

Tongs: I use my tongs ALL. THE. TIME.  I honestly could write a blog entry just on the amount of uses for tongs.  I use them when I barbecue to flip chicken or steak and/or catch anything that falls through the cracks.  I use them when I am cooking bacon or sausage.  I use them when I need to turn a pie pan in the oven.  I use them to pull waffles of the waffle maker.  I use them to pull a hard boiled egg from hot water.  I even use them to reach for items in my cabinet that are too high for me to reach. 

All in one timer/thermometer:  I love this tool.  In addition to being a regular old magnetized timer (sticks on my fridge right next to the stove), it also has a thermometer attachment that you can stick into a roast or turkey, set the thermometer alarm to go off when it hits a certain temperature and you stick the roast in the oven while keeping the thermometer on top of the stove.  When the alarm goes off, your roast is done!  No need to open the oven, lowering the temperature thus lengthening the amount of time the roast needs to cook!  I use this every Thanksgiving and am so thankful I have it!
Wooden juicer:  Ah, another non techie item that really does the job.  Any time I have to squeeze lemons or limes for a marinade or a cocktail, this tool works for me.  So easy to use, you cut the citrus in half, stick the pointed end of the tool into the flesh and the juice pours out into the glass resting below.  Simple as that.

I hope that some of these tools are in your kitchen drawers!  I know that some of you will have other gadgets that you use more often than these - it totally depends on what you cook!  Some people will swear by a garlic press. Personally, I enjoy mincing garlic with a knife.  Some people will say that they couldn't live without their food processor (I don't use mine often enough to make it a "must have" here.)

What are some of your favorite gadgets?  Please feel free to share here.

Chow for Now!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holidays spent snowbound - cooking, baking, eating and repeating

I just returned from NY, where I visited my mom and family for the holidays... little did I know that I would be stuck inside for three days while the plows took their merry old time getting the streets back to normal.  That gave me lots of quality time with mom to catch up, drink wine and make yummy food.

We started off with her meatballs (which are also "my" meatballs) which I always look forward to tasting.  Secret recipe - can't share, but I can tell you my friends with Italian roots think they are delicious!!
One night we had to cook using whatever ingredients we had in the house (due to 20 inches of snow on the ground), kind of like the show Chopped, but without the really random ingredients.  We had chicken, some vegetables, white beans... I thought a stew or chili might work, then I found this great, easy, comforting recipe for Chicken with White Beans that was fun to make and delicious, too!  Also I roasted one inch cubes of butternut squash with a little brown sugar, olive oil and salt and pepper.  It was so simple and tasty and the house smelled great! 
Chicken with white beans
When we were finally able to head out to the store, we had one thing in mind: BAKING!  Mom has had a bread maker in her house for a while and has never ever used it (I know, right???).  I wanted to show her how easy it was to make dough and form a French bread to bake in the oven.  Although it is time consuming, it was sooooo worth it.  I think she said "this is the BEST bread I've ever eaten." 
We also made coconut macaroons.  Er...they were supposed to be macaroons but were more of a meringue/macaroon hybrid, dubbed so eloquently by my writer of a mom as "meringue-aroons."  I think I may have to go trademark that name so don't steal it. Anyway, they were light, airy and crunchy on the outside and chewy and coconut-y on the inside.  We could have finished off the whole tray of them, but tried to have some constraint.
I am back in LA now and in the 36 hours that I've been home I made my carrot soup, Italian bread and a great pasta salad for my friends who JUST had a baby boy.  I am so glad I do what I love for a living and can't wait to do it more often.  If you know anyone in LA having a small party or who might be interested in a personal chef, please pass my info on! :)Dd you cook anything fun over the holidays?  Feel free to share with us here!
Chow for now!