Posted in Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

In Which the Blogger takes on a Chinese Eggplant Dish…

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So fiddly to make, but definitely worth it

It’s one of those days: the newly-minted freelance writer has just a bare minimum of professional writing to do, the help has gone on her annual fortnight-long vacation out of town; it’s been raining buckets, and one is in a quandary as to what to cook for dinner tonight.

And so…

“I’m heading out to do a cake delivery,” I told my sister yesterday.  “Might head to the supermarket to get some ingredients.  Three-cups chicken okay with you?”

My sister considered this for a bit and said, “No, but could you try cooking stuffed eggplant instead?”

Stuffed eggplant in this case is not the fabled imam bayildi of Arabic cuisine or the melitzanes papoutsakia of Greek cuisine.  No: it’s actually jiān niàng qiézi [煎釀茄子], a type of dimsum served at many restaurants specializing in Cantonese cuisine.

In this case, the slimmer purple Asian eggplants are cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks that are partly split through the middle and filled with a prawn forcemeat.  The stuffed chunks are first fried, then steamed and served with a sauce compounded from garlic, sesame oil, and oyster sauce.  In some recipes, the process is reversed: the stuffed eggplant is first steamed and then fried.  However, the fry-then-steam process works for me, so I stuck to that.

Whichever method you choose, though, the end result is a rich-tasting dish that works better as a main course rather than a dimsum tidbit.  Serve this with a large bowl of steaming hot rice to add scrumptious comfort to cold, stormy evenings.

The recipe I used was adapted from the one featured on The Woks of Life.  But because several family members are allergic to crustaceans, mine features an all-pork filling and uses the more pungent black rather than white pepper; the filling also featured a tablespoon of rendered lard.  Believe me when I say it adds the right amount of punch, loads of flavor, and a much-appreciated richness.

The authors of the original recipe say you can skip stuffing the eggplant all together and use veg stock to make this vegan-friendly.  But, given my general aversion towards vegans, – who, I’m sorry to say, are the biggest hypocrites in both a political and a culinary sense – why mess with a good thing if you don’t have to?  Oh, but feel free to replace the pork with minced white fish or ground chicken; I don’t recommend doing this with beef or lamb, though.

(Oh, and according to my sister, this dish tastes every bit as good cold and eaten for breakfast the day after.)

Stuffed Eggplant

For the Stuffed Eggplant:

  • 4 medium-sized Asian eggplants, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/4 kilo ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon rendered lard or bacon fat or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped + additional 2 spring onions, also finely chopped
  • generous dash of black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or mirin
  • Additional 2 tablespoons lard for frying

For the Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 chicken or pork bouillon cube
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ground black pepper to taste

Slit the eggplant chunks lengthwise through the middle, but do not cut all the way through.  Just leave enough to form a hinge on one side.  Set aside.

Combine all the remaining ingredients for the stuffing until a rough paste is formed.  Stuff the prepared eggplant with about 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of filling per piece.  Chill for at least 10 minutes.

Heat the additional lard in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Fry the chilled eggplant until browned on both sides; place the pieces in a heat-proof bowl that can fit comfortably in a steamer.  Place three cups of water into the lower chamber of a steamer and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Lower heat to a simmer and place the bowl of eggplant chunks in the upper chamber.  Cover and steam for 10-15 minutes.

While the eggplant is cooking, make the sauce.  In a pan over medium heat, saute the minced garlic in 1 tablespoon of lard and the sesame oil until fragrant.  Add the bouillon cube, oyster sauce, and soy sauce.  Cook until the cube has dissolved.  Add the water, stir, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and add the cornstarch slurry; cook until slightly thickened.

Remove the cooked eggplant from the steamer and pour any juices in the bowl into the sauce; stir well.  Put the eggplant in a serving dish, drizzle with the sauce; scatter over the remaining spring onions.

Serves 6.

Posted in Home Baking, Sweets for the Sweet, The Well-read Foodie

In Which One Bakes a Proper Red Velvet Cake…

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In the tin

Red velvet cake is something of a pseudo-tradition in my family because my sister always asks for something similar to it for her birthday.

The first time she asked for one resulted in a deep purple dessert dubbed the Sky at Dusk because it was the color of a night sky and decorated with stars cut out of cake trimmings on top of a lemon cheesecake frosting.  This would eventually be followed by the much-darker imperial velvet cake and other similar treats.

And finally, this: a real red velvet cake.

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Ready to serve

And not just any red velvet cake, mind you: this monster is a chocolate red velvet cake.

The average red velvet cake is, pretty much, a butter cake loaded with red food coloring.  However, the original red velvet is a cocoa-flavored butter cake that took its characteristic maroon hue from the chemical reaction between acidic buttermilk and the more alkaline cocoa powder.  Unfortunately, many modern red velvet cake recipes add just a smidgen (two tablespoons or less) of cocoa and load up on food coloring; not cool, if you ask me.

Mine is adapted from the one from the Hershey’s Kitchen – but has the added advantage of a quarter-cup of chocolate chips tossed into the deep red batter before baking.  Thus, this one has ample chocolate flavor and is considerably richer and more satisfying than the red velvet cake you’d pick up from some commercial bakery.  Add the fact that the icing on this particular cake is a caramel cream cheese frosting, it was a cake that definitely put a smile on my sister’s face on her special day.

And, believe me when I say this is guaranteed to make you smile, too.

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Sheer and absolute delight in every bite

Chocolate Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup buttermilk or 1 tablespoon vinegar + enough milk to yield 1 cup total liquid
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the Frosting:

  • 1 bar (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup icing or confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Grease and flour a standard-sized regular Bundt or fluted Bundt pan.

Cream together the vanilla margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, cocoa powder, and vanilla; mix well.  Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Tip half the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.  Mix well and pour in half the buttermilk; mix until well combined.  Tip in the rest of the flour mixture and blend well with the rest of the buttermilk until a smooth batter is achieved.  Stir in the food coloring and mix until well-incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake 55 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting.  Using a hand-held mixture at medium speed, whip together all the ingredients until soft peaks form.  Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Remove the baked cake from the pan and set onto a serving plate, reserving any crumbs.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.  Top the frosted cake with any reserved crumbs.

Serves 12…just.  😉

 

 

Posted in Sweets for the Sweet

In Which There is DIY Ice Cream for Milo-holics…

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Cream, condensed milk, Milo…

I grew up drinking Milo, Nestle’s malted chocolate milk drink.  Well, to be exact, I grew up eating Milo – scooping up the powder with a tablespoon and scoffing the lot with impunity.

As I grew older, though, Milo became a running gag in my life on account of the infamous Milo biscuit episode of my years in college.  Fortunately, that incident has mellowed into a funny memory and I have moved on to using Milo for better desserts that are a lot gentler on teeth.

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Yes, there’s a Milo packet there.

Case in point, this nifty malted chocolate ice cream.

This no-churn wonder is flavored with Milo for a gloriously dreamy cream ice that is richly chocolaty despite its rather pale beige appearance.  I threw in another childhood treat – Kit Kats – to make it even more decadent.

I like to think of this recipe as all your guilty childhood pleasures all grown up and skirting just the very edge of divine decadence.

Mind you: this is going to be a lot richer than your usual ice cream, so keep servings modest.

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Have a scoop…or two.

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 2 cups heavy or all-purpose cream
  • 1 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup Milo
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 four-finger Kit Kat bars, diced

Whisk together the cream, condensed milk, vanilla, and Milo.  Pour into a covered container and freeze for 1 – 2 hours.

Remove the semi-frozen mixture from its container and place in a large mixing bowl.  Using a hand-mixer, whisk at highest speed until at least double in volume or until soft peaks form.  Fold in the diced Kit Kats and scrape into a covered container.  Freeze at least six hours or overnight.

Serves 12.