Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Healthier cookies... or so I tell myself

I'm a big fan of Alice Medrich's Bittersweet so when her new book, Pure Dessert, came out several months ago, I knew I had to get myself a copy. Even though I was drooling while eagerly flipping through it upon its release, it wasn't until this past week that I finally got around to trying one of the recipes.

Given the number of must-try recipes in this book I was hard pressed to pick just one. Ultimately, however, I settled on what I think are healthier cookies - whole wheat sables. In truth they are just as laden with butter as any other cookie but the dough is half made of whole wheat flour and whole wheat is good for you, isn't it?

Instead of just making plain sables, I chose to use one of the suggested variations and added cacao nibs to my cookies to add a delightful crunch. Even as the cookies were baking in the oven I could tell from the buttery aroma that permeated the air that these were going to be good. In her book, Alice Medrich describes them as "meltingly tender, butter cookies with the nutty flavor of whole wheat" and they were exactly as advertised. Fresh from the oven my cookies were, thin, crispy, crumbly and mind-blowingly buttery. They are supposed to be even better the next day but the cookies almost didn't last till then. Thankfully I managed to restrain M and myself from eating them all so that we had enough to serve as a welcome treat for M's brother and his wife who were visiting from New York the next day.

Nibby Whole Wheat Sables

From Pure Dessert

1 cup all-purpose flour
Scant 1 cup whole wheat flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the all-purpose and whole wheat flours together. Set aside. In a medium bowl, with the back of a large spoon or with an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar, salt and vanilla for about 1 minute, until smooth and creamy but not fluffy. Mix 1/4 cup cacao nibs into the creamed butter. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Scrape the dough into a mass and, if necessary, knead it with your hands a few times, just until smooth.

Form the dough into a 12 by 2-inch log. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or, preferably, overnight.

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets.

Bake until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and fron to back halfway through the baking. Let the cookies firm up on the pans for about 1 minute, then transfer them to a rack with a metal pancake turner and let cool completely.

The cookies are delicious fresh but are even better the next day. They can be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 month.

Makes about 48 2-inch cookies

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Daring Bakers Strike Again

One of the best parts of being part of the Daring Bakers is that it forces me to make recipes that I would not otherwise have picked but end up really loving (like last month’s Bostini Cream Pie) or those that are out of my comfort zone. This month’s challenge was just that. The recipe for the month, hosted by Tanna, was Tender Potato Bread and bread is definitely not my forte. Sure, I’ve made bread before but it has tended to be of the no-knead variety made popular by Mark Bittman.

This month then I got to confront my inner bread demons and take on the challenge of making bread with potato which I’m told makes the dough softer and slightly harder to handle. Our host for the month helpfully suggested that newbies to bread not use more than 8 oz of potato and since I definitely fall into that camp, I measured out my potato to weigh exactly that.

As warned, the dough was indeed extremely soft and sticky to start. With patient kneading and the slow addition of flour though, the dough became increasingly easier to manage and less sticky. Still, I’m no expert and I must say I was relieved when it came time to put the dough away to rise. I chose probably the easiest, though no less satisfying shape – a regular loaf.

While the loaf was baking in the oven, I was really happy to see how impressively it had risen. Whenever I’ve made no-knead bread, my bread never really rises up that high because I use a dutch oven that’s just way too big for the mass of dough. What that means is that I tend to get great tasting bread that makes short, wide sandwiches! This time, as you can see from the pictures posted here, I finally baked bread that looks like a traditional sandwich loaf. Taste-wise I was also extremely happy with the bread. To me, the most noteworthy feature of this bread was the texture of the crumb which I found exceedingly soft and moist. I’ll definitely be adding this delightful bread to my baking repertoire and thanks once again to the Daring Bakers for showing me that baking really doesn’t have to be that hard.

PS: You can check out the results of all the other DBers here.

Tender Potato Bread
From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.
Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft.

As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan.

Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Chinese Wraps

One of my favourite Chinese dishes from back home is a Peking duck meat lettuce leaf wrap. This is often served when you order a Peking duck in a restaurant and after having consumed the skin, they will use the meat from the duck to make this dish. There are many variations on this dish, some using chicken, others using squab or another kind of meat.

Since pork mince is more readily available in the supermarkets here, I decided to make a version with pork instead. As some of you may recall, this is actually a dish that I served when M's parents were here to visit. At that time, I forgot to take a picture of the dish but since it was such a hit, I have been looking for another opportunity to make it. The opportunity finally arose two nights ago after a particularly easy day at work. It was definitely as good the second time around. Maybe even better!

Minced Pork in Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Shun Lee Cookbook

8 oz minced pork
1 1/2 tsp egg white
1 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
vegetable oil, for passing through

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp cornstarch

4 celery ribs, string removed, finely diced (1 cup)
4 scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and minced (3/4 cup)
3 carrots, finely diced (1/2 cup)
1 tsp dark sesame oil
2 tsp hoisin sauce
8 whole Bibb or iceberg lettuce leaves
2 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts

To prepare the pork, place the diced pork in a medium bowl. Add the egg white, cornstarch, and salt; toss to coat.

To prepare the sauce, whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine, sugar and white pepper in a small bowl. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tbsp water in another small bowl. Set the bowls aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come 1 inch up the sides of the wok and heat it to 300F. Add the pork and stir gently, keeping the pieces from sticking together, until they turn white, about 45 seconds. Using a wide wire mesh skimmer, transfer the pork to a colander to drain. Discard all the oil except for 2 tablespoons.

Heat the wok with the oil over high heat. Add the celery, scallions, and carrots, and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 45 seconds. Return the pork to the wok. Stir the sauce, add it to the wok, and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir-fry until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sesame oil. Transfer the pork mixture to a serving bowl.

To serve, spread about 1/4 tsp hoisin sauce in the center of each lettuce leaf. Add 3 tbsp of the pork mixture, and sprinkle with a few pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Monday, 19 November 2007

Pumpkin Harvest

Since my previous experiment with pumpkin turned out so well, I’ve been looking for opportunities to use pumpkin in my baking. If I lived in the US, this wouldn’t be a problem since pumpkin features so heavily in Thanksgiving cooking. Thankfully, Sugar High Friday comes to the rescue as the theme for the 37th SHF is The Beta Carotene Harvest. This episode is hosted by Leslie of Definitely not Martha. I very nearly missed the announcement altogether but am glad that I found it just in time to squeeze in an entry this past weekend.

Looking through my treasure trove of recipe books, I found a scrumptious sounding recipe in a book that I really like but haven’t made anything from recently. That’s the problem when you have over 100 cookbooks fighting for your attention and not enough time to try all the recipes and not enough stomachs to feeds.

This time, rather than pairing pumpkin with the traditional mix of spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, the recipe simply calls for pumpkin and orange juice. Yet, although surprising simple, I found the cake exceedingly flavourful. I think I’m really starting to develop a love for all things pumpkin. Best part is since this cake is called a breakfast cake, I feel like I’ve been given the green light to substitute this for my daily bowl of cereal.

Pumpkin and Orange Breakfast Cake
From In the Sweet Kitchen

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp finely grated orange zest
3 large eggs, two of them separated, all at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch fluted tube pan and set it aside. Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy. Add the whole egg and the two egg yolks, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Beat in the pumpkin puree.

Sift together the flours, baking powder an salt. Add to the pumpkin batter in three or four stages, blending gently but thoroughly after each. Stir in the final addition of dry ingredients by hand if you have been using a mixer, so as not to overwork the batter. In a clean, small bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold into the batter, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is springy when lightly touched, the sides are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.

This cake keeps very well for several days, well wrapped, and it freezes beautifully for up to 2 months.

Makes 10 servings

Thursday, 15 November 2007

One good turn deserves another

I had my first chausson aux pommes just 2 years ago when we were taught to make it during pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu. I remember thinking at that time that these were great, but for some reason, I haven't made any of my own since then. I guess that's mostly because it involves making puff pastry from scratch which is a hard thing to do properly in the heat of Singapore. Now that I'm in London, however, I figured it was high time that I got reacquainted with the pleasures of homemade puff pastry.

Since I've been reading so much about Pierre Herme's inside-out puff pastry, I decided to give it a try. Apparently, its supposed to be much easier to handle than regular puff pastry even though the bulk of the butter is on the outside of the dough. Sounds counterintuitive, right? I was a little skeptical when I embarked on this mission but I reasoned that the man whom some hail as the Picasso of pastry can't be wrong.

Of course, he wasn't. Even though most of the butter was on the outside, the dough was surprisingly easy to handle, probably because its a relatively sturdy dough. The hardest part of making it was really just planning your day around the time that the dough is required to rest in between turns.

Once the dough was completed, making the turnovers was a cinch. Were they as good as I remembered? Absolutely! In fact, its impossible to stop at just one. So, at least in this context, the old adage, one good turn(over) deserves another, holds true.

Chausson aux Pommes (Apple Turnovers)
Adapted from The Secrets of Baking

For the apple filling:
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 recipe puff pastry (I used Pierre Herme's inside-out puff pastry)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp water

1/2 cup sugar

Toss together the apples, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla seeds, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until it turns a light nutty colour, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the apple mixture and saute until the apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the cooked apples to a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the turnovers. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll the Puff Pastry out to 1/4 inch thick. Using a large, round, fluted cutter, cut out circles of dough. Use a rolling pin and lightly press down on the cutter of each circle, creating an oval shape.

Egg wash
Whisk together the egg, salt, and water in a small bowl.

Place a spoonful of filling into the center of each oval (amount depends on the size of your cutter). Using a pastry brush, apply a thin coat of water to the lower half of the oval. Fold the top of the dough down and press to seal the edges together. At this point, the turnovers can be frozen, wrapped tightly, for up to 1 week.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Carefully transfer the turnovers to the prepared baking sheet, placing them 1 inch apart. Brush a light coat of egg wash onto each turnover, then sprinkle each with a pinch of sugar.

Bake the turnovers for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan from back to front, turn the oven temperature down to 350F, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve the turnovers warm or cool and store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Childhood pleasures

Back in Singapore, I used to make ice cream a lot as the equatorial climate meant any day was a perfect day for ice cream. Since moving to London, however, I can count the number of times I've churned ice cream on one hand. To me, save for a few days a year, its just never quite warm enough to eat ice-cream in London. M, on the other hand, begs to differ. Ice cream is his hands-down favourite treat and if its sitting around in the refrigerator, its almost guaranteed never to live to see another day.

Since M has been working really hard again, I decided to surprise him with some homemade ice cream, in his favourite flavour no less - Mint-Chocolate Chip. We also purchased the UK equivalent of Magic Shell and some dark chocolate mint flavoured Cadbury fingers as toppings for the ice cream. Apparently, the combination of Magic Shell on ice cream was THE special treat in M's household growing up and though it was slightly disconcerting to see a grown man so excited by a bottle of chocolate sauce, its nice to know that some things never change.

Mint-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp peppermint extract
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
90g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp canola oil

In a heavy 2-qt saucepan, combined the mik, 1 cup of the cream, and the peppermint extract. Cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 20 minutes to steep.

Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4-6 minutes. Do not let the custard boil. Strain through a fine -mesh sieve into a bowl.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice cubes and water. Stir occasionally until cool. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

About 1 hour before freezing the ice cream, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it is melted, then stir in the oil. Transfer to a small pitcher. Let cool to room temperature.

Pour the custard into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. When nearly frozen and the consistency of thick whipped cream, add the chocolate while the machine is churning or stop the machine temporarily, add the chocolate, and restart to mix. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving.

Makes about 1 quart

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Back to cooking again

If you've been following my blog, you've probably noticed that I haven't posted many dinner recipes as of late. Instead, most of my posts have been dessert or baking related. Reason is, I haven't been doing all that much cooking lately as M has been working late most nights. Since cooking for one is not much fun, I've just decided to skip it all together.

Yesterday, being Friday, M finally had an early night. As such, I decided at the last minute to get back in the kitchen and whip up a home-cooked meal again. To make up for many nights of eating poorly, I decided to make something relatively healthy and that we both like a lot - salmon.

This time, the salmon was marinated in a mixture of red miso, ginger, soy sauce and mirin and then cooked under a grill. The result is a salmon that is incredibly tender and which just flakes off with the prod of a fork. I chose to serve mine with a side of broccoli and wild rice but I think this would work just as well with other Asian greens or even noodles.

Glazed Salmon

From Bill's Food

1/3 cup mirin
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp red miso
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
4 salmon fillets (each 6 0z), skin on
oil, for greasing

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
2 tsp sugar

to serve:
1 tsp black sesame seeds

Stir the mirin, soy sauce, ginger, miso, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl until combined. Put the salmon in a shallow dish, pour the mixture over it and marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

To make the dressing, bring the ingredients to the boil in a small saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until syrupy or like thin caramel.

Heat the grill. Remove the salmon from the marinade and place with the skin side down in a lightly oiled, non-stick, ovenproof frying pan. Cook under the hot grill for about 7 minutes, or until the fish is still pink in the centre and is nicely coloured.

Sprinkle the salmon with the black sesame seeds and drizzle with some of the dressing. Serve with a side of greens and steamed rice, if you like.

Serves 4

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Cupcake treats

Cupcakes, in my opinion, make a perfect treat. First, they're small and dainty, which lets you believe you're not eating too much, even if they generally come laden with frosting. Second, because they come in individually sized portions, they're so much easier to share with friends. Thus, when thinking of what to make for my colleagues at work this week, I settled on coconut flavoured cupcakes with a marshmallow pink frosting.

The problem with cupcakes, however, is that they're a bit tricky to transport. If you live in the US, then you can easily get your hand on Oneida's cupcake carrier which not only makes it easy to transport 24 cupcakes without ruining their perfect frosting but the bottom layer of the carrier is also a muffin pan which you can use to bake directly in. Sadly, this nifty little gadget is not available in London although I have seen poor imitations in the market. Since I refuse to settle for anything but the best, I am to this day, cupcake carrier-less.

Still, my cupcakes survived the extra-crowded tube journey to work with decidedly little damage and just like I thought, provided the perfect little pick-me-up for those universal Monday blues.

Coconut Marshmallow Clouds
From Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook

For the coconut cakes:
3/4 cup shredded coconut
2 1/3 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3 egg whites, extra
200g softened unsalted buter
1 3/4 cups castor sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 170C. Line two 12-hole muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Using an electric food processor, process the coconut until very fine - about 3 or 4 minutes. Add coconut to a bowl with sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Mix until evenly combined.

In a separate bowl combine eggs and egg whites. Do not beat.

In another bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the castor sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved.

Add the eggs a quarter at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add a third of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half other coconut milk and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined; do not over-beat as this will toughen the mixture.

Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for 18 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting.

For the marshmallow frosting:
3 egg whites
480g white sugar
3 tsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
150 ml water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Pink food colouring

In a metal bowl combine the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and water. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water) and beat continuously with a hand-held electric mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy and forms soft peaks. Take the bowl off the heat and add the vanilla and a few drops of pink food colouring. Whisk the mixture until it forms stiff peaks.

To assemble:

Pipe the frosting in a circular motion, starting around the edge of the cupcake, to form a soft-serve ice-cream effect. Top each cupcake with edible sprinkles.

Makes 24 cupcakes

Monday, 5 November 2007

A whirlwind of a weekend

M's parents were in town this weekend and it was a lot of fun for both M and myself. Although I've been up to Sweden a few times this year, it has always been in conjunction with some kind of event (e.g., weddings) which sometimes means that in the midst of all the frantic activity, there is not that much time to talk. This weekend, thus, felt like the first time that we got to spend "quality" time together since M and I got engaged.

Although the weekend is not a long amount of time, I feel like we were extremely active and got a lot done. My favourite activities of the weekend were afternoon tea at The Capital and finally getting to watch Wicked after years of desperate wanting to see it. My verdict on the musical? Absolutely worth the wait. In fact, it is probably one of my favourite musicals of all time.

Food, of course, featured heavily as well. Besides afternoon tea, we took them to Eight over Eight, a pan Asian restaurant in Chelsea, for dinner. M's parents were also kind enough to bring 1.35 kg of candy for M. If you know any Swedes then this probably doesn't surprise you. At least as of 2001, Sweden topped the world for non-chocolate candy consumption.

Our new stash of candy!

To cap off the weekend, we also hosted M's parents at our home for a home-cooked meal. Now, I must admit that preparing this meal caused me a fair amount of stress. M's parents have been readers of my blog and until Sunday, had never tasted any thing I've made. Thus, I felt under some pressure (all self-inflicted of course) to serve them a good meal. Besides, I didn't want them to think that I couldn't keep their son well fed.

So, I planned a four-course Chinese dinner that would be capped off by an Asian-inspired dessert and some homemade fortune cookies. All in all, I made minced pork in lettuce wraps, poached sea bass, lily in the wood (bok choy with dried chinese mushrooms) and kung pao shrimp. Dessert was a molten chocolate cake with a matcha (green tea) filling. Since I had also spent the afternoon baking, we also had a second dessert course - coconut cupcakes with marshmallow frosting (more in another post).

Unfortunately, in my haste to get dinner served, I didn't get any good pictures so you'll have to take my word for it. (That's what you get for being too lazy to set up the tripod). The photo you see above of the lily in the wood was the only picture I managed to take that was non-blurry. Despite the lack of photographic evidence, however, it was, for me anyway, an evening to remember.

Lily in the Wood
From Shun Lee cookbook

Vegetable oil, for passing through, plus 2 tablespoons
12 Chinese dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot tap water until softened
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
12 boy choy hearts
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp dark sesame oil

Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat, and keep it at a low boil.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to come 1 inch up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 300F. Add the mushrooms and gently stir until they are shiny and glossy with oil, about 1 minute. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the mushrooms to a colander to drain. Discard the oil.

Return the wok to high heat. Mix 1/2 cup of the stock with the soy sauce, rice wine, 1 tsp of the sugar, and they oyster sauce in a small bowl. Add to the wok, and return the mushrooms to the wok. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced by half, about 2 minutes.

While the mushrooms are simmering, prepare the boy choy: Return the saucepan of water to a boil, add the bok choy, and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Heat another large wok or a large skillet over high heat. Add the 2 tbsp vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add the boy choy and the remaining 1/2 tsp sugar, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tbsp cold water in a small bowl. Stir half the cornstarch mixture into the mushrooms, and stir the remaining half into the bok choy. Add the sesame oil to the mushrooms. Transfer the bok choy to a serving platter, and arrange in a circular pattern with the leafy tops in the center. Place the mushrooms in the center of the bok choy and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings