May 25, 2010

Korean Cuisine!

"pasta salad" additives

dumpling stuffing

I don't have any recipe this time, but I thought I'd share with you an amazing culinary experience I had recently.
At my dad's work place, they were having this Korean dinner, so my mom, brother and I went to help with the food preparations. I'm so glad we did. It was a great opportunity to have fun and expand my culinary horizons. And boy did I do both. We were the only ones helping out.

When we got there, we met the two Korean ladies who were in charge of the cooking. They were very busy, trying to prepare enough food for about 70 people, all in the next few hours. So we were immediately put to work upon arrival. I got a few menial tasks at first, such as grating carrots or stirring them gently as they sauteed in olive oil. But then, when I was done all that, I got to help make dumplings! The stuffing for the dumplings was make out of leafy greens, pork, kimchi (a marinated, spicy, cabbage, staple in the Korean diet), carrots, noodles, and a few other things.
To make the dumplings, you take a small, disk-shaped "wrapper" (can be found at the Asian market in Philly) and put a spoon-full of the filling in the center of it. Then you dip your finger in cold water and run it all around the edge of the "wrapper". Then you fold the "wrapper" up around the filling in a special way to make the dumpling look gourmet and all, and the dumpling is ready to be boiled.
Halfway through the dumpling-making, we ran out the the wrappers. It was my mom who saved the day, suggesting that we make balls out of the stuffing, dip them in egg yolk, and roll them in bread crumbs. It took a little while for the Korean ladies to fully understand the idea, as it was unfamiliar to them, but once they did they were dipping and rolling happily as were the rest of us. Granted, they didn't come out looking like traditional dumplings, but they passed.
Next I had another small task. I helped make pasta salad. Okay, that's not what it was called, but it was certainly similar to one. It contained the most interesting noodles ever. They were called glass noodles, because they looked like long, smooth strands of glass. And they were long. I'm guessing they were about a foot and a half. These noodles were also used in the dumplings. They were mixed with the same ingredients that went into the dumpling stuffing, plus so much soy sauce I feared the dish would be saltier than one hundred pounds of McDonald's french fries. The lady kept shaking it on there.
Then there were the rice balls to make. The rice balls were made out of rice (duh) with tuna fish, carrots, and I forget what else mixed in. And they were fun to make, too. All you had to do was take a small handful of the rice mixture and shape it into a ball. Lastly, a whole kimchi was brought out and sliced. It looked like something from a sci-fi movie. Okay, that's not a very nice thing to say. I should just say it was very unusual-looking, with the reddish-orange color and all the juice oozing out. It looked a lot better in the dumplings, where I couldn't really see it. But I guess you get used to it. (I wish I had thought to snap a picture of it!)
Now all the food was ready to be served. Mom and I helped, mom serving the dumplings and myself serving the rice balls. We had vegetarian versions of everything, so when I served the rice balls, I had to ask "Vegetarian or non-vegetarian?" Surprisingly, no one commented on the unusual dumplings.
Finally everyone had been served and I could finally taste the food for myself. Was it good? You bet. In fact, it was delicious. I had everything except the plain kimchi. As for the noodles, I was surprised when they didn't turn out to be too salty. I mean, they were salty, but not unreasonably so. I was a bit disappointed that all the traditional dumplings were taken before I got a chance, but the bread-crumb ones were scrumptious. They were a little spicy due to the kimchi, but not overpowering. And one bite of the rice balls told me they were absolutely fabulous. It was a very hearty meal, requiring no more than one serving to make you comfortably full.

May 10, 2010

Mother's Day pizza

Now, let's get one thing straight. This is not going to be a "memories of mom" or "everything I've learned from my mom" type of post. There's plenty of them out there. That said, happy Mother's Day to all moms!

My mom wanted to go out for a little bit with just my dad for lunch this Mother's day. So my little brother and sister and I ate lunch, cleaned up, watched I Love Lucy, and *drumroll please* I made pizza dough for dinner.

Things went just fine until I dumped all the shaggy bits of dough and flour onto the cutting board to knead. It was soooo sticky. I could hardly even knead it. Dough was all over my hands and I was a bit worried. But I washed my hands and things got better, but I had to wrestle with it for a long time before it was smooth (and not becoming attached to me at every punch).

Into an oiled bowl it went, covered with a dish cloth because we were and are out of plastic wrap. I turned the oven back on (because the kneading had taken so long) until it was 150 degrees and then turned it off and put the dough it. That might not have been my best shot, now that I think about it.

After the 40 minutes I stuck it in the fridge as it was just 4:30 (my parents just came home right after I did this).

When it was time, I took out the dough. It had developed a nice skin all over the top. Nice. Really nice. But I divided it up and started pulling. Now let me state here and now that I had never, ever formed and baked a pizza before (I usually just make the dough and then my mom does the baking part). And she was now taking her Mother's Day semi-snooze on a chair in the living room. She was not going to be interrupted if I could help it.

Things were going pretty well until it started to rip and become a rope. And I didn't care about getting a circle. I just wanted something that resembles something between a circle, a square, and a space alien. But it wasn't happening. So I balled it up and tried again, this time with the help of a rolling pin. But then the "crusts" turned into lines across the pizza and most of the stuff in between was getting precariously paper thin. Frustrated, I finally got something that worked. Oh, and did I mention that my dad was saying things like "Looks like Wisconsin." Thanks Dad.
SO then I remembered that I could put it on parchment paper. So I had to ease the dough onto the parchment paper, which took forever. (This trick really does work though.) Finally I was ready to top.

By this time, I was going plain. I brushed a little olive oil over it, and put the sauce on. I was afraid of it getting soggy so it was seriously under-sauced. I baked it for a little more than 10 minutes (oops) and then spread the cheese on top. I really wasn't sure how much to put on, and the danger of burning myself in a 450 degree oven didn't help me think. 8 minutes later when I checked on it, I saw pools of liquid (water?). *Enter scream of anguish*. So then I hastily took it out and with Dad's help I "drained" the pizza by tilting it above a bowl. It went into the oven for about 3 more minutes (you know, to help the moisture evaporate.)

So now pizza one was done. It needed more sauce and the cheese was definitely a problem, although on the finished pizza it was fine. Is there a low moisture mozzarella out there? I used freshly grated. Or did I put too much on. Or, since the pizza was so thin in places that it BURNED, the moisture was able to collect. Enlighten me, someone?

Pizza number 2 didn't go much better. This time, after it had baked for the first 10 minutes, I put more sauce on the puffy parts (this actually worked). And we used a "cheese blend" (no, Dad, cheddar, would not be a good choice) of some fancy romano and mozzarella. We still had the burned, too thin places. Also, the dough was a bit too salty, especially in this batch.

Edible, even delicious in parts (how can homemade pizza not be), but I definitely have a long way to go. Any hints, tips, and suggestions for next time I would be greatly appreciative of. For now I leave you with my favorite pizza dough recipe, which despite all my mistakes, still makes for a wonderful pizza.

Happy Mother's Day, Mommy. I love you.

Pizza Dough

My mom found this recipe online, so I don't know who to thank. But originally it came from "The Best Recipe" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated. It makes a crisp, not doughy (if you follow the instructions) crust.

Makes 2 pizzas, enough (with no leftovers) for the 5 of us for dinner with a salad.

Especially with the sharp cheese, we've found this dough to be a bit salty. Next time I might try reducing both the salt and the sugar by a 1/2 teaspoon (below is the unaltered version). I always use regular, Red Star yeast, but the recipe calls for rapid rise. I don't know what the original recipe called for, but I'd assume you can use both. I also always use AP flour.

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-110 degrees F)
1 packet or 4 teaspoons yeast (see note)
1 tablespoon sugar (see note)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups all purpose or bread flour (see note)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt (see note)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F then TURN OFF.

Pour the water into a small bowl. Add the yeast and sugar and mix to combine. Add the oil to the yeast mixture. Combine the salt and 3 cups of the flour in a large mixing bowl. Pour the yeast mixture into the the flour/salt and mix until combined with a sturdy wooden spoon or a spatula. Stir in the rest of the flour (1 cup) until a mass of dough forms. (I think I didn't mix it enough and that was part of the reason why it was sticky. You could even try doing part of the kneading in the bowl).
Place dough on a floured cutting board or very clean counter top and knead until smooth, about 5-7 (or a gazillion, in my case) minutes. Don't knead in too much extra flour, just enough to keep it from sticking.

Place the dough in a well (really well) oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the oven for 40 minutes. Make sure the oven is turned off.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove and divide the dough in half. I cannot help you from here. The dough is usually not too sticky, but if you want to move the stretched dough onto parchment paper, brush lightly with olive oil first. It won't stick as much that way if you try to fold it in half.

To bake:

1. In the 450 degree oven on top of a pizza stone, bake crust, topped only with sauce for 10 minutes. (The parchment paper makes it really easy to slice in and out of the oven.)
2. Remove crust and add toppings (including extra sauce if necessary), including cheese on top.
3. Bake another 8-10 minutes until cheese is melted.

Serve and enjoy.

May 1, 2010

Peanut-Butter Balls

Apologies for the lack of pictures. My computer for some reason is not cooperating, so that I can't upload pictures. But I'll figure out the problem and get the pictures up as soon as possible.

Peanut butter balls have a long history in my family. When I was about three, my mom found the recipe on the back of a cereal box, tried it, and the product was an instant hit. They were brought along on picnics, eaten for dessert and snack, and the recipe has been shared with many friends (I haven't met a single person who hasn't liked them). Now, whenever my brother or I are looking for a snack, my mom always says: "Make peanut-butter balls!"
Peanut butter balls, in case you are wondering, are a mixture of peanut butter, honey, cinnamon, vanilla extract, cereal, and possibly nuts shaped into balls. A few years ago, we started rolling the balls in shredded coconut to eliminate sticky fingers.
The type of cereal you use doesn't matter. You can use rice crispies, or you could use corn flakes. Right now, I use crushed Weetabix. If you decide to use nuts, I would recommend walnuts.
Most importantly, peanut butter balls are so easy and take only about ten minutes to make. As you will see below, they're as easy as 1-2-3! (excuse the cliche.)

Peanut-Butter Balls

  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup honey (more or less if you like)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3-5 cups crushed Weetabix (enough to make the mixture stiff enough to form balls)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (optional)

  1. Mix together all ingredients except coconut.
  2. Shape the mixture into balls, dipping your hands first in a small bowl of cold water to help the peanut-butter mixture hold together.
  3. Roll the balls in shredded coconut, if desired.