Friday, December 10, 2010

First Taste: more Cupcakes

I had an appointment downtown at 9am today. Before I went in, I checked Twitter and saw that the more cupcakes truck (website, Twitter) was only a couple blocks away, parked near Christkindlmarket. Since I'm not often downtown, and the food trucks that I so wistfully follow rarely make it out to Hyde Park, I knew I had to jump on this chance. I crossed my fingers and hoped they would still be there in an hour.

I left 25 East Washington and headed west to Clark and Washington. I passed Christkindlmarket, just waking up for the day - nothing was open, unfortunately, but I did stop to look at some of the window displays and to savor the smells of currywurst, baked apples, and fruit fritters. I found a store which sells glass pickle ornaments - a German must for a Christmas tree, for those of you not in the know. I made plans to return when the stores were open and bustling.

Then, there - on the southwest corner of the intersection - a van with a display window in its side, and an awning propped open. Inside stood an attractive, friendly young guy who, based on the tea in my hand, recommended that I go for the salted caramel over the red velvet. There were thirteen flavors in the truck today, and I probably could have tried something more exotic, but I wanted to see how more managed a familiar flavor. I handed over my cash (about $3.50) and he handed me back a green-labelled takeout box, curiously hefty.

I got home and plunked the box on the kitchen table for immediate investigation.

I felt no remorse as I tore into the cute little package, revealing a gorgeous mini cake suspended in the center.

It was taller than I expected when I pulled it out...

...and the cake a lighter color.

Oh, well - nothing left to do but take a bite.

As you can see, there was an oozy pocket of caramel in the center of this gorgeous cupcake. It had soaked slightly into the surrounding cake, as well, adding a creamy texture and that lovely, almost smoky toffee flavor to every bite. The amount and sweetness of the frosting was, to my taste, exactly right. I could still get my mouth around the majority of the cupcake, and the frosting tasted like a lightly sweetened whipped cream. The cake itself was fairly sweet, which is fine, but the texture was a bit stiff and spongy. This may be for purposes of practicality; I love dense, moist, melty cake, which I imagine doesn't travel terribly well. This cake's crumb was airy and open, but strong.

In short: great caramel flavor, not too sweet, spongy crumb. B+

EDIT: It occurred to me that maybe my problems with the cake were just because the cupcake was on the chilly side, having sat out in an open van and then carried around outside and then eaten a mere five minutes after I got home. I'll have to try one at the storefront for comparison (this is my disappointed face).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Latke? But I hardly know 'er!

I made these.

They were good - a touch bland. I might salt them a little more next time, or include some seasonings. Is that an okay thing to do? I am Not Remotely Jewish, so I have no idea what's appropriate here.

The most important part, though, is the amount of time it took me to grate all the grating-required ingredients with my brand-new Cuisinart. It ended up being 33.2 seconds. I timed it. (Not really.)

Happy Christmahanukwansolsticewhatever!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Leftover Goddess

Last night, I was on my way home from the north side, looking to get home around 9 pm. I was debating whether to stop off and pick up some groceries - I was, pretty understandably, not enthusiastic to trudge through the cold and the snow. But then I had a brilliant brain flash.

Use Up Your Leftovers Fried Rice (based on this, which is - SURPRISE! - another Bittman recipe)

1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup corn kernels
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (or really, whatever you have lying in your fridge)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup cooked white rice
2 eggs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup leftover dipping sauce from Shrimp and Cilantro Shu Mai (or to taste)

This is just what I used. Modify as needed to clean out your fridge.

First, heat some oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. When hot, cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the peas and corn. If they're frozen, you may want to consider defrosting them first; however, I did not, and they turned out fine. Cook until everything is warmed through and the onions begin to color. Set veggies aside in a small bowl.

Add more oil - maybe 2 tablespoons - to the pan and let it warm up. When hot, add the garlic and ginger and saute for 15-30 seconds - any more and you will start to lose flavor. Add the rice and cook for a minute or two, tossing with the oil. Make a well in the center of the rice and add the eggs. Let them cook for a minute, then scramble them lightly and incorporate them into the rice. Add the vegetables back in and stir to combine.

Season as you see fit. I tossed in my leftover dipping sauce from the previous night's shu mai, which turned out lovely. I've also had success with soy sauce and black pepper, or even beer (pale ales work best). The best part? Plenty for leftovers, and a lot fewer bits and bobs in your fridge. Hooray!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mark Bittman's Homemade Shu Mai

Earlier today, when scrolling through the backlog of posts in my Google Reader "Food" folder, I spotted this. It's a recipe for shrimp and cilantro shu mai, courtesy of Mark Bittman. Can you count how many things about that sentence made me happy? Yes? Well, I'll still go ahead and list them for you, in case you missed any.

1) Shrimp. Delicious sea-insects. I don't eat them nearly as often as I used to when I lived on the Gulf Coast, because they're markedly more expensive in Chicago. (Actually, they're probably markedly more expensive back home in Texas now, too. Curse you, BP.)

2) Cilantro. Fairly self-explanatory.

3) Shu mai. Shu mai and I have an unholy bond, the kind of obsessive love that can only result from the satisfying of one's most basic needs in a fashion well above and beyond the call of duty. Essentially, I find them indescribably delicious.

4) Mark Bittman. If you don't know who he is, please see The Minimalist, his books, and his website. His cookbooks and blogs are my go-to resources when I'm looking for a simple, elegant dinner. I owe a great deal of my cooking style to his influence.

Immediately, I determined that a) this was the perfect excuse to finally buy a food processor and b) I must make these for dinner. An hour and a fight with my snow-boots later, I had acquired a Cuisinart:

and the ingredients, or the closest approximation thereof that I could manage:


1/2 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine (I used mirin, a sweet rice wine)

1 tablespoon sesame oil (I used chili sesame oil, because it's what I had)

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (Seriously, what supermarket runs out of cilantro? I used parsley instead.)

1/4 cup roughly chopped scallions, white parts only

10 to 12 round dumpling skins (Mine were square. It's what they had.)

Juice of 1 lime.

First, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine/mirin, sesame oil, and ginger.

Then, put half the shrimp, half the cilantro (or parsley), and all of the scallions into the food processor. Pulse until smooth.

Here, you can see me jumping the gun a bit. Add one or two tablespoons of your soy sauce mixture to the filling and pulse until you get a smooth paste. Then, the recipe instructs you to chop the remaining herbs and shrimp and add them to the filling, for textural variety. I just threw the remaining ingredients into the processor and pulsed it a few more times. Tsk tsk, lazy.

I swear I had a picture here of a dumpling wrapper, flat, with filling in the middle, but it seems to have gone missing. In any event, lay a wrapper flat, and brush the edges with water. Spoon some of the filling into the center. The recipe recommends about a teaspoon, but I used closer to two - possibly because my wrappers were square, and therefore larger.

Then gather the edges up around the filling, pinching them together, while leaving some of the filling exposed at the top.

Repeat as necessary. It's recommended that you keep your dumpling wrappers and dumplings under a damp cloth while working, but I neglected to do so and my dumplings (arguably) turned out fine. Just don't let them sit too long.

Set up a steamer in a large pot over about an inch of water. I actually have a steamer basket, but two ramekins and a plate (or something similar) works equally well. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Arrange a single layer of dumplings in the steamer and cover the pot. Meanwhile, add the lime juice to your soy sauce mixture.

Cook the shu mai until the filling is opaque and the wrapper is tender, 4-6 minutes. Transfer them to a serving platter, and repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve them with the dipping sauce, like so:

As you can see, my square dumpling wrappers resulted in floppy little ears at the corners of my shu mai. Inelegant, sure, but no less delicious.

The filling has a variety of textures, but remains light, unlike a lot of Chinese-restaurant shu mai bricks. The greens add a bright, but not overpowering, flavor. I liked the parsley, but I think I would have preferred cilantro. However, I might have cut back on the amount of greens if I were using cilantro - it has a stronger flavor than parsley, and the parsley was pretty prominent. The dipping sauce was a great tangy complement to the dumplings; I love the combination of lime and seafood, though, so it would be hard-pressed to fail. In fact, if I were sure it wouldn't affect the texture of the filling too much, I might add some lime juice or a little extra dipping sauce to the filling before cooking. It certainly warrants experimentation.

The only real piece of advice I have regarding the recipe is this: don't be timid when shaping your dumplings! Squeeze that filling, pinch those corners, and don't be afraid if it squishes out the top a bit. I was a little shy with my first few dumplings, and they tried to fall apart on me in the steamer. Check out the Minimalist video if you need some guidance. They don't need to be origami works of art to be delicious.