Thursday, August 14, 2014

Double Chocolate Brownie Bites

Never enough hours in the day!  I often find myself thinking this, wishing for a magic wand or time-management fairy godmother to grant me some extra hours to get just a little bit more done.  Finish off a couple more emails, take the kids to the park, go through just one more extra report, cook a big pot of Bolognese in advance so my family will have something to eat when I’m at meetings.  Just a tiny spot of time more.

Oh why didn’t I clean up my inbox instead of sleeping in for two extra hours last Sunday (well, because it was Sunday…for starters)?

Sigh…the constant tug of war among the myriad of “things” that just need to get done, this minute, this second.  Slow down life, there are roses meant to be sniffed and wines meant to be savored.

So, I do the best I can, managing the to-do list (still hand-written in a notebook…yup, I love ticking things off that way!), balancing home and work and the little ones and husband-date-time and friends and me-time.  Things sometimes fall to the wayside, or dinner is late (or take-out), or it’s midnight and I am trying to squeeze in as much as I can into my final moments of lucidity before I fall upon my pillow...and even in my weariness my head spins with a dozen dashing thoughts until they finally relinquish me to sleep.  But even then, even now, even in the most frenzied of times, it is all worth it.  My baby’s saliva-smelly onesies, my daughter’s raggedy toenails, how they run to me when I open the door, my husband’s high-fives when we have a particularly stellar meal at home, our cozy bed, clacking away at this blog, chronicling our meals, and the satisfaction of a (day) job well done…all worth it.  I wouldn’t give up a single one of these things, even if it means being a little frayed around the edges sometimes.

But.  But. There are important events for which time needs to be carved out.  Like making brownies.  Particularly making brownies with my headstrong little helper who won’t always be so little, or have so much time to help her mama.

Double Chocolate Brownie Bites
  • 10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch chunks, divided into two portions (5 ounces each)
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (marked as optional but not for me)

- Butter and flour 3 mini muffin pans (I used 2 and a half, making about 30 brownie bites).
- Place the 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, and butter in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) a pan of simmering water (or use a double boiler if you are lucky enough to have one).  Melt the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth.  Resist the urge to dive right in.  Set this aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the chocolate mixture and sugar at medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  To this add the eggs and mix until completely combined.  Beat in the vanilla, and then add the flour and salt and mix until just incorporated, taking care not to overbeat.  Stir in, by hand, the other 5 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and the walnuts.
- Scoop batter into the prepared mini muffin pans just until 3/4 full.  Bake in a pre-heated 375F oven for about 10-11 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  Remove the pan to a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then pop the brownie bites out to cool completely on the wire rack.

This was actually meant to be brownie cookies, but when I looked at the finished batter it seemed much too wet.  There was no way, barring the fairy godmother, that I was going to be able to shape it into balls as the recipe dictated.  I felt I had followed the recipe exactly but it was just not going to happen.  I took one look at my excited assistant and knew that I had to think of a solution, and fast.  A light bulb went off in my head and, taking inspiration from one of our neighbors’ daughters, I grabbed my mini-muffin tins and cooked the batter in that.  Thankfully that proved to be a success!  They turned out to be these intensely chocolate brownie “bites” with pockets of melted chocolate throughout.  Little C proudly brought some to share with her friends at school…and I must say, we ate our fair share as well.

I have another full day of meetings tomorrow, capped off with a dinner with my valiant team leaders at work.  We will then be off bright and early the next day for a company team building, for which we have secured the services of a guy I am excited to be working with.  I will be back on Sunday, hopefully enriched and re-focused, although I am sure in need of putting my feet up.

I leave you with chocolate, and the battle-cry that, yes, we can do it!  Hang in there.  Keep the faith.  Hold on.  The ride is worth it.

Friday, August 08, 2014

It's Friday...and some links for the weekend!

It's Friday...finally!  The weekend leans close enough for us to touch, for us to get a whiff of her entrancing perfume.  The smell of fresh sheets, cookies baking, lime in an icy gin & tonic, and warm buttered popcorn in a darkened cinema.  Hours to fill with anything you want...sleeping in (a personal favorite), riveting books, making a slow-cooked stew while it drizzles outside, being with the people you love best, taking your high heels out for a spin.  Anything really.  Monday may seem to always arrive mercilessly soon, but until then...enjoy!!

So, if you've got a few of those extra hours that are looking to be filled, here are a few suggestions:

** Have you seen the August issue of Yummy magazine?  I share a roasted asparagus salad in my column...and little C makes an appearance in their first Kids issue (it's on the back cover)!

** If you follow me on Instagram you have probably already noticed the nauseating amount of breakfast photos with which I shamelessly pepper your feeds (sorry). My current favorite breakfast staple is Gratitude Granola -- locally and lovingly made fresh everyday in small batches.  Follow them to keep abreast of the flavors they come up with day to day.

** I am beyond excited that one of my favorite bakery/cafes has opened right in my neighborhood!!  Visit Wildflour for their delicious breakfasts and addictive kimchi rice...but stay for their wonderful baked goods.  My favorites are their kouign amann, pain au chocolate, bacon sticky buns, cranberry walnut bread and, pictured above (lower left) the blueberry amann far.  Drop by and we might even bump into each other! :)

** My not-so-guilty midnight secret shopping site, Seek The Uniq, is a treasure trove of well curated finds.  I love their caftans and cover-ups.  But if you see something you like, click fast...these goodies go fast!  I am currently waiting for this gold pineapple (don't's love!) that I was too slow to snatch.

** I am so going to try this!  I have heard that there is delicious truth to the one-pan pasta myth...let us see!

** Maybe a spot of afternoon tea with the girlfriends?

**  Get smarter!  Well, why not?

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!  Hope it's filled with delicious things and amazing people!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Lapu-lapu with Cantonese Style Steamed Fish Sauce

Although I live in the city, you can’t take the island girl out of me.  I think everyone that lives here is, essentially, an island person.  We are, after all, living in an archipelago with over 7,000 islands. And, technically, I am on an island myself…just a very large one, and living nowhere near the shore of it, surrounded by buildings.  But, hey, I am not going to quibble about these small details.  We are island people, and I for one intend to reap the benefits…even from my little flat in the urban jungle.

One of those benefits, and one of my favorites at that, is fresh seafood.  Now, don’t think my table is laden with the bounty of the sea every day, not at all.  But just having the opportunity to buy a whole fish, some prawns, or a couple of crabs, almost any time I want, is a boon I am always and forever grateful for…especially since my husband and I love seafood so much.  Clams and mussels are a bit tricky now with the rains, but still relatively easy to procure from a wet market.

Steamed fish is one of our best-loved preparations whenever I get my hands on a lovely specimen of lapu-lapu (grouper or garoupa).  Just stuffed to the gills (literally) and fairly buried with Asian herbs and aromatics, then drizzled with a mix of Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing), soy sauce, and sesame oil, and then a brief steaming – this is absolute heaven for us.  In fact, I’ve already posted a recipe before over here.

So what is the difference with this steamed fish?  Although the fish is cooked with some flavorings, the actual sauce is added after.  The recipe for the sauce is from Bee Yinn Low’s Easy Chinese Recipes, a book of which I am such a big fan.  I cannot say enough about this book and how it makes favorite Chinese restaurant classics suddenly seem so within reach in your own home kitchen.

Lapu-lapu with Cantonese Style Steamed Fish Sauce
(Adapted from Succulent Steamed Fish Fillets in Easy Chinese Recipes by Bee Yinn Low)
  • 1 whole lapu-lapu (or grouper, garoupa, rock cod) weighing about 1 kilo, gutted and descaled
  • 5 (Asian) leeks, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine or sherry)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Water

Cantonese Style Steamed Fish Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine or sherry)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 dashes white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons rock sugar (I didn’t have any so I used brown sugar instead)
  • 1 tablespoon oil

4-5 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro

- Make your sauce: Mix all the ingredients for the Cantonese Style Steamed Fish Sauce in a small bowl and set aside.  Heat a small saucepan over medium to low heat.  Stir in the sauce and blend well.  Once the sauce starts to bubble and boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside to cool.
- In the bottom of a large baking dish (preferably one with a cover) that will fit the whole fish, strew the leeks, placing more in the middle.  Arrange a few of the lemon and ginger slices in the middle of the pan as well (leaving some to dress the actual fish).  This is where the fish will rest upon.
- Place the fish atop the leeks, ginger, and lemon.  Stuff the cavity of the fish with the remaining lemon.  Divide the remaining ginger between stuffing the cavity and laying on top of the fish.  I also like to take some of the cilantro sprigs (which we will use after the fish is cooked) and stuff those into the cavity as well.  Drizzle the fish with the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and the sesame oil.  Now look at the bottom of your pan.  We need to have enough liquid to coat the bottom of the pan/dish with an even layer, not a lot though.  Ideally you will have your fish raised up on the veg/aromatics and the bottom of the pan covered in a slick of just about 2 mm of liquid.
- Cover the baking dish and cook in a pre-heated 375F over for about 25 minutes (could be more or less) or until done (when the flesh flakes easy when pierced with a small knife).
- When the fish is done, lift it out of the baking dish and onto a serving platter.  Remove the ginger from the top of the fish.  Pile the green onions and cilantro on top of the fish.  Pour the Cantonese Style Steamed Fish Sauce over the whole lot and serve!

Bee’s original recipe calls for fish fillets, although she herself says that she loves steamed whole fish but that it is not easy to find even though she lives close to many Asian markets.  Another reason to count my blessings that I can find fresh whole fish fairly easily.  I have adjusted her recipe to take into account my whole fish.  So know that you can make this using fillets as well if you need to (she uses 750 grams fillet of red snapper, cod, or sea bass). 

The recipe above is further adjusted for steaming a fish in the oven – and I’m not actually sure you can even refer to it as steaming, although I do.  See, I don’t have a steamer big enough to fit a 1-kilo fish, and I’m thinking perhaps some of you may be in the same predicament.  This is the simple solution I turn to – the fish is cooked in the oven in a kind of “steamy bath”.  The key is to lay the fish on some aromatics to lift it off the surface of the pan, just a bit, you don’t have to set it atop a mountain, and then just make sure that there is enough liquid at the bottom of the pan to steam it.  You actually don’t need much.  I usually just make sure the bottom of the pan is covered in a thin layer of liquid.  Also, goes without saying, you need a cover to “trap” the steam.  You can use some tinfoil, tightly sealed, if your roasting pan doesn’t come with a cover.  I use this deep roasting tin with a high cover (we have actually cooked a turkey in there before) that I won for “best costume” at a Halloween party years ago (before the kids came around and my ability to dress as “naughty teacher” was not yet seriously compromised).  If you are lucky enough to have a big steamer then just do as above but on a deep plate in your steamer, then cook as you would on the stovetop.

We thoroughly enjoyed this version!  The fish was incredibly soft and succulent, and we made sure to remove the bones for the less experienced fish eaters at the table (little C and little H, who loved it as well).  I like to make sure that my children grow up seeing and eating fish on the bone, as I did.  Adding the sauce after the cooking gives the whole dish a cleaner look and sharper taste.  And the flavor of Bee’s sauce really hits the spot – like our favorite steamed fish dishes at the Chinese restaurants.  This recipe is a keeper and you can be sure I will be trotting this sauce out again and again (Bee uses it with oysters too!).  This was all that was left after C and I, and our two little ones, were done with it.

The weather is still glum in these parts but sunny dishes like these keep our spirits up!  Hope the weather is better where you are…if not, keep dry and, as always, deliciously fed! :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Asian Style Garlic Mushrooms

The wet pavement outside my window, the gray skies, the wind that ruffles the (few) trees on my city streets…these are the things that make me want to entrench myself in the kitchen and make things like soup and stews and braises.  I have a slab of pork belly in the freezer from a new purveyor that I am itching to roast long and slow, and to attempt to finally get the crackling right.  This weather makes me want to roast a whole chicken in my cast iron pot, tucked into a milk bath with some sage and lemon.  I want to make banana cake, or a messy apple galette, and eat this warm out of the oven.

These are the things that run through my head when the weather takes a melancholic turn. 

When, really, I should be thinking of (finally) getting some proper rain shoes…or paying more attention to remembering to stick an umbrella in my car.

Anyway.  Warming, slow-cooked, hearty meals will need to wait because one's workload does not necessarily listen to the weather reports.  Deliverables don’t realize that the rains just beg for a 7-hour shoulder of lamb to be lovingly cooked.  And as I rush back home to a mountain of emails, a grossly over-sized to-do list, and 30 minutes to get something on the table, I know (with much regret) that these drawn-out, dawdling dishes will just have to wait.

If you find yourselves in similar situations, as I know a lot of working mothers do, then this is for you.  It is a simple and easy (and delicious!) stir-fry that is ready in minutes.  It can be paired with almost anything.  And it can be later built upon to make other dishes.

Also, as a bonus, mushrooms still do seem like “rainy day” food, calling to mind wet forests and cozy hiding places.

Asian Style Garlic Mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 250 grams Shiitake mushrooms
  • 250 grams Oyster mushrooms
  • 250 grams Shimeji mushrooms
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • 1-1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • optional: sesame seeds for garnish

- Bring a skillet or wok to medium high heat.  When hot add the canola oil and swirl the pan.  Add the garlic to the pan and let this sauté a bit, just until they release their fragrance but before they brown. 
- Add the shiitake mushrooms to the pan and toss to coat with the garlicky oil.  Fry for a couple of minutes then add the oyster mushrooms.  Toss and fry for a couple minutes more then add the shimeji mushrooms.  The pan may seem dry, and if so just add a tablespoon or two of water.  And make sure to keep tossing the mushrooms around so they all get evenly cooked.
- When the mushrooms have softened, add the Chinese 5 spice and mix well.  Then add the soy sauce and sesame oil and mix thoroughly.  Remove from heat and garnish with sesame seeds if you have them around.

When I made this we had it with fried bangus (milkfish) on one day and as a side for steak on another.  But really, it can complement a plethora of dishes, or, on its own piled on some brown rice, or atop some soba noodles, maybe with a squirt of chili oil, serve as a tasty vegetarian main course. 

Another thing you can do, if things are extra busy, is make a double batch and use it throughout week in different dishes.  Here are some ideas:
- Heat some of the mushrooms with cream in a pan to turn it into a pasta sauce
- Fold some mushrooms into egg for a tasty omelet
- Pile on toast and top with a very runny fried egg and a drizzle of sriracha for a quick lunch
- Add it to some broth, along with some sliced vegetables and egg noodles for a comforting bowl of noodle soup
- Use them to top a salad
- Bulk up a veggie stir-fry with them
- Add to a pan of bistek Tagalog at the last minute
- Warm and pile onto bruschetta for surprise guests
- At the end of the week add it, along with other leftovers, to a big wok of fried rice!

These mushrooms are from the charming folk at the Ministry of Mushrooms, where I get most, if not all, of my fresh mushroom needs.  They deliver boxes of lovely mushrooms (you can choose a mix you like, or all one kind) right to your doorstep…need I say more?  If you are a busy human like me “we deliver” are magic words.  It’s also nice to support local purveyors.  Plus, their mushrooms are indeed fine, fine specimens.

Hope you are having a great week and that this recipe saves you a bit of time…time to do your nails, or have an extra game of tag with your little ones, or time to send off a blog entry!  One of these days I promise a slow-cooked something…until then this will have to do.