Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Home Cooking - Scallops and Bread Baking

As soon as my parents step into my place, my 'nesting' Asian instincts kick in. It's got to be instinctual from centuries ago because as 'Americanized' as I am, I still get the urge to stuff my guests with food and drink as soon as they have their shoes off. (No shoes on the white carpet!) I spent an entire day with my parents recently, and after we spent the day talking, shopping for food, and enjoying the sunshine, we came back to my place for dinner.

My move into my place has been gradual, and therefore, so has the slowly-increasing quality of my meals. The christening meal was a Korean bbq heavily reliant on banchan (side dishes) from a nearby Korean grocery store. I added dessert crepes, sushi, ginger crab, and Irish Cream-laced hot chocolate to that list as time went by, but I don't think I ever came out with a multi-course dinner. I've never been too good with the multi-tasking, especially when it comes to getting everything out at the same time, and hot.

Last Sunday night, however, I can say that I tried my best to expand my cooking repertoire. Most of it was done on the fly, which meant that it wasn't exactly the restaurant-quality I was hoping for, unfortunately.

I started out the evening with some goregously plump, meat-juice oozing pot stickers (guo-teh, pardon my Romanization) straight from the freezer, into the frying pan. First browned with oil, and then steamed/simmered in water until all of it evaporated, they were hot and juicy, with crispy-chewy skins that were liberally coated with flavoring that seeped out from the dumplings while they were cooking. Sorry, no pictures because they tumbled into our hungry tummies before the camera could document them.

At Ranch 99, I came across a newcomer in the sauce aisle. Asian food manufacturers have quickly latched onto the idea of food efficiency (customer laziness and lack of time) and are continuously releasing new foods that mean shortcuts in the kitchen. A bottle that looked like unagi sauce caught my eye; turns out that it was vegetable stock concentrate! It ironically boasts a 'hearty, meaty' flavor although it's made from all vegetables, which highly amused me. It worked as a marketing technique, however; I clung to the bottle to show my parents, and shortly after that, it mysteriously found its way into my shopping basket. I haven't had a lot of time to cook recently, so I'm willing to try shortcuts.

And this shortcut was a (rare) winner! A few teaspoons of the dark brown liquid concentrate went into 4-5 cups of water, and after it came to a boil, I added in five large Napa cabbage leaves (roughly chopped), diamond slices of pan-fried fishcake, a few shreds of ginger, and a fistful of separated enoki mushrooms. The vegetable broth had a surprisingly good flavor and I couldn't tell it was vegetable-based at all, but I think the fishcake lent a welcome hint of seafood flavor to it. Light yet flavorful, this was the simplest soup I've ever made AND enjoyed.

Remember I mentioned pan-fried fishcake? Well, here's its sibling of pan-fried fish balls. Don't wrinkle your nose, they really are delicious, with the oil enhancing the mild, meaty flavor and springy texture. Addictive, really. These come browned, by the way, and are much better for pan re-heating than the white, raw-looking ones that make their best appearances in soups.

Lo bok go (turnip cake) consists of a few humble ingredients (the basics being turnip, rice flour, salt, and water) that transform magically into a filling, savory treat of smooth mouthfuls with a subtle resiliance, and surrounded with a uniformly crispy crust. Lightly dipped into a sweet hoisin sauce, this dim sum restaurant-regular tastes simply gorgeous.

I'm a scallop newbie. I couldn't tell you much about how to cook scallops except that any more than ten minutes of cooking for the large variety (these are the size of golfballs) will result in almost-inedible rubber balls. A friend gifted me with a Fukien (Chinese) cookbook from Taiwan, which I roughly used for the creation of this dish. I don't blame my failure on the book, however, because I think I would have had better results if I followed the recipe more closely. I rinsed the raw scallops and placed them on a bed of Napa cabbage leaves. A mixture of rice wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce (I should have added much more, but I was afraid I would end up with scallops that were browned instead of pristine white.), and sugar was dribbled on top of each scallop, and green scallion and ginger shreds were sprinkled lightly over.

Into the boiling-water steamer they went, and eight minutes they came out as pictured above. They looked like the dish I was envisioning, but when it came to eating them, they had far too heavy of a wine flavor, and so bland that I would have never known that salt/sauce had even been added to them. Alas, an expensive experiment with mediocre results... I'll try again another time, but if anyone has any tips, I'd gladly welcome them!

So, all in all, dinner was acceptable; not amazing, but not abysmal. However, the cooking experiments weren't over yet!

I have many toys that have never been used, including a bread maker. Now don't go thinking, "Oh, she's one of those lazy people who fell into the fad of easy-to-make but not fantastic-tasting breads". After all, a bread maker can't even make an alluring golden-brown crust, but instead produces an anemic-looking soft-ish loaf. However, the sole redeeming quality of a bread maker is that it has multiple functions. Including a 'dough' function!

I've kneaded bread. Some say it's therapeutic. I agree, but sometimes you just want instant-gratification bread without the arm work! And this is where the bread maker comes in.

In goes the flour, milk/water, butter, salt, sugar, and yeast.... and out comes a beautifully-risen, gluten-elastic, downy dough! Then you can play with your dough (the grown-up substitute to Play-Doh) so that you don't feel guilty for not having any part in its creation. Don't worry, you'll feel more delight than guilt, after a few minutes. Punch it, roll it, pull it apart. Just don't drop it~ At this point, you can pat it into a loaf pan and bake it the traditional way in the oven, braid it into a loaf and bake on a cookie sheet (let the dough rise from your meddling, before baking)... or do a 360 degree turn to satisfy the spontaneous craving of your mother.

She's not the type that enjoys to cook, so most of my kitchen toys are first-time marvels for her. I loved seeing her child-like enthusiasm as she cranked my near-frictionless flour sifter, and poked happily at the Pillsbury doughboy-like dough. As she poked and marveled aloud, she was reminded of steaming, thick cinnamon rolls for $.40 from her childhood. And so the white bread dough became an impromptu cinnamon roll stand-in, with the addition of some melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

Thirty-five minutes and a quickly-whipped-up frosting of milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract later, we had our lightly sweetened cinnamon rolls. They turned out to be more glorified cinnamon bread than sinful cinnamon stickiness, and considering that we made nine rolls instead of a loaf of bread, I think we ingested at least two servings of bread per roll... But at least it was a lot healthier than Cinnabon's artery-cloggers! (which I also enjoy, but are too sugar and fat-saturated for my mom's taste)

It made for a lovely, relaxing evening of cooking, but next time I think I'll focus on recipes a little more closely, and keep my intuition in the background. I'm still in the learning stage of cooking, working my way to mastery(!)

And... the vegetable broth that I acquired from Ranch 99. The bottle says something like a 1:80 concentrate dilution ratio, but I just like pouring it straight (cautiously) into water and tasting until it's the right saltiness. :) It's not a complete broth on its own, but makes a wonderful base for anything else. Sure beats making vegetable stock from scratch! (not that I've ever tried)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great pics and narrative. What's the brand name and name of the concentrated vege broth you picked up at 99 Ranch Market? Would you have a pic of it. I would like to pick one up and try it. Sounds like a keeper.......lance

2:13 PM  
Blogger foodie said...

I'll take a pic when I get home tonight~ :) Thanks for coming by the blog! It needs some clean-up work (archiving, entries cut into 'spoilers' that you can click on for the entire entry, etc.), but I hope that you visit again! (I'm still trying to figure out people's identities/names, which blog is yours? I know I've heard your name before, but I can't remember with respect to which website.) *^_^*

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for checking on the vegetable stock concentrate from 99 Ranch Market. Will be looking forward to seeing the pic and trying the stock. I have no food blog. I'm just a beginner who's very happy to have the opportunity to learn about ingredients and cooking from all you good food bloggers who's very kind to share. Thank you very much -lance

2:46 PM  
Blogger foodie said...

Oh, okay, I must have seen your name from comments you left in other blogs then. :) I'm guessing that you live in CA, since you have access to Ranch 99? That store and Lion Market (and the Japanese Mitsuwa) are my most-frequented grocery stores. Except for milk.. that I get at a regular grocery store. ;)

I appended the picture to the end of the post~ :)

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good guess, but I live in Hawaii. Hopefully the 99 Ranch Market here carried the vegetable broth as well. Will let you know. Probably look for it this weekend. Mahalos, lance

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That vegetable broth must be a new product. I couldn't find it at Hawaii's 99 Ranch Market. Hopefully it'll be here in time. I found another interesting thing, though. Vegetarian fish sauce made from soy products.

11:02 AM  
Blogger foodie said...

sorry to hear you couldn't get the veggie broth! yeah, I think it's a newcomer to the store.. hopefully you get it soon~ In the meantime, how's the soy-based sauce? That sounds interesting!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous kim said...

WOW!!!!! so delicious! beautiful pictures and amazing cooking. i love cooking for friends and fam. and stuffing people. :-)

10:39 AM  
Blogger foodie said...

Kim, thanks! Sorry I didn't see your comment until now; I need to set up something that shows when/where new comments are made. Yeah, food is definitely something to share in a social setting! Not to mention then you can try more (calorie-laden) things without feeling too guilty. ;)

11:09 AM  

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