Sunday, March 22, 2009

Going Bananas

Banana consumption is unpredictable chez nous -- some weeks, everyone gobbles them up and they are gone in a flash, but other weeks, no one gives them a second glance.

And since most of us here are fond of slightly green bananas, no one touches them once the little brown spots start appearing.

The last couple of weeks have been stay-away-from-bananas days, apparently. And I had quite a few very, very ripe and almost too-black bananas waiting to be tossed into the compost pile. What a shame, they must be made into something!

I pulled out my More from Magnolia book and found a recipe for banana cake and set about baking the cake when my brother-in-law and his son came over to drop off Hubby's father for a visit.

A nice, moist, amazingly delicious banana cake (you don't want to know how much butter is in there!) and a light and tasty white chocolate and cream cheese frosting to top it off.

I didn't want to make it too fancy, so I made it in a 8 x 13 inch pan, instead of two 9 inch circles that the recipe calls for, and baked a single layer cake with frosting, rather than a double layer with frosting in the middle and all around.

It's a great recipe and everyone agreed. Even the usually very contrary little visitor seemed to agree and happily took home a large section of it to share with his mother and sister.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't Call the Whole Thing Off

You say, "chong yu bing," I say, "negi-mochi"..... Perhaps you know them as Chinese green onion pancakes.

Call them what you will, they are delicious.

The Kid loves the negi-mochi served at one of our favorite Japanese/Chinese dumpling joint and he can probably eat the entire order himself, if we let him.

How hard can they be to make? On a whim, I decided to have a go at one of these flaky, chewy, amazingly delicious snacks after the children were safely in bed.

Once I started rolling out the dough and heating up some oil for frying, I spied a little shadow by the kitchen door.

The Kid sheepishly revealed that he heard a rumor that there was negi-mochi being made in the kitchen and that he was actually SOOOO hungry even though he finished two plates of food for dinner PLUS a huge fruit plate for dessert.

Lucky for him, since he asked so politely, he got to pull up his chair by the kitchen counter to watch me roll out the little pancakes and graciously volunteered to be my taste tester.

The first one, I made according to the recipe. Nothing like what we've had at restaurants -- not flaky enough and too healthy, not enough oil.

The second one, folded a few extra times for extra flakiness. Still not right.

The third one, folded twice and cooked in extra oil. The Kid gave me a half thumbs up.

Fourth one -- about the same. "Mama, they are getting better and better each time!"

After that, The Kid was sent to bed and I put the rest of the dough in the fridge.

Today, I fried some up for The Kid's lunch. The dough was so much more chewier, the flakiness was just right (two folds) and the extra oil made them crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

Yummmmm....


Negi-Mochi

Ingredients:

-2 cups flour
-1/2 cup boiling water
-1/3 cup cold water
-4 tablespoons sesame oil
-1/2 chopped green onions
-
1 teaspoon salt
-generous amount of oil for pan frying

Directions:
1. Mix flour and boiling water.
2. Add cold water and mix until flour is well incorporated.
3. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Add more cold water as necessary.
4. Cover and let dough rest for at least 15 minutes.
5. Pour sesame oil in a small bowl and have a small pastry brush ready.
6. Divide dough into 10 pieces and roll each into a ball.
7. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 6" circle and brush each circle with sesame oil.
8. Roll oiled circle like a jellyroll, then coil it into a snail shape.
9. Flatten the coiled "snail" with your hand first, then roll it into a 5" circle with the rolling pin.
10. Brush sesame oil on the circle again, sprinkle some salt and about 1 teaspoon of green onions.
11. Roll oiled circle like a jellyroll again and coil it into a snail shape.
12. Flatten the "snail" again and roll out into a 5" circle.
13. Carefully fry in hot oil at medium high heat for about 2 minutes each side.

You can fry them in as little oil as you like to make it healthy or a lot of oil to make it as authentic as possible. I suggest going all out with the oil, just don't eat too many of them....

IF
you can resist.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Carbs, Carbs, Glorious Carbs!

Oh, the irony of being on the South Beach Diet while baking so much the past few weeks!

I think it's my way of reconnecting with myself, gathering back together my scattered sanity, after a few months of everyone being sick in this household.

First, the lemon bread, then the ying-yang cookies and last week, I made soft pretzels with the little guy on a particularly difficult day when he was so sick, couldn't sleep and wouldn't stop crying crocodile tears unless I held him on my lap.

I cycled through so many activities to keep him entertained and at one point, rather than playing with Play-Doh and reminding him not to eat it every five minutes, I opted to make some soft pretzels with him. Once we put the dough together, I gave him his very own piece of dough to play with while I shaped some germ-free dough into mini-pretzels.

The little guy had a great time kneading his little bit of dough, rolling it around on our pastry board and eventually rolling it all over the kitchen floor while making sure all the dust and dog hair he found was nicely incorporated.


The pretzels (minus the one covered with bits of dessicated food and dog hair) turned out great.

And I will admit that I tasted one... or maybe two.

To heck with South Beach! A woman needs a bit of carbs to maintain her sanity.

[Recipe here -- from MarthaStewart.com]


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Finding Balance

What do you do when you have a sick baby and a bored, yet-to-be-sick older child quarantined at home?

Bake, of course!

If the screaming baby keeps you from reaching Nirvana, we could at least try for some balance.

How about some Ying-Yang cookies (recipe here)?


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Story of Frank's Steak

Growing up, I watched my mom, the wife of a Japanese "salaryman," entertain many of my dad's colleagues at our home over the years.

Japanese love beef and when they go overseas, many expect to be served beef. And when we lived in the US where beef was readily available, she made an effort to serve up beef for company.

One beef dish she often served, she called, "Frank steak."

It's beef that is marinated overnight in a lot of grated ginger, soy sauce and massive amounts of sake, grilled to perfection, served in nice thick slices. It's delicious.

As kids, we would stand around the kitchen as she sliced and plated it up for company, in hopes that she would give us the end pieces.

I never really thought much about why it was called "Frank steak." I had assumed that a famous American man named Frank invented the recipe -- not really realizing that soy sauce, sake and ginger weren't exactly mainstream here in the US in the early 70's.

I also thought that she meant to call it "Frank's steak" but assumed her English wasn't good enough....?

Then I went off to college and asked Mom for the "Frank steak" recipe, I found out that the cut of beef was flank steak.

Oh, got it. In Japanese, "Flank" and "Frank" are the same.

I still make "Frank steak" after all these years and my boys really enjoy it. And I chuckle at the thought of what my mother would have called it had it been "Frank's Flank steak."


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Pasta that Wasn't

Sometime ago, a friend who was dealing with oh-so-fun gestational diabetes reminded me about shirataki -- a Japanese noodle made from konnyaku (from the yam family) -- which is carb-free and extremely low calorie.

We eat this often in hot pots and stews, but I had forgotten about shirataki as a pretend-pasta noodles without any carbs.

Recently, when I serve up pasta with meat sauce for the family, I find myself feeling a little deprived, eating pasta sauce over steamed broccoli and cauliflower.... For me, there's a lot of comfort in diving into a huge bowl of piping hot pasta. I miss that. A LOT.

But since my friend reminded me of shirataki, I did a little research and I found this. Apparently, the konnyaku industry has been catering quite a bit to dieters such as myself and I've found a few websites who sell this stuff. You can read more details about it here.

Luckily, I found the new "pasta type" shirataki at my local Japanese food market and gave it a try last night while everyone else was enjoying their bowls of delicious carbs with meat sauce.

Hmmmm.

A big "Meh!" is my opinion.

Don't get me wrong, the shirataki itself is as it should be -- it tastes like shirataki. The texture is shirataki and not pasta, of course, so it's like chewy jello. They did a really good job trying to make it look like fettuccine by mixing it with tofu and getting the color and dimensions right.

But eating shirataki noodles with meat sauce? It didn't really hit the spot.

But after some thought, I realized what it needed was a more Asian type sauce to complement the strong shirataki "presence" (the flavor and chewy texture) and today, I mixed it up with a special cod roe spaghetti sauce we often use in Japan.

Now, I know that if you aren't Asian, your first reaction isn't going to be "Yum! I can't wait to have that COD ROE on my pasta!" But the stuff is pretty good in a caviar kind of way -- perhaps better because there's some butter in it.

I thought the sauce complemented the shirataki noodles a lot better than the meat sauce. And inspired me to try stir frying it like you would Chinese chow fun. Well, next time.

So, the shirataki fettuccine isn't really going to work as a pasta substitute for me -- it would make me too sad to pretend that it's pasta because it really is nothing like it. But with the appropriate sauces, I think it can be enjoyed as a healthy, carb-free shirataki dish and possibly, we'll find out, pretend-chow fun.

And when you're on the South Beach Diet, that's a great thing.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lemons, Lemons, Lemons!!

We had a huge crop of lemons this year and The Kid squeezed so many to make batches and batches of lemonade. The kids really enjoyed it.

But now it was time for something more.

Now that the baby is 18 months and a lot more independen
t, I've been able to manage half an hour or so in the kitchen without interruptions -- just enough time for very simple baking projects.

This lemon bread recipe is simple and delicious and it can be multiplied easily. What's best about this recipe is that both of the kids can help out (which means everything takes twice as long!) and the end result is just as good as I made it myself.

They love it.

A few days ago, I quadrupled the recipe to make enough for The Kid's teachers at school.

They were a hit.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Small Accomplishment

Call this a simple accomplishment, but an accomplishment nonetheless.

After years of experimentation, I've finally perfected my gyoza pan frying skills (or often shrimp and pork wontons in our household).

Look at this crunchy on the bottom and soft and chewy on the top goodness!


The secret is to boil/steam them for a few minutes in a frying pan (a good non-stick pan is an absolute necessity), drain the remaining water and then add the oil. I make sure to unstick the gyozas from the pan when I add the oil and keep moving the pan until there's a nice crunchy crust.

Shrimp and pork wontons are my go-to food or slacker dinner. I can pan fry them, deep fry them, boil them or put them in soups, so they are versatile and the kids love them.

I like to make a couple hundred of them and freeze them when I have time -- not an easy thing to find these days, but possible every once in a while.