Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lovely Lemon Cakes (Game of Thrones)

I'm a huge fan of HBO's Game of Thrones ... and an even bigger fan of the original book series by George R. R. Martin. If you've read the series, you know that food is sort of a "recurring character." Many times, GRRM's descriptions of the lavish feasts that the characters partake in have caused some near-drooling experiences. In fact, a couple of fans have gone so far as to create a food blog based on the series!

Lemon Cakes

I am not quite that ambitious. But when I saw that HBO had actually released a recipe for lemon cakes (based on a recipe by Tom Colicchio), a favorite treat throughout Westeros, particularly enjoyed by Sansa Stark, well... I had to give it a try.

Guess what? They're delish. Light, sweet, and creamy. Though the recipe seems to indicate that they should be served warm, I actually preferred them once they'd chilled in the fridge over night.

I used slightly larger ramekins than was called for, so my lemon cakes look shorter and flatter. They're actually quite small. What I love about them is that after baking, they layer themselves. When you unmold, you should see that a cake layer has formed at the "bottom," with a creamy middle, topped by an almost jelly-like top. These layers are more visible when you use a small ramekin, so that they're given some height. Still, even in my shorter versions you can see that there are layers. I garnished mine for aesthetic purposes, but they don't really need it.

"Gods be true, Arya, sometimes you act like such a child," Sansa said. "I'll go by myself then. It will be ever so much nicer that way. Lady and I will eat all the lemon cakes and just have the best time without you."

The HBO recipe is extremely concise and isn't big on detail. I sort of muddled through it, hoping the right things were happening, but it wasn't until the end that I knew I'd done it correctly. I've tried to make their recipe clearer with my adaptation below.

Lovely Lemon Cakes (adapted from HBO's recipe)

  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for dusting ramekins
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 3 tbsp plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Finely chopped zest of 1 1/2 lemons
  • 1 kettle hot water
  1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Butter and lightly sugar 6 4-ounce ramekins. Also, set a kettle of water to boil.
  2. Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then set them aside. Make sure you've caught all the whites that may have settled to the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Sift the sugar with the flour and salt.
  4. In a mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, egg yolks and lemon zest.
  5. Gradually add the flour mixture, until combined.
  6. Fold in the egg whites. The resulting mixture may not look fully homogeneous; that's OK.
  7. Divide the batter between the prepared ramekins.
  8. Pour the kettle of hot water into a large pan with raised sides (be careful!).
  9. Place the ramekins into the hot water bath, making sure that the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and carefully place the pan into the oven.
  10. Bake until the cakes rise and are almost firm, about 25 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until the tops are lightly golden and the cakes spring back when touched, about 15 minutes more.
  11. Unmold and serve immediately, or unmold and chill in the fridge until ready to eat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New York Steak and Quick-Roasted Potatoes

It's been a busy time at work for me, so cooking elaborate (or even not-so-elaborate) meals for myself has definitely not been a possibility. That's why I'm here to tell you about one of my favorite "quick" meals, which can be prepared in about 30 minutes. I know, I know, Jamie Oliver can prepare a 4-course meal in that amount of time, but I'm no Jamie Oliver. I do, however, take advantage of his trick with quick-roasted potatoes to make this meal!

New York Steak and Quick-Roasted Potatoes

First, I want to share my favorite way of preparing great steak in your oven. It's actually my dad's method, and if grilling's out, this is the next-best thing, especially because it's not fussy at all. First, marinate your steak. I basically rub sugar, seasoned salt, pepper, and soy sauce over both sides, then let it sit in a baggie or on a plate. When you're ready, stick the steak on a pan -- I used cast iron this time -- and place it directly under your broiler. Turn it up to about 450°F, or "high." You do not need to preheat (I know, isn't it awesome?). For a steak about an inch thick, cook for about 8 minutes. Flip the steak over, then cook for another 6 minutes for medium rare steak, or until the meat is how you'd like it. Note that cooking times will also vary depending on the thickness of your steak and if you use cast iron. If you do use cast iron, it may cook a lot faster, so you'll want to adjust times accordingly. Once the steak is out of the oven, transfer it to a plate and let it sit for 5 minutes to allow the juices to settle.

New York Steak

While the steak is marinating, make the quick-roasted potatoes a la Jamie Oliver. Quarter 6-8 red potatoes. If the potatoes are large, cut them into sixths or even eighths. Place them in a deep pan and cover with water. Turn the heat up to high and get the water boiling. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender enough for a fork to pierce them easily. Drain the water. Return the potatoes in the pan back to the stove over medium heat. Add some canola or olive oil, salt to taste, and about a tablespoon of butter. Cook for 2 minutes. Use a metal turner and stir up the potatoes without breaking them. They may stick a bit; that's good, it means they'll be turning nice and brown. Turn them every 2 minutes. Depending on your heat, this will take 20-25 minutes. If you've timed things right, they should be done about the same time as the steak.

Quick-Roasted Potatoes

You can also fancy things up a bit, if you like ... for instance, I had some homemade herb butter, so I placed a dab of that on top of the steak when it was having its rest. I also had some cherry tomatoes I needed to use up and some caramelized onions I'd made the other day, so I threw those in with the potatoes in the last 5 minutes or so.

And don't let those steak drippings go to waste; that would be a crime! Transfer them to a small pan (or if you used a cast-iron pan, just use that) and set over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of flour and cook for a minute or two, stirring. Gradually add about a cup and a half of beef stock (in my case, made in 30 seconds with Better than Bouillon beef base), stirring constantly, for a wonderfully rich brown gravy. Serve with steak and potatoes or reserve for another use!

A very quick, delicious, and satisfying meal.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Restaurant-Style Cha-Siew

You may or may not remember that I was not thrilled with my first attempt at "cha-siew," Cantonese-style BBQ pork. My primary issue with the recipe was that the sauce, while good, caused the meat to have more of a soy-sauce flavor, when more authentic cha-siew has more of a sweet flavor. I also wanted to create acceptable results with an oven (rather than a grill).

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

To that end, I adapted a few recipes I found online and made various adjustments to achieve the results I wanted -- with great success! I'm happy to say that this attempt resulted in cha-siew that is very close to version you'd get in a Cantonese BBQ restaurant.

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

Proper cha-siew is traditionally made with maltose, which is malt sugar. According to Wikipedia, it's half as sweet as glucose and one-sixth as sweet as fructose. If you only needed sweetness, maltose might not be necessary, but it also adds a very specific sheen and gloss that substitutes like honey just can't duplicate. The texture of maltose is extremely thick -- it's about ten times thicker than honey; it's hard to get a spoon into it, and when you pull it out, it peaks and hardens very quickly. So if you can find it, I'd recommend using it over a substitute. I found a small tub of maltose next to the honey at my local 99 Ranch.

Cha Siew - Chinese BBQ Pork

The first time I made cha-siew, I used pork leg. This time, I used pork butt (which is a cut from the shoulder... yeah, I don't know how these names happen). They both worked fine, though if pushed I'd say I liked the leg better. Maybe. Anyway, either works fine. Just don't use pork loin, which is less tender and flavorful, and less forgiving when you cook it.

Restaurant-Style Cha-Siew

  • 1lb pork butt or leg, sliced horizontally into 1 1/2-inch hunks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2½ tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maltose (or honey if you must)
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rose wine ("mui guay lo")
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 6 drops red food coloring (optional)

  1. Wash the pork and remove skin and really large chunks of fat.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except for the pork and the food coloring. Heat the marinade only until the sugar (and maltose, if using) dissolves. If it gets too hot, cool it to room temperature. Add food coloring, if using.
  3. Put the pork in a container that fits it snugly (I just used the plastic bag that it came in from the butcher's), then pour the marinade on top. Let this marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Try to ensure that all the surface areas get some marinade.
  4. Remove the pork from the fridge about 40 minutes before cooking, to allow it to return to room temperature.
  5. Preheat the oven to 410°F.
  6. Line a roasting pan with foil (for easy clean up). Place a wire rack on top of the foil. Lay the pork on the rack. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Pour the marinade into a medium saucepan, remove the chunks of garlic and heat to boiling, then keep simmering at a low heat to reduce the sauce. It's been sitting with raw pork so you want to make sure to kill all the microbes. Dirty foam will float to the top; skim this off and discard.
  8. After roasting for 15 minutes, baste the pork with the marinade and turn it over. Reduce the heat to 360°F and roast for another 15 minutes. (If you chose to use tenderloin despite my dire warning not to, it might be done now.)
  9. Baste the pork without turning and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. In the last 4 minutes, put the pork under the broiler, 2 minutes for each side, basting each time. That will give it a nice, pretty charred look that's characteristic of cha-siew.
  10. Remove the pork from the oven. By now the foil will be covered with raised black bits and you'll be very glad you used it. Baste both sides of the meat again with the reduced sauce, and let it sit on the wire rack for 10 minutes undisturbed before slicing. Serve with the sauce.