Wednesday, April 29, 2009

this just in: lemon squares fucking rule

it's inexplicably true. have you ever had a lemon square? if yes, then you surely must understand, and you probably utter the above statement two to three times a day, depending on how much time you spend around people who probably shouldn't hear expletives all that much. (ie. nuns and your mother, and even moreso if your mother happens to be a nun.) if you haven't, however, it's about goddamn time. get on the lemon square wagon before 2012 hits and we are totally out of lemons and sobbing all the time out of pure grief.

the lemon square wagon:
the crust:
-1/4 cup sugar
-5 T margarine
-1 cup flour (once again, wild hive local flour is awesome. use it!)

the filling:
-3 eggs (for each one, i used 2 tablespoons corn starch & 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk, mixed. making the grand total for this ingredient: 6 tablespoons corn starch and 6 tablespoons almond milk, all mixed up. you can use any egg substitute you'd like, though.)
-3/4 cup sugar (i used half brown rice syrup and half granulated sugar. maple syrup or agave might also be a nice sugar substitute in here.)
-the zest and juice of 2 or 3 lemons (2 if they're juicy, 3 if they're sort of dry)
-one teaspoon pure vanilla extract
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/8 teaspoon salt (i never measure when it comes down to that much of salt. just a few shakes should do you just fine.)
-3 tablespoons flour
-powdered sugar (optional. also can be made simply by blending up granulated sugar.)

here's what you do!

make your crust first. mash all the ingredients together until they are a coarse meal. press it into a 9 inch by 9 inch pan, or whatever pan you want to make lemon squares in. feel free to put it into a 9 inch by 13 inch pan and say "forget you, lady, i make my own rules." if you are unclear as to the measurements of your several pans, get out your favorite 7 inch record and measure proportionally.

put your pan with crust in it into an oven set to 350 degrees for a little while, until it has browned a tiny bit. work on the filling while this is happening!

for the filling, mix all the ingredients up, sans powdered sugar. if you are new to the world of "zesting," let me introduce you to the microplane!

the microplane and the lemon are pretty much best friends who hang out all the time, even when you specifically put your lemons in the fridge and store your microplane in a drawer. they find each other eventually, without your aid, and at first it's pretty creepy, but it gets endearing after a few frustrating times. just let them be together.

zest your lemons before you cut them and squeeze them, so you can have a firm grip on them. the microplane is basically a glorified rasp, but it really does the job. grate the lemon on the microplane over a bowl or plate, and focus on only grating off the outermost yellow layer. the white flesh underneath is bitter and should be avoided. basically, give your lemons a shave. they should be relatively white after you are finished, and you should have zest!:

mix all the ingredients together and pour them into the pre-baked crust. it might make a satisfying sizzling noise, and it will look something like this, except with your specific pan-shape:

let this bake at 350 degrees for a while. since all ovens differ, i won't suggest an average amount of time, but will say that you should just keep an eye on them. they will be done when the filling appears gelatinous and is no longer liquidy, and/or when a knife or poker can be inserted and removed cleanly. make sure the top does not burn, please.

when they are done, you can sprinkle that optional powdered sugar on top. garnishing with fresh lemon slices might be nice, too? when they cool, slice them up and offer them to everyone you see, construct a makeshift wagon to transport them around town in (you can call this the lemon square wagon and insist non-literally that people "get on" it), and just eat the freaking things because they rule. you will be covered in powdered sugar, and will have never been happier.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

bao dumplings and hot & sour soup:

satisfying the human need to eat things that look like little pillows, accompanied by a spicy soup.

as i am often on the look-out for meals that require somewhat elaborate preparation and will look spiffy on the plate, baos have always been something i've lusted after. veganism largely prohibits me from ingesting them anywhere i can find them made, so i am usually left to just lo
ok at them savagely and make questionably violent comments at them (ie. "someday you'll be mine" and "you haven't seen the last of me, bao!") this being said, i decided to finally venture into the world of baos, and construct my own. with cheryl as my trusty co-chef, this is how it all went down.

the bao recipe we used & modified to our liking:
-1/4 cup sweetener (we used half cane sugar and half amber agave nectar)
-one tablespoon yeast
-1 1/4 cup warm water
-three tablespoons oil
-three cups flour (we used local wild hive all purpose flour)

first: mix the water, yeast, and sugar together.
second: mix the flour and the oil in a separate bowl.
then: mix both and knead*.

(*cheryl is the dough-master, as far as i'm concerned. she is always the one in charge when we have to make any sort of dough for bread, potstickers, and in this case, baos. she uses her expert judgement on when the dough is kneaded enough, and if she needs to add any liquid or flour to it to make it the right consistency, but if you don't have a cheryl with you i would say that you
should either find one as soon as possible, or just give it your all.)

next: form the dough into a nice round, and cover it with a bag or a moist towel, or anything that will facilitate its rising and keep it moist. let it sit for ten to fifteen minutes until it has risen.
and then: after it is done rising, you will have a nice little ball of dough that should look something like this:

doesn't that look great? well, outside from the shoddy lighting? i am in the process of thinking about maybe possibly perhaps building a custom light box studio for photographing food inside, because, hey, let's face it. the lighting in most kitchens looks like hell. and camera flashes take all the smallest intricacies out of food photography, right? it is absolutely necessary to capture every single fold of phyllo dough in spanakopita, so why settle for anything less? more on the custom light box as it comes.

back to the dough:
after it has risen, roll it out into somewhat of a log shape. then cut circles out of it, about an inch thick, and roll them out into circles, as thick as you think you want. a word of warning, however: the thicker the bao dough, the longer it will take to steam. so! some good middle ground. not potsticker-thin, not pizza dough-thick. If you happen to own Ariel, a book of poems by Sylvia Plath, the Perennial edition for accuracy, I believe that the thickness of that volume is about how thick the dough circles should be. And if you don't have immediate access to Ariel, go pick one up at your local library while you're out buying flour, cigarettes, or maybe the cheapest paper that has a crossword puzzle in it because nothing says a satisfying Friday night-in like completing a crossword puzzle while your faithful baos are sweating in the steamer.

after you've rolled out your dough circles, you need to fill them with...well, something! baos are most commonly filled with meats and savory things like that, but i'm on the vegan track with these, so there was and is room for experimentation!

my filling ended up being comprised of:
-3 shredded carrots
-1/4 head of red cabbage, shredded
-3 scallions
-a handful of chopped cilantro
-half a red pepper, chopped
-1/3 block of extra firm tofu, cut up haphazardly (optional: see note below)
-splashes of hot pepper sesame oil
-splashes of bragg's liquid aminos
-salt & pepper to taste
-chopped up fresh ginger to taste
-lemon juice to taste
-sesame seeds

a moment to talk about soy & veganism: there is research all over the freaking place proving/hypothesizing that soy is incredibly damaging on many levels when consumed in mass-quantity, often how vegetarians and vegans are taught and accustomed to eating it. i won't lecture on it, but just wanted to mention that it is definitely worth looking into and drawing your own conclusion from all the information to be found on it. it is even easy to avoid soy as a vegan, by replacing a lot of the staple milks with those of the rice, almond, help, and coconut variety (same with ice cream!), and tofu & tempeh with seitan and more complete proteins. i have limited my soy intake to sparing amounts, having it usually every one or two weeks other than as a condiment (soy sauce, soy butter, which i realize are also things to be avoided) and used it in this recipe, although it is not at all a necessity.

after you've made the filling (add and subtract as you'd like!!), begin to stuff the bao dough circles. put a heaping tablespoon (or however much fits in your dough circle) in the middle and fold the dough around it so that it looks like a little satchel, or like these:

make sure that you flour the place that you are keeping them, so they don't stick to it, as they are fairly delicate little creatures. i started the process of folding them up, and then nick took over while i started to steam them and work on the soup! having pals around to help during these processes can speed things up and make everything more fun.

after you have made all your baos, heat up a steamer, put olive oil on it so they don't stick, and steam them until they are firm (not doughy anymore) and have a bit of a glazed look to them. this takes a while, depending on the size of your steamer, and i recommend doing that crossword puzzle you bought while you're steaming them in shifts, but i came in and out of watching Mister Lonely while steaming, a film i highly recommend, albeit one i should rewatch, as i missed 5-minute increments here and there.

all steamed? all done! now, on to the soup.

it is not a bad idea to get the soup done first so that you can concentrate on the baos, and just re-heat the soup when you are ready to eat. the soup is relatively fast and easy to make, at least comparatively to the baos. it is a perfect companion in that way: easy, sure-fire delicious, and great to dip or float the finished baos in. it is also a recipe that i hold near and dear to my heart in the way that: most people fall in love with it upon tasting it, and nearly every time i order hot & sour soup at a restaurant, i can't help but find it inferior. (exception: pure city's hot and sour soup) i swear it's so fast to make that i didn't even get a chance to take any pictures of the process. so, here's the recipe!

-four cups vegetable broth
-three tablespoons soy sauce or bragg's liquid aminos
-half cup (or to your liking) mushrooms- shittake, portabella, white, straw, whatever you've got!
-1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
-1/2 tablespoon garlic chili sauce (i usually use more, which makes this soup sniffle-city)
-1/4 cup white vinegar
-two tablespoons of corn starch mixed with two tablespoons of cold water. (could substitute arrowroot or ener-g egg replacer for this: equivalent of one egg.)
-a bunch of diced scallions, to your liking
-1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sesame oil or just sesame oil, or 1/2 teaspoon olive oil with a splash of soy sauce
-veggies! this means bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, cabbage, baby corn, lemongrass, tofu, cilantro, parsley, red peppers, whatever you are feeling like throwing in! i highly recommend at least the cilantro, baby corn, and bamboo shoots, however.

the process:
-bring your broth to a simmer in a saucepan.
-add the soy sauce/bragg's, mushrooms, and garlic chili sauce. stir.
-simmer for five minutes.
-add the pepper, white vinegar, and veggies. stir.
-simmer for five minutes.
-add the cornstarch/water mixture. stir.
-add an additional one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon of water, mixed together.
-add the scallions and sesame oil.
-continue heating until ready to eat!

when both are done, serve and eat! it is hours after you began! wonderful! garnish the soup with some fresh cilantro and some sesame seeds. watch the rest of mister lonely while you feast, or finish that dang crossword puzzle. i made a dipping sauce for the baos by mixing soy sauce, hot pepper sesame oil, and sesame seeds. i would highly suggest a bottle of chilled semi-dry white wine with this meal: a chardonnay or riesling would go splendidly. or go to your local wine store and see what they suggest!

other suggestions to add/experiment with your bao fillings: add peanut butter, coconut milk, various mock-meats or seitan? experiment with the sweet and savory aspects they can bring out, and i highly encourage making various dipping sauces as well. i also would mess around with the sweetener in the dough: the 1/4 cup seemed to be a little much in the end, so maybe half of that would be good?