Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Turnip Cake Dim Sum



Who would have thought that one of my favorite dim sum, turnip cakes, was not made of turnips as we know them at all, but out of daikon radish? I received some beautiful fresh picked turnips in my CSA box last April, and was searching for recipes using turnips that my husband would enjoy. While a somewhat adventuresome eater, he is not a fan of the likes of parsnips, turnips, celery root and other “underground” vegetables. Remembering that we both enjoy turnip cakes, I turned to Google, and discovered this startling fact. That week, the turnips ended up in a mixed vegetable soup, and the recipe was filed away for use in my vegetable cooking class the following month.
The other day, while reading other food blogs, I began to crave dim sum. We live on the north coast of California, in a very small town, and our Chinese food is generally not prepared by Chinese cooks. It is approximately two hours one way to the closest dim sum restaurant, so prospects looked dim on a Thursday night. Then I remembered the recipe for turnip cakes. The ingredients were fairly simple to assemble, and the daikon was readily available at the local market. I substituted bacon for Chinese ham, and fish sauce for dried shrimp, as my husband is deathly allergic to shellfish in general and shrimp in particular. I also had no Shaoshing rice wine, but blended a little brandy with mirin and a touch of Chinese black vinegar for an acceptable replacement.
The recipe looks long and involved, but in reality, most of the time required is for cooking and cooling the cake itself. I started out around four, and we were eating a little after six. As with all stir fry dishes, it is important to prepare and assemble all of the ingredients in advance of the cooking, and place them conveniently close to the stove. Otherwise, you will be flying around the kitchen with one eye on the sizzling wok so as to grab the crucial missing item while not burning the contents of the pan.
For a dipping sauce, I combined equal parts sweet chili sauce and soy sauce. You can either choose to dip the individual bites, or drizzle the sauce around the cakes, as I did. The finished cakes were a little darker than ones I have enjoyed in dim sum restaurants, but I chalk that up to the fact that there was sugar in the mirin that built up on the wok while frying the mushrooms that was absorbed by the turnip as it cooked, darkening the strips to a medium brown instead of a creamy beige. However, the flavor was fabulous, and far more authentic than anything I could get locally. The also reheat beautifully in the microwave, and the texture remains good, even the next day.
Turnip Cakes (Law Bok Gow)
1 ½ cups white rice flour
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 thick slice bacon or pancetta
1 oz dried shrimp (or substitute 1 tsp fish sauce)
1 Chinese white turnip (what we know as daikon)
Peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Shaoshing wine
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, combine the rice flour and 1 ½ cups water and mix well until combined and smooth, set aside. Soak mushrooms in hot water until softened. In a separate bowl, repeat with the dried shrimp (if using). Blanch bacon in boiling water until softened. Remove and pat dry. Chop finely and set aside. Drain and chop mushrooms and shrimp, set aside. Peel turnip and slice into ½” slices. Fan slices and slice into ½” strips. Combine wine, soy sauce and fish sauce (if using) in a small bowl.
Heat oil in wok over high heat. Stir fry mushrooms (and shrimp, if using) until fragrant. Add wine mixture and stir fry until mushrooms are well coated. Add the bacon, cook for another 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. In the same wok, add more oil, and stir fry the turnip strips for 2-3 minutes. Pour in 2 cups water, place a lid on the wok, and steam until turnip is just cooked through and not mushy. Pour the hot turnip mixture into the bowl with the rice flour mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Add the bacon, shrimp, mushrooms and salt, stirring until everything is evenly distributed. 
Coat a round cake pan with pan spray or oil, and pour mixture in, tapping on the counter to remove bubbles and even up top surface. Steam in your wok, adding boiling water as necessary, for 30 minutes or until cake springs back when touched in the center and is firm throughout. Cool on a rack for about an hour.
Loosen the cake from the pan and invert onto a cutting board. Slice into 1” by 3” rectangles. Heat a film of oil in a non-stick skillet, and fry cakes, in batches, until golden brown on each side. Serve hot with your choice of oyster sauce, soy sauce or chili sauce.


Post by Julia Conway on October 30th, 2009

Putting Up Applesauce


The magical apple machine


One of my favorite fall chores is to take a box of our beautiful Mendocino Gravenstein apples and turn them into jars of applesauce. The Gravenstein is not a good keeping apple, and loses its crisp texture and incredible balance of sweet and tart flavors within a week or so of picking, even when stored under the best conditions. We get these apples here for about 4-6 weeks in mid August through late September, and while we eat as many as we can practically consume in that time period, I find myself craving the flavor in the darker months of winter when the only fruit on the store shelves are citrus and jet-setting bananas.
Peeling the apple 
One of the fun parts of making applesauce, aside from the tasting, of course, is using the apple peeling machine. This device resembles one of the pieces from the children’s game “Mousetrap,” and appears virtually unchanged from its original version, with the exception of the suction mechanism that allows me to mount it on the stainless steel countertop next to the sink. After setting the various blades and springs, an apple is speared, through the stem end, on the prongs. Turning the crank rotates the apple against the peeling blade while pushing the entire fruit through the coring and cutting blades. At the end of the process, you are left with spiral sliced fruit, a neat core containing stem and seeds, and yards of thin peels resembling a Halloween wig.
Apples in the kettle
After processing the entire box, the large kettle is full of the sliced apples, and I add several cups of water, some lemon juice to balance the sweetness, and whole nutmegs and stick cinnamon for flavor. The kettle is set over medium heat and stirred frequently to keep the fruit from sticking. The process of reducing the fruit to sauce consistency takes several hours, and the entire kitchen begins to smell reminiscent of apple pie. The only downside is that the open kettle occasionally spits small pieces of fruit in all directions, coating the backsplash and stovetop with sticky bits. 
Cooking down the sauce
When the fruit is cooked down, the entire mash is run through the same mill I use for making tomato sauce, removing any remaining skin, seeds or fibrous pulp. The smooth puree is transferred into the smaller kettle, and the rest is added to the cores and skins in the compost bin. The sauce is reheated to reduce and thicken, and tasted for last minute additions of either sugar or lemon. With Gravenstein apples, this is rarely needed, as they seem to have been bred to make the perfect applesauce.
Pot of finished sauce
The canning process is routine by this time; the same steps using in canning the tomato sauce. Care must be taken not to drip the lava-like sauce onto arms or hands while filling the hot jars. A Chinese chef once taught me to coat my hands and forearms with cooking oil before stir-frying in a hot wok; the theory being that the oil would prevent food splashes from sticking to the skin and causing serious burns. I have found that this is also very effective with canning fruit products, and leaves my hands soft as an added bonus.
Finished jars of sauce
At the end of the day, I settle on the couch with a glass of wine, hearing the soft ping of the jars sealing, one after another, as the contents cool. Another seasonal ritual enjoyed, another apple harvest completed, and another year of living in this beautiful and abundant place.
Post by Julia Conway on October 22nd, 2009