Nailing it on Pinterest – Sweet Sweet Potatoes

The most popular, most liked, and most pinned pin on my Pinterest board is this recipe for White Sweet Potatoes with Mirin and Honey from Bon Appetit. It’s a bit shocking to me that over 150 people have some how found my pin and repinned it. I mean, these potatoes do look delicious, but I didn’t think they looked THAT delicious.

I had always wanted to try this recipe, but since so many people have taken an interest in it, I decided that I really ought to try it out. So, I bought white sweet potatoes one day and tried to follow the recipe. Per instructions, I microwaved the potatoes and let them steam in a glass bowl. That’s where it started going downhill. The skins didn’t fall off easily like the recipe said they would. So instead, I had to cut off the skins, which was pretty difficult since the potatoes were rather mushy from steaming. I managed to get some rounds, coated them with the glaze, and baked them in the oven. But I wasn’t able to achieve the same degree of caramelization. Maybe it was because I used a baking sheet instead of a cast iron skillet? Anyways, the potatoes tasted good, but they definitely did not look as good as those in the picture.

A few weeks later, I decided to try again, but this time with orange yams. I modified the recipe by peeling the potatoes first and then slicing them into rounds. I placed them on a baking sheet to roast for 15 minutes and then coated them in the glaze. This time, I placed them in a glass pie pan and baked them. The potatoes seemed a bit more caramelized and looked a bit more like the picture. However, I thought they were a little too sweet.

These potatoes went well with my Asian-themed dinner of miso glazed cod on a bed of brown rice and sauteed shiitake mushrooms with kale. However, I don’t think they were really as good as they look from the recipe. And they definitely were not worthy of having 150+ people repinning the recipe. But that might be due to my poor execution since Jen from use real butter made amazing looking potatoes.  Oh well, maybe the third time is the charm? At least I tried something from Pinterest, even though I didn’t exactly nail it. 😛

Restaurant Review: Momofuku Noodle Bar

I recently visited New York City and one of the top places to visit was Momofuku. Having heard so much praise for David Chang’s restaurant, I made sure to eat there at least once. Last Monday, I visited the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village for lunch with a friend.

Because one of the most talked about dishes served at Momofuku is the pork buns, I knew I had to try them. An order comes with two fluffy white buns filled with a large slab of pork belly, hoisin sauce, scallions, and pickled cucumbers. When I first saw them, I was a bit shocked at how much fat was in the pork belly. I know that’s the best part, but for me, a thick layer of fat was not really that appetizing. Although the fat was buttery and melted in my mouth, I had a hard time eating all of it and felt there wasn’t enough flavor in the meat. The buns could definitely have used more sauce and more pickles, which were a nice way to cut the richness of the fatty pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, the pork buns were good, just not as good as I had imagined from people’s raving reviews.

My friend and I ordered the Momofuku ramen to share, and I’m glad we did. The ramen comes in a huge bowl and was more than enough for the both of us. The broth was a bit salty for my taste and had a slight bitterness. My friend suspected it came from seaweed, which makes sense since dashi, which is a traditional Japanese cooking stock made from kombu (dried seaweed), is usually the base for ramen broth. The ramen noodles were a bit more springy than those I’ve eaten before, almost as if they weren’t cooked enough. The springiness made it a bit harder to chew the noodles, but I suppose I’d rather have springy noodles instead of soggy ones. Another unusual thing about this ramen was that it had a poached egg instead of a soft-boiled or hard-boiled egg, which is commonly found in ramen. Neither of us understood why a poached egg would be served because when we split it open, all of the yolk spilled out into the soup. Although the egg yolk did make the broth taste better in my opinion, it didn’t really make sense to have a runny egg in soup.

Now, I’m probably being a bit more critical than I ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, the food was pretty good and the service was great. But I was expecting a bit more out of Momofuku. I’m sure it was really good when it first started, which is why it probably earned so many accolades. But now, all of those reviews have built up the expectations for Momofuku to be so high that it’s difficult for it to continue to amaze diners. At least, that’s one of my theories. What should probably be praised more than the food is the fact that Momofuku and David Chang reinvented traditional Asian dishes and brought them into the spotlight again. He’s helped mainstream pork buns and ramen  and thanks to him, people think of ramen as being more than just instant noodles.

Dinner Partying it up – Japchae (Korean glass noodles)

Inspired by all these beautiful recipes I’ve seen on some of my favorite blogs, I decided to try to make some of them and throw a dinner party. For some reason, I have an inclination to cook Asian dishes more than other cuisines. So, on the menu were mostly Asian or Asian-inspired dishes: japchae (Korean glass noodles), chicken fried rice, mirin and honey sweet potatoes, bean sprout kimchi, pickled vegetables, and stuffed peppers with Thai curried rice.

I had originally planned to make a few more dishes, including miso glazed cod. However, halfway through making dinner, I realized I had definitely bit off more than I could chew. So I decided to save those for another dinner party and serve the dishes I was really dying to make, specifically japchae, which turned out to be the star of the dinner.

Korean cuisine is probably my favorite. I love it so much that I can never refuse an invitation to eat Korean BBQ or go to a Korean restaurant. However, it can be a bit pricey and I’ve recently realized that many Korean dishes are fairly easy, especially japchae. After hearing one of my friends proclaim her love for the noodle dish too, I decided that I had to give it a shot and make them for her.

The recipe is basically a stir-fry of sweet potato noodles and vegetables. Usually, beef is included, but since I didn’t have any at hand, I left it out. For my veggies, I used onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bell pepper, zucchini, and spinach. But I’m sure you can use whatever vegetables you like. I didn’t actually follow the recipe that closely. Like I’ve said before, I like to play it by ear when it comes to cooking. So I don’t actually know how much of the ingredients I used. I just eyeballed it and put in however much looked right to me. Also, I was a little surprised to see that the sauce was only soy sauce with sugar. How can you get more simple than that for something so delicious?

My friends loved the japchae! As we ate, they gave so many compliments that I felt a bit silly accepting them, since the dish was so easy. This is definitely a dish that I will make again and again, and so should you! Not only is it super easy and straightforward, but also super delicious (and tastes just like japchae ordered from a Korean restaurant)! Now that I can make it myself, I will probably never order japchae at a restaurant again.

That’s one of the things I love the most about cooking (and baking) – it gives you the ability to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Because you learn how to make things yourself, you no longer have to rely on other people to make it for you. It’s similar to that old adage: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Learning how to cook a dish will literally enable you to feed yourself for a lifetime.

Japchae (Korean Glass Noodles)
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

1/2 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles (I just used the whole bag)
2 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced onions (I used half an onion)
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I forgot this! whoops!)
3 stalks green onions, cut into 1″ lengths (I only added one stalk)
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced shiitake (I used a small bag of dried shiitake)
1/2 lb spinach, washed well and drained (I don’t think I used this much…)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I tripled this)
2 teaspoons sugar (I tripled this)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Fill a large pot with water and boil. When water is boiling, add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again and toss with only 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Use kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter pieces, about 8 inches in length. Set aside.

In bowl, mix soy sauce & sugar together. Add the cooking oil in a wok or large saute pan on high heat and swirl to coat. When the cooking oil is hot but not smoking, fry onions and carrots, until just softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, green onions and mushrooms, fry 30 seconds. Then add the spinach, soy sauce, sugar and the noodles. Fry 2-3 minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Turn off heat, toss with sesame seeds and the remaining 1 1/2 tsp of sesame oil. Enjoy!

Soft and Fluffy – Pandan Bread and Pineapple Buns

Being Chinese-American, I’ve been to a lot of Chinatowns, dim sum restaurants, and of course, Chinese bakeries. Whenever we visited my relatives in Oakland, we’d always go to Chinatown. And if we didn’t happen to eat dim sum that morning, we’d always go to my mom’s favorite bakery to buy a big pink box filled with everyone’s favorite Chinese buns and pastries. Most people love the pineapple buns (bo luo bao) and praise the crunchy sweet topping. However, I was an exception and preferred the light, fluffiness of the bread over the topping. Luckily, my brother was like most people, so I’d trade him the topping of the bun for the fluffy bread. 🙂

For years, I’ve been mystified by how those buns were always so fluffy, thinking those Chinese ladies in those bakeries had some magical powers. Recently, through thorough searching on the internet, I’ve discovered their secret to achieving such soft, fluffy bread. Apparently, it’s tangzhong, a scalded dough that helps keep the bread soft.

I thought I’d jazz the bread up a bit by adding a few drops of Pandan extract that I had bought from the local asian grocery store. Be careful to only add a couple of teaspoons since the extract is very intense. As you can see from above, it turned the white dough into a dark, green color. Alien dough anyone?

First, I decided to make loaves of Pandan bread. I think I let the dough rise too long, so the rolls were pretty huge and I could only fit in three rolls of bread into my loaf pan. Since I was going all out, I decided to add a layer of red bean paste inside the bread and a heavy sprinkling of sesame seeds on top. The bread baked beautifully, rising out of the pan and browning on top. However, make sure to bake it long enough. Deceived by the browned top, I took the loaf out too early and certain parts of the inside, specifically the parts of the rolls that joined together, were not cooked enough. But most of the bread was perfect, so soft and fluffy!

With the leftover dough, I made pineapple buns. My brother found this recipe for the infamous pineapple topping (in US units! yay!), which actually has no pineapples in it. 😛 Instead, it’s a mixture of eggs, sugar, butter, and flour. After I had placed the flat, round disks of topping (rolled out by my wonderful brother) onto the buns and scored the tops, I realized that the buns looked exactly like little turtles! So cute!

Once I took the buns out of the oven, my mom quickly grabbed one and took a bite. Ignoring my protests that they needed to cool, she countered that buns always taste best fresh out of the oven. I definitely cannot argue with that. So listen to my mother and eat these right after you take them out of the oven!

Although this bread and these buns are a lot of work (and waiting), they are definitely worth it. Your friends and family will not believe you when you say you made them yourself because they look exactly like store-bought Chinese bakery buns. My mom was so amazed that she wanted me to make them whenever we have guests over. Your mom wanting to show off your buns is definitely the best form of flattery. (If you got that pun, get your mind out of the gutter! haha)

But the most satisfying part of making the bread and pineapple buns was making them with my younger brother. It may be a bit surprising, but he’s actually the baker of our family. All throughout middle school he’d bake cookies, cakes, and cupcakes for his classmates and teachers. His friends even got him a standing mixer for his birthday! Along with our mutual love for Snow Patrol, our love for baking has helped us bond and become closer siblings. Baking with my brother was so much fun that the idea of opening a family bakery crossed my mind. Maybe that’ll be my back up plan if I ever decide that grad school isn’t for me…

Soft, Fluffy Pandan Bread (Tangzhong method)
Adapted from Kirbie’s Cravings and Christine’s Recipes

2½ cups bread flour
3tbsp + 2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
120g tangzhong (1/2 of the batch made from this recipe)
2 tsp instant yeast (I used dry active yeast and it worked fine. I made sure to proof the yeast first with 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tbsp of sugar.)
3 tbsp butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)
2 tsp pandan paste

1. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast in a bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the center. Add in all wet ingredients: milk, egg and tangzhong and pandan paste. Knead until your dough comes together and then add in the butter and continue kneading.  Keep kneading until the dough is smooth, not too sticky on the surface and elastic. (Kirbie’s recipe says she kneaded the dough for about 18-20 minutes. I didn’t knead it quite that long, probably only 10-15 min. But I forgot to do the window pane check, so not sure if my dough was actually kneaded long enough. Whoops!)
2. Knead the dough into a ball shape. Take a large bowl and grease with oil.  Place dough into  greased bowl and cover with a wet towel. Let it proof until it’s doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
3. Transfer to a clean surface. Divide the dough into four equal portions. Knead into balls.  Cover with cling wrap, let rest for 15 minutes.
4. Roll out each portion of the dough with a rolling pin into an oval shape.  Take one end of the dough and fold to meet the middle of the oval. Take the other end and fold to meet on top. (Check out Kirbie’s website for step-by-step pictures. These really helped me a lot when I was rolling the dough).
5. Flip dough over with the folds facing down,and flatten dough with rolling pin. Flip dough over so the folds face up. (If you want, slather on a layer of red bean paste like I did here). Now roll the dough up. Place each of the rolls into the bread pan and put a piece of plastic wrap over the rolls. Let them rise until double the size, approximately another 40 minutes. (Since I was busy making the pineapple buns, I probably let the dough rise a lot longer… oops).
6. Beat an egg and brush egg mixture on top to create shiny egg wash finish. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top!
7. Bake at 330 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes.

Pineapple Buns and Topping
Adapted from Homemade Chinese (I only used half of the topping)

Pandan dough (from above)
2.5-3 tbsp sugar
1/8 cup butter
1 egg yolks
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp milk
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder

How to Prepare Topping:
1. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy.
2. Add egg yolk, baking soda, and milk together, and mix well.
3. Sift the flour and baking powder into the butter mixture, and mix by hand until it’s smooth and not sticky. Be careful not to manipulate it too much as it will form gluten (we didn’t really see this step and didn’t notice any gluten forming)
4. Wrap the topping in plastic and refrigerate it for an hour and a half minimum.

How to Make Pineapple Buns:
1. Shape dough into equal sized balls, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for at least 15 min.
2. Take the prepared pineapple topping and roll it to a thickness of about 1-1.5 in.
3. Brush the buns with a small amount of water, and place the pineapple topping ontop of the buns. The water will help the topping stick to the buns.
4. Take a knife and lightly score the toppings with a criss-cross pattern.
5. Lightly beat 1 egg yolk and brush the buns and toppings with it. The egg yolk will provide the buns with a nice rich yellow color.
6. Bake the buns at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 min.
7. Let cool slightly, then devour!

This post has been Yeastspotted.