Author:mandy@ladyandpups

SUNDAY SUPPERS’ RYE BREAD

I apologize before I say this simply because it’s gross and stuff, but yesterday somebody, two days in a row, decided to leave a hot steamy pile of poop right in the middle of our “aged” leather sofa…  I’m sorry, I told you, it’s gross.  But more importantly, why?  What could possibly be the reason for this deeply punishing act?  Hey beats me.  Just to fuck with the word motherhood, I guess.

I recognize the weirdness in the usage of such word, motherhood, I get it, so let’s talk about it for a sec.  Some swear by it.  Some avoid it.  And some get offended when it’s used in this context of, well, dogs.  But for the convenience of making a conversation, I struggle to find a better word.  Some say, “dog owner” is the more accurate phrase.  Hey, I hear ya, but, it’s just that… I don’t own dogs, just like nobody owns children.  They are mine, but not properties.  If someday my dogs tell me that they wants to leave the nest to go to Amsterdam and smoke pot for the rest of their lives, hey, fair game, I would just lock them up and take away all their food-money like any discerning parents.  Doesn’t make me an owner, just makes me a mother.  So for the lack of a better word, last month, or 20 days ago to be exact, I became a mother again, for the fifth and sixth time.  Yes, twin girls, two rescued Rottweiler-mix puppies.

Rottweilers × 2!?  You must be thinking I’m crazy.  And I’m starting to think you’re right.

How big do Rottweilers get?  Please don’t tell me because I have no freaking clue.  But the the fact that they are growing exponentially against our best wishes, seems to be one.  To put it into perspective, our maltese Dumpling was what, 3 kilo?  So by optimistic estimation, each of them would grow to be about 12 Dumplings, and together, 24 Dumplings.  That’s 70 kilos of pure muscles powered by the spirit of a trampoline.  We named them Sesame (芝麻), and Sticky Rice Ball (湯圓) or SRB for short, though the petiteness of their names is starting to sound more ironic than cute.

Who’s freaking out?  I’m just sayin’.

So how did this happen? Couldn’t we just try a single Rottweiler on for size and good reason first?  Well, the way we see it, we had no choice amidst a very complicated situation.

There was this adoption day thing at our local pet supply store that we simply wanted to “just check it out”, and there they were, two puppies inside the same crate.  No harm in asking a question is there?  So are they boys or girls?  “Both girls, sisters!”, answered the staff.  Hmm, girls, we’ve been wanting a girl.  This one on the right seem to be nice and calm.  Can I hold her?  “Yes, of course!  She’s the younger one.”  Awww look at her just relaxing on my lap!  Jason, Jason!  Are you seeing this?!  Wait, why is the other one acting all nervous and shit?  “The sisters are very attached to each other.”  What is this, woman?  You trying to make me feel bad?  Fine, Jason, can you just hold the other one so she’s doesn’t feel left out?

Yup.  …………………..

Oh wait you’re waiting for more complicatedness to come?  No, no, that’s it.  Yup.  The beginning of the end.  Put me on your friends-who-got-a-kid-and-gone-missing list.  Likewise, I’ll resurface the earth in 10+ years.

But on the bright side, the food side that is, giant wall-eating babies are putting me in a whole new perspective. I never understood this “easy home cooking” business.  I mean if you like cooking, what’s the problem?  And if you don’t like cooking, why you cooking?  Golfers don’t complain why is it 18 holes and not 4 holes.  But now, ehhh… I sort of get it.  The other day I allowed myself to spend a little obsession on homemade ramen, and someone ate my chair.  Literally, ate my chair.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen anymore, but the stakes for negligence are higher these days if you know what I mean.

Which brings me to mention – Simple Fare.

Look beyond the soul-sucking-ly beautiful photographs by the hands of Karen Mordechai, there is also the answer to the prayers of all bone-crushingly exhausted parents.   Take this elegant rye bread for example, which she calls “half day rye bread”, which really turned out to be “quarter day rye bread” in the warmer month that is May.  It was a cinch to put together, so much so that I was able to test two loafs at once even with two flying trapeze-artists demolishing my apartment (and Shrimpy) in the background.  I’m not an expert in the political correctness of a proper rye bread, but a smear of good room-temperature butter and a thin slice of fennel salami from Tuscany, I melted in a moment of relaxation and satisfaction, a rare one these days no doubt…

So thank you, Karen, but I simply must go because I just stepped into a puddle of pee.

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TUSCANY’S PORK FAT BITS COUNTRY BREAD

WHILE MY BRAIN WAS ANTICIPATING TYPICAL BREAD, CAME THESE POPS OF DEEPLY SAVORY AND UNMISTAKABLY CARNIVOROUS STIMULANTS.

Working mothers, I don’t know how you do it.

Those of you who follow our Instagram will know that recently, two toddlers have joined this family.  Not just some harmlessly drooling, homo sapien nuggets that crawl inside your neatly confined perimeters sucking on a bottle.  But two wall-eating… wood-shredding, (stuffed) animal-hunting, flying and flipping and cirque du soleil-style acrobats that, quite literally, ate and pooped the entire past week away, and then some.  Hi Internet, please meet 芝麻 (Sesame), and 湯圓 (Sticky Rice Ball.  SRB for short), the two Rottie-mix that we newly adopted over the past weekend.

So long, sleep.  Hello, stress.

I have so much to say about them, how we met, how we overcame fear, how we took an oath.  But this type of story deserves clarity and mindfulness, both not what my sleep-deprived head of glue can provide as we speak.  So I’m just going to leave you today with a Tuscany-inspired country bread, speckled with salty bits of porky fatness.  You heard right, a delightful discovery made in a motherly restaurant named Trattoria Dardano, nestled inside a tiny yet historical town named Cortona where we stayed.  The conversation we were having without suspicion was upended by my first bite of the unexpected burst of flavors.  While my brain was anticipating typical bread, came these pops of deeply savory and unmistakably carnivorous stimulants.  WHAT was that!?  I investigated immediately, to realized that this seemingly unremarkable bread was relentlessly laced with specks of salty fatty cured pork-bits which, I assumed, not only created these sparks of salivating porkiness, but also spread their gospel aromas into the neighboring bread-tissues when their fat was rendered during baking.

Geniale!  I shouted, but in English.

I think you’ll agree, too.

Gotta go.  Somebody’s eating my feet.

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BUFFALO WINGS SOUP DUMPLING W/ SKIN CRACKLING

YOU’RE TRYING TO TELL ME THAT YOU DON’T WANT THIS?

You’re probably looking at this and asking yourself three questions.

A).  Isn’t dim sum month over?

B).  Why do we need a soup dumpling that tastes just like buffalo wings?

C).  Are we making soup dumplings at home now?  Is that what it’s come to?

Look, all very legit questions, deserving very responsible and adult-like responses.  But I’m afraid that in the absence of an adult in this room, I will have to assume the task of answering them myself.  In my best effort to be thorough to Question A), I guess, I lied.  OK, next question.

Why do we need a soup dumpling that tastes like buffalo wings?  Okay, who’s being the baby now?  Grow up.  Adulthood is not about needing things.  It’s all about wanting things.  And you’re trying to tell me that you don’t want a delicate pouch of dumpling filled with melty minced chicken and a sudden explosion of red-hot and tangy stream of sticky juice and spicy, garlicky butter?  Where everything is so carefully contained within a subtly yeasty wrapper so thin that one could almost see through its sinister intent, resting on top of a shard of chicken skin cracker that shatters into intense poultry-ness, only to be cooled down by a dollop of sour cream twinkling with crumbled blue cheese?  All is one.  One is all.  Spicy, tangy, juicy, fatty, crispy, creamy, delicate, intense… all in an ecstatic dance of all the best stimulating senses.  You don’t want that?  I think you need that.  OK, next question.

Are we making soup dumplings at home now?  Yes we are.

Because?  See answer to Question B.  Plus, it’s easier than you think.

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FISH WONTON W/ ANCHOVY, GARLIC , TABASCO

 

HOW DARE YOU.  I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE TASTE-BUDS OF HIGH CALIBER

As we are preparing for our Tuscany vacation that is fast approaching this Saturday, I’m going to quickly leave you with an even faster recipe.

I threw this together in less than an hour today, in a frantic effort to clean out the freezer (duh, to make way for the incoming fleet of smuggled imported Italian goods), and they turned out to be little drops of afternoon delights.  So why fish wonton?  Why fish?  See, I don’t know about you, but when other people stock up their freezer with prime rib-eye steaks from Cosco, I do mine with frozen catfish fillets.  I don’t know why.  Cheapness, possibly.  Don’t make me admit that I like frozen catfish.  I’m supposed to have taste-buds of high caliber.  How dare you.  No, the point is, I was saying… as I was cleaning out my frozen fish tank, I thought, fish wonton, why not?

Ground fish, here in Asia, is actually quite a common ingredient with wide applications.  What it lacks in meaty-ness, it gains in an uniquely light, soft and creamy texture which resembles between ricotta filling and French quenelles.  It makes a wonton that is light in body and texture, with a particular sweetness in its gentle nature.  To dress it up, I used a deeply savory olive oil with salty specks of anchovies and crispy garlic, brightened with fresh grated ginger, chopped herbs and a subtle zing of tabasco sauce.

Satisfying afternoon pick-me-ups, or, if kept ready in the freezer, light and well.. relatively healthy meal on demand.

 
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SWEET POTATO TAPIOCA GNOCCHI, GLUTEN-FREE

SOFT BUT PLEASANTLY CHEWY, THAT IT FROLICS IN BETWEEN EVERY BITE WITH THE UPMOST PLAYFUL RESISTANCE


Light.  Airy.  Delicate.  Cloud-like.

See, surely these are rules best to dictate cotton candies and runway models.

But, in my opinion, not for gnocchi.

I know, I know.  Who am I – an Asian who grew up in North America – to judge gnocchi, an inarguably Italian prerogative guarded by some very defensive if not hostile Italian grandmothers.  To some, if I am ever entitled to an opinion then it should only be on chop suey or somethin’, certainly not this heritage pasta sacredly given by the ancient Roman Gods.  Hey, I know!  I agree!, or at least I used to, which was why I never complained every time I was served with a plate of texture-less and borderline-mushy “clouds”, in Rome or Nice and etcetera might I add, and nodded in compliance like a team-player.  “Yes, Mandy.  These mashy semisolids are intentional and authentic.  Now shut up and eat them.  Gollum Gollum”.  I truly tried.

You see, close-minded it may seem, but I come from a place where any flour-involved, savory carbohydrates have to have, a chew.

Whether it’s hand-pulled xi’an noodles, the delicate wrappers of dim sum dumplings, or hand-shaped fresh pastas and whatnots, no matter.  No chew, shameful personal failure of the cook.  Doesn’t matter if it was the long-term habit that shaped my preference, or the other way around, it’s the same thing.  I just like’em chewy.

So as time went on, a quiet rebellion came when I first found out about this French” gnocchi business.  It’s a pâte à choux type of dough that yields a firmer, chewier and springy form of gnocchi, which were much more relatable and appreciated by my (ok angry nonna, I’ll say it myself) narrow-minded Asian taste-buds.  It was a vote of endorsement that said, hey there is actually a market out there for a texturally different type of gnocchi and it isn’t going to get me burnt alive on a stick in the middle of a piazza.  It was encouraging, although, not enough to push me to commit recipe-social-suicide, to turn the idea of gnocchi upside down.  Until, unfortunately, the real affirmation came a few weeks ago during one innocent gathering with friends, when one of them ever-so-harmlessly mentioned…

“I’ve never like the soft, fluffy gnocchi.  I prefer the chewier type”, he said.

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DIM SUM MONTH FINALE: Tapenade short ribs, plus dim sum party game plan

AT LAST, DIM SUM MONTH FINALE…

WHAT:  Beef short ribs in super garlicky tapenade sauce, an adaptation of a classic dimsum item – pork ribs with fermented black beans but with an American/European twist.

WHY:  The unexpectedly supple texture of the beef (thanks to baking soda) melting gorgeously into a pool of bold and complex mixture of flavors, a revelation that can be easily prepared ahead of time and cooks in under 8 min.

HOW:  For both flavors and accessibility, I have swapped the traditionally used diced pork ribs with the more luscious and rich-tasting beef short ribs, and Chinese fermented black beans with the equally bold and forward black olives.  Trust me, if I may say so myself, the reinvented combination works even better than tradition.  The surprisingly tender and velvety texture of the beef – achieved by adding just a tiny pinch of baking soda into the marinate – disintegrates in your mouth in a medley of perfectly orchestrated flavours that you didn’t even know would go together.  Black olives, strawberry jam, soy sauce, sesame oil, Dijon mustard, and a depth created by using both raw and fried garlics.  It’s easy to put together, and a cinch to cook in a blink of an eye.  You’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life.

Now, simply follow the instructions below on how to throw a hassle-free dim sum party!

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DIM SUM MONTH: GLASS DUMPLINGS W/ MUSHROOMS AND SMOKED GOUDA CHEESE

DIM SUM MONTH STILL CONTINUES…

OK, I know it’s not February anymore, but there’s still a couple more dim sum I want to share so DIM SUM MONTH is oozing into March a bit…

WHAT:  Glass-like translucent dumplings stuffed with caramelized mushrooms and a soft-hearted center of smoked gouda cheese, all in a beautiful tear-drop shape.

WHY:  Because the only tears you’re gonna cry are happy ones when you try this.

HOW:  This wrapper is actually my favorite not only because it’s so beautiful, but it actually freezes well, or should I say better than the more common and popular crystal shrimp dumplings.  It has a pleasantly bouncy and chewy mouth-feel, and it gives the audience a preview to whatever fillings you put inside!  In this case, we’re doing deeply oven-caramelized mushrooms that are bound together by a bit of ground pork and parmigiano-regiano cheese (and a hint of truffle oil if you can splurge), creating an earthy, warm and aromatic cradle that rocks a soft and temperate center of smoked gouda cheese.  Nothing is going to shout “funk!” in this flavor-profile here, only modest but confident display of a well-tolerated harmony.  The only accessory it likes is a brightening dab of heat from this chili sambal romesco sauce.  But the sky’s the limit here.  How about grassy colored spinach filling with a stronger punch of blue cheese, or sweet and red-cheeked carrots or beets and funky goat’s cheese?  Dream wild.

* I believe that the next post will be the final chapter of dim sum month, and I’m going to list out a complete game-plan on what, how and when to prepare certain items ahead of time, and throwing then all together at our virtual dim sum party :)

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DIM SUM MONTH: PORK BELLY BUN W/ PEANUT BUTTER AND CAPER

DIM SUM MONTH CONTINUES…

WHAT:  Super cute and tiny steamed buns stuffed with braised pork belly, pan-fried capers and smooth peanut butter.

WHY:  It’s pork bun in baby form!  It’s pork bun in two-bites size!  It’s pork bun but pop-able!  Dispute settled.

HOW:  The idea is to create an over-the-top, porky, fatty and gooey bun-tasy with a built-in acidic element to balance it all out, and this is what came out on the other side.  Inspired by traditional Taiwanese guabao (which is the former life of David Chang’s infamous “pork bun”), the pork belly is first braised with aromatics and spices until melty and tender, but instead of ground peanuts that’s used in guabao, smooth peanut butter is being introduced.  Just when pork belly and peanut butter – both fatty, gooey and intense – are locking tongues in your mouth, the taste buds get a sharp and pleasant zing of acidity and pickle-ness from pan-fried capers, all swirling and dancing inside this slightly sweet and chewy dough.  What’s more wrong?  Eating just one or more?  I can’t decide.

By the way, most of the recipes in DIM SUM MONTH is designed to be prepared ahead of time.  Make each items and store them in the freezer, and at the end of the month, we’re going to have a dim sum blowout party.  See ya!

PORK BELLY BUN W/ PEANUT BUTTER AND CAPER

Yield: 17 buns

Ingredients

    BRAISED PORK BELLY:
  • 17.6 oz (500 grams) skin-on pork belly
  • 4~5 (40 grams) scallions, cut into short sections
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (20 grams) light brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) shaoxing wine, or rice wine
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) soy sauce
  • 2~3 bay leaves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • DOUGH:
  • 2 cups (250 grams) bread flour
  • 3 1/2 tbsp (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp (3 grams) instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup (147 grams) water
  • FILLING:
  • 1/4 cup drained pickled capers
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
  • smooth peanut butter

Instructions

  1. PREPARE PORK BELLY: Cut the pork belly into 1" (2.5 cm) dices, set aside. In an oven-proof pot, heat vegetable oil and cook the scallions until browned all over and shriveled, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced pork belly and cook until the edges are slightly browned and some of the fat is being rendered out. Pour all the fat out of the pot, then add the light brown sugar. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the edges of the pork belly and the sugar are caramelized. Now add the scallions back in along with garlic. Cook for 1 min until fragrant, then add shaoxing wine, soy sauce, bay leaves, star anise and ground cinnamon. Bring to a simmer, put the lid on, then transfer into a 300 F/150 C oven. Give it a stir every 30 min, and cook for about 1:40 ~1:50 hour until it's melty tender (if it looks like there's no more liquid left at any point during cooking, just add a bit more shaoxing wine).
  2. Remove the bay leaves and star anise, and skim off most of the fat off of the surface. Then transfer into an air-tight container and chill until completely cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.
  3. PREPARE DOUGH: In a stand-mixer with dough-hook, combine bread flour, granulated sugar, instant dry yeast, salt and water. Knead on medium speed until incorporated, then turn to high speed and knead for 10 min until extremely smooth and elastic. The dough should pull away cleanly from the sides and bottom of the bowl during mixing, but should be soft and pliable. If it's sticking to the bowl during mixing, add more flour. If it feels stiff and dry, add a bit more water. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until fully doubled, about 2~4 hours depending.
  4. MAKE THE BUN: In a small skillet, combine drained capers, vegetable oil, sugar and rice vinegar. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the capers are slightly browned and shriveled. Set aside to cool completely.
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and fold it over itself a couple times, then divide into 17 equal portions. Tuck each portions under itself to shape into a tight ball, then let rest and relax for 10 min. Take a small saucer about 2 1/2" in diameter, then place 1 dough ball inside. Use your fingers to press and spread the dough outwards until it drapes over the edges with a dent in the middle (the edges should be slightly thinner than the center). Place 1 piece of braised pork belly in the middle, 6~7 fried capers, and a little less than 1/2 tsp of smooth peanut butter. Bring the sides of the dough together and pinch to close tightly. Repeat with the rest.
  6. You can freeze the buns now until hard, then keep in an air-tight bag until needed. If you're freezing them, take them out 6 hours before serving. Place each on a small piece of parchment paper, cover with plastic-wrap, and let thaw and proof until almost doubled (about 80%). If your place is warm and the buns are rising too fast, simply place them in the fridge to slow down. If you are not freezing the buns, it will only take about 1~2 hours for the to almost double.
  7. Place in the steamer and steam on high heat for 7~8 min.
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