Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pot Stickers
Chinese dumplings with pork filling

Yesterday I decided to use the wonton-dough that I had in the freezer. I bought it last fall, thinking I was going to throw a bad ass asian dinner party for my friends, but instead I ended up making it for me and my sister last night for dinner. This was the first time I ever made these little dumplings and it did indeed take a lot of time, precision and most of all... patience! I didn't have all the cool asian ingredients that I needed at home, so I ended up making my own recipe for the filling and the dipping sauce. As long as you use your creativity and think asian it's fine!

Ingredients for filling
250 g ground pork
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 carrot
1/3 of an apple (my little touch)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 shallot
1/2 tsp ginger (fresh or powdered)
a package of wonton dough
1 cup of water, pinch of salt

Ingredients for sauce
soy sauce
rice wine vinegar
sesame oil
teriyaki sauce (just 1 tsp)

How to do it:
Start with the pork filling. Finely chop the shallot, carrot and apple. Add to the ground pork. Mix in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and ginger. When I had mixed it all together I did a test by rolling a little ball of pork and cooking it in a pan. It's important to taste it to make sure that all the flavors are right. The pork filling should have plenty of flavor (so if it needs a little more soy sauce or sesame oil, go ahead and add a tad more). When the pork filling is done it's time to fill the little wonton dough squares. Wonton dough is very thin, but still easy to handle. Place a little more than a teaspoon of filling on each wonton square. Brush the sides of the wonton dough with water and simply squeeze it together to form a pocket. Make sure they are sealed tight, so the filling doesn't end up falling out. The pork filling will make about 20-25 dumplings, depending on how much you fill each one. 

Heat up a little bit of canola oil in a cast iron skillet (medium-high heat). Place the dumplings next to each other in the pan and fry for about 2 minutes or until you see that they are nice and golden brown underneath. Add the salted water, reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and let the dumplings simmer for about 5-6 minutes. Remove the lid from the pan and let the water burn away. Pot stickers tend to stick a little bit to the pan (therefor the name) but don't worry, you'll get them out of there. 

For the sauce:
This is the easiest part of preparing this dinner. Just combine soy sauce, sesame oil, a hint of teriyaki and rice wine vinegar in a bowl and stir. Taste if it has the flavor that you like. I always kind of "wing it" when I make any kind of sauce. You can always add a little more of something and adjust until it's right where you want it to be. 

Pot stickers are normally served as an appetizer but it really doesn't matter, considering they're quite filling and satisfying as a main course as well. I also made chinese pickled cucumber to complement this dish. Adding something fresh, tangy and crunchy to this meal just tops it all off!


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Almond butter
with a hint of pecan and walnut

This is my new favorite thing to keep in the fridge. Almond butter. It's packed with good stuff like nutritious fats, vitamins, fiber and proteins. I can do nothing but just LOVE this thick, sticky, slightly crunchy nutty butter. As for me, making home made almond butter from scratch instead of buying it in the store is simply the best! 

Whipping up the almond butter is an easy task, but if you don't have a really good blender it might take you some time to get the alomnds ground up and eventually into a paste. It took me almost a whole day to get the almond butter just the right consistency that I wanted (also because I had the worst stick blender to work with). 

2 cups of almonds
1/2 cup of pecans
1/2 cup of walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla sugar
a couple pinches of sea salt

How to do it:
Start off by toasting the nuts in the oven. It's a good idea to keep an eye on them while they're in the oven, if they are left in too long and roast too much the toasty flavor gets overpowering. After they've cooled down and gotten dry it's time to start grinding them up. I used a blender. Don't do all the nuts at the same time, it can get tough for the blender to mix it all. What's great about making almond butter is that you don't just have to stick to almonds. Dumping in some pecan, walnuts, macadamia or why not sunflower seeds is a prefect way to give the butter a different but subtle dimension in flavor and consistency. I love how this almond butter turned out, with a hint of the pecans and walnuts in the background. Adding vanilla sugar also gives the almond butter a round and cozy flavor that goes perfectly well in combination with the different nuts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Olive bread
An earthy tasting bread with fresh
olive oil and greek kalamata olives

I admit, I am "the ultimate olive fanatic", and whoever reads my blog is going to have to deal with that fetish of mine. My addiction is pretty serious considering I've already written a cook book about olives and, hold your horses, my middle name is Olivia! Anyway, I love the little suckers in all their different forms and colors. I love olives in salads, I love them in my glas of dry martini and of course, I love them in my bread! See, I can't behave myself. My love for olives is downright invincible.

As for this bread, all I did was I used the recipe for Pan à l'ancienne (posted prior to this) as a guide line. I used it because I just love the texture of that bread when it comes out of the oven. So, Peter Reinharts Pan á l'ancienne is turned into Olive bread á l'Benson!

When making the dough I added about a cup of good extra virgin olive oil (I always prefer spanish oil) and 1,5-2 cups of chopped kalamata olives. I mixed the two extra ingredients into the dough with everything else before placing the dough in the fridge over night. The bread is super easy to make, just make sure that there is enough flour in the dough since adding olive oil and olives (that contain a lot of liquid) can tend to make the dough more loose. Just add a little more flour until you find the consistency of it to be right.

I made four of these leaf-shaped olive breads. On two of the breads I sprinkled thyme and sea salt, just to give it some variety in looks and flavor. Also, shaping the bread as a leaf is so much fun, and very easy to do. It doesn't have to look perfect, that's the finess of it. Just dump the dough on a baking sheet, spread it out (be careful though, you don't want to push out the air) and use a pair of scissors to cut the holes. Your friends will be very impressed if you are having a dinner party with this type of bread!

A little over a week ago my mother, Monika, turned 50 and she wanted to celebrate this birthday with a humungous party in our home town Lund. There was a lot of preperation going on last week, and luckily my mom wanted be to be a big part of it. So I cooked and I also did a lot of baking, because we were of course refusing to buy store-bought bread. Home made bread beats it all, especially when it's made from real sourdough and fresh ingredients. Me and my sister Emily were responsible for the bread table, so we each made 3 different breads. This olive bread was on of the breads that I made, and here's a picture of our bread table. It's a real treat for the eye, just to look at it.

On the bread table we have Danish ryebread, Pan al ancienne, Ciabbatas, Beer bread, Olive bread, Levain (sourdough bread) and swedish sourdough crispbread.

On the sign by the bread table it says; "St. Benson´s convection oven bakery" instead of "St. Benson´s stone oven bakery". That´s me and my sister Emily, just making a statement that you don´t need a fancy oven to make wonderfully tasting bread! 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pan à l'ancienne
From Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"

This bread, lo and behold, is your shortcut to a perfect almost sourdough like french baguette, with a crunchy golden crust and wonderfully chewy inside. It is, in other words, pretty much the easiest complex looking bread you can make. The secret is using a technique called delayed fermentation. You basically put the baking "on hold". I can only tell you this. Pan à l'ancienne is a bread far from labor-intensive, perfect for the lazy bums who still have a desire to enjoy rustic-looking and flavorful bread. 

Now always keep this in mind when making any kind of bread. Storing a dough in the refrigerator over night is always an option, if you have to put the baking on hold. It also benefits the flavor of the bread, giving the result a more profound and intense aroma. Now, for the recipe. It does not contain any sour dough starter at all, but instead instant yeast. I've always found it irritating when baking with yeast, just because the result of the bread always turns out too "store bought"-soft and without any a good crust. But, what I've discovered now is that if you don't have the time or motivation to start from scratch with your own sour dough, just go ahead and use instant yeast but make sure you combine it with the technique of delaying the fermentation. Sure, you will have to start the dough the day before you bake it, but how big of a deal is that? The bread or pizza crust will turn out to be delicious, with almost the same flavor and texture as of a real sour dough baguette/pizza.

Makes 6 small baguettes or 4 pizzas
6 cups high protein flour (King Arthur is what I normally use in the US. In Sweden I'd go with Jan Hedhs Monitoba Cream or just Vetemjöl Special)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 intstant yeast (in Sweden I'd use fresh yeast)
3 cups of ice cold water

How to do it:
Day 1:
Combine the flour, salt, yeast and the water in a bowl. If you have an electric mixer, go ahead and use that to mix the dough. I myself prefer doing it manually, especially when handling a dough that is pretty small like this one. When the dough is mixed it should release from the sides of the bowl but still be sticky on the bottom. Lightly oil a large bowl, and immediately place the dough in it. Dust the top with flour, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Day 2: 
The next day, the dough should be partially risen (at least a little bubbly). Leave the bowl of dough out in room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours prior to baking. I have a funny routine of placing my doughs on top of the washing machine in the laundry room, just to give it some extra warmth and comfort while rising. This will allow the dough to wake up, lose it's chill and continue fermenting.

Preheat the oven to 500 ̊ F ( 300 ̊ C). Make sure you have a stone or a baking sheet placed in the oven to bake the breads on. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, sprinkle the counter with plenty of bread flour. Gently scrape out the dough on to the counter, making sure not to press out any air from it. These are the bubbles that we want to keep! What you have now is a big wet dough laying like flat pancake on your counter. What I do is I dust the dough with plenty of flour, making sure it's coated all over. Then I cut it lenghtwise into 6 longs pieces of dough. Each piece of dough is then placed on a baking sheet with baking parchment and pulled out lengthwise to create a baguette. The dough might look very flat and wet, but I can assure you that it will rise and puff up in the oven. I place three baguettes on each baking sheet. Let them rest for 5 minutes.

When the oven is heated, open it and slide the parchment paper with the breads on to the stone or the baking sheet that is already in the oven. I usually throw in an ice cube or spray in a good amount of water to give the bread a good crust. After 8-9 minutes they should be golden brown and have puffed up into nice round baguettes. Take them out and place them on a cooling rack.