January 29, 2012

4-Minute Microwave Nian Gao (Lunar New Year Cake)

"We all got into it, cracking walnut shells with our shoes, pulling the sweet white meat from inside while a crowd of our Chinese hosts eyed us with bemused perplexity. 'Americans,' I imagined them saying, afterward. 'The poor sons of bitches have everything in the world, but they've never tasted fresh walnuts.'"
—"Why China?," Jennifer Egan
I've never been to China, nor have I ever cracked open a walnut and eaten its meat standing up on the side of the street. Sounds pretty amazing. I wonder if Jennifer Egan has eaten walnuts in China, or if this scene came strictly out of her imagination.

Chinese New Year was last week, which awakened a craving — not for walnuts, but for New Year's cake, nian gao (年糕). It usually comes in a gigantic round wheel in shrink wrap, which can be sliced into fat chunks and then either dipped in egg and pan fried, or just reheated in the microwave. I wanted some, but not quite badly enough to make the trek to Chinatown — so I endeavored to make some in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Some avid Googling of nian gao led me to several recipes that seemed overly complicated, and most of them required 3 eggs (and, sadly, I only had one egg in the fridge tonight). Then it occurred to me that the texture and taste of a freshly steamed nian gao is very similar to freshly made mochi (sweet and incredibly sticky). Ding ding! I adapted my 5-minute microwave mochi recipe by adding some red bean paste — and I have to say, it satiated my craving for nian gao just fine. Not bad for just two ingredients + water + a microwave + 4 minutes.

4-Minute Red Bean New Year's Cake (年糕)
1/2 cup mochiko (sweet rice) flour
1/2 cup + 1 tsp water
1/3 cup sweetened red bean paste (coarse or fine)

Mix all ingredients well in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

January 13, 2012

(Stephen) King Oyster Mushrooms

I parked in one of the slant spaces out front, went in, and ordered the Pronghorn Special, which turned out to be a double cheeseburger with barbecue sauce. It came with Mesquite Fries and a Rodeo Thickshake--your choice of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. A Pronghorn wasn't quite as good as a Fatburger, but it wasn't bad, and the fries were just the way I like them: crispy, salty, and a little overdone.
--11/22/63, Stephen King
That's the same way I like my fries! This book, in case you haven't heard, is about time travel. And according to Stephen King, down-home American classics like root beer and fries tasted infinitely better in the 1960s than they do today. 

Some things never change, though. Salt probably tasted exactly the same back then as it does now. I've been a little salt-obsessed lately. My co-worker loves salt so much that she keeps a cup of salt packets on her desk, and, well, lately I've been asking to borrow one too many of those little salt packets. Unfortunately, I think I've built up my salt tolerance to the point where I need more and more of it to taste a difference, much like an alcoholic needs more and more booze to feel a buzz.

Whoops, when did that happen? I've been trying to make up for the sins of the salt by cooking somewhat healthy ingredients. King oyster mushrooms are supposed to be one of the healthiest varieties of mushrooms...maybe even healthy enough to make up for the butter in the following recipe. I couldn't resist adding a touch of butter, and two forms of sodium: soy sauce and salt. Eating these mushrooms unseasoned would just be a shame.

Pan-Fried King Oyster Mushrooms
4 large king oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 small onion, minced
2 scallions, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute all ingredients together in a saucepan over high heat, until the mushrooms have absorbed the sauce.

January 3, 2012

wherefore art thou wittles sucky?

In the old days of 2011, I sometimes caught myself wistfully thinking that if only I had an e-reader, I could download all the classics that I normally never take with me anywhere. Now that I own this magical contraption, I'll probably still read paper books, but I am excited to use it for two types of books: old favorites and new books in hardcover that I'd be loathe to carry around. The cheapo in me has already downloaded a bunch of classics (both read and unread), and I'm looking forward to buying newer books that are, quite simply, tomes (Stephen King's new JFK book, for example).

Great Expectations is one of those books that I'd love to have with me all the time, so it was one of the first books I downloaded. Hip Pip hooray!
"You get me a file." He tilted me again. "And you get me wittles." He tilted me again. "You bring 'em both to me." He tilted me again. "Or I'll have your heart and liver out." He tilted me again.
--Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
One of the best parts about rereading classics is that you come across amusing bits of archaic language that you can later slip into your vocabulary to confound people every now and then. Wittles, apparently, are like vittles (Vs and Ws were often interchangeable in the old days), which are like victuals, otherwise known as grub. The file was not food (unlike the gumbo file my mom adds to her delicious gumbo), but rather, a metal file meant for shaving away at this prisoner's shackles.

Poor Pip scurries off to retrieve said items. For his "wittles" he selects "bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat (which I tied up in my pocket-handkerchief with my last night's slice), some brandy from a stone bottle (which I decanted into a glass bottle I had secretly used for making that intoxicating fluid, Spanish-liquorice-water, up in my room: diluting the stone bottle from a jug in the kitchen cupboard), a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork pie."

Whoa, there. I never noticed that part about Pip being an underage alcoholic up in his room. Poor kid. Still, other than the pork pie (which sounds acceptable), he could have done better. Hope that escaped convict didn't have very great expectations for his wittles...because they kind of sucked.