Food memories are powerful things. One whiff or taste of something can send me to a past place and time so vividly that, if I close my eyes, I might believe I was there. A distant food memory can also send me in search of that elusive dish that I had so many moons ago that it would be difficult for me to identify it accurately, but for some instinct that assures me that I will know it when I taste it. Food memories are what causes immigrants to make specialty dishes that they would not otherwise make if they had not moved from their homelands.
I have vivid memories of my mother making these fragrant sticky rice packages when I was young. She would sit by our garage door with strings hanging from the doorknob, a bucket of soaked sticky rice in front of her, a large bowl of filling on one side of her, and a stack of meticulously cleaned and soaked bamboo leaves on the other side of her. She would spend hours making these little packages and then boil them until the smell of them filled the house.
The smell of these alone can take me back to that house and that time. That is my most vivid food memory associated with these rice packages, though, of course, I have other, more faint ones. I know I have eaten these on the busy streets of market places in Taiwan and, occasionally, in restaurants. The sticky rice packages in restaurants invariably come wrapped in lotus leaves, which does not impart the same scent, but the flavor is still similar.
These are definitely a big project. It took me just about an entire day to make them, but really, that’s just because I chose to make a lot. I think in the end, I made somewhere around 93, but who’s counting? I am including some weights and measures here to go with my photo-recipe, but they are really just a guideline. This is one of those foods that can be whatever you want to make of it. Some people like them with peanuts and not beans. Most authentic recipes call for dried shrimp, but I have never liked their papery texture, so I chose to omit them and add some fish sauce instead. I wanted more variety in my filling, so I added some pressed, smoked tofu and some okara, that soybean pulp you have leftover when you make your own tofu.
The thing about making these that makes me the happiest is that my children love them as much as I loved them as a kid. Hopefully, they will have some great food memories of their own. That makes all the work and grumbling (and believe me there was plenty of grumbling during the wrapping stage) worth it in the end.
Sticky Rice Cones (Jungdz)
Rinse, then soak about 3.5 kilos of sticky rice with 500 grams of split yellow mung beans for three hours.
In a large bowl, combine and mix thoroughly the following:
3 pounds raw pork belly cubed
1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 package of chinese air-dried pork sausage, cubed
1.5 pounds pressed and seasoned tofu, cubed
1 pound of taro root, peeled and diced
1 cup dried mushrooms that have been re-hydrated and diced
2 bunches of green onions, cleaned and sliced thinly
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup golden mountain seasoning sauce or soy sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup scallion oil
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup okara (optional)
Clean and rinse all bamboo leaves. Then, soak them for at least 30 minutes. Take two and form into a cone like this. Notice how the stem end of one leaf is matched up to the pointy end of the other. Also, they are offset just a little to give you a bigger cone shape.
Fill with 1/4 cup of rice mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of meat mixture, then top off with 1/4 cup of rice. There should be some space left in the cone, about 1/2 inch or more.
Here’s the tricky part. Pinch the sides of the cone, fold the top down the long top part of the leaves that are sticking up over the rice and fold down the sides. I really don’t have great pictures of this since I was doing the deed and my older son was the one taking pictures. There are some handy videos on Youtube, though.
I make a bunch of strings ahead of time by taking five 2-yard pieces of string, fold them in the center and make a slip knot to make a bunch of ten strings that can hang from something. Having the strings attached to something will give you some leverage that you might need to tighten the strings around the bundles. You want to tie them tightly or else they will come unraveled in the pot and then they will be inedible.
Boil them for about an hour. Then, fish them out carefully. Some of them came undone, so I clearly have some work to do in the wrapping and tying department.
Unwrap and serve with soy sauce. These can be placed, still in their bamboo wrapping, in a plastic freezer bag and frozen for future snacks or meals. They reheat beautifully, which is why I made a lot. They will come in handy on those days when I just don’t have the time or inclination to cook.
When I last talked of oatmeal cookies, I mentioned how I disliked the soda flavor that seemed to be prominent in most oatmeal cookie recipes. Well, I did manage to find a recipe with no baking soda and it is a recipe I have made many times before, with varying results. It’s the Oatmeal Raisin cookie recipe from Baking Illustrated by the Cook’s Illustrated people. I remember way back, many moons ago, when I first made the recipe that I thought they were fantastic, but the past couple of times I made them, They have been much less than fantastic. They were dry and kinda hard. But, there was no baking soda in sight, just a little baking powder.
So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and figure out an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe that I could love. Several (almost a dozen) batches later, here is the result.
There are a couple of things that make this recipe different from others. Firstly, it calls for both baking soda and baking powder. The soda helps to keep the cookie soft, but there isn’t so much that it is a prominent flavor.
Secondly, one of the things I liked about the cookies I made awhile back with my leftover rummy fruit mix was the orange flavor that came through from the candied orange peel. So, I decided to throw in a little orange marmalade to bring in that citrus flavor. Why marmalade and not candied peel? Well, I am all out of candied peel right now, that’s why! Plus, it is easier to obtain than good quality candied peel. Actually, I have never seen good candied peel for sale in the store. I have always made it myself. Try to find marmalade that has a lot of peel in it, not just a few bits floating around in gel. You’ll get more texture and orange flavor.
One thing I tried and left out of the final recipe was soaking the fruit in some rum or grand marnier. I liked how the fruit was moist, but it was throwing off the moisture balance of the cookie. Still, if you have dried fruit that is drier than usual, more like jerky than softly dried, you may want to macerate the fruit in 1/2-1 tablespoon of hot water or booze for at least 15 minutes. Just be sure to cool and pat the fruit dry before adding it to the batter.
These cookies are good with any combo of fruit, nuts, and chocolate. The version pictured here has raisins and a cup of chocolate chips thrown in. During holiday time, I would probably use cranberries and white chocolate. Whatever you decide to put in it, they will be tasty–crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, with bursts of orange and chocolate flavor.
They are just right for the cookie jar.
Orange Oatmeal Cookies with Fruit
Makes about 4 dozen 3 inch cookies. If you don’t want to bake the full batch of cookies at once, form the dough balls onto a baking sheet and freeze them. When they are frozen, take them off the pan and put into a plastic bag to store in the freezer. This way you can bake as many or little as you need.
215g or 2 sticks (8oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
150g or 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
150g or 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
85g or 1/4 cup orange marmalade
106g or 2 large eggs
10g or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
215g or 1 1/2 (7.5oz) cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
185g or 2 cups old fashioned oatmeal (do not use the instant kind)
195g or 1 1/4 cups raisins or dried cranberries or other fruit
180g or 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if using a convection oven). Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine butter with sugars in a mixer bowl and cream on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the marmalade and vanilla extract. Then, add the eggs, one at a time and mix at medium low until fully combined. You may need to scrape the bowl once or twice.
3. Whisk together the dry ingredients (not the mix-ins) together in a medium bowl. With the mixer running on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until almost fully combined. A few streaks of flour are ok.
4. Add the oatmeal, fruit, and chocolate and mix on low until just combined. Give the dough a few stirs by hand at the end to ensure all the batter is smoothly mixed.
5. Using a medium sized cookie scoop or a large tablespoon, scoop the dough onto the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Flatten the dough balls slightly with your fingers. Bake 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown and no longer look wet in the center. Cool on pan for at least 5 minutes before removing to a rack.
The cookies will keep in an airtight container for several days, but they will lose their crispness after the first day.
For many, many years, I have had a dream. I dream about getting up early in the morning after a refreshing night’s sleep and puttering around the kitchen while everyone is still sleeping. I dream that I will take out flour and sugar and other ingredients and mix together some really nice freshly, baked goodie for breakfast. Sometimes, I dream that I make pancakes or waffles, but mostly, I dream about making muffins. Blueberry ones, to be exact.
The reality is this: My kids wake up earlier than I do and I am a terrible sleeper and often grumpy in the mornings. Even before I had kids, I don’t think I had the gumption to get up in the morning and do more than make a cup of tea and pour a bowl of cereal. Yet, for some reason, I hold onto this dream, which is why I was excited to try the recipe for blueberry muffins from Bouchon Bakery.
Every book on baking has some kind of berry muffin recipe. This one did not seem to stand out to me especially until I got to the part where the author tells you to refrigerate the batter until the next morning. Really? This means that I could do all the messy work the night before and then just have to bake them in the morning? This looked like a recipe I needed to try.
So I did.
And it worked, sort of.
Like all Keller’s recipes, there’s a lot of precise measuring, one or two unexpected ingredients (blackstrap molasses, anyone?), and a big mess in the kitchen. Of course, the mess is mostly my fault for deciding that I needed to triple the recipe. Why do I do these things to myself?
Anyway, I got the batter made and sent it off to rest in the fridge while I slept and dreamt about warm muffins for breakfast. Except there was a teeny problem when I got up to finish off the muffins the next day.
The batter was cold and hard.
The last instruction before baking the muffins was to stir in the frozen blueberries. However, the batter was quite stiff and I found it almost impossible to stir it at all. After a couple of arm wrenching minutes, I gave up. That’s just not the kind of thing I do first thing in the morning. I left the batter on the counter, disgusted, and poured cereal for everyone. Sigh.
A couple of hours later, I came back to the batter. It was quite soft now and stirring the blueberries in was no big chore. I baked a pan right away as a mid-morning snack, but there was quite a significant chunk of batter left in the bowl. This will be because, if you remember from earlier, I tripled the recipe. Clearly, I had not really thought about the implications of that act. What would we do with three dozen muffins? All my original energy and motivation for this project was just about gone.
So, I decided not to bake the rest of the muffins. I froze them instead. Yes, I scooped out all the batter into oil-sprayed paper cups, sprinkled on the almond crumb topping, and stuck them in the freezer, unbaked.
The next day, I took them out of the pans and threw them into a plastic bag to store in the freezer, except for two. Those I stuck into ramekins and baked them in my little countertop oven.
They took a little longer to bake, but they baked up just fine. Just as good as any other muffin I have ever baked. Finally! Success! Next time, I will skip the refrigerating step and just go ahead and stir in the berries. Then, scoop out all the batter and freeze. The brilliance in this method, in case you have missed it, is that you can have freshly baked muffins any time and you can bake one or two or ten, depending on what you need. It makes me wonder if this will work with any muffin recipe? I’ll have to get back to you on that one, or if you are willing to try it, you can let me know.
Now, these are good muffins. Perhaps not your traditional blueberry muffin, though. The blackstrap molasses really gives it a unique flavor that brings the muffin very close to gingerbread, only with blueberries and no ginger. It’s a nice change from overly sweet muffin recipes and I liked the almond crumb topping that used almond meal instead of big chunks of almonds. Plus, the contrast in color with the muffin was nice. However, the best thing is that I still have over a dozen little muffin balls waiting for me in the freezer whenever I feel like a freshly baked muffin. And all the work has already been done. It’s a dream come true!
We are still in the throes of cookie dough making and baking. Things have slowed down a tad as orders have slowed down. Plus, our freezer is so full of cookie dough that I am almost afraid for my life every time I go to open it. That will get better as orders are delivered and shipped out.
In the meantime, I just had to take a break from cookie dough and make something else that has been on my mind.
Sea Salt Caramels.
I used this recipe and it worked beautifully. The boys kept saying they were the best caramels they have ever had. We took them around with us while delivering orders yesterday and offered them as samples. Perhaps next year we will have a new section for our fund raiser: candy!
Or maybe not. I’m thinking more along the lines of Christmas presents right now. I know it seems early, but it is coming soon and I like to be prepared. Plus, making these little cut out kits reminds me that Christmas is drawing near.
Holiday shortbread shapes.
Gingerbread framily shapes.
We still have a couple of sets for sale. Each box comes with 11-15 cookies and little royal icing mix that includes a disposable piping bag. Secretly, I might be hoping that we don’t sell out so that I can use them, but, really, I can make more. And I probably will anyway. It’s never too early to get ready, right?