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Sticky Rice Cones

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.

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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)

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Rinse, then soak about 3.5 kilos of sticky rice with 500 grams of split yellow mung beans for three hours.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Trio of Yumminess

This month I have really fallen behind on the French Fridays posting schedule. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I haven’t made the recipes. With the exception of today’s recipe, I have made them, they just haven’t been made on time. So, to distract you from the fact that I did not even attempt the coeur, I will catch you up on the two that I have made and show you a bonus one that I made yesterday for V-day that the group has not made yet.

Recipe #1: Brown Sugar Squash and Brussel Sprouts en Papillote

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I meant to follow the recipe and cook this in a package, really, but at the last minute, I changed my mind and ended up with just roasted veggies with no apples. It was tasty and I don’t regret it one bit. I knew I would miss the crispy browned bits. Maybe some other time I will try it all wrapped up.

Recipe #2: Fresh Orange Pork Tenderloin

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This recipe was liked by all. It was simple and it was a nice and light, a welcome change to heavy wintry foods. The husband said it tasted even better the next day when he had it for lunch. I liked the pairing of orange with pork very much and imagine that this dish would be equally good in the summertime with peaches.

Recipe #3: Gâteau Basque

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I struggled up until the last minute with what to serve for dessert on Valentine’s Day. This week’s ffwd recipe, coeur à la crème, was out because of that pesky lactose intolerance issue. I wasn’t about to make a dessert for us that I could not partake myself. My original idea was the make the orange-almond tart, but when I went to start, I discovered that I had no almond flour. As I was flipping through the rest of the cookbook, I came across the gâteau, and thought it would be perfect.

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And it was. As a bonus, it was easy to make, too. I used a jar of my precious sour cherry jam for the filling and tried to make a nice heart design on the top, which sorta worked out.

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We all agreed that it was delicious, kinda like filled shortbread, but better and really good with tea or coffee. It’s even better and more fun if you have a paper crown on your head, thanks to the husband for buying valentine’s day crackers. When this comes up in the regular ffwd rotation, I will be more than happy to make it again.

Friday Catch Up

Well, I hope that you have all had a wonderful week. Ours has been busy with all the work and celebrating that goes with big holidays. We had the bonus excitement that comes with a white Christmas. Baking cookies on Christmas Eve with snow softly falling outside is a memory I would like never to forget. It was gone the next day, but, surprisingly, we got more on Boxing Day. There is nothing like sledding to tire little boys out. Now, I am ready to relax for a few days and catch up on sleep (which I am a bit short on right now), movie watching, and playing games with the boys.

First, though, I am going to catch up on December’s FfwD recipes. In the midst of all the other holiday baking, I did manage to squeeze in cooking all the FfwD recipe for December. The Saturday before Christmas, we went to the grocery store and I came home with a nice big piece of celery root.

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I have never before prepped, cooked, or eaten this particular veggie before, so I was curious about how it would taste. The prepping part was surprisingly hard, but I have weak hands. There was quite a lot of banging involved with cutting up this big root ball, but I did manage it eventually. What surprised me after all that work, was that the pieces floated in the water! The potato pieces sank to the bottom of the pot, but the celery root bobbed at the top like apples.

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Generally, I try to avoid creamy things and since I planned to serve the puree with the Pork (not chicken), apples, and cream a la normande, I boiled the potatoes and celery root in salted water instead of milk. Speaking of pork, this recipe turned out to be as nice and easy as everyone said it was. I mixed in some sage in the flour as Dorie suggests in the Bonne Idee section and it did make the pork look prettier, as well as smell wonderful.

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I added some leftover bacon that was lying around to the sauce at the end, and we all agreed that it was a nice addition to the otherwise creamy sauce. The sauce was great over the celery root puree. Only one of use did not like the puree, but that same kid does not care for celery, so that was not a surprise. I liked that the puree tasted lighter than traditional mashed potatoes. It would definitely go with everything, as Dorie suggests.

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After all this, it was pretty easy work to make the Cheese-it-ish crackers. I rolled out the dough while it was still soft and then froze it. On Christmas Eve, while I was baking a thousand (it seemed) cookies, I snuck a pan of crackers in the mix to have as a savory snack among the sweetness.

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I used a mild, shredded cheese mix that I had in the fridge, and added smoked paprika to the dough. They baked up prettily, and everyone liked them, especially the husband, who probably wouldn’t care if he never saw another cookie for a year. I wonder how these would taste with other cheeses? I found the crackers almost too mild, so I suspect I would like them more with a stronger tasting cheese.

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These crackers were almost all gone the day I made them, so I may have to make another batch soon and see for myself. We’re supposed to get more snow tomorrow (yay!), so that would be a good time for me to do this recipe again. Or, maybe, I’ll go sledding with the boys!

Roasted Autumn Fruits and Herby Brined Pork Chops

Pork and fruit go very well together, especially if the pork is brined. In our house, sweet and salty things are much appreciated. As far as I’m concerned, whoever thought up salted caramel was a genius, and any excuse to have fruit instead of vegetables as a side dish always makes the boys happy.

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, Endives, Apples, and Grapes looked dubious to me. I like endives just fine, and I did look for them, but I could not find them. However, I must confess to not looking all that hard because I knew it would be a hard sell to the boys. I’ve only just got them used to sauteed dinosaur kale and that only goes down because I drown cook it in bacon fat.

I was relieved that Dorie provided an alternative idea for this recipe in the Bonne Idee column next to the recipe. This feature, by the way, is one of the things I love about her cookbooks. She always provides variations that sub out ingredients for different times of the year or even different meals. Sometimes, there are even ideas regarding what to do with leftovers. Anyway, I decided to make the Thanksgiving Squash and Apples variation.

I used acorn squash, apples, green seedless grapes, rosemary, thyme, and chestnuts. The chestnuts I found at Costco in the nut section. I was pretty ecstatic about this find because it was a big bag, it was cheap ($5 and change, I think), and they are organic. (I chose to push aside its carbon footprint, for now)

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Everything looked happy in the pan. I melted some butter and sprinkled on some sea salt to simulate salted butter. Oh, by the way, I also decided to roast the fruit instead of pan sauteeing on the stovetop. I wanted leftovers, you see, and this seemed to me the best way to cook more with minumum cleanup and fuss. The chestnuts got added halfway through the cooking time because I did not want them to burn.

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After awhile, I turned them over and let them finish cooking awhile longer. They looked great coming out of the oven. Earlier in the day, I had brined my pork chops, so while the fruit was in the oven, the husband was grilling. If you have never brined a pork chop, I urge you to try. It doesn’t take long to prep and it makes the meat more moist and infuses it with flavor. These pork chops came from a friend’s farm and, because of the way he raises them, they are really lean. If we didn’t brine them, they would be really dry.

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The results of our labors were delicious. The fruit’s flavors had concentrated wonderfully in the oven. The grapes tasted super sweet and the squash was nice and salty and creamy. It all went really well with the brined pork chops which were perfectly cooked, thanks to the husband. I’ve included the recipe for the brine below in case you want to try them yourself.

Next time: Sweet apples and sour dough, maybe

Herby Brined Pork Chops

4 center cut pork chops at least an inch thick.
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 thyme sprigs
3 rosemary sprigs
2 large garlic cloves, sliced or minced
Freshly ground pepper
Boiling water
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups ice

Prepare the brine:
1. In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, combine the salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add boiling water to measure 2 cups total. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. The boiling water helps to bring out the flavors of the herbs and garlic into the brine. Transfer to a large container that will hold both the pork chops and the brine. You want it to be able to hold at least 2 quarts, preferably more.

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2. Pour 1/3 cup white wine into the empty measuring cup. Add 2 cups of ice and transfer to your brining container. Stir until all the ice is melted. The mixture should not be warm at all.

Prep the Pork:
1. Using a paring knife, poke slits into both sides of the pork chop, about 6-8 slits per side is enough. This will help the brine penetrate the meat. See?

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2. Cut slits into the membrane side of the pork chops, about 1 inch apart. These help the chops stay nice and flat while they are cooking.

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3. Place chops in the container with the brine and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour, preferably 2-3 and no more than 5. We did our for 5 hours and they were a tad on the salty side, so be careful not to overbrine.

To cook:

1. Remove pork from brine and pat dry. Make sure your grill is nice and hot and clean.

2. The husband grilled the chops over a hot fire, turning them over every two minutes for a total of 3 turns, making sure to rotate them as well to get those nice cross hatched lines. They were perfectly done after 8 minutes, but you’ll want to cook them to your own taste.

This makes 4 really large servings.

Brunch May Never be the Same

Brunch is our favorite meal.  I would say breakfast, but, really only one of us in this family is up early enough to actually cook a breakfast and he has yet to learn how to cook.  Well, he might be able to manage scrambled eggs, but french toast, bacon, and coffee?  Not yet.  We’ll work on that.  In the meantime, every Sunday, after we come home from church we make a nice big brunch.

We always have eggs in some form and a carb.  The carb varies from week to week depending on my mood.  Sometimes, we have pancakes or waffles, other times if we have leftover bread there will be french toast, and if I am feeling really lazy, I make toast. Occasionally, when in an ambitious mood, I will make some boiled potatoes the night before and we’ll have hash and biscuits.  The husband is in charge of the eggs and the meat, which is almost always bacon.  Until last week.

Last week, we made our own breakfast sausage.  Yes, yes, we did.

We had to make some space in the big freezer for a big order of beef from the butcher, so I dragged out a very large piece of pork that we had in there from our last order.

This unsmoked, raw ham was probably about 10 pounds, with the bone.  I had the husband cut it up into chunks (throwing the bone back in the freezer for stock later), which he added to a tray full of seasonings that I had already prepared.  In the mix was garlic, chopped sage, lots of grated ginger, and a lot of dried apples from our fall adventure.

All this went into our food grinder, which comes out probably only once every five years.  It was a bit messy and I was glad I had the foresight to wear an apron!

After about 45 minutes, it was all ground and I poured in some hard pear cider and mixed it up.  We cooked a little to make sure it tasted ok.  It was a bit salty and the flavors did not seem blended yet, but we were not worried.   Ok, maybe I was worried a little.   The mix was really lean because we had not added any extra fat.  I hoped that everything would mellow out and blend together nicely as it aged because  that was sure a LOT of work to go through to not have some awesome sausage at the end.  We had about 9 pounds of sausage when we were all done and everything got packed into freezer bags and stowed into the freezer.

Yesterday, we took out the first one and sliced it up.

Then, I pan fried them in a little oil.

It was good; a little on the salty side, but tasty.  The flavors had melded nicely with its rest in the freezer.  The ginger gives it kind of an asian flavor and the dried apples made it subtly sweet.  Because the meat was so lean, it did not have a trace of greasiness, and it was a little firmer than other sausages.  Still, for a first try at making our own sausage, we are pretty pleased with it.  Next time, I will try to add some pork belly to give it some more fat.  The husband mentioned that this would be really good in a stuffing/dressing for Thanksgiving.  I think he’s right, but I’m not sure we will have any left by then!

p.s.  I used the breakfast sausage recipe from the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.   I have had this book for awhile now and this is the first thing I have made with it.   I added the dried apples and substituted pear cider for the water called for in the recipe.