Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Asian Sweet Potato Salad with Cashews

This delicious salad recipe is loosely based on a salad recipe from Tyler Florence's  cookbook, Tyler Florence's Family Meal. The main change I made was instead of using friend asian noodles in the salad, or friend wontons, I went with cashews. I had just received some fabulous nuts to try from ShopRite as part of the Potluck Blog Panel that I am involved with, and I was eager to try them in some Asian-inspired cuisine.  I was careful to only use half of them, because I am saving the other half to make Chinese cashew chicken the following week. At any rate, this sweet potato salad is a winner, and the cashews are a perfect addition and replacement for the friend wontons. The dressing - a creamy sesame/carrot/ginger dressing, which is an interesting take on the traditional carrot/ginger dressing, is absolutely delicious.

Asian Sweet Potato Salad with Cashews
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
4 cups lightly packed arugula
two handfulls of cashews
1/2 of a hothouse cucumber, finely sliced
1 cup pitted and halved dates
2 T fresh cilantro, diced
juice of one lemon

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 T low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup grated carrots
2 tsp grated ginger
2 T rice vinegar
2 T mirin

Place the sweet potatoes in a saucepan with lightly salted water, and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat until just tender (they should still have a tiny bit of crunch; remember, you are not trying to make mashed potatoes!)

Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Combine the arugula, dates, and cilantro (I used much less than the recipe called for) in a large mixing bowl. Some alfalfa bean spouts might be in order as well for the next time I make this - just an idea. Add the lemon juice and a tiny bit of salt and pepper and toss well. Combine the potatoes with the dressing and mix everything together. Yum!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Chinese-Style Duck Dumplings

I have made different types of dumplings in the past, as have some of my guest blogging friends. Yet, I have usually used store bought wonton or dumpling wrappers, which work pretty well but are slightly hard to seal. For these dumplings, Chinese duck dumplings, I used the author's recipe for the dough, as I have been small bite savory pastry happy lately (I have made empanadas, dumplings and spanikopita all within the past week, all with my own dough). This recipe is from the Food Network's Bobby Flay, and is really a winner as far as Chinese style duck dumplings go. The one difference - instead of using duck breasts, I used two medium sized legs of duck confit for my half recipe - less fat and still delicious.

Chinese Style Duck Dumplings (modified from this recipe from Bobby Flay)

4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups hot water

2 boneless duck breasts, or 2 legs of duck confit, cooked and shredded, fat removed
1 1/2 cup finely chopped savoy cabbage
3 T fresh chopped scallions
2 T fresh chopped cilantro
2 T fresh chopped chives
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 T chili paste
1 T hoisin sauce
2 T cornstarch
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
salt and pepper
Canola oil, for frying

1 cup black vinegar (I used balsamic instead)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 T hoisin sauce
2 T fresh lime juice
1 T chile paste
2 T freshly chopped cilantro
1 tsp diced habanero pepper
2 T freshly chopped mint

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl. For the dough, combine the ingredients in a stand mixer and turn on lightly floured surface to knead with some excess flour if needed. Rest covered. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in another bowl.

To assemble the dumplings, roll out the dough to about an 1/8 inch thick and cut circles using a 3 inch round cookie cutter, or a similarly sized top of a glass. Put a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each and fold into a half moon shape, so that the filling sits in the center of the dumpling. Wet the edge of the dough and pinch to seal with your fingers. If you like, pleat the edge of the dumplings using a fork and curl the dumpling slightly using your fingers to tug gently.

Heat a skillet with a thin coating of canola oil and add the dumplings in concentric circles so that they are touching. Cool until the bottoms are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. The reduce the heat and add water to cover 1/4 of the way up the dies of the dumplings. Be careful - it will spatter. No surprise - my husband does this part! Cover the skilled and adjust the heat to simmer the water. Cook for seven minutes. They will be done when the water is gone.

Yum - these were perfect, addictive and delicious!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Visit to Mast Brothers Chocolate

I live in Park Slope, but recently I've discovered some great places in Williamsburg/Dumbo as well. A couple weekends ago, my husband and I visited and took a tour of brooklyn's "bean to bar" craft chocolate producer, Mast Brothers Chocolate.  You can buy tickets for the tours, which cost about $10 here.

At Mast Brothers, they make all of their lovely wrapped chocolate bars on site from start to finish. All are different types of vegan dark chocolate. Some of my favorites include Madagascar, Fleur de Sel, Almonds & Sea Salt, Hazelnut and Serrano peppers - all ingredients lovingly mixed with handmade dark chocolate.

Mast Brothers uses the bean to bar approach, which means all of the dark chocolate is made directly from cacao beans, by extracting the cocoa right here in Brooklyn. The whole process uses the finest organic ingredients, a wholesome handcrafted approach and some beautifully wrapped chocolate bars. We enjoyed the tour to learn how the chocolates are made, and tasted all of their delicious dark chocolates in the tasting room. Below are some pictures from the time we spent there.

Above is a picture of me with some of the chocolate, while below is one of the cacao pods. Chocolate is made from the beans inside. There is also a bit of fruit inside which apparently tastes like mango. Who knew?

Below is where they wrap and package the chocolate.

Mixing, from the ground up beans . . .

Tempering of the chocolate, below . . .


Monday, March 21, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Lemon Black Bottom Pie

Lemon and chocolate . . .  most people would pretty confidently say that this would not be the best flavor combination. It's not something I would have ever tried until I tasted a slice of the lemon black bottom pie at Four & Twenty Blackbirds. A slice of that pie was like pure high calorie heaven. Pie is of course notoriously unhealthy. Don't kid yourself - more butter and calories are in a slice of pie than a cupcake any date of the week. At any rate, I had no recipe to go on, so I tried my very best to recreate the delicious pie. Here's how I did it. It was superb, but still a slice below the one at Four & Twenty Blackbirds.

I made a standard pie crust. I've experimented a lot, and used some canola oil to make the crust flake a bit more than my standard apple pie crust. The best way to do this would have been adding some lard instead, but I don't do lard, so the crust uses mostly butter with a bit of canola. Then I made a chocolate cream for a thin layer for the brown bottom, topped with a lemon curd for the lemon pie portion. Yum! Tart but sweet with a thin layer of chocolate. Trust me, it works! Just be sure to share with some friends.

Sasha's Lemon Black Bottom Pie
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1/4 cup ice water, or very cold water
3 oz canola oil

Chocolate Layer
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
2.5 oz semisweet chocolate
1/2 tsp cornstarch

Lemon Filling
4 large eggs
2 large eegg yolks
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 stick of butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp cornstarch

To make the crust, beat the butter into the flour and salt in your mixture, until it is well combined. Slowly add the canola oil and cold water and combine until it just forms a dough. Wrap with plastic wrap and allow to chill for one hour. Roll the dough and following typical pie making etiquette,  lay out in a pie dish. Bake using ceramic pie weights to weigh it down at 375 for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Make the chocolate brown bottom by bringing the cream to a simmer over low-medium heat. Stir in the chocolate until melted and well combined. Remove from heat and beat in the egg yolks. Add the cornstarch (mix with a tiny bit of water first), and stir well over medium heat until it thickens into a custard. Spread across the pie in a thin later, using either a pastry brush or a spoon. Allow to chill for about 15 minutes, while you make the lemon filling.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice and a pinch of salt until smooth. Add the butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add in the cornstarch to thicken. It should form a loose pudding after about 10 minutes. Filter through a sieve and allow to cool to room temperature. Fill the pie and refrigerate until firm, for at least three hours.  The recipe for the lemon curd portion was very loosely adapted from this recipe, with my own variations to get it the way I wanted it to go with the chocolate and pie crust.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Chocolate Pot Au Creme

Ah, chocolate pot au creme, one of those wonderful desserts I enjoyed so much in Paris during our trip to Europe last August. I finally decided to bring a taste of that home and try it out here - its easy enough. Pot a creme is a bit like chocolate pudding, except its more of a cream than a pudding in its consistency - a very subtle difference. I used the following recipe, which resulted in a thick, rich and creamy pot au creme.

Chocolate Pot Au Creme
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
5 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 large egg yolks
1/3 of a cup of sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 and place the milk and cream in a saucepan, bringing it to a simmer. Remove from heat, and add the chocolate, whisking until melted and smooth. Combine the egg yolks and sugar in another bowl with a whisk, and gradually combine this with the chocolate mixture. Strain into another bowl and cool for ten minutes.

Divide into 6 custard or souffle dishes. Cover the top of each one with foil and place in a large baking pan. Bring a pot of water to boil, and surround the dishes halfway up the side of the cups with the hot water, just like when you make creme brulee. Bake for about 55 minutes, then chill for three hours before eating.
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