Saturday, August 23, 2014

Szechuan Chili Oil

If there is one condiment I would never share with anyone, it is chili oil.

Perhaps it is the reason why we love to go to Duck King so much, simply because the chili oil is great, if not wonderful. The best one I've had so far was at a small restaurant I used to go to when I was still doing office work. Heck it was a long time ago I already forget the name of the place and sadly it was replaced by Starbucks. Anyhow, I would refuse to go to a Chinese restaurant with average chili oil even when the dish is so stellar compared to Duck King. Chili oil makes a simple dish heavenly, I think.

I actually never bother to make my own chili oil because Duck King is only 10 minutes away from home. Not until yesterday.

My friend sent me a bunch of Szechuan peppercorn. It is quite hard to find it where I live. I have never cooked with it before, but I love the dishes that incorporate those particular peppercorns in. Having so much in my disposal, I immediately think of Mapo Tofu, Bon Bon Chicken, vegetable stir-fries, and many other Szechuan inspired dishes. But no, they have to wait far in line because Baby I am gonna make you sweat! With chili oil.

Adapted from
Infused Oil:
1 litre vegetable oil
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 whole garlic
3 inch ginger, the fatter the better
3 tbs coriander seeds
6 star anise
2 tbs green cardamom

Ground Chili:
225 gr dried chili
1/4-1/2 cup Szechuan peppercorns
3 tsp salt
3 tbs soy sauce

-Bruise all the spices for the infused oil
-In a heavy bottomed pot, pour the oil, put the bruised ingredients in, then simmer on low heat for at least two hours.
**You want the garlic and the ginger just to fizz, not burn, not even brown.

-Place the dried chili on a pan and bake it in the oven for around 10 minutes on 150C. 

**This step is actually optional but definitely sane. If you buy your dried chili in a traditional market, chances are they do not keep it in tight container. So you wanna get rid of any ants or whatever living being lives there. It adds extra smokiness as well.
-Grind the chili and peppercorns. You don't want it to be too coarse or too fine it turns into powder.

-Place your ground chili in a big bowl, use either glass or stainless bowl, Mix the salt and soy sauce in.

After two hours.....
-Prepare a sieve
-Crank the heat up and let the ginger and the garlic furiously fizz.
-Pour the infused oil through the sieve. Be careful, it sizzles. 

Stir and let cool..

I am out of words.

It looks.. Demonic.. and judging from the time it took me to infuse the oil with that amount of spices, I'm not surprised that it is tantalizingly addictive. It is chili oil not like the one I've ever had. It has depth and character. It can even turn a humble instant noodle to a five star noodle dish. Toss it on your dumplings, on dim sum, on meat, on veggies, oh the endless possibilities!

If you're feeling crafty for the next holiday season, buy small mason jars and fill them with your own homemade Szechuan Chili Oil. Lovely gifts they would make. 

Okay, off I go now tossing some oil on poached eggs.

Have fun making it,

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Flax & Oat Sourdough

Passion? Obsession?

There is a very thin line separating the two. For people who have an OCD tendency, the line is often blurred and it is so easy to cross over to the other –not so pretty- side. My family thinks that my passion for bread has become an obsession. They do not mind though. At least we do not starve ;)

Whenever I see another sourdough recipe, if I can’t make it soon, I would think of it until it ingrains in my unconscious mind. Sometimes I even have a lucid dream where I ponder the recipe in my dream and then wake up only to think about that recipe. This unrealistic behavior would stop if the bread in mind is already kneaded and baked. Although when the result is not as imagined, the whole pondering process will start again. Devious, devious cycle!

But let’s not bore you with me "Lecter-ing" myself.

Lol! I can't help it. I'm a hard core Hannibal fan.

Anyhow, let’s talk about this sourdough that contains oats and flax seeds. This bread had been haunting me for some time. When I first saw the title, I was smitten and saved it right away. Sadly, I was so busy at that time I couldn’t make it as soon as I had hoped. So fast forward to several weeks later, I exorcised that demon.

Adapted from
2 tbs unfed sourdough culture 
140 gr water
140gr bread flour

280 gr bread flour
112 gr whole wheat flour
130gr water
All of the levain
2 tsp salt

¼ cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
1 tbs poppy seeds, optional
Enough water to cover the oat/flax/poppy mixture

Approximately 7 hours before making the dough, mix the sourdough culture and water until fully dispersed then add the flour. Cover with plastic and let rest.

Mix the oats, flax, and water. Cover with plastic and let rest.

Make the Dough
-Mix the Levain with water, add flour and mix just until the flour is wet. It should look like a shaggy mess. Cover with plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
-Add salt and Soaker then mix just until the salt and soaker is incorporated into the dough. Do not over mix here. It should not be a tight ball of dough yet.
-Stretch and fold every 30-45 minutes for 6 intervals. Cover with plastic while it rests.
-Shape however you want it and proof at room temperature for 1½-2 hours. 

-Preheat oven to 230C 
-Carefully plop your bread on the pan and make a slash.
-Bake for 40-45 minutes until a dark crust has formed.
-Let cool at room temperature for approximately one hour>> THIS, is the hardest part.

That is the picture of the loaf right after I took it out. 


This is the close up of the crust several minutes after it sat on room temperature.

The crust cracked slowly but sure because the temperature dropped from extremely high to just room temperature. The crumb was still 'cooking' on the inside because of the heat it retained and the crust was experiencing the gradual coolness from the outside. Being able to witness this process is a very rewarding experience. Bakers call it "Sing". Yes, you can hear the bread sing. The multiple crackling sound is very audible and it is the song this type of bread sings. 

About the excess flour on the crust, I tried substituting all purpose flour with rice flour for my couche. It worked WONDERS! The dough did not stick at all. Of course as you can also see, I put too much rice flour. But no problemo. It's a matter of aesthetic preference.

Let's check the crumbs..
--I failed to refrain myself from cutting it before it was completely cool. Sinner!

Creamy, delicate, delicious

It is a loaf you would want to bring on a picnic with your family and friends. Accompanied by some butter and a bottle of wine, if possible, it would make your day picture perfect. 

This recipe does take longer to make but it really is easier to handle because the dough is not that wet. The resulting bread is also seed packed, healthy, and very delicious it pays off all you hard work. Though next time I would add another 10 grams of so of water just like in the original recipe to have bigger holes in the crumbs. 

See? See?

That is why I love bread. Always, there is a room for improvement. 

But that is another project for another day, another glorious self-torturing day. Now let's just enjoy the bread with what we have in the pantry, in this case, Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette. Amiko's favorite.

Happy Baking,

Submitted to YeastSpotting
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heavenly Panzanella

Every home bread baker will always have days when they bake more than they could eat.

Well, freezing is an option.

But what if you’re not in the mood to freeze your baked goods? Surely you’d feel guilty for throwing those wonderfully made bread. You can dice them, season them, and turn them into beautiful croutons for your soups and salads. You can also grate them, dry them, season them,  and make homemade bread crumbs that you can use to coat your choice of protein, or sprinkle on top of a bed of creamy mac’n’cheese. So many options, so many delicious ideas to turn days old bread into something special. But here’s my favorite, Panzanella.

"Panzanella...Summer salad of central Italy consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Also pan molle (soft bread) and panbagnato (soaked bread). From the Latin panis (bread)."

---Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, John Mariani [Broadway Books:New York] 1997 (p. 178)

The first time I tried Panzanella, I was absolutely not impressed. The vinaigrette was too much it turned the bread into a mush and the tomatoes were not ripe enough. Under ripe tomatoes are best for making sambal, methinks. So I did not care about Panzanella for a long, long time. That is, until I start baking my own bread. With the abundance of bread I have at home, I have to have perfect Panzanella. Two key ingredients in making perfect Panzanella are very ripe tomatoes and bread with open crumbs that would gladly soak the lovely vinaigrette. 

There are many ways to make Panzanella. Some of the Florentine traditionalists actually just soak the bread in water and add some very ripe tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. They disapprove additional ingredients such as olives, mozzarella, white wine, capers, celery, red wine, red onion, cucumber, bell, anchovies, peppers, lemon juice, and garlic. But hey, with all due respect to the Fiorentino, I beg to differ. So let’s jump on my not mushy, simple, vegan, unbelievably delicious Panzanella band wagon!

2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 red or white  onion, thinly sliced
A handful of basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3-5 black olives, drained and thinly sliced
1 tbs capers, drained and shred to pieces
French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (4-5 cups)
a pinch of salt
2-3 tbs vegetable oil, for pan frying

For the vinaigrette:
1 finely minced garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
Important note: DO NOT put too much salt in your vinaigrette!
Once the vinaigrette is poured on the salad and mixed well with the other ingredients, you will have additional saltiness from the capers and the olives. 

For the bread, you can cut the crust if it is already too hard. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and a pinch of salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. You are doing this to prevent the bread from turning into an unappetizing mush.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, basil, olives, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to marry.

Mamma Mia!
Stale bread+ripe tomatoes+vinaigrette= MANNA.

I use my sourdough bread here and if you happen to have sourdough bread at your disposal, all the better. It will take your Panzanella to the next level. If you want to add cucumber, fine. It will provide an extra crunch. Just make sure you take the seeds out first , otherwise it would make the bread too soggy and that's something you wanna avoid.

If you have never had Panzanella before, then I advise you to intentionally leave your bread to stale. Don't you dare touch it. Get some of the ripest tomatoes possible and by God! Make yourself some Panzanella and get lost in all its glory.


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