A Tale of Two Buns – Part Two

Happy (Lunar) New Year, everyone!  It’s like regular New Year’s Day but without the pressure of having to find something to do at midnight and the hangover the next day.

After the moderate success of our attempts at making steamed pork buns, Kristi and I started in on her preference, the baked ones.

You may remember from yesterday’s post that when we made the dough we started out with a whisk and then kneaded by hand, so we were ready to do that again when all of a sudden I hear:

“D, oh my gosh, wait! We have a mixer!”

Sure enough, there it was hidden behind their blender, a KitchenAid mixer. This time the dough was much easier to make.

IMG_6999Set it and forget it! Not really, but I like saying it.

Within a few minutes we had our dough ready to go.  Then it needed to rise for a few hours.  There’s a lot of waiting when it comes to dough. But two hours later we were rewarded with a nice puffy ball.

IMG_6986Puff the magic dough ball.

The filling this time was a little richer. It was almost the same as the filling we made for the steamed buns, but with red onion and garlic, and hoisin sauce as well.

The good thing about baked bao is that you assemble them and then bake them upside down, so our questionable dough pleating skills were blissfully hidden on the bottom.

IMG_7014Turning these upside down hides all pleating sins.

After waiting another hour and a half (yeesh!), our bao were ready to bake.

IMG_7015Perfectly plump pork buns

In to the oven they go. The recipe called for 15 minutes.  So while we wait, here’s an unauthorized candid shot from earlier in the day when we were putting buns into the steamer.

IMG_5200Thanks to Brian for catching our stellar teamwork in action.

Fifteen minutes, and we’re done!  Er..maybe a little too done.

IMG_7024Dinner rolls anyone?

So maybe we overcooked them. It’s all part of the learning process! The crust was pretty hard when we took them out of the oven and we cursed the woman who wrote the recipe we followed (though to be fair, it was written 25 years ago, and Kristi’s oven was probably better and hotter). But they started softening up as they cooled. Still, I think 12 minutes next time.

The good news, though, is that the richer filling and the slightly denser dough was a perfect match! It tasted so indulgent that we had to eat 3. Each.

IMG_7027Tasty success!

So, there you have it. Our first attempt at making Chinese bao, in two forms. We learned a lot (Next time: bread flour, less cooking time, use a rolling pin, more pleating practice), so our future trials will be more successful.

Also learned: It’s not as intimidating as it looks to make something so delicious, in fact the active cooking time is surprisingly short. Oh, and bring a book, because there is a lot of downtime!

IMG_7031Two buns, both alike in dignity.

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A Tale of Two Buns – Part One

It’s Chinese New Year! The year of the Ram (or sheep or goat depending on who you ask) is about to begin. For those born under that sign, such as myself, great things are about to arrive. For the rest of you…well, I’m sure you’ll have a good year too.

My friend, Kristi, and I always try to celebrate in some capacity, whether it be dinner with family and friends, a trip to get some dim sum, or just an excuse to get a mani/pedi. Because who wants to start a new year with busted up nails?

This year we thought we’d do something different. For years we’ve been talking about making our own char siu bao (barbecue pork buns), so we figured it’s time to actually do it. Kristi has tried it before, but the attempt was…let’s just say…not ideal, so this time we had higher aspirations.

A bao is a steamed (or baked) bun filled with some sort of filling. At dim sum you can get the classic char siu, or with chicken or vegetable fillings. There are also the sweet versions filled with taro or bean paste, and they are all delicious packages of goodness.

These days the trendy thing is a flat version of bao that’s treated more like a sandwich or a taco. They are filled with things like pork belly, or spam, among other things, and used a lot in fusion cuisine.  But to me, they don’t feel the same.  The bread feels too spongy, or too tasteless, and every time you bite into one of them, the filling inevitably falls out the other end, which is not what a bao is supposed to be.  Is ist authentic, though?  My research was inconclusive.  All I know is that if you put lettuce anywhere near bao dough, you’re just wrong.

So it wasn’t a question about what style of bao we were going to make, but was it going to be steamed or baked? I prefer the fluffy, steamed kind that are like white clouds of delight, whereas Kristi prefers the slightly sweeter and denser, baked version. Obviously the only answer was to make both!

Today I will cover our first attempts at making the steamed buns, and tomorrow I will ring in the new year with our baking trials. Please remember, this is our first real try at this, and we are working on our technique. (How’s that for setting the bar low?!)

If there’s one thing Kristi is good at, it’s being a host. I went over to her place for our culinary adventure, and she had everything we needed already laid out.

IMG_6972Look at this spread!

And look how thrilled I am to be on a culinary adventure!

IMG_5192Grinning like an idiot with a steamer

First things first: YEAST!

IMG_6977You gotta have yeast.

We started mixing the dough with a whisk, as the (very old) recipe suggested, but that got too hard very quickly. Kristi took off her rings and dove right in to finish it off.
IMG_6983

IMG_6985This is no time for whisks.

Since it was our first time, we cheated and bought the char siu pork.  Baby steps.  While she finished the dough, I got to chopping.

IMG_6988I could have eaten all of this as is.

We decided to make slightly different fillings for each style of bun.  For the steamed ones, I mixed the pork with soy sauce, oyster sauce, some salt, pepper, sugar, and green onions.

IMG_6994Look how delicious!  

Then came the hard part.  Stuffing the buns.  There are plenty of videos on how to do it, and they make it all look so simple. “You just flatten a piece of dough, add a little pork, and pleat it like so.” They did it in about 10 seconds with perfect pleats.

Needless to say, we were not as skilled.

IMG_5193That doesn’t mean we weren’t having a good time!

IMG_7002Ta-dah! Our first one actually turned out quite pretty.

IMG_7010The rest had…mixed results. 

It’s not as easy as it looks.

Then comes the waiting. The dough needs to rise for an HOUR AND A HALF.  Good thing we had some errands to do.  After all that waiting we were rewarded with some light, puffy buns ready to be cooked.

IMG_7016They look way better now.

Throw them into the steamer for 15 minutes…

IMG_7019The anticipation was killing us!

And may I present to you the first pork bun made by both me and Kristi:

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I’m not gonna lie, the rest of them were not this pretty.  But the taste was spot on.  The dough was fluffy and light, and the filling was just salty enough to make you want more. I’m pretty impressed with our first try.

Now that we tried the steamed buns, how would we fare with the baked buns?!  Tune in tomorrow for the answer! #cliffhanger

Wishlist Wednesday

This week we want everything from salami, to cocktails, to adorkable mugs.

1.  Olympic Provisions Salami of the Month Club

Salami of the Month

Salami is one of my favorite things.  If you have it on a charcuterie plate at a party, I have to stop myself from eating it all.  So what could be better than receiving a new salami every month? Portland-based Olympic Provisions’ Salami of the Month Club is perfect for your meat-loving friend (me).

Buy it here.

2.  Alien Sightings Salt & Pepper Set

Salt & Pepper Shaker

It’s just like an alien invasion but instead of destroying the planet, this UFO brings some otherworldly flavor.

Available at Dot & Bo.

3. Pacific Pickle Works Bloody Mary Elixir

Bloody Mary Elixir

I took a class at The Cocktail Lab late last year, all about making the perfect Bloody Mary.  It was a great time, met some really great people, and most importantly discovered Pacific Pickle Works.  In addition to making amazing pickles, they make this Bloody Mary Elixir that is phenomenal.  It’s everything you want in a Bloody Mary, just add your favorite tomato juice.  I took this little bottle home for the holidays, and my family enjoyed it for days.  I want to add it to everything I cook, it’s that good.

Available at The Cocktail Lab, or at Pacific Pickle Works.

4. Penguin Cocktail Shaker

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 8.16.13 AM

Speaking of The Cocktail Lab, my new favorite store, this Penguin Cocktail Shaker stares at me every time I walk in, daring me to take him home.  I’ve resisted his charms so far, but one day I’ll probably give in.

You can take him home from here.

5. Tea Rex Mug

il_570xN.573541548_4yr4

CAN. YOU. STAND IT??!!!

There are two things I love in life: Dinosaurs, and a good pun.  Actually a third thing: mugs.  My boyfriend will tell you I have too many mugs, and I say not enough!  Honestly I can’t stand how cute this is and I might just go buy it right now.  TEA REX!  RARRRRRR!

Meatloaf by the Sea

Meatloaf.  It’s such a terrible name for such a delicious dish.

I mean, yes, it’s a loaf of ground meat, so it’s an accurate description, but anything with the word “loaf” in it isn’t going to sound appetizing.

Meatloaf has been around for centuries.  So every bite is like eating a piece of history. Or something.

When I was growing up, meatloaf sounded like something gross, and pictures always made it look super dry, or there were peas in it or something, and what kid likes peas?  It also always seemed to have ketchup on it, in some sort of decorative pattern, and to this day I still think it’s super freaky that ketchup doesn’t melt in a 350 degree oven.

These, however, I have learned to appreciate meatloaf in all its forms.  It’s a delicious dish, with almost endless ways to make it.  You can change the types of meat or vegetables involved.  Switch up the seasonings. You can make it in a loaf pan, you can free form it, you can make miniature versions, you can even make it into cupcakes!  You can make it healthy, and most importantly, it’s an easy way to feed a family, or just yourself (for days!). The fun never ends!

For example, this past weekend my family went on a mini-retreat to the beach.  It’s hard to do anything but sit and stare at the ocean from the beach house, but when it came time for dinner, we decided to keep it simple and make a turkey meatloaf.

My sister picked out this recipe: Turkey Meatloaf with Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.

It took about 15 minutes to throw together and 45 to cook, and we had dinner for 12 ready to go.

IMG_6580It looks delicious even before it’s cooked!

IMG_6632
It looks even more delicious when it’s finished!

Obviously you need mashed potatoes and green beans to complete the classic look.

IMG_6626

And then after we were all satiated, we went back to looking at this:

IMG_6601

Can you blame us?

End of (Summer) Days

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The Melrose Farmer’s Market is my favorite, and not just because it’s close to my apartment.  The people are friendly, the prices are right, and there’s enough selection for you to get whatever you came for, and try something new.  If you’ve never been to the bread guy there, do yourself a favor and take a trip to see him.  He always looks like he’s a little sunburned, or like he gets in the oven with the bread, but he’s the best.  And so is his bread.

On one end of the market is a stand that has something new every week, in addition to the usual fresh bok choy and gai-lan (Chinese broccoli, and no, I didn’t have to look up it’s proper name. I’m, like, way cultured).

This past Sunday it was a whole table full of fresh heirloom tomatoes.  To me, tomatoes are the taste of Summer.  Refreshing, sweet, cool, with a scent just makes me want to be in a garden.  I burn tomato-scented candles during the winter, that’s how much I love the smell.

Sunday also happened to be the last day of summer 2014. September is that time where we start to notice the sun setting a little earlier, the weather starts being a little cooler (unless you are here in LA where it’s still in the 80s), and the Pumpkin Spice Lattes start appearing on Starbucks menus.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, when Autumn comes around it feels like it’s time to get back to work, even if you didn’t have a summer vacation.

Anyway, this table smelled amazing, and these tomatoes were all so perfectly ripe that I bought a bunch and made some pico de gallo with them, and maybe just ate one of them like an apple, because they were irresistible.  But the season is over yet again, and we must move on.

So goodbye beautiful tomatoes, peaches, and nectarines. It’s time to part ways for now, but I’ll see you again.  Until then I will have to sustain myself on squashes, apples, pears, stews, pumpkin spice lattes…hmm….actually, no rush. Take your time coming back, k?  XOXO