Sunday, March 23, 2014

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Salted Caramel Apple Pie w/ Lattice Top
Thanks to That's So Michelle's recipe for Caramel Apple Jello Shots, I had a ton of peeled Granny Smiths sitting in my fridge.  Since they were the pricier organic variety, the frugal imp inside me just can't allow them to be thrown out.
Apple sauce or apple butter would have been the easiest way to go.  I almost did until a lightbulb of an idea went off in my head.  The Caramel Apple Jello Shots were so great, why not caramel apple pie?  And why not a salted caramel apple pie?
I had never baked a pie from scratch before.  I looked through my recipe books and my first attempt was a disaster.  The top crust was great, but my bottom crust had absorbed too much liquid from the filling and had become a soggy, gooey mess.  So I very carefully cut and lifted the top crust, spooned the filling into bowl and started all over again with the bottom crust.
On my second attempt, I pre-baked the bottom crust and sealed it with a layer of egg whites.  I then spooned the filling back into the bottom shell, added the top crust and "glued" it back to the edges of the bottom crust with egg whites.
The operation was a success!  It was crucial to keep the dough cold until the moment it goes into the oven.  I kept putting it back into the refrigerator after each step of handling.  All that work was worth it.  Both the bottom and top crust turned out delightfully flaky.
And I didn't even realize that the next day was Pi Day.
What was meant to be was meant to be.

Double Pie Crust
2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/12 sticks cold butter, cut into cubes
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp ice water
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt.  Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until butter is about pea-sized and the flour is coarse.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
While tossing the flour mixture around, sprinkle in the ice water evenly.  Take a handful of the crumbly mixture and squeeze it together.  If it doesn't hold, sprinkle in another 1/2 tablespoon of ice water.
Divide the dough into two equal parts.  With the heel of your hand, squish each of part the dough into
1/2-inch thick disks.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Salted Caramel Sauce
1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream (or evaporated milk), warmed
1/2 tbsp sea salt
Use a large and heavy saucepan that holds at least 2 quarts.  Spread sugar evenly to cover the bottom of the sauce pan.  Over low heat, stir the sugar with a wooden spoon or whisk as it melts.  Stop stirring once most of the sugar is melted and swirl the melted sugar around the bottom of the pan.  Continue swirling and cooking the sugar until it is a deep amber color or 350 degrees F.
Carefully add and stir in butter.  The mixture will bubble violently.
Remove the pan from heat.  Slowly add the cream or evaporated milk.  The mixture will bubble a lot.  Stir until the mixture is smooth.  Stir in sea salt.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie w/ Lattice Top
3 lbs Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and sliced into 1/2" thick)
Salted Caramel Sauce
1 egg white, slightly beaten
Double Pie Crust
Fill a large pot with 4 cups of water.  Bring water to boil.  Add apple slices and stir.  Remove from heat.  Cover pot with a lid for 10 minutes.
Drain the apple slices and let cool.
Take one of the disks of pie crust out of the refrigerator.  On lightly floured waxed paper, roll the disk into a 12-inch circle.
Lightly dust a 9-inch pie pan with flour.  Carefully place the dough into the pie pan.  Gently press the dough into the pie pan, just enough so that it lines up with the bottom and edges.
Prick the bottom of the dough several times with a fork.  Trim the edges, leaving 1/2-inch of excess dough from the edge.  Flute the edges of the dough by pinching them between your thumb and index fingers.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
On lightly floured waxed paper, roll the other disk into a 12-inch circle.  Remove the waxed paper from under the dough.  Slice the dough into 1/2-inch wide strips.  Place the waxed paper on a large plate or cookie sheet.  Carefully place the strips on top of the waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Lightly press a sheet of foil onto the bottom crust.  Fill the pan at least 2/3 full with dry beans or pie weights.  Place the pie pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the beans or weights and foil.  Brush the bottom of the pie crust with egg whites to create a seal.  Cover the edges with foil.  Return to oven for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.
Mix apples with caramel sauce until well coated.  Add apple filling to cooled bottom crust.  Remove dough strips from refrigerator.  Drape the strips over the top of the apple filling, forming a lattice pattern.  "Glue" the edges of the lattice top to the edges of the bottom crust with egg whites.
Brush the lattice top with egg whites.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until top crust is golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shrimp Stuffed Tofu

Shrimp Stuffed Tofu
I seem to be on a tofu kick lately.  Most people say that they don't like tofu because of it's texture and bland flavor.  That always puzzled me because all the tofu dishes I grew up eating, which were home cooked thanks to my mommy, were flavorful and had varied textures depending on the dish.  Tofu acts like a sponge and soaks up any sauce that it is cooked in.  Even the plain ones that are simply deep-fried taste great to me when it is served with dipping sauce.
There are many different types of tofu available (egg tofu, soft, silken, medium, firm, tofu skin, etc.)  Combined with the vast possibilities of cooking method (chilled, steamed, braised, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried, grilled, pressed, frozen-thawed, etc.), the variety of texture grows exponentially.
Maybe I just have weird tastes.  Or maybe most people didn't have the luxury of a cook like my mom to introduce them to tofu and unfortunately came to know poorly prepared tofu.  Even some restaurants do not do their tofu dishes justice.  It sometimes seem like it's just on the menu to be there.
In any case, this one is amongst my favorites.  I love the texture of silky soft tofu with steamed rice.  If you do as well, this is the dish for you.
My mom also sometimes uses ground pork for the stuffing, which I will get into another time.

Shrimp Stuffed Tofu
1 block of soft tofu
fine sea salt
cornstarch for dusting
10-12 large shrimps, shelled
1/3 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tbsp minced green onions
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce

Prepare tofu:
Cut tofu into 1 1/2 inch cubes.  Make a well in the center of each cube by scooping out the middle with a metal spoon.  I used the spoon to make 4 cuts on the top of each cube, slightly angling the cut towards the center.  Be careful not to break the sides of the tofu.
Lightly sprinkle sea salt over the hollowed tofu cubes.  Turn each cube upside down.  The salt will soak in and the tofu will drain any excess liquid while you prepare the shrimp filling.

Prepare shrimp filling:
Now you may wonder why I would do this by hand, rather than utilize a food processor to pulse the shrimp into a paste.  For one thing, because my momma said so.
And...I find it difficult to maintain enough control with a food processor to keep the shrimp from ending up being too mushy.
Using a heavy meat cleaver or santoku knife, chop the shrimp up into little pieces. Mince the shrimp until the texture is like a thick paste with bits of shrimp mixed in.
Transfer the shrimp into a bowl.  Stir in a pinch of sea salt, 1/2 tsp cornstarch and white pepper.  Mix well.

Flip the tofu cubes hollow-side up again.  Very lightly dust the wells of the tofu with cornstarch.  Don't over do it, otherwise, you'll end up with glue inside the tofu.  This will help the shrimp stuffing stick to the tofu.
Scoop the shrimp filling into each tofu cube.  Place each shrimp-filled cube onto a heat-proof dish with raised sides.
Fill wok (or a large pot that is at least 1-inch wider in circumference than the dish) with 2-3 inches of water.  Place a steam rack in the wok or pot.  Place the dish on top of the rack.  Make sure the water does not reach the top of the dish.
Cover the wok or pot with lid.  Steam for about 10 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink.
Drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce.  Sprinkle with green onions.
Photograph and post pictures.  Serve with steamed rice and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lemon Créme Brûlée

Lemon Créme Brûlée
My Superbowl potluck dish this year is not any type of wings, dip or chili.
I had purchased a kitchen torch a few months ago and have been itching to make créme brûlée.  When my friend decided to host a small Superbowl get together, I immediately said that I will take care of dessert.  The recipe called for 6 eggs yolks to 3 cups heavy cream.  I think the custard turned out a little loose.  I decided to up the egg yolk to heavy cream ratio.
The recipe that I had altered promised 6 servings, but serving size depends on the size of your ramekins.  I suggest filling your ramekins up with water and then pouring the water into a measuring cup to figure out how much custard you need to make. Instead of vanilla bean, I opted for a bright lemon flavor instead.  The amount of sugar was also cut down since I am not a fan of overly sweet desserts.

Lemon Créme Brûlée
(makes about 3 1/4 cup custard)
3 cups heavy cream
zest of 1 lemon
8 large egg yolks*
1/4 cup white sugar
pinch of salt
Turbinado sugar

kitchen torch
large baking dish
tea kettle
cooling rack

*Tip: Freeze the egg whites into individual ice cubes for future use.

Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together egg yolks, white sugar and salt.
In a 1 quart pot, combine heavy cream and lemon zest.  Heat over medium flame until scalding hot but not boiling.
Baked custard filling
Whisk 1 tablespoon of the cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture.  Repeat 10 times.  This will help temper the egg yolks so that you don't end up with sweet scrambled eggs.  In a steady stream, whisk in the rest of the cream mixture.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
Boil water in a tea kettle.
Place the ramekins in the baking dish so that they lay flat.  Bake in separate batches if necessary.  I had to bake mine 3 ramekins at a time since I have a teeny tiny oven.
Ladle the custard into each ramekin.  Carefully place the baking dish in the oven.  With the tea kettle, fill the baking dish (not the ramekins) with enough water to cover the bottom half of the ramekins.  Be careful not to get any water into the ramekins.  This will create a water bath to ensure even baking.
Bake for 30-35 min.  The custard will be set.
Remove baking dish from oven.  Using tongs, place ramekins on cooling rack.  Once custard has cooled to room temperature, place ramekins in refrigerator.  Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Right before serving, sprinkle turbinado sugar evenly over custard. Use the torch to melt and brown the sugar evenly.  If you do the brûlée part ahead of time and keep it in the fridge, the top will get soft and you won't get the satisfying crack when you first dig in.  
Top to bottom: Brûléed, brûléed, not brûléed