Recipe: Christmas Stollen

Because everybody in my family (except for me) studied in Germany, when we do celebrate Christmas it is with German traditions. And one of those traditions is the Stollen, the German Christmas bread. I haven’t been able to find the exact kind here in the US, so I’ve been making it myself for a couple of years now. It doesn’t taste quite the same, but it’s fun to make, and it helps me feel closer to home.

ETA: Recipe adapted from here.

What You Need:
1 tablespoon yeast
2/3 C warm milk
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 C bread flour
1/3 C each currants, raisins and candied cherries (quartered)
2/3 C candied citrus peel (I got a tub of mixed dried fruits for fruitcake and used 1 C of it in place of the cherries and peel)
1 ts each ground ginger and allspice
6 oz. marzipan (found in the baking isle)
About 2 tablespoons melted butter and powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Dissolve yeast in the milk (I also added 1/2 tablespoon sugar to help the yeast along), let stand until foamy.

2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the sugar, butter, egg, salt and 2 C flour. Mix well. Add the remaining flour, a little at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead in the dried fruits, ginger and allspice, until smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, make sure it’s coated with oil. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

4. After the dough has doubled, punch it down and roll it out. Shape the marzipan into a log and place in the middle. Fold the dough over, pinch the seams together to seal. Place the loaf, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce to 300 degrees F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more. Let cool completely. Pour the melted butter over the loaf and dust it with powdered sugar (the traditional loaf is rolled in powdered sugar, but I find that a little too sweet.) Enjoy!

Sorry I didn’t have a picture of a slice yet. I’m saving this for Christmas dinner, I’ll make sure to have a picture then.

Recipe: Coconut Pork

Here is another traditional Vietnamese recipe, and a staple on my family’s dinner table. Usually it’s pork cooked with coconut water and coconut meat, but since I once almost cut my fingers off trying to remove the coconut meat from its shell, we’ll make do with coconut milk.

What You Need:
3 pounds pork butt or shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 c light coconut milk
1/4 C sugar
2 C water
Salt & pepper
Optional: 5 to 6 hard-boiled eggs

1. Make the caramel sauce (I know it sounds weird, but it’s to give the pork its color. And it’s not real caramel, since it’s only cooked sugar and water): in a pot over low heat, cook the sugar until it browns. Add the water (don’t be scared if it sizzles) and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. You want something in this color:

2. Salt and pepper the pork. You can add more salt later if it’s not enough for your taste. In a large pot, sear the pork well. Add the caramel water and the coconut milk, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer until the pork is tender, about an hour.

3. If making the caramel is too daunting for you, you can use soy sauce and/or oyster sauce to achieve the color (I got this from a friend who works in a Vietnamese restaurant), but it will taste a little different. And remember to cut back on the salt if you do so.

4. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, add the peeled hard-boiled eggs (if used), make sure they’re submerged in the cooking liquid. Serve hot over rice. Enjoy!

Recipe: No Knead Sourdough Bread

I love making bread. There’s something so therapeutic about blooming yeast, watching the dough rise and kneading the bread, and of course, the smell of freshly baked bread is the best. I have two basic bread recipes that have become fool-proof for me: my whole wheat bread, and this no knead sourdough bread, which I adapted from Alton Brown’s Good Eats. I like this recipe because it tastes like the bread we have at home, and it doesn’t require starter.

What You Need:
3 C bread flour, plus extra for shaping
1/4 teaspoon active-dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 C water
Cornmeal (if you have it. If not, you can just use some more flour)
A  4-5 quart Dutch oven or a 9×5 loaf pan, tea towels

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours (18 works best for me.)

2. After the dough has rested, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Punch down the dough and turn it over onto itself a couple of times. Coat hands with flour if needed to prevent sticking. Shape dough into a ball.

– If you’re using a Dutch oven (to get that rustic round shape): sprinkle a tea towel with half of the cornmeal (or flour) and lay the dough on top of it, seam side down. Sprinkle the top of the dough with the other half of the cornmeal and cover with the towel.
– If you’re using a loaf pan: dust the loaf pan with cornmeal (or flour) and carefully place the dough in it. Cover it with a towel sprinkled with more cornmeal. Allow to rise for 2 to 3 hours, until dough has doubled in size (I usually preheat the oven, then turn it off and leave the dough there.)

3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with the Dutch oven (if used) in it. Transfer the dough from the towel to the preheated Dutch oven (this is why I like using the loaf pan. You can just skip this step.) Cover and bake for 30 minutes (with tinfoil if you’re using the loaf pan.) Remove the cover and bake another 15 minutes.

4. The hardest part – allow the bread to cool before slicing it and spreading it thick with butter and jam!

“How can you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen. Oh, symphony of crackle. Only great bread sound this way.” – Colette (Ratatouille)

I’m happy to say the crust of my bread crackles beautifully.

Recipe: Vietnamese Spring Rolls

After I bragged about my spring rolls, I think I owe it to you guys to post the recipe. Mind you – everything is just estimated here, because my family rarely ever measure when cooking.

The rice papers, cellophane noodles and mushrooms you can find in the Asian aisle at the grocery store. I’ve also seen the mushrooms at the produce aisle.

What You Need:
40-50 rice paper wrappers – mine is about 8-9″ across (if you live in a dry area, also have damp towels and a spray bottle on hands)
Vegetable oil

1 pound of ground pork (you can also use chicken or turkey, but it will make the filling dryer)
A handful of cellophane noodles
5-10 dried woodear mushrooms (depending on how big they are. Mine bloom out like crazy so 5 are more than enough)
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (shallots are better if you have them)
2 shredded carrots (you can also add mung bean sprouts)
3 large eggs (if the filling is too dry you can add another egg)
Salt & pepper

1. Soak the noodles and mushrooms in warm water for 15 – 20 minutes. The shiitake takes only about 5 minutes, so I usually add them last.

2. Drain, then finely chop everything (I just put them in the food processor and give it a few pulses. Works out great.)

3. Add the chopped noodles, mushrooms, carrots, onion and eggs to the pork. Salt & pepper to taste. Mix well.

4. Note on the rice papers: it’s super dry here in LA, so I have to keep the rice papers between two damp towels and spray them with water, otherwise they will curl up and fall to pieces. Put another damp towel on your work surface. Lay a wrapper on top of the towel, spray with more water if it starts to curl, and get ready to roll.

5. Put a tablespoon of filling at the bottom of the wrapper (the side closest to you.) Roll the wrapper up halfway through, then fold the two sides in and keep rolling, tucking it in as you go. Don’t worry if the first few don’t look pretty, you’ll get the hang of it.

6. Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet or pot (I use a pot to keep the oil from splattering.) A trick to know when the oil is ready is stick the handle of a wooden spoon into it. If the oil bubbles around the handle, it’s ready. Put your spring rolls into the oil, tuck side down so that it’ll be sealed in and your filling won’t burst out. Fry until golden brown. Put the rolls on some paper towels to absorb excess oil.

7. Enjoy! I just dip these in Sriracha (the Asian hot sauce), but if you want to go really authentic, mix some fish sauce, sugar, fresh chili peppers and lime juice for a dipping sauce – no precise measurement, just mix it to your taste.

Note: Sometimes, when I’m too lazy to mess around with the rice papers, I put the filling in a loaf pan and turn it into a meatloaf. It tastes just as good!

Recipe: Chicken Tagine

Something different from a baking recipe for a change. I adapted this from a slow cooker recipe in Family Circle. I don’t like how the slow cooker makes everything so watery, so I just cook it on the stove now.

What You Need:
2 chicken breast, 3 chicken thighs (boneless or bone-in, it doesn’t matter) – I used 4 leg quarters because I like dark meat
2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 strips of lemon zest
1 1/4 ts paprika
1/2 ts cumin
1/4 each: ground ginger, ground coriander, cinnamon
1/8 ts cayenne (more if you like it spicy)
2 C chicken broth
1 TBS honey
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 C dried apricot, chopped (I never try fresh apricots, but I’m sure it will be yummy too)
1/4 C roasted almond, chopped
A handful of cilantro
Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Brown the chicken (in batches, don’t make my mistake in thinking that the pot can hold all that chicken, because you’re going to end up with steamed instead of browned chicken.) Set aside.

2. Add the onion, cook until translucent. Add the garlic, lemon zest, spices, and broth. Whisk in the honey.

3. Return chicken to pot. Add carrots (now would be a good time to add salt and pepper too). Reduce heat, let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Add the apricots and cook until the sauce thickens.

5. Sprinkle with almonds and cilantro (I was out of cilantro, so I used scallions for color, but it won’t taste the same.) Serve hot with rice.