Candied Pecans

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Okay, so I admit that candied nuts are something I’ve long associated with the winter holidays– they’re so great for eating by the handful along with all of those rich, cheesy, sugary holiday foods– but there’s no reason to restrict one’s intake of these deliciously crunchy, sweet-savory snacks to the winter months! They go just as well with bright, crispy salads as they do with melty brie (mmm, brie…). Brown sugar gives them depth, while cinnamon gives them a hint of spice. I’ve been known to add 1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper for an extra kick, but you don’t have to if you want something a bit milder.

I will note that I’ve tried different methods of getting a nice, crunchy coating on the pecans, and the egg white method is the only way to go. Works every time, and no hassle with trying to caramelize sugar!

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Porg Rice Balls

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For May the Fourth I attended a Star Wars themed party, so of course I had to make something in-theme to contribute! I decided on these porg-shaped rice balls, which are rice balls rolled in crushed sesame, with nori accents and a chunk of cucumber in the middle for extra crunch. They turned out adorable, if I do say so myself, and were popular with party-goers, so I consider them a success!

While you can make these without any special tools, it’s a lot faster and easier to do if you have the right equipment. I used a nori punch for the facial features, and a rice-roll press to make my pieces evenly shaped and well-compressed. That being said, you can feel free to shape your rice by hand (wet hands make it easier) and to cut out eyes and mouths with scissors. I would definitely recommend using the parchment paper cutout to mask off the white parts of the rice during the sesame step, though!

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Cucumber-Pineapple Mosaic Sushi

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Have you seen those videos floating around about how to make fabulous sushi rolls that form pictures or designs when you cut them? They look amazing, though really time-consuming and extremely difficult to make. That being said, I recently saw one that looked so easy I had to try it– it’s a cucumber and pineapple roll, and since my daughter loves cucumber maki and loves pineapple it seemed like a natural next step to try this one.

Let me tell you, you’ll need two things to make sure this sushi works. A very sharp knife (dipped in water between cuts), and a sushi rolling mat. Both are essential– my knife wasn’t quite sharp enough and it made things a little difficult my first time (photos are of the second time around), and without the mat I’d never have been able to compress things tightly enough to stick together.

All in all, the sushi didn’t turn out badly. A little too much rice, I think, but that just means I need to work on pressing it very, VERY thinly over the nori before filling and rolling. (like, one grain thick and leaving a few spaces in between with no rice at all, since it gets compressed together when you roll). Also I think pineapple isn’t the best thing to put in the center, since it doesn’t compress or shift to fill in empty spots, which leaves the finished slices a little unstable. I’d try salmon, or tempura shrimp, or really anything that you can cut into strips that has some “give” to it and is maybe a tiny bit sticky. Crab stick, maybe?

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Bulgogi-Marinated Jackfruit Bao

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I’ve never been one for meat substitutes– if I’m going to eat vegetarian, I’m fine with embracing that rather than trying to make it taste like meat– but I’d heard so much about “jackfruit pulled pork” that I just had to try it myself. The concept is simple: you take canned, green jackfruit and simmer it in sauce until it can be pulled into shreds, much like pulled pork. Many recipes call for using a crockpot over several hours, but I found that you can simmer for 30 minutes and have it turn out fine.

The texture of the shredded jackfruit is hard to describe– it’s not quite like meat, since it doesn’t have the same firmness, but it’s definitely reminiscent of meat in a way that most other vegetables aren’t. It kind of reminds me of the texture of fake crabmeat– the kind that comes in sticks. In any case, it’s never going to fool anyone into thinking it’s real meat, but it’s probably as close as you’re going to get.

Rather than go with a standard BBQ sauce (though I’m sure it would’ve been tasty), I opted to go with a Korean bulgogi sauce, which I thought turned out great. Sandwiched in a steamed bun (purchased frozen at my local Korean market) and topped with various vegetable trimmings, I’d say the overall effect was pretty good! If I were having a barbecue and my guest list included vegetarians, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve these!

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Curried Butternut Pasties

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I was invited to a pumpkin-carving party recently, and wanted to bring some kind of snack to contribute. I usually bring desserts (last year I brought these pumpkin cheesecake bars) but everyone brings desserts to these things, so I decided to go in a savory direction this time.

Butternut squash seemed the perfect ingredient to focus on for a squash-theme party, so I started with that. I wanted to keep things handheld and relatively neat to eat, so I knew I’d be enclosing the filling in a pastry, and after that it was just a matter of adding flavors I thought would work. Best of all, the prep time was relatively low since the filling ingredients were roasted together on a sheet pan.

As for the outside, I revisited the hot water crust recipe I used to make Paul Hollywood’s pork pies, since I’d been struck at the time by its flakiness and great flavor. To cut down on leftover scraps I cut my pastry into squares, which were folded diagonally to make little turnover shapes– but I’m calling them pasties here because 1) they sound more savory than “turnovers,” which always evoke dessert to me, and 2) I’m kind of on a Harry Potter kick right now and these remind me of pumpkin pasties (which were probably intended to be sweet, but whatever).

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Spinach Cheese Puffs

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I think I may have mentioned before that I love appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. Just love them. My favorite kind of work event is one where they serve drinks and “heavy appetizers” or “passed hors d’oeuvres,” because I know that there’ll be something involving cheese, bacon, or some kind of pastry… sometimes all three. So naturally I like to have a few recipes for similar items in my repertoire for when I want to host my own delicious event.

This particular recipe was born out of the need to come up with something that I could make ahead of time and that would be able to survive for several hours in a hot car before being served at a casual barbecue. That meant most cheese- or meat-based items were out, and any fresh vegetables were similarly not going to work. I decided that the best option was something with puff pastry, and once I noticed the half-empty package of fresh baby spinach slowly wilting in my refrigerator, the decision was made!

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Pickled Mustard Seeds

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Can you believe this is my 300th post? Neither can I! Thanks to everyone for reading this far! Now, on to the project post!

I originally made these as part of a recipe for those delectable uni bocadillos, but they also make a great condiment on their own, so I thought I’d post about them separately. For any mustard newbies, you most often find mustard seeds as part of whole-grain mustard, and their unique texture adds to the mustard experience. It’s hard to describe– once they absorb liquid, they transform from a dry, crunchy seed to something a little soft, with a nice little “pop” when you crunch them between your teeth.

Anyway, in addition to having them mixed into whole-grain mustard, you can also pickle them on your own to make a seed-only condiment for extra pop! I used yellow mustard seeds for this application, though you can also use brown if that’s all you can find.

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