Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Quickfire Challenge: Shrimp Chips

My wife gave me a challenge the other day: cook something without going to the grocery store, using at least one ingredient from the pantry.

I stared at the pantry for a long time and couldn't figure out anything, so we watched an episode of Top Chef for inspiration. I had my "Eureka!" moment when I found a bag of Shrimp Chips, the delicious snack I grew up eating, to the bewilderment of my Caucasian friends.

We had frozen pork chops in the freezer, so I was going to use them to make Shrimp Chip crusted Pork Chops. For a second dish, I was thinking something along the lines of a savory custard. That way I could take advantage of leftover frozen spinach and the eggs we usually keep in the refrigerator. I didn't have the pie crust necessary to make a quiche, so I used a ramekin instead. I also didn't want to wait forever for it to bake, so I chose to steam the custard instead (a decision that turned out poorly, as you will find out).

I took out a mallet and hammered away at the shrimp chips inside a plastic bag until they became crumbs. Afterwards, it was simply a matter of dipping the chops into flour, then an egg wash, and then the shrimp chip crumbs, before placing them into a shallow pool of oil to fry. They came out golden brown and delicious. I'm sure the extra MSG in the shrimp chips didn't hurt, either.

The custard was not so tasty. I steamed the custard mixture (mixture of an equal portion of eggs and milk, plus a handful of frozen spinach) until it set, which did not take much time at all. I then topped it with some more shrimp chips and placed it under the broiler for a minute until it browned. The result? A crispy top, but an unfortunately watery inside. Oh well, the chops made up for it.

Lemon curd

My wife likes anything with lemon in it. Lemon tarts, lemon meringue pie, key lime pie--okay not exactly a lemon, but it's close. We had some extra Meyer lemons that were on the verge of going bad, so she asked me to make lemon curd.

When I first heard about lemon curd, I thought it sounded gross. Isn't curd the stuff that coagulates in milk and becomes cheese? Anyway, I used Alice Waters's recipe a few months ago, and it turned out great. I decided to use it again this time, but I think I kept it over the heat too long. The result was something that wasn't as silky smooth as the first time. The flavor seemed a bit too sweet, also. I may have reduced the sugar last time without remembering it.

Once your curd is done, use it as a spread for anything from English muffins to scones.

Lemon Curd
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2-4 lemons)
6 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp salt (unless butter is salted)
zest of one lemon
  1. Combine eggs, egg yolks, milk, sugar, salt, and beat until incorporated.
  2. Stir in lemon juice and zest.
  3. Add butter one at a time until incorporated.
  4. Cook the mixture (I like to use a double boiler) until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
  5. When thick, pour into a container, cover with plastic wrap touching the curd, and refrigerate. (The plastic wrap prevents a film from forming on top.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chinese dumplings

I had extra pork left over from making meatloaf, so I put it to good use by making some Chinese dumplings. Growing up, I remember dumpling making as a family ritual where the whole family would get together and socialize around the table, making dumplings. As a kid, I never participated in that, but I still think about the social aspect of it. In any case, family now means "my wife and I", so we had a fun time making these dumplings and eating them later!

I used this recipe from Rasa Malaysia. I didn't make the wrappers from scratch (bought them at the Chinese supermarket), but I followed the recipe for the filling. I thought the filling was a bit dry, but that's probably because my pork was too lean. I also thought the "1/8 teaspoon salt" seemed negligible, as were the measurements for some of the other ingredients. Five drops of sesame oil isn't going to do much to the flavor of 1/2 lb of ground pork. Next time, I will follow my instinct with the measurements of the flavoring ingredients.

Detailed wrapping instructions follow for those who have never done it before.

1. Place the wrapper in the palm of your hand and drop a small portion of the meat in the center.

2. Using the tip of your finger, wet the edges of the wrapper.

3. Pinch the ends together.

4. Do the first pleat.

5. Repeat the pleats on both sides and make sure the entire dumpling is pinched tight. You're finished!