Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Linzer Torte

You may have read about my attempt to make Linzer cookies back in December that turned out great. I made the cookies because I was intimidated by the idea of making a true Linzer Torte. And you know what? It was easier than the cookies! For those of you who don't know, Linzer Torte is from Austria - the city of Linz to be exact. It is made with nut flours - either almond or hazelnut or a combination of both - I used both. Raspberry jam is the most traditional filling, but I had some good strawberry jam so I decided to use that. I think it would be really good with sour cherry jam or red currant jam as well. Anyway, I decided to make the strawberry jam a little more tart so I added in some lemon juice so the Torte wouldn't be too sweet. The only difficult part was rolling out the lattice pieces as my dough was not quite cold enough. And, I made the strips a little wide this first time and next time I will make them a little thinner and add more. But, otherwise, it was so easy to make and it was delicious! It's kind of a cross between a cookie and a cake and delightful with a glass of milk or a cup of tea.

Linzer Torte
1 cup softened butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups ground almonds or hazelnuts or a mixture of the two
Zest of one small lemon
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 cup of raspberry, strawberry or sour cherry jam
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Combine butter and sugar until creamed. Add eggs and mix well. In another bowl, mix flour, ground almonds or hazelnuts, cinnamon and cloves. Add to wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Place in refrigerator to cool for at least ½ hour.

Meanwhile, mix jam with lemon juice.

Take ¾ of the dough and press into bottom of a greased Springform pan. Spread the jam evenly across the top of the dough stopping ½ inch before the edges. Roll out remaining dough and cut into 1” strips. Arrange strips in lattice (criss-cross) across the top of the jam. Push the edges of the lattice strip into the bottom crust. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the lattice crust turns golden brown. Cake can be served warm but is even better the next day. It can be sprinkled with powdered sugar to serve.

Five Element Analysis

This is a dessert, so you wouldn't expect it to be very balanced by itself. The nut flours bring in the Water Element and the wheat flour adds the Wood Element. Strawberries or raspberries or sour cherries or red currants belong to the Fire Element. The sweetness from the sugars brings in the Earth Element. It is only missing the Metal Element and that can be added with a big glass of milk. It's a pretty balanced dessert after all!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Stir Fried Eggs with Salty Ham and Scallions

What a fancy name for scrambled eggs! This post was inspired by a few of my friends who wanted to know how to make a Chinese-style breakfast. I'm sure you have all heard of Congee or Jook. Haven't you? If not you are missing something, because it is one of the world's most comforting foods. It is basically rice porridge and it's really simple. It's something I ate a lot as a child - usually for breakfast and always when I was sick. My mother makes it with leftover rice that she adds water to in the morning and then she cooks it until it is very hot and the rice is very soft. Some people make Congee or Jook with chicken broth and pieces of chicken and it becomes more of a hearty main dish. But I like it plain. If you don't have any leftover rice, you can make it like I did last night - put a handful of rice in a pot with about 3 times the water and then cook the rice until it is soft. This kind of Congee needs savory and spicy things to go with it. Some of my favorite things are crunchy fried onions and pickled lettuce (the stems not the leaves) and chili sauce. These can all be found in a Chinese market and if you live in a big city, you can probably find them at the regular grocery store. But, my absolute favorite accompaniment to Congee is Stir Fried Eggs. What I like best is the creaminess of the scrambled eggs, the saltiness of the ham and the savory green onions. It's drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil and I love it. I actually had it for dinner last night, but breakfast for dinner is a tradition in my family and so is leftover dinner for breakfast.....

Anyway, these stir fried eggs are very similar in flavor to the Japanese shredded eggs - eggs fried in a pan until solid and then cut into shreds and seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. But the little pieces of ham and the green onions are the best part to me and they are held together by the eggs. Be sure to use a salty ham if you can - like a Smithfield Virginia Ham or Country Ham. But if you can't find either of those, you can also use bacon, cooked and crumbled into bits. I'm giving you the recipe for one to two servings - if you have other sides, but it can easily be doubled, tripled or quadrupled to serve more people. My grandfather used to make these same kind of eggs with scallions and crab and it was divine until I could no longer eat crab - but if you can, you should try that version. You can also use tomatoes or Shitake mushrooms for yet another version and you can also drizzle the eggs with Oyster Sauce diluted with a little hot water if you like that better. My sons calls all these egg dishes "Chinese Eggs and Stuff," which is a pretty good name too!

Stir Fried Eggs with Salty Ham and Scallions

2 eggs, cracked into a small bowl and stirred with chopsticks until lightly blended
2 -3 green onions/scallions (depending on size), ends removed and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup salty ham or already cooked bacon, crumbled
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspons Soy Sauce or Tamari
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Sprinkle of freshly ground pepper

Optional Ingredients:

1/4 cup flaked crab meat
4 Shitake mushrooms, rehydrated and cut into little pieces
1 Roma tomatoes, cut into large dice
2 Tablespoons Oyster Sauce diluted with 1 teaspoon hot water

Optional to serve on the side:

Chili sauce - I like Lee Kum Kee Chili Garlic Sauce
Pickled Lettuce
Crisp Fried Onions or Shallots

In a small nonstick frying pan, heat vegetable oil and add scallions. Cook until you just start to smell the fragrance of them and add in the ham or bacon. Cook until ham is hot and then pour in eggs. Let set for a few moments and then start pulling back the sides, tilting the pan to let the uncooked egg run into the empty space. Keep pulling until the top is still moist but not runny and the start to break into chunks while turning it over. Take off heat only a few moments after turning the eggs and put onto a plate. Drizzle with the soy sauce and sesame oil (or oyster sauce) and sprinkle with pepper and serve immediately.

Five Element Analysis

Eggs belong to the Water Element as they are all about potential life and they are full of nutrients and the salty ham, soy sauce and sesame oil all or oyster sauce all add more Water. When served with Congee, you bring the Metal Element in with the white rice, but the soupy nature of Congee adds even more Water. The scallions bring in more of the Metal Element and the pepper adds just a pinch of Fire, which is why you need to serve it with some hot chili sauce or some tea or tomatoes. The Earth Element is missing unless you add the Crisp Fried Onions or mushrooms or you could also serve something sweet like fruit to balance the meal.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chinese Onion Pancakes

One of my favorite Chinese snacks has always  been Onion Pancakes. There is something about this delectable flatbread that just satisfies on a primal level. It's one of the things I love to order at Chinese restaurants, but it is actually so easy to make at home. The only thing that's the least bit difficult is figuring out how much flour to add. The secret is to keep adding flour until you have a soft and pliable dough that can be easily rolled out with a rolling pin. It's a delicious snack if you like savory things. What's not to love? There is the crispy exterior with the soft chewy interior and the sprinkle of saltiness juxtaposed against the savory flavor of green onions - yum! A lot of people like to dip their onion pancakes into a dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame or chili oil, but to be honest, I just like them plain. But they are also really good as a side bread to a stir fry dish, especially if there is some sauce as it dips up stir fry sauces wonderfully. Try these and I think you will love them too!

Chinese Onion Pancakes

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup or more all purpose flour for kneading
1/3 cup toasted sesame oil
1 cup minced green onions
vegetable oil for pan fryingextra salt for sprinkling on top

Stir together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and the boiling water, stirring until slightly sticky dough just forms. If the dough is too soft, knead in more flour until dough is no longer so sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth, kneading in more flour as necessary to make a smooth, pliable dough. Cover with a cloth or wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes, or longer.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a long roll with your hand until you have a rope about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the roll into 24 pieces. Keep the unused dough covered with a damp paper towel as you work.
With a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a 4 or 5-inch circle. Brush the tops with a little sesame oil and sprinkle with some of the minced green onions. Roll up the circle with the green onions inside and pinch the ends to seal. Coil it into a snail shape and flatten slightly with your fingers. Pinch the end into the roll and put on a lightly floured plate. Prepare the remaining pancakes in the same way. Then, roll each pancake out with the rolling pin into a 4-inch circle being careful to keep the green onions covered by dough if possible. It is okay if a few pieces stick out.

Heat a skillet on the stove on medium-high heat and put in 2 Tablespoons of oil and place two of the pancakes in the pan, not touching, and fry over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown and crispy on both sides, about 3 - 4 minutes. Remove with a spatula and place on a paper towel covered plate. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat with additional pancakes. Serve immediately or you can keep them warm in the oven at about 200 degrees.

If desired, you can serve them with a dipping sauce composed of equal amounts of soy sauce and seasoned rice wine vinegar and a few drops of sesame oil or a few drops of chili oil if you like heat.

Five Element Analysis
The wheat flour in these pancakes make them a Wood Element food first and foremost, but the green onions bring in the Metal Element and the salt and sesame oil add just a touch of the Water Element. If you use the dipping sauce, you are balancing the dish even more as the soy sauce adds more Water and the chili oil brings in some Fire. The only thing missing then is the Earth Element and I often serve these pancakes with a spicy stir fried beef dish for some added Fire too. Dipping these pancakes in the sauce is an Earthy way to eat too!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stir Fried Kohlrabi and Ham

Kohlrabi is one of those funny looking knobby winter vegetables that can be rather intimidating if you've never cooked it before. Kohlrabi has a tough outer skin that needs to be peeled and inside is a crunchy vegetable that is most comparable to the stalks of broccoli only slightly sweeter. I have always loved the broccoli stalks the most when sliced for stir fries so I was delighted when I first realized that kohlrabi would give me what I liked most of all in the Cruciferous family - the crunch. It is often roasted or even boiled and mashed, but then you lose that wonderful texture that makes it so good in a stir fry. One of the natural accompaniments to all Cruciferous vegetable is ham and the best kind is the salty variety. Chinese people in America often use Virginia Ham, although I have found that Southern Country Ham is really great too. I had a small piece of Country Ham left in my freezer from my ex-husband's last visit to Tennessee and so I combined with a bit of garlic and stir fried it with a little chicken broth for added flavor. I cut both the kohlrabi and the ham into little cubes, although it would be just as good julienned into matchstick pieces. Cutting everything in the dish the same size is part of my Chinese obsessiveness about cooking. I just think it looks better and tastes better too. So, try this funny looking vegetable and I think you will love the flavor and crunch!

Stir Fried Kohlrabi and Ham

4 Kohlrabi, peeled and cut into chunks or julienned into strips
1/3 cup ham, cut into pieces the same size as the kohlrabi
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Heat frying pan or wok and add oil until just smoking (or sizzling if you throw in a few drops of water to test). Add garlic and stir quickly until you can just start smelling the garlic fragrance. Add in ham and kohlrabi and cook until the kohlrabi just begins to brown slightly. Add in chicken broth and cook until it boils down - no more than five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Five Element Analysis

Kohlrabi is a green stalk, even if bulbous so it is considered part of the Wood Element and chicken broth enhances the Wood. Ham belongs to the Water Element and the garlic brings in just a hint of metal. This dish is obviously a side dish and it certainly needs the addition of both a Fire food and and Earth Food to balance out the meal.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Long Life Noodle Salad

Happy Chinese New Year's Eve! It is also the one year anniversary of 5 Element Food and it has gone by really fast. Tomorrow is the Year of the Wood Rabbit and for me it is quite a relief after the turbulent Tiger Year! As usual, I am preparing some lucky foods to celebrate the start of the new year and one of the most important ones to serve is a noodle dish as noodle imply that you will live a long life so be sure not to cut them when you cook them. This is one of the noodle dishes that my kids have always liked best. The great thing about it is that it can be made ahead of time so that the rest of the meal can be prepared. Annie Chun makes a great packaged noodle salad mix if you don't want to make it from scratch, but I don't think the noodles are long enough to serve on Chinese New Year. And, it is so easy to make from scratch with just a few ingredients that you probably keep on hand or you should - the basic sauce is just soy sauce, seasoned rice wine vinegar and sesame oil with a bit of garlic. If you like it a little on the spicy side, you can add chili powder or chili oil. 

In the summertime, I often serve this salad with a shredded poached chicken breast (store bought roasted chicken breast is good too), but for Chinese New Year, you have to serve a whole chicken if you want family happiness. I usually use Chinese noodles, but I forgot to buy them so I substituted spaghetti and I actually liked the more al dente texture. Mixed with cucumbers, red pepper and green onions, it is a refreshing side dish that juxtaposes well with the other cooked dishes. It's also good with snow peas and thinly sliced carrots that have been lightly blanched. Chopped peanuts are really tasty as a garnish so are almonds, but I don't add them for a party as there may be someone with an allergy to nuts. So, sesame seeds are the safer bet. If I have enough time, I julienne the cucumbers and red peppers as it is so much more attractive, but as I was making a lot more dishes, I just peeled, seeded and cut the cucumbers into half moon slices and cut the red pepper into nearly equal size pieces. It's simply tossed together with some thinly sliced green onions and nuts and cilantro for a garnish - if desired Be sure to prepare it ahead of time so that the noodles absorb the sauce thoroughly. 

Long Life Noodle Salad

1 package of spaghetti or linguine noodles (1 pound) or an equal amount of Chinese noodles (for a gluten free version use a package of Tinkayada Rice Spaghetti)
2 cucumbers, peeled and cut in half, seeded with a teaspoon and sliced into thin half moons or julienned into thin shreds
1 large red pepper or 2 medium, cut in half with stem removed and then sliced into slices about the same size as the cucumber or julienned
3 green onions, root cut off and cut cross into thin slices or shredded if julienning the other veggies

Optional: a handful of snow peas and/or thinly sliced carrot blanched in a small amount of boiling water for 3 - 4 minutes and rinsed with cold water

Optional for serving: 1 cup shredded chicken breast meat
1/4 cup chopped peanuts or slivered almonds or about 1/8 cup toasted sesame seeds
Small handful of cilantro leaves

For Sauce - Mix and taste:

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 -3 Tablespoons Seasoned Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons toasted Asian sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon Korean chili powder or Chili Oil
1 teaspoon sugar if you like the sauce sweeter


Boil noodles according to package directions - about 10 minutes and drain, but do not rinse. Place in a large bowl and put in cucumber, red pepper and green onions (and snow peas and carrots if desired). Pour in dressing and toss. Let flavors meld for at least 15 minutes before serving and this salad can also be refrigerated and served cold. When ready to serve, garnish with peanuts, almonds or sesame seeds and cilantro if you are using them.

Five Element Analysis

As there are a number of different ingredients in this colorful salad, you can pretty much guess that there will be some inherent balance in this dish. The noodles are made of wheat which belongs to the Wood Element and so does the rice vinegar so that is the dominant element in this dish and if you add chicken, you have even more Wood. The red pepper and chili if you use it add the Fire Element, whereas the cucumber brings in the Earth Element. The soy sauce and sesame oil contribute the Water Element and the green onions and garlic provide the Metal Element. Guess what? This is a balanced dish all by itself so it's good for a light summer lunch and as a side dish it automatically creates a balanced meal.