Vegetarian Bao

Whether you call them Bao, Baozi, or Bau, these doughy buns can be filled with any delicious combination of ingredients that strikes your fancy. Meats slathered in sauce are traditional but I’ve made these with roasted vegetables, mushrooms, and today, some more traditional Chinese flavors in honor of Lunar New Year.

Truthfully, I made these on the New Year but spent last week completely immersed in some work stuffs and an amazing EatWith dinner we hosted last Friday night. Gathered at our table was probably the most varied group of people we’ve had to date. Our guests were incredibly interesting folks who represented different generations and countries. I was so thrilled to be sharing our table with them.

Even though we’re about a week late (on the blog) to celebrate Chinese New Year, bao are an anytime food. I’m even working on crafting some breakfast bao – which is how they’re usually eaten! For breakfast that is, not necessarily with the egg yolk I’m trying to engineer to stay inside the bao. The dough is pillowy, sweet, and takes on the flavors of what you choose to fill it with.
They also take very little time to make and would serve as a great snack or as hors d’oeuvres at your next party since they fit so nicely in a hand and, depending what you put inside, aren’t terribly messy.
It’s also a good to make them when other people are around because they’re best when eaten right away and, trust me, you’ll feel pretty terrible after  eating a (nearly) full batch of them.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these happen. I use a metal steamer basket in a stock pot to steam them. Every time I walk down the Bowery I’m eying the bamboo steamer boxes but I have limited enough space already and the same piece of equipment that steams my broccoli does a find job of steaming my buns…er, bao!

Next time you have a couple of hours free, give these a shot. It takes a little practice filling and sealing the buns and the day that I made these I was a bit out of practice. Here’s a video that beautifully demonstrates how to create the petal-like seal. I might be making some more of these soon to work on my form. Keep an eye on my Instagram account (@SaritWish) for more bao soon! Did you do or eat anything special to celebrate the Lunar New Year?

Vegetarian Bao

Serves: 8 Buns

Ingredients
  • 2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil (or you can use another oil if you don't have sesame!)
  • ½ cup warm (not hot!) water
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle in the sesame oil and mix lightly. Add the water and mix together. As the dough begins to come together, take it out of the bowl and onto a surface to knead. Knead until smooth (a few minutes).
  3. Place the dough ball into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in a larger bowl that has a couple inches of hot water at the bottom and place the bowls in the oven (I like to warm it to 170°F or the lowest temp and shut it off) or in a warm, draft-free place for a half an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
  4. Meanwhile, make your filling. I don't have an exact recipe to share here but I used a combination of steamed boy choy, shitake mushrooms, and scallions all chopped up and tossed with some chile pepper, minced ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce and threw some crushed peanuts on top before sealing up the bao. Throw in some roasted veggies is or sauté some eggplant or tofu! Mix up whatever ingredients you have on hand and let the bao be your delicious blank canvas.
  5. Once the dough has risen, take it out and lightly press the air out of it. Divide into 8 equal pieces, and with a little oil on your palms, roll into balls and place them under a wet kitchen towel to rest for about 10-15 min.
  6. While the dough is resting again get your steaming vessel ready. I used a stockpot with a few inches of boiling water and my metal steamer basket. You can also use a bamboo basket or rice cooker. Also, cut out 8 squares of parchment or wax paper. You'll place your buns on the paper to keep them from sticking during steaming.
  7. After 10-15 min, once the buns are well rested and have puffed up a little more, you're ready to fill! Roll out each ball in a circle to about 4/4.5 inches in diameter. Try to leave the center of the circle a little thicker to help hold your filling. Place a small ball of your filling in the middle and begin to seal the bao by pleating along the edges.
  8. Unless you have a very large steamer you'll need to work in batches. If you're using a steamer basket like a did, place the buns with their paper bottoms in the basket. Drape a towel over the top and then cover the pot with the lid. The towel will help keep the steam inside! Let them steam for about 15 min-18 min.
  9. Take them out carefully, wait a couple minutes so they cool a little, and enjoy!

Grapefruit, Grenadine, and Gin Cocktail

We keep a well-stocked bar here in Astoria. We love tasting new bourbons, gins, and interesting liqueurs, but we’re not big spirit drinkers, so our bar sits relatively undisturbed. The wine extension to our bar does just fine, but our collection of liquors and mixers just seems to grow and grow. Here’s hoping that my resolution to craft more cocktails in 2015 sticks!

That resolution, coupled with Valentine’s Day, made for the perfect occasion to whip up a fun drink like this one. It’s got the color and a touch of sweetness to make any occasion special…even if it’s a Saturday night in, watching movies.

Growing up, I didn’t get to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The schools I went to were Jewish day schools where hearts weren’t passed around and we didn’t craft sweet messages to our friends in art class. As an adult, it doesn’t hold any interest for me. I don’t think it’s a cynical thing, it just never sparkled for me in that way. However, I do love sharing food and drink with the people I care about, so this could make for a sweet love note.
This drink is also inspired by the crazy amounts of citrus that I’ve been consuming recently. January and February have been so good about providing perfect fruits that I can’t help but turn them into foods and drinks. This cocktail not only uses fresh grapefruit juice, but there’s some candied grapefruit on top for a sweet garnish.
For all the cool stuff on our bar, you’d think we would have cooler glasses to serve our drinks in. I kind of like the “mad scientist, everything in a jar” look but I can see the benefit (especially from a photography point of view) of using gorgeous barware to present beautiful drinks.

So, I’m raising my glass to many things this week, including: writing this blog for 6 consecutive months (woop!), to a recent weekend jaunt in Stockholm where much herring was consumed, to love, and to turning 30. I’m pretty sure I’ve been telling people I’m 30 for a while now, but it still feels nice to actually be here. What are you raising your glass to this week?

Grapefruit, Grenadine, and Gin Cocktail
For each drink use equal parts of the listed ingredients (aside from the garnish)
Ingredients
  • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • Sparkling water
  • Gin
  • Splash of grenadine
  • Grapefruit zest or candied grapefruit for garnish
Instructions
  1. Shake or stir the first three ingredients with 1-2 ice cubes and pour into a cold glass.
  2. Pour a splash of grenadine over the drink. Taste for sweetness.
  3. Let the grenadine settle to the bottom for the beautiful layering effect, garnish, and serve!
Notes
I used an Old Tom style gin by Queens Courage, which if you can get your hands on I highly recommend, but you can substitute your favorite gin instead.

For a single drink measurement: I used the smaller end on a double jigger, which is about 1 ounce.

Grenadine is super easy to make at home and bonus, no crazy chemicals and dyes.

Fennel Citrus Salad and Cured Salmon with a Grapefruit Vinaigrette

Remember last week when I baked English Muffins and then made Salmon Eggs Benedict? Well, I was patting myself on the back quite a bit for that and said to Ari how cool it was that I made almost everything on the plate from scratch, except the smoked salmon.

So that got me thinking about what goes into curing salmon and could I do it on my own?! Just so you know how my brain works – when it comes to food, my stubbornness and curiosity know no bounds. Now if only I could apply that to other areas in my life…

Anyhow, ’bout that salmon: it turns out that it isn’t at all hard to do.

It takes, literally, minutes to put together. Most of the work happens in the time it sits in the refrigerator under a few pounds of weight. Mind you, this isn’t smoked (I wonder if I could do that at home?), but rather cured. You’re pressing out most of the moisture and infusing it with fresh dill and parsley flavors as well as lemon zest, salt, and sugar. The texture is similar to lox but the flavor is different.
Please don’t judge me for the hack job on slicing the fish! I don’t have the right knife yet. Though my birthday is coming up soon…

Since I’d already done enough talking about Eggs Benedict, I wanted to create something that could showcase the salmon as well as the all the beautiful citrus flavors of the season.

I decided to incorporate the salmon into a classic fennel/citrus salad and use dijon mustard in the dressing to pull it all together. I am a HUGE fan of mustard and knew that it would play nicely with both the fish and salad.

Funny story, a few weeks back I came home to a ginormous box of grapefruits and oranges at my front door. These were a surprise gift from someone who likes me. (I have to specify they were from a friend, because when you open a box and see the massive amount of fruit you have to fit in your NYC sized refrigerator it’s hard to tell the spirit they were sent in.) It’s been fun using them up in different and creative ways!

Obviously you don’t have to cure your own salmon to make this dish. The salad can be served on its own and/or you can buy cured or smoked salmon. I chose to put slices under the salad instead of in it because I preferred controlling the amount of salmon per bite, and the pieces caught the dressing drippings perfectly.

In the spirit of being adventurous in our kitchens, do you have something you want to make just to see if you can? Or have you done it already? I’d love to hear about your epic kitchen moments! 

Fennel Citrus Salad and Cured Salmon with a Grapefruit Vinaigrette by Herring and Potatoes

Recipe for Salmon from CHOW: Cured Salmon 
I didn’t have white peppercorns so I upped the lemon zest (almost a whole lemon for a half pound of fish) and it came out great!

Fennel Citrus Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Ingredients
  • 1 small bulb of fennel, reserve the tops (fronds)
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 small shallot or ¼ of a red onion
  • 1 grapefruit, supremed (cutting the segments out: here is a good how-to) and reserve the juice
  • 1-2 blood oranges, supremed
  • Small handful of cilantro
  • ¼ cup fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard (cut to 2 tsp if it's too sharp)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Slice the fennel very thinly on a mandolin or with a knife. Toss the fennel with a little salt and lemon juice and set aside.
  2. Slice the shallot or red onion very thinly on the mandolin, or with a knife. Add to the fennel along with the fruit segments.
  3. Chop the cilantro and add to the salad.
  4. Whisk together the grapefruit juice, mustard, honey, and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Dress the salad with half the dressing at first and taste before adding more. You want the dressing to be light but enough that you can really taste it!
  6. Serve the salad with pieces of the fennel fronds on top and slices of the cured salmon underneath.