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Monday, January 23, 2012

Lunar New Year 2012: Fat Goh/Fa Gao/Prosperity Cake

Happy Lunar New Year!

One popular treat eaten during the Lunar New Year is Fat Goh (in Cantonese) or Fa Gao (in Mandarin), which translates to Prosperity Cake. It's basically a type of rice cake that's steamed until it "flowers" or "smiles." People believe a bigger smile means more prosperity and fortune for you throughout the year.
Chinese New Year - Fat Goh or Prosperity Cake
These brightly smiling Fat Goh were made with mixes I found at my local Asian supermarket.
Lunar New Year - Fat Goh/Fa Gao/ Prosperity Cake Mix (White Sugar)
This was the mix for the white Fat Goh, which is made with white sugar. I found that the Fat Goh had a bit of a gritty texture after it was steamed, which I found odd. It was like the sugar did not fully dissolve.
Lunar New Year - Fat Goh/Fa Gao/ Prosperity Cake Mix (Brown Sugar)
Here is the mix for the brown Fat Goh, which uses brown sugar. (Notice the little yellow and red sticker. It's the only difference between the packaging!) I liked the flavor of this one way more than the white Fat Goh, but that's because I love the taste of brown sugar. Thankfully, the brown Fah Goh did not have the strange gritty texture found in the white version.

What I liked about these mixes were that they were simple to make and created Fat Goh that smiled beautifully! (More prosperity and fortune for us!) I've tried several mixes from other companies, but the results weren't as nice (no "smiles," dense texture, etc...) so I thought I'd share with you a brand that I know works so you, too, can have a new year filled with prosperity and fortune! :D

I've tried several times to make Fat Goh from scratch, but have yet to find a good recipe that smiles and has the proper texture. Many recipes online are for Huat Kueh, a Malaysian/Singaporean "smiling" cake. It looks the same but uses wheat flour rather than rice flour. This gives the cake a different texture than the Fat Goh I'm familiar with. If anyone has any recipes for homemade Fat Goh with rice flour or know of any good links to tested recipes, please let me know!

I hope everyone has a fun, prosperous, lucky Year of the Dragon!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cooking Adventure: The Hunger Games - Lamb Stew with Dried Plums

For Christmas this year, my cousin got me my very own dutch oven! I couldn't believe it! It was on my wishlist for the longest time. I wanted to break it in with something super special so today, I made Katniss' favorite dish from the Capitol - Lamb Stew with Dried Plums - from the book series The Hunger Games.

While I was looking at The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook on Amazon, I found a sample of the recipes in a downloadable PDF. It has 10 recipes from the book, including the unofficial recipe for Lamb Stew with Dried Plums! With the recipe in hand, I set out on my next cooking adventure.
The Hunger Games - Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
THE HUNGER GAMES: LAMB STEW WITH DRIED PLUMS
Adapted from "Katniss's Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums" in The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook
Yields: 8-10 servings

Ingredients
  • 3.5 pounds of lamb, cut into 1.5" pieces
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 3 tsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 pound of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 pounds of potatoes, cubed
  • 3 cups dried plums (pitted prunes)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp dried rosemary, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 can ginger ale (12 oz)
Directions
  1. Mix salt, pepper, and flour in a large freezer bag.
  2. Add lamb and toss to coat meat evenly.
  3. Heat oil in a large pan and brown meat in batches.
  4. Remove lamb to a side plate.
  5. Remove any excess fat from the pan.
  6. Add onions and garlic and saute until onions are golden.
  7. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of water.
  8. Place onion-garlic mixture and lamb into a large dutch oven.
  9. Add beef stock and sugar.
  10. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.
  11. Add baby carrots and simmer for 15 minutes.
  12. Add potatoes, celery, dried plums, herbs, and ginger ale.
  13. Simmer for another 45 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender.
  14. Salt to taste.
I tried to stay true to the book and served the stew with a brown rice blend and crusty whole grain bread (both from Trader Joe's). I thought the stew was a little on the sweet side so next time, I'll add less sugar and adjust the taste at the end. Also, I'm not a fan of thyme so I'll omit that entirely next time. But other than that, it was an enjoyable stew. My dad was pleasantly surprised by how good the dried plums were in the stew and ended up liking it the most... so overall, I'd say this was a success!

I hope you guys enjoy taking a bite out of Panem. Until the next great adventure...

UPDATE (1/17/2012): The flavor of the stew tasted a lot better the next day (and even more the day after). The herbs and dried plum flavors all melded together nicely so the thyme didn't stick out as much.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Red Cross Adventure Donating Blood

Yesterday, I finally got to donate blood for the first time! My friend signed up to donate blood so he could score some free Clippers tickets and I decided to accompany him. I've been wanting to donate blood for a long time and even tried to donate a few years ago, but I didn't have enough iron so I couldn't do it. Imagine how happy I was when the nurse told me I had enough iron. Yay!
Red Cross Blood Donation Souvenirs
The process itself is fairly quick. I think the worst part was when they prick your finger to test your iron levels in your blood, but other than that it's not a bad experience at all. After they insert the needle, you just lie there squeezing a ball every 5 seconds until the bag gets full. Then, they take a bit more blood in little test tube vials for some lab tests on your blood. I did feel a little light-headed afterward, but they just had me lie down for a bit longer with my knees up. Afterward, you go to the canteen area where you can snack and replenish your fluids. The staff was super friendly and very helpful, which made the experience all the more enjoyable.

If it's your first time donating blood, here's some helpful advice:
  • Drink lots of water starting at least a day or two BEFORE you donate blood. You want to be well hydrated. It makes a big difference! Even though they started taking blood from my (less-hydrated) friend first, we ended up filling our bags at the same time! I asked how that was possible and the nurse replied it was because I was hydrated. So yes! Score one for water!
  • Also, load up on iron-rich foods (especially if you're female). I didn't do that the first time so I ended up with low iron and couldn't donate. The Red Cross provides a helpful list of iron-rich foods on their website. Personally, I ate red meat and dark, leafy greens. I also added an iron supplement per my doctor's recommendation, but you should consult your physician before doing that yourself. 
  • After the donation, I highly recommend drinking lots of water and eating at least a few of the snacks. One of the girls who finished after us just sat there and then she ended up almost fainting.
  • Finally, my last bit of advice is to convince your friends to go and donate together! My friend and I were on neighboring beds so we could chat as we donated. We had a bunch of laughs while snacking afterwards too. One of the volunteers even commented that we were having too much fun, but it made the experience more entertaining.
  • And don't forget to enjoy the fact that you helped save 3 lives! It's a wonderful feeling!
I'm so happy I got to donate! I was a bit tired and sore afterward (though that might be a combination of the workout I did before donating and the actual blood donation itself), but the sense of accomplishment trumps all that! If you're healthy and capable, I'd recommend donating blood at least once. It's so simple and you help so many people!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Baking Adventure: Harry Potter Pumpkin Pasties

Happy New Year, everyone! For my first post of 2012, I wanted to pay homage to another one of my favorite book series - Harry Potter! One of Harry's first treats on the Hogwarts Express is pumpkin pasties. (Apparently, it's pronounced "past-ees" and not "paste-ees.") The characters enjoy them throughout the series so I knew I just had to try to make them.
Harry Potter Pumpkin Pasties
For the crust, I used Cook's Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Dough recipe. This was my first time making pie crust from scratch (though I've made pastry crust for tarts before) and I can honestly say, I'm in love with this pie crust. It's flaky and buttery and not tough at all! It browns beautifully and is easy to work with. The vodka really is the magic ingredient! Trust me, you won't taste the vodka at all. The alcohol evaporates as your pie/pasties bake.

For the pumpkin filling, I mixed the following ingredients:
  • 1 can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.
To form the pasties,
  1. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick. 
  2. Use a bowl and cut out circles that are about 4 inches in diameter. 
  3. Spoon 1 tablespoon of pumpkin filling in the center of each circle.
  4. Use water to dampen the edges of the crust. 
  5. Fold over the crust and seal the edge with a fork.
  6. Use a knife to cut vents on the top of the crust.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes (or until golden brown) at 350 degrees F, rotating the baking pan half way through.
There you have it, a little piece of Harry Potter's magical world! I hope 2012 brings more tasty treats and fun adventures.
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