pork dumplings

Dear Tara,

We’re almost at the weekend, just hang in there! Will this be the weekend where you can start planning parts of your trip to Taiwan? If so, I hope this helps as a very rough guide as I cannot claim to be a travel expert.

Let me think back . . . we went in mid-February and I found it shockingly cold. I thought going from Toronto to Taipei meant warmer weather for me. But it’s a cold that seeps into your bone there, a deep kind of cold. So wear plenty of light layers and pack a jacket and accessories. This might reveal my delicate health, but I needed the hat, scarf, and hand warmers when we were outdoors. You can find Japanese hand warmers in convenience stores there where they only heat up when you magically open the packaging and they last for 24 hours. I found these so nice and toasty that I bought some back to Canada with me! However, it’s supposed to be much warmer in March as their spring season officially begins.

If your travels take you south to Kaohsiung City, then you should definitely be prepared with mosquito repellents and insect-bite relief as the mosquitoes come out to feast at night. This is where wearing layers should help, they can’t bite you if they can’t reach you!

Of course, Taiwan is famous for its night markets so that’s a must visit. There are plenty around the major cities and we strolled through many of them after dinner. You could visit a different one every night and not be able to explore them all. Shilin Night Market is probably the largest one and you’ll find tightly packed stalls of street food, games, and merchandise for sale. You snake through in single file and look for the stalls with the longest lines to join. Roam around to take in the sights and smells, but keep your belongings close to you and be aware of your surroundings. Our relatives warned us many times to keep our wallets and phone safely in front of us.

What should you eat? Well, there’s the famous Taiwanese stinky tofu, which I actually didn’t find all that stinky there (it’s more pungent here in Toronto). They make it much better in Taiwan and the savory flavours are worth a try. There’s a ton of fried food at the night market, almost anything you can imagine. I would highly recommend fried chicken as a late night snack. There are stalls with baos and oyster omelettes made fresh to order. Waffles batter poured in the weirdly shaped cast irons. There’s this particular dessert that is quite wonderful – it’s a crêpe filled with peanut butter brittle, ice cream, and cilantro. This might sound weird but it’s surprisingly delightful! You can also get a bowl of sweet potatoes that are covered in a syrupy glaze that warms your soul as the night gets colder.

Outside of the night market, you can’t skip Din Tai Fung. Their soup dumplings alone are worth it. Go in a group so you can order multiple steam baskets of dumplings to try. I found their hot and sour soup to be the best I’ve ever had because it’s incredibly silky from the tofu. Try the braised beef noodle soup!

Let me interject here with my very own dumplings. I made these without my mom’s help for the first time. However, the wrappers were store bought and not homemade.

Pork Dumplings

Dollar Dumplings
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes
Makes about 50 dumplings

1 lb ground pork
¼ cup minced scallions
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 lb pre-made round dumpling wrappers

  1. First of all, the original recipe called for a tablespoon of minced ginger which I omitted because Howard thinks I’m too heavy handed when it comes to ginger (it’s true, I probably would have put in two tablespoons). Ok, now that that’s out of way, here are the very easy steps.
  2. Mix the pork, scallions, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, cornstarch, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper together in a bowl. Take the dumpling wrappers out of the fridge and packaging. Set aside a small bowl of water.
  3. Using a spoon, fill a dumpling wrapper with about one tablespoon of filling.
  4. Dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper – half a circle will do, you don’t have to go all around. Fold the dumpling in half and pinch it from the filling out to get rid of any air bubbles. Seal the edges tightly and crimp to secure.
  5. Repeat until all the dumplings are completed. Choose one of the two methods below to cook them.
  6. Boil: Fill a large pot with water and boil on high heat. Place the dumplings in the pot in batches (don’t crowd it). They will start to float around 3 to 4 minutes. That’s when they’re done, remove with a slotted spoon.
  7. Pan-fried: Arrange the dumplings (pleats up) on a cast iron pan until it covers the surface. Pour in neutral oil (I used grapeseed oil) to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium until the oil starts to sizzle. Then pour in ¼ cup of water and cover it with a lid. The steam will cook the dumplings in about 3 to 4 minutes. You’ll end up with a nice golden crust on the bottom of the dumpling.
  8. Dip in a soy sauce and rice vinegar mixture and enjoy!

 

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings
Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Taiwan is also a city full of hot pot restaurants. While it’s usually a shared experience here in Toronto, you get your own individual pot there. It’s definitely worth trying your hand at cooking your own food with fresh seafood. Japanese restaurants are also a must stop since the seafood is so abundant – you’ll see lots of conveyor belt sushi there, go for the fun or pick a more traditional restaurant.

Then there’s the famous shaved ice. We went to Smoothie House for their mango shaved ice, topped with a panna cotta and ice cream! Or there’s Ice Monster for a better sit down experience.

Go for a traditional breakfast where you can eat delicious buns, dough fritters, congee, and drink soy milk or wintermelon iced tea.

Taiwan is filled with amazing bakeries and cafes. Seriously, their pastry and bread game is on point. Wu Pao Chun Bakery is my absolute favourite. You should try their pineapple cakes, croissants, buns, and basically anything you can get your hands on when it’s your turn in line (yes, people line up for bread here). All my relatives know to bring me back a box of pineapple cakes from Wu Pao Chun when they visit Taiwan.

What else did we do? We visited Taitung County and Tamsui Old Street for some fresher air and ocean views. We were driven up winding roads to the top of the mountains to pay our respect to ancestors. We watched in envy as people zoomed by on scooters. We made sure to visit a 24-hour bookstore. You can even find a good meal at 7-Eleven, it’s more than a convenience store there, it does everything. People buy concert and train tickets, call taxis, pay bills, and even have the ready-to-eat food you buy prepared for you. I was very fond of this caramel egg pudding that I can’t find here and can’t quite replicate in recipes. Oh speaking of, I forgot to mention that every receipt you get in Taiwan is a lottery ticket. You can keep these or give them to relatives to redeem if the winning number shows up!

I do want to mention that sometimes it’s hard to find a clean washroom when you’re out and about or at a night market. Keep plenty of hand sanitizing wipes, napkins, and toilet paper in your bag. Some of the more rural places may have squat toilets instead of sitting ones. And what I found interesting was that some homes tile the entire bathroom because there are no bath tubs. They have a drain in the floor of the bathroom where the water goes when you shower next to the sink and toilet.

The subway system is very easy to use and clean, which reminds me there’s no food or drinks on the subway! There’s a line that clearly indicates where you’re no longer allowed to eat or drink in the station. Don’t sit on the designated priority seats on the subway either, you’ll get glances. And don’t lose any tokens or tickets, you’ll need it to enter and to leave the gates at the station.

I think that’s it. I don’t know if I’m missing any other observations! Practice your chopstick skills and I hope you’ll have a dumpling book when you come back.

Sincerely,
Syl

saffron, orange, and honey madeleines

Dear Laura,

It was so good to catch up last night! You picked a great day to come over, I’m sorry I stuffed you with pasta and madeleines and we didn’t have room for some waffles and ice cream. We’ll have to take a snow-check for those.

Howard’s parents gave me the little box of saffron – I remember Howard bringing it home and saying “my parents said you would know.” Because that felt like a challenge, I looked at the little clear box of spices and proudly said, “oh, saffron.” Winner!

I’ve never used saffron before and wasn’t even sure if we’ve ever tasted it out at restaurants, so I don’t know what the flavour profile is, it does smell really strong. I liked how you described it as “plastic-y.” I had these madeleine recipes bookmarked for a long time now, ever since I saw that I could finally use the saffron. The day before my parents gave me some oranges and I had bought pistachios from Costco, so there really was no excuse to not make these.

Saffron, Orange, and Honey Madeleines
Recipe from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi
Makes about 20-22 large madeleines

90 grams unsalted butter, plus more, melted, for brushing
2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
¼ vanilla bean
2 large eggs
⅓ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2½ tablespoons shelled pistachio kernels

The recipe instructions are also online at Bon Appétit. So I’ll go over this in visuals:

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Combine the butter, saffron threads, and honey in a saucepan.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Cook on low heat until the butter and honey melt together. Give it a swirl or two. Then set it aside to cool to room temperature.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Using a food processor this time, add in the eggs, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla seeds. Pulse until combined. Then add in the dry ingredients of flour, baking powder, and salt.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Once combined, transfer it to a bowl or piping bag. Let the batter chill in the fridge for an hour.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Melt some butter and brush it on the madeleine pans. Then dust it with flour.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

If you saved the batter in a bowl, you can use a spoon to scoop dollops into the pan’s mold. Or you can snip off the tip of the piping bag and start squeezing the batter into the pan.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

The oven temperature in the cookbook asked for 400°F for 10 minutes. However, when I was on Facebook, it was like the algorithms knew I was using the Sweet cookbook. I found out after that it was an error. It should be 375°F for 10 minutes! That’s why my madeleines were such a dark brown on the bottom!! Although Howard really enjoyed that extra crunch.

When they’re done baking, gently nudge the cakes out of the mold and transfer to a cooling rack. Then brush honey on top for that shiny glaze.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

The honey also helps the crushed pistachios stick to them.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

And there you have it! I might have ground the pistachio a bit too much into a crumble compared to the photo in the cookbook. But it’s still delicious. There’s only four left in my kitchen this morning.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

I hope to see you soon and hear more about your house renovations. You know I love hearing about food, homes, and travel!

Sincerely,
Syl

chocolate rice krispie square totoros

Hey Steph and Lyndsay,

It’s one of my favourite weeks, even more than shark week, it’s finally #totoroweek! The weeks leading up to it, I’m always on the look out for round or circular food types that can be transformed in Totoro. But then I thought square Totoro is cute too! Let’s show him some love.

I recently made homemade marshmallows and since then I started craving Rice Krispie squares. This time, I tried a different marshmallow recipe and went straight to Stella Parks’ BraveTart cookbook. She offers quite a few variations, including an apple pie flavour, brown butter, coconut, malted milk, and peanut butter honey. I went with chocolate since it would provide the best contrast to the white royal icing.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares
Recipe adapted from BraveTart
Makes enough to fill an 8 x 12 x 2 inch baking pan

11 cups Rice Krispie cereal
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 envelopes unflavoured gelatin powder
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup water
1 cup golden corn syrup
2¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter

  1. In a large bowl, fold the cocoa powder with the cereal until it’s evenly coated.
  2. Add Melt the butter and grease the baking pan. Set aside the extra butter.
  3. Mix the gelatin, ¼ cup water, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a medium pot, combine the ½ cup water, corn syrup, sugar, and salt. Set over medium heat and stir until the mixture bubbles (about 8 minutes). I clipped on a candy thermometer, but I couldn’t get the mixture to reach 250°F in after 6 minutes. Might be time for me to get a digital thermometer. Either way, onward!
  5. Pour the hot syrup into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Let it cool for a bit and then add the gelatin from the small bowl. Using a whisk attachment, start on low speed and then increase to medium-high.
  6. The syrup will thicken and turn white and increase in volume. Reduce the speed to low and add in the remaining melted butter. Give it one last good mix on medium-high.
  7. Scrape the gooey marshmallow batter over the cocoa-powdered cereal and fold to coat. Transfer the mixture into the greased pan and gently press down to create an even and smooth surface.
  8. Cover it in foil and let it set in the fridge for at least two hours.

 

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

After the Rice Krispie is set, use a spatula to help pop the treats out of the pan and cut them into squares.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

Use a piping bag with a small round tip and fill it with royal icing. Pipe an arch about half the size of the square and fill it in.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

Pipe two medium circles for the eyes and push milk chocolate crispearls in for Totoro’s pupils. Pipe a small dot for the nose and v-shapes for the whiskers.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

This is the part where your patience gets tested. Using brown jimmies to set over the royal icing belly. I used the tip of a knife to help shift some into place.

Chocolate Rice Krispie Squares

Finally, some lollipop sticks to make these treats easy to hold and eat. I couldn’t bear to bite into Totoro, so I had Howard do the honours while I ate the non-decorated ones. These chocolate Rice Krispie squares taste really good (and are super addictive).

Sincerely,
Syl

squishy ghost marshmallows

Dear Danielle,

We did it, we found a picture book and food project to collaborate on! I’m so excited we got a match, this really is the perfect fit with the both of us being fans of Rebecca Green and her debut book, How to Make Friends with a Ghost.

Rebecca’s ghost is so heart-achingly cute and you just want to eat it. And now I’ve made it possible. These homemade marshmallows are soft and delicate, but still firm enough for making s’mores or toasting for that lovely burnt flavor.

Dare I say they’re a bit tastier than store-bought ones? My ultimate taste-tester was my husband who loves marshmallows. Trust me when I say he does not give my cooking any bias, so when he said these were better than the ones from the grocery store, I was surprisingly shocked (and feeling pretty rosy inside).

Vanilla Marshmallows
Recipe adapted from Butter Baked Goods
Makes enough to fill an 8 x 12 x 2 inch baking pan

½ cup water
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup golden corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Icing sugar

  1. Using the bowl from your stand mixer, pour in the water and gelatin. Let it sit so that the gelatin can bloom.
  2. Brush the melted butter onto the base and side of your baking pan. Set it aside.
  3. Add the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the other half cup of water into a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring it to a rolling boil and let it boil for about a minute. Then remove it from the heat.
  4. Fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and turn it on low to mix the water and gelatin that’s already in the bowl until it combines. Then very slowly and carefully, add the hot sugar and corn syrup mixture into the bowl.
  5. Still mixing on low, add the vanilla extract.
  6. When everything is in the bowl, turn the mixer to high and whisk for 10 minutes until the batter turns white and triples in size.
  7. Stop the mixer, using a spatula, scrape the marshmallow batter into the baking pan. Spread the batter evenly and do your best to level it. A bench scraper or off-set spatula can help.
  8. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, be sure not to touch the batter otherwise it’ll stick. Or use a lid if your baking pan comes with one. Leave the marshmallow to set at room temperature overnight or in the fridge.
  9. The next day, take the foil off and sprinkle icing sugar over the top. Cover the surface evenly so that it won’t be too sticky to handle. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to help loosen the marshmallow slab. Then carefully flip the marshmallow out onto a counter. Sprinkle icing sugar all over the marshmallow – don’t forget the sides.
  10. Use a knife to cut them into squares or roll a cookie cutter in icing sugar before using it on the marshmallow.

Ghost Marshmallows

You’re going to get icing sugar everywhere. But if you have a large baking sheet, it’s best to try to contain everything there. No promises of course, I still got sugar on the table, floor, and on my apron.

Ghost Marshmallows

Use your hands to pat the marshmallow down with icing sugar, it will make it so much easier to work with. This large slab felt like a really nice pillow for sugar fairies to sleep on.

Ghost Marshmallows

If you have a tulip cookie cutter, upside-down, it looks like Rebecca’s ghost. I tried to get one, but a few of the local shops weren’t carrying it. I ended up using my Totoro cookie cutter. I just had to snip the ears off using kitchen shears.

Ghost Marshmallows

So excited for how chubby these ghosts are going to turn out.

Ghost Marshmallows

Using black and red edible markers, I drew on the faces and blush. They actually bleed a lot, so try to use a very fine tip or gently draw the faces on and wait for the lines to thicken.

Ghost Marshmallows

One trick if you don’t want a solid red blush, I dipped the edible marker in icing sugar first so that the tip would be speckled. Then I gently tapped it onto the ghost’s cheek.

Ghost Marshmallows

You can sort of see the slight bump where Totoro’s arms/hands would be, but they work as Rebecca’s ghost has a similar look.

Ghost Marshmallows

“If you’re a person who is sweet, warm and kind, a ghost may come out and find you.”

Ghost Marshmallows

These little ghosts are pretty darn cute when wrapped up as gifts! If only I had some graham crackers on hand . . .

Play the video to see how soft and squishy the ghost marshmallow is!

Sincerely,
Syl

*Disclaimer: I work at Tundra Books and sent Danielle a copy of How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green for review consideration. All the while, Danielle and I were looking for a side project to collaborate with during the past couple months and it just so happened that I am the publicist for this title.

pineapple cookies

Dear Naseem,

You’re back!! I hope you had a great time watching Groundhog Day and hopping all over New York City.

It finally happened, I used those pineapple cake molds with the attempt to make pineapple cakes! About time since I’ve been dreaming about it since February.

Here’s how it went down: I saw pineapples on sale at the grocery store and bought them. I pretended that I knew how to pick the ripe ones because they were all smelling so good. Went home to wash the metal molds again because I couldn’t remember if I cleaned them when they were gifted to me. Then I rolled up my sleeves to get to work.

Pineapple Cookies
Recipe adapted from Sweet
Makes 40 small rectangular tarts and excess pineapple filling

Pineapple Filling
2 pineapples
1¾ granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 whole star anise

Shortcrust Pastry
2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter
Zest from 1 lemon
1 large egg yolk
4 teaspoon water

Pineapple Filling:

  1. Peel, core, and chop the pineapple flesh into 2-inch cubes
  2. Place the cubed pineapples in a food processor and pulse until it becomes a purée.
  3. Pour the purée over a sieve to let our the excess juice. Save the juice to mix with a can of ginger ale – it makes for a great drink while you work!
  4. Place the pineapple purée in a large saucepan and add in the sugar, vanilla extract, and star anise. Turn the stove up to medium-low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and stir every 3-5 minutes to avoid burning.
  5. Depending on the remaining juice content and heat of your stove, this can take up to 30-40 minutes before the purée starts to thicken and turn a golden colour. You’re not making a jam, so you have to keep cooking until the filling holds it shape when spooned.
  6. When it’s ready, turn off the heat and remove it from the stove top. Let it cool for about half an hour before transferring to an airtight container. Keep this in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the tarts.

Shortcrust Pastry:

  1. Using the food processor again, sift in the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add it in with the lemon zest. Pulse to mix in. Whisk the egg yolk and water together, add it to the mixture and pulse until the dough comes together.
  2. Take the dough out wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Let it chill in the fridge for an hour. Take out the dough half an hour before you’re ready to assemble.

Pineapple Cookies:

  1. Brush the molds with melted unsalted butter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  3. Scoop the pineapple filling into a piping bag, set aside.
  4. Lightly dust your working surface with flour and roll out the pastry dough. Using the mold, stamp out the shapes and layer it on the bottom of each mold.
  5. Pipe a dollop of pineapple filling onto the center of each rectangle.
  6. Using the leftover pastry dough, repeat by stamping out the shape of the mold. Each sheet will be placed on top of the pineapple filling. Tuck in the sides as best you can so that it seals the filling in.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool before transferring it to a wire rack. Use a tong to pop the tarts out of the metal molds.

Pineapple Tarts

I somehow managed to get Howard to peel, core, and chop all the pineapple for me. I stood around waiting and snapped photos. There’s also something very satisfying about seeing a solid fruit get puréed into a beautiful sauce.

Pineapple Tarts

At this point, I did wonder if I should just pour this pineapple purée over some ice cream. Or look up a recipe for Dole Whip. But I soldiered on with the original plan.

Pineapple Tarts

Here’s the golden colour of the pineapple purée cooked for over half an hour. Wear comfy slippers or have a squishy kitchen mat while you stir this filling past the consistency of jam.

Pineapple Tarts

Alright, the filling is cooling in the fridge. Time to butter those molds so that the cookies pop right out.

Pineapple Tarts

I used one of the molds to cut out 40 rectangles and a bench scraper to help pick them up.

Pineapple Tarts

Here goes the bottom layer.

Pineapple Tarts

I used a piping bag since it would be easier to distribute each pineapple dollop onto the bottom layer of pastry.

Pineapple Tarts

I was pretty conservative as I didn’t want any to leak out – but of course, some did manage to escape after it was baked.

Pineapple Tarts

Okay, this again. Another 40 rectangles for the top layer.

Pineapple Tarts

I placed those gently on top and pushed down around the edges to seal the pineapple filling in.

Pineapple Tarts

When they were ready, I had them cool for a bit and used a tong to pop the cookies out of the hot metal molds. Then ate one while it was still hot – probably tasted the best then because who doesn’t love hot pockets?

They kind of look like Fig Newtons?

Pineapple Tarts

But after various taste-testers, I think the conclusion is that these aren’t pineapple cakes (my heart breaks), but they are amazing pineapple-filled cookies (my heart has hope again).

I think my least favourite part of this recipe is washing the molds after. Luckily, I only had to give them a quick scrub as they survived the dishwasher (just taking risks here and there).

I liked the filling but I’ll just have to find a different dough recipe for a more cake texture. I know we discussed maybe adding baking powder or baking soda? Although when you mentioned winter melon, I am intrigued on how to make the filling.

Also, this made a ton of filling, I could probably cut the recipe in half. Or enjoy the additional pineapple tart I would have to make each time.

Sincerely,
Syl