A to Z Challenge

2023 Edition: A blogging challenge to post everyday in April (except Sundays) about a specific theme that matches the letter of the alphabet. One letter for each day in April (except Sundays). Stay tuned for my daily blogs, found below, newest first.

April 5, 2023: E is for Egg 🥚   

You remember that scene in Runaway Bride where Julia is trying all the eggs? Before that scene, did you know there were so many egg recipes?? I didn’t. And when I went to Google to find out exactly which recipes she tried (Google couldn’t answer), I came across 100-year Egg or Century Egg. There are actually quite a few alternative names for this Chinese delicacy that until today, I’d never heard of. 

So this dish is made by preserving duck, chicken, or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months – depending on the process used. The yolk becomes a dark green or gray color and is a creamy consistency with a strong flavor. The white part becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly that has a salty flavor. Some eggs have patterns near the surface of the egg white which resemble pine branches. These eggs are considered primo and have their own special name loosely translated to pine flower eggs. 

Century eggs are served as hors d’oeuvres, as a side dish, an addition to main dishes, as a cold dish, and often served at weddings and birthday parties. 

While the traditional method for producing Century eggs is still widely used, a quicker modern method can be used, which you’ll find below. Would you try this delicacy? Comment below!!

PREP TIME 30 mins. COOK TIME 10 mins. CURING TIME 47 d. TOTAL TIME 47 d 40 mins

SERVINGS 24

Equipment

  • glass container
  • large ceramic or Pyrex mixing bowl
  • rubber gloves
  • safety glasses
  • kitchen scale

Ingredients

  • 24 quail eggs (or duck or chicken)
  • 330 g. water
  • 1 g. pu-erh tea
  • 16 g. Kosher salt
  • 14 g. food-grade sodium hydroxide lye
  • 0.7 g. food-grade zinc oxide

Instructions 

  • In a small saucepan, bring half of the water to a boil.
  • Turn off the heat and add pu-erh tea. Allow to steep for 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the tea to a medium-sized ceramic or glass bowl. Wear gloves and safety glasses. Add the salt, lye, and zinc, then stir to dissolve. Add the remaining water. Cover and let sit overnight.
  • The next day, wearing gloves, gently add the eggs to the brine. Cover the jar and soak the eggs for 12 days.
  • Remove the eggs from the brine and briefly rinse off the shells with water. Allow the eggs to dry for 1 hour.
  • Place the eggs into a zippered bag. Place the sealed eggs into a light-proof container. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for 5 weeks.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and water.
  • Place a few eggs at a time into rapidly boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Do not place too many eggs in at once.
  • Remove the eggs from the boiling water and cool in the ice bath.
  • Peel and serve in a bowl of jok (rice porridge).

April 4, 2023: D is for Duck 🦆

I think I was 12 the first time I had duck. I was on a field trip – no idea to where now – and on the way back we stopped at this Asian restaurant. I remember the restaurant was way up on top of a hill, and it looked like a building you’d see in China or Japan. It seemed like a very large place, lots of space and tables, Asian art and decorations, and of course all the wait staff were of Asian descent. I couldn’t keep my eyes from wandering around to look at everything and it was hard to pay attention to anything our chaperones were saying.

I don’t remember if we ordered our own food or if it was a predetermined menu, but I do remember the table being full of all sorts of food. And we were strongly encouraged to try everything. I tried the duck and fell immediately in love with it. It was crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. For a 12-year old, poultry was chicken or turkey, and this was the best “chicken” I’d ever tasted!

Here is a recipe I found for Peking Duck, which sounds a lot like what we had that day so long ago. This is an at-home, easy recipe, but still requires a bit of work and a lot of time. I found this recipe at: Red House Spice.

Prep: 1 day 2 hours Cook: 1 hour 15 minutes

Servings: 6

BEFORE YOU START

Please start preparing the duck at least 1 day before roasting.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 duck – about 2.5kg/5.5lb
  • 2 tablespoon fine salt

For the syrup

  • 2 tablespoon maltose – see note 1
  • 120 ml hot water – about ½ cup
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar – see note 2

For the stuffing

  • 2 stalks scallions
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 apples – quartered
  • 4 star anise
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 pieces cassia cinnamon

For the sauce

  • 3 tablespoon sweet bean sauce (Tian Mian Jiang/甜面酱) – see note 3
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

You also need

  • Peking duck pancakes – homemade or shop-bought
  • Scallions – julienned
  • Cucumber – peeled and seeds removed, cut into sticks

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare the duck

  • Pat dry the duck with kitchen paper then rub the salt over the skin and the cavity. Put the duck over a wire rack with a tray underneath to collect any drips. Leave to rest on the counter for 1 hour.
  • Bring about 1½ litres of water (about 6 cups) to a boil, then gently pour it over the entire duck skin (remember to flip over and do the other side). You can use a deep tray to collect the water, or do it inside a sink. If there are feather ends on the skin, remove them with a tweezer.
  • In a bowl, mix maltose with hot water and vinegar until completely dissolved. Brush a layer of the mixture over the duck skin. Leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour then brush another layer. 
  • Keep the duck refrigerated uncovered (over the rack and inside a tray) for 24 to 48 hours.

Roast the duck

  • One hour before roasting, take the duck out of the fridge to bring it back to room temperature. Put all the stuffing ingredients (scallions, garlic, apples, star anise, cassia cinnamon and bay leaves) into the cavity. Use toothpicks or skewers to seal the openings of the cavity.
  • Preheat a fan-assisted oven, aka convection oven, at 200°C/390°F (or 220°C/425°F if using a conventional oven). Put the duck over the middle rack of the oven with the breast side facing up. Place a roasting tray at the bottom of the oven to collect any dripping fat during roasting. Leave to cook for 15 minutes.
  • Then lower the temperature to 180°C/350°F (or 200°C/390°F if using a conventional oven). Use aluminium foil to cover the tip of the wings and the end of the legs. Continue cooking for a further 60 minutes or so (see note 4)
  • Check the doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken (the inner thigh area near the breast). The temperature should be no lower than 74C°/165F°.

Serve the duck

  • Take the duck out of the oven and leave it to rest on the counter for 15 minutes.
  • While waiting, prepare the sauce. Add ½ tablespoon of duck fat collected during roasting to a pan. Add sweet bean sauce and sugar. Mix and simmer over low heat until tiny bubbles appear. Transfer to a small serving dish. Whisk to fully incorporate the sauce and oil.
  • Steam the pancakes for 3 minutes to warm up if they’re cold. Slice the duck into pieces.
  • When eating, spread a little sauce over a pancake, put the duck, scallions and cucumber in the middle. Wrap up into a cylinder and enjoy.

Cook a soup (optional)

  • After most of the meat has been removed from the duck, boil the carcass in water to make a soup with Napa cabbage or winter melon. Simply add salt and white pepper to season.

NOTES

1. It’s best to use maltose (Mai Ya Tang, 麦芽糖) but if unavailable you may replace it with honey. In this case, mix 2 parts of honey with 1 part of hot water.

2. You can use any type of vinegar available. Or use fresh lemon juice to substitute.

3. Sweet bean sauce (aka sweet flour sauce, sweet wheat sauce) is the classic choice. Possible substitutes include hoisin sauce, yellow soybean sauce, or plum sauce.

4. The roasting time may vary depending on the size of your duck and the performance of your oven. Please observe and check often. Adjust if necessary.

April 3, 2023: C is for Cherry 🍒

Cherries put me in mind of warm summer days, beach trips, and healthy snacks. Cherries are one of those snacks you don’t always think of first, maybe not at all until you see them in the grocery store. 

I like to wash them and keep them in a bowl on the counter, easy to grab a handful, super visible for everyone, and something different to munch on (if only bananas were as easy!). 

Once upon a time I took some classes for event planning and one of the classes I took was a cooking class. I loved that class, loved learning new things, new ways to prepare foods, and new recipes to try. For our final project, we partnered up with another classmate, and we had to make something iconic to the country we were given. My partner and I were given Germany so we researched and decided on Black Forest Cherry Cake. 

Making this cake is no quick and easy feat … to do it properly will take you all day, sometimes a day and a half. The recipe below is a total of 7.5 hours. My partner and I did some of the prep work ahead of time and in some cases, used pre-made items.

Here is our A+ recipe for the cake. What’s your favorite cake recipe? Comment below!

For the Base Cake

  • 7 eggs
  • 1.2 cups sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1.76 oz cocoa
  • 1.2 cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1.76 oz corn starch
  • 2.12 oz melted butter

Cake Potion 😉

  • 3.38 fl oz Kirschwasser
  • 1.35 tbsp water
  • 0.71 oz sugar
  • or 100 ml cherry juice instead of the ingredients above

Cherry Filling

  • 1 jar cherries (680 g // 24 oz)
  • 1.59 oz corn starch
  • 1 pinch cinnamon optional
  • ½ lemon – the jucice of it
  • 2.12 oz sugar

Cream Filling

  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1.69 tbsp Kirschwasser
  • 2.29 oz sugar
  • 4½ tsp gelatine powder or 9 gelatine sheets

Cake Decoration

  • 1 bar dark chocolate, cooled
  • 1.69 cups whipping cream
  • 1 pouch stabilizer i.e. Whip it
  • 12 cherries fresh or cocktail cherries

INSTRUCTIONS 

Baking the Base Cake

  • Beat the eggs with the salt and sugar for about 20 minutes.
  • In a separate bowl, mix thedry ingredients: flour, cocoa, corn starch and baking powder. Carefully fold itinto the egg mix. Also carefully add the melted butter and fold it in.
  • Grease the baking pan (26 cm /10 ¼ inch diameter) and fill the dough in. Bake at 190°C / 375°F for about 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Let the cake cool completely, then put it into the fridge for an hour to make it firm for cutting.

Prepare the Cherry Filling

  • Put the Cherries in a sieve and collect the juice underneath.
  • Put all ingredients (starch, cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice)into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil until the liquid thickens.
  • Add the cherries and let cool.

Prepare the Cream Filling

  • Prepare the gelatine acording to package instructions.
  • Beat the cream and add the Kirschwasser and sugar until stiff. Mix some of the cream with the gelatine, then mix this into the cream.
  • Also mix in the 25 ml Kirschwasser.

Build the Cake

  • Cut the cake twice to create 3 layers.
  • Put the first layer upside down on a cake plate and brush ⅓ of the “Cake Potion” onto it.
  • Use a piping bag with whipping cream to make a rime around the edge of the cake.
  • Use half of the cherry filling to place it inside the cream rim onto the cake.
  • If you have one: Place a cake ring around the cake.
  • Cover the entire layer with cream.
  • Take the next layer of cake and place it on top of the cream.
  • Repeat the previous steps: Brush ⅓ of the cake potion on it, make a cream rim, place remaining cherry filling inside the circle and cover everything with cream.
  • Brush the third cake layer with the cake potion, then put it with the cut side down and the bottom side up, so it is now the top of your cake.
  • Cover the cake with a large lid and place into the fridge for at least 4 hours or better over night.

Decorating the Cake

  • Whip the cream with the stabilizer. If you don’t have stabilizer, use a tablespoon of corn starch.
  • With a sharp knife, shave some chocolate from the bar. Then grate the remaining chocolate.
  • Take the cake from the fridge and cover it entirely with cream. Leave some cream for the top decoration though.
  • Use the grated chocolate to cover the sides of the cake. If you freeze the grated chocolate for a little bit, you can use your hands to put the chocolate onto the cake – worked best for me.
  • Divide the top of the cake into 12 slices by just tracing the sizes but not cutting the cake.
  • Use a piping bag and a tip to create 12 swirls on top of the cake – one swirl on each slice.
  • Place the shaved chocolate on the center of the top, then put a cherry onto each cream swirl.
  • Done!

April 2, 2023: B is for Banana 🍌

I have bananas on the brain because #2 child asked for “real” banana bread the other day – as in, not the kind that comes from a box. I told #2 child that in order to make “real” banana bread we have to have nearly overripe bananas.

We didn’t (and still don’t) because let’s be honest, why buy these guys? No one ever eats them, except me in a bowl of cereal. And so they sit on the counter, collecting fruit flies, and driving me mad for the waste of it all.

That was until I found out that putting bananas in the fridge keeps them from rotting too quickly. They turn black but the fruit stays firm and good for eating. But they’re still wasted because the children assume they’re bad even though I’ve explained a dozen times they’re not. I’ve even proven it to them.

Well, anyway, thanks for reading my unexpected banana rant … here’s our favorite “real” banana bread recipe, courtesy of my aunt Susan.

BANANA BREAD
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
Mix well
Mash 3 or 4 bananas (I like 4) and add to first 3 items
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Do not stir too much
Add nuts if desired
Bake at 350 for at least 40 minutes, depending on pan size.

What wasteful habits drive you mad in your house? Post below!

April 1, 2023: A is for Apple 🍎

Apples put me in mind of my favorite season, autumn. I think of cool, brisk air, colored leaves, leaf piles and comfort food. I think of apple picking, pumpkin pies, football, and Halloween. 

I love to go apple picking and choose pumpkins for carving. It’s a tradition my kids and I try to follow every year. We bring our bags and bags of apples home to make homemade apple sauce and apple butter. 

My favorite apple sauce recipe is super easy:

In a medium/large saucepan:
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
cinnamon to taste
Peeled, cored, and slice apples

Heat on high until boiling then reduce heat to simmer.
Cook until apples are soft, then mash them for preference.

We like our apple sauce on the chunky side. 

What is your favorite season and comfort food to go with it? Post your comments below!

3 comments

  1. The Operation Awesome Team says:

    Sure, I would try the eggs. My spouse is always whipping up different recipes, so I have tried many unusual foods. Great post! Hopefully you’re enjoying the A to Z Challenge as much as we are this year.
    ~ The Operation Awesome Team

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