Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Love Letter for Cream Cheese

Cream Cheese,
How do I count the ways I love thee? Shall I fancy you as a single dollop destined for adornment atop my morning onion bagel? Blended into the creamy batter of an almond praline cheesecake, or paired with powdered sugar as frosting for dark chocolate espresso cupcakes? Or perhaps my love is most profoundly expressed when you are whipped together with diced crabmeat, onion, freshly minced garlic, and folded neatly into wonton wrappers for deep frying into golden, triangular-shaped perfection. Regardless of how you are prepared, today I am thankful for your versatility and willingness to be molded to my liking, beaten into submission with a mixing spoon, and deep fried in oil for the simple pleasure of my consumption,

Always hungrily yours,
Tina S.

If I were to ever fashion an ardent letter to one of my favorite spreadable cheeses, I imagine this is how it would transpire. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, the particular dish I’m fondly alluding to is Chinese-style Crab Rangoons. This recipe was inspired by my dear college friend Jenny P. (now Jenny S.), who generously shared the secrets of her Chinese chef parents many unmentionable (and by unmentionable, meaning so long ago that I can’t for the life of me recall when this oh-so-momentous occasion occurred) years ago. Since then, I’ve tweaked and added several ingredients to my liking, but the originally dictated scheme remains the same:

Crab Rangoon Recipe
Yields 40-45 Crab Rangoons

• 2 packages Philadelphia cream cheese (8 oz), softened
• 8 ounces imitation crabmeat
• 1/2-1 small white onion, diced
• 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
• ½-1 tablespoon sugar (add to taste)
• 1/8-1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (add to taste)
• 1 large clove garlic, minced (I use about 1 tablespoon worth - I like garlic :)
• 1 package square-shaped wonton wrappers (can get for ~$1.50 at any asian grocery)
• 1 raw egg, mixed (used for sealing wonton edges)
• vegetable oil for deep-frying, as needed

**Keep wonton wrappers and pre-fried rangoons covered with a damp towel or paper towel to keep them from drying out while preparing the remainder.

Combine the softened cream cheese (can microwave for 30 seconds post-refrigeration) and crabmeat. Mix in the remaining filling ingredients (up to the wonton wrappers) one at a time.

On a flat surface, lay out a wonton wrapper in front of you so that the tip is facing you. Add about 1 tablespoon of filling to the middle, and spread it out horizontally toward the left and right points of the wrapper so that it forms a narrow oval or log shape.

Wet the edges of the wonton with the raw egg. Fold over the edges of the wrapper to make a triangle. Press together, pinching to help seal the rangoon better.

Heat wok or pot and add oil for deep-frying. When the oil is ready (temperature between 360 – 375 degrees; you can test this by dipping the edge of a wrapped Rangoon into the oil and watching for rising bubbles), carefully slide in the Crab Rangoon, taking care not to overcrowd the wok. Deep-fry until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Serve hot with Sweet and Sour Sauce or Chinese Hot Mustard.

Preparing ahead of time: the filling can be prepared up to a day ahead of time and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, or the wontons can be filled and refrigerated in a sealed container up to one day ahead of time before cooking.

Storage: store filled wontons (separate individual wontons by layers of foil so they won’t adhere to one another) and freeze for up to 2 months before cooking. Cook frozen wontons per directions above, adding a few minutes to the cooking time.

And please wait for those scorchingly hot rangoons to cool before immediately popping one into your mouth and munching away without abandon. Your unscathed tongue and taste buds will most certainly thank you.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Attman's Authentic New York Delicatessen

Attman's Delicatessen
1019 East Lombard Street
Baltimore, MD 21202-4505

To celebrate the glorious end – or perhaps more appropriately, atrocious beating – of another Pharmacy therapeutics exam, I dragged my friend Tiffany C. with me to a Baltimore deli I’d been itching to visit for quite some time now. I warned her that we would be venturing to the more ghetto outskirts of town, which she thankfully took into stride as she accompanied (or better yet, even offered to drive) me to my latest food destination.

Sure enough we were greeted by some rather interesting characters milling about the restaurant doors. Not to be deterred, we eased into the tight quarters past the dusty blue awning, only to be met by an unexpectedly long line of customers waiting to be served. The meat guys were friendly (maybe a little TOO friendly, as one of them proceeded to hook an arm around me and deliver a good-natured squeeze of approval to my usual flurry of picture-taking), answering patiently as we prodded them for recommendations. They worked efficiently but were in no hurry to push us to order, letting us linger upon the mind-numbing array of sandwich menu options behind the front counter. After a bit of indecisive floundering, I finally settled upon the Reuben (Voted Baltimore’s Best) with Jewish Corned Beef, Sauerkraut and Melted Swiss with Russian Dressing for $8.29.

Looking for a place to sit, we stumbled upon the main dining room (also known as Stuart Attman’s world famous kibbitz room), where the walls were replete with collections of black-and-white photos dating back to the early 1900’s, and other miscellaneous historical trinkets. It was during this enjoyable scrutinization of our surroundings that we learned Attman’s was established in 1915, and passed down through 3 family generations. If there’s anything that makes a hole-in-the-wall establishment even more appealing in my book, it’s knowing that years and years of history lie behind it.

Onto the Reuben: the corned beef here was reminiscent of some of the delis I’ve been to in NYC; flavorful and juicy, mingling perfectly with the melted swiss and sauerkraut. The Russian Dressing had a subtly tangy flavor, indulging our tastes for the sweet and salty. The sandwich size is appropriately sized for one person but if you’re looking to split with a friend, get the double or large size so you won’t be left yearning for more.

All in all, if you can look past the questionable location and take Attman’s for what it is – a historical landmark with an old school Baltimore feel – then you can better appreciate the good food and people this place has to offer. I’ll definitely be back to sample the pastrami, brisket, and side platter options, preferably with the slaw instead of the sauerkraut. And preferably before the hours of 3pm.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Creme brulee cravings

On several recent fine dining outings, I've found myself gravitating toward this creamy, custard-based dessert and making mental comparisons about which restaurant in Baltimore serves the best all-around brulee. Chocolate-inspired custard at Meli's Patisserie & Bistro? Maple, Calvados and Cappuccino at Charleston? Good old fashioned vanilla at Milan? So far it's been difficult to say. And then I thought to myself, if you can't beat'em, why not join'em? Below is a recipe of original creme brulee I test-piloted at home courtesy of Paula Deen - one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures - that turned out to be simple and delicious (and surprisingly devoid of fat or butter considering it's Paula):      


Yields 4 creme brulees
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup light brown sugar


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a heavy-bottomed medium non-reactive saucepan, heat cream with vanilla bean over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring to ensure it does not burn; do not let boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the vanilla bean, or save for another use. Strain cream through a fine mesh sieve.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add about half the cream mixture, a little at a time, to the egg mixture, whisking until well blended. Then pour the egg mixture into the remaining cream mixture. Stir until completely blended.
Pour the custard into 4 (Paula calls for 9-ounce, but I used 6 ounce and it worked fine) ramekins.

Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the mixture is set in the center (it should stil wiggle when shaken). Carefully remove the dishes from the baking pan. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours. Let creme brulle stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.

Divide 1/3 to 1/2 cup light brown sugar in a thin, even layer over each custard, covering it completely. To caramelize the sugar, light a propane torch and hold it so the flame just touches the surface. Start at the center and spiral out toward the edges of the ramekins. If the sugar begins to burn, pull the torch away and blow on the sugar to extinguish the flame. Serve immediately.

And then wait for it to be going, going...gone.

The best part about this dessert mini-project was getting to witness the look of pure, unadulterated bliss on my girlfriend's face as she took her first tentative bite of creme brulee, then promptly vaccuumed it away into the abyss. Poor creme brulee. It didn't even stand a chance.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The start of something new/long overdue?

Hello there!

So after some gentle prodding from the people that know my passion for fine dining and photography only too well, I’ve decided to try my hand at food blogging. In lieu of a 3-year hiatus from the lonely world that has now become Xanga (darn you Facebook for stealing away all of my blogging friends!), this will be my new space for writing again, whether it be posting about fun new eateries in my current city of Baltimore and beyond, my baking/cooking endeavors (and perhaps fiascos), old/new recipes, or anything that stimulates my curious palate.

And onto the real reason I'm staring blearily at my laptop screen at 2 am in the morning - I recently returned from a fun-filled adventure in Rockville, Maryland with childhood Ohio friends in doing what we do best – eating ourselves into excessive food coma! Our first evening together was spent cooking up a fine asian feast of crispy garlic-ginger soy chicken wings, chinese pork spare ribs, steamed eggplant, eel/avocado and spicy California rolls, and fried crab cheese wontons, followed by far-from-homespun yet equally indulgent evenings of traditional thai cuisine, then carryout pizza and popeye's chicken. Recipes and photos to be posted later when my pharmacy school exams and projects from this potentially hellish week blow over...

On a rather unrelated note, if anyone has any good recipes featuring condensed milk, chocolate, or spam as the main ingredient, please don’t hesitate to send them my way =)