some cookies, for the next time i read a book

Oatmeal cookies, in all their lumpy nooks-and-cragginess make me think of old libraries and crowded bookshelves (I have some screencaps of my favourite book-ish scenes for you below). It’s an odd association, but they seem to be the right cookie for reading dusty hardcovers or thick block-ish softcovers.

As I’ve rambled about before, I hardly read anymore. So while I think these cookies are best with a novel, odds are that I’ll usually settle for a textbook. This summer I’m hoping to do some reading and overall it hasn’t been a bad year.

Book, book, play. Funny Face, Le Hérrison, The Royal Tenenbaums (image sources: 1, 2, 3)

I’ve been working on the well-written The Adventures of Cavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon (which is about comics and some form of The American Dream). It’s taken me a while to get into it, but I think I finally am. Recently I finished reading the beautifully written All the Light That We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is a nearly solid amalgamate of metaphor and simile, and yet you never get tired of them. I also just soared through a YA novel, Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane. I started reading the series over ten years ago, which gives you some idea of how long the series has stretched on for. It was one of my favourites (and still is–it combines sci fi and fantasy and is just so optimistic and benevolent and I think most of the books are perfect.) The intergalactic ethics and the moral efforts of the main characters has a bit of a Doctor Who sort of appeal.

Happy reading!

oatmeal cookies with dried fruits

Makes around 12 big chunky cookies. Adapted from the back of the oats package. Always reliable!

6 dried pitted dates, cut crosswise into rounds

2 handfuls dried cherries

1 generous handful dried prunes, chopped into quarters

1/2 c butter

scant 3/4 c brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp allspice

1 c quick cooking oats

1/2 c rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 325F. Cover the dried fruit with boiling water and set aside to plump while you make the cookies.

Cream the butter with the sugar, then beat in the egg, vanilla, salt. Separately, whisk together the flour, spices and baking soda. Mix into the butter, then mix in the oats. Finally, drain the fruit and mix into the dough.

Portion the dough into 12 generously sized cookies (or 24 small ones). They stayed quite tall so if you want large thinner cookies, flatten the mounds of dough.

Bake until the bottoms and edges are browned, 10-15 minutes. Let cool on the tray as they’re quite soft.

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steamed vegetable and mushroom buns

Growing up, the only the bread on the counter was 100% whole wheat. Whole wheat bread can be delicious and nutty, but this whole wheat bread was as delicious and nutty as mildewed sawdust. When chewed it collapsed into a gummy mass that clung to one’s teeth. I much preferred eating it frozen, where the slices of bread were actually quite crisp and refreshing.

So there was this 100% whole wheat glue, a hideously poor excuse for a bread, palatable only when slathered with butter and sugar and cinnamon, and far more useful for stopping up the corners of drafty windows. And then there was steamed bread.Steamed buns were the Wonder Bread of my childhood. Steamed bread was not whole grain in the slightest, it was pearly and luminescent. And steamed bread was sweet and it was soft and fluffy and springy. There was nothing between you and the glutinous fluffiness, the pillowy fine crumb, and the sweet chewy softness, nothing, especially not a thick crust, bitter with char and with the tears of children who lust after trimmed sandwiches. The thin stretchy skin of steamed buns made them the contents of the dreams.

I would only get steamed bread when we went for dim sum. I would carefully separate the layer of bread from the filling, discarding the meat for my parents or grandparents. I tolerated none of the the saucy cha sui tarnishing the precious experience of steamed bread, free of all other flavours or distractions.Realizing that I could make my own steamed bread at home was a revelation that came later in junior high school. While it could have been the gateway to perpetual soft bread happiness, alas, the right texture still evaded me. I found the bread tended to shrivel once out of the steamer and were tough and gummy. Distressed, I gave up and I didn’t return to steamed bread until more recently.

I certainly haven’t perfected steamed buns and my sealing could certainly use some more work, but when you have the time–say a nice lazy Saturday morning free–you can have buns in time for lunch. And now I no longer banish the filling to be separated from the bun. As I’ve come to accept the pleasant combination of bun filling and bun itself eaten together, steamed buns have become another vehicle for any sort of filling that one is feeling up to at the time. This was a simple filling, just leftover vegetables cooked with some mushrooms and dried bean curd.

As I explain in the recipe below, the buns have been improving. I’ve found larger buns and thicker layers of bread around the filling facilitate more fluffy texture than gumminess, and careful gradual cooling allows the buns to not collapse. It may not quite be Wonder Bread, but a fresh steamed bun remains a lovely, adequate, somewhat fulfilling thing all on its own.

steamed vegetable and mushroom buns

dough

Bread dough adapted from Fuschia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice. Enough for 10-11 smaller buns or 6-7 larger buns.

250 g all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp dry yeast

1/2 tsp baking powder

150-160 mL warm water

2 tsp oil

Mix the flour with the sugar, salt, yeast, baking powder. Form a well in the centre, add the water and oil. Mix with a wooden spoon, switching to hands when necessary, to form a cohesive dough. Let rest for 10 minutes, then knead a few times until nice a smooth. Form into a tight round, cover and let proof until doubled, either in the fridge overnight or for around 40 min to 1 hour at room temperature.

 

filling & assembly

2 sticks dried bean curd/tofu sheets

2 small dried shiitake mushrooms

1 small knob ginger

1 clove garlic

3 button mushrooms

2 green onions

handful cilantro

leftover cooked green vegetables–gai lan, bok choy, cabbage…

2-3 tsp light soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp black vinegar

plenty of ground white pepper

small spoonful of cornstarch

Cover the dried bean curd and shiitake with boiling water and let soak. The bean curd should preferably soak overnight, but if not, instead you can soak until pliable, thinly slice crosswise, and then continue soaking–the smaller pieces will soften completely through very quickly. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the sliced bean curd and shiitake.

Remove the stem from the shiitake, thinly slice the cap crosswise and then cut perpendicularly into small pieces.

Finely chop the ginger and garlic. Chop the button mushrooms into small pieces. Heat a bit of oil in a small pan and cook the ginger, garlic, shiitake and button mushrooms until the mushrooms have cooked and sweated out the water. Set aside.

Finely chop the green onions, chop the cilantro (include the stems too, chopping them more finely). Chop the vegetables into small pieces as well; if leftover gai lan, cut the stem lengthwise into halves or quarters and then cut crosswise into small pieces. Be sure to squeeze out any excess liquid.

Combine all the prepared ingredients in a bowl. Season with the soy sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar and white pepper; taste and adjust as necessary. Lastly, mix in the cornstarch to sop up any excess liquid.

To fill the buns, roll the dough into a log and cut into pieces. For a nice small-medium bun, I like 40g of dough (you will get around 10-11), whereas a larger bun can use 60g of dough (6-7 of those). Roll each piece of dough into a ball, ensure they stay covered to prevent drying out, and let rest for a few minutes.

Take one round of dough and roll into a small circle, then begin rolling just around the edges. You want to end up with a round of dough which has a thicker round centre and thinner edges–as you’ll be pleating the edges together, this is useful to ensure a more even distribution of dough around the filling. Place the round of dough in the palm of your non-dominant hand and place 1-2 spoonfuls of filling in the centre. Use your thumb and fingers of your dominant hand to make folds of dough and pleat them together, turning the bun in a clockwise manner as you do so. Are you make one go around the bun, you may likely end up with a pleated top, but a rather large gaping hole in the middle, so then go around a second time, tightening and pulling together the dough in a clockwise direction until you end up with a sealed bun.

If you notice, my buns were rather poorly sealed–the filling is a bit greasy so I believe the bit of oil from the excess filling caught between the folds of dough helped them spread apart when expanding and steaming. Something to work on!

Left over filling can be used for dumplings or even briefly heated in a pan and eaten with rice.

Place each bun on a small square of paper, cover and let rise until puffed, around 20 minutes. Place in a steamer with some water, and set over high heat. Once the water is boiling, turn down the heat a bit to maintain a vigorous simmer and steam for around 8 minutes (maybe a bit longer for larger buns). Remove the steamer from the heat, and let gradually cool down with the lid still firmly on for 10 minutes–otherwise when opening the lid, the cold air can cause immediate and devastating shrinkage of otherwise lovely and fluffy steamed buns.