Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yuan Xiao/Tang Yuan | 元宵/湯圓

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2011's were full of learning, growth, and progress, and may your 2012's be even better.

These are yuan xiao, balls of glutinous rice* (sticky rice) flour with a sweet filling, one of my favorite dishes as a child. These ones I filled with sweet black sesame paste, a common variation. Other fillings include sweet red bean paste, peanut paste, or no paste at all, though in that case they tend to be smaller and called tang yuan (at least, that's how the distinctions run in my family). Yuan xiao is a traditional Chinese food to eat at new year's and the winter solstice. Actually, "yuan xiao", itself means "first evening".

You can have yuan xiao by themselves, without soup, or just with the hot water in which they were boiled, but I like them with sweet ginger soup, which you prepare separately. Don't worry, it's very simple and the flavors complement each other well. I followed this recipe from Rasa Malaysia.

yuan xiao, ready to freeze or cook

boiling until they float

ginger syrup


Bitten. Tender and delicious! I stayed safe with the thickness of the balls for fear of their breaking while cooking. Looks like I could have rolled them a touch thinner and been okay.

*Fear not, you of gluten allergies; glutinous rice does not contain gluten! It's just called "glutinous" because it's sticky.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Blasphemous Burgers

green curry hamburger

To a hamburger purist, what I made for this post must be an egregious blasphemy; I made a green curry hamburger and put it on slices of whole wheat bread instead of a round roll of some sort. Yup, the bread is from when I tried making bread from scratch. Hey, I was leaving town in about a week and had the bread on hand. Might as well. And you have to break with convention to discover and learn.

This was also my first time making my own hamburgers. I even "ground" the meat myself! Well, I don't have a meat grinder, but a food processor works well. I do wish I had a larger one than my little 4 cup Cuisinart, though. Maybe a 7 cup one. The "grinding" could have been a little more even, with the small bowl size getting in the way. I feel much safer grinding my own beef chuck rather than buying pre-ground beef...mad-cow fears.

The dimples in the middles of the patties are so that when they cook up, the end result is a flat patty rather than a domed one.

So how did my experiment turn out? Well, first of all, the hamburgers themselves were great. I did make a plain rendition (well, the beef was salted and peppered before being made into patties), and one basted with Worcestershire sauce as it cooked. Both were excellent. As for the green curry version, though...well it was okay. I think I put too much lime juice in my green curry (from scratch also) paste, though, as it was a little sour. (I used this recipe for green curry paste.) Hmm. I may mess with it some more next time. Maybe try a different recipe for green curry paste; I haven't given up on the concept yet.

This post isn't really infused with holiday spirit, but happy holidays, nonetheless, everyone!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bread From Scratch

Baking bread is another use for Dutch ovens, and one of the reasons why I wanted to get one. As I've mentioned before, I've very little baking experience, but I do like good bread a lot. I'm not too familiar with all that goes into to the making of different breads, but people seem to loathe kneading dough since no-knead bread made such a splash once popularized. So that's what I was looking at to start off with. I ended up going for the "Almost No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread" recipe that Cook's Illustrated has. It's "almost no-knead" because they only knead it 10-15 times between the first and second rise, I guess to develop the gluten a little bit and apparently "strengthen the dough" a little. Does it rise more this way?

first rise

second rise, in frying pan for shape, though it didn't expand so far as to really need it.

Well, all in all it turned out not bad. It was flavorful and substantial, and had a nice crust that was crisp with some heft. Really, though, I didn't know what to expect or to be looking for, so it could be that things were supposed to turn out differently.

At the least, I can say that their recipe was pretty far off for the baking time, for me. CI's recipe called for 30 minutes baking with the lid on and then 20-30 minutes with the lid off, until the crust was a deep brown. Well, at 30 minutes, my crust was already a deep brown. I was concerned, so I turned off the heat at the 40 minute mark (10 minutes into the second, lid-off phase), and then took the bread out at 50 minutes. The results are above, a very deep brown--about a Burnt Sienna color, going by standard paint colors. This was too far, though, which I know because the bottom was burnt. So maybe the crust would have been a little more toward crisp on a scale of crisp to hard. Oh, I also switched the ratio from 2:1 all-purpose:whole wheat to 1:2, instead. Would that have affected the baking? Anyway, I cut off the bottom of the slices and it tasted good. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Toy and Tang Cu Take Two

I have a new toy: an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven! This one's 7.5 quarts, from Lodge (much more affordable than Le Creuset, and the 6 qt. Lodge gets a highly recommended from Cook's Illustrated with a caveat about being a touch small), and it weighs a ton. I'd have to register my guns if I were to use it regularly. I swapped out the plastic handle that comes with the lid for a metal one from Le Creuset that fits perfectly, so I can safely use the lid in the oven at high heats without the handle's melting (the lid-handle that comes with Le Creuset's Dutch, excuse me, "French" Oven is also plastic, and you have to buy the metal replacement separately; seems like they're all just trying to make a little extra money off of us).

I was originally excited to be using it for whole chickens, and while that can still be the case, this Dutch oven's too low for poaching whole chickens (for Hainan Chicken and Bai qie ji "White Cut Chicken"). The wide shape is actually a good thing, as it's more convenient for braising, deep frying, and I imagine for baking bread, too. Looks like I'm getting myself a 12-qt stockpot, too, probably early next year. In any case, it'll still be great to see how braising turns out with it, as well as potentially messing around with breads, maybe deep-frying.

[--side note--]
How do you get Hainan and Bai Qie Chicken's skin to be nice and "firm"? I did the ice water bath when I tried both, but the skin was still rather weak and insubstantial, tearing easily. Maybe I'll try refrigerating before cutting next time, to make sure it cools enough.
[--/side note--]

As for the second part of the title, I tried using the more readily available pork shoulder, instead of short-cut pork ribs, for tang cu pai gu (sweet and sour pork). The higher fat content helps it not to dry out over the long cook time as the sauce reduces to a glaze, whereas pork loin with its low fat content dries out quickly. It worked okay! But I think I'll play around with it some more, increasing the parboiling time beforehand so that its more tender, hopefully. Unless its the second-stage cooking with little liquid that keeps it from becoming very tender. I suppose I could also increase the water to cover the meat in the second stage and take longer to reduce it. Hmm.


Hah, I realize it looks like I just eat meat and carbs. I actually make sure to have a good mix of meat, carbs, vegetables, and fruit. I just tend to do very simple preparations for my vegetables, or eat them raw, depending on what it is. I find that while meats need good preparation (except for sushi, but I don't feel comfortable eating raw fish that I've picked up just at a grocery store, not having the expertise), vegetables naturally have a lot of flavor already, and that extra seasoning on top of that is not really necessary. So that's why I don't often post about my vegetables and fruit. Maybe if I were vegetarian I'd really want to vary my preparation more.

Anyway, returning to the pork, because I didn't use pork ribs, this can't be called tang cu pai gu (sweet and sour pork spare ribs or pork chops), as pai gu refers to pork spare ribs or pork chops. Thus, I'm calling this tang cu zhu rou (sweet and sour pork) instead.

This time I parboiled the meat for 15 minutes. The fatty parts were great, mostly the meat was good, though one or two pieces were a little tough. So I said to parboil 30 minutes in my recipe below, as that's what I'll try next time. I may increase the amount of vinegar a little, too.

Tang Cu Zhu Rou 糖醋豬肉

2 lbs pork shoulder, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 TBS rice wine
1 TBS ketchup
2 TBS vinegar
3 TBS sugar
4 TBS soy sauce
5 TBS water

  1. Fill large pot with 2-3 quarts water and bring to boil.
  2. Add pork to boiling water and parboil for 30 minutes, skimming scum that rises.
  3. Remove and drain pork before combining with the rest of the ingredients in a large, wide-mouthed Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot (can use the same one as before but pour out the water) and bringing to boil over high heat (or medium-high if using an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven; follow the care instructions).
  4. Once the sauce boils, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all sides of the meat cook evenly in the sauce. If the meat dries out and starts to burn, add water 1 TBS at a time.
  5. The pork is ready when the sauce has reduced and thickened to a sticky glaze coating the meat.

Another method, rather than parboiling, is to add a 1/2-cup of water to the sauces and just simmer for a long time. I recently made another batch with the correct pork short-ribs, and had to simmer for 1.5 hours or so before the meat was tender, though the sauce thickened at the right time, too.

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Daigakuimo 大学芋 Glazed Sweet Potatoes

    Mmm, these are fried sweet potato chunks, about to be glazed.

    Ahh, sweet potatoes are so great, whether they're steamed, baked, fried, or mashed. This post is about a Japanese sweet potato dish called daigakuimo, meaning "university potato". You know, I didn't come across them while I was over there. I came across the dish through Marc Matsumoto's blog post on them, and since it was fall, it seemed a good time to try them out.

    And hey, you can deep fry sweet potatoes? Because pretty much all the results that come up when you search "sweet potato fries" are of the baked variety, I'd assumed there was some problem with frying them. You have to actually search for "deep fried" sweet potatoes to find recipes for the fried variety. Hmm, why are they mostly baked instead of fried?

    Well, I made several attempts and think that an approach between Matsumoto's and this one from Setsuko Yoshizuka on is best.

    first attempt: didn't fry long enough--instructions could have been clearer. Skin could have crisped more. Still tasty.

    Daigakuimo 大学芋

    1 lb (satsumaimo*) sweet potatoes, cut into one-inch chunks
    1/3 cup sugar
    1 tsp soy sauce
    2 Tbsp water
    1-2 tsp sesame seeds
    Vegetable oil for frying

    1. Add the sweet potatoes to a wok or pot large enough to fit all of them in one layer. Cover the potatoes in vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Fry until sweet potato chunks all float in the oil and are brown, with a crunchy shell. Flip them while they’re frying to brown on all sides.
    2. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
    3. Mix water, sugar, and soy sauce in a large skillet.
    4. Simmer over medium heat until the liquid begins to thicken, but isn’t too thick yet.
    5. Quickly stir fried sweet potatoes into the sugar sauce and allow sauce to thicken further.
    6. Remove from heat and sprinkle sesame seeds over sweet potatoes.

    *so it should be the Japanese satsumaimo that is used in daigakuimo, but of course I don't have easy access to those.

    Yoshizuka's traditional version is better for flavor and Matsumoto's simpler for execution. Also, as Matsumoto notes, starting the sweet potatoes in cold oil allows the insides to heat through, while we also don't need to worry about their absorbing much oil since they aren't very porous.

    Delicious! Tin foil and tupperware because these were on their way to a potluck.

    Following Matsumoto's recipe, which uses honey instead of the sugar/soy sauce mixture; also good.

    Hmm, I still need to get around to trying to get baked sweet potatoes right. I've made several attempts before, all ending in varying degrees of failure. But I think I know what's been wrong, ha.

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Pasta by Hand

    Not bad for my second try, I think! Above-pictured is hand rolled egg pasta. I keep finding myself doing things I thought I'd never have the patience for just months earlier. Though, of course, there are still things that just take a long time and more effort than I can handle.

    I've been thinking about making noodles and breads for a little while now. Noodles more than breads because, hey, my heritage is much heavier on rice and noodles than it is on breads, and that's what I grew up with. So how did I come to fresh egg pasta? Well, I recently bought this beast of a book:

    That is a normal sized mug and mouse in front of the book, for scale. Damn! And I thought On Food and Cooking, at right, was hefty when I got it. There is so much knowledge and experience contained in The New Best Recipe*, and it's very technique and science focused, so right up my alley.

    Anyway, while I stick mostly to East/Southeast Asian cuisines, I do want to mess with non-dairy Western dishes, too. So I was flipping through the pasta section when I found their very simple fresh egg pasta recipe. All you need is a ratio of:

    2/3 cup flour
    1 egg

    plus additional 1/2 teaspoons water as needed. (1 egg's worth is about 1 large-ish portion.) Thank goodness I bought that little Cuisinart food processor last year. I've gotten more use out of it than I ever expected. So yeah, you blend the flour with the beaten egg(s) until the dough comes together. I may try the completely by hand method some day. Maybe.

    Knead the dough a couple minutes, until it's smooth. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes to 2 hours before rolling out. They called for using a machine roller and cutter. Well, I wasn't going to buy those, as they are expensive and I don't anticipate making a lot of noodles. I'll buy a roller/cutter eventually. For now, though, I went for the hand rolling route.

    Not so bad, right? Got it pretty thin. My first attempt wasn't so good--too thick. But I watched this video and read this blog post, and they (plus my experience from my first attempt) really helped a lot.

    So then I rolled it up, cut it into strips and cooked them up. Now I want a large wooden work surface. I'm using an already dull knife and cutting very gently since I don't want to mar the vinyl counter or dull the blade further. I suppose I could just knead and roll on the counter, roll up the flattened dough and then cut on a cutting board, though. Also a large, non-tapered rolling pin would be great. Hell, and while we're at it, how about a small Chinese-style rolling pin, for dumplings? Though those fall into the too-time-consuming category for me.

    Freshly made noodles have a nice body and texture to them that you don't get with the dried, manufactured ones. Or maybe that's because they were a bit thicker. Huh, my pasta expanded considerably while cooking. I'll have to cut it more narrowly next time. Though wide noodles are nice, too.

    What I'd really like to learn, though, is to make lamian hand-pulled noodles. This is apparently very difficult to learn, and those who do know how are generally secretive about it. Much like with ramen. The particular ingredients and proportions may be critical, too. Hmm, a project for the future.

    * [side note]: I have such great regard for libraries and museums; they are grand repositories of our accumulated knowledge and wisdom over the millenia. If we lose our recorded experience, we're left almost back where we started, thousands of years ago. Someone else recently expressed a similar sentiment about data centers, too, which has caused me to include them, too, in this general category of things.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    [un]Frozen Tofu 凍豆腐 Dong Dou Fu

    Have you seen tofu like this before? Freezing tofu gives it a great, spongy texture that makes it really excellent for soaking up soup flavors. The tofu above has been frozen, defrosted, and drained. All you have to do is stick your tofu in the freezer (it'll expand when frozen), and then put it in your refrigerator to defrost a day or two in advance of when you want to use it. Try it some time!

    I really appreciate a good, simple salmon miso soup, which is what I used my dong dou fu in. Fish is tricky, as always, as it's easy to overcook. Gentle heat makes it so you won't overshoot as easily. I cooked the salmon at just below a boil until it just cooked through (about 4-5 minutes).

    Incidentally, you don't want to boil miso, either, as that will destroy some of its flavor; generally you add miso last. I didn't want over cooked fish either, though, so I did both at the same time. Dong dou fu will be fine--I added it earlier on.

    On another note, turnips are a decent substitute for daikon!  Daikon's got a bit of a stronger flavor raw, but the turnip seemed to work well in my soup anyway.

    Mmm... woops, forgot the wakame seaweed. Oh well, added it for the leftovers.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Gong Bao Ji Ding 宮保雞丁 (aka Kung Pao Chicken)

    Have you had any Sichuan (Szechuan) cuisine? There's a distinctive type of spiciness in the dishes--a numbing spiciness, 麻辣 mala in Mandarin. This numbing spiciness comes from the Sichuan Peppercorn and can't be substituted for (look for it in your local Chinese/ethnic grocery store). Since learning of Sichuan Peppercorns, I'd been curious to play with them and finally got my hands on a package of them earlier this fall. They really add a unique kick to your dish!

    I tried adding them to my mapo doufu and in my two recent attempts at gongbao jiding. The peppercorn shells are what you work with, and indeed, the bag I bought seemed to mostly only have shells with a couple stray seeds that weren't removed. I found that while adding them whole to your dish is okay, the shells are texturally distracting that way, and it'd probably be best to grind them down somewhat. Trying to smash them with the flat of my chef's knife was a little awkward in that the shell fragments would sometimes go flying out sideways. This means I'm thinking of picking up a smallish mortar and pestle...I could use it for grinding other whole spices, too.

    For this gongbao jiding, I followed John Sinclair's recipe here at Traditional Chinese Recipes blog. I think he did a good job. I think my dried chilis are smaller than his, though, as I definitely had to use 8 in his 4-8 range, and mine barely needed sectioning into 1" pieces. Maybe one cut. And I definitely had to double the Sichuan Peppercorn amount to 1 tsp. I could even have gone for more. I also handle spiciness pretty well, though.

    Another thing is that he's a little vague about some things. The exact proportions of the marinade for the chicken he's vague about because, as he notes in a separate technique page, the precise proportions aren't important. The slurry he also doesn't specify, but generally it's a 1:2 ratio corn starch:water or stock, separate from the chicken stock called for in the recipe. The rendition pictured here was 1 TBS starch with 2 TBS water, which worked pretty well, but I think less slurry would be good, too.

    Ah, and of course, I omitted nuts of any sort. Ya know.

    [Bonus Explanation]
    By the way, the 'K' and 'P' in "kung pao" are actually meant to represent a 'G' and 'B' sound, respectively. It's just that they used the really terrible Wade-Giles system of romanization for Chinese. If you wanted the hard 'K' and 'P' sounds in Wade-Giles, you'd need to add apostrophes after the letters like so: "k'ung" and "p'ao".

    --- Wok Update ---

    Check it out! The seasoning is really dense in the areas cooked on. Compare to when I first got my wok. While functionally, I don't need the upper rim to have a carbonized seasoning, I may just work at deliberately seasoning it just to make the color uniform..

    [update: And now see my wok seasoned all the way to the edges.]

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    On the rare occasion

    On the rare occasion I try baking, but for the most part I stick to cooking. As someone who used to love pastries and still loves good bread, though, baking recipes still catch my eye. Just, now they have to be dairy free, low in sugar, and whole wheat or other grain for me to try them out. Which is why this recipe for sugar-free pumpkin cookies caught my attention. That and pumpkin-everything is great, am I right?

    I realize I could probably just sub in whole wheat flours and non-dairy fat substitutes and reduce the sugar for other recipes. But in any case, it's not just for the allergy issues that I favor cooking over baking; rather, making substantive meals just appeals to me more.

    I'm definitely not so familiar with baking, though, and don't immediately think of all of what's going on with the details and trade-offs of ingredients in proportions and substituting. For example, the above-linked recipe calls for a lot of pecans. Well, I can't do nuts, so I just dropped them for some more oats and flour--but without adding more oil in to make up for the loss of the nuts' oil. My batch turned out more biscuit-y than cookie-y, but I rather liked them.

    There was a lot of pumpkin puree left from the can after making the "cookies", though, so I tried making a pumpkin butter following another recipe... Added a little too much cinnamon and didn't want to add too much sugar to try to take off the bite... ah well, it was okay.

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    蚵仔煎 Oyster Omelette!

    Might be the best thing ever.

    蚵仔煎 ô-á-chian, oyster omelette, is a very Taiwanese dish, and a very popular one, at that. If you find yourself in Taiwan, look for it at the night markets! While it pretty much is an oyster omelette, there are a couple things that are somewhat specific to the dish and set it apart from Western omelettes:
    1. The gooey, sticky layer made with potato starch and/or other starches (awesome!).
    2. The spicy/savory sauce (though I bet this would be great with Western omelettes, too).
    3. The green, leafy vegetable, which is traditionally supposed to be A菜 a cai.

    Huh, funny thing about a cai, I didn't realize it was literally spelled with an "A" in Taiwan, not having tried shopping for it in Taiwan before. Here's a pic of a cai being harvested. Spinach is a popular substitute in the US, but I find its limpness and lack of substance in the omelette unsatisfying. Bok choi is another possibility... I went for chard recently, and found it to do pretty well when cut into smallish pieces. The crisp texture of the cooked stem portions is a nice contrast with the gooey starch and soft oysters.

    Another point: what, I said gooey, sticky "layer" but you've generally had it all mixed together, like a frittata? Well, yeah, I don't think it has to be done one way or the other. However, I think it's better when the vegetables, oyster/starch, egg layers are separate. It looks neater, but also then you have the layers distinct before merging in your mouth. And yes, it's a little more difficult if you want to keep them separate. Man, it definitely took me a number of tries before finding a good approach. I went through two other recipes and more messing around, all with meh-to-mediocre results, before finding this relatively simple recipe with the golden technique tip! Brilliant! From there, it was some more tweaking to make the flavor better. Don't forget the white pepper! I find it accentuates the oysters nicely. My recipe:

    Oyster Omelette 蚵仔煎

    4 oz. frozen small-sized oysters (defrosted)

    3 TBS sweet potato starch
    1.5 TBS tapioca starch
    1/2 cup cold water
    1/4 tsp salt
    dash of white pepper
    1 stalk green onion, diced

    1.5 TBS oil
    1 cup green leafy vegetables (A a cai is ideal, otherwise try chard, bok choy, spinach, or other), cut into small pieces
    1 or 2 eggs

    Sriracha sauce and soy paste (a thick, salty-sweet soy sauce), or other sauce(s)

    1.     Add the oysters, the starches, water, salt, white pepper, and green onion to a mixing bowl. Stir gently until the starch has dispersed.
    2.     Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat and oil until shimmering.
    3.     Stir the oyster mixture so that the starch is suspended in the liquid rather than gathered at the bottom and pour the mixture into the skillet. Spread it out evenly to cover the bottom of the skillet.
    4.     Add the vegetables on the top of the mixture as it cooks.
    5.     Cook for 3 to 4 minutes without stirring, until the underside turns light golden brown.
    6.     Fold the omelette in half, exposing half of the wok, and crack one egg over the exposed wok. Break the yolk and stir, then unfold the omelette onto the egg. Repeat for the other side if desired. Cook for another 2 minutes until egg is light brown.
    7.     Flip the whole omelette over so that the egg side is facing up. Cook for another 2 minutes until the omelette is done.
    8.     Serve on a plate with sriracha and soy paste.

    This is with the one-egg approach found in Taiwanese Cooking blog's recipe. Neat in that it shows the insides as well.

    One last note: yes, my approach with the sauces looks more like what they do with Japanese okonomiyaki (which is another fantastic dish), crossing the mayonnaise with the okonomiyaki sauce. Generally with oyster omelette they just pour a copious amount of red sauce on top.

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Pho Sho

    That is the name of an actual Pho restaurant, Pho Sho, and quite possibly more than one. Seen any good ones? There are plenty out there, both laugh and face-palm inducing.

    But pho is fantastic--if you've not had it, get thee to a pho-ery. It's also a long and time consuming soup to make. [between this and the ramen last time, what am I doing?] But I got it in my head that I should try making pho, found a good recipe by Andrea Nguyen, finally had a chance to hit up the Chinese/Pan-Asian supermarket, and off I went. Part of what appealed to me about Nguyen's recipe was her use of a technique I've not tried before: charring. She has charred onions and ginger as key ingredients for the pho broth, and lucky me, I've got a gas stove in my apartment so I was able to try doing it! Though, apparently, you can char with an electric stove, too, so that's not an obstacle for everyone with electric stoves. In fact, if you can deal with the extra step of lifting your cooking vessel off the stove top if you need to quickly reduce heat, electric stoves actually transfer heat to your pots/pans faster than do gas stoves (though the coils themselves aren't as hot as the flames themselves). However, electric stoves take longer to heat up and cool down to where you want them to be.

    Totally unsure what I was doing, target results not quite clear in the directions, but it turned out alright. I didn't even set off a fire alarm. Though, if you can char on an electric stove, I wonder why charring has to be done over radiant heat rather than just, say, on a skillet? I suppose with a skillet it's mostly the contact points that get the heat, whereas the radiant heat has a broader area of effect.

    Softened and fragrant.

    As for the results, the flavor of the broth was excellent and full-bodied. Nguyen chides people who suggest diluting their beef broth, saying you've worked so hard to render it, why dilute? However, I found that her recipe made a lot less broth than advertised (I may add some water in as the broth boils down over the hours, next time) and that dilution with some chicken stock actually worked out very well. The pho broth doesn't need to be so rich, in my opinion. Though, if I add some extra water in during the rendering, maybe dilution before serving won't be necessary.

    To cook the raw beef slices on top, you pour scalding hot broth over the top of the noodles and beef just before serving. I don't know, though; I found that my soup ended up warm, but not hot like it is in restaurants. I bet they preheat their bowls...maybe they don't do a cold rinse of the noodles to stop the cooking...I also probably just loaded up with too much beef and noodles, ha.

    The real treats, though, are the tendon and marrow that come with the bones used in the broth! If you're not too freaked out by the thought of eating tendon and/or marrow, you should try them some time. Done correctly (i.e. cooked for a long time), tendon is, well, tender. Marrow is very rich. Probably too rich for my taste (as are crab innards). But what about the cholesterol in marrow, you say? Well fear not: it turns out that it's not dietary cholesterol, but rather saturated and trans fats that have big effects on blood cholesterol levels--unless you're part of the unfortunate 30% susceptible to dietary cholesterol. This was a shocker for me, too; eggs have been exonerated. On the other hand, I think marrow may also have a lot of saturated fat in it..

    Anyway, too much rambling from me. Back to work. And here's the link to Andrea Nguyen's recipe again. Be sure to check out her basic tips, linked on her recipe page.

    The thigh bones, with their marrow mostly cooked out. You can see the piece of brown marrow inside the bone at top right.

    Wow. That's a lot of fat. Don't skim all of it off, though! Fat's where richness in the soup comes from. I kept about a third of it. If you are so inclined, you could use the fat in other dishes, too.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Shoyu Ramen 醤油ラーメン

    [UPDATE: see my excellent recipe for shoyu ramen here!]

    If your only experience with ramen is the college-undergrad-cuisine-associated instant ramen, then you must seek out a good non-instant ramen in a restaurant specializing in ramen some time to taste its inspiration. For your taste buds' sake. It's dawned on me that when I'm talking about "ramen" with people, sometimes we're not actually talking about the same thing.

    Really good ramen is tough to find in the US, but it can be found. And when it is, the lines are horrendous--a good indication of the quality of the food, but bad for the time- and food-starved. What to do? Make it at home?? It turns out, making ramen broth is very time consuming and rarely done at home. Furthermore, as Marc Matsumoto and my friend Sawa note, recipes from restaurants are jealously guarded secrets for both the noodles and the broth. Looking through the recipes people have posted online, you'll notice wide variation in approach.

    Long and complicated process? Japanese people don't even make it at home? Oh hell, let's do it. Eye's on the prize. I've actually tried making shoyu ramen (shoyu meaning soy sauce, referring to the broth, which is a pork and chicken broth with soy sauce) a couple times before, based on another recipe, but found the results unsatisfactory. For this attempt, I tried the recipe that Sawa translated and posted, which was quite good. I will say, though, that you're left with a ton of concentrated pork-soy sauce broth at the end (which you can use to cook other things). I'll probably play with the approach next time, making the stewing soup more dilute with water or chicken stock. This way you don't need quite so much chicken stock or water to dilute the soy sauce broth with at the end. On the other hand, you can always cook other things with the extra soy sauce broth, as well as the other side products from the process (pork broth, lard--though I got very little for some reason, and pork-soy sauce broth), which Sawa gives suggestions for.

    I'll try for tonkotsu ramen (pork bone ramen soup, which is much richer thanks to the bone stewing--that's where all your meat stocks come from, if you weren't aware) some's my favorite.


    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Fried Rice Interlude

    I've figured out how it is that restaurants always have adequately dried, cooked rice on hand to make fried rice!

    In my previous post on fried rice, you'll note that I talk about the refrigerating-your-rice method. For restaurants, though, it wouldn't seem to make much sense to use precious cubic footage and electricity keeping refrigerators full of rice ready to go for whenever an order comes up. This is conjecture, but: no, rather, things work out for them to use their rice straight out of their (industrial sized) rice cookers because they have to have rice ready to serve during their hours of being open. Rice slowly dries out as it's "keeping warm" in a rice cooker. In fact, it dries out very nicely for use in fried rice--and is often too dry eaten as steamed rice. The other thing is that they seem to use medium to long grain rice more commonly in restaurants rather than short grain, which is more moist and sticky.

    I realized this recently when I used some rice that'd been sitting in the rice cooker for a day or two to make fried rice. (One of my roommates cooks exorbitant amounts of rice at one time and then just abandons it to sit in the cooker or in the refrigerator...)

    Actually, Patricia Tanumihardja at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook has a good summary of tips for great fried rice on her blog. I agree with all her points, though I hadn't thought of the "blazing hot wok" one. And I always eat short grain rice, so I don't ever have medium to long grain rice on hand. [EDIT: and by short grain, I mean medium grain. ;) Checked my bag of rice which is the brand I usually buy.]

    Back to my usual, pictured posting, soon to come-

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    "Traditional" || "Tilapia Sinigang"

    I'll just put it out upfront: this post is going to be disjointed. There's a link I've been meaning to post for some time now but haven't had a good opportunity, and won't for some time, so I'll just do it now.

    I stumbled on this blog a while ago, and it looks like a fantastic resource for Traditional Chinese Recipes--which is also the name of the blog. He really seems to know what he's doing. He also has a really good bit on traditional versus "authentic" as well as mapping out how "Chinese food" in America came to be greasy-stir-fried-mixed-things. I completely agree with him (I had a little paragraph against obsession with "authenticity" in one of my earlier posts) and am glad now to have the word "traditional" to use instead of "authentic". Hmm, it looks like the author, John Sinclair aka "Chef Wang", might self-identify as being Chinese more than White American. I wonder why he's "Chef Wang"... In any case, I'm definitely planning on trying out some of his recipes.

    --abrupt transition--

    Yeah, I'm not even going to try to swing a transition.

    I find that bad recipes annoy me, but this one--well, the terrible recipe that made me develop the recipe that made this dish--was particularly annoying. Probably because for some reason it had 4.5/5 stars averaged over many reviews, but was really bad, in taste and technique, both. I just can't understand why it was rated so highly (and I'm assuming no foul play). The recipe was for tilapia sinigang, which is a Filipino sour soup with tilapia in this case. The soup was just sour and thin, lacking body and any savoriness like it should have. And what really got me was the just plain wrong directions on what to do with the fish. It was solidly overcooked and tough.

    Sincere apologies if any of my recipes have been disappointing. I can think of some that may have been. However, no one's saying that my recipes are 4.5/5 stars. I'm not going to link the original recipe that got me to make this redo. Granted, the recipe was apparently "very simple and quick". I imagine the creator used it as quick, weeknight kind of food.

    In any case, I made some modifications: replaced the water with a mixture of chicken stock and water, added browned onions, a touch of fish sauce at the end,  and made sure not to overcook the fish. If you're not going to stew fish for a long time, then you've only got to cook it for a minute or a minute-and-a-half (more if it's thicker cut) before it's done. Any longer and it'll dry and toughen up. However, if you get it just right, the fish will be tender and, in tilapia's case, creamy.

    I probably made mine somewhat less sour than sinigang should be--more in line with Taiwanese sour soups. Or at least what we'd have at home as I was growing up. I don't know if it's a Taiwanese thing. There are sour soups in many Asian cuisines.

    Erg, I don't have time to type my recipe up this time...sorry! I've got a mass of notes and amendments on my printout of that other recipe. Man, but my revision was good...if I may say so myself, haha.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Jjajangmyun 짜장면

    I got one for ya: what do ramen and jjajangmyun have in common? Alright, yeah, they're both delicious and both involve noodles. But what I was looking for was that they're both originally from China and took root in another country to be developed into a new, important part of that country's food culture; ramen in Japan and jjajangmyun in Korea.

    It was very interesting to me to learn that about jjajangmyun, because I'd first come to know of it as a Korean dish, and only afterward learned that I'd had the Chinese version occasionally over the years, too. (Hey, you don't ask for the name of every dish you eat at home, right? Oftentimes there isn't an official name and it's just a thing people make.) The Chinese version is called 炸醬麵 zhajiangmian and has a different flavor profile. According to Wikipedia, there are also specific noodles for the Korean dish.

    The recipe I followed when I made mine was Maangchi's. It's interesting also that jjajangmyun is considered Chinese food in Korea, as it's apparently served in all the Chinese restaurants in Korea. (Alright, this is probably less noteworthy to people who had zhajiangmian more often than I have and associate it strongly with Chinese cuisine. Zhajiangmian is northern Chinese, and Taiwan is far to the south.) This is similar to how ramen is considered Chinese cuisine in Japan (and sometimes served with potstickers and fried rice in restaurants--two other Chinese imports). Though, it seems that ramen may have developed much further away from its origins into a Japanese thing, with all its specific regional variations, than jjajangmyun has in Korea. I can't say I know very much, though. Anyway, the sauce is a specific Korean sauce called chunjang (spring sauce), that is a black colored soy bean sauce.

    After making this (successfully), I've been intrigued to try making the Chinese version, now. I'll have to seek out a recipe.

     Pork belly is always delicious. Next time I'll cut it into cubes, even though that means separating the layers.

    Looks kinda scary, I know. But it's excellent.

    This is just before I added the chunjang. Once I did, I was a little worried since it didn't darken the stew up nearly enough to look like it does in restaurants.

    But then I add the potato starch and in just about a second, it looked just right. Really in an instant. Corn starch, on the other hand, I often have trouble with.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    茶碗蒸し Steamed Egg Cup

    茶碗蒸し chawan mushi (steamed tea cup) is the Japanese version of a savory egg dish, where the egg is steamed in its serving dish. As indicated by the name, the Japanese version is often steamed in tea cups or small bowls. Chawan can refer to both. Meanwhile, what I've often had with Taiwanese family versions (蒸水蛋 zhengshuidan steamed egg) of it is in larger bowls that people share out of. Although I've seen chawan mushi referred to as a "savory egg custard", that doesn't seem right to me as there is no milk product involved.

    In any case, when done right, the texture of the egg is silky smooth and an excellent complement with freshly steamed rice. The trick is that it has to be steamed gently, at a simmer, rather than at a rolling boil. If the water is boiling to strongly, your egg will turn out more foamy. There's definitely a lot of variation in terms of what people put into it besides the egg and broth, so throw in what you like.

    [The timing on my recipe is approximate; the last time I made this I didn't check that it was simmering and think I turned down the heat too low as it took longer.]

    茶碗蒸し Chawan Mushi (Steamed Egg)

    4 eggs
    1 cup chicken stock†
    1/2 tsp rice wine
    1/2 tsp soy sauce
    pinch of salt

    2 shiitake mushrooms, sliced into strips
    1 scallion, chopped

    1. Whisk eggs, stock, rice wine, soy sauce, and pinch of salt together in a bowl.
    2. Divide sliced mushrooms and scallions evenly between rice bowls or tea cups (or just pour into one larger bowl that is safe to heat)
    3. Prepare your steamer (I use a wok with steaming rack) and bring water to boil.
    4. Place bowls in steamer, reduce heat so the water is simmering* (medium-low to low) and steam for about 12 minutes or until egg has just set.
    5. Be careful when you remove the bowls as they will be hot, or let them cool a little before serving with steamed rice.

    †An approximately equal volume of stock to eggs is a good baseline. The more stock you have versus egg, the thinner and lighter the egg will be after steaming. I would say to avoid adding too much stock, though, as it leads to the egg feeling insubstantial in your mouth.

    *It’s important that the water just be simmering as opposed to boiling so that the surface is smooth and the texture of the egg silky. If the water is strongly boiling, your egg will turn out foamy.

    Other lesson learned: it's easier to steam an even number of items on a steamer rack in a wok than odd (except for one). Haha, I had a bit of a time trying to keep the rack from tilting around as I arranged and removed three bowls on top of it.