Monday, July 26, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Fried Rice

It's Monday again, and that means another Chinese Cooking Basics! For the second post in the series, let's go what you can do with left over rice - fried rice. It is traditionally a dish you make with left overs..rice, meat, whatever you have in your fridge. I almost never have left overs because I eat them for lunch, so I toss in whatever I have around like mushroom, Chinese greens and shrimp, in another words, mommy-style. My favorite type of my mother's fried rice has one extra ingredient, and it's preserved vegetable, which adds a spicy bite to the mix.

I usually cook a cup more rice than usual if I want to make fried rice in a few days. So below is a recipe enough for two with the left over rice that is at least a day old. Here
's how I like to make mine:

Fried Rice
Serves 2

left over Jasmine rice, about 1C dry measure before cooking
1C dried shiitake mushroom, reconstituted and diced
5 stalks of Chinese leafy greens (gai lan "
蓋蘭" or choi sum "菜心", stems diced and leaves cut into ¼-inch-thick chiffonade
5-10 medium shrimp (U25), diced
1 egg
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp sesame seed oil
salt & pepper
vegetable or canola oil

In a hot work over medium-high heat, add oil and saute shrimp with salt and pepper for about 2 minutes. Set aside shrimp. Add mushroom to the wok with salt & pepper and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the leafy greens with some more salt & pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add rice, making sure to break it up while tossing in the wok. Add the soy sauce and continue tossing for about 3-5 minutes.

Make a well in the middle of the wok and break in the egg. Stir the egg to break the yolk and combine with the egg white. Toss the rice on top of the egg until the egg is well distributed. Return the shrimp into the wok. Give it a final toss and finish with sesame seed oil. Serve hot.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Bar Room at the Modern

My siblings and I recently managed to snap up one of the hottest tables at the Bar Room at the Modern during NYC restaurant week. The tables are hard to come by due to its large restaurant week menu (limitless, really). On top of that, it's a relatively new restaurant from Danny Meyer, the great restaurateur of big names like the Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern.

I was happy to return to the Bar Room after having been there last year for restaurant week. Unfortunately, the law of diminishing return applied here. Lucky for you, I have plenty of photos to share, thanks to my sister, the photography lover.

Like last year, I started off with the Upside Down Tuna Tarte. I remembered how tasty and inventive it was, but had forgotten that I didn't like the relatively large dice of fennel, cucumber and most of all, raw onion. I found the size of the onion dices packed too much of an unpleasant punch.

My siblings kicked off their meal with Fresh Grilled Shrimp and Tarte Flambée. When our server placed the shrimp dish onto the table, I noticed a slight bounce that was a sign of perfectly cooked shrimp. And they were! The with green cabbage and gruyère salad that accompanied the shrimp was refreshing and tasty. As for the Tarte Flambée, it was very much like a large, thin crust pizza. The smoky aroma of the bacon on the tarte was so very enticing.

For my entree, I had the Crispy Atlantic Cod, which was deceiving because I had expected the fish to have a crispy skin from being pan seared. I would not have imagined from the name of the dish that it was an upscale fish and chips (without the chips). That aside, it was a very fine fish and chips. The batter was fried to a perfect golden brown.

My sister had a "taste" of literally 3 pieces of Pan Roasted Hanger Steak cut from a larger steak. Size aside, she thoroughly enjoyed the dish, especially the young garlic flan. The flan was delicate and rich, with a sweet garlic aroma. The fried bits on top of the flan provided a perfect contrast in texture.

We ended the meal with the Pistachio Dark Chocolate Dome and Strawberry Soup. I had expected a hard chocolate shell on the dome, but I realized that it was a coating of chocolate sauce when my fork sunk right into the delicate and creamy dome. The dome was rich and airy at the same time. The only item on the plate that didn't work for me was the amaretto gelée, which I felt didn't go with the dome. As for the Strawberry Soup with buttermilk panna cotta, I have never seen my brother leave his dessert unfinished. In all honesty, I don't know why he ordered that item since he's not a fan of panna cotta.

All in all, it was a very fine meal. I just wish the portions were more consistent - the Tarte Flambée was an oversized appetizer while the Hanger Steak was more of an appetizer size.

To avoid the law of diminishing return, I should return to the restaurant in another couple of years, or order something different next time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Rice

It's been difficult to cook Chinese food at home due to my lack of access to ingredients, time, and my husband's aversion to certain ingredients. I truly want to retain my culture and push myself to cook more Chinese food, so I'm starting a weekly series on the basics in Chinese cooking on Mondays, from ingredients, equipment to recipes. I am far from being a master in Chinese cooking, but I picked up a thing or two many years ago when I was in charge of cooking for the family while my mother took night classes. I have much more to learn, and I'm taking you along on the ride!

To kick off this series, let's start with the most basic and most widely consumed ingredient, which helps keep most Asians staying trim - rice. Contrary to what most Americans think, you don't have to cut out carbs. My grandparents have rice as much as three times a day, and have no problems with a growing waistband. It's all about practicing moderation and having a healthy lifestyle.

The rice of choice in my family is Jasmine rice (in particular, the brand from Thailand with three elephants on the package). It's a long-grain rice that is fragrant, fluffy and not too sticky. I usually cook the amount that is needed for a meal, and if I plan on making fried rice in the next couple of days, I make more.

To make rice for two in a rice cooker:
  • measure 1 cup of rice
  • rinse rice once and repeat to get rid of the impurities
  • for each cup of rice, add about 1 1/2C of water, depending on the desired consistency (I prefer a tad less than that for a less mushy/sticky texture)
I usually don't measure the liquid needed if I'm making enough for two for one meal, but if I make more than that, I usually measure.

Making rice is as basic as it gets. It's one of the few things I've mastered in Chinese cooking. Stay tuned next week for more on Chinese Cooking Basics!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Minted Pea Soup

I'm not a big fan of mint gum, but I am a fan of fresh mint. Perhaps I just dislike artificial flavors. Anyways, I had some mint that my husband bought for making mojitos (thanks to him buying much more limes than we needed), and I remembered watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina made a Minted Pea Soup. I had doubts at first about the recipe because I've never cooked with mint before, but I ended up loving it, and my husband did too.

Making the soup was super fast and easy - well within 30 minutes from start to finish. On top of that, I had the ingredients already, all except for the fresh peas. Since frozen peas are one of the staples in my freezer, I substituted fresh for frozen. It worked just as well because the mint added such a pleasant fresh flavor to the soup. All in all, it was perfect, especially on a hot summer night.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins

My sister is gonna love me for this post since she has nothing but hate for sour cream! So I still had sour cream sitting in my fridge after making Banana Sour Cream pancakes. I had some blueberries as well, so I searched for a recipe. Lucky for me, I found another Ina recipe, and it was a muffin recipe! If you can't tell already, I love muffins. I sooo remember the days when my husband and I used to go up the block to Connecticut Muffin on Prince St. in NYC (sadly now it's closed).

The muffins were good. As usual, I didn't follow the recipe fully - I added some much needed lemon zest this time, which lightened up the rich batter. The muffins were very tender and very moist. In fact, they were so moist that the muffins that were left over the next day were to the point of soggy.

Overall, I would make them again because they were tasty, but not to keep for more than a day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stuffed Eggplant

I love eggplant, but it's not the easiest vegetable to handle. Eggplants can either turn into mush (because they love to absorb moisture) or get dried out if over cooked/baked. Despite being intimidated, it didn't stop me from buying it. I needed help, so I turned to Martha Stewart for a recipe. Martha's recipe search engine returned Stuffed Eggplant and used exactly what I had in my pantry and fridge, not to mention that it's tasty too!

Besides eggplant, all the recipe needs are onion, tomato, bell peppers, ricotta, parsley and couscous. I did some adjustments by skipping the peppers and replacing the couscous with quinoa. What I love about this recipe is that it uses what I had in the pantry and fridge and that the ricotta adds richness to an otherwise fatless dish. I served it with a side salad, and it was the perfect light but filling summer meal. I will definitely save this one for our next family cookout for my vegetarian mom.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Banana Sour Cream Pancake

I like bananas. The problem is, you can never buy just 1 or 2 bananas, you have to buy the whole bunch, which most likely has more than 5 bananas. I surely would not eat one banana almost every day, so I had to make a way to incorporate it into our meals. I also had some sour cream I wanted to use from our fridge, so I went hunting for a recipe. Luckily, Ina's got one for me - Banana Sour Cream Pancakes.

It was my first time ever eating either sour cream or bananas in my pancakes, so I wanted to make sure that it's extra good by using great vanilla extract. At first, I thought it sounded strange to put sour cream and bananas in pancakes, but it wasn't bad at all. The sour cream made it moist, and the bananas seemed to have melt right into the pancake. The lemon zest added a much needed lightness.

Among the fruits out there though, I still prefer berries rather than banana in my pancake. That's just me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chikalicious Dessert Club for Chikalicious Rejects?

I've always thought of Chikalicious Dessert Club (the dessert to go outpost straight across from Chikalicious) as the place for Chikalicious rejects, you know, those who either can't get in or don't want to go on the long line. But I've heard so much about Dessert Club's cupcakes and eclairs that my husband and I decided to give it a try one night. It was so very tempting to stand in line at Chikalicious for their three course dessert...the line wasn't that long! I practiced a lot of self restraint that night.

Image from New York Times

We ended up getting a red velvet cupcake, a smores cupcake and a chocolate sorbet macaron (it's macaron, of course we had to get it!). The cupcakes were definitely on the small side compared to others I've had in NYC, but I didn't mind as long as they taste good, not to mention less guilt factor.

The red velvet cake itself was texturally perfect, but I found the taste of the cream cheese icing to be overpowering. My husband didn't like the taste of the smores cupcake - I don't have an opinion on that, since I'm not a smores lover in general. As for the macaron, I had really high expectations since it was inventive and looked so good. Sadly, the texture of the sandwich halves were not like the classic macarons like I had expected - it was sticky on the teeth and gummy, sorta like a baked meringue. As for the sorbet, it reminded me of ice cream that sat in the freezer for such a long time that you can taste small ice particles in each bite.

I sorta felt like a Chikalicious reject (probably because I want to go there all the time). While Chikalicious will always be my first choice, I won't mind going across to
Chikalicious Dessert Club to try out other items in the future.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Pinnacle of American Chinese Food?

I admit, I'm a Chinese food snob. I accept American Chinese food, but just when I thought I've seen it all when it comes to American Chinese food, I come across this.

Now, this is a real first. What's fried plantains doing on the Chinese take out menu? I guess you have to cater to what your customers want!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Special 4th of July Stock

Happy 4th of July! For those of you who have lobster bake for the celebration, save your shells and the liquid to make stock! I saved mine from a previous meal and made lobster stock with several heads.

It was relatively easy since I just tossed in whatever I had. Here's what I put in mine:
  • 7 lobster heads (and 2 shells from the tail)
  • 1/2 of a large onion cut into large dice
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot cut into large dice
  • 1 celery stalk cut into large dice
  • handful of fennel stalks (I always have this in the freezer since I don't like to waste my fennel)
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tbs peppercorns
  • bunch of fresh thyme
  • 1/2C brandy
  • 2 quarts of liquid from a shrimp & lobster boil
First, I saved just a tiny bit of lobster meat from a previous meal so that I can make lobster risotto with the stock and reserved meat. Then, I put the heads in a stock pot with some oil and let them brown a bit to coax more flavor out of them. I added onions and garlic and let them soften a bit before adding the tomato paste. After about 2 minutes, I added the brandy, and scraped the bottom of the pan to loosen all the flavorful brown bits. The rest of the ingredients went in, followed by water enough to cover the lobster heads.

I boiled the mixture until I thought the liquid was at the right flavor and consistency and was left with about 2 quarts of stock. It took about an hour and a half to two hours in total. I had enough of this flavorful stock full of
crustacean goodness to make lobster risotto and a bit less than a cup left to make something else! What else will I make with the remaining stock? Don't worry, I'll be sure to share with you!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Easy Luxurious Meal

Last Sunday, on a very late afternoon, my husband and I went grocery shopping at Stew's. We wanted something for a quick dinner that night, and Maine lobster was on sale for $4.99/lb. Since we had boiled lobster the week before for father's day, we decided to make lobster rolls for our dinner. I wonder who first thought of pairing something so inexpensive and ordinary like a hot dog bun with with something so special and luxurious like lobster?

It was pretty easy. All we did was boil the lobster (10 minutes for roughly a 1lb lobster), remove the meat, chop them into pieces. The lobsters were soft shell, so it was extra easy to remove the meat, but I prefer hard shell since they retain less water after they're cooked (an enormous amount of water gushed out of ours).

To the lobster meat, we added diced celery, a little bit of old bay, pepper and mayo, and finished the mixture off with a squeeze of lemon juice for freshness. For the buns, we dropped a pat of butter into a pan and added the hot dog buns (sliced side down) to toast them. I served the lobster rolls with some healthy oven baked fries.

It might not be as good as enjoying the lobster roll with shoestring fries at Mary's Fish Camp in NYC, but our dinner was good - the lobsters were fresh and the buns were warm and toasty. To top it off, it was a big bang for our buck since I was able to save the heads for lobster stock!