Monday, August 30, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Stuffed Fried Tofu

My mom's Stuffed Green Peppers is one of my favorite dishes. You can find versions of it (shrimped stuffed pepper or eggplant, or fish stuffed pepper or eggplant) when you have dim sum. Sometimes my mom would stuff soft fried tofu with the same mixture she uses for green peppers, and that's exactly what I did after cracking her recipe. Below is what it looks like prior to mixing it in sauce.

I bought some soft jumbo fried tofu from the Chinese supermarket, sliced them in half and applied the shrimp stuffing with a dinner knife on the cut side of the soft fried tofu. The cooking method is the same as the green pepper version, except for a shorter cooking time as the fried tofu is cooked already. The soft fried tofu adds a different texture to the stuffed green peppers. They can work as an appetizer or a dish for dinner. Yum!

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Week of Asian Cooking

I felt a need to get close to my roots, so I thought it would be nice to cook Chinese every (business) day one week. After all, I did vow to cook more Chinese food. Since I do not have an arsenal of Chinese recipes yet, I thought I would get by with cooking Asian cuisine.
  • Monday - Ma Po Daofu (麻婆豆腐). This is a somewhat spicy Chinese dish (in particular, Sichuan) that is traditionally made with a spicy bean sauce (豆板醬), tofu and ground pork. I made some adjustments based on what I had in the fridge by using ground turkey instead of pork and adding diced eggplant.

  • Tuesday - Chicken Adobo. I thought it was about time to pay tribute to my husband's heritage by making what can be considered the national dish of the Philippines. It is basically a rustic and easy dish made of chicken simmered in a combination of soy sauce and vinegar.

  • Wednesday - Chicken Adobo. I cheated. I made a big batch of this and ate it over two nights. Truthfully, even with marinating the chicken before cooking, the dish always tastes better the following nights as the chicken has more of an opportunity to absorb the tasty sauce.
  • Thursday - Seafood with Broccoli. While this may sound Chinese, it's actually Japanese (fusion, to be correct). I simply followed Nobu's recipe for Squid Pasta and substituted the squid with shrimp and scallops. Given that Nobu is known for its new-style Japanese cuisine (Peruvian + Japanese), the sauce has a rather unique taste thanks to a combination of butter, soy sauce and sake. Yes, butter with soy sauce!
  • Friday - Fried Rice (炒飯). I made sure I cooked more rice than usual the night before so I would have enough to make fried rice the day after. I didn't have any left overs to toss in, but I certainly made good use of the tough broccoli stems in the fried rice.

There it is! I took a trip to China, Philippines, Japan and China all in 5 days. I hope this has inspired both me and you to keep closer to our roots via food.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Almost Tuna Nicoise

When I think of salad most of the time, the image that comes to my head is a tossed salad...until I watched Ina Garten put together a beautiful platter of tuna nicoise. She grouped each ingredient freely on a plate, and together they make such an impact. It's similar to decorating - if you group objects in vignettes, they make a larger impact and look less like clutter. Anyways, I had most of the ingredients in my pantry and fridge, minus the olives and capers, so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a nice hearty lunch for two.

I used just your normal supermarket grade canned tuna but put in some nice, deliciously sweet and flavorful Campari tomatoes. Admittedly, my eggs were a tad undercooked, but the plate turned out beautiful. It also tasted great with my usual homemade vinaigrette. I imagine this would be a nice presentation for a party.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Ma Po Dofu

I was looking for new dumpling recipes one day and stumbled upon a recipe for Turkey-Stuffed Tofu Dumplings from Anita Lo. While I wasn't wowed by her restaurant, Annisa, when we were there over 5 years ago, I decided to give the recipe a try since it was an interesting adaptation of Ma Po Dofu (or Tofu), a spicy dish from the Sichuan Province of China.

I used this recipe twice - made it as is (tofu topped with meat) and as Ma Po Dofu with eggplant. Both turned out equally great even without the use of fermented black beans, which my husband forbid me to buy & store in our pantry due to its strong aroma. The recipe as it is definitely had a wow factor for my husband, and rightfully so as it required diligently putting the meat onto delicate tofu. With the traditional stir fry version, I made it heartier with eggplant - the key is to add the tofu last and toss lightly so it won't break. With both versions, I served them with Jasmine rice and Chinese greens.

This recipe is definitely a must have in your repertoire. Ma Po Dofu is an authentic dish with flavorful results.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chicken Adobo

I thought after 10+ years of being together, it was about time I pay tribute to my husband's heritage by making what can be considered the national dish of the Philippines - Chicken Adobo. It is a delicious, rustic and very easy dish made of chicken simmered in a combination of soy sauce and vinegar. It's got a little bit of the salty, sweet and sour. Make a big pot of this, and it tastes even better the next day!

I've done a lot of research on which recipe to use...some marinated the chicken ahead of time, others strangely used Sprite, which I don't believe is authentic. What I found most recipes that claimed to be traditional used soy sauce, vinegar, black peppercorn, garlic, chicken and bay leaf. My father-in-law adds onions, which is what most Americanized versions use for added flavor.

The only Chicken
Adobo I've ever had was made by my father-in-law, so I asked my husband how mine was compared to his, to which my husband responded "yours is really good, but it's different than my father's." The only reason ingredient-wise I can think of is the soy father-in-law does not like plain sauce soy and thinks toyomansi, a soy sauce made sour with the addition of kalamansi juice made from Filipino limes, is superior. Perhaps the use of toyomansi adds a special kind of tang to the Chicken Adobo.

I don't claim to make the traditional version, just whatever is a close representation of it, convenient to me and is flavorful. This is what I used to make mine, without the use of toyomansi:

Serves 4

6 chicken drumsticks
6 chicken thighs
1/2 C + 1 tbs white vinegar
1/2 C soy sauce
1/2 of a large onion, diced
3 bay leaf
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
fresh ground pepper

Marinate everything except for the onion for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator and rest at room temperature prior to cooking. In a large pot or wok over medium-high heat, add oil and saute onions until fragrant. Add the marinated chicken along with everything and bring to a boil. Lower to medium heat, cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes, tossing the mixture and skimming
off the fat and impurities on the surface in between.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce has thickened somewhat, about 20 minutes. If the sauce becomes too salty, add water. Serve with rice.

I made my Chicken Adobo in a wok for added flavor
("鍋氣") and served it with jasmine rice and Chinese greens. Every one has their own version of Chicken Adobo, so feel free to use this recipe and personalize it to make it your own!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Green Cleaning for Your Stainless Steel Sink

I've been scrubbing a lot lately to get our place in tip top shape for our housewarming, ten months after we closed on our new (and first) home. Needless to say, we've used a lot of elbow grease on this place since the prior owners were not the cleanest people. My last big job was the windows, and they're done (thank god). Now, it's the minor things like maintaining the cleanliness. Getting our stainless steel sink has been a once every 2-3 week job, and I haven't been happy with the results...until now.

Believe me, I've tried scrubbing with dish washing liquid and household cleaners, but wasn't quite satisfied with the dull finish. Thinking back, I should have tried green cleaning like we did for our tile grout, but now I realize that it was just so much easier to reach to the left for the dish washing liquid or under the sink for the household cleaner, as opposed to walk over to the pantry to grab the baking soda. All I did was sprinkle about a tablespoon of baking soda onto my already wet stainless steel sink, rub it in with a paper towel and rinse. I wish I have some before & after photos, but I was so impressed with the results, I only have the after photo.

The baking soda and water formed a paste that, when rubbed into the surface, gently took out any dirt and dark spots from the sink. I did this twice to make sure the sink was really clean. Our stainless steel sink now looks as shiny as the day we bought it! Now, if only I can get my hands to where they were before they got sandpaper-like from the endless cleaning...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: The Wok

The wok is the one most important kitchen equipment when it comes to Chinese cooking. It is used for stir frying, steaming, braising, you name it. They key to making most Chinese dishes in a wok is high heat. There's a term we use in Chinese called "鍋氣" - it literally translates into "wok air," and roughly translates to the fragrant aroma or flavor made from cooking in a wok. You can taste it when something has been cooked correctly in a hot wok.

To achieve
"鍋氣," start with a hot wok then add oil. If that is done correctly, whatever you are cooking will not stick to the wok and will be flavorful.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hope Pizza (CT)

My husband and I made a pact that we'd try out our neighborhood restaurants in CT at least once a month. We haven't really followed it, but I must say that we've tried a good handful of pizza joints so far: Remo's Brick Oven Pizza, Coalhouse Pizzaria, Colony Grill and now, Hope Pizza.

In our research, my husband stumbled upon this blog where the authors sample the pizza joints in Stamford and around the tri-state area. They ranked these establishments on a scale of 1 to 30, 1 being the worst, 30 being the best. I found it most interesting that the authors described their mission was to benchmark all pizzas against those from Stamford. Why? Stamford is not a culinary capital, as far as I can understand, that it can serve as a benchmark. I had my doubts, but was curious to check out exactly what was behind Hope Pizza's packed parking lot on most nights and what was worthy of its high 24 rating, way above Coalhouse, which I thought was quite good for Stamford.

Hope Pizza had the appearance and the menu of a diner, except with the name that implies a pizza joint. It is mostly a Greek diner that serves diner food and pizza of course, with one of the pizza toppings being gyro. My husband and I ordered a large pie, split between mushroom on one half and sausage & pepperoncini on the other half. When our server brought our pie to the table, my first impression from the buttery, fresh out of the oven aroma and the appearance of the pie was reminiscent of Pizza Hut.

On the plus side, the pie came piping hot and had a crunchy (not soggy) bottom. On the huge minus side, the pizza was topped with canned mushroom, a generous amount of cheese, and an even more generous amount of pepperoncini.

My husband felt adventurous and had ordered buffalo wings that he later regretted. All in all, I can see why families go to Hope Pizza. It's a place where you can bring your screaming kids, make a mess, and have a night off from the kitchen. Its mediocre food serves as a somewhat passable substitute to ordinary week night dinners, canned ingredients and all. I understand that there are different kinds of pizza out there that people prefer, but after having the good fortune of having pizza from many of NYC's finest, the Pizza Hut style simply isn't my cup of tea.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Light & Easy Eggplant Milanese

I wanted to make crunchy chicken without frying one day. I'm not a fan of deep frying anything in my kitchen and make a mess of it. If I want fry food, I'd rather go out to a restaurant. So I went on a hunt for an oven fried chicken recipe and found the most delicious, flavorful and crunchy Oven-Fried Chicken Milanese. I liked it so much that I used the same method for making eggplant milanese.

The recipe calls for making a coating of parmesan and egg, and panko (Japanese bread crumbs), parsley and lemon zest. Instead of dipping chicken in it, I dipped half inch rounds of sliced eggplant (like an eggplant steak).

It worked just as well. The panko made the eggplant so crunchy. The parmesan added a salty bite, while the fresh parsley and lemon zest added a much needed brightness. I topped the finished product with some home-made tomato sauce I had ready in the freezer, and it was so satisfying. If I had mozzarella cheese, I'd take it further by sprinkling some on the eggplant and putting it under the broiler before adding the sauce. Yum!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Vegetables, Part II

It's Monday again, and that means another Chinese Cooking Basics! The third post in the series is a continuation to the introduction last week to the Chinese leafy greens. There is one method of cooking that can be applied to practically all types of Chinese greens, whether they be Choy Sum (菜心), Gai Lan (蓋蘭), Bok Choy (白菜) or Pea Shoots (豆苗), and that is a basically a cross between sautéing and braising.

The following are the steps to the cooking method I use for Chinese leafy greens for two. What you'll need ahead of time are 1 tbs oil, 2 smashed garlic gloves, thoroughly washed and drained greens, salt and 1 tbs water.
  • Heat up oil in a wok over medium-high heat, then add in garlic gloves. Let them sit until fragrant. This step basically makes an aromatic garlic oil.
  • Add the greens to the wok. Make sure to stand back as the oil will splatter when in contact with the wet greens. Add salt and toss the greens around to ensure that they have been coated by the oil.
  • Add water, and immediately put a cover over the wok. The steam and liquid will braise the greens.
  • The greens should be cooked within 5 minutes, depending on your desired texture. I like my greens with a bit of snap to the tooth.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chicken with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

Thai sweet chili sauce is one of my husband's favorite sauces. It's sweet, slightly sour, garlicky and has just a tiny hint of heat. He liked it so much that he made a dish with it - Chicken with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce. This was his dish until I took over and made it my own. I make it at least a couple of times a month - it's that easy. Pretty much all the time is spent on prepping, as the cooking happens very fast. Dinner can be on the table in way less an hour.

I used to make this dish with chicken cubes like my husband did, but I found the texture to be too tough when met by the high heat of the wok, so I switched to using chicken slices. If you slice the chicken on the bias and against the grain, it's easier to chew. It also takes less time to cook. Another thing I did differently than my husband was to thicken the sauce using the classic Chinese combination of water and a little bit of corn starch. The last thing I did differently was to add scallions for a bit of bite.

Chicken with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
Serves 2

1 large chicken breast, sliced thin on the bias
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 scallion, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 1/2 to 3 tbs Thai sweet chili sauce (we have the brand with the chicken on the packaging)
big handful of basil (Thai, preferably, but sweet basil will also do)
1/4 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 tsp water
2 tsp water
vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste

Season the chicken slices with salt and pepper. In a hot wok with oil over medium-high heat, saute the chicken in batches until it's no longer pink but not completely cooked through. Set the chicken aside in a bowl. Add peppers to the wok and saute until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.

Add the chicken back to the wok, followed by the Thai sweet chili sauce. Add the scallions and saute until soft. Add about 2 teaspoons water and toss. Make a well in the bottom of the wok and add the cornstarch mixture. Mix the cornstarch mixture with any liquid in the bottom of the wok. Toss until the liquid is evenly distributed with the chicken and peppers. Finish by adding the basil leaves. Turn off heat. Viola! Dinner is served.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stuffed Peppers

My husband and I have been eating a lot of quinoa, so much that we don't even eat couscous anymore. I had even used quinoa as a substitute for couscous in a Stuffed Peppers recipe from Martha Stewart.

It turned out just as well. The recipe was good, but I may try another homemade sausage recipe I found on Food Network next time...the oregano was too strong for our taste.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chinese Cooking Basics: Vegetables, Part I

It's Monday again, and that means another Chinese Cooking Basics! For the second post in the series, let's go over the second most consumed item next to rice: green leafy vegetables. The preparation of these are simple and fast. There are many types out there, and here are some of the more common ones.
  • Choy Sum (菜心) - This is by far the most basic and probably the most widely consumed Chinese leafy greens. They come in all sizes. Usually, the smaller they are, the more tender. I gravitate towards the smaller ones. They are great sauteed or chopped up in fried rice. Below is the medium variety.
  • Gai Lan (蓋蘭) - These are also known as Chinese broccoli. They have thicker stems and a stronger, slightly bitter taste that makes them distinctly different than Choy Sum (菜心). They come in all sizes. Usually, the smaller they are, the more tender. They are also great sauteed or chopped up in fried rice. Below is the small variety.

  • Bok Choy (白菜) - These are by far the most well known Chinese greens in the States. They have wider stems than other leafy greens, and are very tender and moist when cooked. Their stems are white, but the newer varieties have pale green stems. They come in all sizes. Below is the small variety.

  • Pea Shoots (豆苗) - These are one of the most expensive varieties of Chinese leafy greens. They are delicate in taste, with a tad of nuttiness. I love it sauteed with lots of garlic.

Now that we went over the basics, we can go over the cooking methods next week!