Monday, May 9, 2011

It wasn't a rock, it was a rock lobster!



It has been a while since I have written in this blog. Starting a new job is taxing on other parts of one's life, but it is all worth it once you are presented with the paycheck.

Today, I want to share a special dish that I love and have not had in more than 16 years. I remember when my dad used to work at Renata's. They were an amazing restaurant that served the best osso bocco and escargot. While he worked there, we would come for dinner on occasions. These dishes might have been amazing, but the item that I loved the most was the Lobster Cantonese. It was not on the menu, but when they had extra lobster, my dad would make this dish to bring home for my family. We had just moved into our house and we were still struggling to stay afloat. As a kid, I didn't realize it, but it was difficult for my parents. Maybe it was the fact that we would go out to dinner at places like Renata's and my dad would bring home lobster Cantonese that shielded me from this realization. Either way, my parents have always tried to divert our eyes from the harshness of the world.

Eating this dish, for my birthday this year, makes me re-examine the past to see the struggle that they went through. It makes me proud of them because they have come so far.

Lobster Cantonese

Ingredients:

5 lobster tails
1/4 pound of ground pork (broken apart)
1 small piece of ginger(finely chopped)
5 cloves of garlic (smashed and diced)
2 scallions (cut at a diagonal)
1/2 cup of Chinese cooking wine
15-20 dried salted black beans. (Not the sauce)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (mixed with water)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 eggs (beaten)
1/4 cup of oil



Heat up the wok on high and add the oil. When the oil is hot add the garlic, scallions, ginger, black beans and ground pork. Cook until the meat is a light brown.


Start by cutting the tails in half and wash out the lobster. After you are finished cut them into six pieces and put them on paper towels to pat dry.


Add the lobster into the mix and stir fry until the lobster shells have started to turn orange. Add the soy sauce, salt, pepper, sugar, and wine. Once those ingredients are incorporated into the dish, add the cornstarch/water mixture to make a binding sauce. Last, add the egg to create the thick sauce that is normally associated with this dish. Before you serve, taste for any last minute seasoning.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Say Kimchi ^_^v



Nothing is more Korean than kimchi, so it is no surprise that you will find it in everything from soups, fried rice, ramyun, and even in donuts. When you take pictures, instead of saying cheese, people will say kimchi.

Today's dish is one of the most simple and quickest to make. Soups are always present during meals, and kimchi jjigae (김치찌개)is a staple. My Korean co-workers and friends always laughed at me because this was my first attempt at cooking Korean food and the biggest flop. Due to that incident, I stopped trying to make my own and ate out for six months before I gathered the courage to try again and even then I did not attempt this dish again until just recently. So after two and a half years, I man up and made it for my parents.

The key to a good kimchi jjigae is the kimchi. It must be sour. If it is not old, sour, fermented cabbage, then your soup is going to be bland and flavorless. Can you guess what my mistake was all those years ago?

Prep is not time consuming like most other foods of this cuisine. Chopping, slicing, and cooking will take you about thirty minutes. Unlike Rachel Ray, I do not expect you to have all your vegetables and herbs washed and ready to go. Instead, it is simple to just prep as you go along. I am more of a Sara Moulton style cook.

Ingredients

2 cups or 1/4 head of sour kimchi
3 slices of samgyupsal (Korean bacon)
1/2 medium onion
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 block of tofu
2 sprigs of green onions
4 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoons of gochujang (red pepper paste)
1 1/2 tablespoons of red pepper powder (cut back on either of the red pepper ingredients if you don't want it too spicy)
1/4 cup of kimchi juice (the juice left that is extracted from the cabbage during fermentation)
3-4 cups of water

Start by squeezing out the extra juices into a bowl on the side. Then cut the kimchi into bite size pieces. Make sure to not waste any of the juices because you will need it for the broth later. Mince the garlic and put it aside.

Take the samgyupsal and cut off the layer of fat with the skin. You can leave it on if you like the fat, but I like my soup a little more lean. Then slice into bite size pieces as well.

Peel and cut the onion down the middle length wise. The slice them into medium size half rings.


Heat up a pot and add 2 tablespoons of oil. You can do all vegetable oil or do 75/25 with sesame oil. Be careful with sesame oil, because it has a lower tolerance for heat and will smoke up if it is too high. Add the dry, kimchi slices and sautee until the leaves starts to become translucent.


Add the bacon, garlic, and onions. Cook until the meat changes to a light brown and the onions start to soften.

Add the water to cover. Put in all the seasonings and the kimchi juice. While the soup is heating up, cut the tofu into large squares. You do not want them too small otherwise they are lost in the soup. Add to the soup and let it boil for 15 minutes.


Take this time to cut up the sprigs of green onion to garnish at the end.

This dish is so simple. Makes me feel uneasy now that I look back at my failed attempt. Hopefully with these instructions you won't fail as badly as I did. Fighting!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sorry Sorry Sorry Sorry 내가 내가 내가 먼저

Ok, enough with the K-pop references. I want to apologize for not updating this more often. I have just been eating out more and not cooking as much. I have received many new Chinese recipes, but I want to alter them to use less oil, sugar, and salt before posting. I promise once I tweak them, they will go up ASAP.

For today, I have a Vietnamese version of an Asian staple. Chinese call it congee, Indonesian bubur, Korean juk, Japanese kayu, Thai kao dom, Filipino lúgaw, Vietnamese cháo, and the western world know it as porridge. Most people only think of this dish when sick, but for the rest of the world, it is a breakfast classic.



I do not care for porridge too much, but this is a family favorite, because of the salad that goes with it. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this dish? Not many positive adjectives come to mind, right? Scalding and bland tends to pop into my mind. When paired with this chicken or duck salad, the porridge does not take a backseat, but instead compliments it. There is a drastic contrast between the crisp cold cabbage, the tangy dressing, the warm poultry, and the hot congee.

Make the fish sauce first because it will need to be at room temperature or cool when you toss it into the salad.

Fish Sauce Ingredients (Nước mắm):
1 Cup fish sauce
1/2 Cup vinegar
1 lemon
4 cloves of garlic minced
1/4 Cup of water
2 fresh red peppers chopped(the smaller the hotter)
1/2 cup of sugar (less or more depending on how sweet you like it)

In a sauce pan combine the fish sauce, vinegar, and water. Wait until it comes to a boil, then add the sugar, and stir until it dissolves. Add the garlic, chili and lemon juice next. Once it has come to a boil, turn it on low and cook for another 10-15 minutes to extract the flavors of the garlic and chilies. If it is too sweet, add a little more lemon juice. If it is too acidic, add some sugar until it suits you.

Congee Ingredients:
2 tablespoons of oil
2 cups of rice
5-6 cups of water (Depends on how soupy you like it. We like more broth to rice ratio)
4 whole chicken or duck legs including thighs
Salt (To taste) 2 1/2-3 tablespoons
Sugar (To taste) 1 1/2 tablespoons
4 cloves of garlic peeled and minced
2 green onions to garnish sliced semi thin

Start by placing a pot onto the stove to heat, then add the oil. When the oil starts to move around freely, add the rice and saute until the rice starts to color. When the rice has started to absorb the oil, release it's starches, and brown, add the minced garlic. Let the garlic brown a bit, then add the water. While you are waiting for the water to boil, clean the poultry by rinsing and rubbing it with salt. Let it sit in a bowl of water to draw out any additional impurities. Remember to stir the porridge occasionally so the rice does not stick to the bottom. Add the poultry, salt, and sugar to the water. Let it cook, on medium heat, until the meat is done, and the rice has expanded. That should take roughly around 20-30 minutes. If you are unsure, you can always take the meat out and cut towards the center of each piece. It does not matter because you will be peeling the poultry into strips anyways. If it is red, cook some more. When the meat is finished, take out, place aside until it is room temperature, and peel into bite size strips. When the rice has expanded and open, it is finished. Do your final seasoning. If it is right to your taste, turn off the stove, and place a lid on it to keep it warm.

Fried Shallots Ingredients:
2 Shallots
5 tablespoons of oil

Peel the shallots and slice into thin strips. Heat a small skillet or pan on the stove. When it is hot, add the oil, and wait until it moves with ease. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the shallots. When the shallots begin to turn a medium brown, take off the stove, let it cool, and place into an air tight container.

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Salad Ingredients:
1 small to medium cabbage (can be green or purple)
1 medium onion
1 bunch of cilantro
Peeled poultry
1/4 cup of vinegar
Sugar (To taste) 1 tablespoon some like it sweeter
2 dashes of black pepper

Take the cabbage and cut it down the middle. Now you need to cut it into thin strips. If it is easier, use a mandoline, because they should not be too thick. Wash thoroughly, shake dry, and place aside to drain completely. It is best that the cabbage is completely dried.

Next peel the onion, cut in half and slice it thin. Combine the vinegar, sugar and pepper. Mix together until the sugar has fully dissolved and add a teaspoon of water to delude the dressing a little. Add the onions and let it sit in the mixture for 10-15 minutes. Once the cabbage is dry, place what you deem is enough for whose eating into a mixing bowl. Add the vinegar dressing to the bowl and squeeze the cabbage, so that it absorbs the flavor. It is necessary to do this step otherwise the cabbage will taste bland. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the fish sauce and garnish with chopped cilantro.



It sounds like quite a bit of work right? It just seems that way, because I introduced quite a few fundamental ingredients to Vietnamese cuisine in this blog. The fish sauce will keep for months if stored properly in the fridge, so you do not need to make them all the time. The shallots will be fine in an air tight container on the counter, or in the pantry. If you are like my family, we like to do it once, and not worry about it for a few months. Just multiply the quantity, and make as much as you will need ahead of time. I promise you, the fish sauce alone is worth making more of, because your house will need to be aired out after. You don't want to have that smell looming around constantly.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Off With Your Head, Dance 'Til You're Dead.


Living abroad has done wonders for me mentally, physically, and has created a better bond with my family and friends. For some, it is a terrifying time that can lead one to resent the new environment, but you have to let go of your fears and embrace the positive qualities before you can truly appreciate how blessed you are. I bring this up because the relationship between my parents and I have grown immensely after I returned.

This is the topic of today, because I have been feasting on everything my mom puts in front of me since I have returned. Many dishes that I took for granted or have forgotten about are resurfacing like buried treasures. The time spent in the kitchen listening to my parents talk about their homeland and our customs is fascinating.

Even though both of my parents grew up in South Vietnam, their lives varied dramatically. My grandfather, on my mother's side passed away when she was young. With my grandmother, an older half brother, older half sister, older sister, herself, younger brother, and younger sister they lived what sounds like a lower middle class lifestyle. My grandmother working difficult jobs such as roasting and packing coffee beans to support them.

My father grew up with both parents, an older brother, himself, three younger brothers, and two younger sisters. They, on the other hand, lived a more comfortable life with land and a nice house where a river ran through it. When the river flooded it brought with it an abundance of fish. My dad sometimes speaks fondly of these times, a time when he did not have to work two or three jobs.

In Vietnam, many families make due with what is readily available during the season. The country possesses a long coastline (approximately 2026 miles), and year round tropical weather, which affords them shrimp nearly year round. Shrimp proves to be on of Vietnam's greatest industries at 47.7% of all seafood caught bringing in over a million dollars.

It is no surprise that there are many dishes dedicated to this tasty crustacean. My mom makes a wonderful sweet, savory, and spicy shrimp where you can eat the shell too. In Vietnam, the combination of sweet and savory are iconic. Our sauce of choice, Nước mắm, is used as a dipping sauce, or ladled over noodles and almost everything else. Then there is Canh chua; a soup containing pineapple, tamarind, fish, seafood (shrimp is a popular ingredient), and a variety of herbs and vegetables. This simple dish takes no time to cook up and came from the Vietnamese people's intuition of utilizing what they have on hand. My friends come over often to eat and will always praise my mom for the magic that comes out of her kitchen. I never knew how lucky I was until being deprived of it for two years.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds of Whole Shrimp (head and shell intact)
3 tablespoons of White Sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons of Fish Sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons of Salt
2 tablespoons of Oyster Sauce
4 cloves of Garlic
A handful of Red Pepper Flakes
3 tablespoons of oil
2 Green Onions
1/2 Medium White Onion




When cleaning the shrimp use scissors to snip off the area from the eyes up, the legs, and the tail. Leaving them clean.

Cut off both ends of the onion and peel off the outer skin. Place the onion so that it is sitting upright and slice in half. Now put the half onion flat and cut into thick strips.

Wash the green onions, removing any dead sprigs or layers. Cut off the root end and cut in a diagonal direction.

Start by heating a large wok or fry pan with deep sides. Add the oil and let it heat up in the pan before swirling it around to coat the surface area. When the oil can move around at a high pace, add the garlic and red pepper flakes to warm up and release all the flavors and spice. After the garlic has browned, add the shrimp. Sautée the shrimp for a couple of minutes then add the sugar first to start the caramelizing of the flavors. Follow with the salt, oyster sauce, and fish sauce. Once the shrimp starts to turn a reddish orange, you can add the onions to cook. Make sure that the onion retains it's crunch. Then add the green onions and sautée for a minute to finish.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mmm... Mmm...Good


Samgyetang (삼게탕), stuffed ginseng chicken soup, is a popular health food in Korea. It is the equivalent of what chicken noodle soup is for the western world. It does not matter what season it is, you will still see people eating this steaming hot dish. In fact, it is common for people to consume this meal on one of the three hottest days of the year. Some might ask why would you want to do something like that? The answer is simple, while the heat depletes us of our energy, this soup will replenish the vital nutrients that we have lost. Plus, when the weather is unbearable this piping hot meal will put into perspective how cool the air around us feels in comparison. I can attest to this reasoning, I felt refreshed when comparing my food to the sticky and humid climate. The same can not be said when eating ice cream or red bean shaved ice (팥빙수) in the winter. I found that out from first hand experience as well. Zero and frozen treats don't go hand in hand, but that didn't stop me.

Does that not sell you to go out and order a big bowl of your own? All over Asia, you will see that many people will eat soups all year round. I will make sure to bring this up when I talk about Phở or Bún bò Huế, classic staples of Vietnamese food.

No matter if you do not want to eat this in the middle of summer, or in a broiling hot desert, you can always put this recipe aside for when the bitter winds of winter comes sweeping by again.

Ingredients:
A small chicken per each individual. (A little bigger than a Cornish game hen or use a full size chicken for two or three people)
4 stocks of Ginseng
4 Jujubes or Chinese Dates
6 cloves of Garlic
1 cup or enough Glutenous Rice to stuff the chicken
2 Chesnuts
4 Ginko Nuts
Salt to taste
1 stalk of Leek
1/2 a medium Onion
2 pieces of Astragalus root(황기)(Can find in Chinese medicine store or you can leave them out)

Let's start by rinsing the glutenous rice in water and then letting it sit for fifteen minutes to extract the extra starches.

Now for the chicken, take some coarse sea salt and scrub the inside and out. Pluck any stray feathers and make sure the chicken is clean.

The ginko nuts should be boiled until soft, after the shell has been removed, use a toothpick to poke out the center. The center of the ginko contains a toxin that can cause illness if consumed in high amounts. It is all just for precaution.

The chestnut should be shelled and will cook within the chicken.

Take the clean chicken and stuff it with the 2 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 stocks of ginseng, a jujube, the chestnuts, and then fill the rest of the space with the glutenous rice. Make sure not to over stuff the bird, because you will now cut a little slit in the skin near the foot of the chicken. Once you have done that, slip the other leg through the small hole so that the bird is cross legged and closed. This way, while everything is cooking the side absorbs all of the wonderful chicken flavor.

Cut the leeks in half across the green and white part. The greens keep whole for the soup. The whites chop to garnish at the end.

Cut off both ends of the onion and set it so that it is sitting upright and slice down the middle.

Put a pot large enough to submerge the chicken in on the stove. Do not put the chicken in yet. Let the water boil, then add in the remaining garlic, jujubes, ginseng, half an onion, leeks, and astragalus root. Once this has come to a boil place the chicken in and add a little more water if needed to make sure the chicken in covered.


Let it cook for roughly 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the chicken. if you are using a Cornish game hen, you might only need 20-25 minutes. Strain the soup so that none of the ingredients flavoring it is left before presentation. Serve the chicken in individual bowls and with the clear broth only. You can serve this with a side of salt and pepper, so that each individual can season the soup to their liking and dip the chicken if they want. This way if you are worried about the sodium, you can skip it. Kimchi is a great side dish for this meal to give it more flavor.

Colors of the world, spice up your life!


The essential and most fundamental aspect of a Korean meal lies in the side dishes or banchan (반찬) and no other condiment shines more brightly than kimchi (긴치). Families take pride in preparing a well made version of this traditional fare and if they are willing to share theirs with you, then you have definitely made it into their good graces. Travel anywhere, in Korea, and you will detect the subtle differences in styles depending on what is readily available to the people. Some people prefer the kimchi made along the coastline because they add oysters and other tidbits of seafood. Inland, it is not so common to find such embellishments, but the use of tiny shrimp (새우것) will be found instead. With the recipes to come, I would suggest you make your own and in a large quantity, because there are many items that will need kimchi as the base.

I know people are turned off by the smell and the thought of a fiery red, fermented cabbage dish, but it is a food that will help promote good health. For two years I was living in Korea while teaching English. I left to travel the world and eventually go back home to the states. While backpacking through Australia; I was missing Korea, and saw a sign promoting all the essential health benefits of kimchi and it dawn on me why I had become the most healthy I have ever been in my life. I cannot claim that kimchi did that by itself, but as a staple of Korean cuisine, it was a key factor. If you would like to read about the benefits yourself.(http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20410300,00.html)

It is becoming less common for people to make their own now-a-days when supermarkets will produce this time consuming fare for you. It is sad to think these treasured family recipes might be a part of the past since nothing beats food prepared with care. In the fall, families tend to come together to participate in kimjang (긴장) or the preparation of kimchi for the winter season. It is important to produce enough to outlast winter when fresh vegetables are less abundant. This is a concept that is almost unheard of in the west, but in most parts of the world, they use whatever is seasonal.

Let's get to work now. I hope you are ready because it is time consuming, but you will feel a sense of pride once you have accomplished this dish. I will try my best to give you measurements, but keep in mind that I learned to cook by feeling and sight. You can easily adjust this recipe if you wish to make however much you want.

Ingredients:
2 large Napa Cabbage
1 medium Radish
1/2 to 3/4 cup of Pepper Powder (고추가루)
12 cloves of Garlic
1 stock of ginger of Ginger
8 sprigs of Green Onions or Scallions
1/2 to 3/4 cup of Fish Sauce
1/2 cup of Tiny Shrimp(새우것)(It is ok to leave this out, I usually do not use it unless I have it on hand. It taste fine without.)
2 medium Asian Pears (Apple Pears as they are also called) or Apples
1 large white or yellow Onion

Salt Bath:
1 1/4 cups of Coarse Salt only for the bath (Prefer Sea Salt) with extra to put in between each leaf
Enough water to submerge the cabbage fully.

Binding agent:
1 1/2 cups of Water
2 tablespoons of Flour

Prep:

Begin by preparing the salt bath. Add the salt to 2 cups of hot water so that it dissolves. Add the mixture to room temperature or cool water. Now split the cabbage into quarters lengthwise while keeping the stock intact so that the leaves do not separate. Rinse the cabbage off with a little water and open each leaf to sprinkle sea salt within. Do not worry about the salt content because you are just using it to soften the cabbage. Once it has wilted down you will rinse it out anyways. When you have finished, place them in the salt bath and fully submerge the cabbage and let it sit for three to four hours. When the leaves look opaque, they are ready.



Peel the pears (or apples) and radish. Make it easy on yourself and use a slicing board set to a medium julienne cut.

The garlic and ginger needs to be peeled and chopped finely. You can use a food processor to do the job.



Clean the green onions of the dead or flimsy leaves and chop off the root end. Dice the whites into semi thin circular disks while leaving the greens to be sliced into strips.

Cut both ends off the onion, turn the onion so that it can sit upright on it's own and split down the middle. Now turn it so that the cut middle lies flat and slice into medium strips.

Place all of these ingredients into one bowl, adding the fish sauce, tiny shrimp (if you would like), and red pepper powder.



Next put the two cups of water into a small pot and bring to a boil. Add the flour slowly while stirring constantly until it dissolves and creates a nice glue like substance. Look for the consistency of Elmer's school glue. Let it cool, then add to the mixture spicy mixture, and mix throughout.

Once the cabbage has taken a semi translucent, yet cloudy appearance, take it out of the water and rinse out the salt thoroughly. Now this is fundamental, you need to squeeze all of the excess water out of the cabbage. The cabbage should have reduced in size from the extraction, so begin to open each leaf and rub the mixture in between leaving some behind.

Once finished rub the outside with the mixture and fold the ends of the leaves inward and put into an airtight container.

After you have finished with the rest, you can either cut some up and eat as fresh kimchi or store it in the fridge for a week and eat it when it has fermented a little. Kimchi will last a long time if you keep it properly stored on the last shelf of your refrigerator where it is not directly blown upon which creates ice crystals.

Do not worry when you see the kimchi has produced an abundance of juices. It is only natural for it to continue to release water and draw in the spicy seasoning. You will use this liquid for soups later. I promise you it is a good thing.