Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Move

Due to some unfortunate circumstances, we moved yet again! I am thankful for friends and co-workers who graciously gave up their Saturday morning to help us.

Those of you who have had to move know that it's a pain in a butt to pack everything, and also know that the number of boxes representing the kitchen area seems to always outdo boxes from any other room. I am trying to pare down the 'stuff' I I keep my shaved ice maker? The Taiwanese in me screams yes! And, after our trip to Taiwan (less than 72 hours to go!!), I am sure I will be re-inspired to make shaved ice.  

Does anyone want a stovetop waffle iron? It's a gift from my mom, but after 2 waffle sessions, I realized that I didn't have the patience to make waffles over the stovetop and have to babysit them. (Sorry, Mama!) I am looking for a good home for them, so inquire within. Obviously, you must be able to pick it up from deliveries ;)

Before the move to our current place, I went through a sad period of about 1-2 weeks where I didn't feel much like cooking or baking. It's hard to feel inspired to create when you can't feel like the place you are living in is your home, for me, at least. It's also hard when lots of your kitchen stuff is still packed away in boxes! By the time I snapped out of it and realized that I had to resume my routine for my sanity's sake, it was just about time to move again..

I am thankful to be living in our new place, where we really like it. We have just gotten settled, and almost all the boxes have been unpacked or moved to closets. I am excited to cook!......when we return from Taiwan. We're leaving on Saturday....sooo excited! We will be back in 2 weeks.

We bought a Costco-sized pack of AA batteries for my camera in preparation for our trip. We plan to take pictures of everything we eat, and maybe pictures of some scenery and people here and there ;)

I'm excited for many things in Taiwan, but I can't deny that the food is one of the top things I'm excited for. Taiwanese people really know how to make great snacks, sweets, and food of all sorts! I can only pray that I can learn to re-create a few of the delicious morsels we will feast on in one of Asia's best places :)

In the mean time, here are some Taiwanese/Chinese recipes to transport you to Taiwan while I am gone!

Lu Rou Fan (The most popular recipe on this site, believe it or not!)

Yan Su Ji (Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken)

Jiu Cai He Zi (Chinese Leek Boxes)

Garlic Chives/Pork/Shrimp/Dumplings

Spicy Pepper Stir-Fry (Make it as a side for your dinner tonight. I will be making it to go with our steamed fish!)

Homestyle Tofu

Sweet Red Bean Soup with YuanZi

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian 紅燒牛肉麵 (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup)

Beef noodle soup probably doesn't need any introduction. I believe it was the Taiwanese who made it famous, but it is made in different ways: hong shao, 'red braised' with a soy saucey color, and also qing dun, which is a clear broth (no soy sauce) with a lighter taste. I've also had beef noodle soup where the stock has been cooked with tomatoes, too!

My mom sent me this recipe as the best beef noodle soup recipe she has tried, and I made some small adjustments to it. I'm not really sure if one would consider this Sichuan or Taiwanese, because I think beef noodle soup was made famous by the Taiwanese, but there are Sichuanese components in it, like the peppercorns and fermented soybean paste....We are going to Taiwan at the end of the month, and I am so excited to try all the different ways that beef noodle soup is made!

Edit: So according to this site, they think that the origins of niu rou mian started with Chinese soldiers who fled to Taiwan in 1949. They made a beef soup with the spicy bean paste (that definitely originates from the Sichuan province) and soy sauce, and served it with noodles. So, I think I can confidently call this Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. Yay!
taiwan niu rou mian beef noodle soup

Beef Noodle Soup
Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian
Serves 4-6

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cha Xiang Xun Ji 茶香熏雞 (Tea Smoked Chicken)

Our apartment smells like smoke. It's okay, though- don't call the fire department! I've made 3 batches of smoked chicken in the past 3 days. Smoking chicken in a wok + no vent leads to me swinging the broom in front of the beeping fire alarm, and Tim wielding a folder to fan the smoke in large vertical strokes in the kitchen.

Growing up, I remember two tasty chicken preparations that made their way into restaurants as appetizers or side dishes: smoked chicken and drunken chicken. Both chickens were always served bone, with neat and clean cuts across the chicken, no doubt made by a sharp cleaver. I tried my hand at making drunken and smoked chicken, but the drunken one didn't turn out that well, and its failure was overshadowed by the promise of delicious smoked chicken.

This recipe is adapted from this Taiwanese lady who kind of reminds me of a younger version of my grandma. To me, she is adorable, just like the jolly Taiwanese chef who showed me how to make those yummy braised eggs with long hots. Some of her tips didn't work for me, but it could be due to differences in chicken types and overall set-up. I'll post what worked for me.
Tea Smoked Chicken xun ji
The chicken was so tender that the leg fell apart when I took it out!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

Did anyone remember eating Knott's Berry Farm shortbread cookies? I really enjoyed them as a kid, and always wished that I could get more baked jam to go with the rest of the cookie once I had nibbled the middle away.

Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies
Now I have the power to make them, and so do you! These little shortbread cookies are addicting, and have a healthy dose of salt to balance out the sweetness from the jam. The best part is that they are very easy to make, and you probably have most of the ingredients already, if not all.

Black Pepper Steak

I really like black pepper. As a kid, I used to shake a bunch of black pepper onto my New England Clam Chowder at Souplantation (Sweet Tomatoes in the South), and would put tons and tons on my scrambled eggs at church retreats (so much that sometimes I contemplated unscrewing the cap for a bit). Aside: Looking back, I realize that one of the contributors to me furiously shaking the black pepper was its loss of intensity due to being pre-ground. If you don't yet have a pepper mill, do yourself a favor and buy 1) a pepper mill 2) whole peppercorns. As you know, whole spices keep much better than ground spices, so do yourself a favor and jump on my whole spice bandwagon! My peppercorns have lasted indefinitely, and I never regret having to grind them fresh because of how superior they are in taste. 

When I staged at the French restaurant, one of the now-former garde manger cooks informed me, rather authoritatively, that black pepper was supposed to be an accent, not a main flavor. Though I agreed that one should not add so much black pepper in dishes so that it overwhelms the other flavors, it made me kind of sad that black pepper is not more often the star in the dish. Two memorable food items include the black pepper filet mignon on Chinese banquet menus, and black pepper sauce at Hong Kong-style cafes in the San Gabriel Valley like Regent or Garden Cafe.

When I first made this dish in May, I had some flank steak to use up, and the poor celery was getting limp from too much time in the fridge. This time, I was equipped with delicious skirt steak, and fresh peppers from the CSA.
Black pepper steak

Black Pepper Steak
Serves 3-4 as part of a multi-dish course for 4


4 oz skirt steak, or any other cut of sliceable beef
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t cornstarch
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp sugar
Vegetables, etc
1 Tbsp oil
2 cups sliced onion (1 medium)
2 cups sliced peppers of any kind (I used 7 banana peppers and half a red bell pepper)
1/2 tsp salt 
1 to 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1) Slice the beef: first, cut against the grain, and slant your cutting so that you have thin slices. If you need to, cut these slices in half crosswise, so that they are only a little longer than your pinky (2-3 inches long). Stack a few thin slices at a time to cut into strips. When in doubt, go thinner!

2) Marinate the meat: Add beef and marinade ingredients in a bowl.

3) Heat half of the oil in a wok until the oil starts to smoke, then add the beef to the wok, stirring to break up all the beef slices. Move around quickly to prevent any one slice of beef from cooking too quickly. Cook until 80% of the beef has gone from red to brown on the outside. Transfer the beef to a bowl.

4) Heat the wok back up until it's hot, then add the rest of the oil. Add the onions and peppers. Add some salt to season the vegetables. Cook until the onions and peppers are slightly softened, then add more black pepper! Add the beef, juices and all, back into the wok. Saute just slightly to re-heat the beef, then remove from the wok.

5) Serve with lots of rice, and maybe more black pepper :)

-Feel free to substitute or add ingredients here. Please keep the onions, though. Onions and beef are good friends! Mushrooms, while earthy and meaty tasting, may drown your beef in their juices if not cooked properly, so make sure cook the 'shrooms in small batches on high heat. Celery is also a great substitute for the peppers- use just 1 to 1 1/2 cup of celery in this case, because they tend to shrink less when stir-fried.
-Increase the amount of steak (and the marinade) if you like.  I try to cut down on the amount of meat I use, for health and money purposes, but feel free to do what you like. 

Black pepper steak
Use whatever peppers you want!