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! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Steamed Fish (Zheng Yu 蒸魚)

Tim's dad caught a bunch of flounder and one huge bass (don't know exactly which, but it was nice and meaty)! The bass that he caught must have been massive, because we only got a chunk of it, but it weigh somewhere around 3 pounds. We got 6 or 7 fish in total, and they lasted us through all of August and then some.

One of my favorite Chinese banquet dishes is the steamed fish that they serve towards the end of the meal. It's a good thing it's actually not too difficult to make at home! My mom taught me how to make this preparation of steamed fish a long, long time ago. The fish is steamed first, then you pour a yummy sauce over it, and you heat oil and pour it on to semi-sear the aromatics and become part of the sauce.
 Chinese Steamed Fish

Potlucking for a Crowd: Mung Bean Soup

Every year our church holds two potlucks, and the weather forecast showed this past Sunday to be a warm day. I was trying to think of something that would be good for a crowd, yet easy enough to make in my barely-moved-in kitchen supplies and equipment! My friend G had requested that I make the Taro Coconut Dessert, but I thought it would be too warm for that. She has some food allergies and also tries to be vegan when possible, so I tried to also keep her in mind for the dessert.

Enter memories of mung bean soup, or lu dou tang, from childhood. My mom would make this simple lightly sweetened dessert of mung beans cooked until they were 'sandy', served cold. Sometimes she would add grains or seeds like lotus seeds or pearled barley, but the heart and soul was the mung bean. I thought of grass jelly as a refreshing addition to the mix, then thought of chewy mochi balls for some texture. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this soup would actually be an ode to some of my most favorite Taiwanese shaved ice fillings, in a drinkable form. (Imagine trying to make shaved ice for 100+ people and keeping it cold...good luck!) To keep it simple, I'll call this mung bean soup. The additions are recommended, but not required; even just mung beans on their own soup taste delicious.
lu dou tang