Monday, March 31, 2008

Corn Minestrone - yellow yellow magic power

In the red (tomato-based) vs white (pure cream-based) world of pasta dishes...when Ms. Sexy Marinara and Ms. Sleek Carbonara are side-by-side, Ms. Sexy Marinara will always get my attention. I find it harder to make my selection in the soup world of tomato-based minestrone vs cream-based mushroom soup. These two classics are my favorites, no doubt. I'm lucky when soup du jour happens to be either minestrone or cream-of-mushroom and often fickled when there is no "Today's Soup" and I am forced to make my choice from the soup category in the menu.

I made minestrone again, but with a slight twist this time - adding corn kernels in there, lots of them.

Corn Minestrone

-1 tbsp. olive oil
-1-2 cups diced onion
-2 small potatoes, diced
-1 carrot, diced
-4 stems from a bunch of celery
-2-3 tomatoes, cubed/diced (option: 1 small can of diced tomatoes)
-a bowl (see picture) of corn kernels (from corn-on-the-cob, refer to collage)
- 0ne palm-full shell pasta
- dried basil and oregano
- fresh ground pepper
- 4 cups chicken broth or more, adjust accordingly
- some water, adjust accordingly

Is there lots of corn kernels to be added in my minestrone ? Remember to save some as garnish! Gives a slight crunch to the soup :) Yellow yellow magic power!

1. Saute onion. Add potatoes, celery, carrots, corn kernels, mix well for a few minutes
2. Add chopped tomatoes, add broth and 2 cups of water, bring to boil
3. Add dried shell pasta, cook 8-10mins, bring soup mixture to boil again
4. When boiling, bring down heat and allow simmer - till vegetables soften
5. Add basil and oregano when soup is almost ready
5. Add pepper and salt to taste
6. Garnish with remaining corn kernels

To me, minestrone is anytime. It is a refreshing soup in summer, a comforting soup in winter, a delectable soup for fall and welcoming soup for spring!

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hakka Mixed Stir Fry, a signature Hakka dish

Hakka Mixed Stir-Fry - 客家小炒
I did not cook this. But I want to introduce it to you. A stir fry dish that is signature in almost every Hakka restaurant or eatery. If you are a Hakka, and you cook at home, this is ONE dish you better perfect or learn to do as it is such a representative dish in the Hakka culture.

Hakka Mixed Stir-Fry (客家小炒 Ke Jia Xiao Chow) uses ingredients such as pork, dried cuttlefish, firm tofu (tau kwa, 豆干 ), celery, scallions or spring onions, ginger, garlic and red chili. These are all key ingredients. Missing one? -'s not Hakka Mixed Stir-Fry 客家小炒 anymore. Most of the ingredients are prepared and sliced to strip-forms to ensure consistency in cooking and presentation. The basic seasonings are simple - soy sauce and rice wine. I would think the cooking technique poses more challenges. How to get dried cuttlefish that are perfect to chew yet not rubbery and hard to bite. How to get tender juicy strips of pork within that few minutes of high heat frying. How to get a resultant dish which has no sauce/gravy and...yet not totally stripped DRY? The seqeuence of adding in the ingredients and the heat-control during cooking (mostly high heat required) is essential to getting the perfect textures required in this dish.

Now I have given you the nearest/closest English calling to this dish, and the official Chinese name, it's time you go search for some good recipes and try it out if you are interested. Or if you already know how to cook this in your daily rituals, post it and share the tips with us. :D

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

White Pepper Chinese Braised Noodles

You may have never guessed it but the highlight of this Fried Noodles or rather...Braised or Simmered Noodles is...white pepper - the mild heat you get in your noodles without any use of chilli.

Of course, you don't just get a hot pungent taste. There is a mixture of vegetables used that gives this noodle dish lots of flavor. The addition of pork will render it even more tasty. Fried Noodles almost on the verge of being braised, because the noodles is simmered with all the ingredients and the final appearance - kinda wet, instead of fried-and-dry.

Fried Noodles/Braised Simmered Noodles
-Half an onion, sliced
-cabbage, shredded
-1 carrot, shredded
-1 celery, julienned
-2 green peppers
-pork strips/slices slighty seasoned with rice wine, soy sauce, white pepper
-chinese greens
-dashes white pepper, adjust accordingly during cooking
2tsp sesame oil

Lovely vegetables that I am going to use for my Fried Noodles

-1tbsp soy sauce
-1tsp oyster sauce
-300 ml water/stock, adjust accordingly during cooking

1. Fry the pork strips then set aside
2. Use the oil in the pan and fry the vegetables - onions first, then add the rest, green peppers the last
3. Add in cooked pork strips and seasonings

4. Allow simmer for few minutes
5. Add in cooked noodles and allow to simmer again till water/stock/gravy reduce by half
6. Dash in white pepper(lots of it!), mix well. Drizzle sesame oil the last, turn off heat

End result - mild spicy soft noodles, fragrant and delicious!

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Vegetable pasta sauce - chunky, wholesome, homemade

For this homemade chunky vegetable pasta sauce, I get to bite on real chunky vegetables. Homemade pasta sauce is really easy (ok, I know Trader Joes has got irresistable $1.99 Traditional Marinara Sauce). Hmmph...its more of a choice and not about the price.

Chunky Vegetable Pasta Sauce
Ingredients: Sliced celery, sliced carrots, sliced onions, minced garlic, celery leaves chopped finely, dried oregano, dried basil, canned whole tomatoes, salt and pepper, chili pepper flakes

Directions: Heat some olive oil, add onions to saute. Then add celery and carrots and fry lightly. Add tomatoes and crush/mash them in the pan. Add some stock or water and allow sauce mixture to simmer. Salt and pepper to taste. Add celery leaves then finally, the dried herbs. A bit of chili pepper flakes if you like it a bit spicy.

This homemade sauce matches well with ground beef or seafood, your preference.

The sauce can also be prepared in excess and stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Need I say more? Look at the bright vivid colors, and wholesome ingredients - get ready!


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pork with Tofu, Shrimps, and Mushrooms

Imagine. Dream. Fantasize...the juicy texture of perfectly cooked ground pork, the springy bite in those shrimps, and soft silky tofu - oh, will they ever fight for "who's best" ? Their co-existence goes far without much elaboration. A burst of flavor and texture nuances that are never in conflict - that's a home-kept recipe of Pork with Tofu, Shrimps, and Mushrooms.

There are many ways to cook and vary this dish and this is my homemade version of Pork with Tofu, Shrimps, and Mushrooms. Using the essence of pork, earthy flavor of mushrooms, and that seafood unami in shrimps, combined with the soft silky texture of tofu - multiple flavors and texture profiles but never a single misfit.

Pork with Tofu, Shrimps, and Mushrooms
-1/4 lb minced/ground pork
-4-6 medium size shrimps/prawns, diced to small pieces, as shown
-2-3 shitake mushrooms, diced to small pieces, as shown
-1 small box silken tofu, cubed to bite size
-2 stalks scallions, cut to small pieces (Note: separating the bottom "white" harder scallion -portions and the "remaining green")
-1tsp dried shrimps (Note: secret ingredient for this dish)
-3 gloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1tsp crush ginger
-1tsp oyster sauce
-salt and white pepper
-water, adjust accordingly

1. Heat 1tbsp oil in frying pan. At low-medium heat, add sliced garlic, ginger, white portions of the scallions and fry quickly till fragrant (爆香有 三 宝: 葱 , 姜, 蒜 一 样 都不能少). Then add dried shrimps and fry till fragrant. Once fragrant, add pork - using the frying ladle to "disintegrate" the pork (Note: prevent clumping) and turn down the heat so that the pork will not toughen and become rubbery under high heat. (Tip: to prevent overcooking in pork, you can also dish up pork and set aside)
2. Add in shrimps and mushrooms, mix well. Pinch of salt. Once the shrimps turn color (to pink), add in tofu, oyster sauce and water that sufficiently covers the 3/4 of the ingredients mixture in the pan
3. Allow low heat simmering for about 5-8mins. (Note: If you have set aside the pork earlier on, add in halfway during this simmering process and continue to let it simmer for the rest of the duration. The pork will be cook through in the entire simmering process)
4. Once the sauce starts to reduce, generously dash in white pepper
5. When almost ready to be dish up, add in green portions of the scallions, mix well, turn off heat

Serve with steamed rice.

You may have never thought...pork and shrimps can harmonize so well!

Also check out shrimps mixed with ground chicken in these fried beancurd skin rolls, and fish mixed with shrimps in these cabbage rolls. Shrimps are so sociable, are they not? :P

P.S I did not cook this over the weekend but I wrote this post over the weekend - makes it a Weekend Snapshot for me :P It was voting weekend in Taiwan and we wanted to stay at home in the event of any protests or riots happening along the streets!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Nori shrimps. Seaweed-coated prawns fried my way.

If you are into panko-style or tempura-style fried shrimps(or prawns), these Deep Fried Nori Shrimps definitely taste as good. You will not get that over-exaggerated "kaa-zhi-kaa-zhi-" (listen...) as-you-bite (the deep-fried-breadcrumbs-effect) as in those perfectly fried golden tempura/panko shrimps but these Deep Fried Nori Shrimps are nowhere less worthy.

I like to incorporate plain-looking nori sheets in bite-size, roll-like snacks, such as these juicy seafood cabbage rolls, healthy tofu rolls and crispy shrimp rolls, if you have observed hard enough. If it's not anywhere obvious, I'm highlighting it to you again in these nori-showered fried shrimps. Heh heh...(pun intended with dialect connotation).

This is definitely a quick and easy party food/snack to prepare. You can buy them (the shrimps) in batches and cook (deep fry) them in batches. Then serve them in batches to the batches (your guests, I mean). And who says deep-fried food is all evil (see *Tips) ?

Deep Fried Nori Shrimps/Prawns
Ingredients: Thawed shrimps (seasoned lightly with some white pepper), potato flour, nori
Directions: Coat, then deep fry.

For this time, I opted for the [Corn Potato Flour-->Egg -->Panko/Breadcrumbs Loose Nori Strips] coating steps. Yes, a change in the typical panko combination will change the final texture and taste of this deep fried product. Using Potato Flour 地瓜粉 will give a more springy (QQ-with dialect connotation, again) texture. Nori adds color and unami flavor. Flip side: you don't get a huge chunk of crispy panko or tempura-batter crust when you bite on the shrimp.

But who says it's not a perfect party snack? It's much lighter (healthier) than those with layers of heavy deep-fried crust. It's not oily (picture above tells you all). You get to taste shrimp at an instant and not seaching for it in the midst of crust layers.

It's the shrimp, only the shrimp and nothing but the shrimp. Enjoy.

1. When you deep fry, do not use "re-used" oil or oil that has been kept from previous cooking
2. Make sure the oil is hot (170degC) so that the item you fry will not absorb the oil
3. Just do a light coat of flour
4. Set aside fried items on kitchen paper towel after frying, to absorb any excess oil

P.S As for the "squares" beneath, another post another day? :P

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bread, peanut butter, pork floss

Lunch !

When I run out of ingredients for lunch, I eat this -


and don't know what else to say!!!

What is the simplest lunch you ever made for yourself?

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kimchi pork. Cabbage kimchi and mother's love

Other than mild and warm wakame soup (Beauty Soup), seems that I can't get away with the "spice" factor when it comes to Korean food. Noodles or wontons and dumplings in a quick-fix Korean-based spicy broth works well for me, just as spicy seafood Korean tofu stew.

When I got those megapacks of kimchi from Costco Asia, Taiwan I know I will be in for more quick-fix tasty dishes. Stir Fry Kimchi Pork is definitely one of them. A savior when you are in a rush or dead tired to cook anything fancy, as this Kimchi Pork can be ready in less than 15 minutes.

Just kimchi PLUS pork, easy peasy ?

Stir Fry Kimchi Pork
Ingredients: Korean kimchi (baechu kimchi: cabbage kimchi) and thawed thin pork slices (option: A. use pork thin pork strips; B. substitute with chicken)

Directions: Lightly marinate/season pork with cooking (rice) wine or sake if you have. Heat up 1tbsp oil in frying pan. Add in pork slices and fry quicky. Then add in some kimchi, mix and fry well; and add some water to let the pork + kimchi simmer(low heat) for a few minutes. When the pork is cooked (turns color), turn off heat. Serve immediately. Good with steamed rice.

Note: You can also add gojuchang (Korean miso paste with chili) to the recipe and adjust the ratio of kimchi:gojichang accordingly to the level of spice and saltishness at your desire.

I did not add any more seasonings but this dish will not be bland tasteless if you know kimchi well (kimchi comes seasoned). You get a little spice in the pork, yet a dish not totally stripped off the natural sweetness/flavor of meat. Kimchi does not overpower and adds the finishing touch. A simple combination that works wonder.

Though you might have seen many variants of kimchi, using select vegetables such as cubed radish, scallions and cucumber, the earliest form of kimchi consisted of only cabbage, known as baechu kimchi.

The making of kimchi is integral in Korean tradition and culture. In Korean traditional homes, a bottle of base-seasonings for kimchi can be passed down for many generations - from great-grandmother to grandmother, to mommy then to daughter. Thus in Korea, a classic bottle of kimchi is made from a "marinade of mother's love" and since it is passed down generations, it has becomes a holding link of family love. Some even describe kimchi as a representation of mother's love because in the tradition of making baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), women will stroke each cabbage leaf with seasoning/marinade, and then allow the entire cabbage mixture to age and marinate. The act of stroking has been equated to a symbol of love - just like how a mother lovingly strokes her child. Isn't it sweet to know that little representative culture behind the vegetables you are eating?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pork Ribs Tea Soup. Noodles with Bak Kut Teh

The monologue continues...

In Singapore, they have this for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner

Brain: You are taking convenience too easily
Me: You meant... ... too seriously?
Brain: Whatever. The party is long over, 2-weeks over. You should get back on your feet. Why are you still using convenience meal kit ?
Me: Last few last few. I bought this to try, among their range of hawker fare products. I have to do a taste-test.
Brain: Is Bak Kut Teh (literally meaning Pork Bone Tea) about the PORK BONE...PORK RIBS ? ... ...

Brain (cont'd): ... ...or the TEA?
Me: Oh now, this "tea" is confusing. Are you referring to the "broth" -OR- the Chinese tea that is usually served with this pork rib soup dish ? Well, the broth of this pork rib soup is made from a mix of herbs and spices, and boiled together with pork bones for hours. Well, I don't keep stock of all the spices and herbs in my pantry. So I can't cook my Bak Kut Teh (BKT) from scratch. A convenience pack is really just one reach away! If you are meaning the tea, as in the drinking Chinese tea, served separately with this pork rib soup dish, that tea may be just a "mirage" - leading you into the belief ..or rather...illusion that Chinese tea will "dissolve" and get rid of the "fattiness" of this soup. You know, that [Chinese tea + "oil and fats" = "less oil and fats"] equation. Hmmph, I don't think Bak Kut Teh (Pork Rib Soup) is that unhealthy and "fatty". We are all talking about balance and leverage in foods, aren't we ?

Does this look spicy ? The spice comes from the pepper!

Me (cont'd): I was also attemtped by Little Corner when she showcased her BKT-flavored instant noodles. What can I do ?
Brain: So now you have used soba to go with your Bak Kut Teh...what is your verdict?

Slurp hard and slurp loud, just like how Japanese enjoy their ramen

Me: Well, although the Bak Kut Teh from Prima Taste is not that great, this is still my kind of Bak Kut Teh. The Teochew style Bak Kut Teh which is lighter in color and very peppery. The other variant which is darker in color (either more soy sauce used, or more medicinal herbs added) is typically not my preference. And I would like to add, adding noodles to eat with Bak Kut Teh is really ...errrrmm....S-M-A-R-T!

Me (cont'd): Similar to why most Japanese have to eat and slurp their ramen noodles nosily - so that the noodles pick up the tasty soup broth when they slurp hard and slurp loud *swooo...oooop* - it's this same technique to enjoy a good 'ol bowl of noodles dunked in superior broth. This case, soba dunked in Pork Rib Tea Soup can be one best way to enjoy the soup AND...the noodles! Yummy!

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Brussel sprouts recipes

Brussel Sprouts -

Well, are these brussel sprouts ? Have you seen brussel sprouts looking like this ?

I cannot believe they (in Taiwan) are selling these overly-grown brussel sprouts! Or should I say teenage mutant weirdo cabbage ? Well, it was labeled in Mandarin (I don't know what is brussel sprouts in Mandarin) but my eyes could not be deceived. Time to educate those farmers! They should know when to harvest their crops! Or is it me who is ignorant ?

Shouldn't brussel sprouts be looking like these -

There are two simple recipes for me, when it comes to brussel spouts - Chinese or Western style!

Steamed brussel sprouts (Chinese style)
-brussel sprouts, washed (for bigger "sprouts", cut a cross, 1/4 deep at the bottom of the "sprouts" so that it cooks faster during steaming)
-oyster sauce, to taste

1.Steam the brussel sprouts for 10 mins
2.Prepare oyster sauce; and toss the steamed sprouts in the sauce

Steamed brussel sprouts (Western style)
-brussel sprouts, washed (for bigger "sprouts", cut a cross, 1/4 deep at the bottom of the "sprouts" so that it cooks faster during steaming)
-salt and pepper

1.Steam the brussel sprouts for 10 mins
2.Place steamed sprouts in big bowl,top with some butter, and sprinkle salt and pepper, to taste. Toss it up !

Chinese style is simply with oyster sauce, and western style - with butter, salt and black pepper (add some bacon if you have)


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Savory congee, one pot rice porridge

A complete meal out from a pot!

Savory porridge
-1/2lbs minced pork or lean pork strips
-2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
-1tsp dried shrimps, pre-soak in water for 5mins to soften
-2 dried scallops, pre-soak in water for 5mins to soften
-2 large dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soak in water to soften, then squeezed to remove water, and sliced to thin slices
-4 cuttlefish balls, sliced then cut into thin strips (can replace with fish ball/fish cake)
-1 cup rice
-water accordingly
-salt and pepper to taste
-celery tips, or leaves, diced into very fine bits- garnish

1. In a stock pot, add in 1tbsp oil and at low-medium heat, fry the pork, garlic, dried shrimps, dried scallops, dried mushrooms, cuttlefish slices
2. When fragrant, add in the washed rice so that the rice grains gets imparted with the flavor of the ingredients through the oil and heat
3. Add in water and let the rice grains to slowly cook(simmer) to congee/porridge, stirring it at intervals (Note: it depends how you like your porridge - if you like it thicker and viscous, you do not have to add so much water or otherwise). This will take 15mins or more.
4. Season with salt and white pepper to taste

Through the slow cooking of rice grains in the pot with all the ingredients right from the start, PLUS the stirring of the rice mixture at intervals during simmering, these rice grains have broken up so much and the porridge/congee is so smooth to down. While I know that some congee like this has been cooked so smooth (cannot even see whole grains anymore!) by using a mixture of rice grains (broken grains, pearl grains etc.), the constant stirring method works well for me too. My, do you think I have cooked my porridge/congee smooth, or needs more improvement? :P

One spoonful loaded with pork, mushroom, dried scallops

The technique used in this Savory Congee, or 咸粥 ~ Xian Zhou is new to me especially when cooking porridge/congee is concerned. Usually, I would start cooking porridge by boiling rice grains in water, then add in the ingredients. But this time, I pre-fried the ingredients to expel the aroma and flavor (爆香), then also add in rice grains to mix with these pre-fried ingredients so that the final taste of the porridge/congee is unified, in terms of depths of aroma and savory flavors.


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Monday, March 03, 2008

Cilantro recipes + an all-coriander eatery

Coriander, also known as cilantro or "Phakchi" in Japan. Do you like this pungent herb? What is pungent to some, is aromatic to others (or at least for me). Yes, I like cilantro. I would be excited if I could have an all-coriander experience in this Tokyo's first all-coriander eatery. Check out the video (Source: Reuters).

Well, if you cannot be there, maybe you can try one of these cilantro recipes I have in my collection:

Mango Salso with Cilantro
Steamed Halibut with Cilantro
Lemon Linguine with Cilantro
Cilantro and Pork Omelette
Potato Patties with Cilantro

As an ingredient or just garnish, cilantro is my kind of herb and this herb + some recipes, I will share in Weekend Herb Blogging, taking place at Anna's Morsels and Musings this week.

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