Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sweet & Sour Pork Ribs (Sichuan style)

When I came to the US at age 13, my grandma made sure I was bringing with me not just the clothes in my luggage and their dreams of me having a better life, but something from home as well... something to remind me of my birth home, of the loved ones I left behind, especially the love she and Grandpa had for me.

For weeks before my departure, Grandma would make me practice making Chinese dumplings from scratch - mixing dough, turning dough into dumpling skins, and mix ground meat with vegi and sauce. I made so many dumplings that I couldn't bear to eat another for six months afterwards. :-)

In my luggage, she also packed two Sichuan homecooking books. My home province (state) is called Sichuan and famous for its delicious and spicy food. She didn't have enough time to teach me everything, so this is the backup plan (maybe?).

These two books have moved with me from state to state over the past 20 years, always found their way onto my bookshelves, quietly sleeping... until now.

I took them out last week and started bookmarking recipes that Danny & I both would like. They are now filled with colorful tags of possibilities. To start off, I tried the Sweet & Sour Pork Ribs.

Before we begin, just note quick note - Chinese measurement is very different from US ones. These are native Chinese scales passed down from ancient days and are still used today. However, since I am not familiar with the precious quantity, I pretty much wing it, with a bit Chinese cooking experience behind me. I'll try to give you the best judgement of scale as I can in this post, because the ribs turned out EXCELLENT! :-)

Step 1: - Babyback ribs, about 1.5 pds. If you can, ask the store deli to cut the ribs horizontally in half first, then you can separate each rib by the bone at home (as shown in photo below). This will allow the meat to absorb plenty of juice later.

Step 2: - Cut 1 tbs of ginger and garlic in flat thin pieces. Hand split 4 or 5 dried red pepper. Mix them with 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/3 cup of soy sauce in a small bowl. (If you have cooking wine, add 1/2 tsp of it.)

Step 3:
- Put 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a wok on high heat; wait until it's 60% hot to add the ribs.
- Stir the ribs so all sides are brown and no more water from the meat is present.

Step 4:
- Add the bowl containing ginger, garlic, dried red pepper, salt, and soy sauce. Stir to mix it with the ribs.
- Add 1 pd of chicken broth to the wok, or the appropriate amount to cover the ribs. Mix well.

Step 5:
- Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 50 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid things stick to the bottom of the wok.
- Towards the last 10 minutes of the 50 minutes, stir every 5 mins.
- Cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Stir every 2 mins. By now, all the broth is cooked way and evaporated.

Step 6:
- Add 2 tbs of sugar, 1/4 cup of vinegar, 5 green scallions (cut into 2 inches) to wok. Stir well with ribs.
- Mix 1 tbs of cornstarch and 1/4 of water in a bowl. Add to the wok and stir well.
- Taste the sauce. Add more sugar or vinegar if stronger taste is desired.
- When all the liquid is cooked away, your ribs are ready!

Step 7: - Serve with rice and your favorite vegi. The meat should be soft and full of seasoning. Don't be shy, use your fingers! ^_^

Red wine compliment Chinese dishes well, especially these tasty ribs!

If you happen to have leftovers, store them in the container in the fridge. Re-heat in microwave for 1.5 minutes (or less depending on quantity) and they are just as good.

Enjoy and let me know how yours turn out.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Surpemes de Volaille Archiduc (Chicken Breasts with Paprika, Onions, and Cream)

Three years ago I had the pleasure of visiting France for the first time. I had the amazing luck of staying in Lyon, the Capital of French Food, for a week. My friends who lived in downtown Lyon took me everywhere and showed me the best Lyon had to offer. Let me tell you, churches were nice, fashion was exquisite, but the best was its heavenly food.

In returning to the US, I bought Julia Child's The 40th Anniversary Edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Last night, I attempted her Chicken Breasts with Paprika, Onions, and Cream recipe. (Pg. 268-269)

"Supreme" in French cooking is the "breast of chicken when it is removed raw from one side of the bird in a
skinless, boneless piece". During the day I had joked with Reneed that the chickens are "Supreme" or heavenly, which she totally agreed because the end result is so heavenly. :-)

Step 1: - Since I made Chicken Cordon Bleu last week, all of the ingredients were already in my fridge. Amazing! I substituted lemon with lime juice and port with vermouth. (Thank god we drink martinis!)

Step 2: - I thawed the chicken and rubbed it with lime juice, salt and pepper.

Step 3: - I blanched the minced onions and cooked it with butter, salt, and paprika, for 10 minutes on low heat, with pan covered.

Step 3 (con'd): - After 10 minutes, the onion should be translucent, but not browned. All the liquid have evaporated by now.

Step 4: - In the bowl I mixed chicken bouillion (instead of the beef bouillon the recipe asked for) and vermouth. In the measuring cup is the heavy whipping cream.

Step 5: - Melt butter in the oven-proof pan and roll the breasts in the butter.

Step 6: - Add the cooked onion and paprika to the pan and lay breasts on top.

Step 7: - Cover the pan with tight lid (or tin foil) and bake in high heat. The recipe did not give a temperature, so I tried 400 degrees. I put it in for 6 minutes as instructed, but it was still a bit raw, so back in the oven they go for another 3 minutes. "When the meat is springy to the touch it is done." (I think mine took longer because I covered with tin foil instead of something tight that could hold in the heat better.) The safe way is to put in for 6 minutes and check. If not done, then try 2 minute durations. By the time the chicken was done, it was genuinely "springy to the touch".

Step 8: - I pour the chicken bouillon and vermouth to a pot with butter and boiled over high heat until liquid is syrupy. Then added the whipping cream until the new mixture is thickened too.

Step 9: - Lay the breasts on a plate, along with the sautéed onions. Add any side vegi dish you desire.

Step 10: - Pour sauce onto the breasts and now you have yourself a dinner!! A delicious one I hope...

... because we did! ^_^
A side note: I used cauliflower for side dish. Not knowing exactly what to do with it, I
--> Cooked it in boiling water for couple of minutes
--> Drained the water, added a small stick of butter, added parsley, basil and mixed.
--> They were still a bit hard and not tasty, so I added them into the sautéed onion & paprika pan (which by now is empty but had enough sauce still lingering), added 1/4 cup of water and let it simmer in medium-high heat. After the water is boiled away, the cauliflower was soft and the leftover seasoning added a real nice complimentary flavor too. Not bad for winging it. :-)

Bon Appetit!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Naked Apple Pie (real name: Fruit & Nut Baked Apples)

I am blessed with good people in my life - family, friends and even strangers that are eager to help.

Several years ago, two friends of ours took pity on us starving kids and got me a Crock-Pot for my birthday. I have since made many delicious stews with it and it gradually became as important as rick cooker for me. (If you are Asian, you know how much rice cooker is part of your life, and equally important as romantic relationships. LOL)

In supporting my Crock-Pot "hobby", Danny's mom gave us a Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Recipes book for Christmas. It's a small book with two dozen plus recipes; the best part is that every recipe only has four major ingredients.

Armed with the pot and the recipe, I set out to cook my first dessert, ever!!

All ingredients purchased.

* Couldn't find Rome Beauty or Jonathan apples, but the store-suggest Honeycrisp was great!
* I forgot lemon juice, so lime juice would have to do.

Step 1 - Take out the apple core and make enough room for stuffing-goodness.

Step 2: - Combine chopped apricots, walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon together.

Step 3: - Filling!
Step 4: - Put 1/4 cup of water in the Crock-Pot and stack the apples. Cook for 3 hours on low.

Ready for the taste test!

One for you, one for me... or maybe two for me. :-)

So good looking!



Chicken Cordon Bleu II

While aimlessly browsing for something easy but tasty as the first dish of the year, I went on and found Chicken Cordon Bleu II. It looked fairly simple - few ingredients, few preparation, short cooking time... and the five star rating from its two thousand reviews made it a no brainer.

I read some reviews and followed MEGBY's variation posted on Nov. 3, 2003.

Step 1: - Pound/Jaccard the chicken breast; add ham and Swiss cheese in the middle and secure with toothpicks.

Step 2: - Brush chicken with egg, bread with breadcrumbs, then fry in butter until both sides are golden brown.

Step 3: - Put in oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Step 4: - Mix heavy whipping cream, white wine, chicken bouillon granules and cornstarch in a bowl. Simmer in a pot for 10 minutes or until boil right before the chicken is ready from the oven.

Step 5: - Blanch some great Sugar Snap Peas; season with black pepper.

Now, your dinner awaits. :-)

It was yummy! (First time I liked my own cooking)

The recipe I copied & pasted, with the second steps already incorporating the variation I mentioned earlier.


My first attempts into the World of Cooking!

All my life, cooking was something someone else did... my job? It was playing around in the kitchen when I was young in China; when I was older, it was leaning over friends' kitchen counters, have a vino or two, catch up over good conversations, and watch the world of raw stuff being turned into dishes of delicious heavens.

While working the past ten years, cooking was always a chore - it only served to maintain my earthy body to continue functioning, though I've always admired people that can cook and have the patience to cook.

Maybe it's passing 30, maybe it's the final realization that corporate world isn't quite what was advertised in our childhood or adolescent, or maybe it's my recent layoff that triggered something deep in the brain, I have recently grown a fondness for cooking.

It started as part of the new year/post-layoff goal - dance more, start yoga, reconnect with friends, and try my hand in cooking.

So, from here on, the posts will be my juvenile dinners, desserts and maybe some appetizers.

The goal - cook as many different type of dishes from a variety of sources for as long as I can.

The joy is in the cooking!

Thank you for your support in advance! And a special thanks to Danny, for he is my guinea pig, my biggest supporter, and one that is not afraid of telling me the truth (when the food doesn't taste as good as Renee's... really, no hard feelings! LOL) ^_^


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Chicken Pasta Salad

First, let me say sorry for the bad photos. My camera battery died (why can't I remember to keep it charged?) AGAIN so I had to use my crappy cell phone camera that has no flash. (Thanks, Samsung)

This is a dish that Chris learned from his Mom. She made it when he was growing up and he wanted me to try it.

Ok so we started with some really amazing Heirloom Tomatoes that we got at a local farm stand. Heirloom Tomatoes have a much better flavor than your boring old beefsteak tomato. We also got a few English cucumbers at the grocery store. We only ended up using the one large tomato because that was enough for the dish.

Next we pan seared some chicken breast in olive oil to get a nice crust on it. We only seasoned with kosher salt and some black pepper.

I made a vinaigrette with two cloves of garlic, pressed, half of a lemon's worth of juice, kosher salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh thyme. Just whisk it in a bowl. I used a little more vinegar than olive oil and about double the amount of olive oil than lemon juice. (Algebra, anyone?)

So everything gets cut into bite sized pieces and then everyone goes into a big bowl with one can of black olives (drained) and one pound of rotini pasta (cooked al dente, we use Dreamfield pasta). Only use enough of the vinaigrette to coat everything, you don't want a big pool of it at the bottom of the bowl.

You can eat this salad hot/warm like we did for dinner or put it in the fridge and eat it cold. I usually take the left overs for lunch the next day and I don't heat it up. It is really refreshing and has a nice bite from the balsamic and lemon. We also added a little grated Parmesan cheese, but I really didn't taste it at all and you can save the calories and just leave it out. We might try adding some feta next time, but probably to the plate and not to the big bowl because I don't think it will hold up well in the fridge.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kitchen Project: Magnetic Spice Rack

Chris and I used to have all of our spices in the cabinet over the stove on a lazy susan. The problem was that we had more than really should fit on there so when you would spin it sometimes one in the back would get stuck and then a whole bunch would come flying out at you. Also, it was really hard for me to reach over the pot/pan that was being used on our gas stove without burning myself or being in fear that I would catch my shirt on fire.

We learned from Alton Brown on Good Eats episode "Spice Capades" that you really shouldn't keep your spices above your stove because the heat is not good for them. AB stores his spices in different size round tins that he writes on with what I think is a grease pencil and sticks to the inside of his cabinets with velcro. (I tried to find a picture, but I cannot. You can YouTube the episode though if you want to, its a good one)

I loved the idea of having my spices in tins and having easy access to them while I'm cooking. I went searching for magnetic spice racks and found them to be expensive and generally they didn't come with enough tins for the number of spices we have. Then I came across Amber's blog over at She made a magnetic spice rack out of magnetic knife racks from Ikea and some tins from Leigh Valley. I thought 'Awesome!' I showed it to Chris, he loved it and so we got the magnetic knife racks from Ikea and ordered the tins from Leigh Valley... and I hated the tins when they came. They were thin and small and cheesy looking (they looked so great in Amber's pictures! I was really shocked.) So I sent them back. Leigh Valley was really great about it and returned my full price paid plus shipping to me in cash. So then I went on the hunt for tins... and I searched and searched and searched until I finally found these from Specialty Bottle :

And I absolutely love them. They were inexpensive, sturdy and (most importantly) good looking. I put all of our spices into the tins (with a few exceptions that we decided were 'baking spices' and so they went into the baking cabinet such as poppy seeds, pumpkin pie spice & caraway seeds). I wrote the names on the bottom with a black Sharpie marker. Then Chris got to do the manly thing and drill holes in the wall (after of course measuring three times and writing all over the wall in pencil, very necessary for a good home improvement project) and hang up the knife racks and then....!!!

Voila! They were done! I purposely did not straighted out the tins when I took that picture because I'm trying really hard not to be OCD about the fact that they are not at perfect right angles. They look great! Really colorful and very much a piece of usable art. We put the spices we use a lot of (oregano, basil, parsley) and our spice mixtures (Chris' Spice Rub and our homemade Taco Seasoning) into the big tins and all the other spices into the small tins. We also have about 12 extra small and two extra big tins for expansion in the future. Its been about two weeks since we put them up and they are really convenient since that is the counter we use to cook on. We made sure that I could reach them without a problem (or a step stool :P) before we put them up, so they really are at the perfect height.

We really love it.