Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Eggplant with ground beef

I made this the other night on a whim and am quite proud of how it turned out. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos, but it's pretty simple. Every other time I tried to make anything with eggplants in it, I always messed up. This time, I soaked the eggplants in salt water for over 30mins and it turned out great!

1 large eggplant cut into 1-2 inch long triangles, and maybe 1/2 inch thick
1/2 lb ground beef
dark soy sauce
rice wine
dried red chili peppers
Chinese chili sauce
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
1 chopped green onion

Soak the cut up eggplant pieces in salt water for a while. I just let it soak and forgot about it for at least 30 minutes, maybe an hour.

In a big wok, heat up the oil and toss in the garlic.
Stir fry the ground beef until it is brown. Make sure to break it up so that it is in little bits. Add the rice wine while cooking.

Strain the eggplant. Put the eggplant in the wok and stir, making sure that all the pieces are coated in oil and mixed in with the ground beef.

Then add the soy sauce, chili peppers, and chili pepper sauce. Stir it so the sauce gets on everything. You should be doing all of this on medium heat.

Now turn the heat down to low and put the wok cover on top to let it steam.
Steam until the eggplants are soft.

Add the chopped green onions before serving.

As always, I'm terrible about giving exact measurements, because I think so much of Chinese cooking is by look and feel. Also, I can't say that this is an exact recipe from my family, but the taste is quite similar to what I remember eating and really enjoying. Particularly how the eggplants turned out. This way, the eggplants should have soaked up the flavors of the sauce without getting super oily. It's a spicy and heavy in flavor! I think pretty much characterizes the Hunan province cooking I grew up with.

I might make this as a part of our menu over Christmas break in Dallas!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Steamed Fish

It took me a long time to venture into steaming fish, and when I did it, I found that it was surprisingly easy. Seafood can be intimidating because they have to be cooked just right--not too well done, but good enough. They also have to retain the moisture in the meat. But that's what makes it so easy too. It doesn't take very long.

This is a very basic way to steam fish, and it's done a lot in my family. There are lots of variations to it and you can use different kinds of fish. I think best with Salmon or river fish. Here, I used trout.

1 fish
(I eyeball the soy sauce, vinegar and rice wine. This is just a guestimate.)
soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 garlic, cut in chunks
spring onion
ginger (optional)
this flavorful dried black bean (optional and may be hard to find)

Put the fish in a bowl.
Pour the soy sauce, vinegar and rice wine into the bowl, all over the fish
Sprinkle the other ingredients on and around the fish.
In this picture I cut the fish in half because otherwise it wouldn't fit.
And it's best to keep the head and tail on.
You can cut off the hard fin parts, but Chinese food is really about eating all of the fish.

Oh I also added fresh basil leaves--that's also a variation.
Instead you can also add red pepper flakes.

Put the bowl directly into the steamer.
Steam for 10 minutes. It may take longer, but check occasionally.
You can poke it with a chopstick to check. If you see the inside starting to flake, it is done. Really, it should look a little underdone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Slow cooked chicken thighs in soy sauce

This is a variation of the Chinese dish, 红烧肉 (soy sauce stewed meat?). Normally I've had it with small pieces of chicken or chunks of fatty pork. However, I also like to use this method to cook chicken thighs. I also decided to use the slow cooker (a new favorite) because how easy it is to just toss everything in and let it cook!
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 3 slices of ginger (be conservative, the ginger tends to dominate the flavor)
  • fresh basil leaves
  • soy sauce (like I said in the previous post, I'm terrible at measurements. I just go by feel. So I'd say pour the soy sauce all over the chicken about an inch deep in the pot. I'll try to measure it out next time.)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • a capful of rice wine
  • 2 jalapenos, sliced (not totally necessary, but I like adding a bite to it)
Put the thighs in first. Mix the brown sugar into the soy sauce first then pour it all in. Pour in the water and rice wine. Place the cloves of garlic, ginger, basil leaves and jalapeno slices on and around the thighs.

Allow it to cook in the slow cooker on high 4 to 5 hours.
You can also do this in a pan, using legs or wings.
In a pan:
1. Heat the oil and toss in the garlic first. Let garlic cook till you can smell it.
2. Put chicken pieces into pan
3. toss in all other ingredients
4. pour in soy sauce (less than what you would put in the slow cooker)
The chicken doesn't need to be fully immersed in the soy sauce--you don't need that much, just sitting in a pool of it.
5. Add in the water, etc...
6. Reduce the heat to a low-medium and let it simmer
Turn the meat every so often until the middle is fully cooked.

I prefer the slow cooker because it really lets the flavors soak into the meat!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Adventures in cooking

Here's another blog from me, but I'll tell you why this time it's different. I tend to start blogs when I have time and end up forgetting about them when I'm swamped. However, I've been cooking quite regularly and cooking a lot more Chinese food too! I imagine that it will be easier to keep up with a blog about food that I make on a regular basis.

It's funny. I had never thought of myself as much of a cook until I moved to Seattle. I dabbled in a dish or two when I was in Taiwan, but cooking was never regular as it was always easier and even cheaper to eat out. Cooking in Seattle, the first year, began as a necessity. Now with Jason, it has become quite enjoyable and a hobby we share!

Now that I no longer have regular access to good Chinese food, I have to try and make it myself. It also helps that almost everything I make is new to Jason, and he absolutely loves my cooking. It's such a huge motivation to cook more and become a better cook when there is someone else there to enjoy it. (But don't assume that I do all the cooking. Jason is the baker in the house. He makes all the breads, scones, pancakes...) We differ in our cooking styles too. While he's the scientist, measuring everything out, following every line of a recipe, I go with my gut feeling--a dash of this, a pinch of that!

Well, enough of the intro. Here is what I made tonight:

1. Pork ribs and bitter melon soup 苦瓜排骨汤
2. Stir fried cabbage with tofu and red peppers 辣椒炒白菜

Here's how I made them. Now, because I don't really follow recipes, I can't write them either. OK it's not that I don't follow recipes, they're just more of a rough guide. I sometimes look one up to get a general sense of how long something should be cooked, what herbs might go in the dish, but then I end up adding my own ideas later. So here's a rough idea of how I made these two dishes.

1. Pork ribs and bitter melon soup
I bought one package of pork ribs. I boiled a pot of water, threw in the ribs and turned the heat down to a simmer. I added a few slices of ginger and a few cloves of garlic. As the ribs cooked, I scooped out the fat that began to collect at the top. Allow the ribs to cook for at least 2.5 hours, or until the meat becomes really soft and start to fall off the bones.

If you've never seen a bitter melon before, they look like a light green knobby version of a cucumber. Cut it in half and you'll notice that there are seeds down the middle. Slice it open like you would a bell pepper to get the seeds out. Cut them into chunks or slices. I heard that if you soak them in salt water first they're not as bitter, so I did that as the ribs cooked.

About an hour and a half into cooking the ribs, I added the bitter melon. Basically, the longer the bitter melon stays in the broth the softer it gets and the more the bitterness gets into the broth. I thought it gave the broth a nice kick.

Add salt to taste, and you're done!

2. Stir fried cabbage with tofu and peppers

I'm not a chef and am "just learning to be Chinese" (hehe), so I have no idea whether these two dishes are actually supposed to go together. My goal tonight was to make the soup, but figured we couldn't just have the one dish! So I decided to make a dish that had a stronger flavor to go with the rather mild-flavored soup. I've attempted this dish before and thought it was pretty easy.

This is a Sechuanese style dish, and having had it before I have a general idea of how it SHOULD taste. This is how I make a lot of my food the first time--based on what I had before.

1 small cabbage, cut roughly into chunks (by the way, this dish works best with the round cabbage, not the long Chinese cabbage).
Fried tofu cubes (you can buy a package of already deep fried tofu from a Asian market), cut in halves
Some dried whole red peppers
Red pepper flakes
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Heat some vegetable oil in a wok (I never use butter when cooking Chinese food)
Throw the tofu cubes first, let it cook for a bit
Then throw in the cabbage
Medium heat seemed to work.
Pour in the soy sauce--enough so that it kind of coats/colors the cabbage
Mix it around so the tofu soaks up the soy sauce
Shake pepper flakes into the mix, enough so that you see speckles of it on the cabbage leaves
Then add in about a capful of rice vinegar. Yes, I said a capful. Because sometimes when I don't know how much of a sauce to put in, and I want to be conservative I just fill up the cap of the bottle and pour it in. It should give just enough of a sour kick to the cabbage to bring out its sweetness.

I guess you can tell by how I write this, how I cook. It really frustrates Jason when I pretty much can't give him proper instructions.

Next time I will write about a couple of dishes I've attempted in the past and the search for the right Chinese ingredients!