Thursday, 3 January 2008

Wok with me

Posted by Bonita

As I've mentioned before, it's not often that I cook a full-out Chinese meal, despite being Chinese, since I tend to find it a bit more complicated than Western dishes. It's not to say that it's technically more difficult (as long as you stick with the more simple dishes); it's just that I find it a bit of a nuisance to make two or three different dishes to complete a meal, which makes no sense when I'm often cooking for one. So, when I offered to make dinner last night, and a Chinese meal at that, my mom was surprised but was eager to see how I would fare in the kitchen on my own. As my family headed off to the ski hills for the day, it was my duty to have dinner on the table when they got home.


With all the heavy food we've been eating lately, I wanted something more along the lighter side that would also be easy to make. I absolutely love tofu, and there is nothing more simple than Steamed Tofu with Soya Sauce drizzled over top. There is one brand that I absolutely love and always buy: Vitasoy San Sui Tofu. For some reason, there is something superior to the taste of Vitasoy San Sui tofu; it's really smooth with a delightful soy flavour to it. The Vitasoy San Sui series comes in three different textures: silken, firm and extra-firm. I often buy silken and firm. The silken tofu is best for steaming because of it's smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture. You can also use the silken tofu for dessert tofu by making a simple syrup with some ginger in it. I steamed the tofu and topped it off with a sauce made from light soy, dark soy, sugar and green onions.


Next I made some Braised Napa Cabbage in Milk Sauce. We usually put in some ham, but since we didn't have any ham around, I thinly diced up a slice of pancetta instead. Yes, it may sound weird to add panceetta to an Chinese dish, but considering pancetta is very similar to a kind of Chinese ham, I thought it would be okay. It did turn out nicely, thank goodness! A little east-meets-west never hurts.


Lastly, I made Fried Prawns in Superior Soy, which was so easy to make. It simply requires you to pan-fry the prawns, and then make the sauce, which consists of soy sauce, sugar and water. So easy, and the sauce was especially delicious! Needless to say, my parents were impressed that I could actually dish out a Chinese meal and are happy to know that I'm not a totally lost cause (lol)!

Fried Prawns in Superior Soy
Serves 2
  • 8-10 prawns, with heads
  • 1 tsp each mashed shallot and mashed garlic
  • 1 tbsp spring onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Chinese cooking wine
  • 2 tbsp light soy
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  1. Remove the intestines from the prawns. Cut away the feelers and legs but retaining the shells. wash thoroughly and wipe dry. slit slightly the back and marinate with the salt, cornstarch and some freshly ground black pepper. Fry in oil till about 80 percent cooked, take out and drain away the oil.
  2. Mix the light soy, sugar, water and a bit of freshly ground black pepper together in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoon oil and saute the mashed garlic and mashed shallot until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the prawns, sprinkle with a bit of cooking wine and add the soy mixture. Fry well until the shrimp are cooked all the way through and the sauce becomes thick. Dish up and sprinkle with the spring onion. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Becoming a Domestic Goddess

Posted by Bonita

Santa certainly has been very good to me this year, with the addition of a new toy to add to our collection of kitchen gadgets. After yearning for one for a good couple of months, we finally got one: a KitchenAid Professional 600 stand-mixer. The evening (or should I say morning) I returned home, I was flipping through the flyers and saw the ad for the mixer. Screaming in excitement at my mom, we roused my dad out of bed early in the morning, went out and got our lovely new mixer. What's great is that it came with a bonus pasta maker!


The angle of the photo is hard to see, but the machine is slightly bigger, definitely heavier (with the bigger and beastlier motor! :D) and a larger bowl to hold more dough (and to make my life much easier when I add in my dry ingredients--this way things are more likely to get into the bowl rather than all over my counter!). The one downfall is that with the larger motor, it makes for a noisier machine. But hey, I'd take the noise any day if it means that this can double the amount of cookies and knead even the most uncooperative dough imaginable.

With a new machine in hand, I decided to go ahead and make some bread. Went with a simple French Country Bread, since my dad really likes it. The machine kneaded it really nicely; I especially like the design of the new dough hook, since it's in the shape of a corkscrew. Personally, I think it makes for more efficient kneading, but then again, I could be bias!


I also decided to let the bread proof in these little baskets lined with a flour-dusted teatowel in order for the bread to hold its shape while it proofs. The method worked, and I got these gorgeous round loaves rather than flattened out ones. Still need to work on my slashing method though.... The loaves came out beautiful though, so I can't really complain much. Beautiful golden brown with a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy crumb...delicious!


Other baking endeavours these past two weeks included lots of cookies, including these lovely Hazelnut, Cinnamon, Cardamom and Raspberry Sandwich Cookies from Kate Zuckerman's book The Sweet Life. I really love the combination of hazelnuts and cinnamon; it's such a sexy and sensual combination with the incredible nuttiness of the hazelnuts and the warm spiciness of the cinnamon. It was no wonder then that I was dying to try this recipe for awhile. I absolutely adore this book; it's full of really interesting recipes with new combinations of different flavours to make for interesting desserts. Zuckerman really makes things easier by breaking down the recipes step by step, so even the most inexperienced bakers can achieve success in the kitchen. The cookies turned out really nice. The dough didn't give me too much trouble as was rolling it out and cutting the shapes except for a few expected cracks here and there. The nuttiness and spiciness of the cookies balanced really nice with the raspberry jam, and it had a really nice texture to it with the crunchiness of the nuts and raspberry seeds and the melt-in-your-mouth buttery cookie. I also tried this with blackberry jam, which made for an equally delightful experience!


Another cookbook recipe I tried out was the Bacon and Egg Pie from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I never really was a fan of Nigella until this year when I started watching her on the Food Network. I must admit, she definitely has an aura about her that really draws you in, and her simple, quicky, homey recipes are a delight when you actually come to appreciate them.

I don't bake pies very often because I find that pie dough is a pain to work with sometimes. If you don't get it right, you'll end up with a tough crust, a soggy mess or a crust that just won't roll because it's constantly cracking into a million little pieces. However, this dough was really easy to put together since I just basically threw all my ice-cold ingredients into a food processor and whizzed it around until it came together. I prepared that the night before, so all I had to do in the morning was fry off some pancetta and onions, beat the eggs and bake the pie. I added extra eggs to my pie and reduced the amount of pancetta.


I was surprised that my pie turned out as nice as it did. The crust was nice and flaky and held up nicely. The filling was also nice too, although I might mix it with a different kind of meat (perhaps ham?) next time to cut down on the amount of salt. However, a slice of this pie with some dressed green salads made for a simple but delicious New Year's lunch.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Holiday Feasting

Posted by Bonita

My lack of updating certainly does mean I have been unproductive in the cooking department. Rather, I've found myself constantly in the kitchen this holiday season that I haven't really had much time to blog about it until now. Christmas and New Year's has gone and went in a flash, and we enjoyed great food all around. This year for Christmas, we've decided to skip the turkey, since it's so overdone and none of us in the family would really be missing it. Thus, out with the turkey and our mom's delicious Wild Rice & Chestnut stuffing and in with cornish hens and gnocchi. Yes, we decided to go for cornish hens this year in place of the turkey, which would result in a much more tender and moist meat as opposed to the turkey.



Christmas dinner started off with a Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Soup served with some freshly baked French Country Bread. The soup was nice, with a hint of sweetness from the roasted squash and an interesting contrast from the roasted garlic. I made the soup the day before to save myself some time, so that all I had to was reheat it on the stove and then add a swirl of heavy cream right before serving. Sadly, the blender decided to give me some trouble as I was blending my soup, and rather than try to bust the blender, the soup came out a bit chunkier and thicker than I wanted too. And despite it's murky-looking colour (thanks to the leeks) and the texture, the taste wasn't too bad.


Rather than the regular stuffing we do, or simple mashed potatoes, I wanted to make something different to go with the cornish hens. In the end, I thought I would try making gnocchi, since I've actually been meaning to try making them for awhile. After doing a bit of searching around on the web, I came across this recipe over at fiordizucca which piqued my interest: Porcini Gnocchi with Speck and Zucchini. What's interesting about this recipe is that the dough isn't your typical gnocchi dough, which is rolled out. Rather, this dough stays really moist and sticky and tells you to shape the gnocchi with a spoon. I opted to do away with the spoon and get my hands messy by shaping them by hand and then pressing each gnocchi against the tines of a fork to get the more traditional look of gnocchi. It indeed was time consuming, but what's so great is that you can freeze them and have a batch for some other day.


While the original recipe asked for speck, I substitued some diced pancetta instead. I also stirred in a dash of heavy cream to the sauce right before I tossed in the gnocchi again, to help thicken the sauce and make it creamier. Despite this being my first time making gnocchi, it wasn't too bad!


The gnocchi went nicely with the main star of the evening: Herb Roasted Cornish Hens with Pomegranate Glaze. I didn't really get into pomegranates until a few years ago. What's so great about them is that they are at their peak around this season, and fit right into the holiday spirit with it's bright, ruby-red colour. The glaze was made by boiling down some pomegranate juice with some red wine and chicken stock. I further thickened the glaze a bit with some cornstarch solution. The hens turned out beautifully: a crispy skin with a moist centre. The sweetness and tartness of the sauce complimented the hens very nicely. We served the hens with the gnocchi and some steamed green beans.


With all the heavy food from the past few days, we thought we would go a bit lighter for our New Year's Eve dinner by taking it to the sea. We got some lovely fresh mussels and some haddock and steamed in the oven (using the bag method) with some white wine and saffron. Really simple and fast but it makes for a fancy-looking and delicious dish. The taste is really clean and fresh, since there aren't too many ingredients that fight to take over the seafood. Rather, the mussels and haddock are able to take centre stage without being outshined by anything else, and the white wine makes a lovely broth with the juices of the mussels.


The meal ended off some Lobster Tarragon Crêpes: I steamed a few lobsters, took out the meat and then added it to a sauce made from shallots, white wine and tarragon. The crêpes also had some chopped tarragon added to it. This dish was also very simple to make as I prepared everything the day before. All I had to last night was assemble everything, pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes (and to melt the bocconcini which I added to the crêpes before rolling them up) and serve them alongside some broccoli and cauliflower and beets.

Wishing everyone a 2008 full of good health, prosperity and happy eating!!! :)