Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jook! It's Congee!

Jook is the Cantonees name for Congee; or what I like to call, an asian version of Risotto.  Although, while Risotto is more synonymous with fine dining cuisine, Congee is a staple dish in the asian household, and can be made as simple or elaborate as you like, depending on what you put into it.  As rice is a mild, easily digestive, yet filling grain, this porrige-like soup is the perfect meal to serve to those who are suffering from colds, digestive problems, and other ailments that where the stomach is sensitive.  My earliest memories of childhood include my Mom giving me a warm bowl of plain Congee, salted lightly, to comfort me when I was sick.  It also reminds me of our family trip to Hong Kong when I was 8 or 9, where my aunt made a huge pot of Congee, and I ate, like, 6 bowls of it.  It's basically a story my relatives like to recount, every time I see them.  Then there was the time when I got my wisdom teeth pulled, and all I could manage to eat was Congee.  And basically, every Sunday when I was growing up, my Mom would make a delicious chinese lunch, with fried noodles, and various types of Congee.  It's probably my all-time favorite dish.

For the longest time, I could never make Congee right.  The consistency was always off.  But, recently, with the help of my Mom and a friend, I found an alternate way of making Congee, that actually works! 

There are sooo many different varieties of congee, from plain, to preserved egg and sliced pork; preserved egg and fish; congee with a variety of seafood; to chicken...and the list goes on.  At restaurants, you can also order congee with, what is called in English, Fried Donut Stick (better than the literal translation of "Oil Stick").  It's not really a donut, but more like a dough stick that's deep fried.  It's the perfect dipping companion to Congee.  My favorite Congee is preserved egg and pork.  Second favorite: salmon/white fish congee.  Preserved egg and fish is, thus, a great combination, in my opinion.  And that's what I decided to make today.

The Ingredients:

From left to right: Swanson chicken broth, bean curd stick, jasmine rice, preserved duck eggs, ginger

Close-up on the preserved duck egg

The Preparation:

After combining the rice, broth, water, and ginger.  Set on high for 5 hours.

Preserved duck egg

Preserved duck egg

Congee after 5 hours, and after bean curd stick, salmon and preserved egg added.

The Recipe:

Congee Broth:
1.5 rice scoop of jasmine rice
9-10 cups of water/chicken broth (1 can of broth = just under 2 cups), or fill the slow cooker 3/4 full
Dried scallop
Ginger, peeled and sliced in thin sticks
Salt, a couple of dashes

Additional fixins:
4-6 hard boiled preserved duck eggs
1 fillet of salmon or white fish, thinly sliced
1 bean curd stick
1 tsp Corn starch
1 Tbsp Soya sauce
Sesame oil

Wash and drain rice.  Combine all ingredients for the broth into a slow cooker.  Set timer to low for 8 hours, or high for 5-6 hours.

At 1 hour remaining, season fish with corn starch, soya sauce, a few drops of sesame oil, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Add bean curd stick to boiling water, until it softens, then remove and slice.  Slice preserved egg into quarters.  Add all to the slow cooker, stirring minimally, just enough to incorporate.  Be careful not to stir the congee too much, or it will get watery....unless you like it that way.

Optional garnishes: green onion, peanuts.

Possible sides: Fried donut stick, steamed gai lan (chinese broccoli), or other chinese veggies.

Sunday Dinner: Comforting Curry Chicken

Lately, Sunday nights are the rare nights of the week that I cook.  There's just more time to prepare a more involved meal; and therefore, a perfect day to prepare leftover meals, and lunches for the work week ahead.

Today, I had the urge to make one of my favorite comfort food recipes: curry chicken.  It's based on a recipe that was passed on to my Mom from a family friend.  It was one of those recipes that I had to learn and take with me as I branched out on my own some 8 years ago.

The Ingredients:

Close-up on the curry powder

The Preparation:

Seasoning the chicken wings

Seasoning the chicken thighs
Searing the chicken wings
The final product!


8 chicken wings (remove tip, if desired)
6 boneless chicken thighs
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
11/2 Tbsp soya sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3-4 Tbsp curry powder
1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup water
2 tsp corn starch
4 carrots, peeled and sliced

Wash chicken wings and thighs, and then place in separate bowls.  Slice chicken thighs into 1 inch cubes.  Add 1 tsp of salt, 1 tbsp soya sauce to chicken wings.  Add 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tbsp soya sauce to chicken thighs.

On medium-high heat, add vegetable oil to large frying pan and sautee chicken wings until seared on both sides.  Remove from pan.  Add chicken wings to the pan, and sautee until golden.  Remove from pan. 

On high heat, add onion and garlic to the pan.  Stirfry until browned.  Add curry powder and stir until mixed.  Add coconut milk.  Bring sauce to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  If a thicker sauce is desired, mix corn starch with water and then slowly add to sauce until desired thickness.  Stir well.

Add carrots, chicken wings, and chicken thighs, and simmer on low for 15 minutes, covered.

Great with steamed jasmine rice and steamed broccoli.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Harvest Squash Soup

For Thanksgiving this year, I didn't aim so high as to cook a turkey. But, I did make a nice soup to go along with my parents' delicious turkey dinner.  The soup I made was a butternut squash soup, but you could use any squash you like.  I got the recipe from good ol' Chatelaine a few years ago, and I've been making it ever since.  It's super easy, AND quite low fat.

My only critism with this recipe, now that I've tried it a few times, is that I would prefer it tasting a bit less orang-y.  It isn't bad, but it might be a tad sweet for some.  But the texture is perfect, for not having any cream in it.

This is basically all you need:

Saute the onions and garlic:

Once the onions are soft, add the squash and seasonings:

Then, the chicken broth and orange juice:

With a handy hand blender, you can blend it all in the same pot...less clean ups!

After 30-35 min of simmering the soup, the squash should be tender enough to blend:

Add a little salt and pepper to taste, and that's really all there is to it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Recipe: Harvest Squash Soup
Chatelaine, November 11, 2008

Preparation time


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Bún riêu

I'm sure everyone has their perfect dreary-weather comfort food.  For me, Vietnamese noodle soups are perfect for such days.  This weekend has been one of those dreary fall weekends.  Rainy, cloudy, cold...So while we were in Chintatown on Saturday, having Pho for lunch at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, I decided to pick up some ingredients to make Bun Rieu at the asian grocery store.  Bun Rieu is a Vermacelli noodle soup with crab meat and other delicious goodness.  Although it's easy to make, it has a lot of steps to it.  All the effort is worth it though, and the quantity is enough to make dinners for the rest of the week!

The goods for the soup:

Preparing the broth - sauteeing the onion and garlic:

After sauteeing the onion and garlic, I added the chicken broth and water.  I take the shortcut and use canned chicken broth.  It's just as tasty, and so convenient.  Swanson is preferred:

While waiting for it to boil, I started on the best part: the crab meat pork mixture - ground pork, crab meat, eggs:

After the broth came to a boil, I added some salt, sugar, and fish sauce.  Three Crab fish sauce, to be exact:

Here's the soup, once I added the crab meat mixture.  I used a ladel to slowly drop scoops of the mixture into the broth.  This allows the mixture to cook in chunks (kind of like meatballs).

As the soup was simmering, I started cooking the shrimp and vermacelli.  I cook the shrimp separately, and then add it to the portions that I'm serving, so as to avoid overcooking it in the broth. 

Tonight, I made 2 squares of vermicelli, but since this is such a filling dish, making 1 for 2 people should be just enough.  I boiled the dried vermacelli in water for about 5 minutes, drained, then set aside:

Near the end of simmering the soup, I added tofu puffs.  Some might say, ew, tofu, but tofu is so versatile and tends to absorb flavors in a dish really well.  This is no exception:

Don't forget the condiments - sliced vietnamese sausage, lettuce, bean sprouts, lime, and fried shallots:

Once the broth is done simmering, place the vermacelli in serving bowls, add the cooked shrimp and your favorite condiments, and then scoop the soup into the serving bowls, ensuring you get some chunks of crab pork meat, and tofu puffs. 

Like I said, it's a lot of steps! worth it!

Bun Rieu 
Serves 10

3 or 4 cans/cups of chicken broth, 6 cans/cups water
1/2 lb. Shrimp (peeled, deveined)
2 jars of Crab paste (even better with real cooked crab meat)
1lb ground pork
6 large eggs
1-2 squares of vermacelli rice noodle (bu'n)
1 bundle green onion (chopped)
1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
4 large tomatoes (each cut into quarters)
1  tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce

fresh bean sprouts
1 head green lettuce (cut lengthwise)
2 Limes (cut into wedges)
1 bundle of fresh mint and/or basil
Vietnamese sausage
Fried tofu puffs
Fried shallots

In a large pot, sauté onion and garlic.  Combine chicken broth with water. Bring to boil.

When the broth boils, reduce heat to medium and add salt, sugar, and fish sauce.

Mix the crab paste, eggs, and ground pork in a bowl.  Then, slowly pour the mixture into the broth. Add tomatoes and turn the heat down to low. Let it cook like this for 10 minutes and then turn the heat up to high. Do not try to stir up the mixture or else it will not form nice chunky clusters. When the broth boils, it will mix everything up.

Meanwhile, cook the noodle in boiling water for 7-10 minutes or per directions on the package. When rice noodle is cooked, add 1 tsp. of oil, stir well so the noodles don't stick. Rinse noodles with cold water and drain well.  Cook shrimp in boiling, seasoned water for 2 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, remove shell and set aside.

When the broth returns to boil and crab meat floats to the surface, taste the broth to see if more salt and sugar are need. If needed, add more salt or sugar depending on your taste. Add the green onion pieces and tofu puffs.  After a few minutes, turn off the heat. Serve over noodles, and condiments.

My gyro!

On our way home from IKEA this morning, we passed by Cozmos Souvlaki to pick up some lunch.  The place was jam-packed with patrons, and I can understand why.  The food looked and smelled fresh, delicious and authentic.  My husband and I ordered the 3-meat Gyro special to go.  The 3 meats: lamb, pork and chicken, all wrapped in a warm salad, and tzatziki-filled pita.  On the side, potatoes, and more tzatziki.  Yum!

Dinner tonight: Bun Rieu (Vietnamese crab meat vermecelli noodle soup)...Stay Tuned!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Reviving leftover pasta sauce

Okay, so it's Saturday night, and I don't usually cook, or cook big meals for dinner.  Today, I was kind of planning to make roast pork loin, but after having a big bowl of Pho for lunch, I didn't want to cook anything too heavy.  Plus, after lunch, shopping, and diddling around on my laptop, it was already 8pm by the time I got around to thinking about dinner.  So, I put my lovely pork loin in the freezer for another day, and took a look at what else we could have for dinner.

What I found: tomato meat sauce I made earlier in the week, a full bunch of asparagus that I bought last weekend, a block of cheddar cheese, and whole wheat Rigatoni pasta.  So, in light of my revived inspiration for cooking and blogging about cooking, I decided to put a little effort into reviving this pasta sauce to make a balanced and comfortable meal for me and my husband.

Boiled the pasta for about 15 min, and then added the asparagus for the remaining 2 minutes.  I like to boil whole wheat pasta a little longer than package instructions, so that it becomes as tender as regular pasta (rather than grainy and tough).

After draining the pasta and asparagus, I separated the two, and ran cool water over the pasta to stop the cooking.  I then wiped dry my saucepan, and added a drizzle of olive oil.  On medium heat, I added some diced garlic (1 clove), and then the cooked asparagus.  Seasoned with coarse salt and pepper, and then sauteed it for a minute or two.

After placing the asparagus on a plate, I added the pasta sauce to the pot.  I thought it looked a bit, shall I say, tired.  So, I tried to revive it by adding a bit of water and corn starch to make it more thick and saucy.  Note: if you're using corn starch to thicken sauce, always mix it with a bit of water first, so that it's loose and blended.  If you add it straight to the sauce, you could have little lumps of corn starch in your sauce, and it won't thicken as nicely.

See, doesn't it look promising?

Et, voila!

Leftover pasta sauce revived!

Beating the cooking blahs...

Trying to, anyway.  Gradually, over the past 3 or 4 years, my inspiration for cooking has slowly whittled away.  I attribute that to new joys and challenges that have been introduced into my life: moving into a new house, rennovations, planning a wedding, adding 2 adorable puppies to the household, and an increase in responsibilities (and hours) at work. Understandably, that has left little energy and focus on the joys of cooking.  Oh yeah, cutting FoodTV didn't help either.  All that being said, I'm no less a foodie, and still  appreciate all that is food. So, at least once a week, I am going to try to experiment with a new recipe and share the experience here; or just share my favorite tried and true dishes.

Although not a fancy food blog like others out there, and perhaps not visited by anyone else but me, at least it will be something to document my cooking/food experiences.