Sunday, March 30, 2014

(Belated, Again) Chinese New Year Meal #2: Big Wontons

Alex and I love dumplings and wontons enough that we use the word "dumple" as a verb.  It usually means that we are going out to eat dumplings, but every once in awhile we get ambitious and decide to make dumplings at home.  These big wontons were our last attempt at "dumple-ing".  I have been waiting for a little while to make these Big Wontons and the Little Wontons (both available on Serious Eats).  I was originally planning on making the little wontons, but I wasn't sure how thin our dumpling wrappers were so I didn't want to take the chance that they would be too thick.  But I'm pretty sure that they were plenty thin enough so we will go for the little wontons and make some wonton noodle soup next time.  Yum.  What I liked best about these wontons was the addition of the bok choy (or cabbage) and chives in the filling - I like nice meaty dumplings but sometimes it's nice to have a little more veg mixed in.  I took a quick look at my Andrea Nguyen Asian Dumplings cookbook and tried a few different folding methods.  The one that I had the most luck with this time was "nurses caps" (my "flower buds" were a little wonky).  Actually, both Alex and I commented on the fact that my dumplings were unusually well-formed this time.  None of them broke apart while cooking, nor was there any filling ooz-age out the sides.  I was pretty impressed with myself.  We made 50 dumplings and only ate 20 or so (and froze the rest).  I can't want to make some wonton noodle soup with some of the leftover Asian chicken stock we made for our Khao Tom Thai Rice Soup!  Even more yum.  I am also tempted to try pan-frying them, although the skins are thin enough that I am a little nervous to pan-fry.  But let's be honest, when has that ever stopped me in the past?  Wish me luck.

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Khao Tom Thai Rice Soup

Given how much I always thought I hated congee, I find it pretty shocking how much I now enjoy it.  I haven't tried it in many restaurants because I'm still a little weirded out by ordering rice gruel with a potential surprise inside, but I love making it at home.  We don't do it very often, but that's because I tend to forget all about it until hit with an intense congee craving.  Usually that happens when it is cold out and I am feeling under the weather.  I swear this stuff is almost better than chicken noodle soup.

This congee is in some ways not that different from the Rice Soup, Khmer Style we made a year ago (both use ground pork and Southeast Asian ingredients like fish sauce and lemongrass), except that this congee added tofu and was even more flavorful, which I expected given we used a homemade broth that was very flavorful in and of itself.  I also liked the texture of this congee better because it wasn't quite as thick.  You could totally play with this recipe to adjust the seasonings and ingredients if you felt like playing around in the kitchen (or if your kitchen is simply missing one or more ingredients).  If you're not a fan of pork you could use ground chicken or turkey and if you wanted to be a little more Chinese (and less Southeast Asian) you could use ginger instead of lemongrass, peanuts instead of fried shallots and a combination of soy sauce and salt instead of fish sauce.  You could also omit the Thai chili if you're not a fan of spicy food.  Personally, I thought the dusting of Thai chili gave it the perfect kick, which was muted by the congee, but gave it a little extra zing.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Banana Oatmeal Cookies with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chips

Last weekend after Alex and I returned from Whistler we went on something of a baking bonanza because we returned to an entire bunch of overripe bananas.  I was originally planning on making banana bread but we always make banana bread so I decided to be a little more creative.  Let's just say that Alex wasn't thrilled with the whole idea but I was pretty pumped to be in the kitchen.  It has been so long since I had time to bake/cook that I got a little excited and overambitious (we had stock going and dinner to prep while I was baking).  These cookies were the perfect breakfast cookie - they weren't too sweet and who doesn't love oatmeal and bananas for breakfast?  I have no shame in admitting that I ate one or two cookies most mornings before work.  I also had a few after work, but that's beside the point.  Unfortunately I didn't do a very good job of mixing the dough (it is a pretty thick dough and I got a little lazy) so the distribution of chocolate chips and peanut butter chips wasn't very even, but I thought the cookies were still pretty delicious.

Recipe after the jump!

(Belated, Again) Chinese New Year Meal #1: Strange-Flavor Chicken (Gua Wei Ji Si)

Oops.  I totally missed Chinese New Year again.  That's ok.  We all knew it was going to happen.  And I swear that I will post a week's worth of Chinese meals eventually.  It might take me a month or so to get through it all, but I do have a lot of recipes picked out and/or ideas on tap.  I want to make some noodles (I'm thinking Uyghur laghman with lamb), some dumplings, some seafood...  The plan is to make another Chinese recipe tonight (provided that we can find everything we need at the grocery).  Sadly, we made this meal last weekend (it was one of the first things we cooked upon our return from Whistler) but I just haven't had the time to post about it.  Fingers crossed I will be able to post about tonight's meal a little more promptly. 

There are a number of different simple Sichuan chicken dishes in Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan that I love to make because they are easy and tasty.  You can easily poach a few chicken breasts (or a whole chicken if you want to make some stock, which is what we were doing) and then shred the meat and toss them in one of several different dressings that vary from this sauce, which is very sesame-y or others which are full of Sichuan peppercorns.  It's all a matter of what you have in the kitchen and/or what you are craving.  The last time we made one of these recipes we made the "Hot and Numbing Chicken Slices (Ma La Ji Pian)", but we the shredded chicken on top of a bed of broccoli and just made a little extra dressing to coat the broccoli as well as the chicken.  It was delicious and easy.  I actually might prefer the hot and numbing sauce, which is lighter and spicier than this heavier, more sesame-y sauce.  Either way, I find these dishes to be perfect for summer when you really want something light, but flavorful that doesn't involve an extended period of time in the kitchen.  It's a nice alternative to yet another salad.

Recipe after the jump!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things I love about Vancouver (and Whistler)

For the past 5 plus years I have been dying to visit the Pacific Northwest.  I hear such amazing things (including lots of great things about the restaurant scenes) about Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.  Luckily my mom decided we were going to go skiing in Whistler this year, which meant that we could spend a few days in Vancouver before or after the trip.  Our only real goals for Vancouver were to wander around the city and eat some really good food.  Alex's cousins Rachel and Jacob recommended a restaurant called Salt Tasting Room for meats, cheese and wine (pictured above) so I made reservations there for our first meal in the city.  After that I wanted Asian food and seafood.  I knew that the Asian food in Vancouver was supposed to be some of the best Asian food outside of Asia, but I had no idea just how true that was until we got there.  We had three Asian meals while in Vancouver - two upscale Chinese meals and one more low key Vietnamese meal at a restaurant across the street from our hotel.  We also tried one night to eat at a Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant called Phnom Penh, but we gave up once we arrived and saw the line of people waiting for a table.  I'm a little bummed that we didn't get to try Phnom Penh because all of the reviews sounded pretty fantastic, but our meals at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie and Dinesty Dumpling House were also pretty fantastic so I can't complain too much. Our random Vietnamese meal at Ha Long Bay in Downtown Vancouver was also surprisingly good.  New York has surprisingly mediocre Vietnamese food (or maybe I am just spoiled after growing up in Maryland where good pho is relatively common and really good Vietnamese food is just over the border in northern Virginia).  All things considered I would totally recommend all of the restaurants we ate at.  The meats, cheeses and wine at Salt were delicious.  For the four of us (me, Alex and my parents), we ordered three tasting plates of meats and cheese, two salads (a kale caesar that I loved and a spinach, roasted beet and goat cheese salad), two goat cheese cheesecakes in adorable little mason jars and a bunch of wine.  I loved the option to pick a flight of their wines available by the glass - I wish more restaurants allowed you to do wine flights.  Then at Bao Bei we had some of the best upscale Chinese fusion (it's not really fusion but I don't really know what else to call it) I have ever had.  This is what I wish PF Changs was - great flavors, great food, but innovative takes on more traditional Chinese dishes.  All four of us loved the steamed ling cod with mushrooms in a really delicious broth and the "kickass house fried rice" with duck breast.  I also thought the dessert of Chinese donuts (that are called youtiao and are typically served at dim sum with congee or soy milk to dip them in) with a white chocolate ganache and sesame dipping sauce was really good.  Then we went to Dinesty, which was far more traditional.  They had really good pork and crab soup dumplings, camphor-smoked duck (with serious smoky flavor and crisp skin served with steamed buns that they decorated to look like adorable little clam shells) and a fantastic Hakka stir-fry with pork, tofu and squid (all pictured below).  I was a little worried when we walked into Dinesty because it was this fairly fancy Chinese restaurant in a huge mall, but by 5:15 pm the restaurant was jam packed with Chinese friends, couples and families out for dinner so I figured we had to be in good hands.  At one point we looked around the large dining room and Alex and my dad were the only white people there, which is usually a good sign when you are looking for legit Asian food.

More (including more pictures) after the jump!