Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cooking: Chinese Feast

Often when I become close with people, I offer to cook for them. Many times, it's Chinese food. Now, it's nothing fancy that you would find in a lot of restaurants. In fact, it's home food. The kind that I grew up with. I have a mission, you see. I want to educate the world about what is home cooked Chinese food. It's nothing that you would find at your local take out nor is it the fancy Chinese place you go for special occasions. This food is cooked with easy to find ingredients and most importantly, it's what you would give you most loved ones: your family. So on this day, I volunteered to cook a Chinese dinner to celebrate my MIL and SIL's birthdays. To you, that's Mrs. Executive Chef and Ms. Pastry Chef.

The menu was quite simple at first but as the party list grew, so did meal. So in the end, I made 8 dishes and Ms. Pastry Chef made a cake. A total of 9 dishes. A lucky number! Always try to eat 8 or 9 dishes. Never 4 or 7. Silly superstitions, yes. But why not ask for more food anyway?

Some of these dishes are really easy and some very labor intensive. All in all, I can honestly say I prepped most of the food the day before, then cooked for 8 hours straight the day of. Yeah, do not attempt this meal unless you know what you doing.

First up, the Chinese leafy greens. So often that these are mistaken for Chinese broccoli. No, my friends, these are choy sum or yu choy. Much more tender and sweater than what you may know. It's also the most common vegetable that you'll find. A good wash in a tub of water to rinse out all the dirt and sand is a must. Then a quick blanche in salted boiling water. Cook until the leaves turn bright green which can be just a couple of minutes. Then drain and serve hot or at room temperature. I really enjoy added a bit of oyster sauce on top for extra flavor. But that's, of course, optional.

This next dish was inspired by a family favorite: Shrimp and Candied Walnuts. It's something that my family had ordered time and time again at restaurants. We never tire of it. I finally decided to make it and it was quite easy. This dish is definitely a show stopper. Everyone was impressed and definitely enjoyed it.
Many people think dumplings as an appetizer. Well, did you know that a lot of people eat it with their meal? Yeah, we eat it with dinner. And it's a symbol of wealth. It looks like how currency used to look like back in the day. Eat it for good luck. If not, eat it because it tastes good. These are freshly made pork and chive dumplings.
For a different taste, some mapo tofu with ground pork. I used firm tofu and about a pound of ground pork. I also used the packaged Mapo Tofu mix but added some soy sauce and chili sauce on my own as I tasted it while it cooked. I thought the firm tofu held up better in this dish. The spicy, meaty flavor of this dish is great in the winter. Ladle it over some rice and add some spring onions on top. You've  got a winner.
And Ms. Pastry Chef's favorite: black bean chicken. I like to use dark meat since it had more flavor and I enjoy the texture better. I marinated the chicken overnight with reconstituted black beans, black bean sauce, and garlic. And hour or two before cooking, I added sliced onions. The flavor if really rich and robust. Black beans and garlic is a classic flavor in Chinese cooking.
Lo mein is one of dishes that you can basically find anywhere. And it's usually lackluster. Why? Restaurants won't use the best quality ingredients. But when you're making it at home, you can use the best stuff. Here's my version of beef lo mein with sliced steak, fresh carrots, celery, red bell peppers, onions, and yellow lo mein noodles. The trick to prevent this was becoming a gloppy mess is to cook everything separately then add everything together at the end.
Another dish that you find everywhere is fried rice. But similar to the lo mein, it's not usually very good at restaurants. Again, they use whatever is leftover and stir fry it together. It's always a rip off. I like to make it myself because I can add whatever I like and enjoy it immensely. In this version, I added Chinese sausage, shrimp, eggs, shitake mushrooms, and scallions.

*Cook's note: Always use day old rice to make fried rice. You want it cold and dried out. It fries up much better.*
And lastly, some stir fried vegetables with pan seared flounder. The vegetables consisted of thinly sliced lotus root, sugar snap peas, carrots, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. Unfortunately the fish fillets were very thing and I couldn't get them to fry up properly. That's why this isn't plated. Instead it's in a giant bowl. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the clean and light flavors of this dish.
And here's my plate of food with a little bit of everything. To be honest, I was really happy with how everything came out. I worked my ass off and it payed off. Some dishes come out better than others but overall, I was very satisfied. And my guests? They sat around with their stomachs sticking out. That's always a good sign.
After dinner, we rested a bit before returning to the kitchen for some dessert. I always leave room for dessert because Ms. Pastry Chef is very talented, especially when it comes to cake.
And red velvet cake was on  the menu this evening. How perfect! Not too sweet but just right.

I don't have any recipes for any (except one) of the dishes I made. However, if you're curious about the ingredients and/or instructions of any of them, I'll be glad to draft what I can to help to replicate any part of the meal.

My Shrimp and Candied Walnut dish was adapted from this recipe:
Mayonnaise Shrimp (loosely based on the Honey Walnut Prawns recipe from About.com)
serves 6

1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil

1 cup broccoli crowns, cut into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon oil
salt to taste

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 lb of large or medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup oil

Rinse walnuts, then boil in 5 cups water for 15 minutes. Start boiling another 2 cups of water separately. Drain and add 2 cups boiling water and sugar. Continue boiling and stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.

In a small saucepan, heat oil until almost smoking, about 400 °F. With two slotted spoons, use the first to drain a small batch of walnuts. Carefully add to the oil and stir with the second slotted spoon. Deep fry walnuts until shiny and brown, no longer golden; this will only take a minute or two. Use the second slotted spoon to remove the walnuts from the oil and place in a heat-proof bowl lined with paper towels to drain. Continue frying walnuts in small batches. Store walnuts in an air-tight container until ready to use.

7 comments:

  1. very very nice meal. everything looks delicious!

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  2. Wowza! Look at all the pretty food.

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  3. sounds awesome! :D I made the mayo with candied walnuts and it was HEAVENLYYYYY. That reminds me - maybe I should make that again soon. :)

    Thanks for the tip about lo mein!

    I'm still waiting for your homemade soup dumplings post. :D

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  4. Looks amaaazing!! I love home cooked food, always better than restaurants. My birthday is in a couple months...just an fyi... ;)

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  5. o em gee, you made hup to ha?!?!!?!? PROPS!

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  6. What an amazing meal. Home-cooked FTW!
    It all looks delicious.

    kailan, hop tou haa, gaau zi, mapo tofu, dau-si gai, ngau yuk lo meen, yangzhou chow faan, chow choi & yuh, and dan gow.

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