Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chicken Stroganoff with Pasta

No comments:
Chicken Stroganoff with Pasta
Home Cooking

Went through a big strog phase when I first discovered it a month ago. Sour cream sauce with beef. In Winter. How can you go wrong?

I also made a chicken strog but didn't post it at the time because I like to avoid repetition and keep things interesting. The idea is have my readers think I'm out exploring amazing recipes and restaurants every day. Truth is I'll find something I like and fall into a repetitive rut.

I made up this chicken strog recipe but it was largely inspired by this from the Masterchef website. It's so easy to do. Think of it as fast food.

Chicken Stroganoff with Pasta
Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/3 cup of plain flour
  • 2 x chicken breasts (~500g), cut into strips
  • 1 x onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup of sliced button mushrooms
  • 200g of sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • handful of chopped parsley
  • cooked pasta, to serve

1. Mix the flour and paprika together. Coat the chicken pieces.2. Seal the chicken on high heat with some oil. 3. Add the onion and mushrooms and stir-fry until onions begin to brown.4. Reduce heat and add the sour cream. Simmer until chicken is cooked and onions are tender.
5. Season and stir through some parsley.
6. Serve with pasta and a sprinkle of paprika.

This dish is very easy, moreish and, if you use light sour cream, pretty easy on the calories too. It would go with pasta or rice, depending on what you have available. Feel free to mix-up the ingredients too.

I love mushrooms so I might add more next time (they shrink!) I love adding sour cream to meaty sauces because it just lends a fresh, tangy richness. Great dish and I recommend.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bamboo Basket

Bamboo Basket
189 Grey St, South Brisbane

I remember walking past Bamboo Basket some several months ago and thinking 'I have to try this place'. I was sucked in by the decor. The restaurant looked so invitingly red! I didn't even inspect the menu or anything... it was automatically appealing.

As time went on, I heard this place mentioned via various sources: friends, internet and etc. Just as my interest was gaining momentum, Kat told me she just went to this 'mad Chinese restaurant in Southbank' and when I asked her what it was, she told me Bamboo Basket.

That settled it. I had to go. Kat was more than willing to oblige my request so we set a date.

Most of what I'd heard was that the food was good but it was quite pricey. I was willing to give it a go anyway, all in the name of new restaurant discoveries.

When we got there, I was once again taken in by the decor. There are huge glass windows facing the street and inside, chefs are pulling and rolling and making the noodles and dumplings that are served in the restaurant. Unlike many Chinese kitchens, this one is open and visibly neat and clean.

The dining area isn't huge but there are some large function tables at the back that are slightly screened off from the rest of the floor. That would be nice for a special event. We took a seat at the side of the restaurant.

The menu is based on Shanghainese cuisine and comprises of a section with yum cha type items (e.g. dumplings, buns, pancakes), a section of noodles and the usual main meal dishes designed for sharing.

We chose a bunch of starters to share.

Pan-fried pork dumplings

The pan-fried pork dumplings were a must order for me because it's really typical Shanghainese food. They came out on a plate and we were all a bit confused because they were placed bottoms up with a layer of something (?) sort of... connecting the dumplings to each other. This had to be pieced apart to distribute the dumplings.

Separated pork dumpling

They tasted OK, bit oily. The filling wasn't authentic and there wasn't any soup inside.

Little dragon buns

The little dragon buns (which Byron referred to as 'ball bags') were really fat and juicy. A mark of a well-made dragon bun is thin skin and lots of soup. These had both; especially ample squirts of gingery soup. The filling wasn't the same texture as traditional ones and the shape was a bit... er, rounder. But they're minor details that don't really affect the enjoyment.

Pork and prawn steamed dumplings

Kat also chose some pork and prawn steamed dumplings that are very much like what you get at yum cha. I never normally order this type of thing because I'm not a huge fan. They were quite unmemorable.

Chicken and chive water dumplings

We got some chicken and chive water dumplings. They contained Chinese chives, which is quite pungent and possibly unacceptable to certain palates. I didn't mind the flavor but again, unmemorable.

Spring onion mixed with noodles

For mains, I went for something really simple, which was the spring onion mixed with noodles. The idea is that spring onions are fried in oil to flavor it and this infused oil is mixed through noodles with some soy sauce. Really basic but when done well, so delicious. This one was unfortunately disappointing. I liked the unevenness of the noodles because it seemed rustic but the oil wasn't flavored enough so I just tasted bland, oily noodles. Adding more soy sauce helped but that just made it soy sauce noodles... boring?

Wontons with spicy sauce

Byron got a bit of a shock when his dish came. I'm not sure if here was a mix-up some how but he chose a dish that had he term 'wonton' in the description but was listed under the noodle section. We expected there to be both wontons and noodles. It was instead, just a small number of wontons with sauce. No soup. No noodles. It was tiny and at around $20, you expect MORE. He didn't like flavor but when I tried it, I thought it was pretty tasty. Not sure if that was the original flavor or because of all the sauce/chili oil he was pouring on.

BBQ pork and sweet and sour sauce

There was confusion all round when an unexpected dish was placed in front of Katherine. She thought they misunderstood her order but proceeded to eat it anyway. It was a bbq pork in sweet and sour sauce. I thought it was quite nice but nothing more than a normal, home-made sweet and sour.

Crispy chicken

Napolean's dish came out an unacceptable 20min or so after everyone else's. This turned out to be what Katherine ordered. They had gotten their plates mixed up. Anyway we all ended up picking at his food to keep him company. It was a crispy chicken (I asked if anyone could remember what it was called exactly but all I got was 'crispy chicken') with peanuts crushed on top. I really liked it but well, you know, fried chicken. Hardly going to taste gross.

Overall, Bamboo Basket was nice for atmosphere and location but that's what you're paying for. The food itself was unremarkable and the servings were small. Service was really friendly but disorganized (mixed orders and one dish took ages longer than the rest).

Bamboo Basket on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Caramelized Pork Belly with Saffron Rice

Caramelized Pork Belly with Saffron Rice
Home Cooking

Red cooked meat is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I tried to make it once before and it was OK but not amazing. That was over a year ago and recently, I've been feeling dismay over my inability to cook traditional Chinese food. In actual fact, my inability to cook spans indiscriminately over every type of cuisine but it's Chinese food that really bugs me because it's like I've kicked away some cultural heritage? Food heritage is the best kind of heritage.

Everyone does red cooked meat different. Dad told me a story about a guy that grandpa knew. This guy apparently made The Best meat ever. Like, ever. And he was really guarded over his technique but would openly brag about certain elements that made him sound knowledgeable and pro. For example, he would use cloves... and he specified that he only used 7 and a 1/2 cloves. That's right, 7 and a 1/2. And that's not all.

The '1/2' clove had to be a 'female clove' while the others were male cloves. At this point in the story, mum was scoffing and basically saying that this guy is FOS but dad clarified that there does exist male and female cloves. We do have doubts about how these details can make any difference to the dish. It's like when dad used to stir-fry pea sprouts. He'd tell everyone that his special method took exactly 42 seconds, not a second longer or shorter. It's the kind of frill you dress your recipe with to make yourself sound like a cooking superhero.

Back to the red cooked meat. My parents recently had a competition amongst themselves over who could cook the best version. It was fruitless because both thought their own was superior and I honestly liked both. When I decided to make my version, dad was showering me with advice. His top tip was that you must not 'dilute' the pork with water. That means: no washing, no boiling, no adding water to the braising liquid. Wine is used instead and if you're being posh, it should be drinking-grade yellow wine. Not cooking wine.

I listened and remembered but in my version that is blogged today, I ignored both those pieces of advice. Not out of some kind of cooking rebellion but because I tried to follow a recipe on the Masterchef website. This caramelized pork belly was originally cooked by contestant Alvin in the 7 deadly sins challenge. He was trying to portray 'greed' with this dish.

I attempted to follow the recipe to a tee. Seriously, my pork belly was even EXACTLY 1kg. However, through the cooking process, I started to feel like the quantities are seriously flawed. I also skipped/altered some steps. If I was to make this dish again, I'd alter it even more. The recipe I'm going to post below is a recount of what I did, plus notes/recommendations on what I'd change for next time.

Caramelized Pork Belly with Saffron Rice
Serves 4-6

  • 1 kg pork belly
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 2L chicken stock (I would use ~ 300-500mL next time)
  • 1 cup of cooking caramel/karamel masaka (bought this from an Asian grocery store)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of light soy
  • 1/2 cup of oyster sauce
  • 1/2 cup of Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 piece of cinnamon bark
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 150g white sugar (the original recipe calls for 300g brown sugar which IMO is way too much)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (the original recipe used lime juice for acidity instead)
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • 1 cm of ginger, cut into matchsticks
  • pinch of saffron
  • 1 cup rice (I used basmati)
  • chili and coriander (optional garnish)

1. Pound the garlic and peppercorns in a mortar pestle until it's a paste.2. Fry this with a bit of oil in a large pot until fragrant.
3. Add the stock, wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cooking caramel, cinnamon and star anise to this large pot and bring to the boil. The major flaw with the original recipe that calls for 2L of chicken stock is that it was way too much liquid. I had to ladle out about 1L just to allow the pork to fit. I suggest you add everything but the stock first and then enough stock to cover the pork.4. Add the pork belly to the pot and reduce to a simmer. I placed a cup on the pork to weigh it down and keep it submerged under the liquid and popped the lid on. The original recipe suggests cooking for 1 hr but I let it slow cook for 2 hours.5. Remove the pork from the braising liquid and set aside. I cut it into the inch square portions straight away. I think if you pop the whole pork slab in the fridge until it's cold and firm and THEN cut it, the pieces have a nicer, more even edge. Because I cut mine whilst warm, the meat was all frayed and unattractive. Either way, cut and set aside.6. To make the sauce, get a new pot ready (I used a large saucepan) and cook the sugar on high until it caramelizes. Stir constantly to prevent burning. As soon as it is golden and caramel, reduce the heat and add ~ 1 cup of the braising liquid from before. Stir through and add the fish sauce and vinegar. Taste and adjust adding more/less of the braising liquid, fish sauce or vinegar as required.7. Once the sauce is good, add the pork pieces back into the sauce and stir to coat (don't stir vigorously because your pork might fall apart). Let it bubble on low heat there for another 15-20min to soak up the flavors and keep warm until you're reading to serve.
8. In that time, I made the rice. I have a poor history of success with rice cooked on the stove. With this, first you make a fragrant oil by putting a bit of oil in a small saucepan and frying the ginger and scallion pieces until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and let the oil cool a bit.9. Add the saffron and let it infuse into the oil.
10. Using ~ 2 tbsp of the oil in a saucepan, coat the rice until shiny. Add 1.5 cups of water and bring to the boil. Quickly reduce the heat to a low simmer, pop on the lid and let it absorb for 10-15min. This didn't go exactly to plan for me and I had to add a bit of water part way through but the end result was reasonable.
11. To serve, plate up the pork and garnish with sliced chili and coriander. Serve with the rice and sprinkle some of the crispy scallion and ginger.

The pork was good. When mum saw I had braised it whole, she said the flavor probably hadn't gone in. If that's the case cooking the pieces in the sauce really introduced some flavor. The caramel component of the sauce lends a lovely sticky sweetness and makes the dish very moreish. The pork was also tender without falling apart.

I actually skipped a major step that was in the original recipe. Well... not really. I attempted it. You're supposed to deep-fry the pork pieces before putting them into the sauce. I experimented with a few pieces and nearly lost my eye. I quickly abandoned the task but not before wasting some precious oil and creating a right mess of splatter in the kitchen.

Honestly, the pork was still good without the frying so why needlessly give yourself more artery clog?

I thought the rice was good but not worth the effort of not using your rice cooker :).

Big Gun Chinese Restaurant

Big Gun Chinese Restaurant
Shop 7/2922 Logan Rd, Underwood

I've been trying to introduce Byron into developing an appreciation of eating out. He's one of 'those' (and there are many of 'those' out there) who have an ingrained state of mind deterring them from restaurants because nothing is as good as home-cooked. And look, that's fair enough if you are blessed with an ability to cook nice food. Hats off. But all the same, I'm quite partial to dining out for the reasons of: experience, environment, stuff you can't make at home and just having something to look forward to.

My game plan was to go to restaurants serving cuisine that we couldn't readily toss together in his kitchen. Asian food was an obvious choice because of all the ingredients/condiments required.

I involved a few uni friends I haven't seen in a while and we made an event of it. I had heard good things about this new restaurant in Underwood which supposedly does a mean yum cha after 9pm. We weren't going to go for yum cha but I sort of extrapolated these raves to predict that their normal dishes would be of similar standard.

We made a booking for 7:30pm on a Friday night. The restaurant wasn't anywhere near as busy as I expected. It was quite big though and furnished with reasonable flair. Better standards than an eatery in any case. Nice gold menus.

Platter of cold starters

A plate of assorted cold starters was ordered for us to share as we decided on mains. I had an amusing time trying to describe what the components were. Hien tried to scare everyone by cataloging the plate as 'mixed entrails'. I was a bit more specific but it's hard to explain something like duck tongue or deboned duck feet skin while keeping a straight face. This plate kept us going for a while.

Complimentary feet soup... I mean, chicken soup

The complimentary soup was really bland and under-seasoned. Even a bit of poisonous MSG would have been an improvement here (joking... but only just). The guys argued amongst themselves over who had to eat the chicken feet.

Eight treasure duck

I had ordered the eight treasure duck dish. My dad cooks something he calls 'eight treasure duck' where he makes an awesome stuffing and puts it in the duck (a bit like this). That's why I ordered it but this was totally different. It was instead kinda like a clay pot with 2 or 3 duck pieces (really chewy and overcooked) plus bits of other kinds of meat and squid. We were counting treasures but didn't find that many and started including things like carrot and bok choi. This dish was boring, bordering on inedible.

Shechuan beef

Byron had been craving Shechuan beef so that's what he ordered. We had 2 people wanting beef dishes so he was asked to change to Shechuan lamb. He resolutely responded 'no'. The Shechuan beef ended up being one of the only reasonable dishes on the table. It was quite saucy and flavorsome. Nothing mind-blowing but it gets a pass tick.

Salt and pepper chili flounder

We chose the salt and pepper chili flounder as our fish dish. This was my favorite of the lot. It was crispy and crunchy. I was feeling quite appreciative of the fish until Byron pointed out that deep-fried things are rarely bad. That is true. Maybe it's a cheap win but still, go the fish.

Scallops with snow peas

Someone ordered the scallops. All I remember about this dish is that I got criticized for my pronunciation of 'scallop'. I didn't try a single scallop so no comment from me.

Soy chicken and mushroom clay pot

There was a soy chicken and mushroom dish. When we ordered it, the waiter warned us that it would have bones. We mocked that statement at the time, thinking 'der... we've eaten chicken with bone before'. When the dish came, I understood why he said that. All I got was bone. I picked up one chicken piece and gnawed at it for a few seconds before giving up. I don't want to say anything else in case it comes across as criticism overkill but... the chicken was really 'challenging' for my teeth. Dentally undesirable cuts of meat.

We also got a complimentary dessert of sweet red bean porridge. Byron politely pushed his away claiming it tasted exactly like the soup at the start, only sweet. I don't agree with him on that level but this is far from my idea of a nice dessert.

Sorry Big Gun! (Is it inappropriately lame if I say 'don't shoot me'?)

MAYBE the yum cha is good but frankly, I'm so deterred from this experience I wouldn't go back for that.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tuna and Corn Dip with Pita Chips

No comments:
Tuna and Corn Dip with Pita Chips
Home Cooking

A long while back I spotted this post on Closet Cooking for Buffalo Wing Dip. Without knowing/tasting buffalo wings (I presume it's an American thing), I was still majorly attracted to the recipe because of it's generous use of sour cream, mayo and cheese. Mmm... to all the above.

It took me this long to decide to replicate it because I couldn't justify making something so unhealthy for myself and I didn't have any party occasions to cater for. To compromise, I've replaced the chicken with tuna and corn. The rationale is that tuna is basically a health food, right? And corn is a vegetable. So... provided I use light sour cream, this dip can't be TOO bad.

I did cave a little and use a dollop of whole egg mayo but we have to live a little.

To be honest I did have my doubts about how this would work out. Baked tuna things either turn out nice or vomit-inducing (due to an unappetizing visual resemblance to vomit) so it was a gamble. Luckily, it was really tasty. This is also such an easy-to-follow recipe that it hardly warrants being called a 'recipe'.

Tuna and Corn Dip with Pita Chips
Serves 1-2

  • 1 x 95g can of tun (I used Sirena chunky tuna in spring water)
  • 1 x 125ml can of sweet corn kernels
  • 2 tbsp light sour cream
  • 1 tbsp whole egg mayonnaise
  • 30g light cream cheese
  • sprinkle of parmesan (or even better, mozzarella or tasty cheese)
  • 2 pieces of pita bread (or any flat/wrap bread)

1. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
2. In a heatproof ramekin, layer the tuna and corn.3. In a separate bowl, mash together the sour cream, mayo and cream cheese.4. Layer this on top in the ramekin. You can mix it through if you like, or leave it layered. Sprinkle on some parmesan cheese (or other cheese).5. Place in the oven for ~ 10min until the top is slightly golden and bubbly.6. Meanwhile, cut your pita bread into wedges and toast in either a frying pan or do what I did and use your sandwich press. Toast until they're crispy and set aside.7. Serve the dip hot with pita chips.

I think this would make great TV food, snack food or party food. For me, it was something to munch on whilst I was trying to motivate myself to study.

I've always loved the flavor/texture combination of tuna, corn and mayo and they tend to be common pantry items so it's something you can pull together with 'last resort' ingredients that have been left abandoned and forgotten.

Close-up of dip

My only criticism is that there was a slight watery residue left over on the bottom of the ramekin - I think that was from the tuna and can probably be avoided by either draining the tuna better or mixing all the ingredients together rather than layering.