31 October 2010

Why I Cook


I get questions as to why I love to cook and what it means to me. Some people, most I think, will say they learned how to cook by their mother’s or grandmothers’ side, family recipes, family traditions all passed down in the heart of the kitchen. That was not the case for me.

I was forced into the kitchen by my mum at an early age to sit at the dining table making hundreds (yes, hundreds) of spring rolls or ripping apart and cleaning bunches and bunches vegetables for dinner that night or some family gathering we were having. My 8 year old self would grudgingly stand at the kitchen counter or sit at the dining room table cursing every spring roll, every little piece of green stuff that got under my nails, thinking how unfair it was that I was standing there, alone, with no music and no TV, while my brother played out in the yard with the neighborhood kids. My mother’s reasoning? Not that it kept me out of trouble (although I’m sure it had something to do with it), but because ‘If you don’t learn how to cook, your husband will beat you’. And she said that with all the seriousness in the world. That would usually be followed with smart arse arguments from me about how we live in Australia, and I will call the cops, and that women don’t get treated like that over here… yada yada yada. She’d just smirk at me and say, ‘we’ll see’.

See we did. My mum had unknowingly instilled in me a love of cooking, and when I was not complaining about the newspaper laid out on the counter to catch all the mess (It's an Asian thing) I actually found comfort in the mindless methodical way the carrots fall away from the mandolin into the bowl with its friends, or how a big pot, filled with water and the right stuff makes for an incredible soul warming meal. The simple fact that I could feed myself with a little oil and an egg was an amazing gift, even if it was given in an unconventional way. But going from feeding me to feeding others was even better. It took me a while to notice a pattern here, that giving and receiving gratitude was really, well, gratifying. I found my calling, a rarity these days.

When I am cooking, I am happy. It feels right. It’s how I show my family, my friends that I love them. Makes me feel like this is what I’m meant to do in life, that teaching, cooking and sharing is how I can share myself with the world. Cliché, but here it is: food is love, it’s communication, it’s comfort – food is life.

Anna xxx

PS: No, my husband does not beat me, nor has he ever or will ever. Let’s just clear that up. And for anyone who complains about that comment, domestic violence is a serious issue and should be dealt with – ladies, get help, please.

30 October 2010

A Hug in a Bowl - Chicken Shiitake Noodle Soup





If anyone asked me what my all time favourite food is, I have to say it is, hands down, the humble noodle soup. Noodles sloshing about in a hot fragrant broth topped with all sorts of herbs and other bits and bobs is like a big warm hug in a bowl! Growing up my mum wasn’t big on hugs, but she always made the perfect noodle soup – any style! I guess actions speak louder than words!



The weather today was chilly (for LA standards anyway!) which was the perfect opportunity to make the Husby’s favourite – Chicken Shiitake Noodle Soup. Mmmm… chicken-y…



I came up with this recipe as my own take on chicken noodle soup. The result was a robust and hearty soup full of umami goodness! The shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce really gives the soup a real meatiness – so much so that you could even forego the chicken and it would still taste just as good! Unlike most Asian noodle soups, this broth can be made in less than 30 minutes and it still tastes like you spent hours on it!


Chicken Shiitatake Noodle Soup

Serves 4

9 cups of water
2 teaspoons salt
2 inch piece of ginger, sliced
1 white onion, halved
8 skinless chicken thighs
8 dried shitake mushrooms
2 carrots, sliced diagonally in 1/8” thick slices
1 cup corn kernels (about 2 ears of corn or one 14oz can)
3 – 4 tablespoons light soy sauce (depending on brand and taste, I like the
Golden Mountain brand for this)
1 oz rock sugar (optional – use 1 tablespoon of white sugar if you don’t have rock sugar. This really gives the soup a nice balanced roundness)

28 oz fresh udon or egg noodles* (4 packs), cooked according to package instructions


(or 2 portions of fresh ramen

Green onions and cilantro to serve.

Directions
 

In a large pot bring the water to a rolling boil and add the salt, chicken, ginger, and onion. Let the water come to a boil again.

Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat to medium low, add the shiitake mushrooms and pop the lid on, leaving it slightly ajar.
Skim the fat and impurities off the surface so you end up with a nice clear and clean tasting soup

Let simmer for 12 minutes, skimming regularly.

Strain the soup and discard the ginger and the onion. (Alternatively fish everything out with a slotted spoon)

Return the soup to the pot and add the carrots, corn, soy sauce and rock sugar (if using). 

Cook until the carrots are tender, about 5 minutes

Cut off the stems of the shiitake mushrooms and discard. Julienne the caps and return to the pot, or leave them whole if you prefer

Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed


Shred the chicken into large bite sized pieces and set aside

Cook noodles according to package instructions and divide the noodles and chicken between 4 bowls and top with the chicken


Bring the soup to a rolling boil* and ladle over the noodles, topping with the mushrooms, carrots and baby corn.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions.

Enjoy!

Anna-tations
  • This can easily be a vegetarian dish, just use vegetable broth and top with soy-marinated tofu instead of chicken.
  • If you don’t have udon, use rice noodles or even thin linguine works just as well!
  • It’s important that the soup is very hot so the noodles don’t absorb too much of the liquid and make the dish heavy

28 October 2010

Beef Shake Shake



This is a very simple dish and was a staple in my family. We used to have this at least twice a week, and it still remains one of my brother’s favorite dishes.

I hear conflicting stories about why this dish is called ‘shake-shake’. My father used to say that it’s because the beef is usually served rare, so rare in fact that the beef is still alive and ‘shaking’! My mother says it’s because of the cooking technique: that you shake it in the pan to quickly sear the meat. Whatever, it’s just super doper yummy, especially for a carnivore like me!

Beef Shake Shake

1 lb top sirloin cut into 1 /2 inch cubes
1.5 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce (I like Maggi seasoning sauce for this)
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1 small yellow onion, sliced into thick wedges (optional)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Lettuce and beefsteak tomatoes, to serve

  1. Put all the ingredients in a bowl or Ziplock bag and mix and massage until every piece is coated. Let marinade for 15 minutes or so. It doesn’t take long although you can marinate overnight if you want, the beef really stands up to the robust flavors of the marinade.
  2. Heat up your wok with enough oil to coat the bottom comfortably and let it get smoking hot and the oil is dancing.
  3. Add the beef and onions toss to sear all sides. Keep the beef moving so it all cooks evenly for 1-2 minutes. (Depending on the size of you pan or wok, you may need to work in batches.)
  4. Transfer to a plate and  generously top with freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with hot rice alongside some crispy lettuce and beefsteak tomatoes


Enjoy and let me know what you think!



Anna xxx

Sizzling Rice Crepes filled with Beef






Named for the sizzling sound that the batter makes when it hits the pan, this crispy crepe is made with rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric and scallions. The crispy crepe is filled with a savory, crunchy filling usually involving pork and seafood. Served with a tangy dipping sauce and fresh lettuce, cucumbers and lots of fresh herbs, it's a textural delight on a hot summer day!  

I'm taking a little sidestep from the traditional filling and swapping out the shrimp and pork for a juicy and crunchy mixture of ground beef, water chestnuts and bean sprouts. Why? Because that's what I had in the house. And not everyone eats pork (the weirdos)

This dish is so very dear to my heart because when I was my mum used to make this for us from a packet, which always resulted in clumpy, soggy crepes piled into a bowl and topped with lettuce. Never whole and crispy like here, alas I never liked this growing up. I recreated this when I moved out because I always loved the flavors, just not the texture! After I made this and told my mum about it, she asked me for the recipe! You hear that? It's the sound of approval! I don't have issues. Clearly. 

But enough chatting and down to the recipe! 

Sizzling Rice Crepes
Makes eight 8" crepes. 
Serves 4 

Batter
2 Cups rice flour 
1 teaspoon salt,
6 scallions, sliced finely
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 14 fl oz can coconut cream
2 cups water

Oil for frying

Filling
1 small red onion, diced
1 pound ground beef (80% lean)
2 oz (1/2 a 7 oz can) water chestnuts chopped
1 ½ teaspoons fish sauce
1 pound bean sprouts
1/4 cup lemon juice or unseasoned rice vinegar

Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice or unseasoned rice vinegar
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes


To Serve
1 head lettuce -  any kind (I like iceberg)
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint leaves
cucumbers, cut into batons and whatever salad-y kinds of veggies you like


Dump the rice flour, turmeric, salt and scallions into a large bowl and whisk in the coconut milk and water. Set aside of the flour can hydrate and absorb the flavors. 

Make the dipping sauce by dissolving the sugar in the hot water in a bowl then adding the lemon juice, garlic and red pepper flakes. Set aside to cool. 

Heat a a tablespoon of oil in a large wok over high heat and add the onions. Give it a good stir so it can become BFFs with the oil, then turn the heat down and let them cook until they are soft and tender, about 5 minutes.

Once the onions are soft, turn the heat up to high again and add the beef and water chestnuts. Brown until cooked through. Remove from heat and drain the excess liquid. Add the fish sauce, mix and taste. Adjust the seasonings if you need to. Set aside to cool.

Now to the fun part - making the crepes!


Heat up a nonstick 8” skillet / fry pan to very hot, but not smoking. Add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Give the batter a quick stir (the batter likes to separate as it sits.) before using. Using a 1/2 cup ladle, ladle in 1/2 cup of the batter into your pan – you will hear the beautiful sizzle when the batter hits the oil! Swirl the pan so that the batter covers the bottom evenly. Let the crepe cook for 30 seconds, then pop a lid over it for another 30 seconds so the middle can cook



Lift the lid and spoon about 1/4 cup of the beef filling on one half of the crepe, kinda like making an omelet. Top with a handful of bean sprouts and sprinkle on the cilantro.

Flip the other half of the crepe over to cover the filling. Let sit for another 30 seconds so the filling can warm through. 


 


Ta-Dah! Your first crepe is done!

Using a wide egg flip or spatula, gently lift the crepe out of the pan. Serve with the dipping sauce, lots of lettuce, mint leaves and cilantro.


Repeat with the rest of the batter and filling.


Serve with a generous amount of lettuce, cucumbers, mint and cilantro. Include any other veggies you have in the house (I always have carrots at home and use it with everything! Give everyone their own bowl of dipping sauce. 

How to eat this dish

Break off a small piece of the crepe, place it on a piece of lettuce large enough to wrap. Add a mint leaf and a sprig of cilantro and whatever else you'd like to fill it with. Wrap the lettuce around and dip it in your sauce bowl.

Crunchy, meaty, savory and fresh tasting - this is a wonderfully hands on meal!

Anna-Tations:

  • If you don’t have any coconut cream, use half and half or whole milk. If you really want the coconut-y taste, soak 1 cup of coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened – whatever you have or like) in the half and half or milk (14 fl oz / 1 3/4 cups)

  • The trick to getting a really good, crispy crepe is to get the pan really really hot each time, that way when the batter hits the pan, it fries up and hardens in one piece use a good amount of oil, even if your pan is non-stick, it will help it not stick and fall apart. So about 2 – 3 teaspoons of oil for each crepe
  • The crepe shouldn't be paper thin, but not to thick either. Depending on the size of the pan, it should be about 1/8th inch thick, give or take. If you're using a bigger pan, just ladle in more batter to fill in the gaps while the pan is still hot