Menu Notes Week of 5-26-14

Another week goes by, and this past week I cooked only three nights out of the seven (been trying to get back into the job market). If I get a job soon, then that number might go down even more.

Water convolvulus continues to be readily available, and cheap. I’ve pretty much mastered this one now: slice up one chili, mince a clove or two of garlic, and ready three cubes of fermented bean curd. Heat up a pan on high, add oil, stir-fry the above until fragrant, around twenty seconds. Add the water convolvulus and stir-fry until cooked, usually until it’s wilted. Add soy sauce or salt to taste (though I personally prefer soy sauce, brings out the fermented bean curd).

Water Convolvulus with Chili and Fermented Bean Curd (椒絲腐乳通菜)

Corn is definitely in season and also readily available and sweet and tender. Instead of dumping it in with the other vegetables in a beef vegetable soup, I remembered not to salt the soup and waited until the end to add corn before removing and serving it on the side. Only then did I salt the soup, and the result was good soup and good corn.

We had some spareribs that had been in the fridge for a couple of days before I steamed them. They came out a little tough, and I attribute that to them getting dried out in the fridge. I steamed them with some shiitake, since it was a small amount of meat (they were left over from Saturday). Maybe soaking the meat in some mushroom water beforehand might re-hydrate it and cause them to steam better.

Steamed Pork Spareribs with Shiitake and Black Beans

I did make a couple of new things this week, by JC’s request. The first was broccoli beef. In the past, I would attempt to stir-fry the beef and broccoli together, but it was always hit or miss. The problem with stir-frying broccoli is that it’s difficult to cook it consistently. One side might be cooked and the other might still be raw. So, I instead parboiled them to my desired doneness (just-cooked with a nice crunch, but no rawness) and plated, then cooked the beef (marinated with soy sauce and sugar) to my liking and added a sauce (oyster sauce, a little more sugar, corn starch, and water) before pouring it all over the broccoli. Came out pretty good if I do say so myself. 🙂

Broccoli Beef

The second thing was a spicy Korean-style spinach-tofu soup. We had the leftover broccoli beef and vegetable soup so I just kind of threw it all together. First, I added some water to the veggie soup and heated it up, then added spicy Korean bean paste (comes in a red, little flat box). I tasted it but it didn’t really taste like anything so I added some packaged instant Japanese miso soup. Ah, that was the key. The miso soup has dashi, which gives the soup the savory flavor. Just before serving, I put in soft-tofu, the broccoli beef, and the spinach and brought it back to a boil before taking the whole thing to the table. Not bad!

Spinach-Tofu Korean Soup

I noticed something in making the beef and soup, the different perspective between the cook and the diner. From the cook’s perspective, it seems like boiling the broccoli and then pouring beef over it wouldn’t work, because the broccoli is boiled plainly. As the diner, when you eat the broccoli and beef together and they actually go well with each other, you might not think that the two things were cooked separately. The same thing goes for the soup. If I didn’t tell you I just threw it all together, you might think it was all by design. It’s interesting to think about food in this way, especially when eating out. I wonder how many dishes we eat are just some simple slap-togethers from the chef’s perspective.

See you next (this) week!

Menu Week of 5-19-14

Monday

Steak Plate

Sirloin Steak with Red Wine Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Simple Salad

I was at a supermarket with a more Western variety of foods (getting some Jameson Whiskey) when I ran across some Australian sirloin steaks that were on closeout. They looked pretty good so I snapped them up for Monday’s dinner. I’ve mentioned somewhere that beef is not as popular in Hong Kong, which means that deals can be had at the end of the day when supermarkets are trying to clear out inventory.

On the way home I realized that I hadn’t gotten anything to go with the steak. Luckily, I had bought some lettuce the previous week, and I still had a tomato and an onion. Instant salad. I also had a couple of potatoes left, so I opted for mashed potatoes, something we haven’t had since Thanksgiving of 2013.

Something to note for next time is that whole potatoes take a long time to soften. I was lazy and boiled them whole thinking they’d be nice and soft by the time I finished playing video games. They could definitely have been softer, especially when the only thing I have to mash them with is a fork. After applying some elbow grease, they came out okay. In tribute to my Aunt J, I left the skin on, because that’s how she used to make it.

The gravy was made with flour, butter, beef stock, and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Tuesday

Tuesday Night Meal

Water Convolvulus with Chili and Fermented Bean Curd
Stir-fried Lettuce with Garlic
Carrot and Lotus Root Soup
Cabbage, Corn, and Beef Sukiyaki

Variety is the spice of life, but when certain vegetables are in season it’s OK to eat a lot of it as well. Right now, it’s all about the water convolvulus (通菜).

As I said above I had some lettuce from the previous week. A popular way of cooking them here is to stir-fry them with some garlic. Cooking lettuce isn’t really something you see in Western cuisine, but it’s done in HK a lot. Doesn’t take long to cook, either.

Carrot and Lotus Root Soup

Carrot and lotus root soup came out great. I remembered to add a sweet date (蜜棗) this time, too.

Beef Sukiyaki with Corn and Cabbage

The sukiyaki was new. It’s a pain in the ass trying to think of new dishes to make on a daily basis. It seemed like we’d been having a lot of pan-fried meats (i.e. steak, pork chop, etc.) and I was browsing through the meat case trying to figure out what I could make. I saw some sliced steak and I thought of the times when we did hot pot with it, so I tried something new. I had a quarter of a cabbage left so I cooked that with some packaged instant miso soup, added corn, and plated while leaving the liquid in the pot. I then cooked the beef slice by slice, removing each slice immediately after cooking because the thin slices are super easy to overcook. I enjoyed this one.


Wednesday

Chinese Marrow with Dried Shrimp

Beef Stewed in Red Wine Sauce
Chinese Marrow Flavoured with Dried Shrimp
Leftover Lotus Root soup
Leftover Sukiyaki

Had some leftovers from Tuesday so made just a couple of dishes today. Used the leftover gravy from Monday to make a beef stew. Nothing complicated about that, bought some beef brisket and cooked it with the gravy and some added water. Soaked some dried shrimp beforehand, cut up some garlic, and stir-fried those until fragrant before adding the marrow and a little water. I used two kinds of dried shrimp, 暇米 and 暇乾. 暇米 as the name suggests is the smaller version. 暇乾 is dried-up regular-sized shrimp. I probably could have soaked those a little bit longer, because they came out slightly chewy. Overall I was happy with how this one came out.


Saturday

Carrot and Marrow Soup with Dried Scallop
Steamed Pork Spareribs with Black Beans and Garlic

This is one of the easiest (simplest) meals ever. The soup takes 2 to 3 hours to simmer, so make it beforehand by cutting up some carrot and marrow and throwing it into some water along with a piece of lean pork. I like to parboil the pork with some ginger before adding it to the soup. Helps remove some of the nasty shit that boils up. A note about using carrot in soups: the giant ones with the dirt all over them really are sweeter and more flavourful. I only needed one for this soup.

Next, marinate some spareribs with soy sauce, minced garlic, sugar, white pepper, corn starch, sesame oil, and black beans. Place some on a small dish, stick it into the rice cooker with the steaming attachment. Rice and pork ready at the same time. Scoop out some of the carrot and marrow to eat with the rice.

It was Saturday night and I ate while watching TV without formally setting the table, so sadly no photos.


And so, another week goes by. I’m glad I took some time off this week. It can be difficult trying to think up meals, preparing them, and cleaning up afterwards.

Menu Notes 5-12-14

Monday

Dinner - May 12, 2014

Choy Sum Stir-Fried in Ginger Oil
Pan-Fried Pork Chops in Onion-Soy Sauce
Tomato-Corn-Onion Soup

Pretty successful meal today. Heated up some oil and fried some ginger slices before adding the choy sum and stir-frying until most of the water was gone, added a little salt and plated.

Pork Chops in Onion-Soy Sauce Choy Sum Stir-Fried in Ginger Oil

For the pork chops, first seasoned one side with salt and pepper, then fried that side for about 3 minutes before seasoning the other side and flipping. Plated and then stir-fried some sliced onions in the same pan before adding the sauce mix: soy sauce, sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, water, and alcohol (I used Chinese rice wine). It’s great when you put the sauce in and it sizzles and evaporates with much fanfare. Cooked onions until tender, scraping off the pork chop bits. Poured over chops.

I had some leftover chicken broth so I added some water and threw in a tomato, a corn on the cob, and some of the onion from the pork chop. Cooked until the tomato fell apart. Corn is in season now so it was sweet and tender. Great!


Tuesday

Tuesday Dinner

Chicken Breast with Lemon-Caper Sauce
Bok Choy Stir-Fried in Ginger Oil

We bought some capers a while back and thought to make lemon-caper chicken, and this week we finally had a chance to try it. This one is super easy to make. We like our breasts a little thinner (plus they’re easier to cook that way) so I first split the breasts down the middle. Season with a little salt and pepper, then pan-fry until done, about 3 minutes each side on medium heat. Plate, then make the sauce and pour over. I improvised the recipe from here. Once again, the final product went really good with rice. In Chinese cooking, it’s sort of blasphemy to put butter in rice, but from this dish I can understand why it’s normal or acceptable in Western cuisine.

Pan-Fried Chicken Breast with Lemon-Caper Sauce Bok Choy Stir-Fried in Ginger OilBok Choy Stir-Fried in Ginger Oil

The bok choy was cooked in exactly the same way as the choy sum from yesterday. In San Francisco we called this vegetable 上海白菜 (as opposed to regular bok choy, which has white stalks), and here in Hong Kong it’s called 小唐菜. Either way, it’s all the same plant, just at different stages of development. More here.


Wednesday

Wednesday Dinner

Beef Vegetable Soup
Bok Choy Stir-Fried in Ginger Oil
Pan-Fried Chicken Thigh with Montreal Seasoning

Wasn’t sure what to make today until I saw a cabbage at the grocery store and decided to make beef vegetable soup. We still had a corn left over from Monday, and we had tomato, onion, and potato, so I bought some barley, carrots and a piece of beef shin/shank in addition to the cabbage. Beef is less popular in Hong Kong which means prices are relatively higher, and beef shank is one of the cheaper cuts. Even so, it’s pretty good in soups and stews. For this one, I didn’t do any browning or sweating or anything else. Just cut everything up, put it in the pot, add water, salt, and pepper, and cook for 3 hours. Came out great.

Beef Vegetable Soup Chicken Thigh with Montreal Seasoning

The other two dishes were more like accompaniments to the soup, just some small plates to go with the rice (though the soup itself was pretty good with rice also). The bok choy was a reprise from last night, still had some left, and we had a piece of chicken thigh in the freezer so I used that up. Nothing fancy there, just season with McCormick Montreal seasoning and pan-fry, then cut up, and serve with some English mustard on the side.

Pretty good dinner today!


Friday

Dinner - May 16, 2014

Beef Vegetable Soup
Water Convolvulus with Chili and Fermented Bean Curd
Stewed Chicken Wings with Bittermelon and Potatoes

Finished up the rest of the vegetable soup today and added a couple of new dishes. I bought a big bag of chili peppers for $5 and used a couple to cook some 水通 also bought from the wet market. Finally bought some fermented bean curd to go with it. IMHO, a lot better than shrimp paste. There are two in the picture because I made one without chilis for JC.

The chicken wing dish was a miss. Stewing chicken wings has always been difficult for me. The end result is usually a bland dish, and this one was no different. Perhaps the secret to chicken wing stew is in the broth. Since I used plain water, it probably didn’t do anything. I used the entire bittermelon because the sparerib dish last week was so good and I found myself wanting more bittermelon, but in the case of the chicken wings, ugh, wasted a perfectly good bittermelon. Today is Monday and there’s still a bit pot of it in the fridge. I’ll have to finish what I created.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but we have only one stove. For this meal, I tried making the veggies ahead of time, then microwaving for about 30 seconds just before serving. Made for a less stressful experience trying to time everything, and the veggies didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects. I might do it more often in the future.


Saturday

Corn on the Cob

Corn on the Cob

Didn’t have a full meal tonight, but I did boil up some corn to snack on. I learned from here that the water should not be salted when boiling corn. It did seem better, but I think I’ll cook the corn a little longer next time, maybe 7 minutes.


Another week goes by. Happy cooking!

Menu Notes Week of 4-28-14

Monday

Fresh Straw Mushrooms
Fresh, not canned

Had a full menu today, back to work after Easter break:

Cilantro Tofu Soup with Preserved Duck Eggs and Straw Mushrooms
Garlic and Shrimp Paste Water Convolvulus with Chili
Ginger Pork Tenderloin

The soup was almost perfect, think I was a bit overzealous with the cilantro. One bunch might be good enough next time. Otherwise, 1 half-pack of tofu and 2 eggs worked well. The fresh straw mushrooms were a refreshing change from the canned variety.

Cilantro Tofu Soup w. Preserved Duck Eggs, Straw Mushrooms Garlic and Shrimp Paste Water Convolvulus w. Chili

When the veggie man grabbed the mushrooms for me he accidentally grabbed a chili pepper. I stir-fried that along with some garlic and shrimp paste in oil before throwing in the water convolvulus, and it came out better than the last couple of times. Note that this was the lighter-colored variety of convolvulus, also known as 水通.

Ginger Pork Tenderloin

The ginger pork tenderloin was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe I should have grilled the tenderloin instead, like how I used to do it in America. Instead, I sliced it and marinated it in soy sauce, sugar, ginger, sesame oil, and cornstarch. The flavor was there, but the texture was not. It was actually too tender. As the cook, having seen the meat in its raw form, eating it in its cooked form reminded me of the former. Not good. Perhaps tenderloin is not good for stir-fry. Anyhow, it was the first time I bought it in Hong Kong, never saw it before today.


Tuesday

Chinese Marrow with Dried Shrimp and Bean Thread

Too much water, tried to boil it off and marrow got too soft. The marrow probably releases some water when it’s cooked, too, so keep that in mind for next time.


Wednesday

Tom Yum Flavoured Soup with Shrimp and Straw Mushrooms

Had the leftover mushrooms from the other day as well as some Tom Yum soup paste, so decided to make a soup with it. Came out pretty good. I learned not to wash all the straw mushrooms at once if I’m not going to use them, because after storing them in the fridge for a couple of days all the water was drawn out and they got all damp and shriveled up. In the past, unwashed mushrooms remained firm and dry when stored.


Thursday

Chinese Marrow with Dried Scallops
Chinese Marrow with Dried Scallops

Chinese Marrow with Dried Scallops
Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings
Water Convolvulus Stir-Fried in Garlic and Shrimp Paste
Steamed Salted Duck Egg

Been doing the water convolvulus thing to death lately, gonna hold off for a while. I guess I wanted to use up the shrimp paste (still have some). The other way to make it is with fermented tofu, which I like better.

Salt and Pepper Wings
Salt and Pepper Wings

The salt and pepper wings may have come out a little too salty. This one’s really basic. When we didn’t have an oven we used the “cake” function on the rice cooker to make chicken wings, and they came out OK, though maybe tending more to the damp side. Perhaps I’ll start using the oven to cook the wings because sometimes I want traditional roasted, dry wings.

The Chinese marrow came out good but once again I used too much water (though this time it was for the sauce, not the marrow). I ended up pouring most of it out, but overall this dish came out great. We had some leftover oyster sauce stuck inside the bottle so I mixed in some hot water to get it out. I used three dried scallops. Didn’t need any other seasonings.

Salted Duck Egg
Salted Duck Egg

The salted duck egg exploded again, probably because I thought to use it at the last minute and it was still cold coming out of the fridge. At least it wasn’t as bad as last time.

That’s it for all the stuff I bought earlier in the week, off to the market tomorrow.


Friday

Garden Salad with Shrimp
Garden Salad with Shrimp

Garden Salad with Shrimp, Japanese Sesame Dressing
(Lettuce, Red Bell Pepper, Onion, Scallion, Cherry Tomato)

I went to the wet market not knowing what I’d make, thinking I’d try putting together something different using only ingredients that looked good. I stumbled upon some lettuce (not sure what kind, similar to Romaine, I want to say Chinese lettuce) and bell peppers, and it occurred to me to make a salad. In Hong Kong, vendors will throw in a few scallion stalks if you buy over a certain amount from them, so I used some in the salad. I was most proud of the shrimp since I’m usually not that great with seafood: boiled them in water along with some sliced lemon and onion, then plunged them in an ice bath. Refrigerate the whole thing, result: tasty and crispy!


Saturday

Chef's Salad
Chef’s Salad

Chef’s Salad
(Lettuce, Red Bell Pepper, Onion, Scallion, Cherry Tomato, Ham, American Cheese, Hard-boiled Eggs)

Had some ingredients left over so made a Chef’s Salad. Didn’t even know I’d made one until I made this post. My eggs could use a little work, had a hard time peeling them. I did bring them to room temp before boiling them.


Sunday

Washed Yam Leaf
Washed and ready to go

Chicken with Yellow Peppers
Stir-fried Yam Leaf with Dried Shrimp and Garlic

Chicken came out kind of tough, not sure if because it was frozen variety from China. When I tossed the meat into the pan to stir-fry, it stuck to the pan. Pan was not hot enough. Probably not enough oil, either. I did not marinate the chicken, just seasoned with salt and pepper. The toughness took away from it, a lot.

Chicken with Yellow Pepper Yam Leaf with Garlic and Dried Shrimp

The veggie came out good, and I say veggie because I’m not 100% certain that it was a yam leaf (翻薯葉). It tasted like it but the leaves didn’t look exactly like the ones I googled. Maybe it’s a variation. I had some in my ramen today and it was really good, I’m a big fan of it.

Update 5-7-14: I found out that the veggie I got was 青莧菜, the all-green variety of 莧菜, which has purple/red in it. In America, we used to have this with salted and preserved duck eggs, deep-fried garlic, and stock. Now that I think about it, it did taste similar to that. Yam leaf does indeed have ivy-like leaves, and was not what I had on Sunday.


A pretty good week last week in terms of menus. The beat goes on…

Menu Week of 4-14-14

Monday

Water convolvulus stir-fried in garlic and shrimp paste
Chicken wings steamed with fresh shiitake mushrooms (garlic and soy sauce)
Steamed salted duck egg

Biggest lesson today was to not over-stuff the rice cooker. I tried to squeeze in the salted duck egg plus the chicken wings (which were larger, plumper Chilean ones) which resulted in the duck egg exploding, the rice compacted, and the chicken wings undercooked. Fuzzy logic is not the end-all-be-all of cooking!


Tuesday

Baked chicken wings with spicy Montreal seasoning
Pumpkin Chayote Pork Soup

After Monday’s debacle I had to do right by my chicken wing fix. Went back to basics and baked those plump wings sprinkled with spicy McCormick Montreal seasoning. Yum.

The soup was a new creation. I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin, but JC advocated it so I experimented with it. Made it traditional Chinese style, cooked in water with a piece of pork. The pumpkin peel is hard when raw, but it softened up a lot after being in the soup. Same goes for the chayote. Saves some time with prep.


Friday

Lotus Root and Carrot Soup
Almost perfect soup

Lotus root and carrot soup with dried lotus seeds

I really like this soup but I didn’t try adding lotus seeds until now. It seems that the seeds go well with the roots. I remembered to add a Chinese sweet date (蜜棗) this time. The pork bones I used had boar taint (yuck), taking away from the soup a bit.

Menu Week of 4-7-14

Monday

Steamed pork cake with shiitake
Fried eggs over-well with soy sauce
Cabbage, tomato, corn, potato soup

With the pork cake, I forgot to put dried wood ear in it to keep the meat from packing too much. Of course, the secret is to buy a whole piece of meat and pulverize it yourself with a knife so that the meat is unevenly and not overly grounded. I did remember to save some bits of fat to mix with the ground pork so that it wouldn’t dry out. Added a tiny bit too much soy sauce in the marinade (soy sauce, sugar, corn starch, sesame oil), but still very tasty overall and great with steamed rice.

Soup would be good with real chicken broth, but who has time to make that now? Not a big fan of the make-ahead-and-freeze method, plus it wouldn’t fit in our HK freezer anyway.

Lastly, those eggs are an HK staple. Been a while since I’ve made it and boy was it satisfying.


Tuesday

Steamed bok choy with soy sauce and sesame oil
Steamed chicken wings with garlic and soy sauce

Got kind of lazy today, didn’t want to go grocery shopping, so used up whatever we had. Having a hard time coming up with what to make next.


Wednesday

Oxtail and brisket stew
Red wine, carrots, onions, corn on the cob, tomatoes, garlic, butter

Coated the meat with flour and browned in cooking oil, set into rice cooker. Browned onions in leftover oil, then added butter and leftover flour (didn’t want to waste it) to get a roux effect going, added wine, water, and beef broth mix. Added salt/pepper and Worcestershire, then poured the whole thing into the rice cooker along with the rest of the ingredients. Set rice cooker to slow cook for 4 hours. Came out great, though probably a bit unhealthy.


Friday

Boiled chicken breast with dipping sauce
Watercress and carrot soup

It was suggested that the chicken breast could have been hand-pulled instead of simply cut with a knife. The suggestion is well received and taken under advisement. Also, the breasts were placed in boiling water that was brought back to a boil, then steeped with the heat off. I could have probably steeped it for a little less time. It’s always tough trying to balance tenderness and doneness with chicken.


Saturday

Fish soup with cilantro, tofu, and preserved duck eggs

Forgot to add ginger.


Sunday

Pan-fried Shrimp with Soy Seasoning

Pan-fried butterflied shrimp with soy sauce seasoning
Parboiled carrots and fresh shiitake mushrooms
Water convolvulus stir-fried in garlic and shrimp paste
Japanese cold noodles with dipping sauce
Cucumber salad