Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Taiwanese wedding banquet

So one of the reasons for returning to Taiwan was to celebrate my Sister's wedding with my extended family in Taiwan. As you may have noticed food is a very central theme in Asian culture. What's that title picture got to do with it? Nothing. Actually that's a picture of the rock we were suppose to climb but got rained out. We did manage a nice hike, but I'm sure that was a poor replacement for my brother in-law who was looking forward to the climb. Anyhow it just seemed like a nice picture to lead us into "The Banquet", I'm not making light of the title, 13 courses of food with no fillers. That's right no rice, no "extra carbs" just lots and lots of food. 

Ok there's 13 courses, no need for a lot of my yammering it'll be like the last post. 

Small plate appetizers to start us off. I'll spare you the other photo. We have smoked tofu, bitter melon, roasted peanuts, lilly flowers, pickled daikon radish, and pickled seaweed. 
Seafood platter with blanched squid, shrimp, and crab. Served with a garlic soy vinegar sauce.

Out comes the sashimi course. On the upper left is one of he largest oysters I've eaten. The really new one for me is near the right of center. It's fish that has been sliced to expose the yellow roe. I'm not sure if it's flying fish roe or not. All of the fish was exceptionally firm and fresh. I guess that's what happens when you're near the source.
Tea smoked duck. This is a traditional presentation of the duck where you have the crepes on the left and you build your own "burrito" with duck, plum sauce, green onion and cucumber. Unlike Peking Duck the skin is not separated from the meat and the duck is smoked with a wok with tea leaves to impart flavor. 
Abalone soup. This isn't actually abalone, but a cousin that is many times smaller.

I need to get the name for this. It resembled a noodle dish. It's actually a large helping of vegetables, mushroom, and egg. There's baby shark fin here. I know it's controversial, I'm simply a guest here don't shoot me.
Braised beef short rib. 

I've seen this ingredient on the show "Chopped" it's called "black boned chicken soup". The chicken is a black skinned and black boned chicken. The meat is also darker in color but otherwise tastes like regular chicken. The traditional preparation is a soup that is very "boo" or "hearty". I really have a hard time explaining this one. It's a very thick and rich broth infused with a lot of traditional Chinese herbs and medicinals.
This fish is called golden knife fish. We were not sure what to make of this. Apparently the fish in it's natural habitat stands face down and thus looks like a kitchen knife. The staff insisted that we eat the fish freshly cooked, because as it cooled the meat got tougher. It's cooked "white water" style which is a quick poach and finish with hot oil over a bed of green onion, garlic and ginger.

This one is a new one for me, i've never encountered this dish. It's a taro puff (but dense in the center) topped with a egg white mixture. I figured out it had egg white, mushroom, and some sort of fish stock, we debated if the prepartion was a quick fry or steam. The Taro Puff was accompanied by pickled vegetables.

Sea Cucumber cooked with LIly stems. Sea cucumber is one of these ingrediants I don't quite understand. I need to do a bit more research into the benefits. It's usually sold in a dehydrated form and re-consituted. It's got a squishy and somewhat slimey texture (making it hard for chopsticks). It' always served as part of an "very nice" meal but usually is flavorless.

The first part of dessert is a sweet soup of red dates, white "wood ear" (mushrooms) and lotus seeds. This also considered a "Boo" or "hearty" dish reserved for the winter. It's December and we're rocking 60 to 70F. 

Finally, every Chinese meal, whether a banquet or a meal at friends house ends in fruit. 

Needless to say no one walked away hungry. It was a ridiculous amount of food. And I really enjoyed having such a wonderful meal with my family here in Taiwan. It's a rare treat to be able to get everyone together. Ok I think there are a few more posts in me before I head out of here next week.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dining in Taiwan 2011 part 2

Did this pic on our drive to sun moon lake. Took the pic with my iPhone and used the colorburst app. Anyhow, not bad with an iphone and doing the photo work with your finger on a bumpy car ride up a mountain. This is part two of my food post for my trip to Taiwan. It's been really neat, I've seen a ton of interesting stuff like, temples, lakes and mountains (we got up to 13,000 ft) and of course the food. So much neat food  and I have so many pictures I decided I needed to just pick out a few highlights and go from there. 

Interesting preparation: TIlapia sliced length wise stuffed with greens and aromatics. Then folded width wise  tied and deep fried fried. The fish is extremely tender and the exterior fins and bones are completely edible.  

Green Tofu with sesame and peanuts in soy vinegar sauce. Auntie said it was made from green beans (perhaps as opposed to white dried soy beans for soy milk). Maybe fresh soy beans like the edamame you eat in restaurants I was unable to get a clarification. The really neat thing is that the restaurant where this dish and the fish above were taken, all of the produce is literally grown right outside the restaurant. Talk about local sourcing! Super fresh food and the most tender Chinese water spinach I've had.

Hands down the most unusual breakfast I have ever had. Mexican stone leaf (i think it's a succulent type plant) two types of bitter gourd, Clams in Soy sauce broth, salted duck egg, two types of siu mai braised tofu, jelly fish salad, dragon fruit, boiled sausage, and of course bacon. I crowded the most interesting things into this one plate. It's a little weird but for both the ham and the sausage they were "boiled". They had the traditional Congee as well, and they had some other stuff that I just couldn't get to. It's good to see that no matter the culture bacon still makes the breakfast menu.
We went to Fulong city they are famous for they're train bentos. One of my cousins was telling my sister, "oh yeah if you go to Fu Long you've got to get their bento". This box of food is produced out of a very small kitchen. You don't get any choices here the only question the person in the kitchen asks is: "Ji Ge?" How many? There was a line of easily 50 people ahead of us ordering stacks of these boxes. It's the simplest of lunches, five spice braised meat, tofu, and egg, pickled mustard greens, sauteed fish cake, slab of braised pork belly (which apparently is everywhere here), sausage, cabbage over a bed of rice. The cost? 45 yuan, like a buck and half. If you get it on the train they mark it up to 100, but if you're not stopping at Fu Long then you don't have much of a choice.

We dined at the Imei factory. They are very famous for their cookies and pastries. Many people buy their specially packaged cookie "tins" as presents for folks back home. They recently opened a restaurant and served fresh made dim sum. The above is a pastry that is stuffed with sweet roasted pork and paste made with dates and honey. Very tasty! Their sign at the front claims that they are about sustainable organic foods. I think there's a pretty big movement on this type of dining here in Taiwan. Most people eat out because they have limited kitchen space and the food is extremely inexpensive this makes it doubly more important that what they consume is chemical free. 

I've managed to catch a cold I'm not sure how much more posting I'll get in, we'll see. Nothing like being sick to make you miss home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hsin Chu Fish Market

My awesome Uncle took us to the Hsin Chu fish market as one of our stops on his tour of Hsin Chu for me, my sister and brother in-law. This place always amazes me every time I stop by. The above is one of the stalls that sells dried seafood.  I'll keep this post short on the yammering and just give some pics and descriptions.

Fresh water crabs they aren't the famed Chinese hair crabs but I was told they go for at least 30 USD a piece. So there's pretty darn close to the pricepoint.
Baby Shark.
The famous Black Mullet (also I've heard it called Grey Mullet)  prized for it's roe which is dry cured and considered a delicacy. One of my most favorite foods. Expensive and hard to come by. Apparently the italians prize the roe as well (called Bottarga Di Muggine). They grate the cured roe over pasta. Can't say I agree with that application but different strokes for different folks I suppose. 

Street vendor had some sausage with flying fish roe. It's a sweet chinese style sausage with flying fish roe mixed in. A very unusual texture, like a regular sausage but punctuated with crispy pop from the roe. 

A very fun excursion trip. I didn't end up buying anything because we were still full from the street food (see previous post). There's a restaurant on the second floor where you can take your purchases from the market and have them prepare it any way you desire. I love this place!
I leave you with a a picture of some beautiful fresh fish.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Taiwan trip 2011 day one eats

I'm still working out this blogsy software, sorry about the formatting. I decided to make this trip sans laptop and try to do everything off the iPad. I have to say, not having internet is a real handicap but when I actually manage to find access it's been pretty successful. For instance I managed to find some wireless while at my grandparents (open wifi at a hotel across the street) and uploaded a bunch of photos to start my post. I worked on the content offline and waited for more internet to post. I'm still getting use to it, I have a photo connector to download new photos from my iPad.

Anyhow first full day in Taiwan and visiting relatives and off course it's all about the food over here so day one didn't disappoint. We started our day in Tao Yuan.

Breakfast starts off with hot soy milk and fried "donut" (literally called Oil stick) in a flaky sesame bun. The donut itself isn't sweet nor is the flat bread like bun which is somewhere between a flatbread and a pastry dough in consistency. As with the an American breakfast, it's got a good share of carb goodness to start your day.

The other breakfast specialty here was the Dragon purses, or soup dumplings. It's a steamed bun with meat inside, the way it's prepared there's also a good bit of broth that spills out as you bite into it. Some places specialize in giant versions of this that you first drink with a straw before cutting into it. This was a big favorite of my brother in-law, he claimed he could have wolfed down a couple more trays of those.

We hopped a train and proceeded to visit my grandparents and uncle in Hsin Chu. One of the things you'll notice when coming to taiwan is that there's a shrine pretty much as often as you would see a starbucks in the US. The one pictured above is a very famous one in Hsin Chu and is happily located next to a food market.

These markets probably wouldn't pass any health food inspection back home but of course that's where you find the best foods. My uncle explained that the little food stalls are actually passed down generations and that the 30 square foot of cooking/eating space is probably some of the most valuable realestate around. Most of the vendors carry the same type of stuff and my uncle brought us to one place where he has dined with family for about three generations during his lifetime.

First we start with Oyster Pancake. It's a pan fried mixture of oyster, egg, vegetables (I think chopped bok choi) and batter. The batter consists of, tapioca flour and stock. It's topped with a sweet sauce, which I think is oyster sauce. It's a love or hate texture, but a definitely authentic taiwanese dish. The resulting dish is a bit gooey and hard to cut into and remains pretty true to the oyster in it's raw form.

Second course was a noodle soup with beef tendon meatball. There were two types of noodles here, an egg noodle and a rice noodle vermicelli. The stock for the soup has been stewing a long time with large hunks of pork shoulder.

Next was a fried plate of Fried oyster pancake, fried sweet rice cake, and chicken roll. I'm not sure I heard the name of the chicken roll correctly because I believe it had pork in it, the wrapper was a tofu skin wrapper. Needless to say all three were delicious, kind of hard to go wrong with fried stuff. All three were served with a sweet chili sauce.

Above we have Hsin Chu sausage. It's a steamed sausage, that's very large whole chunks of pork fat and thick walled intestines as casing. It's unusual since normal sausage has very thin casing.

Pork intestines. Came with a chili sauce. This is one of those things that my uncle told my brother in-law to just eat it and ask questions later. I give him great marks for being adventerous, being Chinese there are few very things that I won't eat, as an American I didn't think he'd go for it but he went full gusto and enjoyed it. The texture was like eating a properly prepared squid, which is to say has a chew but not like eating a rubberband. There's no real flavor to mention, its a great container for whatever condiment you use it with.

Remember the pork stock I mentioned from the noodle soup. The resulting stewed pork is what you see above. The meat is not very flavorful since it all went into the stock but it is very very tender and goes great with a garlic soy sauce.

Here's the most awesome part. I think we had about two of each dish plus one I didn't get a picture of a squid soup. The whole thing fed five of us and we had some to take home. All that cost us around eight bucks in US money. Can you believe that? I'm finding food to be extremely reasonable here. The cost of gadgets is about the same but street food is very inexpensive.

Ok this post went long so I'll have to revise this. We went to the fish market later on so I'll do a post on that when we go to Fu Long today to go rock climbing. Ok TTFN.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! I celebrated in Asian style this year with a traditional Hot Pot. Basically a hot cauldron of boiling broth is at the center of the feast and an array of raw ingredients surround the hotpot. You select what you want and cook it like in a fondue and cool it off with your personal blend of sauce.

I'm actually having a Thanksgiving potluck on sunday so that's where I'll be busting out the turkey.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving! For those of you that are black Friday-ing right now best of luck to you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fall Short Rib Bento

Three Day Shortribs. I know it's a repeat of a former bento but I didn't name that one three day shortrib err. oh wait.. well nevermind, better come up with a new title. Anyhow, it's been a while and I don't believe my current crop of bento-ers have had the chance the taste possibly the most wonderful thing that can come out of my sous vide machine. Outside of the fact that I wanted to do my short ribs again, the inspiration for the bento is the nice cool weather we've been having, it makes you wanna have something that hearty and "sticks to your ribs" if you'll allow for the pun. Besides, Thanksgiving is around the corner and I wanted to test out this sweet potato dish. So um. Fall Short Rib bento it is! I promise to work on more cohesive themes.

Three day short rib, what's there really to say? It's meat, lots and lots of meat slowly cooking for three solid days in a water bath. Why three? It's some sort of magic number. See one day just isn't enough. Two days is tasty. Three is like eating a little piece of heaven. Actually, just because I'm that obsessive about "knowing for sure" I ran a test of three batches starting each one day after the other until I had a sample of three to taste side by side. Two days is nice, but three days is a must if you have the time. What's that short rib doing in those three days? Well to answer that question you need to know a little bit more about the beef short rib. That particular cut of meat contains a lot of fat and connective tissue. These types of meats tend to be considered the "cheap cuts" (well once up on a time), stuff like flank steak, shanks, and short ribs. Why cheap? The various cuts have lots of connective tissue which, if not treated properly, produces a very tough and chewy end dish. So what's a cook to do? Well you have two options, cut the meat thin and cook it on high heat fast or keep it in large hunks and cook it low and slow. Let's take the short rib, you can get the "flanken cut" which if you think of a row of connected ribs is a slice off the top then you cook that fast as you would with Gal-Bi (Korean short rib barbeque). Still kinda chewy but, it's such a small cut that it's a tiny bite size not like trying to chew down a brick of meat. On the other hand, as in the case I did today with the "English cut" single rib, you can cook it really slow. What this does is apply a gentle heat that slowly lets the connective tissue break down and turn into a more gelatin state and let the liquids of the fat and the "meat gelatin" (ok I could come up with a tastier word) to really moisten up the cut of meat. I finished this off by searing the outside so you get the nice brown outside caramelized effect. This usually produces a lot of smoke and oil hence doing it outside on my butane portable stove.

I wanted a nice carb-y side dish without it being a empty carb like potatoes. I settled on this Creamy Truffle Quinoa. If you've read my blog you must know about my obsession with Quinoa. It's a great nutritious grain and an easy substitute for rice. The original recipe called for mint, but I decided to go with fresh basil because it felt a little more "right", besides the two plants are from the same family so it's not that far of a stretch. I cut down on the amount of butter and Parmesan, had to do my part to lighten things up a bit after the big short rib. I got multiple kudos on this dish everyone really enjoyed it. As usual I used a stock (in this case vegetable) to cook with the quinoa, it infuses the quinoa with a lot more flavor and you can effectively skip any need for salt. A lot of places that I've had quinoa seem to cook it like rice and simply use water, I find the resulting dish to be very bland and tasteless.

Since I already had my SousVide Supreme out for the short ribs, I put together a few packets of broccoli and roasted bell pepper while the beef was resting. I put in a bit of butter, the left over parmesan, and garlic. I love the flavor of the dish, since you don't lose flavors to a pan or cooking liquid the taste is very "bright" or jumps out at you. The only downside to this preparation is that the broccoli turned a bit yellow on me. I was quite surprised because I didn't experience this same problem with either the peas or beans I've done in the past with the SVS. I'll have to do a bit more research to understand where it went wrong.

Finally, I decide no on dessert but I did do something a little sweet and fall-ish and this recipe from A Veggie Venture past thru my blog reader: Sweet Potato with Cranberries. It looked nice and easy and fit the whole Fall cold weather theme I was going with. I opted to cut the butter and sugar in half and I got the comment that I could have gone even lower on the sugar. This is definitely a super simple dish I intend on serving for my holiday party coming up. I'm glad I chose to do the test run on this bento

I'm not sure if I'll have any more bentos for the year (maybe one) Thanksgiving is right around the corner shortly after I'm off to Taiwan to visit family then we run right into Christmas. I'm sure they'll be some food adventures in Taiwan, so I'll probably post some stuff from there. So just in case I don't get to post, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

Box Contents:
  • Three Day Beef Short Rib
  • Creamy Truffle Quinoa
  • Broccoli with Roasted Bell Pepper and Parmesan
  • Cranberry and Orange Sweet Potatoes

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

EatingWell Bento

I couldn't really think of a good coherent theme this week. It's been so busy and although I've been busily clipping new ideas and storing them away it can get overwhelming when you stare at the "future bento" tag list for my note file. As it turns out I had quite a few recipes from the magazine EatingWell so I assembled my top favorite looking recipes and off I went. I really enjoy the magazine, it's one of those that I pick up from the local bookstore when I happen to see it. There's always some interesting articles but the important part is they manage to put together some very tasty looking (while at the same time healthy and nutritious) foods. I might some day get around to a subscription, I just have so many magazines I have to "process" every month as it is.... oops I'm yammering. Anyhow healthy bento it was and I managed to score bonus points because I was able to make it a fully Gluten Free bento.

This was suppose to be Spicy Chicken Cakes with a horseradish aioli, but I did a few tweaks here. I opted to grind together chicken breast and thigh meat instead of just breast meat, I also cut the mayo and went with the Olive Oil based mayo which is half calorie and fat (that was part of the binder). And since I wanted to go gluten free, I subbed out the breadcrumbs with "corn flake crumbs". I went with the corn flakes because when it fried up it gave a nice crispy texture to the outside of the cake (and thus retain some moisture). Because I went with a bit more fat in the meat I didn't think I really wanted to add in further calories and fat in the form of the aioli sauce, it tasted just fine without it (that and I was getting a bit lazy). Anyhow these turned out great. Since it was hard to buy one pound of chicken I ended up with like 60 of these chicken cakes (about six pounds of meat), we'll see how well they hold up in the freezer.

For a starch component I went with this Rice and lentil Salad. I love the texture of the salad. The rice and lentils were tossed in with a bit of red wine viniagrette. The dressing was not very overwhelming, definitely added a slight twang to the dish. The original recipe asked for canned lentils which is a nice time saver but at $3 a can (for a total of $9) I decided to go with the single bag of dried lentils at $.67 and boil/simmering for 30 mins. That money could easily go to something else and I could afford the stove space.

There is a recent interest in Kale, you see it in all the cooking magazines and blog posts. Most of it in the form of smoothies, green smoothies have recently start popping up at work (we have a health challenge going on). Anyways, there's pretty good reason for all the attention, it's packed full of good for you vitamins and minerals. It's also high in fiber so it's really a big favorite with all the different diets floating around these days. Given all that I knew this Salsa Braised Kale was definite in, I figured this was a good chance to work with Kale and the recipe happened to be really really really simple. All you do is heat a bit of oil quickly saute the kale, add in some salsa and water and let it braise for 15 mins. Optionally toss in a bit of cheese but I though it was fine without it. I had some initial misgivings as the kale was very tough but the braise really softened it up quite a bit and it's a really tasty dish. I went with the "fresh" roasted tomato salsa in the fridge section and a carton of the fresh pico de gallo both had enough seasoning such that I didn't even need to add any salt.

Finally dessert, I wanted something dead simple and I found it with this Tea Scented Mandarins. I cheated and went with canned mandarins and rinsed off the syrup. From there you just boil up some black tea and add some honey and ground cardamom. The flavors really developed over night and was a surprise hit with the bento-ers. A few of them were like, huh canned oranges (the tea syrup is not immediately obvious) but the unusual flavor turned quite a few heads.

I got another bento coming up next week but then holiday season will be upon us. Stay tuned!

Box Contents:
  • Spicy Chicken Cakes
  • Rice and Lentil Salad
  • Salsa Braised Kale
  • Tea Scented Mandarins

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cooking with/for Friends 2

Hey guys, sorry about the lack of bentos lately. Work has really ratcheted up and free time has gone down to a minimum. I've had a few photos and off topic posts that I wanted to put out but simply getting a moment to write a quick post has been difficult. I'm actually doing this one over my lunch just to take a break from my deluge of emails and meetings. Anyhow, enough belly aching.

I had the great fortune to cook with a long time friend and coworker. She and her husband use to have a Persian restaurant in town and both are fabulous cooks! She invited me to help host/cook for a party of our friends just to get everyone together. We've done this in the past and it was a wonderful opportunity to learn a bit more about Persian cuisine. So given the chance I immediately jumped on it. Besides, her house is beautiful and her kitchen a joy to work in just look at the view (from the title shot) and this outdoor/kitchen grill. The indoor kitchen was just amazing it really has everything I could ever want in a kitchen. I got to watch the sun set two nights in a row as we cooked, simply amazing. I need a kitchen like that!

Anyhow below are all the dishes we made, I assisted and took notes on most of the dishes and contributed two of my own.

Starting salads. Bean and olive salad and Tabbouleh.

Spinach with dried cranberries and prunes. Bademjan with lentil - Eggplant with saffron sauteed onions and yellow lentils. This was a nice stewed eggplant dish great just as a side dish or as a dip with some pita.

My two contributions: East meets middle east roll, Moroccan spiced chicken breast with saffron rice rolled as a sushi roll and served with a dynamite sauce (from my night cooking for the Flying Carpet as guest chef) and a spiced Pork tenderloin prepared sous vide. I was able to produce four of these all in one go in my little Sous Vide Supreme. I think I need to put up ads or get some sort of commission from these guys, I sure i've personally sold a few units just by cooking for people.

Next up were the dolmas. In the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisines there are many variations on stuffed/rolled grape leaves. Some use dried fruits and make it sweet, some savory, vegetarian, beef, lamb, in this case used beef and added lentils. Then there's the preparation/sauce used to cook the dolmas which span tomato based, simple broth or in this case a mixture of lemon and garlic topped off with water. Like tamales, dumplings, raviolis and piergo, dolmas are one of those cultural foods that you grab the bowl and ingredients stand around the counter with friends and roll out a few hundred. I like how ever culture has at least one of those communal cooking foods. It's a great way to get folks to participate and catchup on how everyone's been doing.

To finish things up we have Kookoo made with sweet potatoes and beets. Last time I learned to make a kookoo sabzi which comprised of various chopped greens. The thing in common is it's mixed with spices and egg and it's skillet fried. It's kinda like a frittata with a lot less egg and a lot more vegetables or a fritter but a lot less fried. Last but not least was the "cutlet" that's pretty much all I got for the name. We were chatting with a Russian coworker and she mentioned a similar dish in the Ukraine that sounded very similar "Kotlet". We served the cutlet as just a little beef patty, but as a snack the previous night we made a sandwich with a bit of pita, fresh tomatoes, basil, and mint. (which made for a nice picture)

I had a wonderful time hanging out with friends and sharing food. It was a lot of fun and I can't wait to do it again! I hope to do a bento this week I might get one or two in before the holiday season takes up all my time. Thanks for dropping by!