Monday, March 30, 2009

College is a time for experimentation... right?

See if you can figure out what I did/plan to do... (note the first pic is unrelated, it was just dinner one day last week, I thought it looked nice lol). It was actually just a quick stir fry of onions which I caramelized with some garlic, thrown in with some broccoli. On the other side, I just reheated some leftover brown rice from some Chinese delivery, and broiled a veal shoulder steak (thanks Morton Williams for your 'meat of the day!') which was done up with a nice dry rub of basil, pepper, and salt before being covered with a thin layer of honey for a sweet crust. No recipe here, it was thrown together hastily, and is probably too easy of a meal to require directions to replicate. Onto the main point of the post...

So if you saw the progression of photos and immediately thought char siu dumplings, then you and I must think exactly alike lol. After cutting the remainders of the first pound of pork belly (still another pound left!), I wasn't really sure what I should do with it. I could've made a noodle soup yes, I could've just sliced it real thin and eaten it with eggs... I mean it is bacon. So as I was slicing the fat off the edges, which I conveniently bagged for later rendering, I decided I'd go with my favorite application of pork belly, which is char siu, but this time, I'd make it in bulk haha. Anyway, to the left is the glorious remainder of fat that I placed ever so delicately in a ziploc bag. Seriously, if you've never cooked with pork fat before, you don't know true flavor (sorry vegetarians).

In any case, onto the preparation for the roast. I went with the same marinate first time, but tripled the recipe to account for the massive increase in surface area. Going through the motions, I waited several hours, baked for 30 minutes, and when I went back to look, the meat was grilled ever so red, with the fat that I left on the pork still sizzling coming out of the oven. I love the smell of roasted Asian meats at 5 in the morning haha. So as you can see on the right, there I have 3 pieces of nicely charred and uncut char siu, but what do to with it. Having stopped by Woorijip (which I learned means 'our house' in Korean) and having purchased a cheap bag of dumpling wrapper, the thought hit me that char siu tastes pretty damn good in bread, tastes pretty damn good with noodles and rice, why wouldn't it taste good in pan fried wrappers?

So the night before I actually planned on cooking, I just sliced and diced one piece of char siu, a sprig of scallion, and went to work filling some skins. For the one piece of meat, I ended up with 12 dumplings, which works out pretty well in terms of filling actually, but let me tell you... I hate filling dumplings, I hate doing the water pinch thing, and I hate the fancy crimping. It all just takes too long. Yes it's satisfying, but when you sit there for 15 minutes and your finished plate is 2/3 empty, you don't exactly beam with pride. So how did they come out? well, uh... that's for another post, since at the original time of posting for this one, I had put them in the refrigerator (it was 9 at night, and I wasn't about to go about frying a plate of dumplings to eat right before bed).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Homemade char siu (叉燒)!

I made char siu last night when I couldn't do my reactor problem set... and now I'm back to update with both the recipe, and a few thoughts on junk food

First off, here's the unsliced piece of pork belly that became my char siu (叉燒). I started off with 2 pounds that I bought at Hong Kong on that trip last Wednesday, but I had the butcher guy cut it into 2 halves so it'd be more manageable. Anyway, I didn't really know what to do with so much pork belly, and I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do when I bought it, I just knew it was their 'meat of the day' and that it was cheap. So I took one of the slabs and cut off 1/4 of it for a 100 gram strip (to simplify cooking time). Then I looked up some recipes online, decided that they were all too complicated or had too many ingredients I didn't have and decided to wing it. It was a good decision I think. So here's the recipe...

100 grams pork belly (or whatever cut you like I guess, I wanted a fattier one)
2 tbsp. shao xing cooking wine (紹興酒)
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. 5 spice powder (五香粉)
1 tbsp. honey + 1 tbsp. water (for the glaze)
dash of pepper

Basically, it's as stupid simple as mixing everything aside from the honey together in a bag and marinating the meat for as long as possible. Oh yeah... score the meat a little before marinating, it'll help with the juices being absorbed. As far as the characteristic red color, you could either go with food coloring or using a chili powder that is virtually tasteless (the route I went lol). After marinating for what seems like forever, place the meat into a roasting pan covered with a sheet of aluminum foil, and over that, tent another piece of foil. Please don't ignore the tenting part, unless you want to have blackened pork. Roast at 425 for 10 minutes before removing the foil and roasting for another 10 minutes (it's at this point that any marinate you had saved from before can be used to remoisturize the meat if it's getting too dry). After the 20 minutes are up, throw it on the grill, or in my case, under the broiler, and drizzle on the honey water mixture. Just wait until a nice char develops and you're done! Actually, you get to see the honey water mixture bubble with the fat, it's pretty sweet to watch...

I waited about, uh... 10 minutes (very impatient) before slicing it. Trust me, the crispness of the fat is so satisfying to cut into, and the juices that flow out are quite fragrant (which I saved for the veggies the next day haha, in addition to the leftover marinate!). Next day, I stir fried some Kailan (芥蘭), onions, and baby bella mushrooms from Trader Joe's with the oils and marinate sauce, and just served the pork over rice, ridiculously simple and good. So yeah, there's no secret to how I cook my veggies, use leftover sauces (albeit ones that have sat with fatty pieces of meat for long periods of time), and oils/fats rendered from said fatty pieces of meat. I'm sure I'm not helping certain demographics *cough* feistyfoodie.

Also, last night marked the last day I planned on doing my carb up days, so I treated myself to dozen Dunkin Donuts, some poptarts, some more candybars, a slice of pizza from Pinnacle, as well as the 'Pinnacle Burger Deluxe,' review to come. Once again, I ate until I felt sick, reminding myself that I hate junk food. Well this morning, I did 25 miles on the bike (feeling great I might add), and had a couple of thoughts. First being... is myinnerfatty going to become myouterfatty again? Second thought... 'Man I hate Chris for showing me how to get stuff from vending machines.' Then I realized, this entire thing is a paradox, fat me could never get his arm up far enough in the vending machines, so this trick only works if I'm thin enough. So, should the day come where I've gained too much weight too quickly, it'll be self correcting. It was at this point that I realized all was good in the world (that and having a housing lottery number of 94 as a senior) pure... win.

To close, I'd like to announce (with details to come) a giveaway for my blog. I'm trying to trick more people into reading, so I figured I could use some good publicity ha. Anyway, I have a boatload of cookies, candy, and assorted other sweets left over from my carb up, so I'll be combining that with... a homemade strip of char siu... and probably a columbia shirt as a little swag thing for reading. I'll announce more when I review Pinnacle's burger later this week... so stay tuned!

Friday, March 20, 2009

I've never met a bowl of beef noodles I didn't like... until Super Tasty

As unprofessional as it is, I sit here at work making a blog post. No, I'm not 'fraudin' my company or anything of the sort, but rather, I'm waiting for a migration (RoR thing... don't worry about it) to run and I'm bored as hell. Anyway, I figured it's about time to look back at the terrible fail that took place on Wednesday, on this gorgeous first day of spring (it was snowing this morning... wtf is that?).

I took a personal day on Wednesday since I was, again, running out of food. So in the morning I did the whole gym thing, checked the website, and headed out along Riverside expecting a nice breezy run in 45 degree weather. Um... no, 6 miles of 15 mile an hour wind in my face from the South West made for windchill of low 30s. Whatever, it wasn't that bad... I was running so it was moderately acceptable weather. In any case, I stopped at 14th street since I wanted to check out Union Square's Farmers Market, as well as Trader Joe's (which... don't laugh, I'd never gone to before). Union Square Market was pretty sweet, cheap ass apples, expensive dairy, and apparently Ostrich eggs(?)... who knew? I planned my route so as to hit the apple stands on the way back from Chinatown, so after a quick survey, I headed Eastward toward 'Joe's.' Holy crap was I impressed, it was basically healthfood central... with good prices to boot. Again, just a quick swing through, and I was on my way to Chinatown, where I'd grab lunch and do some grocery shopping.

At first I wanted to hit up the 'Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food' joint for their $2.25 roast pork over rice. It's an aluminum container stuffed to the brim with white rice, some greens, and topped with some of the fattiest pork, all covered with the soy honey glaze... delicious. I really should have gone with my gut (haha, get it?), but against my better instinct, I trekked deeper into the confines of Chinatown towards Hong Kong Supermarket, ending up on Doyer. Now, I could've salvaged this trip by walking into 'Excellent Pork Chop House,' but no... I kept walking to the next shop, Super Tasty Hand-pulled Noodles. Ugh... what a mistake this turned out to be. Honestly, I was tricked by the sign in the window that said they had 'Shandong (山東) style knife cut noodles,' which I later found out, suck ass compared to 'Shanxi (山西) style.'

Even as you look from the outside, the storefront looks clean. This should've tipped me off that it wasn't awesome, but no... I figured there's no way beef noodles can go wrong. Inside, I found a series of tables linked together to be shared by the guests. This is alright, pretty authentic, since in Taiwan, noodle joints tend to be communal eating places... places where you'll often end up elbowing someone in the head when you pick up the bowl to drink the soup, and places where you'll get splashed by someone else's soup broth. Yeah... nostalgia haha, but back on point, I was there for the noodles... so scanning the menu, I went with my favorite... 'beef tendon noodle soup w/knife cut noodles.' I asked for it hot, to which I was promptly given a bottle of Sriracha... seriously, wtf... that's not the same as cooking it with extra chili oil... at $5.25, isn't the least you can do to cater to your customer better than the other noodle shops?

To be fair, there was one positive, it came fast. Like... 1 minute after ordering, and it was hot (temperature wise, not spiciness). The problem was obvious when I stared at the bowl though, the noodles weren't cut like I had thought (the whole Shanxi vs. Shandong thing). Instead of being the thick cut type of shard noodles, what I was given was basically Chinese linguini with retarded edges. Whatever, I could deal with it... I was hungry as a hippo... I had just ran 7 miles in cold weather! After dousing the bowl in Sriracha, which I'm still sort of annoyed with, I dug in. Oh no... another fail, the 'meat' was just tendon. Now you might be saying, "Isn't that exactly what you ordered?" Yes... I guess so, but in Taipei... tendon noodles are actually 1/2 tendon, 1/2 brisket. FAIL FAIL FAIL! I'm sorry, but at this point I was so angry at myself for 1) picking a more expensive place (more than 2x the cost of Wah Fung) 2) getting noodles that were subpar by my standards and 3) getting something other than what I had in mind that I didn't even finish the soup. I paid the ridiculous bill and left. Super Tasty, congratulations... you've done the impossible... you made me regret ordering beef noodle soup.

Basically, I walked out of the store... disappointed? no, that's an understatement, kinda pissed I guess. So on my way to Hong Kong, I spotted the Xin Jiang (新疆) BBQ man, with his assortment of skewers, all for a dollar. Of course, having just ingested a crapload of noodles, with no meat (yeah, tendons by themselves don't count in my book) I quickly scanned the menu for something that would satisfy my lack of protein haha. He has a decent collection of fairly exotic things, with the normal lamb, chicken, and beef, but then you notice that there's cuttlefish, grilled corn, fish balls, and tofu... but anyway, I went with the beef to make up for the noodles. All he asks is "Do you want it spicy," a request that apparently Super Tasty is too retarded to fulfill, let alone ask. Basically, this just means as it's being roasted, he lays on a thick layer of chili oil... yum.

How was it? Pretty satisfying for a buck, there's enough on the stick for a solid 5 or 6 bites. It's fatty enough that the juices flow down the stick, but not so much that it overwhelms the flavor of the smoked barbecue or the original flavor of the meat. As for the spiciness, well... it wasn't something that'd make you cry, but it definitely hit the spot, more on flavor than on the pain. Honestly, if I had known how good this was, and how crappy Super Tasty would be, I would've saved my money and just gotten one of each skewer here, it'd be the same cost, but way more fun and delicious having more skewers than I could try to hold at once. All in all, I'd definitely recommend this spot as a cheapskate spot, and tell everyone to avoid Super Tasty, hell just go next door and grab a pork chop from Excellent's. After that, things were looking up. All that remained was shopping done at Hong Kong, Trader Joe's, and Union Square market. I picked up my standard fare, some tofu, lots of Asian greens, pork belly from HK (and a crocodile steak from Deluxe Market... note: MAD good). At Trader Joe's I just bought egg whites and bread, and to support our local growers, I bought 3 pounds of apples from the farmer's market. Hopped on the 1 train and went back to Columbia. I guess the day was sort of redeemed, as it wasn't 100% useless, but still...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Recipes, bento, and donuts!

Homemade Taiwanese pork chop

First up, see that gorgeous pork chop at the top? Yeah... despite the white Chinese takeout container, coincidentally from Hua Ji, it was homemade, and every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Actually, to be fair, it doesn't really stack up the ones in Chinatown, but hey... it's the price you pay for knowing all the ingredients that go into it *ahem* no MSG. In any case, making a crispy pork chop in the 'Taiwanese style' is way easier than Chinese people would let on. Recipe is as follows...

4 oz. pork chop (I guess maybe 6 oz. bone in)
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. 5 spice powder (五香粉)
1 tbsp. chili seeds (辣椒子)
1 tbsp. panko bread crumbs
additional sesame oil for pan frying

Basically, combine the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, sugar, garlic, sesame oil, pepper, and 5 spice powder into a bag and marinate your chop for a couple of hours in th
e fridge, try to press the pork chop as much as possible prior to marinating (both to increase surface area for marinate, and also to tenderize). Oh, and make sure to cut small slits in the edge of the meat too... first time I made this, I didn't realize that the pork chop would actually curl back inwards when fried... d'oh. After marinating, go ahead and heat your pan/wok... whatever you feel like using with the sesame oil. While you're waiting for this, prepare your breadcrumb batter by mixing the chili seeds and bread crumbs. Straight from the bag, make sure to coat your pork chop evenly with the crumb and chili mix on one side, and pop it into a preheated oven at 350 for just about 5 minutes. Now take the pork chop out, coat the other side, and pop it back in the over for maybe 3 minutes. With the meat halfway cooked, drop it, not literally, straight into the hot oil... don't ask what temperature it should be at... I'm not Alton Brown, and I don't have a thermometer for these kinds of things (basically just medium high heat). I fried each side for about 30 seconds, but basically you'll see it start to brown when it's good and done. Remove the chop from the heat, plop it over some white rice, and you've got yourself Taiwanese pork chop! I added a crapload of 'oil vegetable' (油菜) on the side for color (and for the sake of being nutritionally concious). See? Mad easy, and ridiculously good too.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hua Ji Pork Chop is indeed fast... but is it good?

Hua Ji storefront

Friday night, I open my minifridge to prepare dinner, and what do I find? Nothing. That's the problem... I had no more ingredients (for someone who likes to find cheap eats, I do a lot of cooking), but I digress, no cabbage, no bean sprouts, hell, I was down to 3 bags of ground tenderloin... am I supposed to just eat pork and rice?!? No, desperate times call for desperate measures... I was going to make a special trip to Chinatown. Okay, so maybe I just wanted to go to Chinatown, can you really blame me? The food is ridiculously good there, and oh so cheap, plus I could get my more 'exotic' grocery shopping done as well.

I had originally planned on going with some friends to Hua Ji (華記), since I knew their pork chop over rice combo was of ridiculous proportions, and splitting the rice while getting extra chops, but alas... everyone bailed on me, either citing the fact that they had to study, or that they didn't want to wake up early... weak. Anyway, first thing in the morning, I get up, go to the gym, forgetting that I had planned on running there, and doing a good half hour of stairs and lifting before I remembered, so I quickly stopped and got ready to leave. The run downtown was gorgeous on Saturday, high 60's weather (after about a week of midteens), virtually no wind, no overcast, basically perfect running conditions. I travelled light, with just my camera bag holding my camera, my id, a metrocard, and $30 bound together with a rubberband (ha, in retrospect I probably should've brought more money), but yeah... 10 am leave, 10:45 arrival on Canal Street... pretty good time for me on a 10k (or is it 11k?).

First thing I had to take care of was the groceries, which looking back, I should've handled after lunch. I'll explain why later. Onto the corner of Elizabeth and Hester I went looking... for Hong Kong Supermarket (there are a few in Chinatown, and I've been to the one on East Broadway, so I figured I'd go to a different one). Go inside, and handle the grocery business... 8 pound head of napa, check... some greens (油菜, literally 'oil vegetable') for stir frying, check... add to that list beef tendon, cured tofu, pork chops, eggplant, and panko bread crumbs and I was done. Paid the $14 dollars (wicked cheap right?) and I was on my way to lunch. Now, why I should've reversed the order of events should be obvious. Listen, I don't care how jacked you think you are, 8 pounds of cabbage is heavy when you're walking in Chinatown, with another solid 5 pounds of assorted other groceries, your hands will get tired. I learned my lesson and will plan accordingly in the future, I hope haha.

Hua Ji menu

After walking a solid half mile across Chinatown to Allen Street, I finally get to my 'Mecca,' a hole in the wall place that is no larger than my dorm room that serves Taiwanese style pork chops. As I walked into the shop, again... my authenticity meter peaked. Sitting to the right, along a thin strip of counter with only 5 stools were two old Chinese men speaking in Taiwanese, gawking at a small TV overhead while enjoying their lunches (I think they both got the pasta dishes which are inappropriately named 意粉). What were they watching? Hakka news of course! Haha, it was like I died and ended up back in Taipei, this shop was legit for sure. Looking at the menu, even though I knew exactly what I was there for, I found it short and simple... pretty much chicken/pork over rice or noodles (yeah they have beef noodles and dumplings, but come on... it's called pork chop king in Chinese). I ask for the regular pork chop over rice (豬排飯) and within 30 seconds, the woman in the back produced a takeout container with my order, steaming hot.

Pork chop over rice

I'd like to point out that I did tag this post with 'friend.' Why? Because the first thing she said was, "The box is too full, I can't close it... can you eat some here before leaving?" When I responded that, that was my intention, a huge smile beamed on her face, as she told me "Oh, why didn't you say so? I would've given you more!" Chinatown hospitality is pretty amazing sometimes. So back to the food, the standard order for $4.50 will net you the giant box of rice and pickled vegetables (酸菜) with a crispy fresh pork chop, as well as a cup of soup (I think it was pork broth, since I found bits of meat and gelatinized marrow, containing some red dates and other things I'm clueless about). This was a meal to be reckoned with, I was planning on splitting it originally and felt slightly intimidated, but hey, I just did 300 flights of stairs, lifted, ran 6+ miles, and carried groceries all around Chinatown... I was hungry damnit!

How was the food? Let's just say it was as good as any pork chop I've had in Taipei. The meat was piping hot, juicy, and had a nice crispy skin (check the cross section, you can see the oil glistening in the artificial lighting, and the thin layer of breadcrumb fat). The meat to bone ratio was terrific, and best of all it didn't really cling, so there was little wasted. The soy sauce blend that they pour on top was just as I remembered... sweet and tangy, just a complement to the pork's natural fats, and the saturated transfats that it was fried in. Oh, and maybe the best part... the pickled vegetables... I really could've just eaten the rice with the veggies alone haha. To sum up in one word... amazing. To top it off, I finally can end my search for that take out container for repeated use since this one is both massive and sturdy (har har, yeah... I'm sure that's what she said). The soup was a nice complement, nothing special, but it didn't have to be. It was meant to be subtle, and was good to have as a means to cleanse the oil from your lips (except not really, since it was pretty heavy as well). In any case, I finished my pork chop, but only maybe 1/4 of the rice... so I asked the woman if I could have some more preserved vegetables, which, of course, she obliged to... proclaiming that, "The 酸菜 is free! Have as much as you want!" After downing some more rice, I decided to just pack it in and bring the rest home for cooking dinner (I was defeated by the massive platter).

Chinese popcorn chicken

Before I left, I remembered that Wayne mentioned he wanted fried chicken... completely unrelated, but whatever. In any case, there's a dish in Taiwan that is traditionally street food called 'salt crispy chicken' (鹽酥雞) that I saw on the menu. Figured since their pork chops were delicious, that anything from that that's fried in the same oil must be delicious as well. Got an order for $2.50 (not nearly as much a steal) and headed back with bags a plenty in tow. I didn't have any, but Wayne said that they were pretty good. I'll take his word for it. Final verdict? I'd go again... and again... and again, and then maybe in between I'll try 'Excellent Pork Chop House' and compare the two, but this is definitely a place I would revisit whenever I'm in the area (and that's knowing that Super Taste and Sheng Wang are right around the corner).