Category Archives: 2. Entrees & Appetizers

arugula & prosciutto soup

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chinese cucumber salad

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we’re going java!

if you ask hubs about his favorite pinoy dish, aristocrat’s java chicken will rank up there.  well really, what he likes about the dish is the java sauce that goes with the dish.  i think if he had his way, he would order the sauce as the entree and the chicken as the side.  the sauce itself tastes something in between teriyaki sauce, kecap manis, or molasses with peanut-ty undertones.

aristocrat’s restaurant in manila invented the sauce.  the filipino packaged goods brand, mama sita, makes a version that is sold throughout pinoy supermarkets at home and abroad.  our friends on the west coast have located the sauce at their local ethnic grocery stores.  hubs and i have yet to find the same sauce on the east coast.

a while back, i tried to make java sauce at home (attempt #1).  hubs said that it came in quite close but wasn’t quite right.  over the holidays, hubs got a hankering for java sauce again, and this time, i had him stand right next to the stove with me until his taste buds concurred that we were spot on. Continue reading

hakka-style stuffed tofu two-ways

for as long as i’ve known G, he’s been going on and on about his mum and aunt’s wonderful stuffed vegetable and tofu recipe.  and when i stopped by to celebrate christmas with his family two years ago in kuala lumpur, come supper time, his mom and aunt produced a massive plate filled with stuffed okra, peppers, eggplants and tofu, as pictured above.  pretty amazing, no?  and yes, i begged for the recipe, but was told that it was strictly a family secret.  bummer!

that said, i’ve been toying with making stuffed tofu for the past 10 years or so, although it’s usually something i make only for a special occasion…like this past thanksgiving.

most stuffed tofu recipes that i’ve seen, fry the stuffed object directly.  that technique works well only if using pre-fried tofu (yes, they sell this sort of thing in supermarkets).  i prefer to use fresh tofu, which has a tendency to fall apart if fried directly, plus the high water content of the silken tofu really muddles up the frying oil.  so, to counteract all this, i steam my tofu first, and then when it’s cold, i fry it in oil.

now, this past thanksgiving, about 2 hours before my guests showed up, i finally admitted that my turkey day menu had been a bit too ambitious (i can hear hubs’ “i told you so” refrain in the background), and decided to skip the frying and just serve the tofu steamed. it actually worked out great in retrospect, because steaming enabled me to just plop the entire basket from the steamer directly onto the “buffet” table — no plating required (not that i would have undertaken any fancy plating to begin with) — plus, i was able to serve the dish hot when guests arrived.

a few days later, when i found the box filled with leftover steamed stuffed tofu, i decided to fry those babies up.  it was like serving an entirely new dish that no one would think was made from leftovers!

Hakka-Style Stuffed Tofu 2 Ways
(makes about 24 stuffed tofu cubes)

Firm Tofu 2-3 boxes (some places package 1 large tofu block per box, some do 3 smaller tofus per box, some do 2 pieces; i recommend buying a Japanese or Chinese brand.  I’ve had mixed success with Korean tofu makers.  I bought a box of soft tofu once, and it was in fact equivalent to a Japanese or Chinese firm tofu.)
Lotus Leaf or Napa Cabbage A few pieces to be used for lining the bamboo steam basket
Lean Ground Pork ½ pound
Shrimp ½ pound, raw, peeled and deveined
Dried Shitake Mushrooms ½ cup, soaked and softened
Chinese Leeks ½ cup, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Shaoxing Wine 1 tbsp
Sesame Oil 1 tbsp
White Pepper 2 tsp
Cornstarch 2 tsp
Sauce for Steamed Tofu
Light Soy Sauce 1 cup
Cilantro ¼ cup minced
Thai chilis 2-3 stems, minced
Sauce for Fried Tofu
Chicken stock 1/3 cup
Shaoxing Wine 1/3 cup
Oyster Sauce 2 tbsp
Ginger 1 tsp minced
Shallots 1 tbsp minced
Cornstarch 1 tsp
  1. In the bowl of your food processor, drop in all ingredients.  Pulse a few times until just combined.  Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Cut tofu into roughly 1-inch cubes. Arrange in a bamboo steam basket lined with lotus leaf or napa cabbage.
  3. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of the tofu.  (it’s just a quick twist using the melon baller. you’re leaving most of the tofu intact).
  4. Pick up a tablespoon or so of stuffing and roll it into a small ball. Place the ball into the center of the tofu you just scooped out.  Repeat until all tofu as been filled.
  5. Steam for at least 20 minutes, or until the stuffing is cooked.  (It’s hard to over-steam!)
  6. To make the sauce for the steamed tofu, just combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix together with a spoon.  Serve on the side in a small bowl.
  7. To fry the leftover tofu, heat about 2 cups of canola oil in a medium sized saucepan.  When the temperature reached 380ºF,  drop in one piece of tofu to test if the temperature is right.  Then, drop in a few more.  The temperature will dip each time you introduce a new piece of tofu, so only fry a few at a time.
  8. To make the sauce for the fried tofu,  heat about 1 tbsp of canola oil in a pan.  Drop in ginger and shallots and fry until golden brown.  While the shallots of browning, dissolve cornstarch into the chicken stock.   When the shallots have lightly browned, pour in shaoxing wine, followed by chicken stock/corn starch and oyster sauce.  Reduce until thickened to the consistency of gravy. Then, pour over fried tofu. [Note: in the picture above, I ran out of shallots and ginger, and substituted with black beans.  Personally, I prefer the shallots and ginger more].

sichuan powder steamed pork (粉蒸肉)

so for thanksgiving, i decided to dig up an old family favorite: powder steamed pork ribs.  my grandmother makes it with gusto.  when she lived in the US, she used to have it at every meal when we visited.  after making it myself, i understood why.  it’s a dish that you can make ahead in large batches and then re-heat as needed. because it’s steamed, the pork rarely dries out.  it tastes as good re-steamed as it does fresh out of the steamer.  plus, the prep time is virtually nil when you buy all those pre-packaged mixes! (grandma used to make her version the old fashioned way from scratch, but even she has discovered the convenience of modern mixes).

grandma usually makes her steamed pork ribs in a porcelain bowl, and then just sets the whole thing inside a steamer.  for our festive gathering, i decided to steam everything inside a lotus leaf wrapper.  the pork ends up taking on a bit of that lotus leaf scent, but really, it’s the dramatic visual effect of the lotus leaf i wanted.

grandma uses pork ribs in her version, and so do i.  when i visited sichuan over the summer, the restaurant served up a version made with fatty pork belly, which really wasn’t my cup of tea.

Sichuan Powder Steamed Pork Ribs (粉蒸肉
(7-8 servings)

Pork Ribs 3 lbs, cut into 1 inch cubes (easiest to find these at a Chinese grocery store. I buy the super premium strips and then cut into cubes at home)
Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Carrots or Pumpkin 2-3 cups, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen (Steamed Pork Powder) 1 package.  See picture above
Lotus Leaf 2 leaves, soaked overnight
Fresh Garlic 4 cloves, finely minced
Rice Wine 2 tbsp
Canola Oil 2 tbsp
  1. The night before, soak lotus leaves overnight.
  2. The “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” package contains 4 items: 2 packages of flavoring spice and 2 packages of a coarse white mealy substance that is the broken rice.
  3. The night before or at least one hour before, marinate the pork ribs using the 2 packages of the flavoring spice from the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box, then add fresh garlic, rice wine and canola oil.  Mix everything well and leave in refrigerate to let it marinate.
  4. When ready to steam, line the bottom of a 10 to 12 inch round steamer with the lotus leaf, letting the edges of the leaf flow over the sides of the steamer.
  5. Place the sweet potato, carrots, pumpkins or yams on the bottom of the steam, on top of the lotus leaf.
  6. Sprinkle the rice powder (the other two packages inside the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box) on top of the marinated pork.  And, pour the pork on top of the sweet potato.
  7. Fold the lotus leaf edges over to cover the pork.
  8. Place the lid on the steamer and steam for ~90 minutes, or until the pork and sweet potatoes are tender.

tomato and caramelized onion tart

given my blog’s name, you’d have thought i’d have a plethora of tomato recipes on the site!  well, i finally got around to writing up a tomato tart recipe.  it was also a good opportunity, too,  to use up all the cherry tomatoes that i had been amassing in my fridge.  of course, it turned out that i was a few tomatoes shy ,but i think i had just enough to fill up the tart shell in a decent enough manner.

did i ever mention that tarts, savory and sweet, are like the perfect thing to make when entertaining?  you can make all the individual parts in advance, store them in your fridge, and just assemble and bake the day of.   Or, if you’ve got plenty of fridge space, you can just make the whole thing a day or so in advance, and re-heat.  i baked mine in the morning, and got away with serving it at room temperature later in the evening.

or, if you’re, hubs you can gobble up the leftovers for breakfast straight from the fridge.  .  .  i suppose it’s a bit like eating cold pizza for breakfast?

Tomato & Caramelized Onion Tart
(makes 1 nine-inch round tart)

Pate Brisee About half recipe here
Onions 3 medium sized onions
Butter 2 tbsp
Dijon Mustard 1 tbsp
Assorted Cherry Tomatoes 2-3 cups, washed and dried.  Remove stems and leaves, if any
Salt & Pepper 1-2 tsp each
Olive Oil 1 tbsp +1 tbsp, separately
  1. Roll-out the dough on a well-floured surface until it is about 13 inches wide and about 1/16th inch thick.
  2. Fit the dough into a 10 inch tart ring.
  3. Place the raw tart shell in the freezer and pre-heat oven to 350ºF.  When the oven reaches 350ºF, bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Then brush on some egg white and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven to cool.
  4. Slice onion into thin rounds.
  5. Heat butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a flat skillet.
  6. Add in onions and cook on low heat until the onions have caramelized.  Yes, you can do this quickly over high heat, but onions won’t release their sugars unless you do this low and slow.  It will take 25 minutes or so.  Patience is a virtue…
  7. Remove caramelized onions from skillet and mix with mustard.
  8. Spread the onions on the bottom of the tart in an even layer.
  9. Toss tomatoes with salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl.
  10. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the onions.
  11. Bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are puckered and slightly charred.

the 2 hour turkey

people descended upon my thanksgiving spread so quickly that i didn’t have the opportunity to take a photo of the entire spread.  i did manage to sneak in strategically to get shots of individual dishes.  i’ll be posting them over the next few days. first, the turkey glamour shots . . .

i always try to find the smallest bird possible.  this year, i got a 10 lb free range turkey from Costco.  i recall paying $23 for the bird.

rather than brining, i do a salt and pepper rub. because of its small size, my turkey will cook in  about 2 hours, giving me plenty of time to use the oven for other things.

here’s what i did . . .

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Turkey
(one 10 lb turkey)

Turkey 1 8-10 lb bird, preferably free range
Salt & Pepper 1-2 tbsp
Olive Oil 1-2 tbsp
Lemons 2, halved
Rosemary 1 bunch
Onions 2 medium sized onions, halved
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425º F
  2. Wash and dry the turkey
  3. Sprinkle salt & pepper on the front and back, as well as inner cavity of the  bird
  4. Drizzle all over with olive oil
  5. Stuff the turkey with lemons, onions and rosemary
  6. Place the dressed bird on a rack set inside a sufficiently large roasting pan
  7. Roast for ~2 hours or until the temperature of the breast meat reached about 160º F
  8. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow the meat to rest

peking duck in beijing: part 2

[so somehow you endured my rampage on peking duck in beijing and want to read more on said topic, eh (said with canadian accent)?]

we arrived in beijing on an early morning flight, and soon after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, packed ourselves into a taxi hurtling towards east 40th road bridge location of dadong roast duck restaurant.  the restaurant itself was rather curiously ensconced within the newly restored imperial granary.  there was, what appeared to be, a small museum to the side of the restaurant about the granary during the qing era.

a phalanx of valets, maitr’ds and greeters filled the entrance of the restaurant.  once inside the vestibule, we observed a small army of chefs loading, turning and removing perfectly golden peking ducks from the blazing hot brick oven.  the decor of the dining area took me by surprise.  i guess, the last time i went to dadong (albeit different location), i sat at a traditionally decorated chinese restaurant — clean with carved wooden chinese chairs and yellow table cloth.  this newest iteration of dadong featured black and silver as the primary colors. the table cloths were replaced by surfaces done up with a glossy, mirror like finish.  the dragon and chinese symbols remained but more muted than before.   same restaurant, same duck but re-packaged in shiny new garb befitting “nouveau china” and its nouveau riche clientele.

our waitress handed us a massive tome of a menu, weighing close to 5 lbs.  after flipping thru 30-40 pages, we settled on the duck, stir fried  baby snow peas shoots, gong bao shrimp and a small bowl of fried rice.  the menu contained tons of opulent dishes that we didn’t order: abalone, sea cucumbers, crab, etc.  i quite enjoyed the shrimp. the snow peas were well done, though nothing special.  surprisingly, the fried rice came about 30 minutes late and was nothing short of terrible.  fortunately, the duck made up for that mis-step.

the waitress placed the (optional; ~15rmb per person, i think) condiment platter for the duck on our tables.  it contained sugar, pickled vegetables, scallions, cucumbers, hoisin sauce, radishes and fresh ground garlic. we stared at it for about 5 minutes until the master duck chef appeared table-side to carve our duck into perfectly thin, super crisp slices, and then arrange them into a floral pattern on a platter. i wonder how many years of training it takes to become a duck carver?

we had only ordered half a duck, but were unable to finish — no doubt because hubs fell in love with the accompanying pancakes.  he started to eat the pancakes sans duck.  we went through two baskets of pancakes because of his affinity for them.  to this day, if you ask him what dish he enjoyed most in china, he’ll say the peking duck at dadong but really for the pancakes.  me, i liked the duck.  i found the duck flesh tender and the skin amazing light, airy and crispy.  i think we have a good system worked out.  one order of duck.  duck for me; pancakes for him . . .

dadong also serves the duck with shao bing (烧饼; it’s kind of like a flakey and puffy bread dotted with sesame seeds) and a duck broth soup — not pictured.  our bill came to around RMB400-500 for two people, an amount that is a bit exorbitant by local standards but reasonable for the quality of the meal.

the next night we headed over to peking duck, private kitchen (“PDPK”), a new duck restaurant that hadn’t been around the last time i stayed in the capital. PDPK is located in the ground floor of an office complex in the business district. it is much less opulent and over the top compared to da dong.  the restaurant’s chinese name (果果私房烤鸭) refers to the fruit wood used to roast the duck.  and indeed, upon stepping inside the restaurant the heady scent of burning fruit wood swept over us.

the interior of the restaurant is quite dark. it seemed as if each table was barely illuminated by the light from candles warming plates of duck placed on top.  the tables and benches are quite low to the ground, as if to replicate the sensation of being seated on a manchurian kang.

the chef at PDPK has a different style of serving peking duck compared to dadong.  once we placed our order (whole duck only), a small plate containing sugar and thin slices of duck neck skin appeared.  while the duck fat had been drained, the skin tasted much smokier and less airy compared with  dadong — then again duck neck skin does tend to be tougher than skin from the rest of the duck.

our waitress set the main platter of roast duck on top of a candle to keep it warm.  while artfully presented, the chef carved the duck in a manner that featured the duck flesh rather than the duck skin.  the skin had been sliced into thin slivers attached to duck flesh that really didn’t allow me to fully experience the joy of eating crisp duck skin by itself.

like at dadong, we were also served duck broth soup and pancakes.  hubs commented that the pancakes at dadong were thinner and less chewy compared with PDPK.  he liked dadong’s more, but he gobbled up a whole bunch of those wrappers nonetheless.

PDPK is good value for money, and at 99 rmb per duck, it’s the most affordable duck on my list (there are some local places that serve peking duck for 50-70 rmb).  i’d say that their duck on any given day is better than your average duck in beijing, and especially better than peking duck in nyc.

that said, da dong, for now,  still remains tops for peking duck in my book. . .

Da Dong: (大董烤鸭店–东四十条)
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Beijing, China
Open daily 11am-10pm
Tel: 86-10-5169-0328
**there are several other locations in Beijing

Peking Duck, Private Kitchen: (果果私房烤鸭)
Vantone Center, 6A Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
朝阳区朝阳门外大街 6A号万通中心
Open daily 11am-2pm, 5pm-9.30pm
Tel: 86-10-5907 1920

peking duck in beijing: part 1

i promised hubby that we would gorge ourselves on some of the best peking duck on the planet during out trip to china. we would only be in beijing for a day and a half, which would allow us to have two peking duck meals.  i suppose i could have squeezed in a third, but our cholesterol levels at that point might easily have shot into territories even beyond lipitor’s rescue.  a few weeks before i left for the trip to in late august, i started researching the best places to eat peking duck in the capital.  i began by looking for the  “top 10 / best of” lists, and surprisingly,  many of the lists i came across had not been updated in 5 years. given the amount of change that has been taking place in china, i would have expected the top ranks of duck houses to at least include a few new names.

after some digging, i compiled a short list of my own (see below), and decided to pick one old standby, Da Dong,  and one new place, Peking Duck, Private Kitchen to try.

tomato in tribeca’s short list of top peking duck houses (August 2010) — in no particular order and not by any means completely exhaustive:
(* indicates where we actually ended up going)

  1. Quan Ju De: (全聚德) this one has been around forever and was the first duck house i ate at in china about 15 years ago when i believe it was still a state-run affair.  nowadays it’s got franchises galore throughout china, hk and australia. the restaurant is frequently mentioned as being the place for eating duck, though i personally think that their standing has more to do with their storied 130+ year history.  since trying the restaurant 15 years ago, i have never gone back — we were served a duck with 1 inch of duck fat still intact. blubbery and totally inedible. interestingly my beijing friends from back then told me that the fatter duck was considered to be more of a delicacy.  i have to think that in the 15 years since my visit, they’ve managed to roast a leaner duck in accords with modern tastes.  perhaps it’s worth another look.
    Peking Duck: ~220 RMB; although prices vary by location (they used to have a foreign tourist section where prices were much higher than for locals, not sure if they still do).
  2. Made in China: (长安壹号) the restaurant is located inside the grand hyatt hotel in beijing.  it was the hottest peking duck house in town 5 years ago, and the duck, pricey by local standards, was extremely flavorful and tender. i thought about booking there, but got swayed by my old standby, Da Dong, instead.
    Peking Duck: ~250 RMB.
  3. Duck de Chine – 1949: (全鸭季) Y called up her friend in beijing to inquire about the best place for peking duck.  her friend mentioned this place.  apparently the duck is similar to da dong in taste but the place has got a nouveau modern china ambiance.  it’s inside a converted factory space and has an art gallery out front.  will have to try the next time i’m in beijing.
    Update:  Y just wrote me.  Apparently, she just ate dinner there and  thinks Da Dong is still better … that said, she thought their sauce was quite interesting–it had a yin-yang swirl effect…
    Peking Duck: ~188 RMB.
  4. Li Qun Roast Duck: (利群烤鸭店) my friend S dragged me to this place 5 years ago.  you have to go down some dirty alleys before finding this place inside a converted hutong (old style home). S had gone there before and swore that they served the best duck because they used some sort of special fruit type wood to roast their ducks.  i thought the duck was really nothing special, but what really got me was how dirty the place was.  i didn’t get sick or anything but felt rather uncomfortable the whole time there.  not sure if they’ve managed to remodel in the last 5 years. while it’s not the most expensive duck in the city, they’ve jacked up their prices in the last 5 years — no doubt because they were featured in all these tourist books (used to be under 100 RMB per duck, i believe).   sounds like they’ve managed to evolve into a total tourist trap to me.
    Peking Duck: ~190 RMB.
  5. *Da Dong: (大董烤鸭店) i fell in love with this restaurant 5 years ago, and i still love it today. if anything, they’ve managed to get better  with age.  they’ve got several branches around the city.  we went to their newest and ritziest location inside the old imperial granary.  they were never the cheapest duck house in town, and their prices  (especially for other menu items) have increased in the last 5 years. however, i think the quality is worth it.
    Peking Duck: ~200 RMB
  6. *Peking Duck, Private Kitchen: (果果私房烤鸭) great value for money. the duck is similar in flavor to Li Qun, but the place is a lot cleaner, more modern, and the duck a lot cheaper.  prices for other dishes were quite reasonable.  they are not super fancy like Da Dong but they get the job done.
    Peking Duck: 99 RMB

Reviews on Da Dong and Peking Duck, Private Kitchen forthcoming

sts (aka. sweet tangy spicy) pickled radishes

perfect pickled radishes is a matter of personal taste.  i like mine slightly sweet, slightly tangy, slightly spicy, and oh yeah, they need to have a crunch.  i started mucking about the kitchen the other day, and quickly threw together a pickling brine with the sichuan peppercorns i had hauled back from my trip to chengdu. i poured the brine over some radishes, and lo and behold, a few days later, hubs and i found ourselves crunching on some seriously delicious radishes.

i then spent the next two weekends making sure that i could reproduce the recipe.  i think i’ve got it down to a science now, or at least an easy to repeat routine. in my latest batch, i tossed in some sliced carrots as well to add some color.

i’m finding that the radishes are awesomely convenient and infinitely versatile .  i’ll toss them into salads, place them on top of sandwiches, or use them as a condiment to go along with some cold sesame noodles.  .  .

STS Pickled Radishes
(enough to fill a 1.5L Fido Jar)

Radishes 2 ¼ lbs (~1 kilo); I use daikon radishes because they are easiest to slice.  Red radishes can be used as well – a neat thing happens with red radishes. After a few days of pickling, the red skin color transfers from the radish to the brine, i.e. the brine becomes reddish and the radish is left white).NB: if you want some color, sliced carrots can be tossed in as well, but i’d keep the proportion sub 20%.
Fresh Garlic 3-4 cloves, peeled and smashed
Fresh Ginger About 1 inch cube, peeled and sliced
Sichuanese Red Peppercorns ¼ cup
Dried Red Chili Peppers ½ cup
Sugar ½ cup
Rice Vinegar 1 ½ cups
White Vinegar ½ cup
Mirin ½ cup
Sake ½ cup
  1. Wash, peel and slice radishes about 1/8″ thick.  It’s easiest to use a japanese benriner or mandolin.
  2. Toss sliced radishes in a large prep bowl with garlic, ginger, sugar, peppercorns and chilis.
  3. Transfer to Fido jar and pour vinegars, mirin and sake over.
  4. Clamp jar close and store in refrigerator.
  5. Radishes will be ready to eat in 2-3 days.