Lotus Root & Braised Pork Belly in Fermented Tofu Sauce – 蓮藕燜豬肉

lotus root braised pork bellyThere are times when the evenings are too cold in London, work is too stressful and I just feel a bit homesick and really miss Hong Kong. At times like these, it’s always that taste-of-home-like-mum-makes-it which really hits the spot. This particular dish is a Cantonese staple and a huge favourite of mine. It’s salty, saucy and you have to eat it with rice. The lotus root is a vegetable that has starchy potato like qualities whilst also keeping a satisfying bite, and the fermented tofu sauce has a strong umami flavour. I’ve read that it’s been likened to cheese, but I guess it’s just one of those things that I’ve eaten from childhood so it’s just fermented tofu flavour to me. So first things first you’ll probably need to get your mitts on some fermented tofu (紅腐乳) from your local oriental supermarket. There are also dried mushrooms in this dish, so you will need to pre-soak these in a bowl of water with another bowl stacked on top to fully rehydrate them for at least an hour.

Lotus Root & Braised Pork Belly:
500 g pork belly
500 g lotus root
6 dried shitake mushrooms, pre-soaked and halved
2 inch knob of ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bricks fermented red bean curd (紅腐乳)
2 star anise
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar

Cut the pork belly into 2-3 inch chunks. Set aside. Peel the piece of ginger and with the large flat side of a meat cleaver SMASH IT FLAT, peel the garlic and repeat the smashing (if you don’t have a big meat cleaver, a meat tenderiser is fine). Peel and cut the lotus root into similar sizes to your pork and give the occasionally large piece a similar smash with the side of the cleaver (violent hey? Good for de-stressing this). My mum tells me it’s to get more flavour in, I think she just likes smashing things. Rinse off the lotus root and add leave them in a container full of water and a bit of salt to stop them from discolouring.

You now want to make a simple marinade. In a separate mixing bowl (large enough for all the pork) add the light soy, dark soy, rice wine, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and set aside.

Get your wok on medium to high heat and when the wok is nice and hot add your vegetable oil, once this is piping hot add the ginger then the garlic and flavour that oil but be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and ginger and set aside. You now want to sear the pork belly, it’s okay not to thoroughly cook it at this stage as it will go through a lot of braising, just carefully brown each side of the pork.

Once this is done, remove the pork and place it in the marinade, coat evenly and set aside.

With your wok still on, add back the ginger and the garlic and stir fry until fragrant again. Add to this the mushroom halves. Once they start smelling lovely add the fermented tofu with a cup of water and use the wok spatula to flatten and mix the blocks into a paste. Sieve the lotus root from the water and add the root to the wok. Stir stir stir. Coat coat coat. Now add the pork belly and all the marinade from the bowl. Finally add the star anise and enough water to just coat everything. Take the heat down to a simmer and leave for 2 hours always making sure to stir everything up occasionally and top up the water if needed. Test the pork, once this is soft and tender you’re ready to go. I hope you made some rice with that.

Rhubarb Crumble with Ginger (and possibly Greengages) as well as Real Custard

Rhubarb & Ginger Crumble

Rhubarb! Yay! Let’s make a crumble. I also very recently learned that rhubarb is used in traditional Chinese medicine, so it feels like the ginger pairing is rather fortuitous now. But lets face it, I had ginger wine in the house and that stuff is like alcoholic nectar of which I only put the fresh ginger in to enhance the booze! So…I’m not sure how overall healthy or medicinal the following dish is, but it is very satisfying to eat, and I even had some for breakfast the following day with cold custard. Not. Even. Guilty.

It’s at this point that I should also mention that I *think* I added some greengage plums to this dish, which was a totally amazing addition as the fruit really held shape and added a lovely bite to the overall dish. But I cannot of yet totally confirm this so I’ll have to come back to this post and edit it later if I ever find out whatever the hell plum-like things I actually did add to this.

Rhubarb filling for crumble:
400 g rhubarb - prepped weight
100 g greengage plums (possibly) - stoned and quartered
3 tbsp ginger wine - generous servings
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger with it's juices
100 g soft light brown sugar

Chop your rhubarb into long 10 cm by 1 cm sticks. Get all the above into a pot and simmer it all at low heat for around 15 minutes. You don’t want your rhubarb too soft. Once that’s done, you’ll probably have a bit too much thin liquid for a nice compote sauce, so sieve the fruit out and rest it in your oven proof dish while you crank the heat up in the pot and boil those fruit and sugar juices into a lovely thicker consistency. Pour this over your fruit and get your oven to 200°C. Move onto the crumble topping.

Crumble topping:
140 g self raising flour
85 g butter - chilled, cut in cubes
50 g soft light brown sugar
50 g walnuts - roughly chopped

With all of these ingredients in a glass bowl, you’ll want to dive in with your fingers and bring it together like course breadcrumbs. Don’t over mix and be too neat and tidy, the rougher the better. In fact. Go with *just* combined with larger odder shapes scattered through. The chopped walnut bits will help with this. Sprinkle this over your fruit mixture and whack it in the oven until the toppings golden brown and the fruit mix is bubbling to the surface a bit. 15-20 minutes maybe?

While that’s going on, lets make some actual proper custard too. This is Mary Berry’s recipe, and honestly, why would I want to change it? It’s pretty perfect. The only thing I did at the end was crank up the heat slightly and whisked it in a glass bowl before serving because I thought it was starting to split. Balloon whisks – kitchen lifesavers.

Mary Berry's "Real Proper Custard":
568 ml whole milk
55 ml single cream
1 vanilla pod - split lengthways
4 egg yolks
40 caster sugar
3 tsp cornflour - level measurements

Get a small pot on the stove and heat you milk, cream and vanilla pod at low heat. You don’t want it to boil.

In a separate bowl, mix up your egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until well blended.

Remove the vanilla pod (then wash and leave it to dry, put it in some sugar: vanilla sugar! Yay for Mary), and slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture – whisking all the time. Once it’s all incorporated, pour your custard back into your pot and slowly stir with a wooden spoon until you reach your desired consistency. Pour it all in a jug ready to serve and sit it in a pot of hot water to keep warm. Maybe put some cling film on top to stop a skin forming. Serve it up with your desert (or breakfast for that matter).

Pot Stickers – 鍋貼

Pot Stickers

Right! Here we go. The quintessential dumpling post that any Chinese person worth their salt needs to have up their sleeves.

These were made on the day of Chinese new year, and thank goodness for my friends helping to wrap! The meat and veg are easily interchangeable, be it pork, chicken or even lamb, with some sort of leafy cabbagey veg (pak choi, Chinese leaf, cabbage). I’ve gone for the absolute staple combo of pork and pak choi.

The wrapping technique I’ll be showing you here isn’t actually my preferred technique, but it’s your ‘this is what a dumpling looks like’ so it’ll be nice to start there before we advance to other styles right? I can actually make the wraps for this, but for the purposes of simplicity get yourself some wraps from your local Chinese supermarket. I’m also teaching you the Chinese style of pot stickers, not the Japanese ones. Which, to be fair is only really a difference in dumpling skin thickness. The nice thing about the Chinese thicker wraps is that they’re a bit more forgiving with the wrapping and can be boiled vigorously for a delicious water/soup variety of dumplings (水餃). The following makes around 30.

Pork and pak choi dumplings:
1 packet of thick dumpling skins (not the thin gyoza ones)
250g minced organic pork (not too lean)
100 - 150 g pak choi (baby ones better)
50 g spring onions (about half a bunch)
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp light soy
1 tsp dark soy
3 tpsp sesame oil

Finely chop all your veg. Get everything (bar your dumpling skins obviously) into a mixing bowl and mix and squeeze everything with your hands. No messing about with a spoon or whatever. It’s quite hard to give you guys ‘proper’ veg weights as I like to eye ball my proportions. But basically you want a meat to veg ratio of around 60:40. The more veg the better I think, but you want there to be enough meat to bind it all together. Mix with your hands for around 5 minutes.

Ready to wrap? Get a shallow bowl of water and a tray dusted with rice flour ready. Let’s go:

How to fold pot stickers

1. Place a wrap flat on your hand.

2. Add about 1 tablespoon of mix in the centre.

3. Dip your finger into the water and make a ring all the way around the edge for your seal. Fold in half. Seal it and make sure there are no air bubbles.

4. Pleat!

5. Pleat-pleat-pleat-pleat. All done.

6. Take your dumpling by the pleats and gently press it onto your work top to form that flat base and curve it so it looks more crescent like. Yay! Dumplings.

So now that you’ve got all your dumplings, let’s turn them into delicious pot stickers. I hope you have a really decent non-stick frying pan with a lid, because you’ll need that lid to steam. The key to these is to NOT TOUCH THEM. I can’t emphasise that enough. Just trust that they are cooking okay? You can only move them when they are cooked and have a firm enough base to move. They aren’t called pot stickers for nothing.

Heat at medium high, frying pan on. When at heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil (corn or rapeseed good) and evenly coat the base. When the oil is nice and hot, add some dumplings. Space them out a bit they’ll expand, I also like to add them in a clockwise array just so I know which ones have been taking the heat longest. Now you’ll want to not touch these and let the bases take on a bit of colour, maybe 3-5 minutes? Now add enough water so that there’s a centimetre of liquid in the pan. Lid on. Heat up. Bring that liquid to a boil to create a load of steam. Steam for around five minutes.

At this point the water is evaporating out of the pan or you’ll need to take the lid off to evaporate the rest of the water away. Once the water is almost all evaporated, take a wooden chopstick or skewer and carefully run it around each dumpling to remove any access gloopy flour. Turn the heat down to medium high again (or even medium if that’s too scary) and get those bases crunchy. Another 2-5 minutes perhaps. At around this stage I like to give my pan a bit of a shake to loosen them up. Carefully lift to see what their colouring is like, you want nice and golden brown, not burnt. Keep frying them until they’re nice and crisp.

Serve up! I like having these with some Chinese black vinegar and freshly sliced ginger, but a huge jar of chilli is never too far away. If you have any spare, place them separately on a lightly floured tray in the freezer until solid. Then pack them all up in a bag. Nothing nicer than a lazy evening when you suddenly remember you have a few of these bad boys ready to go. If you’re cooking from frozen you can follow the above instructions, just have them on the first fry time a bit longer.

pot stickers cooking

Simple Cold Tofu – 冷豆腐

Cold TofuHappy Easter everyone! It’s sunny and I’ve had a pretty eventful and relaxing break. What more could you ask for? House parties, brunch, museums, coffee, catchups, drinks, potluck, cleaning, DIY, bookkeeping….*tick tick tick tickety tick*

So my excuse for the lack of posting was that I was actually in the Alps snowboarding and drinking hot wine with friends in this beautiful winter wonderland magical paradise. I’m not going to lie, it was amazing and sadly I’m already starting to forget that delicious feeling of breathing in frosty air. Prior to my week off in the snow I went to nutritionist who not only put me on a probiotic replacement therapy course, but also kindly informed me that I should avoid wheat and dairy for a month…to which I simply replied:

“But, I’m going to France!”

It was tough, but I think I did alright (a mad crazed fondue incident aside). Which brings me neatly (not really) to this popular tofu dish that I make all the time, which made not one but three appearances during my Chinese New Year shin dig. And happily for others out there who are vegetarian, wheat and dairy intolerant, you too can make and consume this dish.

Simple Cold Tofu:
A packet of silken tofu - firm or soft good
Spring onions - finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce (GF if poss)
2 tsp dark soy sauce
(GF if poss)
2 tsp Sesame oil
1/2 tsp Fresh ginger - grated
1 tbsp mushroom floss
pinch chilli flakes or fresh chilli
pinch sesame seeds
1 tbsp roasted peanuts - crushed

If you have time to kill, the following will make the tofu even silkier and remove some of that out-of-a-box taste. It’s not necessary, but it’s nicer. Get it out of its packaging and place it on a small plate. Boil a pot of water with enough water to submerge your tofu. Once boiled, remove the pot from the heat and submerge the tofu and plate for 20 minutes. Drain, and set it aside to cool. You can put it over ice, or whack it in the fridge, it’s up to you.

When you’re ready to serve, slice the tofu thinly, drizzle with the soy sauces and sesame oil, get the spring onions on. Add the chilli, grated ginger, sesame seeds, peanuts and mushroom floss*…

*Okay, I probably need an aside is needed for this little addition. This is the vegetarian version of ingredient that for health/religious reasons my mum no longer really eats so I get gifted the veggie version whenever I go back to Hong Kong. But for those of you relatively au fait with Chinese or Thai snack foods, the following statement is irrefutable: Pork floss is delicious.

If you have never heard of pork floss, it is *exactly* as it says on the tin. It’s seasoned pork that’s spun into a savoury meaty candy floss. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s that kind of black food magic which makes the world go round. Go try some. Preferably on those moorish spicy rice crackers…who do I know in Thailand at the moment to get me some?…who…do…I…

…hang on. Sorry I got side tracked. Basically, you get it. This tofu dish is supremely adaptable. If you’ve got your three main flavours of soy, sesame oil and spring onions, you can add essentially anything you want. Be it crushed garlic, a splash of black chinese vinegar, a raw quail egg, natto, grated yam, umeboshi, grated carrot, a thousand year old egg, coriander. Maybe not everything I’ve listed at once. Experiment and make some: it’s simple.

Spicy Chinese Pickled Cabbage

Spicy Chinese Pickled Cabbage

Happy Year of the Snake everyone! Last week my little kitchen was burning the candle at both ends to get some delicious treats out for a CNY party last night, which I literally decided to throw on Monday. A surprising amount of people agreed to come considering the late notice, it being a Sunday and the snow, so a warm glowy feeling was had by ushering the new year over great food and friends. As per usual at my foodie parties, people had to be rolled out, so the following posts here at Minikin Kitchen will really be me catching up with what I cooked throughout the week ending with the on the day dumpling making sessions. Ahhh…Chinese New Year. I love you.

So. Let’s start with this spicy, sour and slightly sweet offering of chinese pickled cabbage. My veg box last thursday happened to contain Chinese Leaf (or Nappa Cabbage across the pond) as well as carrots. Serendipitous or what?  You can if you want substitute the Chinese leaf with a head of regular white cabbage, which will result in a firmer bite.

Pickled Cabbage:
1 large Chinese leaf cabbage - cut into 1.5 inch squares
2 carrots - thinly sliced into half moon shapes
4 fresh bird's eye chillies - deseeded and thinly sliced
1-2 inch piece of ginger - thinly sliced
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp rice wine (the clear one)
1 tbsp salt

This is pretty easy side dish to prep in advance. Cut and put all the veg in a large tupperware box or jar, anything with a lid strong enough for you to shake everything up.

Heat up the vinegar and dissolve all the sugar and salt. Once it’s all dissolved add the rice wine and the peppercorns. Now add this to all the veg and shake it all up. The veg will shrink in volume over time adding loads of water to the mixture. What I ended up doing is whacking it all in a big Kilner jar and every morning and night rotate and stand the jar upside down (or right side up) to shift and coat it all. I made this on the Thursday evening and did a taste test Friday evening, so these quantities are the results of my adjustments.

Serve it up using a slotted spoon or chopsticks, you don’t want to serve it swimming in the pickling liquid. It does have a spicy kick, and although my friends enjoyed it, I’d start with 2 chillies and do a taste test a day or two in. I really like spicy food, but I’m into enjoying food not enduring it.

CNY 2013

Gingerdead Men

Happy Hallows Eve! This is officially my first post on my food blog. Exciting. But bear with me, I’m sure I’ll get better at this as I go along. For the past year or so I’ve been asked by numerous friends that I should probably start a food blog as I’m rather meanly posting pictures of what I cook in a Facebook album, but never really follow it up with techniques or methods. So here we go. Let’s start with this picture…

Last Christmas, back in my wonderful hometown of Hong Kong, Santa bought me this: a Gingerdead Man cookie cutter. It’s cuts the shape of the regular ginger bread person, but also has a skeletal extrusion for you to emboss the skeleton into the dough and thus bake and fill with royal icing. For those of you who know me well, this is a fantastic gift! It’s a little bit bakey and a little bit gothy…*fist pump!*

This Halloween I dressed as a Japanese School Girl Mauled by Zombies. It went down a treat. As did my trays of Ginger Dead Men. I based this on the Humming Bird Bakery recipe for these, I’ve only added more spice. This is a book that I absolutely recommend for any baker, I’ve followed and modified a lot of recipes in my kitchen experiments and this book always produces light balanced bakes. There are a lot of different ginger bread recipes out there, this particular one is of the more airy and slightly chewy German variety compared to the crumbly cookie commercial versions you can buy. It’s also lovely and spiced. Go forth and bake! Makes approx. 24 cookies, depending on your cookie cutter.

Gingerbread Dough
400 g plain flour
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (I went with 1/2 tsp grated)
1/2 tsp salt
180 g room temp butter, cubed
125 g soft dark sugar - muscovado good
1 egg
125 g black treacle

Whack your butter and sugar in a mixer or bowl. Mix until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, mix all your dry ingredients ingredients (spices, salt, flour, raising agent). Increase mixing speed of butter and sugar then beat in the egg and treacle – use your spatular and scrape the sides and mix thoroughly. On a low mixing speed now, add in your flour mixture one tablespoon at a time until and scrape the side with that spatular. Mix – scrape – mix – scrape. Finished dough! Divide into 3, wrap in cling film and bung it in the fridge. The book says it’ll taste better if you store overnight. I didn’t do this, but I let it rest for 4 hours…that’ll do…

When ready to roll, heat the oven to 170°C get a dough out and rest ’em for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare baking trays. Flour rolling pin and roll on a floured sheet of parchment paper, I find this easier to transfer my cut cookie shapes onto the prepared baking trays. Roll the dough out to 4mm. I placed a chopstick either side of my rolling pin so I was rolling the dough all nice and uniformed…clever hey? Stamp those shapes out! Bake for 10-15 mins. Cool slightly on the trays before transfering onto cooling rack.

Ready to do the icing? This was the only part of the recipe I didn’t follow as I was running a bit late and didn’t want to make it too stiff from the egg white as I wanted the icing to flow into the skeleton crevice. I simply eyeballed the icing sugar, lemon and water to the right dribbly consistency. But here are the actual quantities should you want them.

Royal Icing
1 egg white
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
310 g icing sugar, sifted
food colouring, optional

Beat that egg white with the lemon juice, gradually add the icing sugar. Mix well and you should get stiff peaks. If it’s too runny add more sugar. Add colouring if you want. Get it in your piping bag. Decorate and make pretty.

There you go. First post under the belt. Happy Halloween!

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