Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lightly Battered Eggplant with Sweet and Sour Sauce [vegetarian with egg]

It frustrates me how neglected vegetables are, especially in western culture. To make the decision to become vegetarian (not that I am one) is to forfeit the joy of eating for the rest of your life. At many gatherings, hosts often neglect making a vegetarian dish or, if they do remember it, they include exactly 1 dish. If you're lucky, they will add some herbs to a random mixture of plant stuffs and roast them for you. Most often, you will just be having the most bland pasta you have ever encountered.

Perhaps Hell's Kitchen is not the best example, but, in a recent episode that I watched, the attitudes of these "chefs" really demonstrated this gaping hole in their training. They were asked to each come up with one innovative vegetarian dish, just one, and all of them swore under their breaths like it's the end of the world. In the rest of the show, vegetables were relegated to being the garnish, just blanched in water, or made into a salad. I am aware that there are some "western" vegetarian dishes out there, but the "blanched in water or make into salad" approach I'd say is a pretty accurate description of the vegetables on a typical night out. The few vegetarian restaurants tend to be pretty expensive and not that mind blowing.

Chinese cooking is a lot better at using their vegetables. You can stir fry them for one. There's tofu for another. Perhaps it is because of how difficult it was for a Chinese family in the past to get a hold of meat and so they have to be creative to get their daily nutrition and avoid having only blanched vegetables Every. Single. Day.

However, perhaps exactly because of this lack in the past, people are now going crazy with the meat. You can explain to them all you want that you are vegetarians, your host will still feel obligated to serve meat in every dish or risk being seen as "cheap." When they DO serve vegetarian (and some do, since many people are Buddhist-leaning, and Buddhist encourage vegetarianism, though I just heard on TV that not all branches of Buddhist adhere to it very strictly), it is often with a lot of oil or with tofu pretending to be every kind of meat imaginable.

Last Friday, I was looking up a restaurant in the area to try with a friend and Vegetarian Lifestyle (aka Jujube Tree 枣子树 http://www.jujubetree.com/) caught my eye. A vegetarian restaurant with 4 stars! And line ups! Fortunately, we got there early and didn't have to wait. Just looking at the menu and I was already impressed. There were so many choices! A few were "pretend to be meat" but the majority was just celebrating non-meat stuff. There were different styles of dishes, spicy, refreshing, appetizers, main course, desserts... and they were so colourful! The dishes were on average $5-8 with a few super expensive ones.

Anyway, the eggplant dish made the most impression on me in terms of taste, and thus was the inspiration for my dinner tonight :) Without further ado, here's my version of the recipe. As usual, I just randomly picked the spices on the spot without much thought. You can change it if you want.And I have absolutely no idea how much of each thing I put in.

Ingredients:
1) Eggplant
2) Flour
3) Cornstarch
4) Egg
5) Vegetable Oil
6) Seasoning (I used salt, pepper, Italian mixed herbs, hot paprika)
8) Water (maybe. Or pineapple juice if you have some)
7) Tomatoes
8) Onion
9) Vinegar (I initially put a bit of Chinese black vinegar since I got the idea for the sauce from Chinese sweet and sour pork. Then I realized that sweet and sour pork usually have pineapples, which I didn't have, but I do have apple cider vinegar, so I finished pouring the "desired amount" using apple cider vinegar instead. Apples, pineapples... the both have the word "apple," so same thing, right?)
10) Soy sauce
11) Ketchup

Steps:
1) Cut eggplants into thick slices.
2) Mix together flour, cornstarch, egg, vegetable oil, and seasoning. Then add water or pineapple juice or whatever until it becomes a batter consistency.
3) Dip your eggplants in the batter.
4) Dice tomatoes and onion. I actually almost minced the onion, but not really.
5) Heat up 2 pans. In 1 pan, add slightly more oil than usual and pan fry (or deep fry, then add a lot more oil) eggplants until batter golden and eggplants soft.
6) In other pan, add just a little oil to stir fry onions, then add tomatoes, vinegar, soy sauce, and ketchup. Taste test. After testing, I also added some more of the mixed herbs, pepper, and chilli powder for fun. Add water if your sauce is going try. I didn't need to because my tomatoes were nice and juicy.
7) Plate your eggplants first and then spread the sauce on top right before you serve to preserve some of the crispiness of batter.

Perhaps not the same taste as Jujube Tree (honestly, I don't remember what theirs taste like anymore), bu this was very yummy too :D

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Testing: Italian meatballs in Coconut tomato sauce


OK, this thing doesn't look very appealing, I know. I was testing out different combinations and ended up adding things on the fly, causing some of the ingredients to overcook.. and then I forgot to take a pic until I was packing away the leftovers. But I wanted to post it just for my own future references because I tried a few things that I wasn't sure if they would work, but ended up working quite well. Hopefully I will have a clearer idea what I want next time and can finish cooking while the ingredients still look relatively fresh so I can take some proper photos =P

Ingredients
Meatballs:
  1. Ground pork (supposedly and beef + veal, but I didn't have any of those and the purpose of this was to finish the pork from several wks ago so...)
  2. Minced garlic
  3. Minced chili pepper (optional)
  4. Minced cilantro (was supposed to be Italian parsley.. close enough.)
  5. Salt and pepper
  6. Grated cheese (was supposed to be freshly grated Romano... I used month old store-bought pre-shredded mozzarella... again, cleaning fridge comes first!)
  7. Mushrooms (it was on sale!)
  8. Bread crumbs (was supposed to be stale Italian bread loaf crumbs... but I bought Dempster white bread last week, they're going expired, and I hate the ends... so I just peeled them by hand into small clumbs. Close enough.)
  9. Warm water (I used cold, because I was a lazy bum and forgot to reread the instructions b4 dumping the water in.)
Sauce:
  1. Shallots (was supposed to be onions. My grandma gave me shallots 2 wks ago and I haven't figured out how to use them. Might as well.)
  2. Chili pepper (I had a lot left over, k? And I like spicy =3)
  3. Tomatoes (singular in my case, because I only had 1 left.)
  4. Tomato sauce (since I had a lack of tomatoes) + 1 can of water
  5. Celery (it was dying)
  6. Spinach (it was on sale!)
  7. Mushroom (it was on sale!)
  8. Bay leaves
  9. Italian seasoning
  10. Curry powder
  11. Salt
  12. Coconut Cream powder (secret ingredient!)
Methods:
Meatballs:
  1. Combine all ingredients together. Mix well.
  2. Start adding bread crumbs and water in a bit at a time. Play with the proportion of these 2 items until you get a good texture that would stick together as meatballs without being too dry and hard to spoon up.
  3. Heat some oil in a pan. *Note* some people bake them instead. I didn't, so I don't know what temperature and time would be needed for that.
  4. Make meat into little ball shapes and pan fry them on each side until firm enough to pick up with chopsticks. Brown the sides if you like them to be more fragrant.
Sauce:
  1. Heat some oil in a pan.
  2. Stir fry shallots and chili pepper until fragrant.
  3. Add chopped tomatoes and meatballs.
  4. Add chopped celery and mushrooms.
  5. Add Italian seasoning, bay leaves, and curry powder.
  6. Add tomato sauce + water.
  7. Let cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on how long you pan fried your meatballs earlier. Just make sure the center of your meatballs are well cooked. Ground pork is the best place for bacteria to hide.
  8. Add spinach and a small amount of salt. Stir well.
  9. Now the unexpectedly good addition: add coconut cream powder and stir well. I'm sure coconut cream in a can works too, the powder is just so nice in that you don't have the use the whole pack at once =)
  10. Turn off heat, add cilantro and dish out before all the greens become over cooked.
Serve this with some spaghetti. Top with a sprinkle of cheese if you have... Parmesan? Romano? Mozzarella? Or a sprinkle of coconut cream powder? Or better yet! Sprinkle of actual coconut shreds! =D

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How to finish hotpot food Part II: Lettuce Udon topped with Satay Beef.. and things


This one really is nothing too special. The idea was supposed to be similar to a Satay beef macaroni at HK cafes or Satay beef bun at Viet restaurants. In the end, it turned out just like a quick and easy lunch.

Ingredients:
  1. Udon
  2. Lettuce
  3. Fried tofu
  4. Sliced beef
  5. Beef balls
  6. Pork skin
  7. Cooking oil
  8. Satay sauce (1 tablespoon)
  9. Soy sauce (1 teaspoon or personal taste)
  10. Sesame oil (optional)
  11. Garlic (minced)
  12. Cilantro (fine pieces)
Methods:
  1. Put udon into boiling hot water. When it is almost done, maybe after 5minutes, put in lettuce. Turn off heat and drain into a bowl as soon as it boils again. Keep a bit of soup if you like a soupier noodle, but don't put it in the bowl with the noodles until you're ready to eat.
  2. Heat some cooking oil in a hot frying pan. Stir fry garlic until fragrant. Put in the pork skin first, then the beef balls, and lastly the sliced beef and fried tofu. Spread out the beef and give everything a few stirs to make sure they're all cooked. Add the satay sauce and a small amount of soy sauce to the pan and stir to coat. Add the cilantro and turn off the heat, giving the whole thing a few more stirs. Once you're satisfied that everything has been coated with the sauces and cilantro, set it on top of your bowl of noodles.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to finish hotpot food Part I: Lettuce wrap


Last Tuesday, on my suggestion, my lab held a hotpot party at my supervisor's house. Hotpot, aka Chinese Fondue and *very* similar to Japan's shabu shabu, is a dinner party activity where everyone cooks their own food 1 piece at a time while socializing with people around the table. It consists of everyone sitting around a table-top stove, on which sits a boiling pot of soup. Various raw/cold items are strew around the table and guests can throw in whatever food they want to eat. For seasoning, condiments are provided for the guests to mix their own for dipping in their own bowls. Basically it's a fondue with soup instead of oil/cheese/chocolate, and A LOT of food.


Since variety and customization is a must for a good hotpot, and you want to make sure there's enough of each food item for every guest, this means most likely you will have a crap load of food and a bit of everything left over. Back in the days, my housemate and I will usually just stand around the kitchen range and have mini 2-ppl hotpot for the rest of the week to finish all the leftovers. By the end of the week we'd swear we hate hotpot (which, of course, we forget about soon enough, but nonetheless...) but at least it only took a week and it was fun to stand around the stove and chat while we cooked and ate. Now that I live on my own, it'll take me twice as long to finish the food, but 1/2 as long to get sick of it. Thanks to the Food Channel (channel 41 on McD's TV, btw), I felt inspired to do something different with the food to keep it fun. This series documents all the different ways I thought of to finish the food. Creativity through necessity is the best way to cook =3

The first dish in this series is a lettuce wrap... because I had too much lettuce left over. Since I am the only Chinese in my lab (the other Asians in the picture being a Japanese and a Korean... and a 1/2 Chinese who doesn't look very Chinese, 2 of whom are +1s of lab members, so I wasn't even sure if they would come), I was worried that the rest of the gang wouldn't like the Asian-favoured veggies such as watercress and crown daisy. I believe green leafy veggies is important for making the meal less heavy, so I decided to buy more lettuce as the "safe option" to make sure everyone has enough veggies. Turns out my lab loved the watercress and crown daisy and I basically ended up with all the lettuce untouched, minus a few leaves. I also had a bit of thinly sliced chicken left over, which reminded me of tacos, for some reason, so lettuce wrap it is~

The good thing about lettuce wraps is that the stuffing is warm and comforting, while the refreshing raw lettuce balances out any greasiness. The stuffing is very flexible, so as long as you have lettuce left over and any kind of seasoning at home, you can use the concept to finish just about any hotpot leftovers. Admittedly, the celery and carrots weren't hotpot leftovers, but they add a nice texture and they were going bad in my fridge, so I added them. You can leave it out or substitute it for something else. It is also simple to make, with millions of possible variations, and a fun way to get your kids to eat veggies. Just remember to wash your veggies and your hands well!


Ingredients:
  1. Chicken (thinly sliced in my case since it was hotpot leftovers)
  2. Lettuce - whole leaf, preferably. Or halved widthwise. Just big enough to wrap
  3. Carrots and celery (or anything else crunchy you have on hand) diced thinly
  4. Cilantro
  5. Red chili peppers (optional, I did use.)
  6. Garlic - minced (optional, I don't think I used. Can't remember.)
  7. Shallot - diced (optional, I didn't use.)
  8. Toasted sesame (optional, I didn't use.)
Marinade:
  1. Soy sauce
  2. Wild Whiskey Smoked BBQ spice from Clubhouse
  3. Lemon juice
  4. Corn starch
  5. Black pepper (optional, can't remember if I used.)
  6. Sesame oil (optional, I don't think I used. Can't remember.)
Method:
  1. Wash lettuce WELL. Dry and set aside.
  2. Wash cilantro WELL. Dry, cut into small pieces, and set aside.
  3. Put marinade ingredients in with chicken and mix well. No amounts, sorry. Don't be afraid if it ends up *slightly* saltier than normal. You'll be wrapping it up in unseasoned lettuce. Especially if you're using green leaf lettuce. They tend to be slightly bitter.
  4. Heat a pan/wok over medium-high heat.
  5. Add a tablespoon or so cooking oil to pan and wait for it to heat up enough that if you place a chopstick/spatula into the oil it would bubble.
  6. Stir fry garlic/shallot/chili peppers until fragrant if you're using them. If not, move on to next step.
  7. Stir fry chicken until cooked. Plate it.
  8. Without washing the pan/wok, quickly stir fry the celery/carrot/crunchy things then turn off the heat. It doesn't have to be fully cooked: we want it to maintain the crunchiness. LIGHTLY salt if desired. You might want to taste test how salty the chicken is before deciding.
  9. Put a spoonful of chicken, a spoonful of crunchy things, and a few leaves of cilantro in a lettuce leave, wrap it up, and enjoy =) Add toasted sesame to the mix if you like.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Picture + video sharing test


Testing. I wonder if these pictures go to some album so people can view my pictures in a centralized place instead of searching through all my blog posts? A friend is looking for a good place/app to share pictures and videos with her family and friends. She wants it to be somewhat customizable so it looks like a personalized page instead of the list of photos on ugly blue + white background like flickr where you're encouraged to see random ppl's pictures. She also wants it to be relatively simple to set up and maintain so she doesn't have to build a whole website from scratch. And she doesn't mind paying.

So maybe, in essence, if flickr can be customizable, with less flickr related side bar stuff like blogger, that'd work. Or if blogger can have separate tabs for photos, videos, and blogs, that'd work too. Does anyone know how to do that on these 2 sites, or have other suggestions?
video

Friday, April 17, 2009

Boo!

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| OO|
/ UU
~---------'