Monday, October 26, 2009

Congee in a Can (and Curds in a Can too)!

Taisun's Mixed Congee and Peanut Soybean Curd Jelly

I love T & T Supermarket. It's my one-stop shop for Chinese specialty items like dumpling wrappers for homemade jiaozi, freshly made bean curd skins, or the distinctively flavoured and coloured, century egg. But to me, T & T is more than just a supermarket to meet my meal-making needs; I think of it as a kind of curio shop, a place to discover things new and unusual. I love wandering up and down the aisles, checking out the latest in stock, or what I may have missed on my last trip. This last time around, I discovered Taisun's Mixed Congee in a can. I felt a need to try this thing and while I was at it, decided it was also necessary to take home a can of their Peanut Soybean Curd Jelly. There were several other Taisun varieties, but these two seemed the most intriguing.

I tried the Peanut Soybean Jelly first and as much as I tried to like it, I can't say that I did. The soybean jelly looked curdled and broke easily into unappetizing bits, and the few peanuts to be found had lost their flavour in the overly sweet, gingery syrup. I could only have a few bites before I had to put it down. The Mixed Congee on the other hand was more doable. Made of glutinous rice, oats, lentils, peas, peanuts, red beans, longan and more, it was somewhat similar in taste to Chinese red bean soup, but more runny and more textural. I wouldn't say it was delicious, but for a meal in a can, it felt pretty nutritious. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad snack to have once in a rare while, when not in the mood for fruit, or a granola bar per se. And that they are made in Taiwan, and from all natural ingredients is certainly a plus, as is the price point at just over a dollar a can.

But what I found truly cool was the nifty cover it came with, complete with its own spoon folded neatly inside. Unfold it and snap it into place, and it's like a transformer spoon, only it really just turns from a folded spoon into a fully functioning spoon. But that is still pretty great design for instant food packaging, and it's super sturdy! Even if I never buy Taisun's curds or congee again, I will be re-using the spoons for as long as they'll last me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Go, Bananas!

Banana Filled Wonton Crisps

Bananas are a mighty fine fruit. "Meal in a Peel" I call them, and I do find that term truly meaningful. I don't know how many times a banana has saved me when I've had no time to eat and could have quite possibly passed out from hunger. (Have I mentioned I have a high metabolism and need to eat all the time?) This time the banana has saved me by being a key ingredient in one of the most tasty and hassle-free desserts around. Yes, there may be major exaggeration going on here, but for those times that you have guests over and want to keep it simple, and save yourself from rolling, blending, kneading, and other such baked good making gerunds, this dessert is it. And since practically everyone loves bananas, and no one can seriously deny loving deep fried, it can't help but be a guest pleaser. These crunchy on the outside, sweet and smooth on the inside morsels are best accompanied by a scoop of ice cream, and drip of honey anywhere you want it. (Yes, quite like deep fried bananas with ice cream, only you save yourself from making batter!)

How to make it happen: You will need oil, wonton wrappers, bananas. Ice cream and honey are optional. Cut up the bananas and mash them up. Place a good helping inside the wonton wrapper and press the edges down to seal. Heat the oil until very hot, drop the wontons in, and fry them until golden brown. Three basic ingredients and a whole lot of yum.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Feeling Ballsy

Pork Ball Noodle Soup

It's October, and pretty rare and wonderful in these parts to still have sun-filled days. But Autumn has definitely arrived with its telltale markings of air gone crisp and evenings more brisk. This is my favourite time of the year because the air just smells better in the Fall, and I love cozying up in sweaters and scarves. But I mostly love this season because cold weather food is so hearty and comforting. At this time of year, the body needs to brace itself against the cold. It needs more insulation. Yes, sweaters and scarves work, but what better way to insulate than to add a little more bulk to your diet and a little more fat to your waistline. I have always craved heartier food in colder climes. I shocked myself once during a particularly frigid Quebec winter, by gobbling up 5 pork chops in one sitting. I don't go to such extremes now, but I still like to warm up with a good helping of meat. Add some hot soup to that and you've got the basis for a perfect autumn meal. This dish of pork ball noodle soup isn't quite as filling as five pork chops, but it's hearty, tasty, a little spicy (if you like), and guaranteed to warm you. And if you envelop these balls in wonton wrappers, you can have Wonton Noodle Soup! Just like that.

For the pork balls, you will need:
  • 1/2 pound lean ground pork
  • 1/4 pound de-veined and minced prawn (optional)
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp finely chopped chives or green onion
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 and a 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 small egg for moistness and binding (optional)
You can cook the balls right away but it's best to marinate them in the fridge for an hour or so. The soup can be made with whatever you like so you can choose your stock, noodles and soup fillers, and measure according to taste. Boil the stock first, add the pork balls, then the other ingredients depending on cooking time needed. The pork balls should rise to the top when they're done but cut one open to ensure doneness.

I used:
organic chicken stock, brown rice vermicelli, crimini mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots, the whites of green onions, and jalepenos for some warmth. It is Autumn after all :o)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stick It To Ya

A lot of good food comes skewered; sometimes on a stick and even sometimes on a stake, like the delectable (yet grotesque to look at) roasted suckling pig. As for the stick, there's souvlakia, kebab and the venerable satay. Satay was my first taste of skewered bliss and still remains my favourite. I remember childhood picnics with family and friends gathered around the hibachi, awaiting the taste of my mom's super thinly sliced, perfectly seasoned chicken and beef satay. She made it Malaysian style (of course), with her peanut sauce side that I swear is the best there is. One day, I will attempt to make Malaysian satay and sauce myself, (with my mom's guidance of course), but for my first try at stick food, I stuck to the simple: putting stuff on a skewer and popping it into the oven.

It may already be evident that I do love meat, so I'm not sure what came over me, but I was actually at a meat saturation point when I decided to make this meal. So, this is actually a vegetarian dish, and one that could be substantial and flavourful enough to satisfy the strictest of carnivores.

Ingredients: firm tofu, baby peppers or bell peppers, crimini mushrooms, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and marinade (see below).

Soak wooden skewers in water to prevent them from blackening in the oven. Cut up and marinate tofu for a few hours or overnight in a seasoning of your choice. (I used a simplified Indian-style mix of yogurt, cumin, coriander, cayenne and salt.) Cut up larger veggies and marinate whichever ones you'd like to add more flavour to. (I marinated the red onion and crimini mushrooms in garlic, salt and olive oil and tossed the tomatoes and peppers in oil only with a sprinkle of salt.) Thread the ingredients onto the skewers, and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

The skewers taste great on their own, but if you love sauce like I do or have a lot of mint in the garden, this is a great dip to accompany the meal, especially if you're using a curry-ish marinade.

Mint Coconut Chutney:
Blend together: 2 jalapeƱo chilies (de-seeded if you don't want too much heat), 2/3 cup sweetened coconut flakes, 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, 2 cups packed fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, and lemon juice and salt to taste. (Add a shallot and a clove of garlic too if you want more depth of flavour and more kick.)
I have to say that I was quite happy with this veggie meal on sticks, and my guy loved it. (I think he was at meat saturation point too.) But for the next skewer try, I've decided that I'm going to have to stick it to the veggies. There will be meat!