Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shrimp with Spicy Salt (椒盐虾)

It looks just like the 椒盐虾 in restaurants.
It tastes just like the 椒盐虾 in restaurants.
But what is different?
It is a fraction of the cost in restaurants, and you can enjoy it at home whenever you want!  =)

This dish is actually quite simple.
For the shrimp, you can purchase it anytime at the store (stock up when it's on sale!), and store it in the freezer.  Did you know shrimp stores very well in the freezer, because its shell prevents the shrimp from getting freezer burn?  
Along the same vein (teehee.  vein, get it?), if you are eating at a "Seafood" restaurant whose menu mainly consists of shrimp dish, then that most likely means that most of their seafood is NOT fresh because their shrimp are all frozen.

All you really need to do is know how to deep-fry in your home without making a god-awful mess or setting the house on fire.  
I don't usually advocate deep-frying in home cooking since you get enough grease in your meals when eating out, but I will make an exception for 椒盐虾.

Here is a quick crash course in deep-frying in your home.
  • Don't waste your money on a deep fryer, unless you plan on turning into a Southerner and deep frying everything and anything.
  • In a deep saucepan or wok, pour about 3/4 inch of high temperature cooking oil.  I use canola.
  • When the oil starts showing little bubbles on the bottom of the pan, it should be ready.  Drop a tiny piece of flour or shrimp leg into the oil.  If it starts frying, then its ready.
  • When you start adding the shrimp (or whatever it is you are frying) into the oil, don't overcrowd the shrimp because you want the oil temperature to stay hot. So only do a few at a time. 
  • Drop the shrimp close to the oil, so you don't splash hot oil on yourself.  (this should be fairly obvious but I will mention it anyways. I have been "splashed" by others in the kitchen who did not follow this rule).
  • I use old chopsticks as my "tongs" to fish out the fried shrimp.  But if you own some kind of tongs or net, then even better.
 Simple right?

Writing this recipe reminds me of the story of when I was in undergrad.
I lived in the apartments (a fraction of the cost of dorms), and I did a lot of home cooking because, hey, I was a poor college kid.  I made 椒盐虾 twice and on both incidences, my roommates (different people on both incidences) approached me with quizzical and disgusted looks.  
They couldn't wrap their head around the fact that:  1) You can fry foods at home.  2) You can fry in something that is not a deep fryer. 3) Yes, I cook and consume my shrimp with the head and shell still on  4). To make the shrimp crispy, you dredge the shrimp in flour.  They really had no idea why i was shoving the shrimp into flour just to place it into oil.  5) When you are done frying, you can let the oil cool then use it later in cooking.
After having to defend my both, my cooking methods and my choice in foods, I never felt comfortable to make this dish (or any other non-Westernized dish) while still living with my roommates. 

Flash forward 6 years to 2011:
I found some large head-on shrimp in the freezer.  

When I was trying to think of a dish to make for dinner that evening, all I could think of, to utilize the entire shrimp (the head and the shell), was to make 椒盐虾!!
I really do enjoy the dish, and I do order it from time to time in Chinese restaurants.  And I no longer live in an apartment with judgmental, close-minded roommates.  
Instead, I share a house with a guy that knows Chinese food and does not question or ridicule my cooking.  (his name is Jeff, if you didn't know...).

The dish was really quite easy to make, was not too time consuming (I love food that is zero prep work), and it came out tasting just like at the restaurant.

Here is the ingredients list:
- Shrimp
- Canola oil
- Corn or tapioca starch
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper.  
- Green Onions.  diced
- Jalapenos.  sliced thinly

Here are the instructions!!  
Follow closely!
1. Defrost and pat dry your shrimp.
2. Pour corn starch or tapioca starch in a large bowl.
3. Heat up your oil in the sauce pan (following deep frying instructions above).
4. Dredge each shrimp in the starch bowl, then drop into the oil.
5. When the shrimp is completely cooked, maybe about 2-3 minutes each, remove it from the oil and onto a paper-towel-lined plate.
6. When you have fried all of your shrimp, in a separate pan, heat up a little cooking oil (or you can use a little of your frying oil).
7. Add in the green onions and jalapenos until slightly cooked.  Then add in all the fried shrimp.
8. Sprinkle salt and black pepper all over the shrimp, and the turn the contents a couple of times, to evenly distribute the salt, pepper, jalapenos, and green onions.
9.  Serve it on the plate.  So pretty!  So good with rice!!  (well.. everything is good with rice).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chinese steamed trout

Last week when I went to Costco to pick up some bagged salad and celery, I decided to go take a peek in the meat and seafood department to see what goodies they have.
Of course, my conscience told me to stay away because I have plenty of meat and seafood in the freezer so I should eat that first before buying a giant economy size pack of meat.  But I went over anyways!! 
I am SUCH a rebel, my mama would be proud. 

Boy, was I glad I went over to the meat and seafood section.  I walked down the fish aisle, glancing at the fish selection and prices.  I first picked up the tilapia filets because typically, tilapia is one of the cheapest fish at the store.  But geez, the price was $4.99 per pound!  What the eff?
Then right next to the tilapia, I saw there was a sign that said $2.99.  The $2.99 was for whole trout!  Not trout fillets, but the entire thing!  Score!
I'm Asian, so you should know that I prefer my fish intact (head on, tail on, bones still in it, the way nature intended).  The fish looked pretty fresh (glossy eyes), so I picked up a pack.
I knew immediatly what I was cooking for dinner that night:  Chinese steamed trout!

I searched high and low around Costco for green onions, and after asking a grumpy employee where their green onions were located, I leanred that Costco did not sell green onions! 
After paying at the cashier, I walked across the parking lot to the Albertsons next door to buy 1 bunch of overpriced green onions.

After driving through the snail-paced Costco parking lot, I drove through the snail-paced streets of LA to get home.
When I got home, I debated between using my gigantic Chinese steamer, or my steaming apparatus involving my wok, a kitchen towel, and a bowl.  The haphazard steaming apparatus won (ask me if you want to know details on how you can make your own steaming apparatus!).

I gathered the following ingredients for the dish:
4 whole trout
6 spring onions, thinly sliced.
2 clove garlic, sliced thinly
sea salt
(If you have fresh ginger root, you need 2 inches of it, sliced.  I didn't have any).

For the sauce: 1 clove garlic, chopped
6 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
6 tablespoons Shaosing (Chinese brown rice wine)
2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soft brown sugar
2 teaspoon, grated root ginger

I think the prep work is the most time consuming part!
Pat dry the fish with the paper towel then sprinkle the fish with sea salt.  Set the fish aside for 30 minutes.
Make the sauce by mixing all the ingredients in a saucepan, and bringing it to a simmer for 5 minutes.
Set up the steamer and bring the water to a boil.  Place the garlic and ginger on the fish and place the fish in the steamer.  Steam the fish for 18-20 minutes. 
Serve the trout with the sauce poured over and garnished with the spring onions.

Enjoy it with steamed rice.  Yum.

Steak Chili

I think when most Americans think of "chili" they think of the greasy ground meat goo with mushy beans.
(and apparently, some Asians think that "chili" is synonymous with the word "spicy".  But this is not a story about Asians and their confusion with the English language).
When I think "chili" I think more along the lines of a steak chili or chili con carne, where I can actually taste the beef and bite into it.  So if I ever invite you over for a chili night, this will be the kind of chili you will be served!
And that's exactly what happened when my sister came over for dinner & movie night.  We enjoyed a hot bowl of heartwarming chili with a side of tortilla chips, while our eyes were glued to Beetlejuice.

This recipe can most definitely be made in the slow cooker, but since I had some free time that afternoon, I decided to make it on the stove top.  That way, the beans and tomatoes would still have a bite to it (rather than just one homogenous glop).

2 large onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 or 2 pounds of steak (whatever is on sale), cubed.
2 large cans tomatoes.  (I also added in some fresh tomatoes since I had some in the house)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 cans white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper

If you are cooking on the stove top, make sure you are using a deep skillet, since there are a lot of ingredients and liquids in this dish!
You start by adding some oil in your skillet, then add in the onions and garlic and cook until browned.  Add in the steak cubes and cook until seared/browned on all sides.
Pour in the tomatoes with liquid, salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, paprika, and oregano. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Lastly, stir in kidney beans, and cook for another 15 minutes.

If you are cooking in the slow cooker, add in all the ingredients except for the kidney beans into the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 5.  In the last 30 minutes, add in the kidney beans.

Note #1:  Enjoy the chili with sides such as corn bread or tortilla chips.  Or as some people prefer.....  steamed rice...  =/

Note #2:  Chili freezes very well!!  After we finished our dinner, I immediate placed a portion in the freezer and I gave another portion to my sister which fed her 2 more meals. 
I think in total, this dish made about 7-8 meals.

Note #3: The cost of the ingredients came out to around $7, so its ~$1 per meal.  Way cheaper than eating out AND you have enough food to last you a few days.  So you can spend your time doing more important things... like watching Beetlejuice

Friday, October 21, 2011

Homemade chicken pot pie (but not the crust)

A few weeks ago, a made the wonderful decision to make chicken pot pie at home.
Unfortunately, I also made the terrible decision to double the recipe and make TWO chicken pot pies.
(see exhibit A on the right).

We ended up eating chicken pot pies for every meal for over a week, that I think it's safe to conclude that we won't be eating chicken pot pies anytime in the near future.

The ingredients inside the pot pie are typical ingredients that I usually always have around the house:  chicken, carrots, potatoes, celery and onions.
The stuff I had to buy especially for this dish was the half&half  and the pie crusts. 
(When it comes to me and pies, i ALWAYS buy the pie crust.  I am no good when it comes to making dough, and I really don't think that the time and effort that goes into making pie crusts is worth.  When does someone ever eat a pie and say "this crust is spectacular.  Much better than store bought" ?  Exactly.

Making the actual filling is very easy.  And the entire pot pie is not hard at all, just kind of time consuming since you have to make the filling on the stove, then bake the entire thing in the oven.  I typical prefer cooking meals that requires only 1 heat source (the stove only, or the oven only).  But hey, its chicken pot pie, so.... gotta make some exceptions  :).

Here are the filling ingredients:
    1 cup potato, diced
    1 cup onion, diced
    1 cup celery, diced
    1 cup carrot, diced
    1/3 cup melted butter
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    2 cups chicken broth
    1 cup half-and-half
    salt and pepper
    3 chicken breasts.  cubed

In a skillet, with a little bit of oil, cook the chicken breasts until fully cooked.  Remove the chicken then in the same pan, saute the onion, celery, carrots and potatoes in the butter for 10 minutes. Add the flour to the skillet, stirring well, to cook out the raw flour.  Add the broth and half&half to the mixture and cook until bubbly.  Stir in the salt and pepper and chicken and stir well.

Here is the fun part!
In your handy dandy baking dish (pyrex), add 1 pie crust then pour in the chicken mixture. Then lay the 2nd crust on top and make sure that you make the edges of the pie crust stick together and look pretty! Cut slits in the crust to allow steam to escape, then place the pie into your 400 degree oven.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.