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Pickled Mustard Greens (Lotus Brand)

Pickled Mustard Greens are a fairly common Asian cuisine and are especially popular in China where they are often simply called ‘suan cai’ (酸菜), or ‘sour vegetable’. Homemade versions are often pickled in brine only, and thus tend to be very sour from the lactic acid alone, but commercial varieties often include vinegar and sugar and can thus be quite sweet. The brand you see pictured above is a product of Thailand rather than China and is one I have bought many times. It does list sugar as an ingredient but it is still really quite sour (and also pretty salty), at the same time… Read more

Pork Belly Confit

Before we begin, I want to say that what I doing in this experiment is a Confit in only the loosest sense of the word. As readers will recall from my post on Pork Belly, not only do my wife and I really enjoy eating the meat, I love cooking with the rendered fat. Unfortunately, fresh Pork belly only appears in our stores infrequently so, when I see it, I tend to grab as much as I can. Yesterday, I picked up about four pounds of it and I decided that, rather than just save the rendered fat from separate batches, I would render it all at once and use it as a covering the cooked slices so that they will be handily available for quick cooking as needed. As I am brining the pork slices first, I will in fact be adopting much of the basic process for making a confit… Read more

Beef and Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Beef with Broccoli in Oyster sauce is one of those ubiquitous dishes on westernized Chinese restaurant menus and is a special favorite of my wife. I am less keen on it, and much prefer it with Gai Lan, rather than the regular old broccoli, but I make it from time to time for my wife and I thought that today I would share one of my takes on the basic idea… Read more

Sichuan Chili Bean Paste (Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Brand)

It is almost impossible to conceive of Sichuan cuisine without healthy lashings of broad bean paste as the condiment is even more characteristic of the regional flavor palate than are the famous Sichuan Peppercorns. The basic article consists of broad beans fermented in salt, often with flour added, and thus it provides the same sort of umami fillip as does the more widely known soy-based Miso in Japanese cookery. In Chinese, the condiment is represented by the characters 豆瓣酱, which are pronounced dòubànjiàng, but it is common to see it represented in cookery books, or on jar labels as ‘toban djan’, ‘toban jang’, or ‘toban dian’.

Even more ubiquitous than the plain old Toban djan is the spicier, chili laden version known, in Mandarin, as là dòubànjiàng (辣豆瓣酱), or hot (spicy) bean paste. There are many brands available, both from Sichuan and elsewhere, and there is even a Lee Kum Kee Chili Bean Paste widely available in the west. Amongst those from Sichuan, however, the best are widely considered to be manufactured in the county of Pixian, and the variety you see above, made by the Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Ltd., is one of these… Read more

Grilled Squid with Chili and Cumin

I was inspired to try this experiment after enjoying a similar Chinese BBQ dish at the Ju Xiang Yuan Restaurant in Ottawa last year. I actually gave it a try at home shortly after my return but, lacking a barbecue following the disastrous fire the previous summer, I tried to use my oven grill, which just didn’t produce the result I wanted. Now, however, I am the proud owner of a brand new barbecue, courtesy of my lovely wife, and this dish will be the very first to be cooked upon it… Read more

Cactus Pear

This curious item, which looks a little like a russet potato with lots of eyes, appeared on the shelves of our local grocery store labeled as ‘Cactus Pears’. The name was unfamiliar to me but, when I Googled it, I discovered that the same article is often called ‘Prickly Pears’, which I have heard of before. I should note here that, according to Wikipedia, the name ‘Prickly Pear’ is shared by quite a few different things but is most commonly used to refer to this particular fruit.

The cactus pear, also known as ‘cactus fig’ in addition to ‘prickly pear’, does indeed come from a type of cactus colloquially known as the ‘Paddle Cactus’. I was surprised when I saw a picture of the plant as it looks exactly like a variety we had growing in our garden in Libya when I was a small child. However, I can’t for the life of me remember any ‘pears’ on them at all. The cactus is most associated with Mexico but it also grows in South America and, I was astounded to learn, can be found as far North as New England and southern Ontario. In any event, the fruit looked really interesting and, naturally, I had to give it a try… Read more

Steam-Baked Frozen Lobster

Live lobsters are a very rare treat in our local stores. Indeed, about once, or maybe twice a year is the most we ever see them. Occasionally, cold cooked lobster appear in the display cabinets, but this is the first time I have ever seen whole frozen ones. Naturally, when these ones showed up the other day I grabbed a couple to see what they might be like.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to cook them. I like lobster cold myself, but my wife only likes it hot and so I had to decide how to prepare them given that they had been cooked already. Dropping them into boiling water, as I would do with fresh ones, seemed a little problematic for a couple of reasons; first, I was afraid that the meat would get overly tough before the inner part was cooked and, secondly, I had no idea how much salt had been used in the first cooking before they were frozen. After thinking about it for a while, I came up with the idea of slowly baking them at low temperature with just enough liquid to create some steam… Read more

Spice: Lemon Grass

Fresh Lemon Grass is a common ingredient in many Southeast Asian culinary preparations and is most commonly ground with other ingredients to make curry pastes and condiments.  My own personal experience with the spice is that, if used with a heavy hand, it can quickly overwhelm a dish with an overly perfume-like citronella quality. However, when carefully balanced with other aromatics, it can be very pleasant.

Until just a few days before writing this post, I had only come across the fresh variety of lemon grass while travelling and it was always impractical to buy it. As a result, my own kitchen experiments thus far have been limited to dried sorts, which are all but useless, and some commercially brine-pickled stems that left me wanting the real thing. Luckily, our local store, Arctic Ventures, which is an amazing resource for us poor deprived Northerners, came through again with something new the other day and I now have the chance to experiment with the genuine article… Read more

Iqaluit Roast Duck

For our Labor day feast, I decided to roast a duck as it is one of my wife’s favorite meals. It is unfortunate that she will be going away on extended travel the day afterwards as she won’t get to help me with the leftovers but.. I guess I’ll just have to make do somehow. Anyway, rather than prepare the duck in one of  the Chinese methods I really like, I am just going to do a plain basic roast with a nice selection of ‘trimmings’… Read more

Spice Blend: Sambal Terasi

Not long ago, I published a foodstuffs post about a Dried Shrimp Paste widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. In Indonesia, the dried paste is known as ‘Terasi’ and it is commonly included in a variety of chili based culinary blends known as Sambals. These preparations are widely used as condiments but are also incorporated into curries and other dishes.

The very basic Sambal Terasi is just a raw paste consisting of fresh red chilies ground to a paste with salt and dried shrimp paste. However, there are many variations on the basic theme and some preparations are cooked. Additional ingredients can include garlic, shallots, onions, sugar, tomatoes and a variety of nuts such as Candlenuts or Macadamias and, in cooked versions, the ingredients can be fried after being ground to a paste, or else cooked individually beforehand and then ground together. For this experiment I am going to cleave fairly close to the original in terms of ingredients and leave it raw… Read more

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