Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chinese BBQ Pork

Chinese BBQ Pork (cha siu)

Growing up my family seldom ate out. The majority of meals were cooked at home so my mother knew exactly what she was putting into the food and it was much more cost effective. Sometimes she would pick up some fresh rice noodles, sprouts and some Chinese BBQ pork a.k.a. char siu so she can whip up a simple stir fry at home. Less than $10 to feed a family of 3-4 for lunch. The char siu was purchased 99% of the time. She'd walk through Chinatown peering through the window in search of freshly made cha siu, indicated by the dripping juices, before asking for a half fatty/ lean piece. I no longer have cha siu on near weekly basis since I'm less than enthusiastic to make a 30 mile drive down to the International District and peer through several windows until I find the perfect piece like my mother. A while back a friend posted a picture of homemade cha siu and I immediately asked for the recipe. It had been bookmarked for quite some time but I haven't had the time to make it until this weekend. I picked up some pork belly, followed the recipe and had some tasty cha siu at the end of the day. If I were to make this again, I'd go with a leaner cut of pork (like the tenderloin) and adjust the cooking times as needed.

Chinese Roast Pork / Chinese Barbecued Pork (recipe from Appetite for China/The Chinese Takeout Cookbook with my notes/comments in blue)
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multi-course meal
  • 1 pound pork belly, unsliced with skin trimmed off
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, or substitute regular soy sauce (I used regular soy sauce since I was out of dark soy sauce. My cha siu was less intense in color)
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar (Perhaps brown sugar would work with the regular soy sauce to add color)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • ½ teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the rice wine, dark soy sauce, sugar, garlic, hoisin sauce, and five-spice powder. Rub the pork belly with the marinade mixture and marinate for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Rub the excess marinade off the pork belly (but don’t rub it all off!) and place in a roasting pan. Brush the top with the honey. Roast the pork for 40 to 45 minutes, flipping the pork belly over half-way through and brushing honey on the other side. The pork is done when the outsides begin to crisp and blacken, and the center of the pork belly strip feels firm. (I checked on my pork after 40 minutes and while it was cooked, the outsides weren't getting crispy. I brushed on a coat of brown sugar and honey, turned the temp up to ~400ºF for 5 minutes to get the pork to brown a bit better.)
  3. Remove the pork from oven and let it cool for a 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into thin slices. Arrange the slices on a plate and serve, either plain as part of a multi-course meal, or with rice or noodles.
Resting on the cutting board
Dinner = Cha siu with Shanghai bok choi over white rice

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Starting the lunar year off with almond cookies

Almond Cookies

Last year I stumbled upon almond meal/flour at a local grocery store and picked up a bag despite the cost. As with all things I'm unfamiliar with, I turned to the internet for answers.

What is almond flour? 
Almond meal/flour is basically skinless, blanched almonds that have been finely ground. You can make it at home just as long as you don't grind it so long it becomes almond butter.

Is it good for me? 
It's a great source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and low in carbohydrates. It's also gluten-free.

And what delicious treats can I make with it? 
Pancakes, cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, substitute for breadcrumbs in meatballs, etc. 

Although there were countless recipes online, I opted to try the almond cookie recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill oat flour I had. You can make gluten-free cookies if you use the gluten-free oat flour. Oat flour is gluten-free but may be milled in a facility that has gluten products. I've baked these several times to take to work or bring to soccer games and I never have problems with leftovers. Since I'm home for Chinese New Year and I didn't have time to make my ninja cookies (sorry cousin), I made a double batch for my folks.

Almond Cookies (recipe from Bob's Red Mill with my notes in blue, makes 2 dozen cookies)
1/2 cup butter
6 tablespoons maple sugar or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup almond meal
1 cup sifted oat flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (for dusting, if desired)

1) Preheat oven to 300ºF. 
2) Grease cookie sheet; set aside. (I use parchment paper so I can skip greasing the cookie sheet)
3) With a hand mixer, blend the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until creamy. 
4) Add the almond meal and oat flour and mix until the dough sticks together.
5) Form the dough into 1-1/2 inch balls. (I use a small (1" diameter) ice cream scoop which makes the process quick and keeps my hands clean)
6) Place them on the prepared cookie sheet and bake for 30 - 35 minutes. 
7) Cool cookies completely before enjoying. (Sift powdered sugar on top, if desired)

Creamy mixture of butter, sugar and vanilla extract
I mixed the flours with the butter/sugar mix with the electric mixer initially and finished the job off with the spatula. Since almond flour is on the pricey side, I make sure I scrape up every last bit.
I typically use a 1" ice cream scoop to seed things up but my parents only had a 1-1/2" scoop which made for slightly larger cookies.
They don't spread when baked.
I opted to hand roll 1-1/2" balls for the last tray and baked them for ~25 minutes. They probably could have gone for 30 minutes but they turned out pretty nice.
The little guys in on their way out the oven
Ready to be shared :)