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Cantonese Steamed Whole Fish

Well, another year has rolled by and it’s the Year of the Dragon.

I realize it has been a LONG while since I’ve turned up here at Foodrepublik.  I’ve decided to stop updating this blog. Not that I didn’t have a great time doing it, but I feel like I need to move on. I’ve changed a lot and I feel like Foodrepublik doesn’t represent “me” anymore. But please continue to enjoy the recipes! In the meantime, I leave you with a recipe.

Cantonese Steamed Whole Fish

Steamed whole fish is one of the traditional dishes for Chinese New Year.  The word for fish, “yu”, is similar to the word for “overabundance”.  A common saying at CNY is “Nian nian you yu”, which means “May you have surplus every year”.  The fish has to be whole with the head and the tail, to symbolize the start and end of the next year.

Cantonese style steamed fish is super easy to make, and you don’t really even need a bamboo steamer.  Just set the whole fish (cleaned and de-scaled) in a round metal cake pan.  In a wok, place a steaming rack (or rig up a donut made of aluminum foil).  Pour water into the wok (enough that it won’t boil dry in 15 min, but not so much that it covers the steaming rack/aluminum donut) and heat until simmering.  Place the metal cake pan (with the fish inside) on top of the steamer rack and cover the wok.  Steam for 15 min for an approx 1-pound fish.

1 whole fish (tilapia, sea bass, or other fish, about 1 to 1.5 pounds)
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and julienned
5 green onions, thinly sliced
soy sauce
vegetable oil

Place the fish in a metal pan.  Take half of the ginger and green onions and stuff the cavity of the fish, and place some ginger and green onions over the top of the fish.

Steam for 15 minutes (see steaming instructions above) in a wok over simmering water.

Remove pan from wok (fish should flake easily).  Carefully move the fish to a plate, removing the steamed ginger and scallions.  Pour soy sauce to taste over the fish.

Empty and dry wok.  Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in wok until shimmering.  Add remaining ginger and green onions and fry for 30 seconds until aromatic.  Pour hot oil and aromatics over the fish.  Serve immediately (with steamed rice).

Tibetan Fried Rice

When Chris and I were living in China, we found this tiny little Tibetan restaurant nestled in an alley behind the university campus.  The owners were a big family of ethnic Tibetans who were rather intimidating when they didn’t smile, but warm and friendly when they did.  Fortunately they smiled often, even the big burly guy who would pour us lukewarm Cokes and carefully package the paper cups into plastic bags, the better to carry them with.  There were always a bunch of puppies running around and Tibetan music videos blaring from the computer in the middle of the restaurant.

We only ever ordered one dish at that restaurant.  It was so good we never tried anything else.  It was a fried rice dish flavored with curry and filled with chopped vegetables, wood-ear fungus, and…I seem to remember fried egg in there too.  Or was it tofu?  Really, I have no idea if that dish actually exists in Tibetan cuisine.  It’s probably some mixture of Himalayan and Chinese cuisine, using the ingredients that were locally available.

I started craving it something fierce last night and decided to try my hand at recreating it.  They used medium-grain rice, which made for a slightly moister and heavier fried rice dish than your typical Chinese fried rice.  Fresh shiitake mushrooms would be a lovely earthy complement to the wood-ear fungus, but you can use slivers of cremini mushrooms in a pinch.  I got the spices pretty close; a bit of Indian curry powder and cumin did the trick.  And a good handful of chopped baby bok choy lightened up the dish.

As always with fried rice dishes, leftover rice is best, because the grains are drier and separate more easily while stir-frying. However, I didn’t have leftover rice, so I made a fresh pot of steamed medium-grain Calrose rice, and then left it in the pot on very low heat, uncovered, for an extra 5-10 minutes. This dried out the grains enough to use in the stir-fry. Remember that you don’t need to add as much water to medium-grain rice as you do to long-grain rice. I find that a 1:1 ratio works well.

Tibetan Fried Rice

4 cups cooked medium-grain rice (I used Calrose)
6 medium dried wood-ear fungus
6 medium fresh shiitake mushrooms (or cremini)
1 small tomato, diced
2 cups chopped baby bok choy
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp Indian curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder

Before you start, rehydrate the dried wood-ear mushrooms by soaking them in hot water for about 20 minutes. Rinse them thoroughly, then cut the rehydrated wood-ear mushrooms and the shiitake mushrooms into strips.

Pour a good glug of oil (about 3 tablespoons) into a wok set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, stir-fry the wood-ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms until shiitakes give up their water. Add the diced tomato and baby bok choy, and stir-fry briefly until bok choy is just beginning to wilt. Push vegetables to the side of the wok, and add the beaten eggs to the center of the wok. Scramble the eggs, and when cooked, mix them into the vegetables.

Add the curry and cumin powders and stir them into the vegetables until fragrant, being careful not to let the spices burn (you may need to turn the heat down slightly). Add the cooked rice, breaking up any clumps. Stir together the vegetables and the rice. Add water tablespoon by tablespoon, stir-frying constantly, just until the curry sauce coats the rice grains well.

Serve immediately!

Auntie Val’s Bolognese

My sister Sam graciously shared with me her fabulous mother-in-law’s recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese.  I love to plumb the depths of my family’s in-laws’ recipe archives in the hopes of finding hidden treasure.  I’m still hoping that I’ll get my other sister’s boyfriend’s mom’s secret family recipe for bread-and-butter pickles someday.  Hee hee.

I normally don’t follow a recipe when I make spaghetti bolognese, and this recipe has me convinced that henceforth I should.  Normally, I just saute some onions, peppers, and random vegetables, throw in a jar of pasta sauce and call it a day!  After all, the joy of pasta is that it’s E-A-S-Y, right?  Well, even though Auntie Val’s bolognese recipe IS a recipe, it’s just as simple and quick to prepare as any pasta sauce, and tastes GREAT!  Putting a little extra thought into this simple dish that we often take for granted takes it to the next level.  I love how Auntie Val’s ragu is simmered with bay leaves, which lends a savoriness and meatiness to the sauce that you associate with hearty stews.  A glug of white wine gives it depth, and a few teaspoons of sugar, while unexpected, really make the flavor pop.  Interestingly, Auntie Val’s recipe doesn’t use jarred pasta sauce, just a tin of tomato paste.  I would never have thought it, but somehow it works.  Of course, if you can’t conceive of bolognese sauce without tomato sauce, feel free to add some, or add a splash of pasta water to thin out the sauce if it’s too thick.

Auntie Val’s Bolognese Sauce

1.5 lbs ground beef
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp sliced pimento-stuffed olives
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp white wine
1 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp white pepper
dash of Tabasco sauce

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in saucepan. Saute onion and garlic until softened.

Add olives and beef, saute until browned.

Add tomato paste, ketchup, wine and spices. Add a splash of water if sauce is too dry. Simmer over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve with pasta.

It’s as simple as that!

Blueberry Streusel Cake

I’ve been having some major sweet cravings lately, especially when I start to feel peckish in the afternoons around coffee time.  In Germany in mid-afternoon they always have a break for coffee and tea, a bit similar to how the British have their tea-time.  In fact, I feel like Germans are eating all day long, and I have no idea how they manage to stay so much slimmer than us in the New World (less McDonald’s no doubt).  I love the yeasted German cakes that are just sweet enough, with lots of fruit, for a satisfying afternoon snack.  This one isn’t yeasted, but with its crunchy streusel topping, jammy blueberries, and tender white cake base, it definitely fits the bill for coffee time. And it reminds me of a really yummy cake that Chris’ aunt made for us in Germany with a yeast base and a streusel topping and served with steaming cups of fresh espresso.

The recipe is a basic one from Joy of Cooking.  The only tip I would give is – use slightly tart blueberries, if you can find them.  Mine were quite ripe, and the cake would have benefited from a little more acidity to cut the sweetness.  And I’m sure you could use all kinds of fruit in this cake — raspberries or blackberries would be lovely (and summery) or maybe some stone fruit!

Blueberry Streusel Cake
From The Joy of Cooking

Streusel Topping
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Cake Batter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease an 8-inch round pan.

To make the topping:
Mix together the flour, sugar, and cinnamon, and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms coarse crumbs. Set aside.

To make the cake:
Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric mixer, until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined with the butter mixture.
Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, and mix until combined.
Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth with a spoon or spatula.
Scatter the blueberries evenly over the cake’s surface, and then sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the blueberries.
Bake 40-50 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

Spicy Korean Rice Cakes

When we were down in Orange County a couple of weekends ago, we stopped by at Ranch99 to pick up a few Asian goodies.  Where we live, it’s hard to find Asian ingredients, so I was pretty stoked to stock up so I can cook more Asian food at home.  I also bought these addictively chewy Korean rice cakes so I can make one of my favorite Korean dishes – rice cakes in a spicy red sauce.  This was my first try at this dish, and it turned out pretty good.  The chewy rice cakes are not everyone’s favorite, but I happen to just LOVE them!

I miss being able to go to a Korean restaurant whenever I want (ie. when I lived in Toronto).  Personally I think that Korean food is one of the few cuisines where Korean home cooking is quite similar to what is served in restaurants.  I love the homey (and spicy) soups and stews, just perfect for a cold winter day.  Of course, it’s not winter right now – and in California the sun is bright and the air is fresh outside my window this morning.  But anytime is right for good food, and these Korean rice cakes aren’t as steamy as a soup or stew, making it perfect for anytime you’re craving a little spicy.

Since I wanted an authentic recipe, I followed Beyond Kimchee’s version, which includes making a stock of seaweed and dried anchovies.  Not having seaweed or dried fish in my repertoire, I substituted homemade chicken stock instead, and it still turned out good.  I also didn’t have fish cakes, but I didn’t miss them.  I used Napa cabbage instead of regular cabbage, though I think either would work well.  I also reduced the sugar, as it was a little too sweet for my taste.

Spicy Korean Rice Cakes
Adapted closely from Beyond Kimchee

3 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
1 package (about 600g) Korean rice cakes
4 tbsp gochujang (Korean red chili paste)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 medium Napa cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 leek, cleaned and sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, soak the rice cakes in hot tap water to separate them and remove the oily coating, for about 5 minutes.

Heat the stock over medium heat. When simmer, add the gochujang (red chili paste) and sugar, stirring well until dissolved. Add rice cakes and cabbage and bring mixture back to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until cabbage and rice cakes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add leeks and garlic and continue simmering until sauce is reduced and thickened, another 5-10 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in the ketchup and pour the rice cakes into a shallow dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve hot.