Thursday, April 16, 2009

feelin' hot pot! Oh, so cheesy, I know, but with such a festive free-for-all way to eat dinner, a bit of silliness is guaranteed. It had been positively aaaages since our last hot pot meal, but with my mom's birthday to celebrate, it seemed the perfect time to get out all the fun gear and just start dunking and dipping.

First a trip to the local Chinese supermarket for the fixings:


Thinly sliced beef and lamb, ready to be fanned out and swish swish swish-ed by pairs of eager chopsticks.


Part of our arsenal of dipping sauces - black vinegar, sesame oil...


...toasty barbecue sauce, also called sa cha, made of garlic, shallots, chili and shrimp paste.


It's pleasantly stinky, if that makes sense. And great to mix with all the other sauces. I love diy dinners!


Chiu Chow chili oil. Oh, that smoky, salty, nose runningly hot stuff. Gotta have the chili oil.


And while we unpacked the groceries (another reason to love a hot pot feast, easiest prep ever!), a quick stock was put on to simmer. No homemade chicken on hand, but not to worry, a can or two gets opened and bumped up with shrimp heads and shells (left over from D's shrimp ball making, in a bit) and napa cabbage innards. Delish.


Enoki and oyster mushrooms, quail eggs (to be used by the more adventurous, cracked raw and ooey, as another dipper to temper the piping hot food) and the infamous beef balls. (I say that as D still can't believe that I actually like the strange superball texture of the store bought kind. I guess it's a taste memory thing. Scored with a little x and puffed up in hot soup, I can't imagine not having these processed babies for hot pot.)


Deep fried tofu puffs. Perfect little flavour sponges! We discovered later that when they float to the top of broth containing, say spoonfuls of hot chili oil, they tend to also soak up just the oil. Oh, it burns, it burns so good.


D, still disbelieving of my love for rubber meatballs, went ahead and made his own shrimp version. Yeah, so they were pretty much the most delicious, delicate, sweet seafoodie dumplings of delight ever. Show off. (I kid, they were fantastic.)


Oh so serene images of Before...


...sliced chicken, lightly blanched oysters, strips of napa cabbage...

IMG_5866 little dish of sauces, ready to begin. Aaaand go!


(You'll notice we don't actually have the proper pots; we made do with one big rice cooker for the main dunking and a mini one for the crazy kids that liked it spicy. Chili and oil and sichuan peppercorn, oh my.)


My aunt, getting a better view of the situation. The action can get a bit intense!


Dunk, swish, slurp, burp. A handful of watercress and rice noodles go in near the end to soak up the now concentrated broth...



Success! I'm thinking we need more family dinners this messy and fun.

And last, but definitely, not least, it was time for mom's birthday cake. Courtesy of Aunt W, we had a Chinese bakery classic...


...super mango mousse layered with sponge cake (I'm pretty sure there was tinned fruit salad in the middle somewhere, how awesome!)


Happy birthday mom!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

on belly, and breakfast

Growing up, my dad was the cook of our little family. His favourite things to cook, not surprisingly, were also the same things he loved to eat, which meant that depending on his mood we ate a lot of whole steamed fish with ginger and green onion, or chili-laced soupy noodles (less spicy for me, but just barely) and pan fried dumplings.

One of his many loves, other than eggs (which I'm sure he could, and would, eat boiled, poached, fried over-easy with XO sauce...) and sunday breakfast (with thick cut home fries, sprinkled with paprika, perfect with - you guessed it, eggs) was pork belly. Braised, roasted, bbq'd, cured or smoked, belly was just that one thing that made a good day even better.

And what's not to love, as Fergus Henderson, that most eloquent of men on the subject of piggy heads and tails and everything in between, has said:
Pork Belly is a wonderful thing. It's onomatopoeic, belly is like it sounds - reassuring, steadying, and splendid to cook due to its fatty nature. It's not a cut of meat to rush; with that, a certain calm is imbued in the belly. There's nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves.


Oh, belly, belly, belly. It does make me think of goofy Woody in Cheers, b-e-l-l-yyyyy. Why? Because you're miiine.


And so, on one lazy saturday afternoon spent puttering around the house, I put on a pot of that most reassuring, yes, of things, braised pork belly. A happy day, in my books!


Just as dad did, ginger, green onion....


...with a touch of this brown sugar. Isn't it nice how the slabs sort of look like belly? In goes a splash of dark mushroom soy sauce and chinese cooking wine, stock, star anise and a teeny tiny piece of cassia bark. Simmer, skim, do some laundry. (And by "laundry" I mean goof around on facebook, of course.)


Oh yes. This is good. And definitely a favourite that will stay in this family!


A simple accompaniment of rice and steamed veg is more than enough to round out this dinner...

...or is it?

Ever the one to gild the lily, and knowing that dad would so approve, I went whole hog (sorry) and splurged on this little ditty for sunday breakfast.


Braised pork belly, fried, with mushrooms, fried egg and a toasty hash brown.


Hoo yeah, that sure was tasty. I think I might just have a new one to add to my list of Good Sunday Breakfasts! One that sings the praises of b-e-l-l-y....

Monday, April 13, 2009

on roses and a sweet sammie

Juliet had it right, about the rose at least. It's true, by any other name, it would smell just as sweet...but again, I suppose she had more pressing things on her mind than a lunch of a ham and cheese sammie.

Which, if you like to think of these things (as I certainly do, is that normal?), conjures up images of plastic lunchboxes, floppy pale pink squares, shiny processed cheese and my fave, squishy soft wonderbread. Umm. All great things, really, but sometimes when the simple Ham and Cheese just won't do, it's as easy as a change in name.

A tosta mista, anyone?


A grilled ham and cheese really wouldn't sound the same. Even just saying tosta mista makes your face go through a range of motions that makes you seem more worldly, glamourous, jet-set even. Try it, you'll see!


Oh so good. We like to get ours from a couple of the Portuguese bakeries near us. (This one is from Caldense on Dundas.)


So what's in a name? In this case, crispy, toasty, tender, melty-ooey-gooey-goodness. A ham and cheese never had it so good.