Happy Chinese New Year! Try this Hakata Mizutaki (chicken hotpot) recipe today!

First of all, happy 2012 everyone!

I hope your new year has gone off on a great start.

As for me, so far it’s feeling more like the 13th month of 2011…both boys got sick earlier this month (though not at the same time, thankfully) so for the past few weeks I’ve been mostly home with the crabby brothers…and now that they’re finally healthy again, it’s suppose to rain for the whole next week which means we’re kind of stuck in-doors again…Oh well.

Anyway, before the end of the year WordPress sent me a nice summary email of my blog stats for 2011…and supposedly, in the entire last year, I only posted 4 times. Really? I feel like I wrote more than that…hrm…

I know it’s hard to believe but I actually update my status on Facebook/Twitter at least once a day, sometimes as many as 3 – 4 times…

So in 2012 I’m going to channel some of that “energy” here, especially since the 2 – 3 of you who actually read this blog have told me that you’d like to see new updates.

Generally, I think I’ll post on the weekends. And if I get around to it, I’ll try to rotate between 3 – 4 topics, one of them being food/recipes.

And since tomorrow night is Chinese New Year’s Eve (I’m Taiwanese so that’s what I’m going to call it even though I know many other cultures celebrate it too), I’m going to share a hotpot recipe although it’s actually Japanese. I chose this recipe because 1) it’s very simple 2) I hardly hear anyone else who is not Japanese mention this style of hotpot 3) it’s from the Fukuoka region, one of my favorite places in the world.

Many years ago the term “hotpot” probably didn’t mean a whole lot to people outside Asia. But nowadays I think many people who live in large metropolitan cities have heard of this concept. In the past I’ve heard of it described as Asian fondue – which basically means that you cook and eat meats and vegetables cooked in a broth.

And for most Asians, this means sliced meat…and maybe seafood.

But Hakata Mizutaki features chicken and it’s probably one of the simplest yet great tasting hotpot dishes you can have, especially if you have access to high quality chicken.

As I mentioned earlier it originates from Fukuoka, Japan (though culturally people refers to things from that area as from “Hakata”) and here’s a link to the story behind its creation.

These days this dish can be enjoyed with two different broths – chicken (milky) or kombu dashi (seaweed stock).  At home we mostly enjoy the kombu dashi style – it’s fast and the taste is more “pure.”

If you google “Hakata Mizutaki” you’ll see a variety of recipes for this dish. Here I’m just going to mention how we do it at home and why you’ll love it.

INGREDIENTS

First, you want to get the highest quality dark chicken meat you can find. In my area the Japanese supermarkets usually stock some kind of chicken “nabe” (Japanese for hotpot) meat – cut up (small) pieces of chicken legs and wings. If you can find it pre-cut, that will be the easiest as the supermarkets cut them to the correct (bite) size for the hotpot.

Next you choose a selection of other things you want in the nabe. The main other ingredients (that go well with the chicken) are leek, napa cabbage, shungiku (tonghao in Chinese), mushrooms (fresh shiitake is the default), carrots and harusame (Japanese glass noodles).

For the basic broth, you just need a large piece of kombu (seaweed) – the kind that is meant for making stock.

Then lastly, for the dipping sauce you need Ponzu, or a citron flavored soy sauce.

COOKING PROCEDURE

If you are using the kombu broth suggested here, there’s not a lot of prep time. Just put your large piece (about 2 – 3 inches long) of kombu in cold water into your nabe pot. At home we use either a cast iron or clay pot. The key here is to put the kombu in the water when it’s cold. And many recipes I’ve seen calls for you to remove the kombu right before the water boils. I think this is suppose to provide the best “taste” of the dashi…but I’ve always just left it in there so maximize the extraction of the flavors.

Next, after the water starts boiling you can add the chicken and the leek (or green onion). If you don’t like sitting around waiting for things to cook slowly, you can always add all of the things together (although I highly recommend putting them into the pot in “zones” for the prettiest presentation) but I’d cook the meat for 4 – 5 minutes first since the vegetables cook more quickly and doing so also allows you to remove any scum/foam that come out of the meat first.

If your meat has been cut for nabe use, it shouldn’t take more than 7 – 10 minutes before you can enjoy your first bite. But if you’re unsure then you can give it a few additional minutes – poking through the parts around the bones to check for blood before taking it out. (Note: It just crossed my mind that some people might think it’s easiest to just use deboned meat – I’ve never tried this so I can’t tell you how that will change things but in Japan, Mizutaki is always made with bone-in meat that have the skin intact. So I assume that’s the best way to enjoy this nabe.)

If you serve the pot with everything cooked together then you can enjoy the items in whichever order you prefer, dipping everything in the Ponzu sauce.

If like us, you prefer to eat each item at its optimal doneness, then you put them into the pot to cook right before you want to eat them. For us, the preferred order is meat (with some leek or green onion), vegetables, then harusame.*

*A word about the harusame – although it’s texture/taste is similar to other types of glass noodles, the Japanese harusame is made in a slightly flat, broad shape like linguine so the resulting texture is the most ideal for mizutaki. However, it is much more expensive than the other glass noodles. So I usually substitute with Chinese glass noodles that also have the same flat, broad shape.

WHY IT’S TASTY

Before living in Japan, there were some foods that I didn’t appreciate much and one of them is chicken. Having lived most of my life in the US, before the recent “eat local,” “eat fresh” movements, chicken meat always seemed like of “stinky” or bland. But in Japan, where many farms still raise chicken the old fashion way, I learned how delicious chicken can be – a fragrant, succulent meat that taste great even with the simplest seasoning.

So if you have access to great quality chicken meat, I highly recommend that you try this nabe dish at least once.

At our home it’s kind of the go-to nabe on a cold day because we almost always have all of the ingredients we need.

And at the end, to finish your meal, put a bowl of cooked white rice into the leftover broth…let it stew for a few minutes before adding a scrambled (uncooked) egg. Add a splash of Ponzu and some chopped green onions and you have yourself a nice bowl of delicious chicken porridge (zosui).

Yumm…my mouth is salivating just thinking about it.

Anyway, again, happy new year. Here’s to another year of joyous times with family, friends, and FOOD!

(Photo credit: グルメ Walker)

P.s. Hakata Mizutaki = 博多 水炊き
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Trying out Trader Joe products

Recently along with trying out new restaurants when we eat out for convenience, I started buying 1 – 2 new products at Trader Joe’s whenever I go to stock up on the basics (milk, mineral water, cheese, etc.)

Usually we stay away from pre-made sauces or “meals in a box” but knowing that there are some decent products out there I figured that it would be good to know what they are when I need to put together a quick dinner.

So far, we’ve tried and like their mini quiche which comes in 3 flavors [sorry, forgot to take photos]. Charlie would like to have me make them from scratch but I don’t want to make large quiche pies only to 1) eat it all or 2) have leftovers which don’t reheat well so I’m sticking to the Trader Joe ones for now.

We have them on weekend mornings when we’re not rushed to go somewhere although at $1.99 each and taking only 10 – 15 minutes to heat up, we could probably have them as often as our arteries will let us. For some reason, I think of quiche as a very heavy and not heart-friendly food. Please correct me if this is not the case. Charlie would love it if we could have it more often.

In any case, the other two short-cut products we’ve tried are:

Kansas City style BBQ sauce and Cornbread Mix

TJ BBQ Sauce

I’m not sure why but in the same week I was craving both pulled pork sandwich and corn bread.

Ever since I read about cooking Pulled Pork Sandwiches in Ordering Disorder, I’ve been itching to make some using the Tiger Thermal Magic Cooker we got last Christmas.

*These cookers have been popular in Asia for some time. Basically, all you need to do is boil the items you want to cook in the pot with the cover on (on the stove) for 15 – 25 minutes, then you take it off the flame and put it into the insulated outer container and it will continue cooking for hours with the residual heat. With the push for more environmentally friendly ways of living, I suspect that it will be a matter of time before more Americans discover the benefits of these “magic” cookers.

I couldn’t find a slab of Boston Butt as recommended at the Asian supermarket but the shoulder meat I used turned out pretty decent anyway. All I did was stew the pork with some carrots, salt and pepper corns. Then I shredded the meat and smothered everything in the Trader Joe BBQ sauce.

To make it “healthier” I added a side of sauteed organic green chard.

Shreded pork

This turned into this

Pulled prok sandwich

On the same shopping trip I noticed that Trader Joe had its own corn bread mix so I made some black bean soup (the recipe is originally from the Moosewood Restaurant and vegetarian but Charlie makes me add ground beef and calls it “chili”).

The Corn Bread mix had some real corn kernels which looked tasty but didn’t add much texture when baked. Also, they added vanilla flavoring to the mix, which smelled great but tasted more like “cake” than bread.

Trader Joe cornbread mix insideBaked cornbread

Cornbread and Black Bean Chili plated

Chili with Cornbread

So far, that’s 2 out of 3 products that I will buy again. Hopefully my foray down TJ aisles will pan out better in the future. Let me know if you have any recommendations. I will hide the bottles/packages so Charlie won’t know when I use some “help” for dinner.

What’s for dinner?

I started taking photos of our food, both homecooked and restaurant made, years ago but so far have been too lazy to do much with the photos afterwards (except for two from French Laundry that I framed and put up on the wall). But tonight, while looking at our photo folder in Picasa, I realized that we have been pretty blessed food-wise and I really liked how some of the dishes turned out.

Believe it or not, I am working on several drafts of a few long (and probably boring) “essay” type of entries that I plan to post someday. However, considering that long chunks of free time are hard to come by and I’d rather be cooking or working on my crafts when they do, I think maybe I should just find something easy to write about and post often. I don’t know how long I can keep this up but nowadays we eat almost all dinners at home so I should have plenty to post and write about.

Since I’m either following someone else’ recipe (which I will mention when I do) or making something up. I won’t bother to post any recipes but I will try to provide them if there’s any interest. Just leave a note in the comment section.

To start, here are two dinners (yesterday and today) from this week:

Stewed pork belly & organic carrots

Stewed Pork Belly & Organic Carrots

Yes, that’s a plate full of fatty pork belly. I was craving pig’s feet and opted to make this instead. I made it “healthier” by adding organic carrots. Don’t worry, I won’t serve you this “heart attack” dish if you come to visit. ^_^

Asparagus with garlic aioli

Asparagus with garlic aioli

I was sick of sauteed asparagus and decided to serve it a different way. Charlie liked the aioli so I guess this is a keeper.

Organic radish in shiso dressing

Organic radish in shiso dressing

We got a bag of radishes in our produce delivery last week and I’ve been wondering what to do with it. So I cut up a few (this is 2 small radishes) to try with store-bought Japanese shiso dressing. This small portion was eaten up so quickly that I ended up cutting a few more. I think it was the salad dressing that did the job. I highly recommend picking up a bottle if you haven’t tried it before – will make almost all raw vegetables taste better.

Rosemary & Garlic Chicken

Rosemary & Garlic Chicken

To mix it up a bit tonight’s dinner was Western style. I defrosted one of the stockpiled packages of naturally raised chicken from Mitsuwa Supermarket and marinated it in rosemary, garlic, and lemon juice.

Dinner plate

The sides were leftover mushroom risotto (made by Charlie) and lightly blanched sugar snap peas (in Italian dressing) that we picked up at the Farmer’s Market on Sunday.

Okay, this was suppose to be a quick and EASY post but it’s taken me over an hour just to download the photos, upload them to WordPress and type the captions, a lot more time than it took me to cook the dishes >_<

Hopefully with more practice things will get easier but really, I need to look up a tutorial on WordPress…maybe it’s just me but their WYSIWYG tool isn’t intuitive. I am definitely not getting the results I see in my dashboard. Can someone tell me how to improve this?

Cantonese style steamed fish recipe – ling cod

Steamed ling cod

I noticed that a few people have found this blog while searching for suggestions on how to cook ling cod. I remember not having much luck back when I was looking for the same kind of recipe. So for those who enjoy Chinese cooking, especially the kind of steamed fish (usually whole) that is offered at Cantonese restaurants, here’s one for you to try at home. It works for fresh, white fish in general but we really liked it for ling cod.

By the way, we misplaced our scanner cable during the move so I’m posting a rough translation of the recipe here. It’s from the book that I mentioned before when I posted about cooking ling cod. Please let me know if you have any questions or want to repost this recipe somewhere else. Enjoy!

Cantonese style steamed fish

Ingredients

Fresh fish 1 [we used about 1- 1.5 lbs of ling cod]

Green onion 4 stalks

Red pepper Some [1 – 2]

Ginger Some [about same amount as the green onion]

Seasoning

Salt 1 t

Soy sauce 3 T

Sugar 1 t

Oil 3 T

Instructions:

  1. Wash everything. Julienne the green onion and red pepper into thin strips. Cut half of the ginger into thin strips and the other half into slices and soak in water.
  2. Mix soy sauce and sugar in a separate bowl
  3. Insert a cut into the thickest part of the fish and rub the fish with salt. Place the fish on a plate, then place ginger slices on the fish.
  4. Set up a steamer in a wok, add water, and place the fish on the steamer after the water boils. Steam on high heat for about 8 – 10 minutes.
  5. After the fish is cooked, remove the ginger pieces and add the [mixed] thin strips of ginger, green onion, and red pepper. Pour the soy sauce and sugar mixture over everything.
  6. In a separate pan, heat up the oil then pour the hot oil over the ginger, red pepper, and green onion on top of the fish.

Chef’s tips:

  • Calculate the time for steaming the fish starting from when the water boils and after the fish has been placed in the steamer [This seems obvious to me but I guess it might not be to everyone]
  • If the fish is too “thick” (big), then add a few more cuts to make it easier to cook through.

My comments:

  • We tried this recipe with ling cod, using about 1 – 1.5 lbs of meat, or 1 fillet if you buy it at a Chinese market.
  • If the fish is too fishy, it helps to marinade the fish beforehand (or overnight) in some sake or rice wine.
  • The recipe says to rub on some salt before steaming but we washed the salt off before cooking since the sauce is salty enough to flavor the fish.The sauce tastes salty by itself but is just right for seasoning the fish. Of course, all this depends on how big of a fish you use.
  • Lastly, we added cilantro on our own because Charlie LOVES that herb. We omitted the red pepper because we didn’t have it on hand but using it like the recipe suggests probably adds a different dimension in flavor, not to mention its visual appeal.

Photo of Cantonese Style Steamed Ling Cod

Charlie liked the recipe so much that he made it for dinner again after I had first made it. Here’s a photo of how his dish turned out.

*The focus is on the greens so it’s hard to see the fish but the meat was very tender and fresh (not fishy).

We omitted the salt from the sauce this time (instead, only sprinkled salt on the fish before steaming) and it was better although it can go either way.

A typical day of cooking and eating…

Charlie and I love food but we’re also lazy. Charlie might sometimes be willing to put in hours of work into one recipe (i.e. his pizza) but me, I just want to be able to eat yummy food when I want it.

So our strategy is to stock our pantry and fridge with lots of read to be made ingredients. That way, we can easily whip up something that strikes our fancy.

The only problem with cooking for two this way though is that there’s always more leftovers than we can finish…and some food we only want to eat once. So we’re constantly throwing away old foods that are perfectly fine just because on one will eat it (and we don’t feed any human food to our dog, Polly) or expired ingredients that seemed essential at the store but didn’t end up getting used.

Of course, it would help if we tend to want to eat the same foods but unfortunately, we’re both spoiled and want what we want when we want it.

So some day, I will have to figure out how to work out a system for our kitchen to function not su much like a small restaurant/cafe but more like a bed and breakfast inn that only provides an occasional meal.

Anyway, so I thought that it might be interesting to post a sample of what we typically consume in a span of 24 to 36 hours. This is from yesterday, Friday, June 29.

Breakfast – Ratatouille with Fried Egg and Hot Dog “Takos” (Octopus)

*According to Charlie, the round headed one is him and the flat headed one is me…it’s a private joke.

Lunch – Mabo Tofu and Rice (me), Charlie (company cafeteria) *Not pictured

Dinner – Yakisoba *We were supposed to have Yakiniku but I was too lazy to do all the prep

Midnight snack – Hand tossed pizza with homemade sauce

Note: this is actually one of our “easiest” food days because the Ratatouille for breakfast was made several days ago, the ingredients for the Yakisoba were leftover from our Okonomiyaki night on Monday, and the pizza sauce was made last week.

But two night before we made My Korean Kitchen’s Hoddeok (Korean Sweet Pancakes) for our midnight snack (and ended up sleeping around 2 AM!). This morning’s brunch was Chinese Pickled Cabbage Lamb Soup (in order to use up the pickled cabbage I made weeks ago).

So yes, our sink is full of dirty dishes and pots and pans…and our waistlines are increasing by the day.

But there will come a day when we won’t be able to eat whatever we want and whenever we want. So until then…