Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spicy Hot Pot - Oo La La!

Okay, this is one of my new all-time favorite things to eat.  One of our friends took us to a spicy hot pot restaurant and now I can't stop thinking about it.  You sit down at a table and get a bubbling vat of broth.  It's separated in the middle; on one side is mild but delicious broth, kind of like a light chicken broth and on the other side is deep red beauty of spicy broth, large chunks of tofu and duck blood (resembles the tofu in appearance, texture, and taste).

They set the cauldron on a burner in the middle of the table to keep warm and you go up to coolers to choose meat, vegetables, tofu, noodles, or any other number of things you might want to add to the broth.  The place we went to was all you can eat, so you could just go up and try anything you wanted.

We chose some meat and seafood, vegetables and dumplings.  You dump it all into the broth until it's cooked then enjoy!  At the we put a package of ramen type noodles in, and they just soaked up the broth and all the flavor from the meat and the vegetables we'd cooked.  It was a slurpy delicious finish to the meal.

By the way, as far as the title of this post goes - no I did not have a momentary lapse and think I was in France and not Asia.  La is the Chinese word for spicy :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Cheese

I was going through some of my old pictures this morning and found a few good ones I never got around to posting before we left America.  It made me really nostalgic to look at my own food, which sounds kind of funny I guess, but it's the truth.  I really have missed cooking.  It's been over a month.  Which is grievous.

On a happier note, our shipment of things from home arrived yesterday.  It was mostly stuff that doesn't fit in our apartment or that we would never use here, but I did get some kitchen stuff I was immensely happy about.  Coffee maker, pot, real knives.  I can't wait to start cooking again.  I think I'll go to the store tomorrow and get as much food as I can fit in my dorm-sized refrigerator and get to cooking!

So anyways, on to the old pictures and the cheese making!

I've been wanting to make cheese for years.  My husband is terrified of it.  I think he thinks I'm going to poison him somehow.  So I made this cheese when he was away on a business trip right before we left home.  It was really amazingly easy, and didn't even involve any bacteria, so nothing to be wary of.  I found the recipe here and was totally drawn it.  It looked so easy!

So I boiled the milk and the buttermilk and some fresh thyme from my garden (oh how I miss my garden!) and salt and pepper.

After it reached the right temperature and started separating in strange ways I strained it through cheese cloth.

I wrapped it up and let it drain for a little while.

After it drained I just unwrapped it and ate it with crackers.  Almost as easy as boiling water.  I would definitely recommend this recipe to anyone who has the slightest desire to make his or her own cheese.  It's so simple and delicious.  And it's always fun to tell people you've made cheese!

The taste is kind of tangy, texture is something like a cross between cream cheese and mozzarella.  I love this recipe because you can add all kinds of things to it to make it different flavors - nuts or dried fruit, spices and herbs.  The website where I got the recipe has some good ideas on what to add.  I hope you'll try it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weekend Lunch - Shanghai Style

Last weekend Dan and I went out exploring - first to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (see my post about it here) and then to a couple of weekend markets.  In between the hall and the markets, we stumbled on a great Shanghai style restaurant and had an amazing lunch.

We started with pork steamed dumplings.  The little packets of dough were filled with perfectly salty pork and a lot of juices.  If you set the dumpling in a soup spoon and pierce it before you eat it, the juices run out and you can slurp them up after you eat the dumpling.  It really is delicious.

 The dumplings were so steamy it was hard to get a good picture

According to Dan, who has been to China (without me), there is a golden ratio for the dipping sauce that goes with the dumplings.  At the table is a container of soy sauce and one of vinegar.  When you order dumplings they bring you a little dish of shaved fresh ginger, to which you add the soy sauce and vinegar.  The golden ratio is 3 vinegar to 1 soy sauce added to as much ginger as you want.  You dip the dumplings in, get a little of the fresh ginger along with it and it all creates a really complex taste; salty pork and soy sauce, sesame oil, a little sourness from the vinegar, and the bite of the ginger.  All with a little chewy dumpling skin.  Perfect.

Vinegar on the left, soy sauce on the right.  Ginger and the finished sauce in front.

We also had some great fried chicken pieces in a sweet and sour sauce.  It was a lot like what you might expect to find in a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. although the flavor was a lot more sour, less sweet and sticky.  The peppers and green onion that were sauteed with the chicken really added to the flavor too.

We had what Dan calls an Asian tamale.  We actually don't know what this is called.  It's good though - kind of a sticky glutinous rice surrounding some pork floss.  Tasty.

Finally a little soup.  Definitely the most mundane thing we had at this meal.  The broth was tasty, although the noodles were a lot like ramen and the beef was a little chewy.  I'll stick to the dumplings thank you!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Taiwanese Roulette

The other night my husband Dan and I played Russian Roulette.  Not with our lives of course, but with our stomachs.  We were feeling a little adventurous and wanted to try out one of the restaurants we passed on the street.  It was a little scary but exciting too.  We decided that we'd just go into the first place that looked good and busy (on the assumption that any place that's busy around here has to be good - Taiwanese really know good food!)

So we found this little restaurant on the corner of a street down an alley.  It had red lanterns hanging outside, which Dan is convinced always means food (I'm not so sure about this).  I wish I would have been able to get a picture of the place, but my camera died half-way through our meal.  What a tragedy!

Anyways, we sat down at this big round wooden table.  There was a stand in the middle with soup spoons, chopsticks, soy sauce, some chilies, and little napkins (pretty standard for restaurants around here).  We got this menu that was all Chinese characters.  No pictures.  No one spoke English.  So we decided to play Russian Roulette and just point to a few things.  Very nerve-wracking!

Our first dish came out, and we felt pretty lucky.  It was a fried rice with little dried shrimp.  It was actually quite delicious!  The shrimp was strange at first, it kind of has a texture like potato chips but with an unmistakable seafood taste to it.  These little guys pack a lot of flavor!

The next dish we got was a definite winner!  It was a crispy fried pork (probably pork chop or something around that area).  It was in this amazing stir-fry of vegetables and a lot of garlic and cilantro.  Extremely flavorful.  I can still taste the garlic in my mouth :)  The pork did have bones in it though.  This is hard for us to get used to.  It's so unusual in the US to meat with bones still attached.  We don't have the right skills so it's awkward for us to chew around bones and spit them back out.  I wonder if we'll ever get used to this.

Our final dish was not such a hit.  Unfortunately my camera died right after taking the above picture so I didn't get anything from our last dish.  It came out in a big steaming metal cauldron, and looked like a really weird tofu dish.  It was kind of gelatenous sauce with pieces of tofu and little rubbery mussels, with some crushed peanuts on top.  Not that appetizing.

Overall I think we were really lucky with this dinner.  A few nights later we were eating with a Taiwanese friend and I showed her the picture of the menu and she started laughing at us.  Apparently there were some pretty crazy things on the menu (frog, pig liver, tripe, etc) so we got pretty lucky.  I don't know if we'll be trying this game again any time soon.  It was a great experience though!

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Travel Blog

For those of you who are interested (and haven't already seen it), I also have a travel blog focused on living in Taipei - A Day in the Life  I do talk about food some but it's mostly about my travels.  Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taiwanese Beef Noodles

A couple of weekends ago we spent the day with a friend and for dinner she took us out for beef noodles.  The beef noodles are a famous Taiwanese dish - I've never had anything like it, but it is so delicious I don't know what I'm going to do when I have to go back to the states and can't get it anymore!  It's a huge bowl of heart-warmingly delicious food.

They take their noodles very seriously around here.  Every year there are competitions for the best beef noodles.  The place we went to had one the competition a couple of times and I can see why.  The noodles had a great handmade texture and taste, and the beef was perfectly cooked and juicy - just right for the fantastic broth.  You can order with a combination of different beef cuts and different broths.  I got the broth with tomatoes and my husband got the house broth.  I think his was a little better, but just barely.

The inside of the restaurant was so tiny and unassuming.  You would never guess just passing by that they have such fantastic food!

Here is our order card.  I'm so glad we had our friend with us!  I took a picture so we could remember what we ordered for the next time we eat here, in case we're on our own.

We also tried some of their dumplings.  Dumplings in Taiwan are delicious.  There are so many little stands and shops selling them.  I don't know how people stay as thin as they do in this country with such beautiful food all around!