Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rice Paper Rolls

Rice Paper Rolls is another Summer staple on our table. It can be prepared 100% vegetarian or you can add shrimps, chicken, beef or even pork. The meat I always cook simply in frying pan with my own Teriyaki Sauce that is a bit on sweet side with the use of Mirin and Maple Syrup.
Vegetables for the roll are pretty much standard:
Carrots, lettuce, cucumber and red pepper with rice noodles and peanuts as another standard. I have included shaved asparagus cooked in Teriyaki Sauce and garlicky shrimps.

Wrapping these ingredients in rice paper that was just very quickly dragged through water in large bowl can be quite tricky because the rice paper is very brittle when dry and tears easily when wet, there is no happy middle.

Make small pile of vegies at one end and if using shrimps slice them in half lengthwise and lay them flat at other end so that they will show through just one layer of paper. Make about 2 tight turns, fold the sides over and finish the roll.

For dipping sauce I use a mix of smooth Peanut butter, Hoisin Sauce, Sriracha and Soy Sauce.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fried Rice

Another food court favorite for us is Fried Rice.  I have done it many times before but it was never as good as in a good restaurant. I have always blamed my stove but when I got thinking about technique I realized that it will be possible to replicate this dish even though my gas stove is nowhere near as hot as restaurant's burner. The secret in great texture of fried rice is water content and that was where I started to experiment. I am pleased to say that first experiment was fantastic and yes, it was the ratio of water and long grain rice in rice cooker that made all the difference. High heat is very important as well, of course.

Here is size and shape of my flame. The reason that I use large frying pan instead of wok is obvious here; there is no flame at center, just edges. Most important part of the wok, the small bowl at center, will also be coldest part. Not good at all.
Back to fried rice. Almost all fried rice recipes tell you to use overnight refrigerated rice and I wholeheartedly agree. Been there, done that. On this experiment I used 1 cup of rice and 1-1/4 cup water after washing and draining the rice 4 times. After rice was cooked, about 20 minutes in Panasonic rice cooker, I spread the rice on baking sheet and let cool for about 2 hours. In a plastic container it went, making sure that it is loose and not packed, and transferred to refrigerator overnight. Next day I used large stainless steel bowl to loosen and oil the rice before stir frying. I have also added about teaspoon of Madras Curry Powder for color and heat. If you want to have it mild use plain Turmeric instead.

Next, I had to decide what ingredient is cooked first and what will follow. I really want to keep things simple in my kitchen, The KISS Principal rules supreme there! So many recipes will tell you to cook every tiny piece of vegetables separately and than combine them at the end...not for me, way too much work and you can't taste the difference anyway. My vegies don't see a frying pan till the very end, they are all nuked, some together, some separately and some stay raw. It doesn't take more than 3 minutes total!
In this version for vegies I used broccoli, green onions, carrot, red pepper, green peas and roasted peanuts and eggs. Of course I could have used bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, canned mushrooms (much better in stir-fry than fresh ones) and whole lot of other ingredients but I like to keep their number down to 4 - 5 so I was already over "enough". Only broccoli got cooked in microwave for half a minute before the final combine and ginger and garlic were cooked with rice.

As for sauce it is a bit simpler than chow mein noodles; all that is needed is Soy Sauce, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha (everything to taste, of course).
To get the rice to just right texture and dryness took just 5 minutes or so because the rice was already fairly dry. I did stir-fry the garlic and ginger first before adding the rice.

When the rice was done in went the vegies and pieces of 2 egg omelet that was cooked in separate small frying pan. For more substantial version I have added chicken thighs and shrimps. The sauce went in right after vegies were mixed in and heated. You just want taste and keep the rice dry so don't use too much.

I'll post my recipe for stir-fried chicken and shrimps in separate blog. They can be used in chow mein or fried rice.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Food Court Noodles

Is it really 3 years since I blogged last time? Really?

As far as I know most major shopping malls have a place set aside where all fast food vendors set up small kiosk and every one of the malls we have visited here in Canada and Eastern States have at least one of Chinese fast-food chains represented. Not one of them failed to have a warm or room temperature vegetarian chow mien noodles on their menu. My guess is that at least 8 out of 10 times this is what we would order.
Since it is such a favorite of mine and also for so many other people I think, I thought that there will be hundreds of recipes on the Net replicating the taste but after trying few none was what I was looking for, there was always something missing. So, I have decided to give it a try and do my own version, I have done that dozens of times before after all and done quite well.
Most important part in this great and simple meal is the noodle and I knew that I will have to find them but problem was that we don't have Oriental Supermarket or even a small Oriental food store so I am dependent on local supermarkets: Zehrs, Metro and Sobeys, all of which do have Oriental Food section. As we talked about this meal on our weekly grocery shopping trip, I found fresh (actually previously frozen) noodles in fresh pasta refrigerator at our Zehrs Supermarket. They were exactly what I was looking for! In other part of the supermarket you are likely to find Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, Oyster Sauce and Sriracha (all were already in my very well stocked pantry) which will make sauce. Other ingredients for this vegetarian version were in my refrigerator so it was off to the kitchen!
It is difficult to write a recipe where all ingredients are basically “to taste”; some like it hot, some like it mild and same goes with salty or sweet. Some like broccoli, some can’t stand it and same for onions that I just can’t imagine not to have in my pantry and use them! So, this will be more of a list of suggested ingredients followed by some important procedures or techniques then a real detailed recipe. 

Ingredients (for large bowl)

Fresh Chow Mein noodles (I use half a pack)
Carrot, grated or julienned
Broccoli, flowerets only and blanched (I use microwave for 1 minute)
Green onions, whole onion chopped
Asparagus (in season, blanched and cut into short pieces)
Green or Yellow Beans (in season, blanched and cut into short pieces)
Any vegie that you like… 

For Sauce

Sriracha, Sesame Oil, Hoisin Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Light Soy Sauce (Kikkoman),

Prepare your sauce in a bowl or as I do in a glass measuring cup. Since I cook by feel and never measure, except in baking, it is difficult to give exact volume of the finished sauce. Also, it depends on amount of noodles as well. I start with:
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp. Hoisin Sauce
1 Tbsp. Oyster Sauce
1 tsp. Sriracha
1 tsp. of Sesame Oil

Mix, taste and adjust. Set aside.

Very important part is to loosen and untangle the noodles before boiling. If you don’t, you very likely end up with a mess of noodles where all the knots will be undercooked; not a great texture to bite into.

Notice the tangle of noodle strands

All nice and loose...

To boil your noodles follow manufacturer’s suggestion. Mine called to boil for 1 minute and it is very close. I always have a bowl with cold water next to boiling pot to test for doneness of pasta and start tasting a bit past half the suggested time. Also, salt the water just like for regular pasta.
When done, drain, rinse under cold running water and then transfer to bowl with cold water. When they are cool, less than half a minute, transfer them to salad spinner lined with a tee towel. Spinning the cooked noodles in salad spinner will ensure that noodles will separate and be ready to absorb the sauce. Omitting this step will result in soggy, mushy noodles.

When noodles are dry mix in about half the sauce and taste. Add more sauce and mix again; hands are the very best tool to coat all the noodles with sauce.
Mix in the vegies and serve.

By adding stir fried chicken, beef or shrimp makes this into a real restaurant dish. I used just chicken thighs cut into strips and shrimps in this version.