Saturday, February 28, 2015

Individual Chicken Pot Pie with Puff Pastry Crust

What to do with leftover rotisserie chicken, or the rest of that roasted turkey? What about the stray crust languishing in the freezer? Chicken pot pie springs to mind. With all that hearty, creamy filling, tender, flavorful veggies bubbling underneath a buttery, golden crust, it is impossible to resist cozying up under a hand-sewn quilt on a chilly winter day and chow down on this ultimate comfort food.

And the good news? When you have leftover roasted chicken or turkey on hand, half the work is already done for you. Using frozen puff pastry gets you another step closer and faster to the end product. And if you are really, really lazy, go for frozen mixed vegetables and throw in a can of creamy chicken soup. But that would just take all the fun out of cooking a chicken pot pie "from scratch", wouldn't it? Go get some fresh produce and give them a rough chop (precision is so unimportant here), and you will be astonished just how easy it is to have this steaming pot pie ready in no time. Chicken pot pie doesn't have to be a big ordeal, as I testified.

Dig in for heaps of chicken, veggies, and crust in every mouthful!

To prepare...
Puff pastry sheet, thawed
1 cup cooked chicken (a chicken quarter), roughly cubed or pulled
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
6 cremini mushrooms, stems intact, cubed
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1/2 cup chicken broth, or water plus a bouillon (I used vegan bouillon)
1/2 cup milk
Garlic salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped, reserving some for garnish

1. Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms and cook until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring until flour becomes golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Slowly stir in the broth and heat to a boil.

2. On low heat, slowly stir in milk, chicken, thyme and parsley. Season with garlic salt and black pepper to taste. Stir until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat.


3. Heat oven to 200C/400F. Unfold pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut six strips (about 1 inch thick, depending on shape and size of your casserole).

4. Spoon chicken mixture into casserole. Weave a lattice pattern over the filling with the pastry strips. I clearly am not an expert in weaving. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Place casserole on a baking sheet and bake for 35 mins or until filling is bubbling hot and pastry is golden brown.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sea Coconut Snow Fungus Pear Soup Dessert

I came across some fresh, deshelled sea coconut the other day and snatched some into my basket without second thought. A curiously exotic ingredient originally endemic to the Seychelles Islands, the sea coconut has always conjured images of a mythical tree growing on the bottom of the sea - that is, until I finally googled it.

Faintly tangy and sweet, the milky white flesh of these slippery gems give an interestingly firm bite that yields to the teeth with a subtle crunch. In Cantonese cuisine, sea coconut is often simmered in soups both savory and sweet, highly regarded for its medicinal properties to ease dry coughs and to nourish the lungs.

Treat your body to a healthy, soothing dessert!
With the flu and chilly weather that's been going around in Hong Kong lately, it only seems opportune to cook up some nourishing sea coconut tong sui (糖水). Literally "sugar water", tong sui is a Cantonese specialty - not a toothache-inducing syrupy bog per se - but rather a lightly sweetened broth of nutritional goodness. In Hong Kong, tong sui is a proper dessert, served hot or cold, a typical way of ending a meal.

Here, the thinly sliced sea coconut is paired with snow fungus (雪耳/銀耳/雲耳), a powerful, beautifying tonic, along with crisp, sweet Chinese white pears (雪梨/水晶梨/鴨梨). Adding lotus seeds (蓮子) and lily bulbs (百合) further enhances the cough-soothing and yin-nourishing benefits of the soup. Sweeten moderately with rock sugar at the end. Enjoy hot or serve chilled for a very refreshing treat in summer!

To prepare...
4 sea coconuts, deshelled, thinly sliced
3 Chinese white pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1 head snow fungus
Lotus seeds
Lily bulb (dried or 1 small fresh bulb)
8 cups water
Rock sugar, to taste
Gojiberries, for garnish

1. Soak snow fungus in water for 30 minutes to reconstitute. Divide fungus into smaller pieces with kitchen scissors and discard the tough core. Rinse well with water.

2. Place sea coconut, diced pear, snow fungus, lotus seeds, lily bulb, and water in large pot. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer for 1 1/2 hours, covered.

3. Add rock sugar and stir to fully dissolve. Taste and adjust sweetness as desired. Turn heat off. Garnish with gojiberries and serve warm or chilled!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chinese New Year Turnip Cake | 賀年臘味蘿蔔糕

Select heavy radishes with lustrous skin & fresh leaves
Just under two weeks till Lunar New Year, people all over Hong Kong are scurrying to stock up on gifts and spring cleaning in anticipation of the Year of the Goat. That time of the year has come once again, when folks labor in the kitchen preparing homemade festive cakes and puddings with recipes passed down for generations.

Aside from the sweet and sticky glutinous rice pudding, there's the savory turnip cake (蘿蔔糕, aka. radish cake), a standard, year-round dim sum offering that becomes indispensable during New Year celebrations. Made from shredded Chinese white radish, the turnip cake is typically served steamed or pan fried, its texture soft and moist inside, its flavor mildly peppery, rounded off by the savory-pungent pitch of dried delicacies like shrimps, conpoy, mushrooms, and Chinese sausage.

Dried shrimp, conpoy, and mushroom
For years I have eavesdropped on just how labor-intensive it is to make the turnip cake, from grating radishes to chopping the dried ingredients, resulting in a full day of work, a sweaty forehead and sore forearms to boot. At long last I have put these presuppositions to test, enlisting the help of my dear friend Felix who is a turnip cake veteran, and in one short Sunday afternoon my first ever turnip cake made its debut at my Penthouse Kitchen. Awesome results, awesome fun, minus the sweaty forehead and bulging biceps.

Make it or buy it, there's just no denying that fresh, homemade, preservative-free turnip cakes are worth every effort. Adjust the dried ingredients to your liking. Add lap yuk (臘肉) - Chinese preserved pork - for an extra dimension of taste; load up on white pepper like my grandmother did; or leave out any of the dried seafood and meats as you like for a vegan version. Give homemade turnip cake a shot and this might just become your annual Lunar New Year tradition!

You'll appreciate every effort put on making this authentic Cantonese specialty
To prepare...
2 Chinese radishes, about 1.2 kg
6 dried scallops (conpoy)
A handful of dried shrimps
6 Chinese dried mushrooms
2 Chinese sausages
2 cups rice flour (粘米粉)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cup chicken stock (or soaking liquid*)

Dash of Shaoxing rice wine
1 + 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1. Soak conpoy, dried shrimp, and mushrooms in water for several hours up to overnight. *Drain and reserve soaking liquid. Dice and set aside. Steam Chinese sausages for 5 minutes. Steaming will soften and remove excess fat from sausages, making them easier to chop. Dice and set aside.

2. Peel and cut each radish in half on the bias for easier grating. Coarsely grate radish, reserving any liquids released from the radishes. Set aside.

3. In a large, ungreased skillet, stir-fry Chinese sausages on medium high heat until fat is rendered. Add rice wine and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, then tip in mushrooms, conpoy, and dried shrimp and stir-fry until fragrant. Set aside.

4. In a large pot or wok, cook grated radish with its liquids and remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, covered and until tender, about 15 minutes. Radish shall release more juices in the process; should radish appear somewhat dry, stir in small quantities of reserved soaking liquid. Turn heat off.

5. In a large mixing bowl, combine rice flour and cornstarch. Add chicken stock or reserved soaking liquid (about 1 1/2 cup) and stir until dissolved. Season with salt and white pepper. The batter should be a bit runny.

6. Add sausage mixture to the radish. Pour in batter and stir the mixture well while the radish is still hot until incorporated. The batter should begin to grow dense with the heat.

7. Pour mixture into greased cake moulds, glassware, or disposable aluminium pans and steam for 30-40 minutes. Once done, let turnip cake cool and chill overnight to further firm up. To serve, cut 1/2 inch slices and pan-fry on both sides till golden. Serve with 余均益 chili sauce, Sriracha, or your favorite hot sauce. Enjoy and share the fruit of your labor, and may the Year of the Goat bring prosperity, happiness, and health!

白蘿蔔  1.2 公斤
瑤柱  6 粒
蝦米  55 克
冬菇  6 隻
臘腸  2 條
粘米粉  300 克
鷹粟粉  75 克
無鹽雞湯  350 毫升(或用浸冬菇瑤柱水*)

紹興酒  少量
砂糖  1+1/2 茶匙
  1 茶匙
白胡椒粉  1/2 茶匙

1. 瑤柱、蝦米、冬菇浸軟切粒(*可以保留浸過的水代替雞湯)。
2. 臘腸隔水蒸 5 分鐘,切粒待用。
3. 蘿蔔去皮,刨粗絲,並保留過程中滲出的蘿蔔水。
4. 用平底鍋以中火爆香臘腸,灑下紹興酒及半茶匙糖,再加入冬菇、瑤柱、蝦米繼續爆透,直至聞到香味,盛起備用。
5. 大鍋加入蘿蔔絲和蘿蔔水及 1 茶匙糖,加蓋小火煮 15 分鐘至蘿蔔絲軟身。
6. 期間用大碗混合粘米粉和鷹粟粉,加入雞湯或浸冬菇瑤柱水以及鹽和白胡椒粉並拌勻。
7. 蘿蔔絲煮好後離火,加入已炒好的配料,隨即加入粉漿並搞拌成為半生熟粉漿。
8. 把粉漿倒入已抹油的糕盤內,用大火隔水蒸 30-40 分鐘。用筷子插進蘿蔔糕中央,如筷子沒粉漿黏住,表示已熟透。冷卻後放進雪櫃過夜有助蘿蔔糕凝固。
9. 蘿蔔糕切件煎香兩面,蘸點余均益或是拉差辣椒醬份外美味!  

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