Grandma’s Kou Rou

My late grandmother often made this recipe whenever people gathered in her home.  I regret there are no pictures of those dinner parties, with a table covered with dishes full of differently prepared food and people squeezed in shoulder to shoulder.  What strikes me as an adult, is that she made all her feasts on a little coal burning cast iron stove, similar to this one:

Just like grandma's stove

Primitive, yes, but this was 1980s China.  My grandmother thought her two-burner propane stove was much too technologically advanced.

I remember, out of every dish she made, everyone always raved about my grandmother’s version of the triple cooked pork belly.  (It’s actually called Kou Rou, or upside down meat in Chinese, but I think triple cooked pork belly is more descriptive.)  There’re several versions of this dish out there, but nothing beats Grandma’s, amiright?

Later, my aunt made this dish for my husband Dave.  The juicy chunks or pork and distinct flavors left a lasting impression on him.  When he started the ketogenic diet, Dave requested that I recreate the triple cooked pork belly, back here in America.   Sadly, there are no written copies of any of my grandmother’s recipes.   My grandmother was illiterate and the custom was to pass down family recipes via kitchen-apprenticeships which, until recently, preserved them for generations.  So I crowd-sourced various family members for their memories of the ingredients and preparation.  What I got from various relatives was a pinch of this and a dash of that.  I did my best to approximate how much a unit of “dash” or “pinch” and convert it into a more coherent recipe.

Keep in mind, this is a labor intensive recipe that takes some planning.  Give yourself one day at least to soak the mustard greens.  Follow the first two steps.  The last step can be done an 1 hour and 15 minutes before serving.

Tools:

soup pan
frying pan
Stainless Steel Steamer

large microwave safe bowl

Ingredients

2 lbs pork belly
2 green onions
2 slices ginger
3-4 garlic cloves
2 Star Anise

2 tablespoons oil (I use olive believe it or not)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (doesn’t really matter if it’s light or dark)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar (or rock candy)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste

5-6 oz. dried preserved mustard greens from any Asian grocery store.(About 3 cups after soaked overnight and thoroughly washed)

Now I call this dish triple-cooked pork belly for a very good reason.  Here we go:

Step #1:

Flavor a pot of cold water with 1 star anise, 1 green onion and a few slices of ginger root. Put the pork belly into the cold water mixture.  Bring to a boil on medium high heat, then immediately reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Fish out the pork chunks and set aside to let it cool off a bit.

Step #2

Heat a pan (or wok, if you have one) with some cooking oil over low heat.  To make sure the oil is hot, throw in some more of the sliced ginger and wait for it to start sizzling.  Then pour in red wine, soy sauce and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add sugar to thicken the sauce.  You want it to turn into a thick caramel texture.  If it gets too dry, add a bit more wine.  If its not thick enough, turn up the heat a notch and keep a close eye on it till it thickens.  Then place the pieces of pork into the pan and let it fry in the sauce.  Turn over a few times to glaze the pork belly.  Once there’s a nice golden brown coat on every side of the pork, wrap it in a container or plate and refrigerate for 2 or more hours.  DO NOT WASH OUT YOUR  PAN!

Step #3

Prepare a large steamer 3/4 of the way with water.  Heat the unwashed pan you used to glaze the pork and add the last bit of oil.  Heat for a minute or two then toss in the last green onion, the last bits of ginger slices, along with the drained mustard greens.  Fry it up until it’s fragrant and turn off the heat.

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Preserved mustard greens

Now take the cold pork belly out of the fridge and slice it nice and thin with a sharp knife.  Line the slices of pork along your large round bowl.  Fill the bowl, leaving a half inch at the top and pour in the mustard greens.

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Kou Rou

Set the bowl in your steamer and steam on high heat for 75 minutes.  Once it’s steamed, let it rest for 5 minutes then pour off some of the liquid in the bowl into your pan again and let it simmer and reduce to a nice slightly thick sauce.  I refuse to use cornstarch in my sauce, so a little bit of patience is key.  Your liquid WILL reduce.

Now, your pork has cooled slightly. Place a large serving plate over the top of the bowl.  The plate should overlap the bowl rim.  It’s very important that it does as you will hold the plate firmly over the bowl and flip the bowl over.  You’ll have a nice mound of pork belly on your plate.   Pour the sauce over it and serve to your guests.

Enjoy!

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Marshmallows… not just for Smores!

Why make your own marshmallows? First of all, it tastes so much better as this recipe does not use corn syrup. Aside from health implications, corn syrup can be overwhelmingly sweet. And most importantly, just look at them!

Equipment:

Stand mixer

or hand mixer

8×8 for thicker, for 9×13 pan for thinner, marshmallows, well-greased
parchment paper
rubber spatula
sifter
ruler
knife

Ingredients:
cooking spray
3 tablespoons (3 packets) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 cups sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
1 vanilla bean or 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup cold water + ¼ cup cold water

(Flavorings and syrups of your choice)

Before you begin, prepare the bottom and sides of your pan with cooking spray.
Cut the parchment paper to fit the inside of your pan. Lightly coat your spatula with cooking spray and carefully set aside.

(*I’ve made mint flavored, cocoa flavored, pumpkin flavored marshmallows, marshmallows topped with blueberry syrup, candied pecans. The possibilities are endless!)

INSTRUCTIONS:
Pour ½ cup water over the gelatin into a large bowl. If you’re using a stand mixer, it can go direcrly into the attached bowl. Let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, and ¼ cup water. Whisk over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and let it simmer, without stirring, for about 10-15 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature should reach 247-250 F. If not, let it simmer for the full 15 minutes.

Then, add the hot syrup to the gelatin mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. At this time add vanilla.

Increase the speed to high and beat until thick, fluffy, and tripled in volume, about 10-15 minutes.

During the last 5 minutes, if you’d like, add in food color and/ or flavor of your choice.*

Using a rubber spatula, quickly scrape out the mixture into the prepared pan. Marshmallows set very quickly, so you will need to work fast! Do not worry about getting every last bit of marshmallow out of the bowl or making the top perfectly smooth.

Once the marshmallow is in the tray, allow the mixture to set, uncovered (not refrigerated) for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Is it modern art, or a tray of marshmallows?

As the marshmallows is resting, combine powdered sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Once the marshmallow set properly, spoon some of the dry mixture into a sifter, and sift over the top of the marshmallows.

When your ready to cut the marshmallows, cover a cutting board with the powered sugar mixture. Trust me, don’t skip this step. Now grab the parchment paper and lift the marshmallows from the pan and place onto your board.

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Use a kitchen safe ruler and cut the marshmallows into 1-inch squares. Toss the marshmallows into the powdered sugar mixture to prevent sticking.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks… if they last that long.

Try it in your cocoa, on smores, or just by itself. If you do make these marshmallows, please share a photo here!

Enjoy!

Making puff pastry

I truly love flaky, buttery pastry wrapped around something delicious.  However, I have an allergy to any kind of hydrogenated vegetable oil like shortening or margarine.  That eliminates most store-bought desserts. As it happens I’m not adverse to

For years I trusted Pepperidge Farms puff pastry sheets.  Their ingredients are pretty straight forward.  Then came a holiday season when I went to the store too late both of my local grocery stores were out.  What I did have on hand was plenty of butter and plenty of flour.
Lightbulb!

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups cake flour
1-1/4 cups  ice water
1 pound or 4 sticks of unsalted butter (I’m told European Butter works best.)

Optional: 1/2 teaspoon of table salt or sugar.  I prefer to go without.

Making the dough is relatively easy if you have a food processor.  With an S blade attachment, blend the flours together and slowly pour in the ice water.  Add in either salt or sugar depending on your personal preference.  Let the processor blend until a ball forms.  Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before using.

  1. When you feel ready to make the pastry sheet, unwrap 4 sticks of butter and press together to form a block.  I prefer to work with room temperature butter wrapped in plastic wrap to keep its shape.
  2. Roll the dough into a square shape with the middle part a bit thicker than the edges.  Unwrap butter and place in the middle.  Fold the edges of the dough over the butter so no butter is showing. 
  3. Roll the butter pouch into a rectangular shape.  Fold over and roll again.  
  4. At this point, I’ll put the dough back in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up the butter a bit.  Then roll and fold over again twice more.
  5. Divide the dough, wrap it separately.  Keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze to keep longer.

Now you have pastry dough and the possibilities are endless!

Love the dinner party

I had quite a weekend, in terms of cooking, last weekend.  I made a few treats for a dear friend’s bridal shower, and then hosted a dinner party for some old friends.

Let’s tackle the dinner party first.  You have to love dinner parties.  Either throwing one or attending one.  What’s more ubiquitous across cultures than sharing a meal in the home?

My typical dinner party starts with an appetizer, main entree of some sort of meaty dish, with a few sides and then dessert.  This time around, I broke my own rule.  One friend happened to love my stewed oxtail, another friend loves duck.  Also, I still had some of the lovely tuna Dave caught vacuum sealed and frozen, I decided to do an air, land and sea themed dinner.

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Air, land and sea.

Both the tuna poke and oxtail are keto friendly.  The duck, eaten without the pancake as Dave did, can also be part of your diet.

 

 

 

Eat more oxtail

I’m truly delighted that nowadays when you mention oxtail, not everyone will cringe or shrink back in revulsion.  How about you?   What do you picture when you hear oxtail?  Does it look like this:

I happen to love the oxtail as a stewed meat.  It’s bone, cartilage, and bits of fat releases an amazing flavor slow cooked.

Recently I decided to steal a page from the classic French boeuf bourguignon and use oxtail instead of lean beef.  Instead of using flour to thicken the sauce, I let the lid of my dutch oven open slightly, lowered the heat and increased the cooking time.  Thus, it too can be part of the keto diet.  No flour.  No sugar.  Still pretty delicious.

Ingredients

One 6-ounce slices of bacon (apple prefer apple wood smoked)
3 pounds oxtail
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, diced
Salt and pepper
3 cups red wine. I use whatever I have on hand
1/4 cup cognac
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock (Can be made yourself ahead of time)
4 cloves mashed garlic
2-3 sprigs of thyme
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2-3 sprigs of flat parsley
1 bay leaf
half a stalk of celery
18 to 24 pearl onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

I highly recommend dicing all the veggies before hand. Tie the thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, parsley and celery with kitchen twine in a bouquet garni.  Set aside.

Sizzle and brown bacon in a dutch oven. Let the fat render out. Take the bacon out and set aside. Brown each piece of oxtail, sprinkled with salt and pepper
until all the pieces of oxtail are brown. Put it aside with the bacon.

Toss in diced onions and garlic and sprinkle lightly with salt. Fry until soft and aromatic. 

Add cognac. Let it boil off, scraping the side and bottom of the pot.
Slowly add in wine and beef stock. Toss in bouquet garni. I left a bit of string on one end to tie around the handle. It makes for easier removal later.

Now add in oxtail and bacon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook, covered for 2 + hours. I leave a bit of the lid ajar to let out steam and ensure
the sauce thickens. When the beef is tender and falling off the bone it’s ready.

30-45 minutes before serving, heat butter in a large skillet, then toss in the mushrooms, onions, and carrots. Cook until there’s a bit of brown to the carrots.  Pour everything into the dutch oven and cook till ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Almond Butter

Yesterday I posted about Phat Fudge!  One of the key ingredients in my version is almond butter.  The fat nuts contain is an essential part of the ketogenic diet, but I don’t think I need to explain the health benefits of nuts.

Now buying almond butter is quick and easy, and no doubt having a jar of almond butter that lasts a while feels less wasteful.  Still, what sort of additives do those jars contain to increase shelf life?  And will those additives countermand all the goodness of just almonds?  Just how much harder would it be to make your own?

Almond butter is surprisingly easy to make.  Buy a bag of raw almonds, toast it in the oven and blend it in a food processor until creamy.  Add a tiny bit of oil, if you must, to make the almond butter smoother quicker.

Ingredients:

2 cups of whole raw almonds

1 clean jar for storage

(Optional:  1/2 teaspoon sea salt. 1 tablespoon MCT Oil)

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Pour the toasted almonds into your food processor and let it blend.  Occasionally stop the machine and scrape down the sides.

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Eventually, the almonds will release its own oil turning the crumbles into dough, then into a paste, and finally to butter.  It’ll take somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.

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If you lack patience and want to cut the process time, when the almonds start to clump together pour in a tablespoon of MCT oil or something equally flavorless and healthy.

That’s it!  Enjoy!

For further reading on the benefits of almond butter, I’ve included the links below:

Almond Butter versus Peanut Butter

Should YOU Eat It

Peking Duck (Beijing Roast Duck)

I had Peking Duck in Beijing, China for the very first time when I was three years old.  It was my first trip to the capitol.  I vaguely recall taking a really crowded, slow-moving train, standing on top of the Great Wall, running up steps in the Forbidden City and feeling incredibly hot and uncomfortable at the ruins of the Summer Palace. I’d go into detail about each other those spots, but this is a food blog, after all, so let’s focus on the food.

I don’t remember which restaurant I had my first taste of Peking Duck.  It kind of doesn’t matter.  What matters was my first bite into the soft envelope of slightly sweet wrapper that subtly released so many different textures and flavors were incredible.  Later, I had “Beijing Roast Duck” again when we returned home to Tianjin, some 83 miles away.  I recall telling someone that the flavor was off and being ridiculed for my snobbery. (That happened a lot.)

It wasn’t until 2008 when I’ve made my home in the US for a few decades, that on a return visit to Beijing that I tasted the real thing again.  My husband, Dave, was with me on that trip and his response very much mirrored my own.

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Quanjude. Established in 1864

Dave was adamant that we recreate that experience at home.

I’ve tried.  For several years now.  At first, I roasted my ducks (headless from Wegman’s or H-Mart) on a Cuisinart Roaster with Rack like a slab of rump roast.

While the meat was flavorful, I could not recreate the crispy skin that comes with hanging a duck in an open oven so that its fat rendered out, slow roasting the meat, yet leaving the skin as crispy as a potato chip.  But I kept trying.

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I stuffed it like a turkey:

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Dave created a contraption out of string that shall never be mentioned again.

Then we found Chinese groceries that sold the duck with the head on and we fashioned it so that we could hang it by the neck in the oven.  Better.  Much better!

Once upon a time this meal was only served in the imperial court, to the guy living there, so mentally prepare yourself.  This recipe is not for the faint of heart.  It takes time and preparation.  I recommend studying this recipe until it makes sense.  Once you buy the ingredients and start the process, it’ll be too late to turn back.

My Peking Duck in a regular oven.  

Part 1  — Prepare 5 days in advance.   

Equipment:
Cuisinart MCP117-16BR MultiClad Pro Stainless 16-Inch Rectangular Roaster with Rack

Checkered Chef Cooling Rack Baking Rack. Stainless Steel Oven and Dishwasher Safe. Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan

Flammi 20-Pack Black Heavy Duty Kitchen Utensils Cookware Pot and Pan Rack Hooks Metal S Hanging Hooks

Ingredients:

1 duck, preferably with the head still on. (Feeds three adults.)

2 Star Anise Pods

1 tablespoon fennel seed

2 teaspoon clove

2 teaspoon peppercorn

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

5-6 stalks of scallions, white part cut off and sliced into slivers.

2 cloves of garlic

1 bamboo skewer

2 slices of ginger

1 cucumber, sliced into slivers

  1. Prep your duck by washing it under running cold water, then let it drain.  Pat dry.  Remove excess feathers and fat from the bottom
  2. Take half of the 5- spice ( star anise, fennel seed, clove, cinnamon, peppercorn) blend w/ salt, molasses, green portion of the scallion, garlic and ginger.  Stuff in the cavity.  Use a bamboo stick to sew the cavity up.
  3.  Cut off wings and feet.  (If you’d like , keep these scrap bits to make duck stock later.)

4. Separate skin by inserting a straw through a small slit cut into the base of the neck and blowing vigorously.  The skin should balloon and separate from the body.  Flip, cut another slit and blow again.  

5. Boil pot full of water with salt, 5 spice ingredients and soy sauce.  Hold the duck by its neck over the pot and ladle the hot liquid over duck in a poaching/ basting manner until skin turn amber in color.  Be careful as the hot liquid will splatter on you.  So wear a shirt

img_20161003_193529588_top.jpg6. Set on a baking rack over a cookie sheet and dry for 5 days in the fridge.

When it’s time to cook the duck, let it rest at room temperature for up to 1 hour.  Cooking time takes 2 hours, so prepare by setting your oven racks as far apart as possible.  The duck will be hung by the base of its neck using a metal hook from the top rack.  Place a roasting pan on the bottom rack to catch all the rendered fat drippings.

Turn the oven to 350 degrees F and roast for two hours.  After two hours, turn up the oven to broil on low for 10-15 minutes.  This should crisp up the skin, but not burn it.  Check often.  Be careful removing the duck from the oven as it will be sitting on top of a pan full of scalding hot duck fat.  Carefully slide the top and bottom rack out slowly until the duck can be easily removed from the hook.   Let the duck rest for 5-10 minutes before carving.

My pancakes are still being perfected, so I won’t share it just yet.  However, the dark sauce that goes with the duck can easily be made with what is called a Chinese noodle sauce, honey and a bit of water.

Enjoy!