Bean Curd Stick With Shitake Mushrooms and Minced Pork

I guess if I was forced to choose the one type of food I love the most it would be Asian (pretty tricky choice huh?) and Chinese in particular if I had to hone it down. The variety of styles and dishes is as varied as the country and the different historic influences that formed it.

Bean curd or "tofu" is something that gets many lo fung to wrinkle up their noses at the mere mention of it. I don't know why. My middle daughter does not like it because it "jiggles" and she hates jiggly food (jello will make her gag and send her swallower into reverse, funny to watch really) and she says that tofu is jiggly and thus she won't eat it as a matter of principle. It is her loss...

There is a dish that I often crave and normally only ever eat it at a restaurant and I was craving it today. Badly. I don't now why the craving hit so hard but it did and when that happens I am forced to act. So I headed off to my cookbook stash and waded through a few volumes, then to the internet and by combining 3 recipes I came up with a taste that is a killer.

The craving could only be satisfied by tofu, dried bean curd sticks to be specific. I don't know how they make it but it has something to do with when the soy beans  are processed to make tofu the "skin" that forms at the top of the tank is skimmed off then there it is; bean curd stick.

The tofu in the the miso soup I hold so dear and in a Ma Po Tofu are at the top of the tofu preference list for me along with the dish below.  I have been told, tonight as a matter of fact, that the dish looks "nasty". Nasty!? Can you believe that?  Hell if this looks too nasty to eat then all the vagitarians out there really need to take a close look at what they're putting in their mouths (you know who you are, don't blush or turn away)! An acquired taste (read I don't like this shit) I can accept. Nasty? Not so much. Heathens...

Anyway, snide comments about nasty looking tofu aside (look like guts they said), here is a dish that will rock your world if you let it. If not, let me offer you the directions to McDonalds, I understand McRib is back on the menu for you types...

1 lb minced or ground pork

1 Tbsp canola oil
200 grams dried bean curd stick

1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, see note below

2 cloves garlic
1 cup chicken stock, unsalted or low sodium is best

1 cup mushroom liquid (see directions below)
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp sweet soy sauce, (kecap manis)

1 Tbsp oyster sauce

1 Tbsp sweet bean paste (optional but very good)

1 - 2 Tbsp chili paste

2 Tbsp tapioca starch or corn starch

Place mushrooms into a bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water, stir occasionally to ensure they all get a chance to swim in the pool. After the mushrooms have had a nice soak for about 30 minutes, remove them from the liquid, cut the stems off, set aside, reserving the liquid. If they are large mushrooms cut into quarters, bite size kind of.

Allow the liquid to settle (sand and stuff will settle to the bottom, see the picture) then pour off 1 cup into a small bowl, set aside.

Place dried bean curd into a bowl and cover with hot water, allow to soak for 10 minutes. They will float so I use a plate to hold them under water, ignoring their pleading and protesting while I do.

Once the bean curd is soft (it will turn nearly white by then) remove it and drain well, cut into 2" pieces, set aside.
Into a 3 cup bowl or measuring cup add the chicken stock, the reserved mushroom liquid, dark soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, oyster sauce, sweet bean paste (if using) and chili sauce. Mix well until all ingredients are completely incorporated.

Once the sauce is well mixed add the tapioca starch and stir well to dissolve, set aside.

In a wok or heavy pot over high heat, add oil then place pork and garlic into it, stirring to break it up well.

Once the pork is slightly brown add the mushrooms then continue to cook, stirring often to prevent burning until the moisture has evaporated. About 5 minutes.

Once pork, mushroom and garlic is cooked, add the sauce and stir well.  Continue to stir to prevent scorching and cook for 2 minutes and the sauce has thickened up.

Once sauce has thickened, add drained and chopped bean curd, stir gently at this point to prevent the bean curd from breaking up. Cook for 5 minutes.

Serve hot with rice or with out rice as a stand alone dish.  

Now before you say YUCK! give it a try. Really!  Or if you are just too damn meat and potatoes whitebread boring, come to my house and I'll make it for you. I'll make a convert out of you. Yes I will.

Snowy Palms Resort

Miso Soup; Baka giajin style...

I love miso soup. I really do. I have been enjoying it for many years and have never grown tired of it. As I have fought tooth and nail to reduce my bulk I try to eat sensibly at lunch and avoid the pitfalls of fast food. I will say it is easy to avoid if I take the time to make good food at home and then pack it to the office. Miso is one of those foods.

If there is a downside to miso soup it is that it contains a fair amount (read large amount) of salt due to the bonito and the miso paste. There are low or lower sodium versions of miso on the market but I don't like the taste as much. So when I make it myself I will go lightly on the dashi as well as the miso, but still use enough to give great taste.  It is so easy to make it is ridiculous.

A pot, some soup stock granules, tofu, water and miso paste. That's it! Oh no. Seaweed. Yes you need seaweed as well.

Don't be alarmed by the seaweed my dear friends.  The seaweed that you will use is not the kind that washes up on shore and clings to you as you try to escape the surf. I prefer to call it a "sea raised green". And regardless of your thoughts about the sea raised green, you have consumed it a million times as some types of seaweed are rendered into many additives and additions to prepared food, and sushi, don't forget about sushi...

I had a craving tonight for miso soup for tomorrows lunch (cravings do give me advance notice sometimes) and decided to make a pot as I was making dinner of Japanese Curried Beef. So now the miso is in the fridge and will offer me noontime sustenance at the office for a few days and the Japanese Beef Curry fed us tonight and tomorrow as well.  Leftovers are so therapeutic and quick too!

Miso Soup

6 cups water
1 Tbsp Bonito soup granules (HonDashi is very good) or prepare per package direction

3 Tbsp dried wakame seaweed, traditionally it is used sparingly but I like it a lot so I add a lot, you can do whatever the hell you want, but be daring!

1/4 cup red miso paste

1 lb soft tofu cut into 1/2" x 1/2" x 1/2" pieces, if you want you can cut the total in half, but I like a lot of tofu since I don't add meat or noodles to it.

Bring water to a boil in a large pot, once boiling turn down to simmer.

Add bonito granules. Taste to ensure it has a gentle but noticeable flavour

Add the miso paste and whisk into the stock, ensure it has been well incorporated. Add tofu. Let it do a very low simmer (Do not boil!) for 6-8 minutes. Normally the tofu will float and when it does it is ready. It will sink back to the bottom after a while.

Take the wakame and quickly rinse under running water then add to the soup.

Let wakame sit in hot soup for 2-3 minutes before serving.

When you are ready to serve this wonder of nature and Japanese culinary excellence you need to give the pot a stir with the ladle as the miso paste will sink to the bottom of the pot.  So a gentle stir of the soup and then ladle into the bowl.

Serve hot and enjoy....

Crispy Smashed New Potatoes

Snowy Palms Resort

While dining out in fancy (read expensive) restaurants it occurred to me that most of the chefs working in them seem to have gone to the same cooking school or at least read the same books. I came to this conclusion by viewing the food as it is presented in front of me and with rare exception it arrives looking like a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Now I'm all for artful and pleasing food plating and presentation, don't get me wrong, but why does my food all too often look like it was assembled by an engineer? Are all professional chefs frustrated engineers in white chefs coats? Were they neglected as children and had Meccano or Lego sets withheld from them and thus never got the "build it high" out of their system,? What is with this?

I like looking at food before I eat it at a restaurant. I really do. However there are limits to my admiration and one of them is stacking my food then drizzling the demi glace or other reduction all over and around it. The sprig of whatever is green today is a nice touch, but why do you have to molest my food completely before you serve it to me?

Place the starch (potatoes, rice, grains) on the bottom.  Then take the greens or other veggies and place them on the starch. Hello? Does this sound okay to you? Then once artfully arranged atop each other like an orgy in Old Rome, you place the meat on them and then place the sauce over all of them to frame the towering picture. With the addition of some crisped veggie or some other green leafy herb placed atop that pile you have the Leaning Tower of Pisa presentation. Common practice.

Please let me tell you Michelin chefs and all others that like to make my dinner like you would a Lego tower in your living room. STOP NOW!!!  Please continue preparing the food with all the care and professionalism you possess, that I like. But do not let the gravy touch the greens!  That is not good form my friend.

Greens if they could speak would tell you that they do not like other food touching them and in particular abhor warm sauces and gravies. They also don't like being a victim of "piling on". They are solitary things, preferring to keep to themselves and stay out of the pool until called by me, the diner, with the arrival of my fork.

The starch don't like being on the bottom of the pile either and they don't play well with greens. While starch likes sauce and revels in its arrival, they don't want to share to with the greens because the greens like to bleed into the sauce and spoil it for the rest of them. Greens are tasty but selfish, believing that everyone on the plate wants to taste like them.

I don't want my food playing with each other before I eat it! Place the items beside each other yes, but let them keep a respectful distance from each other, don't upset them in their last moments, how unkind are you anyways? Keep the sauce away from the greens. Don't stack.  Simple rules to live by...

I went out for lunch recently with a supplier and on the menu was a nice beef rib dish and it was served with "Smashed Potatoes". Never having been served smashed potatoes before I was intrigued and ordered it. Imagine my dismay when my order came to the table and the food was STACKED!!! I was crestfallen. I really was.

At the bottom of the pile was a wilted spinach greens base, plated out of a mold, nice and round, hockey puck shape. ON TOP of the greens were two smashed new potatoes. ON TOP I tell you!!! Then over the potatoes was the braised short rib. ON TOP!!! Over the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a red wine reduction and topping it all off was a gathering of pea shoots arranged to rest precariously over the rest of their plate-mates.

The sauce was TOUCHING the greens. WTF? Touching them like a groper on a Rome bus. The greens were horrified. Then with a quick fork maneuver I relocated the meeting participants and placed them strategically on the plate, but the sauce was still TOUCHING the greens. They couldn't escape, so doing what greens do when they are horrified and covered with sauce, they bled into the sauce, so now it was a red wine and spinach reduction.

The other part I was miffed at was the spinach bled into the smashed potatoes. The chef took the time and trouble to smash the new potatoes, why I don't know (were they calling him or her names?) then after seasoning them, roasted them to a nice brown and probably crisp in a broiler then plated them.

NEWSFLASH! When the smashed new potatoes got to me they weren't crisp anymore and I think they would have been delicious if still crisp when I received them, but oh no! You allowed the spinach to do what horrified spinach does best and bleed into them and took away their crisp. Shameful...

With the memory of the smashed potatoes debacle still fresh in my mind and having some leftover boiled new potatoes in the fridge along with the leftover pot roast I set to making my own smashed new potatoes and here is what I came up with. They were delicious and CRISPY!!!!

1 dozen cooked whole new potatoes

1/4 cup olive or grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced very fine
pinch salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Place oil, butter, garlic and salt into sauce pan and cook for 5 minutes over low-medium heat to infuse the garlic into the liquid. Remove from heat to cool down a bit, about 5 minutes.

Strain  mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove garlic pieces. (This part is not necessary but I did not want any garlic chunk taking over from the potatoes flavour).

I used a clay baking tray to cook them but if you don't have a nicely seasoned clay baker (horrors!) use a non stick cookie sheet.

Place a bit of garlic oil in 12 places on the cooking tray.

Place a potato onto the oil and then smash or squish the potato down to about 1/4" thick using the palm of your hand, a potato masher or the bottom of a small pot.

Place a teaspoon of garlic oil over each smashed potato, spreading to ensure the top is coated well. Grind a bit of pepper over each one.

Place into preheated 425 degree oven.

Roast at 425 for 8 minutes, then turn oven off and turn the broiler element on. Do not open the door.

Broil until nicely browned. Remove from oven and serve immediately. Do not stack over wilted greens!!!