Let me tell you a bit of a story… I used to have a favorite Chinese restaurant and at this restaurant they served a variety of your typical Chinese take out dishes but also some incredible Indian food and a fusion of everything in between. Now this restaurant is basically located a world away from us as we live in Abbotsford and it’s in Surrey about 50km away or so…. needless to say getting take-out is pretty much out of the question.
Every year around my birthday I get asked where I’d like to eat out. Usually this is done not only to celebrate my birthday but also to facilitate a meeting of family all of whom are scattered about here and there in the Lower Mainland near Vancouver. Having been introduced to this restaurant by a Sri-Lankan friend of mine as resident of Surrey in the early 2000’s, the place quickly became my new favorite Chinese restaurant and go-to for ‘ethnic’ cuisine. Naturally, we held family gatherings there at least once a year.
The food was always amazing and consistent. The dishes were spectacularly presented; served with an abundance of brightly colored vegetables and meticulously garnished. The vast and seemingly endless array of menu items, each with a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors, always left us something to talk about and look forward to again the next time. My most talked about dish? Chilli fish.
Until something happened. It had been a couple years since Kim and I had been there but the cravings were still strong. I often spoke of going there, but the idea always seemed so far off because of where we live… but at that particular point in time we were hungry, and passing close by on our way home from Vancouver. Now normally this place is packed full to the brim on a Friday night but when we arrived we were greeted by an unusually empty parking lot. Similarly, the dining room was nearly as empty. Being only a party of two Kim and I decided to order just three dishes, settling on a few of our favorites… chilli fish, lemon chicken, and beef chow mein.
The chilli fish was always amazing. Small bite-sized pieces of fish, deep-fried, tossed in a tangy sweet sauce , served Szechuan style sweat-inducingly hot, with an abundance of fresh chillies. This time it may have well been called ‘fish’ because there was a curious absence of any chillies, and as such the flavors fell flat and were not well balanced. Granted, I get that we are a couple of ladies and I didn’t specifically tell them I want it ‘Thai spicy!’ but when we sit down and very purposefully order ‘Chilli Fish’ you’d think we know what we want to eat.
Now up was the lemon chicken. A great looking dish, pleasantly marinaded and deep fried chicken served with a fresh lemon sauce and garnished with lemon slices, sesame seeds, and chives. It was okay but not quite what I remember.
Next arrived the beef chow mein. Now this stuff is usually the food of the gods and a visual treat but this time there was an overwhelming amount of onions. It’s like they put nearly a whole medium sized onion in this dish… underlying that, however, was a distinctly odd, old taste, and not in a good way. I was trying to work out exactly what item was responsible for this speculating it was the noodles, or beef, but didn’t get very far into that due to it being disgustingly bad. This dish was basically inedible and at the cost of $13.95 we figured instead of throwing it out we’d let the chef know politely on our way out and give the food to the dogs when we got home. We don’t normally let anyone attempt to make a dish again for us after having received even worse food back again the second time, but after mentioning that we are normally big fans of the food and there was something different about the chow mein this time as we were walking out the door the waiter insisted that we wait a moment for them to make it better. And we trusted them. We reluctantly stayed for another few minutes until the dish was made for us fresh again and put in a take-out dish. We thought… what could we have to lose? this dish was going to be for the dogs.
When we got home we were greeted with the usual sounds of affection! Three Corgi crosses with stubby legs and a Jack Russell Terrier… all hungry from being at home alone all day. We are thinking about how exciting it will be to share the beef chow mein with them! First, though, we figured we should try the new dish to see what it tastes like (and pick out the onions.) Opening the container, though, we are greeted with… even more onions?! Scraping our way through the dish to the actual chow mein-y bits yielded us an even lesser reward. The onions have been mixed all through! Probably in an attempt to cover up the bad taste. Yep, when we try the actual chow mein it has the same dank, disgustingly old flavour although now it has been fully and completely permeated with an overwhelming raw onion flavor. The dish reeks…
As the dogs and our excitement quickly fades, the revised beef chow mein, unsalvageable and inedible even to our dogs, was reluctantly and surreptitiously hucked into the trash.
TLDR; Restaurant changed hands/recipes but retained same menu and name. The food is now nothing like it used to be.
And so the pining and lamenting about my old favorite Chinese restaurant begins… but the cravings are still very real. Perhaps the only way I’ll get over them is to recreate their dishes!!
Here’s my take on their lemon chicken and their old vegetable chow mein! Enjoy the photos and recipe below!
Chinese Take-Out Style Lemon Sauce
2 large lemons, juiced and zested or about 2/3 cup juice and zest
(optional) 1 lemon, sliced.
nearly one cup sugar
2 cups chicken or beef stock (as pictured above)
1/3 cup corn starch
1/3 cup cold water
Bring two cups stock and sugar nearly to a boil. Add lemon juice and zest (optionally, half the sliced lemon.) Add water to corn starch to make a slurry then add to lemon sauce. Stir until thickened then then remove from heat. Serve food immediately garnished with remaining lemon slices.
3/4 cup corn starch
1/3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
Thoroughly mix together ingredients. Marinade and/or dip chicken pieces in an egg mixture before coating with this. Deep fry dredged pieces as soon as possible at 350 degrees F until golden brown.
Chinese Style Marinade for Chicken
2 large skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 extra large egg, beaten
2 tblsp Shoaxing cooking wine
1 tblsp dark soy sauce
1 tblsp sesame oil
Mix all ingredients together. Marinade chicken pieces for about half an hour.
We’ve forayed into pepper sauce making in the past and it turned out alright, but certainly not how we expected. Having done little research into hot sauce recipes at that time or even having gone far enough to check out the real names of different pepper varieties let alone the one we were using (those weren’t bird’s eye chiles, but Thai) we were pretty much flying blind. Since then though, my tolerance and preference for spicy foods has gone from raw jalapeno all the way to ghost pepper, which I now enjoy as much for it’s flavor as I do the burn. A few years ago we were having a hard time even tasting and seasoning the Thai chile sauce properly… not so much anymore that I can easily enjoy a good habanero paste with breakfast!
Having been very successful growing last years’ jalapeno plants and the subsequent sales of our awesome hickory smoked Chipotle powder we decided to grow them on a larger scale. We also expanded our pepper collection a bit this year (18 different varieties and 44 so far for next year) and built a hoop house to extend our growing season. You can check out the building and start of our hoop house garden earlier this year on our sister site here, here, and here. Here is what the hoop house garden looked like a few weeks ago. Since then we had a major windstorm that collapsed the support structure for our tomatoes but we propped them up again pretty quickly and found that fortunately most of our paprika and jalapeno plants on the collapsed side are okay. In the last few days we’ve been particularly busy harvesting the now ripening peppers from the fruit (or more technically, berry) laden plants.
I’ve always enjoyed the tang and mildly complex flavor of authentic Louisiana hot sauce so we decided to try to make some of our own. The experiment was so successful, in fact, that we’re now using the same procedure to create some other fermented pepper sauces with a range of heat levels. Enjoy the photos and recipe below!
Louisiana Hot Sauce
Red Ripe Jalapeno Peppers
Enough water to cover the mash
2 percent salt by weight of mash
white vinegar according to finished sauce volume
salt to taste
honey to taste
You need to ensure your peppers are fully ripe for this recipe. Clean peppers and carefully trim most of the green tip at the end, leaving the small ‘starry’ bit which will add additional flavor. Process in a blender or food processor to your desired consistency. Calibrate your scale with an empty sterilized glass jar and add your pepper mash to it. Add water if required just to cover the pepper mash. Weight the mash and add 2 percent sea salt. Cover with cheesecloth. Check and stir the pepper mash completely a few times a day. Within a few days you will notice the mixture separate with solids on top and liquid on bottom and when you stir there will be many bubbles… this is a sign that the fermentation is working as it should. Continue to tend to the mash every day until the bubbling subsides or desired sourness is achieved it could take up to a two weeks. Important note: If a white mold starts to form on the insides of the jar or on top of the mash that is okay. Scoop it off and throw it away. If you find it is growing faster than you can tend the mash you may want to either try to stir it more frequently, attach an airlock after the ferment is started, or transfer to a new clean jar every few days.
When the mash has finished fermenting it’s time to strain through a cheesecloth, measure the volume of the now separated pulp and sauce, and add vinegar. You can use any vinegar you wish the only thing to keep in mind is that some vinegars are less acidic than others and the finished pH level is very important. You want something that is ideally 4.3 or below. For this sauce, we added 50 percent of the finished sauce/pulp volume in white vinegar (so about 1/3 vinegar.) At this low pH level the sauce is inherently shelf-stable and will continue to mellow and age for as long as you wish but our first batch was better than store-bought after just two weeks in the pantry!
We were in the mood for a burger with some bold flavors so I thought we would serve a pork burger with pickled onion rings and a creamy blue cheese sauce. Enjoy the photos and recipes below!
~ 4 cups flour
2 tblsp sugar
1 pkg yeast
2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup warm milk
1 extra large egg, beaten
1 small beaten egg + 1 tsp water for eggwash
3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small cubes
Add one cup flour, yeast, sugar, and warm milk into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix well. Allow the yeast to proof/form a sponge if necessary. Add salt, extra large egg, and another cup of flour and mix well. Start to add the butter but add it slowly this will take awhile and you don’t want any butter chunks in your dough. Continue to add flour until the mixture just pulls away from the inside of the bowl. Knead for 3-5 minutes before covering and allowing to rise until doubled in size. Pour out dough onto a floured surface. Work quickly and portion into eight equal sized balls on a baking tray. Allow to rise for about twenty minutes or so while you preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for approximately 22 minutes depending on your oven. Remove and allow to cool on racks. Enjoy!
Creamy Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tblsp sour cream
1 tblsp Ranch dressing
~2 tblsp or 1 ounce crumbled blue cheese
pinch garlic powder
Mix everything together and allow flavors to mingle for at least twenty minutes before serving. Enjoy!
We harvested twenty pounds or so from our three Roma tomato plants this year. Here’s what we did with them… Enjoy the photos!
We love short-ribs and braising them with some vegetables is the easiest and fastest way to make a great meal. Enjoy the photos!
Nando’s has some of the best grilled chicken around and their recipe is a closely guarded trade secret. Last I checked, franchisees pay a half million dollars or more to buy in and discover the secret recipes. Here’s a great copycat recipe that won’t break the bank. Enjoy the photos and recipe below!
Also great fried!
Nando’s Style Lemon and Herb Chicken (as pictured above)
A delicious copycat recipe featuring the flavours of Nando’s.
3 tblsp minced garlic
3 tblsp ginger paste
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 tblsp olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tblsp coarse salt
chilli flakes to taste
1 tsp ajinomoto
4 tblsp butter
1 tsp honey
1 tblsp minced garlic
1 tblsp finely chopped cilantro
2 tblsp lemon juice
3 tblsp peri-peri or your favorite hot sauce
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients for the marinade together in a large ziploc bag and then add chicken parts.
Place in refrigerator for 24 hours before putting the chicken parts on grill preheated to 350 degrees.
Cook chicken until it reaches at least 165 degrees F. Remove to a mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan on medium heat melt butter and then add remaining ingredients for the glaze. Cook for a minute or two only before removing from heat.
Place cooked chicken in a mixing bowl and pour over glaze. Toss and serve.