Siu Mai

Siu Mai

My Brother in law Mike, who is a very knowledgeable home cook, loves traditional Chinese food. So much so that my niece and nephew, although having fewer than a dozen years between them, can order all the tastiest dim sum by name. We tend to eat out quite a bit and he always recommends the finest food and restaurants whether we are craving American, Japanese, or Chinese food. Getting take-out or a seat at most places is not usually a problem, but whenever we try to get in at Kirin Seafood Restaurant, we are always too late. Known by many as having the best dim sum in Vancouver it’s the reason why getting a reservation without planning weeks ahead is so difficult. When my wife and I planned our wedding though, it finally afforded us the perfect opportunity to make a reservation for a day when we knew we’d be in town. We had been served dim sum before, but it was at Kirin that we were introduced to it in a formal way.

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Siu Mai, otherwise known as shumai, shaomai or by various other spellings, is a traditional Chinese dumpling originating from Mongolia. The most popular Cantonese version of this dish is prepared with pork, shrimp, and mushroom. We will be using pork and shrimp for this recipe in addition to some Shaoxing cooking wine, sesame oil, ginger, and white pepper. We are omitting the mushrooms this time because we are also making Korean mandus at the same time with pork and shrimp and wanted to use mushrooms in that recipe instead so the two dishes would taste quite different.

We start with the pork. The best cut of pork for this recipe is probably shoulder. It has a sufficient amount of fat to balance out the leanness of the shrimp (and mushrooms when used) but even still, some recipes call for the addition of pork back fat in order to make the dumplings extra succulent. We cut the pork into cubes and then used a food processor to mince into our desired consistency. It’s nice to have pork that’s a little chunky compared to regular ground pork for this recipe as it provides a bit of bite. We blitz the peeled shrimps to the same consistency.

Next after combining the meats we are adding rice wine, sesame oil, ginger, white pepper, and tapioca starch. You can use corn starch if you’d like but we prefer tapioca starch as it has the same binding effect but a silkier texture.

After the siu mai filling is thoroughly mixed up, it’s time to form the dumplings! it’s best to use round dumpling wrappers for these as they come out prettier. To form a dumpling, make a ring with your thumb and middle finger and push a round wrapper down into it, as shown below. Then use a fork or spoon to fill the depressed wrapper. As you press the filling into the wrapper, apply pressure with your thumb and middle finger to make a ‘curve’ so there is more filling at the bottom and top compared to the middle. It should take on the shape of a beautiful woman from the side while the top will appear a bit like a flower. Garnish each with a pea or a carrot flower if you want them to be extra fancy. The photos shown here are unfortunately only from our test recipe somehow we seem to have misplaced our main post photos 🙁 but you can make carrot flowers by peeling your carrots and carefully cutting ‘V’s all around the sides before slicing them the normal way very thinly.

After you’ve formed all your dumplings it’s time to steam them. We could only find one bamboo steamer basket so we are trying to be a bit resourceful here by using our stainless steel pressure cooker basket as well which we first sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. It takes about ten minutes to steam each batch of approximately six-seven dumplings… far too long to wait between batches when you’re hungry as far as we’re concerned so you will want to use at least two bamboo steamers if you have them.

Although not a traditional step, we took the recipe one step further and browned the bottom of each steamed dumpling on a hot cast iron pan so they came out the texture of crispy potstickers and served them with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, garlic, scallions, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. This was heaven on a plate and well worth the time spent. We hope you enjoy your own dumpling making adventures!

Greek Style Pizza Bread

Greek Style Pizza Bread

It’s been ‘Greek week’ over at our place. First we made a huge Greek salad with cucumber, tomato, green peppers, dill, fennel and fennel fronds, feta cheese, and some premium olive oil which we’ve been working on for days! We needed to use up the rest of the feta cheese though so we thought we’d make one of our staples, pizza bread. We call it pizza bread because it’s simply a loaf of crusty French bread cut lengthwise and dressed up like a pizza. It’s a real time saver compared to our ‘big tray’ pizza as the bread component is pre-made and for only 99 cents almost anywhere we shop for the French bread it’s quite a deal for the amount of time saved.

 

We find ourselves sticking with more ‘traditional’ pizza ingredients these days… minimalist with just tomato, cheese, herbs, and olive oil; rarely meat, and this recipe is no exception to that. We’ve made many pizzas where we’ve thrown the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’ at them using five, six, seven toppings or more but we’ve found over time that pizza is most enjoyable when you can pick out the taste of each ingredient because with too many it just becomes somewhat of a train wreck. Flavors pile up on top of one another and the theme of the pizza becomes lost. For this pizza we are sticking with the ingredients of a Greek salad minus the olives because we were out this time and the nearest store is 50 miles away.

With the garlic cheese bread now made, we move on to the tomato sauce. Olive oil, hot pan, whole tomatoes crushed and reduced, dried oregano from our garden, salt, and some Italian seasoning

With the garlic bread and pizza sauce ready, and topping prepped, it’s time to assemble the pizza bread! Enjoy the photos below!

Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

There is no comfort food quite like fried chicken and there are so many tips and tricks that make this recipe truly great. Through our years of first hand experimentation in addition to countless hours of research we are proud to bring you this recipe which guarantees the most crispy and flavorful chicken you will find anywhere… rivaling that of any of the most well known brands out there and customized to your individual taste, to boot!

Before we talk spices and seasonings though, the first and most important thing about this recipe is temperature. Deep fried foods will only come out crispy if you maintain your temperature around 350 degrees F. If you let the temperature drop, you will allow time for the oil to infiltrate the batter and keep it oily, and that makes for a soggy crust. If there is one rule you need to follow it is this. You can dredge your chicken in flour, egg, and then (salted) flour only and if you keep the temperature between 350 and 375 you’ll still get good results. So have a method to maintain accurate temperature control first. We use an infrared thermometer and fry in small batches to keep the initial temperature drop of the oil to a minimum.

Secondly, gluten is the enemy of crispy fried chicken. When you make a tempura batter, many recipes involve using a flour mixture and either ice cold water or ice cold soda water, and using the mixed up batter quickly. It’s because cold water inhibits gluten formation more than warm water and it’s the gluten protein matrix that holds on to oil. Keeping in mind the advice about keeping temperature high and consistent above, good tempura chefs use a batch of batter for each order/dish because the longer it sits after liquid is added, the more gluten is formed, and the less crispy the finished tempura becomes. Ice cold water is usually the first choice for mixing up wet batters for frying, but if you want even better results you can use ice cold vodka. Vodka is 40% alcohol, and gluten can’t form in alcohol at all. Using vodka will afford you even more time to fry up batches of good tempura, but if you live in a place where vodka is expensive like here in Canada, ice cold water may be a better alternative but let’s get back on track here… If you want to keep a wet batter from holding on to excessive oil then make sure to use ice cold water.

 

The third most important thing is the batter/dredge composition. Now that you know that gluten is the enemy of good crispy crust formation it comes in handy to know that it is only standard flour that can develop gluten at all. Korean and Chinese chefs use corn starch almost exclusively for frying… not that it would matter so much though as wok temperatures can easily go far beyond 350 degrees F but i digress… Corn flour and corn starch are culinary weapons in the quest for crispy fried chicken but we get some great results for this recipe with a 50% mix of corn flour and corn starch and 50% flour.. and now for a secret ingredient that you won’t see us using in the videos below 😉  if you want extra crispy and I mean almost hurt your gums kind of crispy, add 1 T of dried mashed potato flakes for each cup of seasoned flour mix/dredge. Seriously. You won’t taste the potato and everyone will wonder where you developed your mad frying skills.

Now that you’re up to speed on some frying techniques that can be applied to just about any foods (like calamari for instance) here comes the fun part. It’s time for the seasonings and this is where your preferences come into play! You can use any spices you want at all for fried chicken, whether it be the colonel’s 12 herbs and spices like KFC original recipe (White pepper, black pepper, sage, coriander, ginger, ancho chile, vanilla, bay leaf, savory, cloves, and cardamom) our mix (savory, powdered dried chives, black pepper, oregano, paprika, kashmiri chile pepper, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, ginger powder, thyme, ajinomoto) or your own mix of favorites, when you follow the tips above and cook your seasoned flour mixture to a golden brown color it’s almost guaranteed to be delicious! In any case though you will want to make sure you heavily season your dredge/flour mixture as very little of it will actually end up sticking your chicken…. And don’t forget the salt! Salt is the most important part of the recipe even if it’s not listed as an ingredient… after all that’s what ‘seasoning’ really means, right? Salt makes food taste more like itself and without it, food is bland.

 

And the last ingredient? Baking powder. Use 1/2 tsp of baking powder for each seasoned cup of flour. Using too little will result in a batter that’s lays too flat on the chicken and too much will cause it to ‘explode’ outwards leaving pieces behind in your oil.

We served this chicken with our homemade potato salad…. Enjoy the photos and videos below!

Gumbo Stew

Gumbo Stew

We needed a dish to help keep us warm this winter. Being in the Cariboo now about 350km North of Vancouver it stays a little on the cool side here compared to on the Coast and with this years polar vortex bringing in cool air between -20 and -30C we’ve really had to work at staying warm! Fortunately for us we have a roaring fireplace and some great food to help out with that.

Tomato beef stew gets a bit boring after awhile so this time we thought we’d elevate the dish a little bit by starting with a Gumbo rioux and throwing in some seafood in addition to the typical stewing ingredients like tomatoes and potatoes.

It all starts with a two pound piece of bone-in blade steak with plenty of marbling cut into chunks. It’s easy to just dump this in to the stew as many do, but searing off the pieces to add some browning really ups the flavour of the finished dish so you don’t want to skip this step. When searing the meat chunks it’s important not to crowd them in the pan otherwise they begin to boil/steam instead of brown and if that’s the case you may as well just skip this step instead.

 

 

Now time to dice up the holy trinity and some carrots to make it more like a stew. Sometimes we like to leave the pieces a little chunky by using a rough chop, but in this case I went with a fine dice that way the veggies sweat faster and you get more flavour in every bite. We wanted to make this stew extra chunky though so we kept the potato, carrot, and tilapia pieces on the larger side.

 

 

Next we are preparing the spice mixture which is basically a home made Cajun spice. For this mix we used ancho and cascabel chilies, smoked and regular paprika peppers, oregano, toasted and ground cumin seeds, and the secret ingredient…cinnamon, which gives the mix just a bit of intrigue.

After peeling the shells off the shrimps it’s time to move on to the rioux, which is the critical process/ingredient that will either make or break your gumbo. For this recipe we are using equal parts flour and canola oil… about a cup and a half in this case. The process involves cooking the flour over medium-high heat in a heavy bottom pan while stirring constantly with a spoon or whisk so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides and burn. You definitely don’t want to walk away from it during this process! If the temperature gets too high or the flour is allowed to settle anywhere it will turn color rapidly and take on a acrid taste. If you suspect that the flour is burnt or temperature has reached too high for too long then it would be better to dump it out and start all over again rather than to risk having a dish that is inedible… We’ve gone past the point of no return on this one before and the gumbo turned out so bad that our dogs wouldn’t even eat it! It’s not a pleasant feeling to know that you’ve completely wasted twenty dollars or more worth of perfectly good ingredients so you’ll want to make sure you are careful. The goal of creating the rioux is to develop intense flavour within the cooked flour and as the flavour develops the color will change from whitish to golden, to milk chocolate brown, and if you’re patient enough, almost black. This process will probably take a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of constant stirring and monitoring of temperatures so the rioux doesn’t go above 375F. We use an infrared thermometer during this process to ensure it doesn’t get too hot and for this recipe we were aiming for a nice chocolate brown. Once you’ve reached this stage it’s time to add the vegetables.

After sweating off the veggies it’s time to bring most of the dish together by adding stock and the remaining ingredients except for the shrimp and fish which get added near the end. For this recipe we added smoked turkey stock, a can of whole tomatoes, and the seared beef chunks along with our seasoning mixture, ground sassafras leaves otherwise known as file powder or gumbo file, and a couple bay leaves. To make the beef fall apart tender, chunks like these need to simmer for about two hours so we set our timer for about an hour and a half at which point we moved on to making the saffron rice. And after the rice was done we added the fish and shrimp… just long enough for them to cook through.

And…. the finished gumbo stew! Garnished with fresh ground pepper, file powder, and sriracha!

Lemon Chicken with Vegetable Chow Mein

Lemon Chicken with Vegetable Chow Mein

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!

 

Quick Pickled Onions

Fresh Ginger Garlic for Chow Mein

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Celery for Chow Mein

Spring Onions

Selecting Cilantro

Chicken Marinade

Corn Starch Batter

Frying the Chicken

Ginger Garlic for Chow Mein

Adding Chow Mein Noodles

Adding Soya Sauce and Beef Stock

Adding Celery, Carrot, and Broccoli

Adding the Quick Pickled Onion

Thickening up the Lemon Sauce

Chicken After Deep Frying

Finished Lemon Chicken and Vegetable Chow Mein

Serving up Lemon Chicken and Vegetable Chow Mein

Finished Lemon Chicken

 

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.

 

Chicken Coating

 

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.

 

Aloo Gobi (Potato and Cauliflower Curry)

Aloo Gobi (Potato and Cauliflower Curry)

This is a simple dish most commonly served with rice or flatbreads in many home kitchens here in and around Vancouver, Canada. It comes together in just a few minutes and after a bit of steaming to cook everything through it’s all done! Total time to eat: about 25 minutes including the rice. Enjoy the photos and recipe below!

 

Cauliflower

Potato

The Spice Blend

Dad's Chillies

Adding Cumin and Mustard Seeds

Adding Shallots

Add Ginger Garlic and Peppers

Adding Tomato Paste

The Spices and Aromatics

Adding Cauliflower

Add Potato

Stirring up the Vegetables

Finished Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi

 

2 tblsp butter or ghee

2 tblsp canola oil

1 small head cauliflower, in florets

2 potatoes, cubed

pinch cumin seed

pinch yellow mustard seed

1 small onion or shallot, minced

2 tblsp grated ginger

2 tblsp minced garlic

2 tsp fresh grated turmeric

pinch garam masala

2 Serrano chillies or 1 Thai chile

2 tblsp tomato paste

1/2 lemon or lime (garnish)

salt to taste

 

Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat until it just about reaches smoke point. Drop in cumin seeds they should sputter and pop. Add mustard seed and chillies and stir. Add ginger, garlic, and fresh turmeric and stir. Cook for 20-30 seconds then add onions or shallots. Cook until slightly translucent about one to two minutes. Add tomato paste and garam masala and mix well. Add cauliflower and potatoes and mix well. Reduce heat to low and steam for fifteen – twenty minutes until veggies are cooked through. Dress with juice from a whole lime or serve with a lemon or lime wedge. Enjoy!