A Life Update, with a side of Sweet and Savoury Pork Spare Ribs

It’s been a whirlwind few months – I left my previous job and moved out of Oxford over the summer, went back home to get married :), spent a month with my in-laws in Malaysia and had another wedding reception there, and then moved to New York with WS end of September.

It’s been exciting, tiring, stressful, amazing, fun, scary – so many different emotions but perhaps the feeling that sticks with us most is gratitude for this opportunity to be able to experience incredible NYC!

This is not the first time we moved to a new place together. In 2010, we moved to Oxford for our graduate degrees, but we lived in separate colleges and had only been dating for 1.5 years back then. Being married feels different in the sense that there is a feeling of mutual obligation to really make a home for ourselves, to invest in nice, practical things that we will use, hopefully, for a good time yet (let’s see how our new rug and cookware hold up!)

I’m rambling on about life when my blog is supposed to be about food. Well, food and life are inextricably bound up with one another; life is sustained by food, and life is also made wonderful by the food we eat and the people we share it with! Anyway, I recently made these Sweet and Savoury Spare Ribs – because they are easy to make and remind me of home, which is nice when you’ve just moved to a new city and everything is different. My mom taught me this recipe many years ago when I left for college because she said it is the easiest thing to make. Most Cantonese families have this recipe because it is a simple 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ratio of ingredients. Oh, and it’s also very tasty.

Sweet and Savoury Spare Ribs

Forgive me for the terrible photo. These pork ribs truly epitomise the saying, ‘tastes much better than it looks’!

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Ingredients
1-1.5 lbs pork spare ribs (best if chopped into short ribs)
1 tablespoon rice wine (or dry sherry, or cooking wine)
2 tablespoons vinegar (red Chinese vinegar, or rice vinegar)
3 tablespoons sugar (rock sugar, or white sugar)
4 tablespoons light soy sauce (if using cooking wine instead of rice wine, reduce to 3.5 tablespoons because cooking wine has salt content)
5 tablespoons water, you may need more if a lot of it evaporates
3 or 4 slices of ginger

Method* edited 10/March/2015 to include step 0 after discovering this makes a huge difference!

0. Parboil ribs – boil ribs in medium-sized pot for 2-5 minutes until outside cooked and blood seeps out. Drain away water and wash ribs with cold water to remove any scum.

1. Mix wine, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce in separate bowl then add to pot.
2. Add pork ribs to pot and coat with sauce. Add ginger.
3. Add water to pot. If 5 tablespoons not enough to cover most of ribs, add a little more water.
4. Bring pot to boil. After full boil reached, turn down heat to as low as you can to keep the ribs simmering. Skim off any more dried blood with spoon.
5. Now, if you like ribs to really be falling off the bone, then you’re going to need to simmer these ribs on low heat for 2 hours. But of course they’ll cook in less time, just that they might not be as tender as they could be!
6. When ribs are fully cooked, remove ribs from the pot, then boil to condense the remaining sauce. You want at this point also want to skim off some of excess oil (depends on how fatty the ribs are).
7. Pour sauce over ribs and serve.

Very low effort, no?

I have to confess though that four years ago, I attempted to cook this for my now mother-in-law and brother-in-law but failed MISERABLY. I had used white vinegar and added too much water, creating a watery, sour-ish sauce that was truly awful. It was the first thing I had ever cooked for WS’s food-loving family, too, so I was extremely embarrassed. I was only saved by the fact that WS’s vegetable dish that he served up was not much better :P. Yep, I like to think we’ve come some way!

Thai-style Basil and Chilli with Turkey Mince

The inspiration for this Thai-style Basil and Chilli with Turkey Mince came from a dinner I enjoyed at a Thai restaurant in Oxford two weeks ago with WS and his friends to celebrate WS handing in his thesis (hurray!). One of our friends ordered the chicken with basil dish to share, and when it arrived, I took one look at it and without tasting it, knew I had to re-create it at home.

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I made this with turkey mince instead, which worked well and was probably a little healthier, too.

I know I stopped posting recipes awhile back but I really want to share this super easy and yummy stir-fry with those who want to try:

Thai-style Basil and Chilli with Turkey Mince (for 3 portions, to be served with rice and other dishes)

Ingredients
450g minced turkey
at least 10 stalks’ worth of basil leaves, stripped from the stems (I used normal basil and it was fine)
1 red chilli, de-seeded and minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 Echalion/banana shallot (or 3 small round shallots), diced
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1.5 teaspoons dark soy sauce
vegetable oil, for stir-frying (I used about 1/2 tablespoon)

 

Method
1. Heat wok on medium heat. When wok hot, add oil.
2. The oil needs to be hot for stir-frying. You’ll know that it is hot when it glides around very smoothly around the wok and starts to shimmer just slightly.
3. Stir-fry garlic and shallots until fragrant, but do not brown them, adjust heat to low-medium if necessary.
4. Add chilli. Stir fry for a minute. Do not let it brown.
5. Add turkey. I stir the meat constantly, and I use the spatula to split up the meat so that it separates into lots of tiny pieces.
6. When turkey is starting to get some colour, and when the meat mixture is starting to lose moisture, add fish sauce, basil, and dark soy sauce. The dark soy sauce is not very authentically Thai, but I like adding it to give the dish a little more colour and sweetness.
7. Continue stir-frying until meat is cooked through. Serve hot.

 
Because of the chilli’s heat and dryness of this dish, I served it with a Cantonese-style cucumber salad. There was a post on a cucumber dish before, but I’ve since been eating the below version, which I prefer more.

For the cucumber salad: mince 4 small cloves of garlic and add to a food storage container with a lid. Add 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce, 1/2 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, and 2 teaspoons sesame oil to the same container, mix well with the garlic. Dice 1 cucumber by first quartering the cucumber length wise (to do this – chop off the ends of the cucumber to flatten them, then very carefully stand the cucumber vertically, slice it down in half, then in half again making an ‘X’). You’ll be left with 4 long lengths of cucumber. Hold these lengths together than chop them across, which will create perfect quarter-circles of cucumbers. Add to the garlic and mixture, mix well, refrigerate until serving time.

Steamed Sea Bass and Plain Congee — food for the sniffles

You know that awful feeling when your throat is sore and your face is so congested you can’t breathe properly through your nose? Well that feeling hit me on Monday evening, and I knew straight away that I wouldn’t be fit for work the next day. I’ve been at home for two days now as I literally couldn’t do anything but sleep, make myself simple meals, and check e-mail and WordPress. Hoping that I’ll get well enough to be able to go into work tomorrow and to London on Friday for a training course on digital editing, which I’ve been looking forward to for awhile.

However I’m not one to sit around feeling sorry for myself, and one of the good things about being ill is the comfort food. For comfort food, we often turn to our roots to the foods that we grew up with, so today I’d like to share two quintessentially Cantonese dishes that Hong Kongers love eating: steamed fish, and congee.

Cantonese Style Steamed Sea Bass

So healthy and fresh. Credits to WS for cooking this for me. I do suspect that he might be the better cook!

Ingredients
– two fillets of sea bass, descaled and deboned
– ginger, 2 inches of it sliced into very thin matchsticks
– spring onions (scallions), two stalks sliced diagonally into small pieces
– garlic, two cloves
– coriander, several stalks
– vegetable oil
– soy sauce
– sesame oil
– table salt
additional materials – bamboo lattice, slightly rimmed plate (so that the liquid doesn’t run over), and wok with a lid*

*This is just how I steam food but you can use any trivet or steamer basket within a large lidded pot/wok for the fish.

Method
1. Heat wok with water on high heat to bring water to boil. Set bamboo lattice inside the wok. You will use this lattice to rest the plate containing the fish, so that the water below the lattice gently steams it without touching the actual plate.
2. Put the fillets of fish on a rimmed plate, skin side up. Scatter the ginger and half of the chopped spring onions on the fish, pushing some of it gently into the fish.
3. Drizzle a tiny bit (no more than half a teaspoon) of oil over the fish. Drizzle a little bit of soy sauce and a bit of salt.
4. Place the plate containing the fish onto the bamboo lattice. Cover the wok with a lid. Lower the heat to low heat, or just enough so that the water steams so gently you can’t hear the lid bubbling up. The gentler the steam, the better the fish will taste. This is crucial.
5. Steam for 12-15 minutes, until fish is cooked through.
6. Remove plate, bamboo lattice, and water from the wok. Turn up heat to low-medium heat.
7. Heat wok with a bit of oil, and fry the minced garlic and remaining spring onions for 2 minutes.
8. Add the garlic to the fish. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Add a few drops of sesame oil. Serve hot!

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Congee (say ‘juk’ for the Cantonese name) is another popular kind of breakfast/lunch food in Hong Kong. It is basically a savoury rice porridge cooked to a creamy consistency, almost to the texture of apple sauce. We usually eat it cooked with various ingredients, the most popular being preserved egg and shredded pork. Also, for some reason Hong Kongers like peanuts in their congee too, something which I’m not so crazy about — I have a slight aversion to peanuts (a story for another time).

I grew up eating congee with my paternal grandmother; in fact, I don’t remember eating much else apart from congee and pickled vegetables when I lived with her for a time. I believe she ate congee almost every day, often while watching black and white Cantonese and Teochew opera shows on TV in her tiny flat in North Point, Hong Kong. Sorry I’m getting sidetracked here by nostalgia — my paternal grandmother is no longer with us but my memories of her are deep. She was an incredibly strong and resilient woman: a single mother and silk-worm factory worker, and a reserved but loving grandmother.

Anyway, I’ve listed below my own basic recipe that uses dried scallops to lend the congee a seafood-y flavour without overpowering the delicate flavour of ginger and scallions. Yum!

Plain Congee (Rice Porridge)

Ingredients, for two generous portions
– uncooked long grain/Thai fragrant rice, 1/2 cup
– water, 5 cups*
– (optional) dried scallops, 4 pieces
– spring onions/scallions, 3 stalks chopped finely
– fresh ginger, two inch piece sliced thinly into matchsticks
– eggs, 2x
– (optional garnish) fried onions
for seasoning: soy sauce, sesame oil, a little salt, a little white pepper

*There’s no need to be exact here, but a general rule of thumb is the uncooked rice to water ratio should be about 1:10.

Method
1. Add rice grains, water, ginger, and dried scallop to a stainless steel pot. Bring water to boil.
2. When water starts to boil, cover, turn down heat to low, and let mixture simmer for at least 45 minutes. Check on it occasionally and add more water if you see that the congee is drying up.
3. In a separate small pot, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Drain water carefully, and de-shell eggs.
4. When congee has reached a creamy consistency, switch off heat and add in eggs.
5. Garnish with extra spring onions. Season to personal taste.

Super Easy Roast Duck

It’s been one of those weeks where i’ve just come home mentally and physically tired every evening. It’s not that work has been particularly stressful; in fact, if anything, work’s been quite enjoyable lately as i do various bits of project management for new e-books, write artwork briefs for new stories, and review manuscripts.  But this busy-ness at the office translates to me just looking forward to some home cooking and relaxing with tea and a book after dinner (or Battlestar Galactica — WS and I are completely hooked :P) by the time 5 o’clock rolls around!

So I came back on Thursday and found myself staring at some duck legs that had been kept frozen from awhile back when the supermarket was doing an offer on Gressingham duck. Now I know duck doesn’t immediately spring to mind when one tries to think of simple meals, but it really is one of the easiest dishes I’ve ever made: all you really need are: duck legs, sea salt, ground black pepper, and an oven. Throw in a baking tray and some aluminium foil and you’re good to go. Our dinner was made more complete with some steamed rice, an extra carb-y side of roast potatoes and stir fried bak-choi veggies with ham and shallots — oh and a little sweet chilli sauce on the side. Just the thing i needed to get me to the end of the work week! =)

Dibs on the crispy skin!

I roasted it with a little soy sauce and chopped shallots for extra flavour but it will taste equally nice on its own, or with garlic, onions, spring onions.

Sheila’s Super Easy Roast Duck

Ingredients
For two portions
– Two duck legs
– Coarse sea salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Optional: a little soy sauce (1/2 tablespoon), chopped shallots or onions

Method
1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. (I use a fan oven; put up to 190 degrees C otherwise.)
2. Rub duck legs with salt and black pepper.
3. Wrap duck legs in baking foil. Add a little soy sauce and shallots if desired.
4. Bake duck in oven for 45 minutes wrapped. Check duck after 45 minutes. Unwrap foil. Bake for a further 15 minutes to get a nice crispy skin.
5. Serve with hot steamed rice, or roast potatoes.

Fried Rice – Simple and Oh So Yummy

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Sheila’s Simple Fried Rice

i cook this whenever i have small portions of leftover vegetables and meat.

a lot of people think that you can only cook good fried rice with leftover rice. (and by ‘good’ i mean fried rice where the grains are fluffy yet separated, and not clumped together.)

i seldom use leftover rice though as i find that the rice dries out significantly in the fridge. you can still use freshly cooked white rice: just lift the lid of the rice cooker (or pot) and let the steam escape. use a wooden spoon to ‘fluff’ the rice and get rid of some of the excess moisture, then let cool for about 20 minutes before adding to your wok to fry what will become well-textured rice!

Ingredients (for 2 portions)
– cooked white rice, 3-3.5 cups depending on how much of an addict you are to carbs
– eggs, 3x and beaten
– ham or cooked sausage/meat/char siu (Cantonese-style honey roast pork), 1 cup
– garlic, 3 cloves, minced
– spring onion, 3 stalks, chopped finely
– vegetable oil for cooking

for the seasoning: light soy sauce, oyster sauce or sticky/caramel dark soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper.

optional ingredients: prawns (6-8x), sliced carrot (1/4 cup), or broccoli if you are desperate to get some green vegetables in there!

Method:
1. heat wok on low heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat thoroughly
2. add garlic to the wok, stir fry until fragrant. if you’re using prawns, add these in at this point and stir fry with a little soy sauce.
3. on medium heat, pour in eggs, scramble. while eggs are still runny, add the cooked rice and stir fry.
4. season with soy sauce and oyster sauce (or dark soy sauce) in a 1:1 ratio. i suggest 1/2 tablespoon of each!
5. stir-fry the rice, ensuring that it is mixed well with egg.
6. add cooked meats and carrot/choi sum/kai lan. continue frying until everything is well mixed. add 1/2 teaspoon of white sugar – this will help to bring out the flavours of the vegetables.
7. sprinkle in sesame oil and spring onions. add salt and white pepper to taste.
8. serve hot!