Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Something New - Decade Five

Well, hello there.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on the Buffet.  It was a good run for a while there and I was hooked, but I eventually got distracted and fell off the routine of blogging our meals.  Other things took over and then I realized how much brain power, time and energy I spent each day working on the blog.  My family still uses the site to look up recipes and past meals, especially our kids.  This makes me happy as this is why I started this blog.  I do plan to return to it from time to time to make additions, but in the meantime, if you are inclined, please visit me at

Decade Five will share our travel, eating and other life adventures.  I find as life goes on, my memory gets worse and worse.  I wanted to continue to chronicle our travels and other life adventures in order to return to them from time to time.  It’s also a great way for me to get some of our travel photos in some sort of logical order.  I’ve also moved over past posts of travel from this site. Chris has always been our travel planner and I will do my part in keeping our journal.  Maybe when he retires, we can travel and write books together!  Until then, come share our journeys at

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fried Tofu Skin Rolls

My mom and I meet for lunch quite often and nearly always meet at a Chinese restaurant next to a Chinese grocery store which are somewhat equidistant between our two houses.  The restaurant serves dim sum at lunch, and though we each normally order one of their 'lunch special' items, I am always tempted to get one dim sum item to share.  A steamed tofu skin roll is a favorite and is something I had never made before.  In looking for new things to try for this Chinese New Year, I decided to make a fried version thinking the kids and Chris may prefer that to steamed.  This roll can either be steamed or fried, so the preparation of it is the same, and once rolled, you can decide whether you'd prefer to steam or fry them.

Makes approximately 16 rolls:

1 ¼  pound ground pork
6 ounces small shrimp, shelled, deveined and finely chopped
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
5 ounces water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 egg white
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp ground white pepper
4 tbsp reserved liquid from shiitake mushrooms
tofu skin

1 egg beaten for wrapping the rolls

Rinse and soak the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water until softened. Squeeze excess water from mushrooms, reserve soaking liquid and cut the mushrooms into tiny pieces.  Combine all ingredients, except tofu skin, in a large bowl and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so or overnight.

Unless you can find fresh tofu skins, they are dried but are found in the freezer section.  Per my mom, if left just dried and not frozen, they would easily break apart.  To prepare the skins, defrost them in the refrigerator.  They defrost rather quickly.  The package of skins I had were large round pieces which I quartered, cutting them with scissors.  Soak each piece in cold water for about 30 seconds or until softened. Gently squeeze out the excess water.

Form a small roll of the ground pork mixture at the base and center of the tofu skin.  Roll over twice and then fold one side of the skin over onto itself, roll again, and fold the other side of the skin over onto itself.  Then finish rolling to the end and brush the edge of the skin to help seal the roll.  

The tofu skins felt wet and since I rolled these ahead of time, I let them sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, until ready to fry.  You don't want to drop a wet roll into the hot oil as you will have a lot of splatter.  

Heat a pot of oil until it reaches 350f.  If you are only frying a few, you can use a smaller pot, therefore having to use less oil and you only need oil deep enough so that the rolls will not touch the bottom of the pot when frying.  But keep in mind, if you overcrowd the pot, the oil temp will drop a lot and therefore take longer to get back up to heat.  This will cause uneven frying.  I gave some uncooked rolls to my mom and froze the rest and will try steaming them next time.  But these fried ones sure were delicious!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chinese Daikon (Turnip) Cake

Chinese New Year, the year of the rooster, is this Saturday, January 28, and I am in prep mode.  I pulled this recipe out from a post from a few years ago and made a few minor edits and added some photos. I made a 1.5 batch of the below recipe this time around and am posting this ahead of the final step of frying before eating so that you can use the recipe if you'd like before the weekend.  I'll be adding the finished product photo later this weekend.  

This recipe contains a lot more of the flavor bits; the Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp and scallion than I've had at our local dim sum restaurants.  I think it probably contains more daikon as well as the daikon being more substantial in the cake.  I used my food processor with the grater attachment to grate the 3 pounds of daikon, so the size of the grated daikon is thicker.  In comparison, this daikon cake will not be as smooth and doughy than what you might get at a restaurant.  I favor the extra flavor bits and daikon strips.

2 lbs Chinese daikon
1 oz small dried shrimp
1 1/2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms
5 oz Chinese sausage
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp rice wine
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/4 tsp Ground white pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 2/3 cups rice flour
2 cups of liquid reserved from turnip, shrimp and shiitakes
oil for pan frying

Grate the turnip using a coarse grater into a large bowl, or use the grater attachment on your food processor.  Cover the turnips with salted boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes.  Drain using a sieve or colander, reserving the liquid.  When cool enough, squeeze out as much excess water as possible and squeeze the water into the reserved water.  Loosen the daikon so it is not stuck together. 

Rinse then soak the dried shrimp in boiling water until soft.  Drain, adding the liquid to the turnip liquid.  Chop the shrimp into very small pieces.

Rinse then soak the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water until softened.  Drain and add the liquid to the turnip liquid.  Squeeze out excess liquid from the mushrooms, remove stems and finely chop.

Steam the Chinese sausages for about 10 minutes and finely dice.

In a large wok, heat 1 tbsp of oil.  Fry the sausages for about a minute and then add the shrimp and mushrooms and fry for another couple of minutes.  If you have very lean sausages, you may need to add additional oil. Add the scallions, garlic, sugar, wine, soy and white pepper and stir fry for another couple of minutes.  Then add the turnip, cilantro and rice flour and toss to combine well.  Add the reserved liquid and mix well.  

Put the turnip mixture into a greased square pan, 10" x 10".  Or split up into two smaller pans depending on the size of your steamer or wok.  Steam for 75 to 90 minutes, adding water as needed to steamer.  I am now the happy owner of a convection steam oven, so I used that this time around.  But a large wok or other steam contraption will work just fine.

Let cool slightly, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Remove the cake from the pan and cut into small squares.  With our below freezing temps, I just put my pan outside for a few couple of hours and it was ready to go.  

Pan fry the turnip cakes in a little bit of oil over medium heat until heated through and just slightly crispy on the outside. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Duck Confit

We love eating duck in the Emerton family and duck confit is right up there as one of our favorites; whether they are lightly fried in a pan and served with roasted potatoes and a fresh green salad, or cooked with risotto and drizzled with truffle oil.  There are so many tasty ways to have duck confit, it's a good idea to make a couple extra to have in the freezer for an easy go-to for a future meal.  The best thing that happened while making these?  Stella walked in, saw the melting duck fat, and said "you're making duck confit?"  Proud mama.

You'll need:

3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
8-10 sprigs thyme
8-10 fresh bay leaves
8 duck hind quarters (legs with thighs attached)
about 6 cups of duck fat

1 dish or pan large enough to hold all the duck legs in a single layer.

To prepare

1) Mix together the kosher salt and sugar.  
2) Sprinkle half of the salt and sugar mixture in the bottom of the pan.  Evenly scatter half of the pepper, garlic, shallot, thyme and bay leaf.  
3) Place the duck, skin side up, over the salt mixture and then sprinkle with the remaining salt/sugar, pepper, garlic, shallot, thyme and bay leaf.
4) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 day.

The next day, preheat the oven to 225f.
5) Take the duck out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you are ready to cook them.  Brush the salt mixture off of the duck pieces and arrange them in a single snug layer in a deep baking dish or large dutch oven.  
6) Melt the duck fat in a saucepan.
7) Pour the melted duck fat over the duck.  They should be covered by the fat.
8) Place the pan in the oven and cook the duck for about 3-4 hours.  The duck should be tender and easily pulled away from the bone.  It may take longer depending on whether the duck is cold going into the oven and if the oil is hot or warm. 
9) Cool and store the duck in the fat.  The duck will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Or, you can wrap them tightly with a little of the fat and freeze them individually.  Six of these will find their way into a cassoulet this weekend.  Stella may get lucky and score a whole leg for dinner.
The duck fat can be strained, cooled and reused.  I put some in a jar in the refrigerator to roast potatoes and put the rest into the freezer.  It's liquid gold.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Duck Carbonara

We are great fans of spaghetti carbonara.  We like it with many different types of bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, even lamb bacon.  The other day, I came across, for the first time, duck bacon.  I immediately thought of carbonara.  Not exactly the quintessential 'Fat Tuesday' meal, but it does fulfill the 'fat' part.  I wasn't sure how the duck bacon would taste, but we do have the eggs and Parmigiano Reggiano to fall back on, and I have plenty of that left over from last week's risotto experiment.  Writing on this makes me wonder why I never made carbonara with the duck prosciutto I made a couple years ago.  Opportunity lost.  

This recipe is the pretty much the same as a traditional carbonara, just substitute the duck bacon for the pancetta or regular bacon.

1 pound dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon duck fat
6 ounces duck bacon, cut into ¼ to ½ inch strips
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 large organic eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus additional for serving
freshly ground black pepper
a few tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to package instructions.  Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid to add to the sauce.

While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and duck fat in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the duck bacon until it is crispy.  I added the duck fat because the duck bacon did not have any fat to render.  It looked more like ham than bacon.  Turn heat down to medium low and add the garlic and sauté until just softened, about 1 minute.

Whisk the eggs and then add the Parmigiano to them.  Add a couple pinches of salt.  Stir to remove any clumps. 

Add the hot, drained pasta to the bacon pan and toss to coat.  Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg mixture into the pasta tossing the pasta until the eggs thicken.  If the pasta is too hot, the eggs will scramble, but you do want the past to be hot enough to just slightly cook the eggs.  Thin out the sauce a bit with the reserved cooking liquid.  You may not need all of the liquid, just enough so the pasta is not dry.  

Finish the carbonara with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with the parsley.  Serve the spaghetti with additional Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.  Delicious, but not very ducky.  I would have liked more duck flavor from the duck bacon, but the spaghetti was excellent nonetheless.  I will have to make some duck prosciutto again to use with carbonara.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chinese Sesame Cookie Balls

Generally, I am not a huge dessert or sweets person.  I like sweets that aren't too sweet, so that makes me a fan of dark chocolate, fruit tarts with lots of crust and the new thin Oreos.  I never crave sugar, but I do crave salt.  My mom is also a fan of sweets that are not too sweet and most things sesame.  So, for Chinese New Year, I made some traditional sesame cookies for my mom.  

1 ½ cups cake flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp kosher salt
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg
½ cup white sesame seeds
canola or rice bran oil for frying

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together hot water and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Then whisk in oil and then the egg.  
Gradually stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture. 
Knead the dough gently until it just comes together.  It will be quite wet and sticky.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so until chilled.

Fill a large bowl with cold water, another small bowl with ice water and place the sesame seeds into another bowl.
Pull a small piece of dough and roll it between your hands to form a ¾" ball.  Repeat until you've used all the dough.  Dip your hands in the water bowl periodically to help keep the dough from sticking to your hands.

Roll the balls in the sesame seeds to coat.  If the dough is dry, dip them into a bowl of ice water then roll in the sesame seeds. I do these a few at a time until finished.

Fill a medium saucepan with the oil, deep enough to float the balls, about 2" deep.
Heat the oil over medium until it reaches 325 degrees.  
Fry the sesame balls, many at a time.  I drop in enough to not crowd the pan and.  
Flip and roll the balls around occasionally until they are lightly golden.  They will cook quickly.
Drain on a pan lined with paper towels.  Repeat.

Got a good review from my mom, but she may be just doing the nice motherly thing.  I liked them because they are not too sweet and I love the sesame taste.

Marbled Tea Eggs

While I'm in this Chinese New Year food mode, I thought I'd make some marbled tea eggs to send home with my parents.  Actually, I was in a seafood and poultry shop the other day and was drawn to buying some duck eggs, why, I don't know.  I was trying to think of a use for them when the idea of tea eggs floated through my head.  When I was in living in Taipei, right out of college, cheap eats were on the menu every night.  Back then, street food stalls were in every small neighborhood in the city.  Most only came out in the early evening for dinner or late night snacking.  Beef noodle soup on an old rickety stool, under a bare lightbulb, on the side of the street, salt and pepper fried squid in a little paper bag, grilled chicken butts on sticks were some of my favorites.  Sadly, the last time I was back in Taipei, the streets had been largely void of these carts.  The only 'street' food I got was going to a large warehouse type set-up where it was much more food court than the cool road side cart.  Once that type of organization took place, something got lost.  Along the cheap eats and easily portable food front, were the tea eggs found soaking in dark broth, in electric rice cookers, in many a store front on the street, even the corner 7-11.  Sometimes you'd see a stuff shop, as in just a bunch of random stuff, plastic tubs, umbrellas, knick knack toys, and even they would have tea eggs for sale.  The rice cooker was used to keep the eggs perfectly warm I suppose, but I wasn't going to take a chance on that.  I mean, I already spent three months acclimating my stomach to everything else I was willing to eat, I was okay to pass on the day(s) long, luke warm, street side, tea egg.  If I were a huge boiled egg fan, I would have imbibed, but I'm not.  I'm sure they were great though.  Anyhow, I think my parents like them, so mine will be going to good homes.

Tea eggs are normally made with chicken eggs.  I'm using duck eggs and am adding a couple of chicken eggs to compare.

Braising broth:
4 cups water
¼ cup cooking rice wine
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp regular soy sauce
3 tbsp Chinese green tea leaves (I used 3 Jasmine tea bags)
1 2" piece of dried orange peel, or 4" piece fresh orange peel
1 cassia cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise
1 tbsp sugar

6 duck eggs, 2 chicken eggs (or just use 6-8 chicken eggs)

Combine all of the braising broth ingredients into a large sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the eggs.  Place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them.  Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the eggs sit for 6 minutes.  Pour out the hot water and cover the eggs with cool water until they are cold enough to handle.  

Crack the shells of the eggs using a small rolling pin or back of a spoon.  This gives the eggs the marbling effect and allows the flavor of the broth to penetrate the egg.  

Once the broth has simmered for 30 minutes, add the eggs and simmer for another 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover and let cool to room temp, letting them steep for several hours.  

To store the eggs, place them into a container and cover with the broth and refrigerate.  Don't peel the eggs until you are going to eat them.  Peel and eat, or peel, slice into wedges and drizzle a little of the broth over top.  

Braised Pork Belly with Cucumber and Spicy Garlic Sauce

Also on the menu for Chinese New Year is this simple pork belly dish.  Traditionally, the pork belly is boiled in just water and a little wine, but I am adding just a bit of soy sauce to up the flavor.  The former will produce a more natural pork flavor, but just a little soy sauce gives it a little extra something something.  All the dishes for CNY are chosen to signify prosperity, long life, happiness, and good fortune in the year to come.  Pork belly is a staple in a CNY meal, most often red-cooked, slowly braised in a soy sauce mixture.  But I'm doing something different this year and hope it goes over well.

1 pound pork belly
4 cups water
½ cup rice cooking wine
¼ cup soy sauce
2" piece of fresh peeled ginger, smashed

Cut the pork belly crosswise into 2-3 pieces.  Place the pork belly and remaining ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium low / low to gently boil for about 1 hour.

For the spicy garlic sauce:
¼ cup Szechuan chili oil
2 ½ tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp sugar

Plus one hot house cucumber to serve with the pork.  Slice the hothouse cucumber lengthwise, into very thin slices.

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Drain the pork belly and wrap it up in plastic wrap of foil so that the surface does not dry out while it's cooling.  Once cool enough to handle, slice the pork belly lengthwise, as you would like bacon, into thin slices.  Alternatively, you can make this a day ahead and store the pork belly in the refrigerator and slice it the next day when you are serving, but let it come to room temp before serving.  Arrange the pork slices with the cucumber, alternating between the two.  Pour the sauce over top and serve.

Great flavor but not for those who are shy to garlic!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chinese Chicken Stock

With Chinese New Year coming in a few days, preparations have started for our family meal.  I will be making a seafood hotpot, the base of which, will be this chicken stock.  Chinese chicken stock tastes different from American chicken stocks.  If you are needing a large amount of chicken stock for a Chinese dish and don't want to make your own, keep in mind that if you use an American stock, the taste will be different.  You can find canned Chinese stocks at Asian markets and sometimes in larger grocery stores who are carrying more and more Asian products. 

The best types of chickens to use for a stock are stewing hens.  Admittedly, I most often use chicken bones, necks and backs cut from regular meat chickens.  They are the easiest to buy and I often have those pieces around after roasting a chicken for dinner.  A left over roasted chicken carcass makes a rich and flavorful stock.  For making a large volume of stock, I was going to need to procure some chicken.  Stewing hens are so good because they are older chickens, who have been egg layers over the first year or two of their lives and then culled and used as stewing hens.  Their meat is tough and stringy, probably not so great for consuming, but more flavorful for making a richer stock.  Asian markets here carry stewing hens, most often frozen, and yesterday I found them at Central Market.  Central Market carries a good variety of Asian foods, makes their own fresh tortillas, operates a great deli, seafood and meat department and generally carries some interesting products you don't see at other markets. I make a trip up there just to browse every so often.

I bought two stewing hens anticipating making a large pot of stock and freezing some for future use.  Stewing hens are thinner and less expensive than regular meat chickens.  I paid about $6.00 for both.  To prepare the hens, place them on a sheet pan, split each in half and generously salt them with kosher salt.  Smash two, 2 inch pieces of peeled fresh ginger and spread it out under and over the hens.  Drizzle a half cup of Chinese cooking wine over top and lay 4 green onions around the hens.  Cover the hens with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for about 6 hours (or overnight).  My mom swears by this process.  She says it intensifies the flavors and does this with all of the different stocks she makes.

When ready to make the stock, take the chickens out of the refrigerator.  Put your oven to broil and place the chickens under the broiler until lightly browned on both sides.  I do this to further intensify the flavor and as a result,  I don't have to blanche the chicken in water first and then stew it.  The blanching is to help keep the all that foam from developing on the surface of the broth and having to skim it off.  Cooking the outer surface of the meat generally keeps that from occurring.  

In a large stock pot, put the hens, ginger, green onions, another half cup of cooking wine and enough cold water to cover the hens. Strain any liquids from roasting pan into the pot as well. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer for about 6 hours.  

Strain the stock, discard all the solids, unless you have a dog who might enjoy the meat and chill in the refrigerator.  Once the stock is chilled, remove almost all of the fat that has solidified on top.  I like to keep a little for flavor.  The stock is now ready to use.

Post script: Photos of the hot pot