Category Archives: Chinese

Mystery Ingredient: Sweet Osmanthus (gui hua 桂花)

Growing up with Chinese cooking in the home, there were a lot of unique ingredients that I had the pleasure of experiencing, often without even knowing how special they were. It wasn’t until I moved out of the house and started cooking out of my own pantry that I suddenly realized just how interesting some of these Asian ingredients were (and how hard they can be to obtain!). I sometimes start to worry that I might go stir crazy if I move to a place without an Asian market, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to cook half the things I cook without one! It is my hope that through my posts I can introduce some of these interesting ingredients to all of you, and maybe the next time you wander into an Asian market, you won’t feel as intimidated by your surroundings. Maybe you’ll even experiment with a thing or two!

sweet osmanthus in bloom (Photo source: Nipic)

Enough about me, let’s talk about today’s mystery Asian ingredient – sweet osmanthus. If that name sounds completely foreign to you, don’t worry. I had to look it up just for this post! In fact, growing up, the sweet osmanthus was always called by its Mandarin name in my household: “gui hua” (桂花). It sounds something like “gway hwa”. It is the fragrant dried small yellow flowers of the sweet osmanthus tree that we value in cooking. These trees are found in Asia, particularly in eastern and southern China. And if you ever have the pleasure of visiting when they are in bloom in the fall, the fragrant flowers will woo you with the scent of apricots. The flowers can be white, yellow, or even orange. The dried flowers are tiny, about the size of rice kernels, and retain their sweet fragrance.

sweet osmanthus (gui hua)

It is this sweetness that makes the sweet osmanthus so popular in Asian cooking, particularly in the desserts. In fact, you can buy the sweet osmanthus as unsweetened dried flowers, as a jam paste, or even as an infused sugar (much like vanilla sugar). When I was younger, my mother would often prepare one of my favorite desserts, lotus root powder congee with sweet osmanthus. I know, that’s a mouthful, and you probably also have no idea what this lotus root powder congee is. Perhaps that should be its own mystery Asian ingredient post sometime! Suffice to say that it’s a thick starchy soup made from ground lotus root and flavored with sweet osmanthus sugar. It was always warm and soothing to eat… a welcome treat in the wintertime or at night. And it was never quite complete without the sweet osmanthus sugar, although it’s hard to put your finger on exactly how the flavor changes. But you just know, when it’s not there, you’re not getting the whole package. As I grew up, I began to learn that the unsweetened sweet osmanthus flowers are often infused in teas in China. Green teas and black teas, they would only need a sprinkle of sweet osmanthus before steeping with hot water, and the fragrance would bloom. What a wonderful little flower!

As it turns out, what with this tree being native to Asia and all, sweet osmanthus is pretty difficult to obtain in the US. I sort of think of it as the saffron of China. Whenever I see it in the Asian markets, sold as jam or sugar, it is at a premium price (something like $4 for a 1 oz. jar). If you are looking for it, you can sometimes find it under the name “cassia flower”, which is a literal translation of the word gui hua, but not the proper name for the flower since cassia is a different species. I have also heard that the sweet osmanthus is known as the Tea Olive down south in the US. In any case, my source of dried sweet osmanthus is typically straight from China. When I go to visit my relatives in Shanghai, they give me a baggie of the stuff, and it lasts a long time. I love infusing my tea with it, and sprinkling it into some of my desserts for a sweet fruity aroma and flavor.

This week I was making a coconut sago dessert soup at home, enjoying the lovely scent of the coconut milk as I was dissolving rock sugar into it, when I had the idea to toss in some sweet osmanthus. It was a wonderful combination! I have previously posted my taro sago with coconut milk recipe, but the one I made this week was slightly different because I did not have any taro and only had 1 can of coconut milk. The soup was  very thin (not thickened like the taro sago), but at the same time very refreshing with the nice chew from the tapioca. Some restaurants like to serve it thinned and some serve it thicker. I like both versions, depending on my mood! The sweet osmanthus definitely added a delicately sweet aroma and a little bit of that “je ne sais quoi” to the coconut milk, and thus I was inspired to write this post. While I was doing some reading on the Wikipedia article, I noticed that the sweet osmanthus supposedly has neuroprotective, free-radical scavenging, and anti-oxidant properties! A superfood of sorts! In any case, I hope you’ll find the opportunity to try it sometime, or I hope at least it was interesting to hear about :)

coconut sago with gui hua (sweet osmanthus)



Coconut Sago Dessert Soup with Gui Hua (Sweet Osmanthus) (makes 8 servings)

Recipe adapted from Taro and (Tapioca) Sago in Coconut Milk

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dry mini tapioca
  • 1/3 cup rock sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 3 cups milk
  • generous sprinkle of dried gui hua (sweet osmanthus)

Directions:

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the dry mini tapioca. Boil for 6 minutes, then turn off heat and cover, allowing the pot to sit for 15-20 minutes, until the centers of the tapioca are translucent. If they remain opaque in the centers, you may heat up the pot while stirring, until the tapioca are translucent.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, add the coconut milk and rock sugar, and heat on medium to medium-low. Continually stir the rock sugar until it dissolves completely. Do not let the coconut milk come to a full boil (it may curdle). Sprinkle the sweet osmanthus into the pot when the rock sugar is nearly dissolved, allowing it to heat with the coconut milk for about 5 minutes.

3. After the rock sugar dissolves, turn off heat and stir in the milk. Taste for sweetness at this point, and adjust as necessary by adding granulated sugar or more milk as desired. It should be slightly more sweet than your final desired sweetness.

4. When the tapioca is ready, pour it into a fine sieve while running cold water over it to wash off the excess starch. Add the tapioca to the pot with the milk, and stir well to break up the tapioca clumps. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled, as desired. (The coconut milk may clump slightly when chilled.) Sprinkle more sweet osmanthus on top for garnish when serving. Enjoy!

coconut sago with gui hua (sweet osmanthus)


Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse filling and fresh fruit

Since I posted about my Chinese birthday cake recipe a few years ago, it’s been my most popular post on the entire blog, and I’m thrilled that so many of you find it helpful! I’ve since made this cake several times for family and friends, and I’ve done a few variations for the original custard filling that have all been great. The simplest is to fill the center with cream and fresh fruit, which allows you to skip the custard-making step entirely. I’ve also made a taro paste filling, which is surprisingly easy to do and very popular in Chinese bakeries (post to come at a later time). Eventually I’d like to do a chestnut paste filling too, which is a favorite from my childhood growing up in Shanghai.

Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse and fruit filling

Today’s post, keeping in theme with the recent recipes for using fruit, is a Chinese birthday cake with fresh fruit and cream on the outside, and a strawberry mousse with fruit on the inside. As I mentioned in my previous post, I managed to go through 2 pints of strawberries in just 4 days, which is no easy feat when there’s just me and my boyfriend consuming all the food. The first pint went into making the lazy man’s fancy strawberry shortcake. The second pint went into this Chinese birthday cake. Well, technically it wasn’t anybody’s birthday… I just wanted to make this cake to eat, and my boyfriend has never tried my Chinese cakes before, so of course I had to make it for him, birthday or no birthday. I enjoy spoiling him silly :P

The strawberry mouse filling here takes its inspiration from the beautiful strawberry mirror cake. I adapted a couple of strawberry mousse recipes together to fit my needs, and used a springform pan to help form the mousse so that it would sit in-between the cake layers and surround the cake on the outside. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough mousse to cover the entire surface I wanted to cover, but it was easily fixed with a layer of stabilized whipped cream frosting on the outside. The strawberry flavor of the mousse filling really shines through here, and all the fresh fruit along with the moist cake and fresh whipped cream just give the whole cake a refreshing taste, light yet creamy and indulgent at the same time. Even better, I was able to use the leftover macerated strawberry juice from the strawberry shortcake, which was delicious. Now that’s efficiency! I topped the cake with fresh strawberries, golden kiwi (I hadn’t seen this type of kiwi until I came to California, it’s sweeter than the green kiwis), and a few cantaloupe melon balls, which my boyfriend requested, but since I had no melon baller, I had to improvise and scoop them using my measuring spoons! He approved :)

Fresh fruit toppings on the cake

If I were to make this cake again, I would add more gelatin or use less strawberry juice and milk in the mousse because I would have liked it to set up more firmly in the cake. The amount I used here set up more like a very thick yogurt rather than a firm mousse, but I couldn’t determine that until I had let the whole thing set up fully. So without further ado, here is the recipe below. I use the same cake base as my original Chinese bakery style birthday cake, but the filling recipe is described below as well as the assembly process. Have fun!

Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse and fruit filling



Chinese Birthday Cream Cake with

Strawberry Mousse Filling and Fresh Fruit

(makes a 2-layer cake, 9″ diameter)

For the cake base: please see my previous Chinese bakery style birthday cake recipe. Note: you will need 1 pint total of fresh strawberries for assembling this cake.

For the strawberry mousse: (recipe adapted from Joy of Desserts and Viet World Kitchen)

Ingredients: 

  • 1/3 pint of fresh strawberries (approximately 1 1/3 cups cut up)
  • 1/4 cup macerated strawberry juice (see strawberry shortcake recipe, or you may substitute with more fresh strawberries)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 packet of unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 tsp)
  • 2 tbsp Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier (may substitute with water)
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar (use 1/4 cup if not adding macerated strawberry juice)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions:

1. Sprinkle gelatin powder on top of 2 tbsp of liquor or water in a small bowl, allow to soften for at least 5 minutes.

2. Wash and hull strawberries, chop roughly and puree in a blender. I obtained about 1/2 cup of puree. Add macerated strawberry juice and milk to make approximately 1 cup of volume total.

3. Stir in sugar, and heat puree on medium heat until just starting to simmer. Remove from heat, and stir in softened gelatin until it dissolves. Set aside puree in a mixing bowl and allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

4. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form (for a firmer mousse, whip until stiff peaks form). Fold whipped cream into the room temperature strawberry puree. Now it is ready to use for the cake!

Assembling the cake:

You will need:

  • 1/3 cup macerated strawberry juice
  • pastry brush
  • 9″ diameter springform pan
  • chopped fresh fruit for the filling of the cake
  • fresh fruit to decorate top of cake
  • stabilized whipped cream (from Chinese bakery style birthday cake recipe)

1. Trim the brown skin off of the cake rounds, and trim the rounds so that they are the same size. Brush both sides of cake rounds and edges generously with macerated strawberry juice. Place  first cake round in a 9″ diameter springform pan (it should sit centered, with a rim of space around the edge).

Cake round in springform pan

2. Pour strawberry mousse over cake, letting it settle in the rims, until there is a 1cm layer of mousse covering the top of the cake.

First mousse layer, starting to put strawberries on top

3. Spread chopped fruit on top of mousse, gently, until covered. Pour more mousse on top and spread to sides. Reserve some mousse for the next layer!

Tons of fruit layered in the middle!

More mousse to cover the fruit layer

4. Place second brushed cake round on top of mousse and fruit filling. Spoon remaining mousse on the side to fill the rim. If you have made enough mousse, ideally it will come up evenly on the side of the cake, but as you can see below, I came up short. I think if you used less mousse in the middle layer that would work too (by placing fruit directly on top of the bottom cake round and then pouring mousse on top, instead of trying to get the fruit in the middle of the layer).

5. Place springform pan into refrigerator and allow to set at least 3 hours (preferably overnight).

6. When ready to unmold cake, take the springform pan out of the refrigerator and wrap a warm wet washcloth around the edges for 30 seconds. Carefully unmold the springform pan ring to release the edges. (Do you see how I didn’t have enough mousse to fill the rims to the top? Oops, underestimated how much mousse I was using in the middle layer. No worries, it’ll get covered with whipped cream frosting!)

Wrap with hot wet towel to unmold cake

Cake unmolded

7. Place cake back in the refrigerator to firm up while you prepare the stabilized whipped cream recipe. Frost the cake around the edges and on top with stabilized whipped cream. Be gentle around the strawberry mousse to avoid disturbing it. You’ll want to frost the top surface of the cake more thickly than the sides, as there is already that rim of strawberry mousse on the sides.

Cake frosted with stabilized whipped cream

8. Finally, decorate top with prepared fresh fruit. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. The cake will keep in the fridge for at least 3 days, but hopefully it will be gone long before that! Enjoy!

Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse and fruit filling


Easy Chinese style red braised pork belly and ribs (红烧肉)

I promised more Chinese food posts from a dinner I made with my boyfriend earlier this year, so here is part II. Is there anything more heavenly than a bowl of steaming hot rice with a dish of Chinese style red braised pork belly to go with it? No, don’t even think about it, the the answer is no. Red braised pork belly is one of those Chinese comfort food treats that I look forward to every time I visit my parents, because they’re the only ones that can make it so perfect (my dad is a pro at this one). Tender pork belly and ribs with the meat falling off, bathed in a luscious soy-based sauce that is just the right combination of savory and sweet (the signature of a Shanghainese dish done right)… just the thought of it is making me dizzy. My dad’s version is even more uber because he adds kao fu (烤麸), which is “steamed wheat gluten”, aka juicy cubes of spongy vegetarian protein that absorb all the wonderful sauce cooking in the pot with the pork belly. Trying to describe kao fu with words feels so wrong, because it tastes amazing but sounds terrible in English. Just trust me on the kao fu.

Anyway, that’s not the point today, because today I’m writing about a super simple version of red braised pork belly that I can make easily away from home, and it still tastes great (I’d say it’s 8/10 if 10 is the traditional version). Whereas the traditional version can get complicated with things like rock sugar, star anise, five-spice, and maltose, this recipe uses easy-to-obtain ingredients, which is especially nice for students or people with small pantries. The secret ingredient? Coke. Yep, the soda. A few years ago, I described to you that my mom made a similar red-braised chicken dish in her pressure cooker called Cola chicken, which uses a can of coke and soy sauce. The same concept is adapted here to make quick and easy red braised pork belly, because the phosphoric acid in coke is a great meat tenderizer, and the sweetness blends perfectly with the soy sauce to create that mix of sweet and savory necessary for a red braise. The process involves first blanching your meat in boiling water to seal the surface and remove some of the bloody impurities. Then you simply saute the meat in a pot, add your liquids, and simmer away! I recommend letting the meat simmer for as long as possible before you eat it, so that it has time to achieve the absolutely falling-apart texture, but if you’re in a pinch, about an hour or so will get you to an acceptable texture. As always with Chinese recipes, play with the recipe until you find something that works for you! And for those of you uneasy about eating the fatty pork belly… in Asian culture the women believe that the pork skin with its high collagen content is great for your skin. Or just… tell yourself that it’s okay to indulge every once in a while ;)

 

Easy red braised pork belly


Easy Chinese Style Red Braised Pork Belly and Ribs (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb pork belly and ribs (ask your butcher at the store to cut it up for you into chunks)
  • 1 large carrot, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 slices ginger
  • 2 stalks of scallions chopped into 1″ segments
  • 1/2 cup Coke (use classic if possible)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • Pepper

Directions:

1. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Blanch the meat for 2 minutes in the water, then drain and set aside.

2. In a skillet, heat some cooking oil on medium-high and saute the ginger, garlic, and scallions for a few minutes. Toss in the blanched pork belly and rib chunks, and sear until lightly browned.

3. Transfer to a medium saucepot, add in the coke, water, dark and light soy sauces, rice wine, and a few dashes of pepper. Make sure the pot allows the liquid to cover most of the meat. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

4. Simmer for 1 and a half hours, adding the carrots when there is 30 minutes remaining. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks and that the liquid does not boil dry. The sauce should start to reduce nicely. You may optionally stir in a cornstarch slurry (mix together 1 tbsp cornstarch with a few tbsp cold water, and slowly stir into your boiling sauce), watching until your sauce becomes the desired thickness. I left my sauce as is, not quite so thick.

5. Serve with a side of sauteed Shanghai bok choy and fluffy white rice. Did I mention this was heaven?

Easy red braised pork belly

Previously, I wrote about the honey soy sauce glazed chicken wings which was also part of this Chinese dinner. Look for parts III and IV (a Chinese vegetable dish and soup) coming in the future!

P.S. You may have noticed that the look of My Edible Memories has changed a little! I switched to a new theme today that I thought was a more appropriate feel for a food blog. Let me know what you think!


Honey Soy Sauce Glazed Chicken Wings

There is no better comfort food for me than homecooked Chinese food. Period. I grew up in a family that ate a fusion of Cantonese and Shanghainese cuisine – two very different styles of Chinese food that together offered just the right amount of variety in my home. The sweet and savory red-braised style of cooking popular in Shanghainese cuisine is easily balanced by the light and fresh food Canton is so well-known for. It’s been a while since I’ve posted about Chinese food, so to help ease the current stress of having to study for my national medical licensing exam coming up in 2 weeks, it’s time to share with you one of my favorites.

Growing up, one of my mom’s most-anticipated dishes in the house was sweet and sour chicken wings, which we fondly call “tang cu ji chi bang” (糖醋鸡翅膀). I always knew when she was making it, because the smell of the vinegar, soy, and sugar would permeate the house and make me sooo hungry. I can tell you for certain that on any given day, I could have eaten an entire meal with just rice and those chicken wings, oh my god, that’s comfort food right there. This post isn’t about my mom’s recipe, because I have yet to make it myself. I’m planning to get the recipe from my grandfather (my dad’s father) when I go back to China this winter – he is the master of this dish, hands down. Why specify that it’s my dad father? Well the funny thing is, my mom did not know how to cook at all when she married my dad. That was more of a rarity back then, but incidentally my dad happened to be a great cook. Perfect pairing right? Well over time, my dad taught my mom everything she knows about Chinese cooking, and when I was growing up she did all the cooking in the house. So of course, the real roots of the recipe lies with my dad’s father, my grandfather. Eventually, I’ll get to share that recipe with you :)

Now to get to the actual point of this post! My boyfriend and I were having a night of cooking together during one of my recent visits to California, and we decided to go for a Chinese food theme, making family-style comfort food. Of course, chicken wings were at the top of my list! We didn’t have vinegar, so I decided instead to make a red-braised (hong shao) style of chicken wings (红烧鸡翅膀) with some shortcuts, since I didn’t have all the traditional ingredients for a red braise on hand either. This recipe uses only the wingette itself and not the drumettes or wingtips as I find those distracting to eat. Did you know that the part of a chicken wing that has the 2 parallel bones is called a wingette?  I didn’t until just recently haha. Anyway, the ingredient list is simple, the preparation is straightforward, and the result is a plate of savory, tender chicken wings that you can really just eat with a bowl of rice and feel satisfied with…

Honey soy sauce glazed chicken wings



Honey Soy Sauce Glazed Chicken Wings (serves 4-8)

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. chicken wings (wingettes only) – approx 24 pieces
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • several good dashes of black pepper
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • vegetable oil as needed for pan-frying

Directions:

1. Mix together the light and dark soy sauce, the oyster sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, and black pepper in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Rinse off your wings and add them to the marinade, giving them a good toss to coat everything. Let wings marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, mixing occasionally.

2. Saute sliced onions and garlic in a pan over medium heat with 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil, until they are soft. Remove from pan and set aside.

3. When wings are done marinating, add enough oil to just barely cover the bottom of your skillet and allow to heat up. Gently lay out enough chicken wings to cover the skillet (I was able to fit about 8-10 each time), and be careful because they will inevitably cause the oil to splatter while they pan-fry. Flip them after a few minutes, and pan-fry the other side, until both sides are nicely golden. Set the batch aside and continue to pan-fry the rest of your wings.

4. When all the wings have been pan-fried, add them all back into the skillet along with the onions and garlic. Pour in any leftover marinade that you might have. Cover pan and allow to cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the juices run clear when you pierce the wing meat.

5. Turn down the heat and drizzle honey on top of the wings, tossing well to coat evenly. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Serve with rice and enjoy!

Honey soy sauce glazed chicken wings

The other recipes we made from that night will be forthcoming in future posts… but as a teaser, they include a soup, a pork belly dish, and a vegetable dish :)


Taro & Tapioca (Sago) in Coconut Milk

Chinese restaurants don’t really do dessert as we know it in Western culture. There’s almost never a “dessert menu”, and it’s not a course that you would save room for either. In fact, dessert is commonly a surprise – your waiter might bring out a dish of fresh fruit, a platter of round yellow almond cookies, a handful of fortune cookies (though these are never seen in China), or if you’re really lucky, a dessert soup like red bean soup or taro sago in coconut milk. The taro sago is my all-time favorite Chinese restaurant dessert! I always get really excited when I am at a decently authentic Chinese place, because the odds of them serving this dessert is pretty good.

If you’ve never heard of taro sago, it is a creamy, refreshing soup-like pudding that has soft chunks of taro and clear little tapioca balls (also called sago) in a background of aromatic coconut milk. Taro lends its naturally mild, creamy flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture to the slippery, slightly chewy give of tapioca in this luscious dessert. The coconut milk is sweetened with rock sugar (a staple of Chinese cooking) and ties everything together with its delicate lightness. When served chilled, taro sago is the perfect way to end a big dinner, without being achingly sweet and rich like many Western desserts.

Well, lucky for all of us, it turns out that taro sago is actually really simple to make. It only requires 4 ingredients, and it’s easy to make a big batch for a crowd (or just to have a lot to enjoy – I love having this stuff for breakfast!) I adapted a recipe that I found on Recipezaar, by changing the ratios of the components to achieve a more soupy taro sago, and it tasted just like the kind in the restaurants, mmm. Enjoy!

Taro with tapioca (sago) in coconut milk



Taro & Tapioca (Sago) in Coconut Milk (serves 8-12)

Recipe adapted from Recipezaar

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag (16 oz.) frozen peeled taro chunks, or 1 lb. fresh taro (find at Asian markets)
  • 3/4 cup dry mini tapioca
  • 2 cans (14 oz. each) of unsweetened coconut milk (not coconut cream or cream of coconut)
  • 1/2 cup rock sugar or granulated sugar
  • Optional: chopped up fresh or canned fruit

Directions:

1. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, and add the frozen taro to boil for 5-7 minutes, until tender (20 minutes if using fresh taro). Drain and mash slightly, leaving many bite-sized chunks as desired.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring water to a boil and add tapioca and boil for 5-6 minutes, then turn off heat and cover pot, allowing it to sit for another 10-15 minutes. The tapioca is ready when it is completely translucent. Strain off excess water and rinse under cold water briefly. Be sure to use a large enough pot, as the tapioca will expand quite a bit after boiling.

3. Over medium to medium-low heat, warm coconut milk with rock sugar, stirring frequently to help dissolve the sugar. Do not let coconut milk come to a boil. When the sugar has completely dissolved, taste the coconut milk for sweetness, and adjust if needed. It should be sweeter than your desired final result.

4. Add the taro and tapioca into the coconut milk and stir well to blend together. Add extra milk/coconut milk and adjust sweetness further if needed to achieve desired consistency and flavor.

5. Chill taro sago in fridge before serving, and optionally add in chopped fruit (such as jackfruit, lychees, kumquats, or mango).

Taro with tapioca (sago) in coconut milk


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