Amuse Bouche This: Pork Wonton Soup Meets Japanese Braised Pork Belly and Kale

[I can't believe I still haven't blogged about this!... This post was sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year.  How did i miss this?! ]

My ultimate comfort food is pork wonton soup that my Mom used to make when I was growing up.  I could almost guarantee there would a big bowl of filling with two packets of wonton wrappers waiting for me to help her wrap wontons during the first day of winter.  We’d make a large batch to consume later that night, but she would also freeze baggies of wontons for Monday night dinners weeks ahead.

It’s raining and cold outside today.  I was craving something warm and soothing, but I realized that we had recently finished the wontons my Mom gave us.  What was my solution?  It was easy… make some more!

This is my kicked up version of the traditional pork wonton soup with slices of char shiu pork and bok choy…

Amuse Bouche This: Pork Wonton Soup Meets Japanese Braised Pork Belly and Kale

For the filling:

1 pound of ground pork
3 stalks of green onion, chopped
1 1/4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white pepper
1 packet of wonton wrappers

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.

Fill a small bowl with water and keep it next to you. Place one heaping teaspoonful of the filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. [Be sure not to put too much of the filling, otherwise it'll leak out during the folding process.] Moisten all the edges of the wonton wrapper with water using your finger. Fold one edge of the wrapper over the filling like a triangle. Press the edges firmly together to make a seal, which will help eliminate any air pockets. Bring the left and right corners together above the filling. Overlap the tips of these corners, moisten with water and press together. Continue until all the wrappers are used.

Note: Wontons can be made a month ahead. Freeze in a layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Carefully lift the wontons and place them in a sealable plastic bag and keep frozen.

For the soup:

1 quart of chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1/2 bunch of kale, strip out the center core or stalk, tear kale into small pieces

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. Add the kale and drop in the amount of wontons you want, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes minutes.

Garnish serving spoon or miniature serving bowls with a little broth, kale, a wonton, and braised pork belly.

For the braised pork (adapted from No Recipes):

6 cloves of garlic crushed with a heavy object
1 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons sake
2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds pork belly cut into 2″ strips

In a small dutch oven or heavy bottom pan with a tight-fitting lid, combine all the ingredients in the pot, and cover. Cook over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat falls apart and the fat is silky smooth.

Remove from heat and allow the pork to rest in the broth overnight by putting it in the refrigerator after it cools. This will accomplish two things: 1) it gives the pork belly a chance to absorb more flavor and 2) it will be easier to skim off the rendered fat.

[Gently reheat the left over with some braising liquid and serve over white rice. You won't regret it.]

Lechon Asado (Cuban Roast Pork)

I wish there was such a thing as “smell-a-vision” because I would love for you to smell the lechon asado roasting in the oven.  The smell of citrus, garlic, onion, and pork is permeating through the house.  It’s intoxicating.

We just got back from a week vacation to NYC visiting my brother and sister-in-law.  A restaurant that we were excited to cross off our NYC foodie bucket list was Cafe Habana in the Nolita (North of Little Italy) District.  The restaurant was featured specifically for their grilled corn (read the restaurant review) on Food Networks’ “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”  We went there for dinner and it ended up being one of the best meals we ate in NYC, and trust me, we ate a lot of great meals.  I had the cuban sandwich was to die for.

The sandwich inspired me to recreate this dish at home.  So I starting marinating the pork butt yesterday afternoon, and it is now slowly roasting in our oven.

Lechon Asado (from 3 Guys from Miami)

3 pounds pork butt/shoulder
20 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups sour orange juice (or use two parts orange juice to one part lemon juice to one part lime juice)
1 cup onion, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup Spanish olive oil

Mash the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle.

Add dried oregano, onion, and the sour orange juice to the mash and mix thoroughly.

Pierce pork as many times as you can with a sharp knife or fork.

Heat oil in a small sauce pan, add the mash to the oil and whisk.

Pour garlic mixture (save a little for roasting) over pork, cover and let sit in refrigerator for 2-3 hours or preferably overnight.

To roast in the oven, preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the pork, fattest side up, in an open roasting pan. Place pan in oven and reduce temperature to 225 degrees F. Spoon extra marinade over the roast occasionally as it cooks. Using a meat thermometer, roast should be removed from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees F. — for fork tender, “pulled-pork” quality. (If you want a roast you can slice, remove when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F.)

Immediately cover with foil and let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing or shredding.

Serve with rice, Cuban black beans, and sweet plantains… or better yet, make a Cuban sandwich!

What’s your favorite way of enjoying lechon asado?

Roasted Asparagus Bundles Wrapped with Prosciutto

Do you ever stress out about what you’ll bring to a potluck-style dinner?  I know I shouldn’t, but I am one big stress ball.  I never know what to bring.  I know I want to bring something that I hope everyone will like.  But also because I want to wow them with flavors when the food hits their taste buds.  My partner thinks I’m silly for stressing out.  She always suggests that I bring something that I’ve made before at home that tasted good.  And I know I should do that also, but I’m too stubborn to listen.  So instead, I’ll spend hours upon hours looking for the right recipe.  And when I do happen to find the right recipe, I stress over whether or not the final product will be good enough for the potluck.  I always imagine the worst case scenario.  What if I goof up during the cooking process?  What if I didn’t get enough of this or that?  What if it comes out dry or ugly or both?  What if it’s too salty?  So I’ll remind myself to do a test run before the actual day.  But do I ever?  Nope.  I wait to the last minute and run out of time to do a test run so I get even more anxious.  Yes.  I know.  I’m crazy.

After perusing numerous recipes, I decided upon stuffed bell peppers.  Well, I didn’t actually end up making the stuffed bell peppers.  I talked myself out of it.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was in no mood to make a trek out to the grocery store.  I wanted to be lazy.  Besides, I was already feeling very accomplished after my three hour adventure in the kitchen baking mini german chocolate cakes.  So what did I end up doing?  My classic, go-to easy side dish… roasted asparagus bundles wrapped with prosciutto.  I still had to make a trip to the grocery store, but I was only in the kitchen for 20 minutes.  The irony… it was stress-free :)  I guess I should listen to my partner more often.

Roasted Asparagus Bundles Wrapped with Prosciutto

1 to 1.5 pound of asparagus (about 24 stalks), trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices of prosciutto

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Snap the dry, woody stems off each asparagus. Wrap a slice of prosciutto for every three asparagus stalks. I find it easiest to wrap the asparagus when the prosciutto is cold (i.e., removing the prosciutto from the refrigerator right as you are going to assemble the asparagus bundles). Place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt (just a little bit since the prosciutto is salty) and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until the asparagus is tender, about 10-15 minutes. The latter really depends on your own oven. Let it cool until it reaches room temperature, and serve with lemon wedges.

A couple of different spins on this recipe: 1) you could wrap the asparagus bundles with prosciutto after the asparagus has roasted; 2) shaved parmesan or grated parmesan onto the wrapped asparagus.

Serves: 8

Healthy Mini (Almost) Egg White Breakfast Frittata

I wanted to surprise my partner with a Valenine’s Day breakfast before she went to work.  Why not a romantic candle-lit dinner?  Well, she was planning to help my parents out at their restaurant for dinner service since it can be one of the busiest nights of the year.  And even though breakfasts are not the most romantic meals of the day, I thought it would be something special to wake up to.  So I perused through the various recipes that I had bookmarked and was specifically looking for something healthy.  Something tasty, filling, but low in calories.  I was super excited when I came across this frittata recipe!

If you’re wondering what a frittata is, it’s an Italian version of the French omelette.  Omelettes traditionally have the egg mixture cooked and folded around a filling, while a frittata just mixes it all up, cooked in a mishmash combination all at once.  It may be baked, or it may be started in a frying pan. When started on a stove top the frittata can be finished in an oven, under a broiler, or it may be flipped and finished in the pan.

So I went to the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. after I finished work on Sunday evening with my list in one hand, and the basket in the other.  Shopping was like a race to the proverbial finish line.  I wanted to make sure my partner wasn’t suspicious of why I was getting home so late.  The real dilemma was trying to get the groceries into the house!  I set the groceries on the counter of the laundry room right as I walked through the house, hoping she didn’t hear the rustling of the shopping bags.  Luckily, she didn’t.  As my partner was getting ready for bed, I slipped to the kitchen to put the groceries away.

I waited, and waited, and waited until my partner finally fell asleep so that I could sneak away to the kitchen to prep the ingredients.  I wanted to ensure the perfect timing of the dish as she finished getting ready for work, but also a little sit down time to eat together.  As I was about to sneak away, my partner sort of woke up from her slumber and asked if I was okay.  I said that everything was okay, and wondered if I was ever going to make it to the kitchen.  She fell asleep, and waited for another five minutes before I thought it was safe.  I was able to sneak out, but our little dog who sleeps with us got out of bed to check on me.  This really made me nervous because he isn’t always quiet, and I just knew he was going to wake her up.  I’m so happy she can be a deep sleeper because she didn’t stir from him at all!  So I started chopping and prepping away.

Well, needless to say, everything went perfectly on Valentine’s Day.  Her alarm sounded off at 6:09 a.m. and as I realized she woke up a little later than I had hoped, I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to preheat the oven.  The latter is what I was afraid was going to foil my entire plan.  I don’t even know if the oven preheated to the desired temperature, but I popped the muffin into the oven and waited very (in)patiently.  As nervous as I was, the frittatas cooked perfectly and in the right about of time!  Yay!

Mini Egg White Breakfast Frittata

5 egg whites
1 egg with yolk
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup baby spinach
1/3 cup bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheese
2 slices canadian bacon, diced
Olive oil spray such as Pam
Muffin tin

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat egg whites with whole egg.  Fold in baby spinach, cheese, bell pepper, and canadian bacon.  Mix ingredients together.  Add a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper if you’d like.  I omitted the salt since the canadian bacon adds a bit of saltiness to the dish already.

Lightly spray the muffin tin.  Use a measuring cup to pour the egg mixture into the muffin tin, filling each over a little more than half full.  Place muffin tin into pre-heated oven, and bake for 30 minutes.

Makes 3 servings of 2 frittatas each.

Calories per serving: 55 calories

Posole Rojo

I was recently turned to shredded chicken red posole at a Christmas pot-luck while at work.  It was definitely authentic, as it was prepared by one of our coworkers who always brings the most delicious homemade Mexican dishes to our work potlucks.  I loved all the condiments that went along with the already flavorful soup itself.  I just about died and went to foodie bliss when I had my first bite of the posole.  It was the perfect blend of acidity from the limes and spicy from the chiles, plus other complex flavors of the stewed pork, cilantro, and hominy.  I only had one word to describe how it tasted… yum.

I was craving posole after my initial tasting.  In fact, I would go to bed dreaming of his red posole and wake up salivating for it.  So I sought out for the most “authentic” recipe that I could find.  I suppose I could have asked my coworker for the recipe, but some people can be very secretive about family recipes.  I digress.  I perused through a number of posole recipes, and came across one that seemed to be authentic.  We made this a few days before the New Year, and then realized that this is something enjoyed as a New Year’s celebration, which explained why there were only a few cans of hominy left at the grocery store.  This recipe yielded a very flavorful posole, one that we will certainly make again in the near future.  This is a wonderful prescription for a cold, wintery day.

Posole Rojo (from Rick Bayless’ Mexico One Plate At A Time)

3 1/2 pounds pork shanks, cut into 1 1/2-inch thick pieces (ask the butcher to cut this for you)
1 1/2 pounds (2 medium) pork trotters (aka, fresh pig’s feet), cut lengthwise in half (ask the butcher to cut this for you)
1 1/2 pounds bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces (again, ask the butcher)
8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 white onions, finely chopped
8 medium (4 ounces total) dried ancho chiles (or dried New Mexico chiles), stemmed and seeded
Salt
2 cans of white hominy

Toppings

Lime wedges
6 cups thinly sliced cabbage
15 radishes, thinly sliced or diced
Cilantro, chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons coarsely ground dried hot red chile

Place all the meats in a large pot, cover with 4 quarts of water, add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil.  Skim off the grayish foam that rises during the next few minutes, then add half the chopped onions.  Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat until all the meat is thoroughly tender, about two hours.  Cool the meat in the broth for the best flavor and texture, then remove it.

Skim the fat from the broth; you’ll have two generous quarts of broth.  Pull the meat from the pork shanks and pull the shoulder meat into large shreds.  Cut the bones and knuckles out of the trotters.  Discard the bones and knuckles, then chop what remains into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add the shredded meat (there will be about 6 cups of meat in all).  Cover and refrigerate if not serving within an hour.

While the meat is cooking, rehydrate the ancho chiles in enough hot water to cover (lay a small plate on top to keep them submerged) for about 20 minutes.  Puree the chiles, liquid and all, in batches if necessary, in a blender or food processor.  Press the chile mixture through a medium-mesh strainer (this removes tough chile skins) directly into the simmering liquid.  Add the pork broth and 1 tablespoon salt, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

Add the meat and the hominy to the simmering posole, and allow to simmer for an additional 30 minutes.  The consistency of the stew/soup should look hearty – full of hominy with bits of meat – but brothy enough to be thought of as a soup or brothy stew.  If necessary, add water.  Taste the posole and season with additional salt if you think it is necessary; since hominy soaks up a surprising amount of salt, you may need as much as another tablespoon.

When you are ready to serve, set out bowls of the condiments for your guests to add to their steaming, fragrant bowlfuls or posole with the lime wedges, sliced cabbage, cilantro, sliced or diced radishes, oregano, and optional ground chile and onions.

Banh Mi Thit Nuong (Vietnamese sandwich with grilled lemongrass pork)

Ever since Food Network aired “The Great Food Truck Race” with Tyler Florence, we’ve been inspired to start up our own food truck business.  Unfortunately, Fresno doesn’t have much of a market for food trucks just yet.  And we also don’t have the money to purchase a pimped out food truck.  So the dream will have to wait.  However, we were fixated with the banh mis that the Nom Nom truck made, and had absolutely no idea where to get them in Fresno.  Luckily, as foodie fate would have it, a Vietnamese restaurant opened up close by not too long after the show was nearing the finale.

We were torn between beef pho and banh mi sandwich… so we ordered both and decided to share!  It was the perfect compromise.  We salivated in anticipation of our food.  It felt like 30 minutes had passed before our food came out, but in actuality, it was only about five minutes.  Oh, but it felt like forever.  We were in nom nom heaven when we had our first bite of the lemongrass chicken banh mi.  Ironically, I grew up hating banh mis.  I tried it a few times while growing up and I think it was the taste of cilantro and carrots that grossed me out.  Well, our taste buds certainly change as we mature.  I love cilantro now, but can only tolerate carrots in certain forms – stewed or pickled, just not raw.  I digress.

We were in the mood for some banh mi so it gave me the perfect reason to fire up the grill in the middle of December!  The weather has been mild around here.  Apparently, it’s La Nina season and she’s here to stay for a while.  I was out grilling in my scrub pants and t-shirt, which is really unusual for December weather in Fresno.  But it was perfect grilling weather.  Sunny, but not hot.  Cool, but not freezing.  Again, I digress.  There is just something dreamy about the smell of grilled meat, especially grilled lemongrass pork.  Yum.  We dressed up our french bread with a thin spread of mayo, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, sliced jalapenos, and of course, the creme de la creme, the grilled pork.  We ate, we nommed, we conquered.

Banh Mi Thit Nuong (from Ravenous Couple)

1.5 pounds pork butt or shoulder, thinly sliced just under 1/4 inch or so
1/4 cup minced Lemongrass (xa bam)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoons ground pepper
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 shallots, minced
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoons thick soy sauce
2 loaf of french bread or 6 demi baguettes
1 cucumber, sliced thin
1/2 bunch cilantro
Jalapeno, thinly sliced (optional)
Pickled carrots/daikon
Mayonnaise
Pate (optional)

For the marinade, combine the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, pepper, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil in a large mixing bowl.  Add the pork, mix well, and marinate for at least a few hours or over night (the longer the better!).

Grill the lemongrass pork until golden brown and slightly charred on each side.

Spread a thin layer of mayo and pate on the baguette, and add the pork and condiments.  And nom away!

Maple Bacon Caramel

Being a first-generation Chinese-American, we never grew up celebrating the western Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Our one big holiday of the year was, I’m sure you guessed, Chinese New Year (aka, Lunar New Year).  I can remember only one time in my 31 years where we had a Christmas tree with lots of presents, and that was when my brother and I were 1 and 3 years old, respectively.  From then on, not celebrating Holidays became the norm.  And that was okay for us.  Sure, there was a little bit of envy when my school friends would go on and on about the many gifts that awaited them under their big Christmas tree.  But it only made me look forward to Chinese New Year even more for the endless amounts of dumpling and red envelopes filled with money.  So take that!  However, the one thing that I did look forward to during Christmas was the 24 hour rerun of “A Christmas Story” on Christmas day.

Four years ago, my partner wanted to make mini banana bread loaves to pass out to her friends and coworkers for the Holidays.  She asked if I wanted to some to pass out, but I was shook my head and declined.  In fact, I didn’t understand why she would even go through all that much work.  I think I even suggested getting Holiday bags and stuffing it with Hershey’s kisses to save her some time, money, and energy.  But she only snickered at my recommendation.

The following year, before Christmas, I caught an episode on the Food Network of Ina Garten making her “fleur de sel caramels.”  I couldn’t find a good excuse to make them as a just-because-kind-of-treat, so when time came for my partner to make her Holiday treats, I found the perfect opportunity to make them!  She made chocolate-dipped biscotti, and I made salted caramels for the gift bags.  At that point, I wanted to make the salted caramels not for the gift bags, but because I merely just wanted to try them.  The salted caramels were well received that year, and so, it has become our Holiday gift bag traditions.  So why did I change my mind?  I’ve taken lots of pride in my salted caramels.  In fact, we get requests for them throughout the year, and we would make them if it didn’t take so much time to make and wrap each individual caramel.

Well, this year, I wanted to do something a little different.  Something outside-of-the-box that people won’t expect to find.  I wanted to play up on our savory & sweet treats.  While I was perusing the TasteSpotting website a few months ago, I found a recipe for bacon caramels.  I heart anything that involves pig parts, so I made sure to bookmark this website.

My Sunday was spent as if I were working in a hand-made candy factory.  I felt like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, standing over the boiling mixture of sugar, cream, and butter to ensure it doesn’t pass the firm-ball stage.  My partner helped wrap some of the candy, and referred to herself as my “oompa loompa.”  I digress.  I spent about 10 hours making and wrapping two types of caramels for our holiday treats gift bags for friends, family, and coworkers.  They turned out perfectly, and I am super excited to pass them out!

These caramels remind me of a few different things… the maple bacon bar from VooDoo Donuts in Portland, OR, and bacon dipped in maple syrup and eaten with a bite of pancake.  I love bacon.

Maple Bacon Caramels (adapted from Not Without Salt)

12 strips of bacon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream, divided
1/4 cup maple syrup

Bacon fried to a crisp. The amount is up to you. I used 8 strips of thick-cut bacon.  However, next time, I would definitely like to use more as there were some caramels that had little to no bacon at all.  Besides is there ever a time when there’s too much bacon?!

Reserve 1/2 cup of the heavy cream. Combine all the other ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Stir to combine. Set on medium high heat. Stir occasionally and cook until 240. The candy is now at soft-ball stage. Remove from the stove and carefully stir in the remaining 1/2 cup cream. Place back on the heat and continue to cook to 248* (firm-ball stage, which is the desired state for making caramels). Immediately remove from heat and stir in a portion of the crispy bacon. Pour the caramel into a buttered or oiled pan… I used a 9×13 jelly roll pan.  Scatter the remaining bacon on top.  Place the pan into the refrigerator to set for about 60 minutes.  Remove from refrigerator and cut into pieces, and enjoy!

Cooking tip: buy a candy thermometer!  I’m sure most of you will know to do this.  I didn’t when I first starting making caramels a few years ago.  I was using this little dinky thermometer to only went up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so I had to wait for it to go all the way around to reach 48 degrees Fahrenheit to equal 248 degrees F.  I finally invested in a candy thermometer (hence, the picture) this year and it has made ALL the difference!  I think this year’s caramels are my best yet :)

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