Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Slow Cooker Hakka Cantonese Pork Belly with Red Bean Curd

Last year I published a recipe for Hakka Cantonese style pork ribs done with red bean curd, and cooked in a slow cooker. This is along the same lines but the sauce is far more complex, and is real Hakka comfort food! It is not easy to make. The easiest part is dumping it all in the slow cooker but like with many Hakka dishes, this one requires a lot of preparation (as you will see from the ingredient list). The key is to have everything ready to stir fry, then put in the slow cooker. The end product is very worth it! Spread over a bowl of rice, there’s nothing better! There are many variations of this dish throughout China, and Southeast Asia but this is the version I like best! It embodies the flavors that I remember from my childhood spent at the dinner table in the home of my Hakka childhood friend where there was always a place set for me, whether I came or not.

2 lb pork belly strips. With or without skin is your choice
2 ozs wood ears fungus
2 ozs dried Shitake mushrooms
2 pieces of dried orange or tangerine peel
6 cloves garlic
1 large shallot
1” piece ginger root, peeled
1 small tin chicken broth
 Marinade (which will be discarded after use)
1/2 tablespoon dark soya sauce
1/2 tablespoon light soya sauce
2 teaspoons five spice powder
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons red fermented bean curd liquid (this is what gives the dish the specific “Hakka” flavor
1 egg
4 tablespoons cornstarch
4 large cubes of red bean curd
2 tablespoons red bean curd liquid
2 tablespoons dark soya sauce
2 tablespoons light soya sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1 1/2 oz Chinese rock sugar (you can use brown sugar but I can’t guarantee the results)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 teaspoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon white pepper
1.       Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms and orange peel in a large bowl, and allow to soak and rehydrate. When soft, cut the mushrooms and wood ears into small pieces. Scrape the pith off the rehydrated orange peel, and mince finely. Put this minced peel in a small chopper along with the garlic, ginger and shallots. Chop all finely and set aside.
2.       Cut the pork belly strip into small cubes (I do 1 ½”x 1 ½”)
3.       Boil a pot of water large enough to hold the pork belly pieces, and blanch them for about 2-3 minutes in the boiling water. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pieces from the water. Discard the water.
4.       Season the meat with the marinade ingredients. Stir to ensure that all the pork pieces are coated with the marinade. Put this aside to marinate (the longer you allow to marinate, the more flavorful it will be. I marinated mine in the fridge for 1 hour)
5.       Mix together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
6.       In small batches at a time, deep fry the pieces of marinated pork. Remove from the marinade and put in the hot oil. Fry till dark brown. Drain on a paper towel on a plate. Discard the unused marinade, and the oil.
7.       Heat 2 tablespoons fresh cooking oil in a wok and add the rock sugar. Stir fry in the oil until the “rocks” melt and caramelize. Add the minced shallot, garlic, ginger and orange peel and fry until the fragrance is released. Add the mushrooms and wood ears to this and stir fry for another minute or two. Mix in the drained, deep fried pork, and the sauce mix. Stir fry quickly then transfer all from the wok to a 3 quart slow cooker. Pour the chicken broth over this and cook on high for 2 hours, and low for another hour.
8.       Remove pork and mushrooms with a slotted spoon, and transfer the liquid to a small pot. Bring to a boil to reduce until the sauce is thickened. Pour over pork mixture. Serve with rice.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Sweet Potato Orange Quick Bread

Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I decided to try and come up with a bread that used two of my favorite flavors, and which compliment each other perfectly. Nothing says Thanksgiving more than sweet potatoes and oranges. This is a combination that is usually baked with brown sugar, cinnamon, and topped with marshmallows. I didn't want to repeat that so decided to come up with a quick bread (or tea cake as this type of bread is sometimes called). I used American sweet potatoes for this but will do another quite soon using the sweet potato with which I grew up eating in the Caribbean, called Boniato. For the orange flavor, I drew inspiration from a cake that is commonly made in the Middle East, and Spain where the whole orange is cooked prior to using in the recipe. I did not want to use orange juice as I have never found the flavor of that in cooking to be very strong or even noticeable.  The resulting bread was a delicious bread with the orange as a background note. Because I boiled the orange before, there was no bitterness associated with the taste. The selection of spices I elected to use also complimented the flavors by adding a "gingery citrusy" flavor to the bread! The recipe is a bit tedious because if the preparation but once all the pieces are assembled, it's mixed up quite quickly. The bread is a bit sweeter than many of my other breads but sometimes we all need a holiday from "sugar" watching!


1 cup bread flour
½ cup oatmeal
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cardamom
Juice of one lemon or lime
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
¼ cup Greek yogurt (not fat free)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1small orange, boiled, enough to yield ½ cup of puree (see directions. I used a medium Navel orange and it was more than enough)
¼ cup water
½ cup dried, chopped cranberries
2 tablespoons honey OR Golden Syrup OR Maple Syrup
1 tablespoon molasses
11/4 cups peeled, grated sweet potato, tightly packed 


1.      Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and set aside. I also line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper
2.      Wash the whole orange carefully. Trim about 1⁄2" from the tops and bottoms of oranges. Cover with water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Drain. Repeat boiling process twice more with fresh water. Again, cover the orange with cold water.  Bring the water to a rolling boil, lower the heat, and simmer with the cover on for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Don’t try to rush this part as the prolonged boiling minimizes the bitterness of the skin and pith. Tip: I used a pressure cooker to do this in 30 minutes. Remove from heat but don’t flash cool, let it cool naturally until the pressure has dropped, and it is safe to open. Allow the orange to cool. The orange is “cooked” when the rind gives easily when pierced with a fork. This step can be done the day before and the puree kept in the fridge until ready to use.
3.      Mix together the flours, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and dry spices. Set aside.
4.      Boil the water and pour over the chopped cranberries. Allow these to soak.
5.      While the orange is cooking, grate the sweet potato. Squeeze the juice of one lemon or lime over it and set aside. Add the honey, molasses, vanilla, and chopped, soaked fruit to this mixture.
6.      Cut the cooked orange into chunks (including peel, pith and pulp but remove seeds if any. I had no seeds to remove since I used a Navel orange). Puree the chunks in a food processor to a paste and add to the grated sweet potato mixture.  
7.      Beat the eggs, brown sugar, yogurt and oil until pale in color, and slightly thickened. Add the orange sweet potato mixture to this and mix until just incorporated.
8.      Add the dry ingredients at one time and mix at low speed on your mixer until just incorporated (no more than 10-15 seconds). Do not over mix even if the batter appears lumpy. The batter will be very thick, and dense as it is a bread, not a cake!  Immediately pour into your prepared 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
9.      Bake at 350°F for about 1 ¼ - 1 1/2 hours or until a bamboo skewer or cake tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. You may have to decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit for the last 15 or so minutes if the bread starts to burn at the edges. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before removing from the pan.