Chinese Egg Tarts

>>  Thursday, December 31, 2009

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As part of Foodbuzz's Tastmaker's program, I recently received a package of Pepperidge Farm's frozen puff pastry. I have been meaning to try to make Chinese egg tarts (Dan Ta) for some time now, but was hesitant about all the messy steps involved with rolling out the shortening (or lard or butter) with flour. This seemed like a perfect experiment - can I use commercial puff pastry to make Chinese egg tarts?

The first thing to do is you have to defrost the frozen pastry. Let it sit out, preferably covered with a plastic wrap, for 30-40 minutes at room temperature.
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Next, preheat the oven to 400 degrees as you prepare the custard and the shells.

The Custard
Ingredients
1 cup milk (heated)
2/3 cup sugar
4 eggs (lightly beaten)
optional: yellow food coloring

Lightly beat the 4 eggs until yolks and whites are mixed, trying not to incorporate air into the egg mixture.  Set aside. Heat milk and sugar over medium heat in a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved.  Remove the saucepan from heat.

Add the egg mixture in a slow stream to the heated milk while stirring.  Continue to stir gently as the egg mixture is being added to ensure proper mixing and to prevent clumps of solid egg bits from forming. Once added, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and let it cool as you prepare the shells.

Note: you can optionally add yellow food coloring if you want the egg tarts to look like the ones you get at dim sum places.  I added a few drops, but this is totally optional.  Without the food coloring the egg part is a pale yellow color.

The Shell
Cut out circles with a 3-inch diameter cookie cutter (or just manually cut with a knife, tracing around a bowl).
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Press the pastry circle into a normal sized muffin tin, stretching it a bit so that it forms a small cup.
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Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or so.
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Cut a small hole in the middle of the pastry (for the filling!)
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Fill with the egg custard mixture.
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Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the middle seems set. That's it!

Serve!
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These are pretty tasty. The crust does not taste exactly like a traditional lard-made Chinese crust, although it is flaky and buttery in a similar way.  This crust is a bit puffier (to be expected) and the crust-to-egg ratio is a bit heavy on the crust.  I was sort of wishing for more egg mixture - maybe I should try to make them taller?

Over all, the puff pastry shell works OK and is a decent substitute. Definitely a workable way to make these if you are in a hurry.  It might be interesting to try this same egg custard mixture in different sorts of pre-made pastry shells to see which works best. :)

Enjoy!

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Hello Kitty Rice Crispy Treats

>>  Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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After successfully tackling Totoro Rice Crispy treats, I decided to make these cute Hello Kitty treats for my little cousins this Christmas.  Here's the detailed tutorial on how to make them.  Thanks to my mother-in-law for snapping some pictures of me while I was making these!
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Ingredients
Rice Crispy Treat:
6 cups Toasted Rice Cereal (e.g. Rice Krispies Cereal)
4 T butter
1 package 10.5 oz mini marshmallows
Decorations:
M&M's (ideally red & pink ones)
mini-dark chocolate chips
Note: Hello Kitty's nose is actually yellow.  If you have access to mini yellow candies of some sort, you can try those.  The normal yellow M&Ms were too big, and this supermarket had no yellow alternative, so I stuck with the mini chocolate chips.
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Make rice crispy treats according to the instructions on the package.  In this case, I melted 4 T butter with one 10.5 oz package of mini marshmallows.  Once melted, add 6 cups of rice crispies cereal and stir until combined.
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Once it's combined, work quickly!!!  Wet your hands slightly and start shaping the rice crispy mixture into oblong spheres with ears.  If you work too slowly, the mixture will cool down and harden, thus become difficult to mold.
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Instead of shaping the ears, you can also make the egg-like balls first and then attach little ears after the fact.
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I also made some Totoros, which are essentially cones with 2 ears on top.
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A finished Totoro pre-chocolate dunking.
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Once you have shaped the Hello Kitties, add the mini-chocolate chips by ramming them point-first into the "face."  Likewise, press two M&M's into one side of her head below her ear.  I actually think I put the bow on the wrong side, but it doesn't really matter!
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Again, this step is easier to do when the mixture is still sort of warm.
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For the Totoros, you can optionally dunk them in chocolate (see this post for details).  Unlike last time, I did not mix the melted chocolate with oil at all.  Instead, I just melted the chocolate chips in the microwave (45 seconds - stir - then another 45 seconds), and dunked the Totoros directly.  The thick chocolate is a bit harder to handle but the chocolate ends up hardening much more solidly, which I prefer.
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If you don't want to form ears, you can use large chocolate chips instead.  I dabbed each white chocolate chip into a bit of melted chocolate and attached the ears onto the rice crispy "face".
Hello Kitty Rice Crispy Treats
And that's it! It's pretty simple, theoretically. It takes awhile to get used to handling the sticky rice crispy mixture and also the thick chocolate. Once you get the hang of that, though, you can spit these out pretty quickly.
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Enjoy! Yum yum . . .
Eating Hello Kitty
Rice Crispies, Rice Krispies, Rice Crispy, Rice Krispy

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Merry Christmas!

>>  Friday, December 25, 2009

Hello Kitty Rice Crispy Treats
Merry Christmas everyone!

I spent a part of my holiday making these cute treats for my little "cousins" (they are ages 2-9 but technically are part of our generation - you know how big families were a generation back).  My "aunt" (who is close to my age) had seen my post on Totoro Rice Crispy Treats and had asked whether I could make them for the family Christmas dinner.

Of course, I happily obliged and also made trays and trays of Hello Kitty.
Eating Hello Kitty
Yum yum . . .

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! :)

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Mala (Spicy and Numbing) Broth for Sichuanese Hot Pot

>>  Thursday, December 24, 2009

This post is the fourth part of a mini-series anchored around the following post: A Culinary Tour of Hot Pots Throughout Asia.  The other parts of the series can be found here: Part II (Preparing Filet Mignon for Hot Pots) and Part III (Seryna - Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu).

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Sichuan, China: This was the the first stop of our Culinary Tour of Hot Pots Throughout Asia

What sets the Sichuan hot pot apart from typical Chinese hot pots is its classic spicy broth, called mala.

The term "mala" in Chinese literally means Numbingly Spicy.  This wonderfully flavorful, numbingly spicy broth gets its characteristic flavors from Sichuan chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The chilies give the soup a fiery burn, while the peppercorns have an unusual numbing effect on the tongue.

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I recently tried a home-version of the mala broth based on a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop from her highly regarded book, Land of Plenty.  Fuchsia Dunlop was the first foreigner to study Sichuanese cooking at the acclaimed Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China.

Warning!  This broth is really spicy and not for the faint of heart (or stomach!).  People with sensitive stomachs probably should not try this.  Also, turn on the vent and open the windows when you prepare this broth. The chilies will smoke a bit when you fry them, and can cause some spicy coughing fits.  I would not recommend preparing this recipe if you have any sort of lung condition.  

Adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

Ingredients
·  1/4 cup fermented black beans
·  1/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
·  1 chunk fresh ginger, about 3 inches long
·  1/4 cup dried Sichuanese chilies, or regular red chilies
·  1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
·  2/3 cup beef drippings or lard
·  1/2 cup Sichuanese chile bean paste (la doban jiang)
·  3 quarts good beef stock
·  1 tablespoon rock sugar
·  1/2 cup Sichuanese fermented glutinous rice wine (optional)
·  Salt to taste
·  1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns

Mash the black beans with 1 tablespoon of the Shaoxing wine in a food processor until you have a smooth paste. Wash the ginger and cut it into slices about the thickness of a coin.

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Snip the chilies into one-inch segments and try to remove as many seeds as possible.
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Heat 3 T of vegetable oil over medium heat until hot (but not smoking). [Make sure the fan is on and the windows are open!] Cook the chilies in the hot oil until crisp and fragrant, taking care not to burn them (the oil should sizzle around the chilies).  Make sure they don't start turning black! 
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Once crispy and fragrant, remove the chilies with a wooden spoon.  At this point, the recipe says to add the 2/3 cup beef drippings/lard to the oil until melted.  In an effort to make this more healthy, I omitted this step and just used vegetable oil.

Once everything is melted, add the hot chili bean paste (la doban jiang) and stir-fry for a minute or so until the oil is richly red and fragrant. This should sizzle gently - take care not to burn it.  You can turn down the heat periodically if you think you are in danger of burning it.  When the oil has reddened, add the mashed black beans and the ginger and continue to stir-fry until they are fragrant. Then pour in about 1 1/2 quarts of the stock and bring it to a boil.
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When the liquid has come to a boil, add the rock sugar (or granulated sugar if you don't have rock sugar) and the rest of the Shaoxing rice wine, with the fermented rice wine if you have it, and salt to taste. (Note, I did not have fermented rice wine, so I did not add any of this).

Finally, add the prepared chilies (the ones you had fried up earlier) and Sichuan peppercorns according to taste and leave the broth to simmer 15-20 minutes, until it is wonderfully spicy.
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I won't lie to you - this broth is REALLY SPICY!  If you aren't used to spicy foods, just be careful!  Don't eat too much!  My digestive system did not react most favorably to this - maybe it was just too spicy for me.  Bryan was fine, but then he usually eats much spicier than I do!  It is very fragrant, and has a lovely blend of different flavors.  I'm sure it would have tasted even better with the lard!

Serve this in conjunction with a non-spicy broth, as your guests will most likely need to take breaks from the spice!

Enjoy!

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Seryna - Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu

>>  Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Update:  This post was originally published on April 23, 2009 soon after I returned from Japan. I have since updated it with more pictures and more text in conjunction with A Culinary Tour of Asian Hot Pots as Part III of this mini-series.  The other part of this series can be found here: Part I: A Culinary Tour of Asian Hot Pots, and Part II: Preparing Filet Mignon For Hot Pot.

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Seryna - beef1
Seryna is known to have one of the best Kobe beef shabu shabu in Japan.

I typically don't even eat much meat when I eat hot pot / shabu shabu because I just don't enjoy meat that much.  I find it sort of tough, dry, lacking in flavor.  I tend to focus on the vegetables because they have so much inherent flavor.  Honestly, on a typical hot pot night, I'll have at most one or two pieces of meat the entire night.

I realize now that I avoided the meat not because I did not like meat, but because I had never had really good meat.  REALLY good meat.  Meat that's decadent, buttery soft, and utterly deliciously full of flavor. Meat that has absolutely no hint of toughness when you chew it.  Meat that almost melts in your mouth.

Hello Kobe beef.  Shabu-shabu meat at its finest.  Really, it does not get better than this. 
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The meat was SUPER soft - it almost seemed to melt in your mouth. The flavor of the fat was rich, but it didn't feel at all fatty in a bad way. As I've mentioned before in a previous post, Kobe beef has a higher percentage of monounsaturated fat (good fat). I wonder if that's why it doesn't taste greasy, but instead just rich, buttery, and absolute heavenly.

For $150 you get 150g of meat and a small portion of vegetables on the side. I have to say, after being used to US portion sizes, I was a bit disappointed with the vegetable sides. Literally, it was like 1 mushroom, 1 tofu piece, 2 leaves of lettuce, etc. Clearly, the focus was on the meat.

But man, it's really good. Although very expensive, I think it's worth trying once, because it's so different from any other type of meat.
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At Seryna, they give you three types of sauces. A sesame paste, a ponzu sauce, and a spicy one. I liked all three. The spicy one was the most flavorful, but the ponzu sauce was crisp and light, and served as a nice light interlude between bites of meat with the heavier sauces.

The Japanese are meticulous about cleanliness.  Every diner receives a bib/apron of sorts to protect your clothing from any potential splashes or spills.
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The waiter also periodically comes by and scoops out any stray bits that are floating in the broth. It's very important that the broth remains pure and clean.
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At the end of the meal (which doesn't take that long since there's actually not THAT much food), you get a small bowl full of noodles. The waiter fills it with the delicious clear, kombu-based broth from your hot pot. The soup is clear, light, and cleansing after a rich meal.  A perfect finish to a perfect meal.

I highly recommend coming to Seryna and ordering the Kobe beef shabu. Compared to the meat you typically eat at a shabu shabu restaurant, it's like nothing you've ever had before. This and Kyubei were probably the two best meals I had in Japan.

On a side note, thinly sliced filet mignon is actually really good in shabu shabu as well, and much cheaper! Maybe in a future post I'll talk about Click here to find out how I purchase filet mignon meat from Costco, partially freeze it, and then thinly slice it myself for shabu shabu (hot pot) meals we have at home!

Enjoy!

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Preparing Filet Mignon for Hot Pots

>>  Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This post is the second part of a mini-series anchored around the following post: A Culinary Tour of Hot Pots Throughout Asia.
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Filet Mignon for Hot Pot? 

Are you serious?

Yes I'm serious, and let me tell you.  It's totally worth the extra cost.  It is soooo delicious.  It's got the most buttery and soft texture.  You'll never go back to supermarket pre-sliced hot pot beef.

If people are willing to dip Kobe Beef into hot pot, then filet migon really shouldn't be a stretch, should it?

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I had recently discovered the amazing taste of filet mignon in Chinese hot pots.  My brother-in-law first introduced this awesome idea to us, and we have been hooked ever since. The first time I served it to dinner guests, it was the most popular item of the night! They couldn't stop eating it!

Unfortunately for us, most Asian restaurants do not sell filet mignon pre-sliced into those thin slices that are ideal for hot pot. So, I had to take matters into my own hands.
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It's virtually impossible to slice meat thinly when it's at room temperature.  So, the first step is - freeze the meat.  It's probably best to separate the meat out into manageable chunks before freezing.  I accidentally forgot to do this, and I struggled a bit in the beginning to chop up that huge hunk of frozen meat (see above) into manageable sized pieces (ideally about 3 inches by 4 inches or so - sliceable chunks).
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Once you have manageable pieces of frozen meat, take each chunk and, using a cleaver, slice away (see picture above).  The result won't be as thin as what you'd get from a meat slicer, but it won't be bad, and it will still be better than what you could have done with refrigerated meat.
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Finally, let it finish defrosting, and serve! There is probably a window of about 30-45 minutes in which you can work once you start defrosting the meat. If the meat gets too soft, it becomes hard to slice thinly. If it's too frozen, well, it's hard to slice at all.  Use your judgment.  Work relatively quickly, but don't fret too much - you do have some time and you should be able to finish with no problem.  I was able to slice almost 3 lbs of Filet Mignon without having it get too soft.
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Most important tip!
Don't cook this meat for too long in the hot pot!  Don't EVER let it drop into the bottom of the pot and get lost (and then overcooked!)  That would just be TOO SAD! Instead, hold onto your meat (either with chopsticks or with a wire mesh spoon), stick it in the boiling broth, and swish it around for about 5-10 seconds.  Our waiter from Seryna in Tokyo taught us to swish the meat while chanting three times: "Shabu Shabu - Shabu Shabu - Shabu Shabu."  Then quickly remove the meat from the broth, dip in your desired sauce, and enjoy.

Not sure if chanting is a foolproof method, but it's fun to do.  In any event, the closer the meat is to being rare, the better it will likely taste.  :)

Enjoy!

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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Culinary Tour of Hot Pots Throughout Asia

>>  Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh the weather outside is frightful . . .

We just experienced our first major snowstorm of the season!  Snow has been falling outside continuously for the past 15 hours.  It’s times like these when I just want to stay indoors and enjoy a nice, warm hot pot with family and friends.

Although I've grown up eating hot pots Taiwanese-style, this past year I had the opportunity to enjoy hot pots from a variety of cultures and venues.  Join me as I take you on a culinary tour throughout Asia, exploring various renditions of the hot pot.
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What is a hot pot? 
Well, most simply, it’s a hot communal pot in the middle of a table filled with a flavored broth. Diners cook their own food by briefly dipping raw ingredients into the hot broth. Ingredients can vary widely, but typically include thinly sliced meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, fish cakes, and the like.

Culinary Tour Stop 1: Sichuan, China
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the hot pot style of eating first appeared in China, although Chinese scholars have found evidence of people cooking and eating around a boiling pot of broth as far back as the fifth century B.C. However, it was not until the Ming and Qing periods (1368-1911), that the hot pot actually gain popularity. In fact, the imperial court of the Qing dynasty served hot pots both on the emperor's winter menu and also at the feast celebrating the new emperor, Jia Qing in 1796.*
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What sets the Sichuan hot pot apart from typical Chinese hot pots is its classic spicy broth. This wonderfully flavorful, numbingly spicy broth gets its characteristic flavors from Sichuan chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The chilies give the soup a fiery burn, while the peppercorns have an unusual numbing effect on the tongue. The Sichuan hot pot originated from the city of Chongqing, where street peddlers would sell "beef trip hot pot," a hot, spicy soup consisting of chopped up water buffalo innards cooked in a spicy broth filled with chilies and Sichuan peppers. In the 1930's, the hot pot became elevated to restaurant status with the opening of the first hot pot restaurant in Chongqing. It has been popular since.*


Dining Out at a Classic Chinese Hot Pot Chain


Because I can't just hop over to China for this post, I am taking you to the next best thing.  Little Q is a well known hot pot chain in China and (lucky for me) migrated over to Boston a few years ago.  It is the best example of Sichuan Hot Pot here in Boston. The mala (literally "numbing and spicy") broth is my favorite, and I like to order that one in conjunction with a non-spicy broth in a "ying-yang" pot (pictured above), thus allowing a balance of flavors.  Little Q offers a variety of meat, vegetables, and all sorts of other hot pot sides, including exotic ones like tripe, intestines, beef tongue, and pig's blood.  It's most fun to visit with a large group, as you will be able to enjoy a much larger variety of things.  For more details on Little Q, please check out my previous post on this restaurant here.

Cooking@home
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I also recently tried a home-version of the mala broth based on a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop from her highly regarded book, Land of Plenty.  Fuchsia Dunlop was the first foreigner to study Sichuanese cooking at the acclaimed Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China. Stay tuned this week as I share Update!  Here is the recipe and a photographic tutorial on how to make your own spicy mala broth!

Culinary Tour Stop 2: Tokyo, Japan
The Japanese version of hot pot is called "shabu-shabu" and was invented after WWII in 1952 by Tadakazu Miyake, owner of a restaurant called Suehiro in Osaka, Japan. The story goes something like this. During WWII when Japan occupied Manchuria, Japanese soldiers had the opportunity to try “Syu Wan Yan Row,” a Chinese dish where lamb is eaten with sauces made from sesame seeds or soy sauce. Combining that with the traditional Chinese hot pot, Miyake perfected these ideas to open his first shabu restaurant in 1952. He named this new cuisine "shabu-shabu" because, one day, as he was watching his assistant wash towels in a large basin, he thought the swishing sound of towels in the basin sounded like the sound of raw meat being dipped and "swished" in the broth. His restaurant became so popular that he eventually trademarked the term "shabu-shabu".
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Japanese shabu differs from traditional Chinese hot pot in a lot of ways. First, the broth is simple - a light dashi based broth made from kombu (Japanese seaweed). Unlike the Sichuan Hot Pot, which arguably does not need a broth because the soup itself is so flavorful, Japanese shabu-shabu usually comes with a few dipping sauces, such as ponzu, sesame seed sauce, and spicy sauce.

When Bryan and I went to Tokyo this past spring, we decided to treat ourselves to the most decadent shabu-shabu imaginable - Kobe beef shabu-shabu, truly the pinnacle of this once humble dish made with water-buffalo innards on a riverside! After doing some research, we found out that Seryna was the best known shabu-restaurant in Japan.
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I must say, that the Kobe beef was incredibly decadent, buttery soft, and utterly delicious.  Check out the fine marbling in the picture! It's insanely expensive (the meat is literally $1/gram) but totally worth it - at least once! An interesting difference we found between traditional Chinese hot pot and Japanese hot pot is that the Japanese are pretty meticulous about keeping the broth clear. A waiter would come by periodically and scoop out any stray bits that were floating in our soup. I find this greatly amusing because Chinese people couldn't care less about that. We think that the more stuff that's in there, the better tasting the rich broth!
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Later on this week I will post a Update! Here is the detailed description of our meal at this most fabulous and decadent shabu-shabu restuarant.

Culinary Tour Stop 3: Taiwan
I have enjoyed hot pots at home for as long as I can remember. In lieu of the traditional turkey dinner during Thanksgiving or the goose served during Christmas, my family has always enjoyed a hot pot. Here I will share with you how my Taiwanese family typically enjoys the hot pot.  This past Saturday, as part of Foodbuzz's 24, 24, 24 event, I enjoyed a Taiwanese-style hot pot at my home with 9 other guests.

The Taiwanese version of hot pot involves various forms of thinly sliced meat, fresh seafood, and fresh vegetables.
HotPotMeat
You can typically buy thinly sliced beef, lamb, and pork at Asian grocery stores.  These are perfect for hot pot because they cook quickly.  Plus, it's hard to slice meat so thinly at home. Various forms of tofu are also very popular.  The deep-fried tofu square are especially popular because they absorb the flavors of the soup very well.  Various types of fish-cake type balls (fish balls, beef balls, shrimp balls) are also popular.  Chinese fish balls are similar to imitation crab meat, which is also made from a similar type of fish product.

I recently discovered, thanks to my brother-in-law, that sliced filet mignon tastes absolutely fantastic in hot pot!  You can pick up filet mignon for about $11/lb at Costco. This was definitely the hit of the night, and my guests could not stop eating it!  Later on this week, I will post a Here is the tutorial on how to prepare filet mignon for hot pot!
HotPotVeggies
Hot pot is typically pretty healthy because of the vegetables that you eat.  You can use whatever you like. The most classic vegetable used in a hot pot is called "Tong Hao" (a green leafy vegetable, also known as edible chrysanthemum).  Other common vegetables include watercress (upper left), enoki mushrooms (upper right), sliced lotus room (lower left - my favorite!), and shitake mushrooms (lower right).  Napa cabbage (already in the broth) is also a classic - the sweetness of this vegetable flavors the broth really nicely.
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The broth is typically made of a light stock, such as seafood stock or chicken stock. You can heat up chicken stock and just add some aromatic vegetables, like some Shitake mushrooms and napa cabbage, like I did in this case. For a Taiwanese hot pot, the broth flavor does not matter as much because the meat and vegetables added later will continue to flavor the broth.
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Also, similar to the Japanese, the Taiwanese use a dipping sauce. The most popular dipping sauce contains a mixture of Satsa (Chinese BBQ Sauce), a raw egg, and soy sauce. The theory is that the boiling hot food from the hot pot will "cook" the egg briefly as you dip it into the sauce, thus preventing any risk of diseases from eating the raw egg. At our dinner party, almost everyone used the raw egg, although typically there are some that are squeamish (like me!) who choose to forgo the egg and cook it separately in the hot pot instead!

Interestingly, one of our guests' family was from Southern Taiwan.  He mentioned that his family typically adds peanut butter to this mixture of Satsa, raw egg, and soy sauce.  Several of our guests tried this concoction and  reported that they liked it very much.
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When it's time to eat, everyone can just starting throwing whatever they want into the pot! The hardest part is being famished and waiting for the water to boil again so you can eat!!

At the end of the meal, we add rice vermicelli noodles to the pot and end the evening with a nice bowl of noodle soup.  At this point, people are typically stuffed, although it's hard to avoid hunting the pot to see if there are any treasures that were left unearthed!

Trying Your own Hot Pot
If you ever want to try your own hot pot, it's pretty easy.  I usually use an electric skillet which I just plug into the wall.  It keeps the broth boiling, and is wide and flat enough so that everyone can access the food relatively easily.  Furthermore, they are inexpensive and work quite well.

There are also dedicated hot pots that are sold in Asian grocery stores.  These are more convenient because the inner part of the pot can be removed for washing.  With an electric skillet, you have to make sure that you don't get water on the electric outlet part!

Closing words . .
So our tour has finally come to an end.  From a classic Chinese Hot Pot chain in Boston, to a high-end shabu restaurant in Tokyo, and then finally to a Taiwanese hot pot party in my humble home in Cambridge. I hope you enjoyed the tour!

Bon appetit!

*Land of Plenty by Fuschia Dunlop, pages 344-347

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