Last weekend I dusted off the apron and finally rediscovered my cooking mojo - it has been a while since I actually had the time and occasion to cook anything of real substance.
Given a small window of opportunity, I decided to make the most of Mum's care package and try out some of the recipes (with my own spin of course).
I chose to cook Cafe Hanoi's Chicken Salad and the Caramel Pork Hotpot, followed by an adaptation (by adaptation I mean slightly overcooked, slash oddly shaped version) of Donna Hay's coconut cakes with dark chocolate glaze. The food was amazing, as was the banter at the table.
The first hurdle to overcome with the Chicken salad was the fact that Cafe Hanoi's version of the dish is based on papaya. I currently live in in the Pilbara. Papaya is not the most readily available fruit in any main supermarket in Australia. Need I have held any hope to find some here?? Certainly not.
Anyway, I based mine on been sprouts and bulked the salad up with red onion and a couple of types of Chinese cabbage / greenery. I also poached chicken breasts only and added star anise and a stick of cinnamon to the poaching broth to add some extra flavour. I think I also used a fair bit more chilli.
The dressing was so tasty and would be perfect for any fresh Asian salad. Palm sugar, rice wine vinegar, chilli, lime juice, soy sauce and fish sauce. I could drink the stuff!!
For main, we had crispy caramel pork belly served with Asian greens stir fried in ginger and garlic. This was the first time I had cooked with pork belly, and it certainly will not be the last. Such a rich meal though and if you do have a crack at this recipe, make sure that you stop yourself from going for seconds (or, in fact, thirds).Such a simple recipe this one. Rremove the skin and roughly cut about a kilo of pork belly into 3-5cm cubes. Marinate in a couple of large glugs of fish sauce, a large piece of ginger (finely sliced into match sticks) and a generous sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper. Marinate for a couple of hours. Then add a cup of castor sugar to a pan on high heat and cook until browning starts to occur. Add 2 cups of water to the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add pork and cook for approx. 1 hour. I left the pan on medium heat for about half an hour and then turned the heat up for the second half an hour to make sure the pork crisped up suitably.
The Asian greens where subtle and finished things off perfectly.
SO GOOD! I loved this recipe - I reckon it has to go close to being the best thing I have cooked in a long while.
Finally, we battled through the coconut cakes for dessert. I attribute the struggle through dessert to the 74 helpings of pork belly, others blamed it on the salad.
This was my first foray into cakes without mum's watchful eye looking over my shoulder and providing advice. Slash directing. Not a bad outcome but certainly some room for improvement! Great recipe and I will definitely have another crack in the next couple of weeks to try and perfect.
It turned out to be a bit of a feast, with a range of fresh, crisp, rich and subtle flavours alike. I think we all gained at least a couple of kg's over the course of the night but had a fantastic time doing so. Spending time cooking, having a kitchen party, listening to great music and talking crap with friends. It's hard to beat nights like this.
Anyway, enough ramblings from me.