Friday, September 30, 2011

5R - private kitchen

Last Wednesday I had a late lunch with my friends as the latter were on duty (volunteer jobs) and finished their service at 2pm.  We went to 5R a private kitchen run by Kenneth and Edith Chan. The couple opened their first restaurant in North Point (Jupiter Street) in 2007 and a few years later moved to Tai Po. 4 months ago they came back to Hong Kong Island.  

The venue is a bit tricky to find but very well located.  Large windows cover one side of the dining room and allow for the natural light to radiate through. Being located in the heart of Wanchai I was pleasantly surprised to find such a bright place and no building obstructing the view. It felt like having lunch outdoors.

The dining rooms' view of the plaza

Kenneth Chan Leung-chong is the chef and Edith is taking care of the customers. She is a pleasant, friendly and talkative woman. She is also the mother of 5 kids. Yes 5!  When my friends and I asked Edith what did the name 5R stood for we were told that {if I understood clearly as the conversation was in Cantonese} 5 stood for their number of children and R for restaurant. 
Edith and Kenneth had 3 girls at the time they were in North Point thus the name of the restaurant was 3R, then came a 4th child and since last year another boy joined them.  Thus 5R!  My friends and I could not resist asking Edith: “When will the name become 6R?” To my surprise she said that it was complicated in terms of name registration formalities. I would have thought this would be relatively easy compared to having a 6th child! I can only say that Edith is an amazing lady, full of energy.

We started with a cream of tomato soup served with homemade squid ink bread.

Homemade Squid Ink Bread

I forgot to take a photo of the soup. We were quite hungry as it was almost 3pm when we started eating. We had chatted a long time before ordering! The bread was piping hot and so yummy! {The recipe is in Kenneth’s book “Party Guide” and I will try to make it.} You know I love bread… more than desserts! 

Then we shared the main dishes.

Mussels with white wine and cream sauce. I forgot the name on the menu but it must be Mouclade. At home I usually omit the cream and do a simpler version called “moules à la marinière” or “sailor’s mussels”.  

Mussels in white wine and cream sauce
Green leaves and fresh fruits salad with orange reduction sauce. The dressing was a bit too sweet for my liking but I liked the after-taste of olive oil. The frisée and rocket leaves as well as the peach and orange slices were very fresh and tasty.

Green leaves and fresh fruits salad
Lamb rack, and Grilled Kurubuta (kurubuta literally means black pig in Japanese).  Both meats were tender and juicy. I think it was the first time I tried black pig. The taste is stronger than pork - pink (?) pigs.  What I liked most was the potatoes and veggies served as accompaniment. The potatoes were very tender and not too oily. They had been first partially cooked in boiling water, and then pan-fried.

Lamb rack with sautéed veggies
Grilled Kurubuta
Pan-fried potatoes

Then, it was dessert time! We started with what it looked like a soufflé. In fact, it was a hot cheese cake served in small individual ramekins. This was really delicious. I thought there was ricotta cheese in as the taste was stronger than cream cheese. But it seems that cream cheese has a tangier flavour when it is eaten hot. Again I forgot to take a photo. I was in a hurry to try this little hot cake! Then, Tiramisu , and Apple Crumble with vanilla ice cream. The crumble was made with crushed brown cookies and had a different texture and taste than the usual mixture of flour, butter and sugar. Very yummy! I took a photo but I don’t like it …so no photo! (But you know how a crumble looks like, don’t you?)


We enjoyed our desserts with fresh brewed coffee while continuing chatting. Lovely lunch with friends!

Note: Photos taken with my iPhone.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Provencal Style Squid and Chayote

I love chayote. I already shared a few chayote recipes. Actually I just noticed that my firs post (on February 25 of this year) was on this particular squash.
On that day I shared the Chayote Gratin Recipe .Then one week later (March 1, 2011) 2 other recipes:  Sautéed Chayote, AND Chayote Soup.

As I already mentioned it chayote is called faht-sáu-gwâ in Cantonese which literally means Buddha - hand – squash.

Last Saturday I bought 2 large fresh squids and 1 medium size chayote at the wet market. I know that Cantonese people make a stir-fry dish with squid and chayote but I wanted my dinner to have a more Provencal style and planned to sauté the chayote with garlic and prepare another dish with squid, tomato, onion and aromatic herbs. I also wanted to add basil. I still have basil leaves in my freezer that I brought back from France this summer. I stored them to add in home-made tomato sauces or stews.

The 2 dishes were cooked and the rice was piping hot in the rice cooker. Then came dinner time.  What a surprise when I saw one dish only on the table next to my bowl of rice!  My domestic helper thought that the chayote had to be added in the squid dish and mixed the 2 dishes together. But after looking at the dish and tasting it I realized that her idea was brilliant! The light green colour of the gourd added a spring feel to the dish and the chayote’s mild flavour went very well with the Provencal sauce.  Thanks Jane for this idea! 

 Provencal Style Squid and Chayote

  • 1 lb squid (cleaned and sliced)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ large onion (chopped)
  • 1 tomato (remove skin and seeds) – diced
  • 2 sprigs dried thyme
  • 4 dried bay leaves  
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 sprig of basil
  • 100ml white wine
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 sprig spring onion
  • 1 garlic clove (sliced)
  • 1 chayote (peeled and sliced)

  1. Clean squid: cut tentacles from the head, pull out ink sac, insides (guts) and gristle; remove skin (membrane-type) and wash thoroughly the tube and tentacles.  (My fishmonger did it for me! Thank you)
  2. Wash well squid under running water. Slice it into thin strips. Pat dry with paper towel
  3. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in saucepan; add squid and onion. Stir and cook until onion is translucent.
  4. Put dried thyme and bay leaves in a cloth sachet or tea packing paper
  5. Add tomato, the sachet/pack, garlic, basil (I put frozen leaves), salt, black pepper and white wine.
  6. Bring to a boil. Cover with lid. Lower heat.
  7. Cook on moderate heat for about 25 minutes.
  8. During this time heat 1 tbsp olive oil in wok or frying pan, add garlic and chayote and cook until tender (the flesh should not be too soft).
  9. When the squid is cooked turn off the heat and discard cloth sachet / tea packing paper.
  10. Mix sautéed chayote with squid.
  11. Serve with chopped spring onion on top and accompanied with steamed rice.
The white wine brought out the herbs flavours and the chayote blended perfectly well with the light Provencal style sauce. It was absolutely delicious.

Lovely colour accents and chayote/squid combination

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pesto & Potato Gnocchi

Aromatic herbs and carnation leaves!

Before sharing my grand-mother's pesto and potato gnocchi recipes with you I would like to "tell" you a short story. Here it is:

Bouquet garni is commonly used in French cuisine. A typical bouquet garni is made of fresh parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Other aromatic plants can also be included such as leek, celery, etc. depending on what you have in your kitchen and the season. 

My mum uses freshly cut herbs from her garden. She spends a lot of time in her garden. Not only does she cultivate aromatic herbs to add flavours to her dishes but also herbs believed to have medicinal properties. 

Every day she visits her garden to check if her plants are growing well. She grows basil, bay (du laurier sauce), chamomile, chives (de la ciboulette), mint, parsley (du persil), rosemary (du romarin), sage, sorrel (de l’oseille), thyme (du thym), tarragon (de l’estragon), and others.

However, one has to be careful in selecting plants for cooking! I recall a funny story.  My sister loved to cook when she was a teen and always made us try new and delicious recipes. One day my parents found the dish had a peculiar taste but could not figure out why until they asked my sister where she went to get the sage required in her recipe. To our surprise we learnt that we had just tasted a carnation-flavoured sauce as she mistakenly used carnation leaves instead of sage. Luckily for us this plant is not toxic. As for its taste, I can’t recall it, which means it must not have been that bad!

Here in Hong Kong I always have dried thyme and bay leaves in my kitchen (that I bring back from France each summer) to make bouquet garni and also for my home-made vegetable broth. These are a few of my favourite herbs. Another important kitchen plant is sweet basil. This herb brings to mind summer time and Mediterranean-style food, such as pistou, pesto sauce, tomato & mozzarella salad, etc. Basil is not used frequently in traditional Cantonese cuisine although many other Asian countries add some sprigs into soups, salads and noodles dishes.   

The two most commonly used aromatic herbs in Cantonese cooking are coriander and spring onion or scallion (la ciboule). These two plants are used for accent both in colour and taste.
Coriander, also called cilantro, is added in stir-fries at the last minute and gives a strong and pungent flavour. But the most popular aromatic plant is certainly scallion. It is present in nearly every dish and makes a nice garnish. Wet market sellers usually give you a few sprigs free of charge when you buy a few catties of vegetable or are a regular. The famous Cantonese-style steamed fish would not be what it is without thinly chopped spring onion. The fragrance of spring onion tossed in oil and sprinkled on top of the dish, as well as its flavour, are unique and simply awesome! miam miam.

Potato Gnocchi al Pesto

My father pounding basil, parsley, garlic and
coarse salt in his mother's wooden mortar

  Adding olive oil
Ingredients for pesto:
o       10g basil + 10g parsley
o       50g pine nuts
o       1 garlic clove
o       70ml olive oil
o       1 pinch salt
  1. Put all the above ingredients in the food processor. Pulse until obtaining a smooth paste.
  2. Transfer paste into a glass jar. Cover with a little bit of olive oil and close lid tightly and store in fridge (can be stored for up to 1 month).

Note:  Pesto ingredients were traditionally crushed into a cream with a mortar and pestle. The typical Pesto alla Genovese has grated hard cheese (parmesan) in. 

Potato gnocchi is an Italian dish. Gnocchi are small balls of dough shaped into dumplings. They are made with potato and flour and cooked in boiling water. They are often served with a tomato sauce or better (to my liking) pesto sauce.
Shaping the gnocchi to make a concave shape requires some skills and speed. However, dumplings don’t have to be perfect and identically-shaped!

Ingredients for gnocchi:
  • 350g potatoes (mashed through a sieve)
  • 75g flour, plus extra for rolling out - sifted
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 12-15 minutes or until tender (do not overcook). Drain and leave to cool.
  2. Peel and then mash the potatoes. Add salt, pepper, and sifted flour. Mix together with your hands to form a smooth ball.
  3. Flour a board and your hands. Roll the dough into a sausage (1.5 cm thick). Cut the sausage into 1.5 cm long pieces.
  4. Press your index finger into each piece to create a concave shape OR  Press each piece with a fork to make a series of ridges 
  5. Bring a large pan of water (w/ vegetable oil) to the boil and cook the gnocchi, in batches, for about 2 minutes. They should rise to the surface when cooked.
  6. Drain and transfer in a serving bowl.
  7. Spoon sauce on top (tomato, pesto or any sauce you like). You can also add grated cheese. Serve hot.

Chicken chasseur w/ potato gnocchi & sugar snap peas

Gnocchi w/ tomato sauce 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mooncakes, Moon Festival and Lye Water

Lye Water

Tomorrow evening is the Mid-Autumn Festival also called the Chinese Moon Festival. This is the time to enjoy mooncakes, persimmons and pomelos. Last week a friend of mine gave me her mooncake recipe. Noel encouraged me to try it and told me where to buy good lotus paste and lye water. Lye water? Well, yes, there is lye water in the mooncake dough.
I have always been curious about lye water 鹼水 gáanséui.  The first time I ate noodles at daaih paaih dong or Hong Kong style coffee shops I wondered what was added in the dough to give these noodles such a strong alkaline taste. I was told that it was indeed “gáanseúi” (alkali).
Lye water is caustic alkaline water. Food grade lye (caustic soda or NaOH) is used for food processing.  Chinese cooks use a small amount in the dough to give noodles and dumplings a springy and bouncier texture in the mouth. I recently read that pretzels and bagels are soaked in lye water (to soften them) before baking. Lye water is also a preservative.

Noel also lent me her mini moon cake plastic mould. I told her that I had a wooden one that I had bought 2-3 years ago partly because I was interested in making mooncakes, partly because I liked the boat shape and its mini-compartments with handcrafted flower patterns. Three years have passed and I have not used the mould as its primary use.

Beautiful wooden boat sitting on my desk

Wooden mould with handcrafted patterns

It has been sitting on my desk ever since then! Noel advised me to use her mould.  “Traditional wooden ones are for professionals”: she said. Sure!!!

So this year, for the first time, I tried to make mini mooncakes (with a plastic mould)!

Lotus paste and dough balls

Shaping dough and lotus paste into mooncake-shape!

Mooncakes on baking tray (uncooked)

Cooked mooncakes (with egg yolk glaze)

Mini Mooncakes (12 pieces)

Ingredients for the dough:  
  • 100g flour
  • 10g custard powder
  • 60ml syrup
  • 22g (27ml) peanut oil
  • 5g (3/4 tsp) sesame oil
  • 4g (½ tsp) lye water
  • 1 egg yolk (beaten for egg wash)
  • 1 catty of lotus paste (~580g)
  • Plastic mini moon cake mould, 1 water spray bottle
  • Preheat oven at Th.6.
  • Dough: In a mixing bowl, put flour (sifted) with custard powder and stir well. Make a well.
  • In the centre add peanut oil, sesame oil, syrup and lye water. Mix well and knead into soft dough.
  • Divide into small dices (15g each). Set aside.
  • Filling: Divide lotus seed paste into equal size balls (45g each).   
  • Flatten the soft dough with your palm to form a circle, wrap in the lotus seed paste ball.
  • Shape around and press into the mould.
  • Unmold and place on a greased baking tray. Spray water on the surface and bake for 5min. Remove and brush egg yolk on top.
  • Return to the oven and reduce heat to th.4 and bake for another 12-14min. Set aside. The moon cakes taste better next day.

Verdict: I need advice on how to wrap the dough nicely around the ball of lotus paste. It might just be that I need to make more?! I know: “practice makes perfect”. However, we already have received a lot of mooncakes this year and with the addition of my production (not matter how “mini” there are) we have more than enough. But, sure, I am going to buy a plastic mould and try again next year maybe with different flavours! And a big thank to Noel!

Post-note: I forgot to say that these mini mooncakes are delicious! I love the smooth and sweet lotus paste. The dough is not greasy and has a delicate peanut/sesame flavour (no alkaline taste at all!).

My first homemade mini mooncake!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lamb Tagine

Each day I visit lots of blogs and websites of foodies, food critics and chefs on Twitter. Not only I enjoy reading their recipes but although the stories (introducing the recipes) and looking at the photos. Some stories are beautifully written and some photos awesome. They inspire me and make me reflect on my own blog!

Some recipes are attractive but their ingredients are not always to my liking are /or I find the preparation too complex. I love reading them but know that I will not try them (at least for the time being).

But other recipes catch my attention. I like everything (ingredients and method) and know that I will try them… one day. I immediately jot down the names of the blog and the dish for future use.  Believe me I now have a long list of “recipes to do”! 

On the same post Eda gave another recipe: Braised Goat Shank Tagine. I had never made a tagine before and the following week-end I made it.  I did it but with a few changes: I used lamb instead of goat and morels and king oyster mushrooms instead of black trumpets. The sauce was delicious and the smell of fennel and spices was a delight.

I love this recipe so much that I want to share it with you. The distinctive flavours of cumin, turmeric and cardamom combined with the hearty taste of lamb make this dish unique. I now have added these Middle-eastern spices in my kitchen and use them in other vegetable and meat stews.

Lamb Shank w/ Mixed Mushrooms and Fennel

Lamb shank tagine w/ mixed mushrooms & fennel

Qty for 4 persons – 2 persons if main dish

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lb lamb shank
  • Salt & ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 onion (sliced) – reserve ½
  • 1 fennel bulb (sliced) reserve ½ (about 400g)
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1 tsp cumin, toasted
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp cardamom seeds, toasted
  • 1 tsp clove, toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup canned tomato (~200g or ½ can)
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 150-200g mushrooms (I mixed dried morels + 1 fresh king oyster mushroom)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 pickled lemon (in brine), finely chopped

  1. Mix salt, ground black pepper, cumin, saffron and turmeric together. Coat the meat with this spice blend. Set aside in the fridge for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven at 375°F (190°C / no.5) for 15 min.
  3. Put oil in saucepan and brown the meat on both sides. Remove from the pan.
  4. Brown ½ of the onion and ½ of the fennel for 10 minutes; add garlic and brown. Add tomato, cardamom and cloves and bring to a boil.
  5. Add the lamb shank, then water and bake in the oven uncovered for 1 ¼  hour.
  6. Add the remaining onion & fennel, pickled lemon, mushrooms and honey.
  7. Cover and cook for another 1 hour, mixing occasionally.
I served the lamb tagine with steamed couscous. It was so yummy!

Note: I suggest putting the cloves and cardamom seeds in a tea infuser {easy to discard}.

The lamb is cooked through and the sauce has reduced and thickened

... delicious sauce!!!

Thanks Eda for sharing such good recipes!

But there is also another type of posts and recipes which really makes me want to try the dish immediately. This is what happened when I read Eda's postI was first drawn to Ancho Pancetta Oxtail Mole Sauce. I love ox tail and could not resist the idea of eating a sauce made with chocolate and chilli. A few days later I did it and was not disappointed at all! You should try it! Here is the recipe.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Food and Culture - Couscous

Some may consider cooking to be monotonous and lonely but cooking can be fun and entertaining.

In France, most families don’t have a domestic helper and when you are invited to relatives’ or friends’ homes, you are always welcome to give a helping hand to the host families in the kitchen. Kitchen is where cooking takes place but also where “secrets” and family stories are shared among family members and friends.

The kitchen can also be a learning place for both kids and adults and provides an excellent opportunity to enrich family relationships. When relatives or friends gather in the kitchen to prepare dishes they usually exchange news. Festivals, special days and celebrations are the times of the year when traditional dishes are made (such as Christmas lunch with its turkey and pudding). The complex and long preparation of specialties bring people together and give them a chance to catch up with each other.

The kitchen is also the place when parents pass traditional family recipes down to the new generation. I was in France this year around Carnival time when it is the period for ‘Bugnes’, a specialty of Lyon, or dough strips that are fried and sprinkled with icing sugar. While rolling out the dough and frying strips of dough my mum told me how her mother used to make another kind of bugnes (she was from Haute-Savoie) as well as stories of her childhood.

Chatting while cooking not only applies to French people. I remember the first time I made Chinese dumplings at our Chinese friend’s place. When we arrived our hosts were busy filling dough wraps and pinching the edges to close them. They were doing this with such dexterity while talking! My boyfriend (now husband) and I joined in (although inexperienced) and tried to copy their gestures. Although we were not too successful, we spent a few hours “working” and laughing together. I enjoyed the preparation of the dumplings as much as eating them later on.

Making Chinese dumplings
Food is an important element of culture that carries the national identity. One common feature is that everyone, no matter where he/she is from, loves good food. And the preparation of good food needs both “love” and time. One of my friends is married to a Moroccan man and she told me how she learnt to understand the Arabic culture by watching her mother-in-law cooking. She recalls the first time she saw her husband’s relatives making the traditional Moroccan couscous. They started very early in the morning and processed the semolina manually several times to make the perfect granules (which are thereafter called couscous). The entire preparation took the whole morning to complete! My friend enjoyed very much the festive atmosphere and said it was one of her best moments and memories.

My friends cook so well! 

Recently they made Crêpes Suzette (above)
Hong Kong Style Steamed Fish (below)
and many more delicious dishes that we enjoyed together. So lucky!!!

Whatever the country you live in food plays an important role in discovering the culture. When I first arrived in Hong Kong 25 years ago, buying at the wet market, trying to bargain with my broken Cantonese and making figures with fingers helped me to learn Cantonese. Today cooking and enjoying food with friends helped me understand Chinese culture better.


In France a lot of restaurants make couscous, some better than others.
Couscous, a well-know Arabic food, is often on schools and universities canteens’ menus but they are usually made with cheap cuts of meat and tasteless. When we were students (my boyfriend and I) used to go with our friends in a restaurant in Paris where we knew we would enjoy a good couscous. We used to order Couscous Royal which is served with mixed meats (chicken, lamb and beef), merguez (a spicy mutton or beef sausage), lots of veggies and a delicious spicy broth.

Today in Hong Kong I regularly make couscous and we are never tired of it. Here is my recipe:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ pounds beef shank
  • 1 litre water
  • 1 big carrot, peeled and chopped in big pieces
  • 1 Chinese white Oriental radish, peeled and chopped in big pieces
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 leek (chopped)
  • 1 can (425 g) garbanzo beans/chickpeas
  • 2 zucchini or Jade Melon
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped thinly
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 can (400 g) chopped tomatoes
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely sliced
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp red (cayenne) pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • Salt and ground black pepper

  1. In a frying pan, heat the oil and brown meat over high heat until golden. Remove meat and put aside. 
  2. In same frying pan add onion, garlic and sugar (add vegetable oil if needed). Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, bell pepper, chilli, cayenne and cumin. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Add water.
  3. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and sherry. Stir the mixture into the frying pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer the above sauce into a large saucepan and pour in the cold water. Bring the sauce to a boil. Add the meat, previously browned, carrot, onion, radish, leek and celery in. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 1 ½ hours. 
  5. Bring the vegetables and meat broth back to a boil. Add the zucchini and chickpeas and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.  
  6. Season to taste.

Some of the ingredients: chickpeas, couscous grains, carrots 

Preparation of couscous: 
o       250 g couscous (~60g per person)
o       1 tbsp olive oil
o       1 tsp salt
o       400 ml warm water
  1. Put the couscous in a bowl with the water mixed with salt and cover.
  2. Let it rest until the grains have absorbed all the water.
  3. Once the couscous has swell up fluff it with a fork.
  4. Add in olive oil and stir well. Serve hot. Et voilà

Harissa diluted in broth

Vegetable & meat stew spooned over couscous (grains)

Note: After steps 1 & 2 I usually wrap the couscous (even the pre-steamed type) in a cheese cloth and steam it over boiling water.
The Arabs cook the grains in a couscous pan / une couscousière.
If you like the couscous grains wet spoon the spicy broth on it.
You can make the broth spicier by adding Harissa sauce (a Tunisian hot chilli sauce).