Cooking with Lee Lee – Crispy Spiced Pork Belly

Hands up, who likes a nice piece of pork belly with crunchy crackling?! I wish I had more than two hands to put up.

I’m more than a fan. One word, OBSESSED! I wasn’t always the biggest fan of pork belly, mainly because it’s such a fatty cut of the pig and if it’s not cooked properly it can be extremely rich. There’s an art to cooking pork belly and getting crispy crackling, which isn’t all about a good recipe, even though it helps. It’s about knowing your oven, knowing the cut of meat you’re dealing with and having the confidence and persistence to keep at it until you get the ultimate crackling and juicy, tender meat.

The first time I tried roasting pork belly, the anticipation was almost too much to handle. There were so many unknowns and I just wanted so badly for the skin to crackle and for the meat to be somewhat edible. Nothing else mattered, I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect this time but I needed some confirmation that I was on the right track, a confidence boost to try again.  I practically watched it cook through the oven doors, resisting the urge to check on it every five minutes.

I tried no less than 4 times before I came up with this recipe. I trialed a few recipes, both western and eastern ways and took what I felt was going to work for me. This pork belly recipe is spiced with sichuan peppers and the flavors are predominantly Asian, which means I would serve this the typical Canton way, as a part of a banquet with other dishes and a fragrant bowl of rice. However, this recipe also lends itself well with caramalised apple slices and a cool pinot noir reduction served with celeriac mash.

***

Crispy Spiced Pork Belly

Ingredients

1.5kg Pork belly, rind scored finely, ribs removed

2 tbsp Sea salt

1 tsp Whole black pepper

1 tbsp Sichuan pepper, ground and toasted

2 tbsp Chinese five spice, toasted

1 tsp Sugar

2 cups Chicken stock, cold

1 Kettle of boiling water

1 tsp Olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 120 degrees Celsius.
  2. Using a pestle & mortar grind up the salt, Sichuan and black peppers until the mix is fine and then add the five spice & sugar.
  3. Place pork belly skin side up in a colander or a rack, anything that drains. Pour a kettle of boiling water over the rind. Leave it to drain and dry well with paper towels. This will help to render down the fat and you should see the rind shrivel up a little.
  4. With the pork belly rind side down, rub the spice mixture into the flesh only. Turn it over and with clean, dry hands rub 1 tsp of sea salt and 1tsp olive oil into the rind.
  5. Place the pork belly on a wire rack, skin side up and place the wire rack directly over a roasting tray half filled with cold chicken stock. Try and sit the pork belly within the perimeters of the tray. The chicken stock will help keep the meat tender by almost steaming the flesh. Roast for 3-4 hours, this will depend on how thick the meat is.
  6. Finish the crackling off under a hot grill*, careful not to burn the skin. You should be able to hear the skin crackling. If the crackling is a little charred, scrape off the burnt bits with a serrated knife.

*Grill needs to be separate from the oven. If you do not have a separate grill from the oven, take the cooked pork belly out and allow the oven to cool a little before switching to the grill function. Alternatively you could also crank up the temperature to 220 degrees Celsius for the last 15-20 minutes but this may affect the end result of the crackling.

I know it’s not the prettiest thing before the great transformation…

The charred bits don’t stay but for my first attempt… Crispy crackling, CHECK! Tender, juicy meat… CHECK!!!!!!

We practically devoured these like chips. We just stood around the kitchen bench picking at this plate.

In every trial, the meat never made it out of the kitchen, let alone being served as a dish. My friends and housemates were all too happy to be available to lend their tastebuds for my experiments, which means I had to beat them off with a stick just to take these photos. They were fun times and I hope you enjoy trialing my pork belly recipe as much as I loved creating it.

Hope you’ve enjoyed Cooking With Lee Lee. If you have any questions about the recipe or if you’ve tried my recipe and want to share your thoughts, please leave me a comment. Happy roasting everyone.

It’s definitely worth every calorie!

Love Lee Lee =)

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Cooking with Lee Lee – Creamy Chicken and Leek Pie

Creamy Chicken and Leek Pie

Pies are the ultimate comfort food and nothing beats a hearty chicken and leek pie. Growing up, frozen party pies were the norm in our household because my mum refused to cook. I say REFUSED because she can cook, she just doesn’t want to do it so she didn’t have to clean the kitchen afterward. So frozen meat pies were the way to go and it was a case of, “I didn’t know any better!”.

The first time I had a homemade chicken and leek pie, it was like the first night in a new house. It seemed oddly familiar and yet I’d never been there before. It was the perfect balance of textures, flavors and ingredients, I didn’t want to change anything about it. I knew that it was love at first bite.

My first attempt at making my own chicken and leek pies was on my 26th birthday, which also happened to coincide with about five “Pie Face” joints popping up around Melbourne overnight. I thought I’d give them a run for their money.  There was a birthday party and instead of baking a cake, I baked a pie for my guests.

***

Makes: 12 individual small pies*

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs, cubed

4 rashers of bacon, rind removed, roughly chopped

1 leek, halved length-ways and cut into 1cm strips

250g button mushrooms, sliced

1 tsp olive oil

2 tsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1/2 cup of milk

1/4 cup of plain flour

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup of grated tasty cheese

6 sheets of pre-made frozen puff pastry, cut 4 rounds of pastry per sheet, save the excess for patching.

1 egg beaten with 1 tsp of milk for glazing

sesame seeds to garnish

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet or deep frying pan. Add the chicken meat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chicken is browned all over. Using a slotted spoon remove the chicken and keep to one side.
  2. In the same pan add the bacon, finely sliced leek and the button mushrooms. Cook for 3 minutes stirring occasionally until the leeks are softened. Remove and keep to one side with the chicken.
  3. Add the butter to the pan and melt over a medium heat, add the flour and stir well to incorporate all the flour into the butter. You should have a really thick paste. Using a hand whisk, slowly add the hot chicken stock and milk, whisking all the time until a smooth, creamy gravy is created, cook for 3 minutes, again stirring from time to time. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, leek and bacon mix and creamy gravy. Allow to cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  6. Generously grease 15inch individual pie trays and line with a round of pastry. Pastry should be hanging over the side of the tray. Add the filling and sprinkle the cheese on evenly. Using a pastry brush, dampen the edges of the pastry lining with beaten egg, then cover with the pastry lid and crimp the edges to seal. Brush generously with beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Using a sharp knife cut a small hole into the center of the lid to allow the steam to escape during cooking.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling bubbling.

I love eating the small/mini pies, it was my favorite thing to do as a child. I would squeeze tomato sauce in the center of the party pie, take tiny bites around the edges of the pie, take the lid off and put it back onto the pie with the sauce on the underside, slide the lid off leaving tomato sauce on the meat and then eat the lid. I would then fold the remainder of the pie up into a dumpling/calzone shape and suck the meat sauce out of one corner before eating the whole thing. I did this with every mini pie and I still do it on occasions. I almost always burnt my finger tips and the top of my mouth when I did this.

Do you have any weird habits when it comes to eating pies? Or any other food? Send me a comment, let’s hear it.

*I doubled my quantities in the ingredients department so I was able to make an extra one individual large pie.

Hope you’ve enjoyed Cooking With Lee Lee. If you have any questions about the recipe or if you’ve tried my recipe and want to share your thoughts, please leave me a comment. Happy baking everyone.

It’s definitely worth every calorie!

Love Lee Lee =)

Food Babies of June – Part 2

Welcome to ‘Part 2’ of my food adventures to celebrate a very special week in June that is my birthday. This year, the fiesta seems to be never-ending. It’s like the Queen has come to stay for the week and we are seated at a self replenishing banquet table, which we are not allowed to leave from (not that anybody is complaining).

All the photos that I am posting up, are only the meals I could remember to take photos of. Majority of the time, I’m so excited to see the food that I want to see it disappear (into my mouth) as soon as it hits the table. So for this, I’m sorry that I’m not able to share with you the whole banquet.

My ‘food baby’ continues to grow in Rutherglen. An adorable, neat country town that consists of one strip of bistros, cafes, op shops and handy-marts, all surrounded by acres of green grass and tall mountains sitting on the horizon.

We had just come from Beechworth after a lovely breakfast and thought we’d check out the neighboring towns. As we walked down Main Street, food was not the first thing on our minds but I can assure you that it’s never far off. I stopped outside a cafe window and proceeded to stare at a woman eating lunch with her friend (or so my friends thought). In fact, what I was staring at was the plate in front of her, which contained what looked like the most crunchy calamari rings I’ve seen in a while. Upon further inspection, I discover that they’re coated in panko crumbs and not your average crumbs from day old bread.

As I was uploading the photo of the calamari, the upload percentage bar read “crunching”… haha ;D.

We were definitely not hungry but we definitely needed proof that the calamari was as crunchy as they looked. So into the cafe we went and ordered ourselves a plate of Panko-crumbed Calamari with Beer Battered Fries and Salad. Turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made on a whim, not to mention inexpensive…ahem…hmmm… that’s a little awkward.

Fried calamari for me is a hit and miss thing. Some restaurants do it really well and some restaurants leave you unsatisfied not to mention suffering from food envy as you watch your friends eat yummy food, while you’re stuck with soggy, chewy calamari that’s not as salt and peppered as it should be.

This calamari had me wishing I was hungry enough for another plate, the meat was still juicy and tender and the panko crumbs did it’s job like a pro. Everything on that plate was perfectly seasoned and although the salad resided on the same space, nothing was soggy!! I vow never to eat fried calamari rings ever again unless they’re panko-crumbed (cue dramatic quote music). NOM NOM NOM!! Wish I had another plate of it in front of me now.

Back at the Bridge Road Brewery in Beechworth, we enjoyed a sunny (but fresh) afternoon sipping on pale ale accompanied with Pizza Funghi, Pizza Apple and Blue Cheese and Pizza Salami (Yes, we are eating our pizza with knives and forks like weirdos).

My favorite was the Pizza Salami with taleggio, EV olives, Hungarian salami and red onions, it was like a flavor explosion in my mouth. Might be slightly biased because I have a soft spot for Hungarian salami and taleggio cheese.

Pizza Funghi and Pizza Apple and Blue Cheese was our half/half pizza topped with roquette and almond salad. The Pizza Apple and Blue Cheese was surprisingly good and the blue cheese wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be. As for the Pizza Funghi, you’ll love it if you love mushrooms because that’s pretty much all there was to it.

The first thing I saw on the menu at Bridge Road Brewery was the American style BBQ pork ribs braised in Chevalier Biere de Garde, herbs and spices, served with house made dipping sauce. One word, YUM!

Fifteen dollars will buy you a wooden board heaped with BBQ Pork Ribs that are falling off the bones and a dipping sauce, so rich, tangy and smooth it could give you a headache… and they call this a snack!! NOM NOM NOM

This here concludes my country Victoria stint. I look about four months preggas right about now but I loved every bite of it. Chiltern, Beechworth and Rutherglen, you have been good to me. I look forward to visiting again one day. If anyone is visiting Beechworth, visit their bakery! It’s how all bakeries should be… and such lovely savoury breads.

Special mention to my beautiful boyfriend Aleks, who is the mastermind behind the whole trip. Thank you for all your driving and wonderful restaurant suggestions… and I commend you for your patience, waiting for me to take the perfect photo before digging into the food.

That’s all from me for now but I shall be bringing you ‘Part 3’ very soon, when I’m back in Melbourne but still eating and maybe a little cooking as well. Look out for my new chicken pie recipe plus more restaurant reports as well.

Trip to  country Victoria gets 5 nomnoms out of 5. =)

NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM!!!!

..Definitely worth every calorie… and the food baby.

Love Lee Lee

It’s been awhile…”Food Babies of June” – Part 1

It really has been awhile since I’ve posted. I’m not proud of it and I’m sorry. The guilt is as bad as leaving really good food on the plate because you’re too full to put that one mouthful in your gob.

To redeem myself though, I’m happy to report that I’ve spent the last month eating my way through country and metro Victoria and now I’m proud to present to you my “Food Babies of June” (appropriately titled because my birthday is also in this month).

The food baby starts to grow in the buzzing, little town that is Beechworth, famous for honey and good beer. My first stop is “The Provenance”, an old-fashioned, high ceiling restaurant with a door bell to ring on arrival and polite staff to greet you. (So adorable)

Our first course of the degustation menu is “Pickled, raw and cooked vegetables, puffed rice with congee sauce”.  I’m ashamed to say that I have no idea what “congee sauce” is… even now. I’ve had congee before but what the hell is congee sauce!? Will someone please educate me!? And then inform Wikipedia, because they don’t know either. Whatever it is, it made the dish. All the ingredients were bound by this mysterious sauce.

This delightful dish is “Roasted broccoli, white bean puree, confit garlic, lemon, anchovy custard and bacon”. Everything on this plate is a winner. Roasting the broccoli gives it a nutty, charred taste that is surprisingly pleasant and gives the broccoli character. Perfect second course in a six course meal.

I’m always suspicious of seafood that is “twice-cooked” because majority of the time, it’s overcooked by my standards. This one wasn’t horrible but I felt the squid was a little mistreated. Although it wasn’t chewy, the texture of the squid was grainy. Even though the fennel salad outshone the twice cooked squid, I ate every last bit of it up like an obedient child, without complaining… until later.

“Braised Berkshire pork belly, mushrooms, daikon in soy milk miso broth”. The concept is appealing but I would’ve preferred the pork belly to be roasted with a crunchy crackling. In braising the pork belly, a lot of the fat wasn’t rendered down, and there were a few mouth full that were a little too indulgent. The broth was beautiful but I felt the whole dish was quite one-dimensional. It needed either something sweet or tangy to cut through the fat and the dairy, like pickled daikon even.

My favorite dish of the night. “Dry aged grass-fed Wagyu flat-iron steak, braised short rib, grilled spring onion, smoked tofu dressing, konbu no tsukudani”. Enough said.

Dessert was refreshing and a great finish to the degustation. I can still taste the vibrant, tropical flavor of the pineapple. My only criticism is that the chrysanthemum jelly was lost amongst all the bold and tropical flavors.

Although it may seem that I’ve disliked this menu more than I’ve enjoyed it, I walked out of The Provenance satisfied. The staff was friendly, the menu read well and the food was good enough for me to want to give the restaurant a second visit, which is precisely the objective of a degustation. The next time I’m in Beechworth, reservations will be made and this time, being more acquainted with the menu, I look forward to trying the “Roasted Milawa quail breast” and “Blue eye” amongst other things on the menu.

I give “The Provenance”, 3.5 nom noms out of a possible 5.

*NOM NOM NOM NO*

…almost worth every calorie

Love Lee Lee

P.S More food babies coming soon. Tune in for Part 2. =)

Cooking With Lee Lee – Broccoli Farfalla

Broccoli Farfalla

I am such a huge fan of broccoli. Everything about the broccoli appeals to me, the shape, the colour, the taste and the wonderful ways you can utilise it in your cooking.

This recipe is one that I came up with one afternoon when I was feeling somewhere in between, “yeah, I could eat” and “starting to feel famished”. I only had a few ingredients to work with and so I started with just a small broccoli, 1/4 of a bag of penne and some chicken stock. I boiled the broccoli in the stock until it was soft enough to mash. Then I prepared the pasta as instructed on the packaging and combined it with the smashed broccoli, seasoned with salt and pepper and bon appetit.

The result wasn’t life altering but it wasn’t bad for a healthy snack that got me be back down to, “I’ll eat it if it’s in front of me but I probably don’t need it”, which is a good thing considering, there really was nothing left to eat.

Since then, this simple recipe has evolved and is tasting better than ever. It can also be eaten cold so it’s great for picnics. Check out the new and improved version just below.

***

Ingredients

  • 1 decent sized broccoli, discard the end of the stalk, cut the rest of the stalk into small chunks and separate the florets.
  • 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of Farfalle pasta
  • 1/2L water
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 5 medium-sized button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil, hand torn
  • 1 cup spinach packed tightly, washed
  • 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 birds eye chilli, seeds discarded, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

Method

1. Bring the stock to boiling point and add broccoli. Cook until soft and tender. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Using a potato masher, press the broccoli into the stock until broccoli becomes a course pulp.

2. At the same time, boil the water for the pasta with a generous pinch of salt. I find this always helps the water to boil quicker. Add the pasta to boiling water and wait for the water to get back to boiling point. Then turn the heat down to low or a simmer and allow the pasta to cook for another 7 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Drain and refresh with cold water.

3.While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a fry pan and add garlic and chilli. Fry for a few seconds, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn, then add the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms start to brown, add the basil and the wine and allow the flavors to infuse the mushrooms for a further 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the spinach.

4. In the same pan as the mushrooms and spinach, add the pasta, broccoli mash and Parmesan cheese. Combine well with tongs. Salt and pepper as desired, although you’ll find that you probably wont need much salt as there’s salt content in the stock and the cheese. Lastly, drizzle with a good quality virgin olive oil before serving.

Tips

Alternatively you could use feta cheese instead of the Parmesan. If you’d prefer this as a cold dish for picnics or as a packed lunch then I would recommend the former rather than the latter. Once Parmesan has been heated and left cold, it tends to have a funny texture. You could also, leave the cheese out of the last step and just add it in when you’re ready to consume, then you can use either. Pecorino cheese will also work well with this dish.

This can also be made into a non-vegetarian dish. Just fry off some roughly chopped prosciutto with the chilli and garlic and then add the mushrooms and ta-daaa, you have yourself a tasty meat version.

***

Hope you’ve enjoyed Cooking With Lee Lee. If you have any questions about the recipe or if you’ve tried my recipe and want to share your thoughts, please leave me a comment.

It’s definitely worth every calorie!

Love Lee Lee =)

Dainty Sichuan – South Yarra MLB

The dinner invitation promised “Hot Pot”. A supposedly very well done “Hot Pot” at that, which is no surprise that I was feeling a little flat and underwhelmed to discover that my punctual friends have made the executive decision to not have hot-pot and order off the a la carte menu instead.

The restaurant is divided into two levels. The ground level of diners get to experience the AMAZING, bubbling steam boat. The level above is reserved for patrons who want to diminish their rights to order a hot-pot because these facilities are simply not available on that floor.

The four of us were escorted to a table upstairs and given… an a la carte menu. I only have a couple of issues with this arrangement;

(One). you can’t change your mind even if you wanted to…

…and (Two). you can’t even have a peak at what you’re missing out on (which probably works better for the restaurant because then you have incentive to come back).

I get it, it’s a safety thing, I’m not completely ignorant… moving along!

Opening the menu, all I’m seeing is CHILLI! Chilli Chicken, Chilli Beef Jerk and even Chilli Cabbage. After sifting through all the chilli, offal and Chinese delicacies like Chicken Feet and Pigs Ear we finally decide on one cold dish of garlic cucumbers, four hot main dishes of Gong Qing Chilli Chicken, Stewed Lamb Ribs, Chilli Fish Fillets, Green Beans with Pork Mixture and two types of buns, Xioalong Bao and pork buns. (Xioalong Bao’s are only called dumplings outside of China.)

This cold dish of Cucumber and Garlic is an old favorite of mine, I grew up with it and when I make it at home I add chilli oil for extra kick. There’s not much that can go wrong with this dish unless you’re using rotten cucumbers. As pleasant as this dish is, there’s a little too much garlic but for nostalgic reasons I will eat all of it unashamedly.

Our first main of Gong Qing Chilli Chicken definitely lives up to its name. The dish hits the table in a mound of dry chilli and sichuan pepper, if you poke around a little you might even find some chicken underneath. When I do find chicken it’s 50% bone and the other half is deep-fried meat. The taste is delightful like anything fried in oil, the flavors are typically Sichuan, numbing my mouth but in a pleasant way. So far it’s tasting like Sichuan usually does…

The Stewed Lamb Ribs is the next to arrive. I knew I’d like this dish as soon as it hit the table. I could smell the aromas of star anise and a braising liquid that could only be achieved with patience and nothing short of a secret recipe. It came in a cast iron pot surrounded by wood and the lamb was bubbling away as if you were going to sneak a spoonful directly from the stove.

This was the turning point for me, the juicy, tender lamb meat melted off the bones. The sauce was to die for because it had so much depth to it and it wasn’t just dried chilli and peppers. It reminded me of a Taiwanese goat hot-pot (Yang-Rou) I use to love as a kid and still love now, but with richer flavors. This one was a winner.

All of a sudden I didn’t even mind the chicken hidden in the mound of chilli, it was exciting going back and forth between the two dishes, the flavors actually complement each other.

You’ll have to forgive me for this photo of the Chilli Fish beside the Gong Qing Chicken taken from my phone camera instead of my point and shoot. To be honest, this was the recommendation I was least looking forward to. I’ve had a dish very similar to this one and it just tasted like chilli oil with a fish texture. Not pleasant, I know! So when this dish came, my expectations were not high. It looked like fish fillets bathing in chilli oil and bean sprouts. It even came with a slotted ladle so that the fillets can be drained before being dished onto your plate.

There are a few things that could go wrong with this dish. One in particular is the delicate flavor that can become lost in the chilli oil. Why is this a problem? Because fish needs to taste like fish, otherwise you should just drink the oil!

The first bite of the fish… is surprisingly not too bad. The fillet of fish melted in my mouth revealing the sweetness of the flesh with a hint of chilli at the back of the throat, but then the heat spreads and I’m left wanting more. I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due… this is not the healthiest of choices but the fish is done well. I may not be back for it but I was content with it.

Green Beans with Pork Mixture is a trusty, old dish. I love it and if it’s on the menu, I will order it every time. Beats eating and paying for overpriced Bok Choy in oyster sauce.

The beans were cooked perfectly, the way green beans should be cooked, dry fried in a wok. The pork mixture on the other hand was too salty and I assume it’s because the preserved vegetables that are stir fried with the pork mince was not rinsed properly. Eaten together, it was heavenly but needless to say there was a generous layer of pork and preserved vegetable mix left behind on the plate.

The Xioalong Bao’s were delicious and perfect. There was consistency in the thickness of the skin, which is important because when it’s too thin they break too easily when being picked up and the soupy goodness leaks out. When that happens, a little part of me dies because the “bao” is now flawed… so luckily that didn’t happen or I wouldn’t be able to write this post for you.

The Pork Buns are not the typical Chinese ones with the sweet BBQ pork filling but with the same pork mixture as the green beans but not as salty. Downfall for this dish is that there’s too much casing and too little filling. I found myself tearing off chunks of the bun so I could get to the filling. It could be a great and cheap lunch time meal because you get four per serving, but for dinner it was a little too much. It probably didn’t help the situation that it was one of the last dishes to arrive and we were all extremely stuffed. The serving sizes at Dainty Sichuan are very generous.

The evening turned out to be extremely pleasant and I left wanting to come back again with more of my friends. I will definitely be back to try the Hot Pot on that first level and maybe a side of that Lamb Stew that I’m still thinking about. I give Dainty Sichuan three NOMS out of a possible five!!

NOM NOM NOM

and yes… it WAS worth every calorie.

Love Lee Lee =)

Finally Live!!

Well this is super exciting!

Welcome to my beautiful life of food glorious food.

Join me as I explore my relationship with food, the highs and the lows of new recipes, the exciting and wonderful discoveries in unexpected places, the memories that a particular dish can trigger and most of all the love of it all.

Enjoy and remember to always share your Nom Noms =)