Ahhh.... the onset of winter.
As the last echoes of summer subside, I find myself looking forward to the cooler months. Cold nights mean bigger appetites and that paves the way for hearty portions of comfort food. Hurrah.
Our latest Stomach's Eleven venture saw us descend on the home of M&L for a night of hot pot or steamboat. There's a little bit of prep work involved for the host, but for the most part, it's reasonably simple as guests cook their own dinner by dipping various meats, vegetables, noodles and tofu into the simmering pot of stock on the table.
Because the cooking process is minimal, it's important to get the best and freshest ingredients you can find. Once everything is washed, chopped and set on the table, it's over to guests to help themselves, a great social meal that usually involves plenty of lighthearted squabbling.
There was no shortage of variety of ingredients on offer this evening. I'd never before seen such an assembly of delectable dippable goodies.
The laden table
Both the beef and lamb are available from Asian butchers or grocers, usually frozen in a takeaway box.
Dumplings, noodle rolls, roe-filled fish balls and seafood sticks
The roe-filled fish balls (the ones with the orange dots) were the crowd favourite, a pleasing burst of salty sweet roe hidden within.
Chinese winter melon
New year cake noodles, bamboo fungus and fresh tofu
I was quite fascinated with the bamboo fungus, something I'd never eaten before much to the dismay of my colleagues. A type of stinkhorn fungus, it commonly grows amongst bamboo, hence its name, although it's also referred to as long net stinkhorn, crinoline stinkhorn or veiled lady. In Mandarin, it's called zhu suen.
Once found only occasionally in the wild, the bamboo fungus was usually eaten only by royalty or the very rich. Today it is cultivated commercially in China and found at your local Asian grocery store. Lauded for its medicinal properties, bamboo fungus is supposed to help prevent cancer and obesity and the packet claimed it contained 19 types of amino acids.
Oh yes, I insisted on seeing the packet for myself. Purchased in dried form, the fungus was rehydrated by M before we cooked it again in our simmering pot of soup. Texture-wise, it was quite unusual, like a sticky and soft spongy netting. At $3.50 for a packet, I'm looking for this on my next Asian grocery store visit.
Shiitake, enoki, oyster and king brown mushrooms
Black fungus (also known as cloud ear fungus)
Bean curd sheets
Simmering stock (we had one side with chilli, the other without)
Garlic and shallots
My sauce bowl
The DIY sauce options were another new thing to me. Sha cha jiang, or sandy tea sauce, came in a tin and was a a dark paste of brill fish, shrimp, garlic, shallots, sesame, peanut, coconut, chilli powder, spices and salt. This was combined with sesame paste (gi ma jiang) which is the brown paste above.
Add a slurp of sesame oil, a slosh of soy sauce and as much fresh garlic and shallots as you please. You then dip your cooked meat or vegetables into your sauce bowl for extra salt and flavour.
And because we were celebrating two birthdays (M2 and K), it was pavlova time, a store-bought base but lovingly decorated by K.
And then a take-home gift, just for me!
85C Premium milk bun $2.80
In her shopping travels for dinner that evening, M had popped into the 85C Bakery Cafe in Chatswood for her favourite treat, the premium milk bun, and then grabbed another for me. I'd been curious to try this after hearing rave reviews from a GYF reader and M herself.
Oh it's good. Like the softest fluffiest sweet bun you could imagine, encrusted with a sugary buttery crumbly topping.
Happiness is good friends who are good cooks and good shoppers :)
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas 2010 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Teochew feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Mole poblano and pulled pork tacos (Me)
Stomachs Eleven: Pizza and friends (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Ten kilograms of mussels (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Shanghainese banquet (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Wagyu shabu shabu and dessert sushi (Silverlily)
Stomachs Eleven: Stuffed deboned pig's head + nose-to-tail eating (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: French feast (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Whole suckling pig and Chinese banquet (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Hotpot night (M&L)
Stomachs Eleven: Crackling roast pork and black sesame cupcakes (me)
Stomachs Eleven: No ordinary steak dinner (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Polish feast (Miss Rice)
Stomachs Eleven: Christmas 2009 (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Char siu and Hainan chicken (me)
Stomachs Eleven: Amazing impromptu dinner party (Pig Flyin)
Stomachs Eleven: Dumplings and Shanghai soy duck (M&L)
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4/05/2009 12:47:00 a.m.