The day is TODAY. The main event for the Great One's trip to Taiwan. Not a dinner at some world-class fancy schmancy restaurant with Michelin stars or on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Nope. Today we'll be staying in all day at chez moi, and she'll finally have a chance to eat mom's cooking.
First up on the day was mom's gigantic lion's head (獅子頭). These meatballs are found in Shanghainese restaurants all over, but no commercial restaurant would make it this size. Instead, they prefer little round ones that can be taken by diners with a couple of bites.
Despite the fact that she uses lean ground pork, mom's lion's heads are always very, very soft and juicy. Her secret ingredient is onions - lots of it. They are diced very finely and mixed into the pork. The meatballs are coated with a little bit of corn starch water just before going into the wok - to protect them and to help hold them together as they brown.
The browned meatballs are then steamed for a while, then cooked in the clay pot with plenty of Chinese cabbage layered both below and above them. This cooks the liquid out of the onion, creating holes inside the meatballs and makes for a loose and tender texture.
We took a lunch break, and since the Great One wouldn't have time to go out for beef noodles, mom decided to braise a pot of beef so that we could eat in. To be honest, mom doesn't really make beef noodle soup like the ones popular all over Taiwan. What we eat at home is really just a beef stew served over a bowl of dry noodles, although mom uses beef shank since it's easy to cook. There's plenty of collagen that gets cooked into the sauce, so that's pretty satisfying.
After lunch and a coffee break, it was time to start on mom's Lunar New Year specialty - Perfect Ten (十全十美). This dish has its origins in Shanghainese cuisine, and is a combination of 10 different vegetables. It's an incredibly time-consuming dish to make, which is why mom only makes it once a year for the holidays.
Mom decided that for today, she would only use 8 ingredients instead of 10 - leaving out marinated cucumber (醬瓜) and hair moss (髮菜). Even so, that's still a lot of stuff to be sliced and julienned... with carrots, celery, rehydrated daylily (金針), dry tofu (豆干), summer bamboo shoots (but mom prefers winter bamboo shoots for the texture), soy bean sprouts (黃豆芽, sometimes called 如意), wood fungus, and shiitake mushrooms. So Hello Kitty was drafted as mom's little helper...
And she even learned a little trick to peel the husk off a bamboo shoot.
The process is repeated for each individual ingredient, and over time the ingredients are evenly mixed together. This achieves uniformity of both color as well as ensuring - as much as possible - that each mouthful delivers the same texture.
The final lesson of the day is on sautéed string beans with minced pork (乾煸四季豆). This is one of my favorite dishes from mom, and in fact in all my years I've only ever come across two restaurants in Taipei that come close to mom's version... and none in either Hong Kong or Macau.
The lessons took a little longer today than expected, so some of us were pretty hungry by the time we sat down to our feast. But what a feast!
Mom was very generous today because having 4 of these for the 6 of us is a lot... although in the end we only ended up eating 3 of them. Having just had some on my birthday a few days ago, I only had ¼ of one... while the Great One ended up with ¾ and HaoKouFu ended up eating a whole sea cucumber by herself!
This being dinner at home, we drank some casual wines. HaoKouFu very generously brought along a white Burg to start us off...
A very, very good evening. Many thanks to Hello Kitty for helping mom out, and I'm ever grateful to mom for her generosity and her love for me.