Tag Archives: Chinese

Homemade Mooncakes

A couple of weeks ago it was Mid-Autumn Festival, and traditionally in Taiwan we would do barbecue and have some delicious mooncakes. Although I can find them here, I thought it would be fun to make my own. There are two types: I grew up with the Taiwanese kind, which are made of puff pastry and loose, soft filling (usually mung bean). The Cantonese kind is thick and dense with filling, usually lotus seed, mung bean, or red bean. Also, a salted egg yolk may also be present, but I decided it was too much of a hassle so we didn’t use them.

Etchings of the mold

So typically Cantonese mooncakes have designs on top. Traditionally the molds are large wooden blocks, and the design can be anything from flowers to words to patterns like this one. Mooncakes can either be square or round, but I liked round one betters so I got round mooncake molds

Plunger design

I got these from ebay. They’re easy to use and sort-of easy to clean (use a toothpick for the fine pattern). Its best if you flour the mold before pressing it on your mooncake.

Snow skin Mooncakes with Red Bean Filling

So we made 2 types of mooncakes – green tea snow skin mooncakes with red bean filling, and regular skin mooncakes with lotus seed filling. These were the snow skin ones and they are really easy. The recipe is just glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and green tea powder. We used canned anko for red bean filling because we happened to have it on hand. I have never had a store-bought snow skin mooncake so I’m not sure if what we made was correct, but my friend commented that they should be chewier. Considering that the wrapper isn’t cooked/steamed, I’m not sure how anyone can make it more chewy. I did see a recipe that called for making the wrapper into mochi before wrapping it around the filling, but then how do you get the design on it?? I’m very confused.. but our mooncakes turned out to be pretty good.

Lotus seed paste

For the lotus seed paste, we actually made it from scratch. We boiled the lotus seeds in water for an hour, and then mashed it up with a fork. We added sugar, butter, and very thick oolong tea in it to make oolong tea lotus seed paste, and then sauteing it on a pan to evaporate the extra water. This stuff is DELICIOUS. I could just eat it by the spoonful, and I couldn’t stop myself from tasting it while I was mashing it/making moon cakes.

Baked mooncakes

So our recipe called for using caramel in the wrappers, which, other than the egg wash, was what gives it its nice brown color. However, I think  the recipe may have called for a little too much baking powder/soda which caused puffy mooncakes.

Huge ass mooncake, which is why it broke while baking

Anyway, I just wanted to blog about this experience. We, by no means, was successful. The mooncakes are NOTHING like the ones we could buy, and I blame it on not carefully choosing the recipe. The ratio/proportions were also super off, which is why I’m not posting those recipes. I really have to be careful in choosing recipes. I forget that I used to spend hours sifting through webpages and blogs for a reliable recipe from a reliable source during summer, but this time I just used the first one I saw. Horrible idea. However, it was a fun experience, and I would love to do it again (with a better recipe).

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How Lee Chinese

Rumor has it that the head chef of How Lee has gone to China Star/Sichuan Gourmet, so I decided to give this place a try to see if things have really changed.  I don’t come here often. When I do, however,  I remember that I am always happy during the meal, but not quite so satisfied when we leave. I suspect it was because the food here isn’t actually that good, but I don’t remember. Anyway, a group of us, not knowing where to eat (typical us) ended up in How Lee’s (typical us).

Also, funnily enough, whenever we go to a Chinese restaurant, somehow  I am unanimously assumed to be the person to order dishes, or maybe its some secret scheme to make me look bad when I order a really crappy dish?  Haha, who knows, but I ordered stir fry grean beans, mapo tofu, Chen Du spicy chicken, and salt stir-fried pork.

成都辣子雞 Chen Du Spicy Chicken

So this dish has another variation, called Chongqing spicy chicken(重慶辣子雞) which is breaded, while this one isn’t. This is one of my favorite dishes of Sichuan cuisine. The chicken pieces, although small, were very tender and juicy. The seasoning was good, and I love those sichuan dried peppers. I think this is a must-order (breaded version or not) if you go to How Lee’s.

Pork something…

How Lee’s must have updated their menu since their head chef left, but I forget what this dish is called. 鹽煎肉? I remember something about salt stir fried meat (pork?). But anyway, this dish wasn’t that spicy, but they clearly got the salty part down. However, the meat was a little tough, and the whole dish was rather greasy, typical of Chinese food. I would possibly get it again, only for the price though (under 10 dollars I remember).

麻婆豆腐 Mapo Tofu

Now this dish has traveled far and wide, making new homes in Taiwan and Japan and so on and so forth. Now I don’t mind different regional variations, but when I go to a Sichuan restaurant, I want the traditional Mapo Tofu. Sadly, I don’t believe this is what the dish is supposed to taste like. Its very bland, despite it sitting in hot chili oil. Also, it has a hint of Sichuan peppercorns, which has the iconic numbing sensation, but I wish they had put more. I swear to god most the stuff on top is just black pepper, ground. Its not spicy nor is it numbing. Its just… greasy.

乾扁四季豆 Stir fried green beans

Here is probably the most disappointing dish of all, the stir fry green beans. How can a restaurant go wrong with such a simple dish!? Seriously. The green beans had a horrible texture. The skin was tough and leathery (in a bad way), and it felt like it was severely detached from the insides as well. It was stringy too, and overall this is just not what I expect from string beans. As my friend pointed out, it tasted like they used frozen green beans, which is sad because they really are not that expensive to buy in Pittsburgh. My friend also pointed out that there were a lot of burnt pieces, as if the cook had not heated enough oil in the wok, threw in the beans, realized they were burning and then threw in some more cold oil. While all of this is just speculation, I still insist that they ruined an easy dish which is disappointing.

Anyway, so this visit has verified my previous intuitions about this place: not so great, and probably not really worth your money. I would say go to China Star/Sichuan Gourmet instead. Although not everything there is perfect/amazing, they have a bigger variety of food to choose from, and I have had some good Chinese food there before.


China Star

Recently, Pacific Ring up at Squirrel Hill got replaced by China Star, which is now a Si Chuan restaurant. I will say that I am extremely biased because I love Si Chuan food, so that’s that. The restaurant is also newly renovated, and I think the interior design looks a lot less gloomier compared to before. Anyway, we ended up ordering 夫妻肺片 (Cold Beef Brisket and tripe), 重慶辣子雞 (Stir fried spicy chicken), 水煮魚 (Fish in hot oil), and 冬菇絲瓜 (Squash and mushrooms).

The dishes turned out to be amazing, although somewhat salty. They were definitely generous on the spices, and I thought they tasted pretty authentic. I feel like this is a restaurant that I would go to regularly with my family in Taiwan, and that says a lot. It could be spicier though… I’ve definitely had spicier Si Chuan food, but I think it was enough for the people I was eating it with. I have yet to find another Chinese restaurant in Pittsburgh to offer the squash (in the last dish) so I was really excited. I think the meal was amazing and I would definitely go back again, even if the prices are all $10+.