Pork Cheek Tacos and Midnight Chocolate Cake

After a busy week it was great to have a Friday off. I slept in, the AQI was fairly low and it was warmish (30, not too much wind) so I ran to Sanyuanli. I wanted to make a nice big dinner, and I’ve been craving chocolate cake, so that was on the menu as well. I planned for roast chicken, sweet potatoes and Brussel sprouts, with gravy and cranberry jelly on the side because I brought back a few cans that were on sale for a dollar (can you believe that canned cranberry jelly costs over five dollars here?). At Sanyuanli, there were three kinds of chicken. The black chickens that apparently don’t taste very good or have good flavor but are more expensive because they’re supposedly really good for your health if you make soup, normal chickens that cost RMB25 but are skinny little things that look like they died of starvation, and a big fat mother of a hen that costs RMB57. I went for the big guy (and walked all the way home carrying it). I also picked up some pig cheeks for later.

Once at home, I brined the chicken in a salt, sugar, crushed garlic clove and whole clove solution. Then I patted it dry, seasoned it on the outside with olive oil salt and pepper, slid wafer thin slices of lemon and garlic under the skin with a few bay leaves and pats of butter, and stuffed the cavity with celery, carrots, onion and more lemon. Popped it into the oven at 200C for an hour and forty minutes.

In the mean time, I steamed the sweet potatoes in the microwave, peeled and mashed them with a little butter and cinnamon. Cut the Brussel sprouts in half, and sauteed them with minced shallot and garlic and olive oil on low heat for ten minutes. And I started the base for a stock, with onion, celery carrot and potato, a splash of soy sauce, salt and pepper and the neck from the chicken. Once the chicken was done I carved it up (it wasn’t pretty…I’m not allowed to carve meat again), reserving the legs and the breast meat and some of the choice dark meat, and putting all the rest into the stock with the stuffing-vegetables.

To make gravy, I took the drippings from the roasting pan, poured through a strainer into a pan. On medium heat I added a generous splash of red wine and about a cup of stock. Reduced it for a few minutes, then whisked in a tablespoon of flour and let it thicken up, seasoning it with salt and pepper at the end.

It's like Thanksgiving again!

And then I made the cake, so it would bake while we ate.
2 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking sod
1 cup boiling water
1 cup canola oil
2 tsp espresso powder
1 3/4 cup flour
4 large egg yolks, 2 whole eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk (I didn’t have any, so milk + 1/2 tsp white vinegar)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cake pan with parchment paper and oil (or in my case, line a baking dish with tin foil and oil).
In a pot, combine sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the cup of boiling water, and slowly bring up to a boil, then let rest (this helps get a really nice dark color).

Cocoa mixture slowly boiling

Stir in espresso powder, flour, eggs, yolk, vanilla, oil, and milk .hen pour into the pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Once the cake is removed from the oven, simmer 1/3 cup cream and 1 Tbs butter, then remove from heat and add 1 cup of bittersweet chocolate. I wanted to add a hint of orange, but didn’t have any orange flavored liquor, so I improvised with a splash of fresh squeezed orange juice, orange zest, and a splash of whiskey. Stir until smooth, and then pour over the cake and let settle.

Rich, dark chocolate cake with orange chocolate ganache frosting

My last Saturday before the kindergarten class starts up again…I took full advantage by sleeping in and being lazy, and enjoying a cup of Vietnamese coffee before we went to the gym. After running 11km I started feeling sick. On the way home from the gym we stopped at a bike store and I got myself a shiny new bike for RMB300. I was afraid I might throw up if I rode it home, so Sawyer did. Turns out I had a low fever so I spent the rest of the evening on the couch watching movies and drinking tea, and we ate leftovers for dinner. And even feeling sick, I allowed myself a little bit of cake, because hell, if chocolate cake can’t make me feel better, nothing can.

Sunday: teaching and more teaching. Before my evening class, I prepared the pork cheeks to slow braise.

3 pork cheeks
Soy sauce, cooking wine
1 cup stock
Star Anise, crushed ginger and garlic
Salt, pepper, red chilies, cumin, coriander, paprika.

Pig Cheeks Marinating

Marinate the cheeks for a few hours, then remove from the liquid and pat dry. Sear them in a pan, a few moments on each side. The cheeks are pretty fatty so I didn’t bother with any cooking oil. Then, place them in a baking dish and cover with the marinating liquid (if not enough, add more stock, water and spices and until the meat is just submerged). Cover it all in a tent of tinfoil. Pop them into the oven at 160C, and I let them braise for 3 hours. Once they were done I shredded them with two forks.

Pig Cheeks with Chili, Sun-dried Tomato, Garlic, Star Anise, Cumin, and Paprika Braise

I caramelized an onion in the leftover pork fat in the pan, with a bit of butter melted in. And I charred a cup of sweet corn. Served with freshly made guacamole and salsa and sour cream on warmed corn tortillas. I think I’ll be sticking to flour tortillas from now on, though, even though the corn tortillas are supposed to be healthier they fall apart easily and it made for some messy eating.

Omnomnom Pig Cheek Taco


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