Ni Hao Café

10 05 2010

The end of the spring semester is just around the corner, and Chris and I are finishing our junior year of college. Since we’re currently busy studying for finals and wrapping the semester up, we unfortunately do not anticipate a lot of cooking going on until after finals are finalized.

Today, however, we went to Ni Hao Café, which is a Chinese restaurant located right on the Corner (a popular food spot for students, locals, and visitors alike). Ni Hao Café caters mostly to undergrad and grad students, as the food is pretty quality and the prices are relatively cheap. Typically, it is under $10 for an entrée. During lunch, there are $5 specials that come with rice. They even have Happy Hour, Mondays-Fridays from 4-6 pm!

Chris and I have actually been to Ni Hao Café several times, mostly with our classmates. However, today, we decided to go there for lunch! We were the only ones in the restaurant for awhile, although there were some people who came in for takeout and eventually by the time we were ending our lunch, two groups of people came in. Chris and I both ordered beef noodle soup (the third time NRM has come up in our blog!). We wanted to compare their NRM to ours.

The first thing I noticed about Ni Hao’s beef noodle soup is that the noodles are very thick and wide; Chris calls them fat rice noodles. The noodles we used were pretty thick and wide too, but I don’t think they were as wide as Ni Hao’s. The beef seemed pretty good. Chris thinks that it was more restaurant-style than the traditional NRM. It wasn’t spicy and didn’t have a very distinguished star anise-taste like ours did. Overall, it was pretty good beef noodle soup and I would recommend it to friends/family/strangers and eat it again.

Ni Hao Café's beef noodle soup

Yum! Next time we go to Ni Hao, we’ll be sure to try other delicious dishes. I’m especially interested in their dim sun plates! :)


Beef Noodle Soup + Sushi!

8 05 2010

This past week, Chris and I made beef noodle soup (牛肉麵 aka NRM) again.

We still had Chinese green veggies, tomatoes, noodles, mustard greens, and star anise from last time, so all we had to buy was beef shank. We went to Harris Teeter again and bought the much-needed beef shank for our NRM.

At home, Chris first cut the beef shank into cubes.  Then, I placed the beef shank into cold water heated until just boiling.  Chris strained the beef and rinsed it with cold water.

Then, Chris first sautéed a little bit of ginger, sesame oil, and spicy chili bean paste.  After the mixture was hot, he added the beef to pan-sear the meat. Afterwards, Chris added a little bit of water and rice wine together to cover over the meat along with the star anise, garlic, and some sugar. He let it boil for ~30 minutes. He added chopped tomatoes in, reducing heat down to simmer for about an hour.

Meanwhile, I boiled some water for the noodles in the rice cooker.

When everything was ready, Chris ladled the NRM soup and veggies and then added some noodles on top. He added some chopped mustard greens and placed it on top of the noodles along with the boiled green vegetables. Chris added some cilantro and green onion as a garnish at the end.

The NRM was very successful; in fact, several of our hallmates came to the room, commenting on the overwhelming smell that was wafting down the hall. So we ladled some soup and noodles for them as well. Overall, another successful NRM story :)

NRM Finished product

Beef Noodle Soup!

I almost forgot to mention! Chris and I also made sushi the other day! We bought a large cucumber, avocados, and surimi. Ching-san gave Chris a bag of Japanese sushi rice (Premium Grade Rice Nishiki). So, we cleaned everything and then Chris chopped the cucumber into very thin, long slices and cut open one avocado and chopped them as well. He also cut the surimi.

Meanwhile, I prepared the sushi rice in the rice cooker and then Chris added rice vinegar to the sushi rice when it was all cooked and I mixed it up. After everything was chopped up and cooked, Chris spread the sushi rice onto a piece of cling wrap on top of the bamboo sushi mat we borrowed from Ching-san. He used a spoon to flatten the sushi rice and then placed pieces of avocado, cucumber, and surimi. Then, he rolled the sushi and cut them into California roll makizushi-style sushi (the most familiar kind to foreigners). Unfortunately, we forgot to buy nori (seaweed), but it’s okay because the sushi was really delicious and tasted exactly like California roll sushi!

Chopping sushi ingredients

Chopping the avocado for the sushi

Rolling the sushi

Bon appetit!

Surprise Dinner

25 04 2010

Since Alice is home for a job interview (good luck!), and because I haven’t cooked for a while, I decided that I would surprise Alice with a traditional Chinese dish: Spicy Braised Beef Noodle Soup (牛肉麵) (i.e., niu rou mian or NRM).

I bought the necessary ingredients at a Far Eastern grocery store and Kroger:

  • Beef shank
  • Chinese green vegetables (青菜)
  • Tomatoes
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar
  • Star anise (八角)
  • Spicy chili bean paste (豆瓣酱)
  • Rice wine
  • Noodles
  • Garlic
  • Ginger (Eww..I hate! ginger >.<)

    First, I cut the beef shank into cubes.  Then, I placed the beef shank into cold water heated until just boiling.  I strained the beef and rinsed it with cold water to prevent overcooking the meat.  I like to do this preparation step in order to remove some of the blood and impurities from the beef.

    Then, I first sautéed a little bit of ginger, sesame oil, and spicy chili bean paste.  After the mixture was hot I added the beef to pan-sear the meat temporarily. Because it’s a braised dish, one needs to sear the beef first and then cook it in liquid in a covered pot.   One of the secrets to good NRM is this braising process.  In a perfect NRM, the beef will be very tender, and chewy with minimal loss of flavor to the soup.  The braising process allows for all of these delicious things to happen just before you eat the first spoonful!

    Afterwards, I added a little bit of water and rice wine together to cover over the meat along with the star anise, garlic, and some sugar. Then, I let it boil for ~30 minutes.  I then chopped two tomatoes, and added those in, reducing heat down to simmer for about an hour.

    Meanwhile nearing the end of the hour, I boiled some water with a little bit of salt and heated up the vegetables.  In another pot, I boiled the noodles.

    When everything was ready, I ladled the broth with some meat into a bowl removing the ginger, garlic, and star anise.  Then I places some noodles on top.  I chopped some sour mustard greens and placed it on top of the noodles along with the boiled green vegetables.  As garnish, I added some cilantro and green onion.

    Braised Beef Noodle Soup

    The final product!

    Congratulations to Ching-san on signing with Cornell’s graduate program for financial mathematics! We wish you good luck in the future. Ganbatte!

    Taste of China Part Deux + Wild Wings Cafe

    18 04 2010

    Readers, you get a special treat today. Two back-to-back restaurants!

    Yesterday night, Chris’ parents and his sister came to visit him. We went out to eat at Taste of China. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was jammed packed with people and we had to take a number. About 10 minutes passed and we were seated at a really big table meant for 8-9 people. Most of the waiters looked stressed, walking briskly around trying to take everyone’s orders and bring around dishes and drinks.

    Our selections:

    • Hot appetizer: 3 scallion bubble pancakes (葱油泡饼).
    • Hot appetizer: Hot & Spicy Beef Rolls (麻辣牛肉卷).
    • Cold dish: Sliced beef and beef tripe with hot pepper sauce (夫妻肺片).
    • Chef’s Special (Entrée): Roast fish with green onion (竹塔烤鱼片), which is fried fish sautéed with onion and chili powder and ground cumin.
    • Meats: Braised beef with tomato in hot pot (蕃茄牛腩锅)
    • Entrée: Braised beef fillets with chili sauce (成都水煮牛).
    • Veggies: Oilseed Rape (油菜).

    The food was delicious. We also got a big tub of rice, which helped with the spiciness. I especially liked…everything! But in particular, I enjoyed the sliced beef and beef tripe with hot pepper sauce, the roast fish, the braised beef with tomato and the braised beef fillets in chili sauce (so essentially, everything!). The oilseed rape was good too, and so were the scallion pancakes. We ate most of the food, and only the oilseed rape, braised beef fillets in chili sauce and a very small portion of rice were left. We boxed our leftovers and Chris’ parents gave them to us.

    Scallion pancakes

    Sliced beef and beef tripe with hot pepper sauce

    Hot & Spicy Beef Rolls

    Braised beef with tomato in hot pot

    Roast fish with green onion

    Braised beef fillets with chili sauce

    Hmm, doesn’t everything look so appetizing? Very good food in very good company :)

    Today, Chris and I went to Wild Wings Cafe. The restaurant is located right next to the Amtrak station, on West Main Street, towards downtown Charlottesville. I must comment, the parking lot is super bumpy and not at all paved. When we went into the restaurant, initially we were going to be seated upstairs, but the hostess discovered there were no seats left, so we were seated in a booth downstairs. Our menus were handed to us, and Chris and I began looking at the menu of this highly popular restaurant, which we never set foot in until today.

    Our selections:

    • Appetizer: Steel Town Spuds (a generous portion of Big Fat Fries or crispy Buffalo Chips covered with ranch dressing, bacon, scallions & melted cheese) – we chose the Big Fat Fries!
    • Main course: 25 piece sampler, 5 flavors (Jalapeño cheddar, the Slayer (hot garlic wings), Ragin’ Cajun, honey mustard, Flaming Parmesan). All the wings were served with celery and homemade bleu cheese or ranch dipping sauce. We asked for both sauces.

    These wings were super yummy! I especially liked the Slayer and honey mustard. Chris’ favorite was the Flaming Parmesan. Unfortunately, we forgot the camera back in the dorms, so there are no pictures of these fantastic wings :( However, we really like Wild Wings Cafe! Can’t wait to go back someday!

    Taste of China

    4 04 2010

    Happy Easter!

    Warning: Reading this post while hungry might send you straight to the fridge/freezer/telephone.

    On Friday, I made spaghetti for dinner! Quite simple; we had a bag of Italian capellini pasta and a bottle of organic tomato and basil sauce. I heated up some ground meat first in the pot, and then added the tomato sauce in. Stirred in some more basil leaves and a splash of pepper. Then, I remembered that we had some leftover baby bella mushrooms in the fridge, so I chopped the remaining mushies and added them to the sauce as well. In our rice cooker (creative, n’est pas?), I heated up some water and put the pasta in there to cook. As we didn’t have another pot for the pasta to cook in, we usually use the rice cooker. One has to be a bit inventive in college dorms.

    Making spaghetti

    Chris' bowl of spaghetti

    The spaghetti was good; Chris gobbled it all up quickly and then went for seconds. He finished it all on Saturday for lunch. I wish I had bought meatballs to school, because they would have made the spaghetti tastier.

    Saturday night, Chris and I went to Taste of China (川娃) for dinner. He had been there before with some people from our hall, and said it was really good. The restaurant is in this semi-remote shopping center, where the biggest attraction is the Outback Steakhouse. Next to the restaurant was an insurance company o.O But there were plenty of people inside the restaurant, all munching happily on authentic Chinese cuisine. Chris and I were seated by the window, and we took awhile to glance over the menu.

    Our selections:

    • Hot appetizer: 3 scallion bubble pancakes (葱油泡饼). Cost: $5.50.
    • Chef’s Special (Entrée): Roast fish with green onion (竹塔烤鱼片), which is fried fish sautéed with onion and chili powder and ground cumin. Cost: $14.50.
    • Entrée: Braised beef fillets with chili sauce (成都水煮牛). Cost: $12.50.
    • Veggie: Pea shoots sautéed with Chinese green vegetables (豆苗抄青菜). Cost: $8-9 (wasn’t on the menu).

    The food arrived, and it looked so yummy I just wanted to gobble it all up right away. But I restrained myself long enough to take pictures of our selections and then, Chris and I started eating. The scallion pancakes were warm and although they looked really big, it was just filled with air, so once you tore open the pancake, the size diminished significantly, leaving behind a crispy and delectable pancake. The braised beef was delicious; not spicy at all in my opinion (though I’m relatively resistant to spicy foods), but the beef was very tender and I loved mixing the sauce with rice; it gave the rice a nice, zingy flavor. The roast fish was really scrumptious; each piece was crunchy and savory. And the pea shoots and green veggies were a healthy and tasty choice.

    Pea shoots and Chinese green veggies

    Braised beef fillets with chili sauce

    Roast fish with green onion

    Scallion bubble pancakes

    We had to have most of the food bagged up for takeout afterwards, as it was too much for just the two of us to eat in one sitting. But we did finish the scallion pancakes and most of the roast fish. The beef and the pea shoots/green veggies remained in plentiful quantities for today’s leftovers :)

    Taste of China was an excellent restaurant! I definitely want to go back sometime. It is perhaps the best, most authentic Chinese restaurant in the Charlottesville area.

    As always, bon appetit!