Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gung Hay Fat Choy & VH Sauces | Weeknight Sweet & Sour Pork Recipe

Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser.

2014 is a year of change for my family; it has brought with it a new job, a new city, a new home and a new reality.  This will be the first year, of my life, that I won't be spending Chinese New Year with my family. Each Chinese New Years Eve, we all go to my Popo's (grandmother) house and we eat, we play and we exchange lucky money.

This year, my boys and I will be in Kamloops, 4 hours away from the craziness that is my family and given that its a weeknight this year, driving down to Vancouver simply isn't an option.
When #collectivebias presented me with an opportunity to celebrate Chinese New Year with VH Sauces, everything came together for me. ALL VH sauces are now gluten-free (and their new labels clearly state 'gluten-free food'), but they are also quick, which is a requirement for our busy new lifestyle, where Dad does most of the cooking because Mom doesn't get home until 6pm.
I decided to make a simple sweet and sour pork and white fish with black beans, however I wasn't able to find any dried black beans. A simple reminder, I'm not in Vancouver anymore. Fortunately, I was easily able to find VH Sauces at my local Superstore and I decided to make honey garlic cod to accompany my pork instead. I simply pan friend the cod with a little bit of oil and VH honey garlic sauce; nothing fancy, but it sure was delicious.
The entire meals took me about half an hour to create, though I admit, I just wasn't in the mood for veggies. If I had been however, I could easily have thrown a handful of frozen peas in with the pork. If you're looking for a quick and easy weeknight meal, that your kids will in fact eat, why not try some sweet and sour pork?
Weeknight Sweet and Sour Pork
  1. Thinly slice your pork across the grain (it is easier to cut your pork thin if it is a little bit frozen). I also cut each slice in half lengthwise, so I had long thin pieces of pork.
  2. Mince garlic, while you heat the oil over med-high heat. 
  3. Add the garlic to the warming oil and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the pork and stir regularly until no longer pink. Do not over cook or your meat will be tough.
  5. Add the VH Sweet and Sour Sauce and simmer for 3-5 minutes. (You could add frozen peas while simmering to make this a little bit healthier).
  6. Serve over rice and enjoy.

Monday, January 20, 2014

10 Things I've Learned about Making Cold Process Soap

Call me crazy, but amidst a new job and moving, I've taken up a new hobby. After years of lusting after homemade soap, the lovely Donna from Sossima kindly took me under her wing and gave me a cold process soap making lesson.

After that one lesson, I was hooked.

I had some prepaid VISA's kicking around that were begging to be spent, so I bought some equipment and ordered some supplies. The internet is chock full of soap making how-to's and I'm by no means an expert, but over the last month or so, I've learned a few things about making soap.
10 Things I've Learned About Making Cold Process Soap
  1. Research First - If you're fortunate enough to get a hands-on lesson, jump on that opportunity. Otherwise don't just read JUST one beginners guide or watch JUST one video on youtube, watch many and watch closely, until you can anticipate what's going to happen next. Soapmaking is SCIENCE first and foremost and therefore requires precision and accuracy. Respect Science.
  2. Fear the Lye - Just like on a construction site Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not optional. Lye is caustic stuff and you need to wear gloves, eye protection and ideally an apron.  Keep vinegar on hand to neutralize the acid should you accidentally spill, keep the area well ventilated and ensure your kids and pets are at a safe distance. And just like you learned in 8th grade science, ALWAYS ADD ACID; add the lye to the water if you want to avoid an explosive, corrosive mess.
  3. You need dedicated soap making equipment - If you make soap with it, don't use it for food. Soap has lye and as per number 2, you should have hearty dose of fear with respect to lye. You will NEED a digital scale, a thermometer, a stick blender (I got mine for $10 at Superstore), a large mixing container (mine is a Pyrex 2L measuring cup), a heat proof container and stirring stick for the lye (I use a canning jar and a bamboo skewer) and a mold. Your mold doesn't have to be fancy, you can use a small loaf pan lined with parchment or freezer paper, or you can use a milk carton with the top or side cut off.
  4. Start Simple - I made a half batch of the Soap Queen's tried and true 'Lots of Lather' recipe and although it doesn't have pretty colours or fancy smells, I was successful on my first try. This recipe also uses only a few ingredients and won't set you back a fortune to get started. Plus, it really is a nice bar of soap.
  5. Make friends with a Lye Calculator - unless you are following a recipe EXACTLY how you found it, you need to use a Lye Calculator. Although you can cut all the oils in half successfully, the lye is calculated based on its reaction with each of the fats, so recalculating is not optional (unless you're a fan of the explosive, corrosive mess). If you're willing to invest a few bucks, you can use the Brambleberry Soap app.
  6. Trace is important - Trace is what happens when the lye and the soap blend together in a way that will create soap. Trace varies from light trace, which is kind of like whipped cream, before you whip it, to medium trace, which kind of looks like pudding and then there's heavy trace, which just looks like a big old gloppy mess. Different levels of trace are better for different types of pretty designs, and just to keep things exciting, adding scents or colours can accelerate trace and turn your pudding into glop that MUST be dropped into the mold immediately.
  7. Keep your soap cozy - Once in the mold, cover your soap with a piece of cardboard then wrap it in towels for 24 hours; during the saponification (when it turns into soap) you want a nice stable temperature. You don't however, need to put it somewhere really hot (like on my Mom's heated tile floors) or you may have some cracking on the top of your soap.
  8. Experiment with what you have - After I successfully made a half batch of the 'Lots of Lather' Soap, I substituted half the water with coconut milk, added some ground up oatmeal and used some cocoa powder for a pretty brown stripe. I tried a variation using coffee grounds for an exfoliating stripe, I'm also hoping it will deodorize stinky onion fingers. Scour the internet, be inspired and experiment.
  9. Experiment with Oils - just using oils you can buy at the grocery store you can change your soap. Some oils make big bubbles or small bubbles or lots of lather. So far I've enjoyed partially substituting olive oil with grapeseed or rice bran oils and I can't wait to try out a little bit of mango butter for extra moisturizing goodness.
  10. Be patient - perhaps the hardest part for me is the waiting. After 24 hours you can unmold and cut your soap, it will be soft and cut easily. Then, the real waiting occurs. The recommended curing time is 4-6 weeks; during this time keep your soap spaced our and rotate them occasionally, so that the water evaporates and the soap hardens. During this time the pH will also drop making an extremely gentle bar of soap. You can test out a little sliver to see how it lathers up after about a week, but truly, you need to wait before you start using your soap regularly.
And last but not least, don't forget to have fun!