Snacks

POTATO CHIPS AND THAI HERBS SALAD

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MORE REFRESHING THAN THE MORE COMMONLY PRACTICED CRISPY FRIED HERBS,

BUT FAR MORE ADDICTIVE…

MY relationship with dining-out for western cuisines in Beijing has been for the past 5 years, at best, a struggle of love and hate.  The incentive for attempting such silly missions is simple.  If you were living in Beijing, most of the times your best shot at some happiness at least is to make yourself feel like, you weren’t.  And sometimes, you know, the right restaurants can do that.

But unfortunately, for far too many times, I’ve sat on a taxi-ride home fed with the fury of underwhelming meals, overcharged bills, and all together more often than not, a complementary cocktail of clueless and laughable services.  In the end, I guess one could argue that all along, the true idiot had always been, perhaps, me.  Because I was the one who’s been looking for cow’s milk in a rat’s asshole, trying to match the standard of what’s available here with that of New York.

I was the real joke.

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CAULIFLOWER RICE CAKE + POOR MAN’S X.O. SAUCE

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YOUR DESIGNATED DIM-SUM PLACE CAN’T TOUCH THIS

Have you had Chinese turnip cake with X.O. sauce?

Well, the thing is, you probably have without knowing.  Over the dizzying array of small dishes on a dim-sum table, your friend passed you a plate of square white cakes with browned and crispy exteriors, served with a small oily dollop of brownish condiment.  You ate it, mmmmmmm…., probably even asked for the name of the dish, but let’s be honest, who the hell can remember any names from a feeding-frenzy over a dim-sum table?

Well, that, my friend, you just had Chinese turnip cake and its side-kick, X.O. sauce.

I’ve been long trying to come up with a X.O. sauce recipe.  X.O. sauce, suggested from the name given, is made with a large proportion of expensive ingredient, being soaked and shredded dried scallops, and thus lands as a prestigious condiments on the table of Chinese banquette.  It’s usually served in small spoonfuls, as an intense, savoury and spicy flavour-booster to highlight stir-fry dishes, rices and noodles, or dim-sum classics such as the turnip cake.  It’s wonderful.  I love it.  So why not just make that?

Well… I mean, dried scallops are great.  Fancy stuff.  One of those things that are pocket-burning to buy, a pain in the ass to prepare, and in the end of course as all fancy stuffs must be, highly fucked-able.  One miss-step in the prepping and cooking procedure, what was supposed to make this sauce supremely “X.O.”, will also easily turn it into a pile of rubbery and teeth-flossing donkey-hide.  In this particular juncture in my life where several “bad apples” are on the brink of collapsing, I’m not going to risk my iphone 6-fund on something that could potentially malfunction, too.  Especially, not when I believe the beauty of X.O. sauce could be replicated with ingredients that are more, literally, down to earth.

Instead of shredded dried scallops, I’m using dried shitake mushrooms.  In combination with dried shrimp which is also a traditional ingredient in X.O. sauce, this poor man’s version came out well beyond my highest expectation.  It’s robust, complex and intense, embodying the sea-essence from the dried shrimps and oyster sauce, as well as the earthiness of mushrooms and ham.  It’s a symphony of notes that cannot be described unless personally experienced.  And it’s my next it-sauce to be slathered on a bowl of rice, a quick slurps of noodle, or if I’m feeling like going the extra mile, this cauliflower rice cake.

Wait, what happened to turnip cake?  Because I’ve also, long been trying to come up with a turnip cake recipe.  Turnip cake, suggested from the name given, is made with a large amount of Chinese turnip aka daikon, along with Cantonese sausage, dried shrimps, and a batter made with white rice flour.  It’s usually steamed inside a rectangular mold, then sliced and browned over a hot skillet right before serving.  A humble, homey and delicious staple that’s as beloved as anything can get if you came from an Asian background.  It’s wonderful.  I love it.  So why not just make that?


 

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LAST SHIT – THE 3 FOUNDING DONBURI, THE ART OF EATING CANNED MEATS

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(THEY CAN) TRANSFORM INTO SURPRISING DELICIOUSNESS OF ELEGANCE AND COMPLEXITY

THIS is the last post (for awhile at least) of the new week-long segment, The Shits I Eat When I’m By Myself.  Jason is coming home tomorrow, and if you were any decent, none of us is ever going to speak of what happened here in the last few days…  But even though we’re near the end of an epic run, I have meticulously kept the best, and I hope you agree, for the last.

I’m going to share with you what I eat, sunny or rainy, broke or stashed, then-young and now-old, then-slim and now-lumpy… by myself or not, doesn’t matter.  This.  This is what I actually eat, love to eat, and I mean, like all the time.  This is what raised me, put me through college, and every other weekday-nights along with the lovely grin of Jon Stewart.  This, completes me.  I never had a name for this before, but for the sake of easy reference, I will now call it – The 3 Founding Donburi, The Art of Eating Canned Meats.

Donburi, is Japanese “rice bowl”, with various toppings that ranges widely.  The integrity of well-cooked short-grain rice is, of course, important, which is a subject I won’t even touch today for it’s so not the focus here (fine, two words, rice cooker!).  The focus here is the topping, and the topping, my friend, is a promiscuous playground for something that we all, at any given moment, got 1 or 2 stashed in a dark corner within the pantry.

Canned meats.

Good sardines in olive oil from Europe, bad sardines in olive oil from Europe, not-bad sardines in tomato sauce from Southeast Asia, corned beef, tuna, salmon… SPAM!  Misunderstood and badly represented, where people see them as shunned practices of desperation, I see them as cherished and indulging delicacies.  Good quality canned sardines (or even just the OK ones), with just a light touch of acidity, grated ginger and scallions piled over warm rice, can transform into surprising deliciousness of elegance and complexity.  How can I douse sichuan chili oil over diced SPAM, with a few drops of black vinegar and calling it a thing?!  Well, that is too, what doubters said at the historical moment when somebody thought why not smearing a bit of mustard over hotdogs…  Then browned corned beef, mixed with chopped kimchi and gochujang, toasted sesame oil and grated garlic… will have you breathing stinky and happy.

Each of the donburi will take… 2 min to put together at the most (not including the cooking-time of the rice).  Less than the time it takes to boil a pot of water.  And they will have you asking yourself, where have they been all your life?

Well… they’ve been right here.

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THE SHIT I EAT WHEN BY MYSELF – FLAMING CHEETOS + ARUGULA GRILLED CHEESE

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THE ARUGULA IS NOT JUST THERE TO VALIDATE THAT I’M STILL A HUMAN BEING…

If you thought, we shared a passionate connection yesterday over orange ramen for our new segment – The Shits I Eat When I’m By Myself – well, here comes true love.

True love is… true love is…  I say true love is when your other half walked in on you, with this throbbing in your mouth, said nothing, walked away and pretended like nothing happened, and didn’t cancel your credit card…  Uh, what was in your mouth oh I mean, my mouth you asked?  Uhem… even the mere pronunciation of the words, has to come with great courage…  It’s sharp gouda grilled cheese.  ……………..  OK.  OK… that’s not entirely honest.  Wwwell, it’s sharp gouda grilled cheese with baby arugula, and something tangy, spicy hot and fabulously crunchy in between…  What?  Now you’re just prying…

Fine!  FINE!  It’s flaming hot crunchy cheetos!  It’s FLAMING HOT CRUNCHY CHEETOS!  And I fucking love this shit!  Ya happy now?  It’s gooey melted gouda grilled cheese, but with a crunchy and contrasting texture sandwiched right in between, releasing neon-red powers that are, possibly, the last surviving legal addiction.  And didn’t you hear that there’s A-RU-GU-LA?  Which is, a ve-ge-ta-ble.  Which is, not just there to validate that I’m still a human being, but to elevate the entire flavour profile to please anyone, who obviously, isn’t insane.

What’s not to like?  Don’t answer that…

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THE INCREDIBLE LAHMACUN AND AYRAN

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THE FOOD-EQUIVALENT OF BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BRANGELINA OF ICONIC TURKISH EATS

  

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AS some of you may have noticed from this particular announcement, that I am now officially divorced… from the commitment of owning a stand-mixer (easy, gentlemen…).  More accurately, a surprised appliancewidow if you may, still deeply hurt by the concealed unhappiness my stand-mixer had apparently suffered from in the past 4 years, which finally led to his jump off the kitchen counter on a cloudy Oct 24th, decapitating himself in his last, escapist act.  The lumpy splatter of an unfinished pizza-dough over the black pavement, was his first and last, silent yet loudest protest, before declaring eternal freedom… from me.  Looking back, devastated, I don’t think he has ever loved me…

Now, mid 30’s, dumped, and less equipped…

I know at times like this, I’m suppose to resort to less labour-intensive tasks in the kitchen, a pasta-salad perhaps, or a one-bowl-pancake mix with added sparkles, maybe even the unthinkable salad, to hide the scars from this tragic embarrassment, and more importantly, look really hot while doing it.  But no.  In an counter-protest to the irresponsibility of a suicidal stand-mixer, giving up making doughs is admitting defeat.  With bare hands, I’m gonna prove that without him, I’m still highly desirable in the dough-market and totally dough-able.  Not just the same dough down the sad memory lane, but I’m gonna make something awsome-er, something super-er.

I’m gonna make the incredible, lamahcun and ayran.READ MORE

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SRIRA-CHOPPED CHEESE

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JUSTIFICATION – MAXIMUM CARAMELIZATION

SO you watched Tony Bourdain in Bronx, didn’t you?

And if in the next following days, a certain very catchy phrase got stuck in your head like the most maddeningly annoying tune, echoing “chop’cheese… no, chop-peh-ded cheese… chop’cheese…”, steady, you are not mad.  You are just, like me, actually more Bronx than you ever thought you were.  This supposedly Bronx-via-Harlem native dish, even though, was not at all the leading lady in the narrative of that show (i mean let’s face it, Chuchifrito… who can beat that diva), but she struck a tune that I couldn’t stop singing, and there’s only one way to shut her up.

But just because I wrote about this handsome dude here awhile back, doesn’t mean I’m familiar with the other girl next door.  So who’s chopped cheese?  With a name like “chopped cheese”, you know she’s not the kinda girl who reads Goop, al’right.  She doesn’t take the hipster burger non-sense or customizable patty elitism, in fact, pffff, she doesn’t even give a fuck about her slightly more polished cousin, cheese burger.  Chopped cheese, is about disrespecting a patty in the most gloriously wrong of ways, dismantling it half-way during cooking with complete disregard to the concept of, juice, or the ludicrous question of, doneness.  Hey.  Just ain’t the way she likes it.  Everything we’ve been taught not to do to a patty, she’s done.  Justification?  Maximum caramelization.  To brown every possible square inch of ground beef to draw out the beefy-ness within, and let the cheese melt into the desperate nooks and crannies in between in a greasy, fluid unison.  In the most non-vogue sorta way, she’s some kinda sexy.

So here you’re thinking, how do I get me some of that sexiness.  Well first, before you even pull your pants up to go out to the grocery stores, you gotta put your mind right.  Any obsession within you for refinement, artisanal bullshit, the love for your French cuffs, should be tossed out the window.  She’s not impressed with your suits and ties.  She likes fatty and economically friendly ground beef (and if you even raise a thought of grinding your own beef?  To the left.).  She works better with non-real American cheese and a soft, squishy bun.  And she likes to be eaten instantly when you’re still in your grease-splattered T-shirt, standing by the edge of the kitchen counter, marvelling.   It makes her feel special.

Well now… so you’ve been introduced.  I guess this is the perfect time to… leave you two alone. READ MORE

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EASY MOLE-D BEEF TOSTADAS

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I have never been to Mexico.

To clarify further, I have never even been close to any of the states next to Mexico except maybe LA, which I’m not even going to use as my pathetic credentials on real Mexican cooking which is to say, zero to none.  I’ve heard that Taco Bell is about as close to real Mexican food as fortune cookies are to being Chinese.  I’ve also heard that they don’t actually “nacho” much over there.  Aside from that, Mexican food has remained quite a romantic mystery.

But even though I don’t know enough to say what’s Mexican food, whatever it is, that tasteless borderline-inedible crap we were served with the other day near Beijing’s embassy area, was definitely not it.  Given that it was a very hot day hence we weren’t feeling particular choosey, we thought those more-than-a-handful patrons who were present during off-meal hours were a good indicator that the restaurant at least serves human food.  WROOONG!  I mean seriously, seriously, how inhumanly difficult is it to serve passable tacos to someone who’s never had a real taco!  Not so freaking hard is it?  Why!?

We left the place feeling psychologically hungry.  The trauma only left me wanting more of what I’ve never had – dainty Mexican tacos good enough to fool myself.  Then before long, my discontent took my memory back to a cookbook I’ve owned forever but never cooked from – Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants, which features A.O.C in LA and a recipe for their tostadas-tuesday.  OK, the critically acclaimed restaurant is not Mexican, and tostadas are not tacos but more like tacos with fried tortillas.  Do I have problem with any of that?  I mean do you?

Since this is starting to look like someone with no Mexican cooking experience, starting off from a recipe by a non-Mexican restaurant, I thought it won’t hurt much more to impose further ungrounded twists.  A.O.C’s recipe sauté the ground beef with aromatics and spices, but I want it to be more “Mexican-y”… whatever that is.  So I made a puree with soften dried chilis, onions, garlic and thyme, and a spice-mixture that includes something I’ve never used before in savoury dishes – unsweetened cocoa power.


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