Extra-browns Browned Butter

Not double, not triple, but ten, twenty-times of (salty) browned bits.

You’ve never known browned butter this way.  You’ll never want to know it any other way.

The other day, two hours after midnight while I was peeling through the dense jungle of Amazon’s available silicone microwave popcorn makers to be exact, something hit me like a lightening slitting down a tree.

Browned butter.

A glorious thing, absolutely.  But what is wrong with browned butter?  No, no, let me rephrase.  What is missing with browned butter?  It’s a beautiful thing that is butter made even more beautiful by letting the remaining traces of milk – an inevitable remnant from the process of making butter from cream – slowly caramelize into speckles of browned bits that, I want to argue, is the unsung hero that truly gives browned butter its celebrated nuttiness and deep, rich aroma.

So here I ask again, as attractive as is, what is missing with browned butter?

I say, not enough browned bits.

Yes, think about it!  Think about how sick browned butter could be if it is accompanied by not double, not triple, but ten, twenty-times the amount of browned bits that separates browned butter from being a component to a stand-alone, self-sufficient sauce all on its own.

Because I’m not just talking about browned bits, but salty, salty browned bits.  Relentlessly nutty to a point of almost sweet aroma storming your nasal cavity, with the saltiness bringing out all the nuance of depth and flavor that plain fat couldn’t physically carry by itself (salt can’t melt in oil), this is what I am calling Extra Browns, the late-arriving amplification of what browned butter could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been if everyone has been making it this way.  You’ve never known browned butter this way.  You’ll never want to know it any other way.

Simply add milk.  Simply add milk, my friends.

Extra-browns Browned Butter

Ingredients

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp/113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into large cubes
  • 3 tbsp (45 grams) whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Instructions

  1. Combine unsalted butter, whole milk and sea salt in a small non-stick pot (important, okay?). Cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring frequently if not constantly, until the liquid has all evaporated, and the butter starts to get foamy on the surface. Push aside the foam with a wooden spoon to check on the milk solids, and continue to cook until they turn gorgeously browned. Pour into a bowl immediately to stop further cooking. The whole process should take about 9 to 10 minutes. Use this liquid gold on whatever your hearts desire.
http://ladyandpups.com/2019/06/15/extra-browns-browned-butter/
Continue Reading

Moroccan Baghrir – Thousand holes pancake

Long been a destination on my bucket list – and one that had taken us way too long to fulfill – we finally visited Marrakech in December 2018.  I sort of did and didn’t know what to expect.  A dancing mirage somewhere in between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the face of Marrakech carried mysterious, exotic and imaginative beauty in my mind, like a place only in story books, almost unreal.

But of course, in reality, Marrakech is anything but unexposed.  We arrived to find an ancient city, like all the others of her kind left only with the pillars of tourism industry, whose beauty, flaws and dignity are laid bare for the world to entertain with.  Her plastered skin glowing in pink and orange, her sometimes unequivocal display of chaos and neurosis, and her remedial serenity and reflective pools inside the earthen walls of her beautiful courtyard houses, all of which was once for herself, now all is but a reluctant theme park for foreign passers.  This could be a difficult dilemma for any city, especially a poor one like Marrakesh, where her livelihood brings out both the best and worst she has to offer.  Within the walls of Medina, it could feel like a pressure cooker of transactions.  A request for directions, a photograph, a helpful hand, all of which seemed to need to become an exchange for euros, or worse, extortions.  And there she stood in the backdrop, her face blushing in that beautiful gradation of earthy red hues, I wondered, if in sadness or apathy.

That sounded negative.  For that I apologize, for who am I to lay judgment in my brief and shallow crossing with a city that is obviously complicated, and made our trip sound unenjoyable which it definitely wasn’t.  

If you wish to enjoy Marrakech, in my experience, you have to choose a great riad to stay in.  Riad is traditional Moroccan courtyard houses, but nowadays, mainly known as a synonym for Bed & Breakfast.  Your riad is where you retreat from the outer disorientation and intensity, where you find conversations beyond bargainings, where it could feel like a temporary family even just for a few days.  And most importantly for us, where the foods were great.  When it comes to street foods, to be utterly honest with you, I wasn’t too impressed, at least inside the walls of Medina.  We tried our best to avoid obvious tourist traps and focused on old establishments favored by mostly locals, but nothing stood up to the promise.  On the third day, out of search-fatigue and the promising aroma lurking out of the kitchen every late afternoon that we could no longer ignore, we decided to stay in our riad for dinner at a more than reasonable pricing of 20 euros per person.  What was served to us that night, had single-handedly reversed our perception of what Moroccan cuisine could and should be.

The dinner started with a few small bites of cold appetizers, each nicely balanced in texture and flavors that eased our skepticism.  Then came a lightly spiced pumpkin soup that held so much more nuances of comfort than its creamed orange appearance suggested.  “Is this typical in Moroccan meals?” I asked the manager.  “Yes.”  He smiled in amusement.  “Pumpkin soup.”  Of course.  At this point we were sufficiently assured to not be surprised by any excellence that was not expected.  But the main course, a bubbling tagine of fork-tender beef stewed in gentle spices and dried fruits with the occasional crunch of heart-shaped almonds, blew us away.  It isn’t easy, I feel the need to point out, to cook foods that are unmistakably motherly and soft-spoken while standing up to all the required sophistication and depths one would expect from a paid dinning experience.  Whoever cooked this meal, has a rare gift, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I decided to find out who she was.

Sitting at breakfast on the rooftop in a sun-lit backdrop of blue and pink, was when I saw this.  A plate of baghrir.

You may not know what it is, you probably don’t.  But I did.  I did because this particular Moroccan yeasted pancake, had hurt me.  Yes, deep, like the boy in school who had maliciously broken your heart and left it to rot in humiliation, whom you would never truly forgive and forget no matter how many therapies and better relationships you’ve been through, the one whom you will always, always imagine to run into on the street in your upmost hottest self just so he could mope in regret.  That boy, that was my baghrir.  I came across its recipe many years ago online, lured by its exotic and mysterious profile, agreed to series of hookups in the kitchen so unsuccessful that left me in distress.  Mushy, textureless, with big scattered holes like the surface of the moon, and worst of all, no apologies whatsoever.

But this baghrir… this was a different baghrir.  Chewy, filled with delicate holes that trapped as much salted butter and honey as my conscience would allow, it was everything that I once thought was falsely promised to be.  I was never one to ask to intrude in a private kitchen, but this is about settling old debts.  I asked the manager to introduce me to their cook and a few hours later before our second dinner in the riad, Majda greeted me by her stove.

The kitchen was already intoxicated by the aroma of couscous that she was preparing for dinner, a dish that I once so foolishly thought to take minutes, was an ordeal that stretched for hours and through various procedures by her standard.  She could barely speak a word in English, and I spoke none in French and Arabic.  Nonetheless she walked me through the process of making baghrir, patiently, explaining not by precise measurements but details in intuitions and adjustments, uncompromising even in the slightest margin of inconsistency.  I already knew she was good.  And now I knew why.  Ten minutes of preparing the batter and an hour of fermentation later, I stood by the stove and watched the batter I just poured into the skillet fizzing enthusiastically in densely populated air bubbles, which then popped as the batter cooked and solidified.  It was one of the most satisfying cooking experiences I’ve had, and the baghrir was just as chewy and delightful as the ones I had in the morning.

Six months had passed since my Marrakech trip, and I’m glad to tell you that after a dozen batches of re-enactment from memory and obsessive fiddling, I now could finally bring Majda into your kitchen, too.

 

Moroccan Baghrir – Thousand holes pancake

Yield: 13 six-inches pancakes

* Some baghrir recipes involve baking powder, but I find it unnecessary, counter-productive even, resulting in large, moon surface-like bubbles. The yeast itself will do the bubbling job perfectly.

* The extra protein in bread flour gives the pancakes more body and chewiness, which I think is paramount in a successful baghrir. But if you only have all-purpose, it will work, too, but just slightly less exciting.

* The bubbles of baghrir should be small, densely populated and delicate. If you find your bubbles too large and scattered, it is usually a sign that the batter has over-proofed. You need to either reduce the rising time or the amount of yeast.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (168 grams) fine semolina flour
  • 1/4 cup (35 grams) bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp (4 grams) fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 grams) instant dry yeast, or scant 1/4 tsp for overnight
  • 1 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (385 grams) hot water at 105 F/40 C
  • TO SERVE:
  • Salted butter, room temperature
  • Good floral honey

Instructions

  1. Water at 105 F/40 C would be 2 cups of water microwaved on high for 50 seconds, or as Majda used, the hottest tap water. In the blender, blend fine semolina flour, bread flour, fine sea salt, instant dry yeast and hot water on high for about 2 minutes, until the batter is extremely smooth. The batter should be very watery and runny.
  2. Transfer the batter into a container, cover, and let rise at room-temperature for about 1~1:30 hour (use 1/2 tsp of yeast for this). The batter should look quite foamy at the surface. Or you could prepare the batter before bed, and let rise in the fridge for 7~8 hours overnight (use scant 1/4 tsp of yeast for this). The next morning, the batter will appear to have separated with a watery layer in the middle. Don't panic, simply stir it back together. If you are leaving the batter in the fridge for more than 8 hours, reduce the yeast to 1/8 tsp.
  3. Once ready, give the batter a gentle stir and let rest for another 5 minutes. Heat a small non-stick flat skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then turn the heat down to medium-low. The temperature of the skillet should be that there is a faint sizzling sound when the batter hits. Pour about a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the skillet, then swirl it in an wide angle to spread it out into a thin, 6" pancake. Bubbles, tons of it, should immediately form on the surface of the pancake. Once the top surface of the batter is completely cooked, and the bottom is lightly browned, about 1-plus minute each, transfer the pancake onto a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest.
  4. The optimal state of the pancake is not when it's warm! It will taste mushy instead of chewy. The pancakes should be allowed to cool down completely before serving, about 30 minutes to 1 hour, which makes them perfect for breakfast parties. But if you're in a hurry, place them in front of a fan to cool down fast. Serve the pancakes with softened salted butter, salted I say, and drizzle with good floral honey (not that bear stuff please). It is a perfect pairing by design, the best really, hard to be outdone. But occasionally dipping the leftover pancakes into dinner curries isn't without its merits.
http://ladyandpups.com/2019/06/12/moroccan-baghrir-thousand-holes-pancake/
Continue Reading

COOKBOOK PRE-ORDER AND PREVIEW: MAPO TOFUMMUS

“IN 2012, IN A FORM OF SELF-ABANDONMENT, I STARTED THIS FOOD BLOG.  SEVEN YEARS LATER, I AM ABOUT TO PUBLISH A BOOK ABOUT THIS JOURNEY.”

I sat here for hours struggling with how to begin the sentence.  Stranger things have happened in this world I’m sure, I mean I could swear I saw a sea creature that looks like a glowing condom on the internet, but from where I stand, it doesn’t get more inexplicable than what I’m feeling right now.

It began in 2012.  It was just about two years into our miserable six years-long residence in Beijing.  In a form of self-abandonment almost, I started this food blog.

With no enthusiasm or objectives, setting out more to be a concession than a declaration, I did what I thought was throwing the white flag to all my other grander ambitions in life, that I was going to be that person, “a blogger”, a non-job made up by people whom I judged, past tense, to be minimally interesting that they had to put themselves on speaker.  It wasn’t brave.  It wasn’t inspired.  It was never expected to arrive anywhere.  I was standing on the edge of a cliff.  And I took the extra step.

The least of what I saw coming was that seven years later, I am to publish a book about this journey.

So yes, a Lady And Pups Cookbook.  The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story. 

This book is about my time in Beijing, what started it all.  If you are kind of new here, then yeah, no, I didn’t enjoy that.  This book is an self-reflective examination of how I retreated to my kitchen as a place to evade from my unpleasant realities.  What was wrong, what wasn’t, and answers that I am still unsure of today.  It’s honest but also contradictory, opinionated but nonetheless a personal truth.  An internal monologue, despicably self-serving and personal, almost to a fault.  Because for me this is more than a cookbook.  It’s therapy.  It’s closure.  It’s my attempt to draw a conclusion to what was a very difficult time of my life, to put the unsettlement to rest. You may find it funny.  You may find it bitter.  You may even find it obnoxious at times.  But it was what I had to say in the way that I had to say it, screaming and kicking, uncensored, crude, to boil my emotions down to something better than the ingredients of its making, a consommé of the nasty bits of my experience.  If you find that it resonates, I’m glad that you know you are not alone.  But if you don’t, then there are 80+ really fucking good recipes with it.

The book will be officially published in October but pre-order is available now.  Here is a recipe preview, of page 288 if you want to be precise.  I formulated the recipe list when I was still living in Beijing, but most of the book and recipes were written and shot after I left.  It is spoken in retrospect, a memoir if you will, where I am better equipped to find humor in past tense. I know I have been away from this blog for quite awhile, but from now on I will be posting more regularly again and continue to share sneak peeks.

I know I should be beating the drums right now.  But really, I just want to say Thank you.  You’ve made a very strange thing possible in my life.  Now go buy it, too.

 


COOKBOOK RECIPE PREVIEW P.288

MAPO TOFUMMUS

Tofu is bland. Don’t let its supporters, including me, tell you otherwise. Flying solo, it carries a subtle but offbeat taste that comes from soy milk, which, depending on whether you grew up accustomed to it or not, could either be a very good or a very bad thing. Having said that, I love tofu, perhaps in the truest sense because I wholly embrace it for what it is, but more important, what it isn’t.

Tofu is not about taste. Tofu is a texture thing.

Hard, medium, silken like panna cotta–think of tofu as a mere vessel, an empty field of impending dreams. It’s like Mars, if you will, in that any exciting thing about it has to be outsourced, like Matt Damon. This will open up a whole window of promise.

Tofummus, for example, is what happens when you turn the least popular end of the spectrum of tofu, the firm variety, into a silken, creamy, luscious bed of hummus-like substance that begs for company. In this case, its soulmate, if you know what I’m talking about.

This is mapo tofu, the quintessential icon of Sichuan cuisine, one of its most successful exports across the world, numbing with Sichuan peppercorns and fiery with fermented chile bean paste, turned into a dip (an overdue development, if you ask me). The tongue-stinging, blood-red chile oil and deeply savory pork bits are immediately cooled down by the silky smooth touch of the pureed tofu, the most delicious reconciliation on the taste buds. And if you’re feeling kinky, make it a threesome with chewy scallion and garlic naan.

 

 

MAPO TOFUMMUS

Ingredients

    MAPO SAUCE:
  • 3.2 oz (90 grams) ground pork or beef
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp potato starch or cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sichuan douban/chili bean paste (see pantry)
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder (see pantry)
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced fermented black bean, or 1 tsp the darkest miso you can find
  • 1/2~3/4 tsp Korean chili flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns, plus more to dust
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp shoaxing wine or sherry wine
  • 1/4 cup store-bought chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp apricot jam
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 5 drops rice vinegar
  • finely diced scallion to serve
  • TOFUMMUS:
  • 14 oz (450 grams) firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp garlic confit puree (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. MAKE GARLIC CONFIT PUREE: Smash 35 cloves (about 2 1/2 heads) of garlic with a knife and remove the skins. Set inside a non-stick pot along with 4 fresh bay leaves, 1/2 cup (120 ml) of canola oil, 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1/4 tsp ground white pepper. Cook over medium-low~low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlics are evenly golden browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and transfer the rest into a blender (or you can do this with hand-held immersion blender), and blend until the mixture is smooth. Keep in an air-tight jar inside the fridge for up to 2 week. Stir before use.
  2. MAKE MAPO SAUCE: Mix ground pork (or beef) with 1 tsp toasted sesame oil and potato starch (or cornstarch) until even.
  3. In a small pot, heat canola oil and toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat, breaking it up as finely as you can with a wooden spoon, and cook until evenly browned. Add douban paste, mushroom powder, fermented black bean (or dark miso) and chili flakes, store and cook for 1~2 minutes until the chili flakes have turned dark maroon in color. Add grated garlic, grated ginger, ground sichuan peppercorn and ground cumin, and cook until just fragrant. Add shaoxing wine, scraping any caramelization that is sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, then add chicken stock, apricot jam, ground white pepper and rice vinegar.
  4. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer until the liquid has reduced by 1/2 and slightly thickened. Can be made a couple days ahead of time. Reheat until warm before serving.
  5. MAKE TOFUMMUS: Tofu is made from boiled soy milk which makes it technically “cooked”. But if you’re not a fan of the taste of soy bean, boiling the tofu again will make it taste more well-rounded. But it may also make the puree slightly grittier. If you decided to boil it, cut the tofu into marshmallow-size chunks and cook them in boiling water for 5 min. Drain well, and let cool on top of a clean towel, then transfer into a food-processor.
  6. If not boiling, simply pat the tofu dry with a clean towel, then set inside a food-processor. Run the processor for 1~2 minutes until the tofu is smoothly pureed. Add garlic confit puree, toasted sesame oil and salt, and run again until incorporated. The tofummus should still be quite tasteless at this point.
  7. Serve the tofummus covered in warmed mapo sauce, topped with finely minced scallions and dustings of more ground sichuan peppercorns. Serve with chewy scallion garlic naan (recipe in the book).
http://ladyandpups.com/2019/06/05/cookbook-pre-order-and-preview-mapo-tofummus/
Continue Reading

Super rich coconut, orange and mango panettone

see you next year, my friend

In a few days, we are going to pack our bags and head to Paris then Marrakech for our holiday vacation.  I probably won’t see you much on this blog during that time, which is why I’m throwing you a fat-bomb now to sustain your optimal winter-time figure all the way untill a new year comes. What a new year if one can’t make a diet resolution to fail utterly at?

This is what I call, the Crazy Rich Asian Panettone, lubed up with 12 egg yolks, coconut milk, and an ungodly amount unsalted butter and unrefined coconut oil.  This indecent level of fat not only keeps the crumbs sinfully moist, but also provides a backdrop of coconuty aroma where it pairs beautifully with speckles of dried mango and persimmons tinged with orange zests.  It could serve as an awesome “self-enrichment” during the holiday seasons but also, as we all secretly desire, as an ill-intended gift for our frenemies whom we would like to see de-shaped on that first depressing day back to the office.  Either way, we win.

So see you next year, my friend.  You’ve been lovely.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

Japanese fried chicken (karaage) w/ salmon caviar (ikura)

”  Ikura’s intensity lies in its sticky and viscous brininess that liquifies and oozes around the tongue after each pops.  When you think about it, a sauce, almost.  “

We came home from a long weekend in Kyoto and, if I may, I want to talk about me and karaage for a bit.

For those who aren’t familiar, karaage, aka Japanese fried chicken, is and should be regarded as a league of its own, standing far apart from the classic American fried chickens or the recently popularized Korea-style fried chickens.  It is none of those.  Karaage is boneless, cut into medium to large-size chunks, without sauce, and almost always, as gods intended, uses dark meats only.  Flavor-wise, due to its mildly sweetened brine, its juice runs almost nectar-like, secreting from its firm and bouncy muscles following the crunch of karaage’s trademark white-speckled crusts.  Served simply with lemon wedges and Japanese-style mayonnaise called Kewpie — also a distinction from American/European mayonnaise but that’s another story — such formula has become an establishment in the Japanese diet, celebrated everywhere from restaurants, department stores, convenience stores and even train stations.  Clearly as popular opinions suggest, there’s nothing wrong with it for sure.

I used to adore karaage.  I still do, I guess, but in a different way now.  Our relationship, which used to demand an intimate reunion whenever opportunity presents itself, had taken a shift since last weekend.

During this trip in Kyoto, strangely stalled in front of the frequent offerings of impeccably fried karaage behind spotless glass windows, I was feeling a general lagging enthusiasm which, unregrettingly, led to zero purchases.  What’s wrong with me?  I used to love karaage!  I should want this stuff, right?  I should not be able to get enough of it, no?  It’s a great piece of fried chicken for god’s sake so how do I explain myself?  I bit into an onigiri over-filled with mentaiko on my returning flight, aching over my betrayal.

I came home plunged into an intense couple-therapy session between me and karaage.  We shut the door, we shouted, we whispered, we cried, we left nothing unsaid and nothing unfelt we even skyped Kewpie.  After boxes of Kleenex tissues, we walked slowly out of the room, hand in hand, and are ready to make a public statement.  It isn’t easy.  Possibly appalling.  But we’ve both decided that at this specific juncture, what is best for our relationship to move forward with is — a threesome.

Look, karaage, on its own, is good.  But over time, I find karaage’s sweetness and garlicky undertone somewhat binding and tiresome.  It needs a sharp piercing beyond the general zing of lemon or mustard.  It needs a spanking.  Somewhere between reasons and insanity and Momofuku, ikura comes to mind.

Ikura is Japanese cured salmon roe, much like Russian caviar, but seasoned with soy sauce, sweet rice wine and dashi.  Its intensity lies in its sticky and viscous brininess that liquifies and oozes around the tongue after each jewel-like pops.  When you think about it, a sauce, almost.  If you think that the idea of pairing a vehemently briny fish eggs with fried chicken is strange, you’r not wrong, but in a way that feels very right, if that makes sense.  The faintly fishy saltiness does not protrude and speaks over everyone else, as it only flows through the ambience like strings of vividly played jazz, infusing vitality into the conversation, especially with its edge smoothed around by the creaminess of Kewpie mayonnaise.  It doesn’t change karaage.  It just makes it fun.

Sometimes a relationship needs a third party.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

Boneless “turkey purse” w/ stuffings and peppercorn gravy

”  An completely boneless, flabby, perfect roasting pouch engineered by nature that is 360 degrees encased in skins, ripe for any stuffings and cooks in one hour only  “

Be hold, the answer is here.

If you are one who is unreasonably attached to the grunt and unpredictability of the Thanksgiving turkey tradition, look away.  For this post could and will impose onto you, the liberation from the struggle.

For this point on, you will no longer look at turkey in the same light; you will no longer see it as a rigid object that takes an enormous space in the fridge to brine, a conductor of anxiety that takes forever to cook in the oven, a pending obstacle course that requires professional skills to carve.  No you will no longer.

From this point on, you will witness the way of turning turkey into an utterly boneless, malleable, flabby sack of skin and meat; deflated, deconstructed, a perfect roasting pouch engineered by nature that is 360 degrees encased in skins; a floppy blob that takes up little space in the fridge; a miraculous poultry-pocket ripe for any stuffings of your choosing and cook gloriously and evenly in the oven, if you can believe it, in one hour only; an epic center piece that is as easy to carve — for it has no bones! — as a loaf of sourdough bread.  And if you have chosen to honor it with my pick of the trade, it will open up to a wild rice stuffing that is diabolically jam-packed with fried garlics and whole soft-boiled eggs, paired with an incredibly floral and peppery gravy tinged with Sichuan peppercorns.  Best of all, mostly done the day before.

I call it, the turkey purse.  And it will put your next talk-of-the-town Thanksgiving in the bag.

But no thanks needed.  You’re very welcome.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

Honeycomb macaroni w/ porky cream

”  Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the melted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.  “

On October 22nd 2018, in the darkness of the night, I laid on my eyes on Margeaux Brasseries’s “honeycomb macaroni” for the first time, and heard destiny calling.

At first it seemed that our connection was immediate and reciprocal, even through the barrier of the computer screen, that there was an understanding without words, that we instinctively knew each other’s needs and wishes, requirements and rewards, that I knew how to make it happy, and it too, wanted to be mine.  We would hit it off.  We would be an item.  We would hold hands at dinner parties and whisper secret jokes only we could understand.  We would complete each other.

But apparently, it had other ideas.

Six days later after two catastrophic failures at making this dish, it became increasingly clear that the affection was one-directional only.

But could I blame anyone else but myself?  No.  Because I took it for granted.  I made the classic mistake in a relationship when things felt so given, so seemingly straightforward, I forgot that it too, requires attentions to details.  First time around, sounding even stupider now said out loud, I used a type of macaroni that was tree-sizes too small.  If you enjoy weaving beads necklace for dinner, this is another way to pleasure yourself with.  If not, it’s probably a good time to know that when macaroni is big, it’s not called macaroni anymore.  It’s called ziti.  Who knew.

I felt good about this new piece of knowledge.  Perhaps too good.  Emboldened by the sense that I had figured it all out, the second mistake was, if possible, even dumber.  What had I expect from introducing a highly sticky material to another highly attractive surface?  Left them alone for five minutes, I walked in on the inseparability between my old friend copper pot and my new love honey macaroni in the most interlocked position there is.  What a cliche.  Cliches hurt.

Two near-permanent breakups, I learnt my lessons.  I gave it thoughts.  I right all the wrongs.  I paid the attentive devotion it deserves.  Only on our third date, I bent my knees and made it a faithful proposition.  And at the end of the kitchen aisle, shimmering, it stood as beautiful as I had imagined.  It is named honeycomb macaroni for a good reason.  Its tubular bodies, slender and uniform, huddles intimately with only gooey melted cheese as the mortar of its magnificent structure, like a bee hive made of carbs and dairy.  Where in between the gaps, the cheese droops downward like thick syrup to the hot skillet in anticipation where heat, butter and starch await in forming a golden flat cap, a delicate, crispy and delicious linkage.

Such beauty doesn’t need the distraction of a loud sauce.  Something simple, but thoughtful.  Something understated, but not without declaration.  So I “brewed” grounded and browned guanciale, the porkiest substance I know on earth, in a simple cream sauce brightened with nutmeg and cardamon.  It was then strained like a tea, removed of the solid source of its deep aroma, leaving only a silky blanket of cream curiously imbued with the thickness of aged pork.   Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the insulted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.

It was an affair that ignited passionately, even if one-sided only, and ended in what will certainly be a lifelong companionship.  Learn from my mistakes, and you will find yourself an object of your affection, too.

READ MORE

Continue Reading

The shroomiest mushroom risotto, without breaking bank

when powdered and browned in hot grease, dried shiitake’s exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb

If you have ever found yourself frozen in front of the mushroom isles at your local Whole Foods Market, cold sweats dripping down as you struggle to understand how on earth could a fungi — categorically no different than the molds crawling underneath your drywalls — be charging sometimes more than $50 per pound, while feeling utterly shitty about yourself, well, this recipe is for you:

Poor man’s mushroom risotto.

I’m speaking from a place of deep empathy.  Having been born as a relentlessly cheap human being, I understand the hurt when even a dickhead-shaped vegetation that lives off of decomposed matters could take one look at me, and smirk.  A brainless, judgy brainless sponge that grows next to if not on top of rotten shits, thinks I’m not good enough.  Who do they think they are?  By the way I’m not talking about the cheap mushrooms like White Buttons, pfff... who do you think I am?  I’m talking about the delicious ones, the truly robust, earthy, and nutty-flavored mushrooms with Elvish names, Chanterelle, Lactarius Indigo, Blue Foot, that grows in an enchanted woods with the fairies and talk to birds.  Those fuckers.  I ain’t sayin’ it’s a gold digger; but it ain’t messin’ with no broke n-beeeep.

Can you tell this is personal?

So for years, or more accurately since the 24 heads of dried morel we obtained from our France road trip had run dry, I’ve been secretly doing this.

Dried shiitake mushroom.

Cheap, common, found almost wherever Asian groceries stand and season-neutral.  Why is it generally much more affordable than other varieties of dried mushrooms such as porcini, morels and etc?  No idea (psst, because it’s Asian).  But I can assure you that flavor-wise, it does not dwarf in comparison.  In fact, it has been aiding the flavors and complexities of a huge number of Asian dishes, soups and stews, precisely because of its high natural-occuring MSG and a deep, musky, earthy aroma.  But regrettably, typically cooked whole or in slices, its true potential has yet to be realized by the general public.

It wants to be, no, needs to be, powered.

Think about it.  Remained as a whole, or slices, or even finely diced, the mushrooms are only allowed a limited exposure to direct heat and caramelization.  But when powdered and browned in hot grease, its exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb.  As a supporting role, usually a couple tablespoons will suffice.  But in the case of carrying an entire Italian culinary staple, say risotto, to whole new height, I suggest we go to town.

Almost 1/2 cup of shiitake mushroom powder will fry slowly in chicken fat, as transformative as the making of a dark roux, until its pale brown complexion takes on the color between cinnamon and dark chocolate, until its faintly woody aroma expands into a pungency that is almost spicy and sweet.  All this magic is then extracted by the chicken broth, and delivered into every single grains of arborio rice in a silky, totally un-grainy finish.  Although you may deem the appearance of fish sauce and soy sauce as out of place, but they only amplify and compliments the shroominess without making an entrance.  I urge you not to swap.

So there.  Go buy expensive dickheads if you want to be like that.  But me?  I’m sticking with this.

READ MORE

Continue Reading