summer Tag

Granola and no-churn banana ice cream bars

 

IT TASTES LIKE THE LONG MISSING EMPATHY IN ALL HEALTHY BREAKFASTS, AT LAST, FINALY TAKING PITY IN ALL THE UNGODLY URGES WE HUMAN BEINGS HAVE TO DEAL WITH

This is a desperate attempt to counter the tyranny that is summer in Hong Kong while still upholding a minimal level of personal responsibilities such as eating fruits and vegetables, taking fibers, lowering cholesterol and such sad things in life that we all to have bend to at one point or another.  Crunchy yet slightly chewy granola crusts sensibly consisting of rolled oats, corn flakes, seeds and popped grains, sandwiching a less reasonable yet thick layer of no-churn ice cream rampant with cream and sweetened condensed milk, the only good judgment of which is made with the inclusion of two frozen bananas.

It tastes like empathy in a healthy breakfast, at last, finally understanding and taking pity in all the ungodly urges we human beings have to deal with in real life situations.  And I’d say the constancy of 34 degrees celsius with 80% humidity is as real as fuck.

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SUMMER CREAMY TOFU NOODLES

A DRESSING THAT IS CREAMY YET EXTREMELY LIGHTWEIGHT, WITHOUT THE DEPLOYMENT OF MAYONNAISE OR DAIRY-THICKENED PRODUCTS

What drives us?  What fuels the engine that set us in motion through this open water of life?  And to what extend, if any, do we understand and can we even steer this propulsion?  Or are we all, in the end, simply just being moved?  Because when you think about it, doesn’t the phrase “being driven” imply, in the best case scenario, riding shotgun?  So are we all just passengers in an autonomous car?  At this point in life, I ask myself this a lot.

Whatever it is, we are of course all driven by different things, some by ambitions, some by expectations.  Some are driven by responsibilities.  Some are driven by ideals.  I, for one, am regrettably yet hopelessly driven by the saddest of them all — insecurities.  It is, no doubt, a powerful fuel, productive even, if cultivated under the right set of circumstances.  In spite of the inconvenient mandate it has issued me since birth to render all perceived informations as glass-half-if-not-almost-empty situations, it had nonetheless also dragged me through college, got me a job sort of, kept me engaged, however minimal, in some form of social productivities, being the last line of deterrence in between me and rotting unenthusiastically in an endless pit of Cheetos and ice creams.

Where it’s most relevant to the subject on this blog, it had also, with absolute authority, dictated how I cook.

As depressing as it may sound, for me, cooking is not actually about love, gathering, or even about eating.  Cooking, however solitary, is a sport.  And sporting is about performances.  It has to stand out.  It has to exceed.  It keeps a score.  Don’t get me wrong.  I adore this sport.  But as much as I feel happiness and fulfillment through this process, every time I present a dish whether here or in front of friends and families, I am not to nourish, I am to be evaluated.  It’s utterly pathetic.  I hate myself too as I read these sentences, but hey, I’m not driving remember?  I’m being driven.

This unfortunate defect in my character has largely reduced the number of basic recipes on this blog.  Quick or simple maybe, but not basic, at least not in my mind, not without some flare, some ah-ha’s, some kind of charm offensives.

But why am I babbling about this today?  Because today I’m breaking a mould.

The initial objective in this recipe was to create a dressing that is creamy yet extremely lightweight, without the deployment of mayonnaise or dairy-thickened products, as an equally exciting solution to a much-presented problem as we are being harassed by the demands of summer.  Credited to Brook’s Headley’s vegan chocolate ganache, the unlikely firm tofu came to mind.

The scrutiny that is imposed onto this under-appreciated Asian ingredient, often being measured against other robustly more flavorful competitors on the grocery isles, is sadly unfair and misinformed.  Because tofu was never about flavor.  Tofu is a textural thing.  Being pressed into solids, the curds are silky and fragile on the tongue.  Being obliterated in a food-processor, it becomes unexpectedly thickened, smooth and creamy.  It’s the new perfect mother-sauce.

Upon identifying the subject, my insecurity immediately steered the direction towards sensationalism, something loud, something flashy, something doused in heat and spices then set on fire with lighter fuel.  But something strange if not downright unnatural was happening.  This time, in spite of myself, my mind kept defaulting on a childhood comfort that is neither special or bold — the very simple flavors of silken tofu dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil.

This recipe is not rowdy.  It isn’t trying to make a point.  It quietly invites, and it quietly receives, where it quietly untethers after that.  The weightless creaminess wraps its subjects like the touches of cold satin sheets, cooling and soothing, tightens only to a gentle point by the saltiness of soy sauce, the nuttiness of sesame oil, and the soft prickling of wasabi in the nasal cavity.  It is perfectly unextraordinary.  It’s not how I like to cook.  But it’s what I want to eat.

And believe it or not, that for only a handful of times on this blog, I’m okay with that.  I consider it a triumph.

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POMELO AND THAI HERBS SALAD

 

THE EXPERIENCE IS BETWEEN EATING A SALAD AND DRINKING A COLD GLASS OF GATORADE

I don’t eat salads.

I think that’s quite self-evident on this blog.  But even a non-salader like me feels a tinge of excitements as pomelo season approaches, the citrus giant with enormous and voluptuous pulps that burst with sweet, floral and faintly bitter juices resembling a lemony grapefruit.  For the record, I’m not a fan of grapefruit, which is why I’m not particularly excited about pomelo’s potential as a stand-alone fruit course.  But what gets my buzz going is its potential to be a fantastic savory treat.

Pomelo is rarely too sweet, and it carries an uniquely floral and bitter note that blends wonderfully with other more robust or rich-tasting ingredients that seek a refreshing medium.  Take herbs salad for example, flavorfully too sharp and aggressive most of the times to be a dish on its own, but together with pomelo, it becomes a juicy and rounded symphony tapping on all the right notes in a cascading, orchestrated tempo.  First thing that hits the senses is the pungent saltiness of the fish sauce and shallots anointed with olive oil, which escalates along the individually distinctive sharp bites from the assorted fresh herbs, too sharp, almost, if it isn’t immediately awash with sweet and quenching juices with the rupture of each pomelo pulps.  The experience is a marriage between eating a salad and drinking a cold glass of gatorade.

A refreshing and guilt-free lunch on an overheated autumn day, but I know that it cries to be an equal partner alongside heavy and rich pre-winter dishes like roast pork belly or braised short ribs.  And next year, you’ll be counting the days for its arrival.

 
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SALMON RED CURRY CEVICHE

CEVICHE… IS A MONICA AND CHANDLER.

My relationship with foods can be summarized into two types of romance: Ross and Rachel, or Monica and Chandler.

Either it has been a life-long marathon of unshakable attractions, torments, break-ups and make-ups, which I’ll admit including a vast array of things going from pearl bubble teas to cans of SPAM.  Or, I spend my whole life staring at it without much urge or lust, but one day, out of no where, it’s like coal on fire.

I was never a fanatic for ceviche, presumably, chalky-pale chunks of seafoods swimming in a cloudy sour pool.  I mean, I’d eat it if it was right in front of me when I’m marinating in a sweltering hot summer day while my butt-cheeks are unnaturally sticking together and the next frappuccino is 1/2-block-away-too-far.  It promises not to give me any culinarily transmitted diseases, and I promise not to call its number unless necessary, but the casual hook-up pretty much stops there.  It just never really gave me the butterflies is what I’m saying.  Then 18 months ago, I went to Lisbon where I stepped into a restaurant called A Cevicheria that pulled a string in my heart, where I started to look at their playful yet genuine takes on this dish with a whole new set of eyes.  Like noticing a small dimple that has always been there, it’s still ceviche, but all of a sudden, kind of cute.  Reasonably I should have dragged it home immediately, pick a church and make babies, but, a good romance is never without suspense.

It took destiny another 18 months to make the move.  This time, it ran into me.  It was a mid-summer night when I was laying in bed under the brisk wind of air-conditioning, holding an imaginary cigarette for dramatic effect, and it called out my name, a shrimp ceviche recipe by Lauren Egdal from Comparti Catering.  Evidently, that recipe isn’t the one you see me engaged to at this very moment, but it’s very much inspired by.  The idea of using coconut milk to form the base of the ceviche, giving it body, deriving it away from being just “cloudy sour pool”, elevating it even, into something tangy and delicious that one can mop up with a piece of bread, is quite frankly going to be our wedding vows.  The cold, creamy and citrusy red curry sauce gives just enough savoriness and aroma to bite-size pieces of semi-cured salmon, which is sufficiently attractive in itself.  But you’ll learn, as I did, that the true sexiness of a ceviche lies in its popping elements of surprises.  In this case, the sauce is perfumed with lime leaves, Thai basils and tarragons, and lightened up by soft dragonfruits and cherry tomatoes.  Tangy, salty, sweet, creamy and fragrant.

And did I mention it takes less than 30 minutes?  Now who’s blushing?

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SICHUAN PEPPERCORN BLUEBERRY OATMEAL PIE

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A SERIOUSLY FLAKEY PIE

WITH BLUEBERRIES SCENTED WITH FLORAL SICHUAN PEPPERCORNS, MYSTERIOUS AND SUBTLE, AND CREAMY OATMEAL ON THE BOTTOM TO SOAK IT ALL UP

Easy as pie.  I’m sorry.  Was that supposed to be funny?

Pies are anything but easy.  In fact, it took me two years of really, really, humiliatingly sucking at it; and another three years of total denials and nightmarish phobias; and then another year to pick up the pieces of my self-esteem to try again; and then, finally then, last week, before landing on something that I feel happy enough to share with behind closed door.  And today, six years plus a couple tweaks later, to talk about it openly on the internet.  This recipe is my collected wisdoms on pie-making from years of failures and heartbreaks (think those pies as a house presented with a giant sink hole, sewage flooding and electrical fire, all at the same time).

What it is, is a seriously flakey pie, like no-kiddingly flakey, with blueberries scented with a mysterious, floral tone from sichuan peppercorns that is subtle but distinct, and a bed of creamy oatmeals to soak it all up.  The sichuan peppercorns are not gonna make you go “Chinese food!“, ok?, it won’t.  It just perfumes the pie.  And the oatmeals not only prevents the whole “sewage flooding” issue, but is also texturally more superior than gloppy, cornstarch-thickened mess.  In fact, from now on whenever you bake a fruit pie, I suggest you blanket a layer of this on the bottom.  It is thirsty for the collapse of your fruits.

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Now, as a general rule of thumb…  For those people who were born with mutated abilities to make perfect pies since birth, this may not be a big deal.  But I gather that there are also those out there like me with this specific genetic defect, that they might appreciate some tips.  And my tips on How To Not Fuck Up A Pie is – Go Gollum.  A certain conversation amongst “ourselves” should take place inside our head, to remind us every step of the way that, forget one, it all goes to shit.  And my conversation goes like this:

  1.  We wants the butter cold.  We needs the butter cold.
  2.  No “peas”.  Hate peas.  Big, flat diskses of butter created by hands resembling thick coins, are the precious to a super flakey dough.
  3.  Vinegar.  Yes, vinegar works.  Yes.
  4.  Cold.  Liquid, cold.  Everything cold.
  5.  Don’t knead the dough.  It’s better to use plastic-wraps to bring it into disks!  Tricksy.
  6.  The dough.  Cold.  Before doing anything stupid.  Cold
  7.  Cooked fruits are just fruitses but less good.  And mushy.  Whenever we can, add flavors.
  8.  I don’t know where you come from, Smeagol, but “soup” is not a friend of pie.  You want fruit soup, go juice.  This is a pie.  Soak it up.
  9.  Do not bake until the entire pie is COLD!  Motherfucking cold.  Don’t make me.
  10.  Finally, did we do all this for soggy lower crust?  No, no we did not.  Bottom of the oven, 15 min.

Taken that these kind of schizophrenic talks are not always the most well-composed, I’ve detailed every single steps in the recipe-instructions to help you out a bit.  I hope it serves you well.

Happy go pie.

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SICHUAN PEPPERCORN BLUEBERRY OATMEAL PIE

Ingredients

    PIE CRUST: adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
  • 2 1/2 cups (325 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp (15 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp (3 grams) salt
  • 1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter, very cold
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) water
  • 3 tbsp (45 grams) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • SICHUAN PEPPERCORN BLUEBERRY OATMEAL FILLING:
  • 3 cups (460 grams) blueberry
  • 5 tbsp (65 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 cup (95 grams) quick-cooking oats
  • 2 tbsp (28 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp (26 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) whole milk
  • TO BAKE:
  • 1 egg wash
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. PREPARE PIE CRUST: You can make the pie crust with food-processor, pastry-cutter, or stand-mixer. But I find that the most flakey crust results from the FLAT pieces of butter created by hands. So. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, light brown sugar and salt. Cut unsalted butter into large pieces, add into the bowl and coat each evenly with flour. With your fingers, create large, flat pieces of butter by rubbing them off of the large chunks. Each time you rub, coat the butter with lots of flour, and the largest pieces should be about the size of large, THICK coins, until you have something that looks like the first photo.
  2. Mix water, apple cider vinegar and ice cubes in a bowl. Scatter 8 tbsp of the liquid into the flour-mixture while fluffing with a fork, then bring the dough together by gently folding and pressing it with your hands. It should be very shaggy, and quite dry with lots of loose crumbs. But if the dough has difficulty coming together (very "sandy"), add 1~2 tbsp more liquid.
  3. Now, don't further knead the dough to try to bring the tiny loose crumbs together (and making it tough). Instead, lay a large piece of plastic-wrap on the counter. Transfer 2/5 of the dough-mixture onto the center of wrap, then bring the sides together until you have a tightly wrapped ball. Press down until it's flattened into a thick disk, then set aside in the fridge. Repeat with the remaining 3/5 of the dough. Let the dough hydrate/chill for at least 30 min, or it can be made the day ahead.
  4. PREPARE FILLING: In one bowl, toss together blueberry, granulated sugar, lemon juice and ground sichuan peppercorns. In another bowl, mix quick oats, dark brown and granulated sugar until even. Transfer 1/4 cup of the oatmeal-mixture into the blueberry and toss evenly. Then add whole milk to the remaining oatmeal-mixture and mix until resembling wet sand. Set both aside.
  5. MAKE/BAKE PIE: Take the larger disk of dough out of the fridge and leave the other chilled. Transfer onto a floured surface and roll it out into a slightly thinner than 1/4" (0.5 cm) sheet. Drape the sheet over your rolling pin, then transfer into a pie pan. Gently press it to fit the pan, then cut off the excess dough around the edge. Scatter the oatmeal-mixture on the bottom in a single layer, then top with the blueberry-mixture. Take the smaller disk out of the fridge, onto a floured surface, then roll it out into the same thickness (you can now do cutouts or patterns that you like). Brush the rim of the lower pie crust with egg wash, then drape the top crust over and gently pinch the edges to seal.
  6. Now CHILL YOUR PIE IN THE FREEZER FOR AT LEAST 30 MIN!!. Start preheating the oven AFTER you form the pie, so it forces you to wait for the pie to chill properly, which is paramount. Now, preheat the oven on 365 F/185 C.
  7. Brush the entire pie surface with egg wash then sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake in the middle rack for 25 min, then move the pie to sit right at the very bottom of the oven and bake for another 15 min (this gives you that nice crispy bottom-crust instead of soggy one).
  8. Let cool for 15 min, then serve with scoops of ice creams (blueberry!).

Notes

The sweetness level of this pie lands on the mild side, as how I like it. If you want sweeter pie, add more sugar to the blueberries in Step 4.

http://ladyandpups.com/2016/09/07/sichuan-peppercorn-blueberry-oatmeal-pie/

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CHICKEN SATE W/ “DIRTY” PEANUT SAUCE

WHY NOW?  WHY THEN?  NO REASON.  IT WAS JUST A SWITCH TURNED ON,

LIKE THE DAY WHEN A GIRL STARTS TO LIKE A BOY.

Craving, is a strange thing.

It’s been 8 years since the first and last time I visited the island of Bali, and not in the almost 3 decades before nor the years after, had I given this thing called sate (or satay) even the slightest attention.  Weird, given that I have, since then, graced through the feeding grounds of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong, trapped in the seduction of rice noodles folding under that intoxicating broths, infatuated with fish heads bubbling inside the sinisterly red gravy, undistracted from the fetish pursuit of just how transcendently sexy it could be, inside the supple thighs of a chicken gently poached in herbed stock and served over rice.  Might I even add that when it comes to meats-on-a-stick, I did plenty damage around the globe.

But sate?  Yeah sure I saw it somewhere here and there.  But what, why and how, honestly, I couldn’t care less.

Perhaps I’ve always suspected them to be dry, a reasonable doubt given the skimpy amount of meats having to fully char over charcoal.  Or that they, out of the mere once or twice close encounters, appeared to have been on the sweeter side of seasoning, a repellant for a set of taste buds that can’t appreciate dinner oozing into the dessert category.  Either way, it’s just never been my thing.

But then, out of nowhere, in the least likely form of seduction, it caught my attention on a Thursday night TV program playing on repeat.

As far as the AFC program goes, I can’t gush much about it, just an Asian traveling show featuring an assortment of sate in Indonesia.  In terms of writing, not even a great one.  As I said, an unlikely seduction.  But before I even understood what I was feeling, first, curiosity blossomed.  Why now?  Why then?  No reason.  It was just a switch turned on, like the day when a girl starts to like a boy.  What is sate?  What have I missed?  The eye-smearing smokes coiling above glowing charcoals started to intoxicate.  The snippets of meats clothed in pastes, fanned out and flapping above the fire started to portray, not dry, but tightened strips of meats condensing in flavours.  The oily and sticky dipping sauce… the squishy bread in mopping duty… the bitten pickles that sharpened my imagination…   all of a sudden, aligned.

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SICHUAN MALA BUTTER CRAYFISH

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DO NOT MISTAKE THE LIKINGS OF LOUISIANA-STYLE CRAYFISH-BOIL TO THIS,

WHICH ONLY SHARES AS MUCH SIMILARITIES AS COFFEE HAS TO A FLAMING LAMBOURGINI

Just a small note for the weekend as you’ll need it.  OK, maybe it’s not small.  In fact, it’s a huge… epic… cardinally sinful and despicably addictive note that will forever change your summers, and you’ll probably regret it, hate me for it, really hate yourself for it, while being lost in a summer-long trance somewhere in between nuclear pains and unbearable pleasures.

Did you know, that Chinese loves crayfish?

Yeah, in fact, fanatical, is the more appropriate word.  So much so that in Beijing, they have an entire street called Gui, a whole freaking parade lined by jam-packed and neon-lighted restaurants that dedicates almost solely to the cult of this practice.  Now, do not… and I mean, do not mistake the likings of the southern Louisiana-style boil to this sichuan-style mala (numb and spicy) crayfish bloodbath, which only shares as much similarities as coffee has to a Flaming Lambourgini.  Underestimate these mean little fuckers, and you’ll be punished.  This is a dish that transcends the crayfishes through a condensed and ferocious red bath made by extracting every last bit of flavour molecules from a intense mixture of spice-blend, aromatics and sichuan fermented chili paste into the thick gravy of lava and glisteningly red butter.  Just a couple of bug-crushing and head-sucking into the whole thing, and your every taste-buds and every sensual nerves that link to the pleasure and plain receptors in your brain, will be spanked and whiplashed ecstatically by the unbelievable amount of flavours, happiness really, trafficked to you on high speed with an ill intention. You can’t eat just one.  No one can eat just one.  Even when every pores on your forehead and dripping sweats is begging, howling for you to show mercy.  You just can’t stop.  And after the irreversible damages done, you’ll want to robotically mop up the death-gravy with any carbs lying within an arm’s length.  There’s just no other ways for this to happen.  So think long, and think hard, before taking the plunge.

This summer, are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?

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