Author:mandy@ladyandpups

Chicken in hot and sour coconut broth

I made this dish randomly and without aim a couple weeks ago and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d share it.

Despite its gentle-mannered appearance, this soup will slap you out of your winter slumber if you so underestimate it.  Marinated and crispy-browned chickens in an aromatic Thai-style coconut broth that is almost too sour, almost too spicy, almost too salty that the corners of my jaws received it just as much as my tongue.  But only almost almost almost, because in the end I realized I couldn’t stop drinking it, this warming dish that sits right at the spearhead of all the sensations that our tastebuds could withstand and lingers there.

I know you’d love it, too.  That’s all.

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Miso congee w/ crispy scallion oil and cream

”  It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee.  “

Around this time of the year with its cold crisp air, with it carrying a smell of memory that I can’t seem to grapple, I am loosened and adrift.  I feel like anchoring to a sleeved cup of coffee with both hands, and wander aimlessly on the street decorated with relentless sparkles.  Like an old lady who has lost something but couldn’t remember what.  My fingertips are toasty, the coffee sleeve too thin… I’m a child to be fetched.

This, of course, could be seasonal sentimentality talking.  But also possibly early, really early onset alzheimer.  Both equally dangerous.

I’ve been meaning to cook something that satisfies my overindulged melancholy, something to be eaten after I sing me a river to skate away on and stare out the window for no apparent reasons.  Something to part from the perception that congee or porridge – still in my mind, the perfect comfort food – is bland and monochromatic, but at the same time celebrates the fact that it is nourishing, consoling, and the food-equivalent of very expensive therapists.

I started with a very clean, water-based miso broth as the foundation of a soothing but flavorful congee, then dribbled on pockets of excitements from crispy scallions and garlic chips fried in olive oil, quick-pickled shallots and lightly whipped heavy cream.  The miso congee is thick, enwrapping, but appropriately lubricated by the luscious mouthfeel of the herbaceous olive oil and the cool sweetness of cream, with a cadence of brightness from the crisped scallions and garlic, tangy shallots and the occasional burst of pain from finely minced pickled bird’s eye chilis.  It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee.  Break a soft-boiled egg on top and it’s a legit meal.

It’s the kind of stuff I crave around this time.  And I suspect you, too.

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The amazing paradox of scallion popover s’more

” Nothing about this makes any sense… Yet it’s going to change the s’more world as you know it. “

Mark my words.  None of this makes any sense.  Nothing about it suggests that it should work.  Scallions and marshmallows?!  If you now shelve this idea in the lightless skepticism inside your head, it will forever be just a reminder that I – the Asian chick who has been left unchecked for far too long in the internet wilderness – have finally gone mad.

But if you could just push aside your good senses (the little voice inside your head telling you that the third powdered donut won’t help you, yes that one, scrap it), this recipe will turn the s’more world as you know it, upside down.

Yes, scallions, possibly one of the least likely substances to be associated with s’more next to pickled herrings and petroleum, against all odds, has somehow proven to be a miraculously effective liaison between our taste buds and the buttery, slightly chewy sweetness of charred marshmallows.  Yes!  That is what I’m saying!  But how could this be?  Have I lost my mind?  Well, I wish I could take the credit for this insanity but in cold hard reality, I did not, sadly, invent this.  In fact, I have utterly stolen this idea from a Taiwanese cracker that is sold in all major Taiwanese airports, the scallion cracker nougat sandwich.

Yes, that’s a real thing, scallion soda cracker sandwich with a nougat filling.  Not that the case for savory-sweet hasn’t been established elsewhere, but none has ever been so curiously bizarre, absurd to a point.  Even the attempt to imagine the two flavors conjoining triggers a repulsion reflex put in place by millions of years of human evolution.  So what kind of a sick person came up with this twisted though in their evil lair, I didn’t bother to look up in my bitter jealousy, but what’s for sure is that it has turned every skeptics, Taiwanese or not, into a believer that the age for scallions to join the company of confectionary has finally arrived.

So why don’t I just do a recipe for a scallion crack nougat sandwich, you ask?  Well, if you have ever intended to make soda crackers at home you’d know that it is an unnecessary labor with negative returns.  And homemade nougat, even more so.  Try to stuff a little dollop of the latter inside the former and repeat 40 times?  Yeah I didn’t think so either.  Especially when there is an alternative for both that are not only easy and rewarding to make at home, but in my opinion, far more superior in textures, tastes, and last but not least, fun.

A foolproof scallion popover recipe that is pop-guaranteed with gorgeously crispy crust and a warm and spongy center, salty and buttery where just the right amount of scallion aroma permeates through its pores.  Then its naturally hallow cavity gently holds together the liquified state of the caramelized marshmallows, unstable stringy and promising, until you take your first faithful bite to collapse its integrity, as the crispy and spongy savoriness of the popover clashes against the burnt and buttery candy-ness of the marshmallows.  How unlikely so yet incredibly right.

And you too, from this point on, will forever wonder and marvel at the paradox that is the new s’more.

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Broken rice crispy crust and chicken cutlets

”  A crust that is both crispy and airy, with a exceptionally craggy surface that foretells that a multi-textural experience awaits.  “

Amongst fried foods enthusiasts, the quest to find the perfect breading, never ends.  Often times either thin but un-impactful, or substantial but too heavy, the delicate balance in a perfect breading, or shall we say “crust”, is elusive and ever-changing.

But today, I feel as if I had come to a near conclusion that seems to suggest that the search is over.  A breading that leads to a crust that is both crispy and airy, but more importantly, stays crispy and airy, where its exceptionally craggy surface foretells that a multi-textural experience awaits.  Large and small puffy crunches that are light, spontaneous, and almost lacelike.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the broken rice crispy crust.

Yes, rice crispy, the juvenile cereal, the cereal that nobody actually eats on its own, the cereal that only finds life’s meanings in a tightly compressed square jammed with marshmallow and butter, the cereal that, even then, is promptly rejected by the first sign of puberty and any desire to get laid in the years that follow.  Yes, that rice crispy.  That rice crispy has been dying to reinvent itself and think outside its sad box.  And now reinvent itself, without a doubt, it has.  It’s almost as if it was born to do this, to fill in the gaps between the inadequacies of flours and breadcrumbs, to become the unsung hero.  The new it-crust.

Now it would be a crime to confine its new found purpose on not just chicken cutlets.  Think chicken popcorns, pork cutlets, chicken fried steak, fried fish, shrimps, or anything that welcomes a good deep fry and a glass of beer.

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Japanese melty iceboox cheesecake

I’m sitting here, struggling with how best to explain to you all why this Japanese version of the burnt basque cheesecake is superior than the original in every single way possible, mentally auditioning all the angles I could cut into this subject that I think is going to change the way you think about cheesecakes in general.  How it’s possibly the easiest cheesecake your kitchen-incompetence will ever behold… how it has complexities in its flavors that reminds me of a caramel flan… how its play between temperature and texture is brilliant… how the outer layer is rich yet airy while the center remains creamy and gooey, melting almost instantly around the heat of my tongue…  A R-rated story on how cheesecake and  ice cream had a baby?  I considered that, too.

But it dawned on me that these are all just supporting facts, facts that you will witness, I’ve no doubt, as soon as you make one yourself in your kitchen.  What really stands in between you and making this cake is not the certainties, no.  It is the doubt, one single doubt really, the only elephant that needs to be removed first and swiftly before everything else could just fall into place.  Because I know what you’re all thinking.  Here, I’ll say it with you.

Isn’t this just an undercooked mistake?  

No, no it is not.  It is fucking not.

Is soft-boiled egg a mistake?

There.  I don’t know how much simpler I could put it.

Now, welcome to the only cheesecake you’ll ever bake for the rest of your life.

if cheesecake and ice cream had a baby.

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Confession of an escapist cook, Hong Kong-style milk tea gelato

(I stood there) mildly confused about what just happened.  But a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.

 

(An edited version was published on Heathyish).

In a sweltering, Hong Kong summer afternoon only slightly tempered by the torrential rain that had just begun to batter the island, I stood in my kitchen trying to figure out the golden ratio for brewing a cup of silky Hong Kong-style milk tea, a legacy of course left by the city’s British colonial past, while on TV across the room, a black blanket of soaking wet protesters numbering in over a million stretching as far as the eye can see, were marching for Hong Kong’s future.

Democracy, is what’s on their table.

I felt a sense of commotion creeping up my chest as I tried to drown it by scorching the tea leaves with my screeching kettle, watching them tumble and twirl inside the tea pot in a hopeless toil.  But it did little to distract me from realizing, once again, what a familiar predicament I am in.  Because the very reason that I am in Hong Kong, is precisely because I was determined to leave the place that Hong Kong is becoming in its current trajectory – and fighting not to be – China.

In 2008, after the titanic economic crash that would later come to be know as The Great Recession, I left New York with my husband who was offered a job in Hong Kong and later moved to Beijing for its more stable market.  Little did I know, the following six years would become the most turbulent, if not emotionally destructive period of my life.  Under China’s increasingly heavy-handed authoritarian rule, the very act of living in a place clashed violently with what I was brought up to uphold, however naïve, as a principle for democracy and civil rights.  It’s a place where the personal surrender of liberty is made painfully apparent every day, where you are required to be okay with what you’re allowed to watch listen or say, where even the access to VPN (virtual private network to bypass the great firewall) is closely administered under the moody mercy of the Chinese government, which is difficult if not unreachable most times of the year.

Surely, as many would argue, that if you just take it lying down that the daily functions of life can go on like any other places, but I couldn’t just take it, this constant psychological bullying, and the worst of all is knowing that by accepting this oppressive reality in exchange for economic gains, I was in some way, complicit.

But leave… I did not; I stayed; I made dinners; I abided.

Then one night, as mundanely miserable as any other, as if something had snapped, neurologically almost, perhaps prompted by the salted sting of happier people living happier lives in Rome on TV, I hovered into my kitchen in an eerie silence.  I laid out my subjects in a pathological orderliness, unbleached flour with 9% protein, free-range egg yolks, water and salt.  I can still remember plunging my hands into the wetness of this flour mixture, in a trance almost, squeezing choking and tearing it until this unruly and sordid coagulation slowly transformed into a shiny globe of supple, silky and harmonious cohesion.  After impatiently allowing it to unwind, I then force its unsuspecting body through the cold, revolving steels of a pasta machine, watching silently its malleable mass extruded and aligned under the unnegotiable pressure into a pristinely edged and sleek sheet of silk.  Oh the jitters, I paused only momentarily to relish in this anticipated gratification, before I robotically drove repeated incisions into its surrendered body until its severed parts laid in uniform strands on my bare countertop.

For a while I stood there, looking down on my hands encrusted with dried fluids, mildly confused about what had just happened.  But there, a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.

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Final Cookbook Preview – Freezer dumpling ravioli

These things don’t involve a lot of thinking and rationalizing; they aren’t even bothered by common decency or responsibilities. I eat them free of my own judgment

This will be the last, but not least, recipe preview from our cookbook – The Art of Escapism Cooking that is coming out on Oct 15th!

It is one of the seven recipes in a little chapter I call, The Shit I Eat When I’m By Myself, a continuation of course, of our recipe category here under the same title in this blog.  I felt the need to create this category because it answers both the questions of why I cook, and why I eat.  As the chapter intro in the book sums it up:

“I don’t cook for myself.  Or at least, not the way it looks on my blog or in the rest of this book outside this section. I don’t know how it reflects on me as someone who’s selling recipes, but in my view, cooking and eating are two very different, entirely separate areas of investigation. Cooking, to me, is about curiosity, the insatiable need to know beyond necessity, the compulsion in the process of unwrapping a question, rephrasing it again, moving on to the next, the hunt.  Eating is about comfort.  I rarely find enthusiasm in repeating the same recipes, answering the same questions. But I can eat the same things over and over again. These things don’t involve a lot of thinking and rationalizing; they aren’t even bothered by common decency or responsibilities. I eat them free of my own judgment.”

I also want to thank Sam Sifton from New York Times for mentioning this recipe in his newsletter.  And please remember to pre-order our cookbook!  Now here’s how to make it:

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Book Bait: Squid Ink Ramen

“A bowl of slurpable crude oil, but in the most edible and delicious way. “

WHAT:  Welcome back my utterly self-serving recipe series I would like to call – The Book Bait, a shameless campaign to draw out all cookbook-hunters to our upcoming cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story.  These are brand new recipes that are not in the cookbook but however, in order to make them, you will need one or more essential component from the book to complete which, yes, is yet to be published on October 15, 2019.  And yes, I am still doing that to you to sell books.

WHY:  It isn’t without brag when I say that there is an entire chapter in our cookbook enshrined to the universal religion of noodle-slurping and ten of which are full-blown, no bullshit, the milky broth, the umami, the toppings, the thick and the deep, the sacred and the indecent, the full spectrum of the unapologetic and delicious absurdity that is, Japanese-style ramen.  Yes, I went there, the whole nine yards.  And I feel that I could still go further.  Because in Japan’s traditionally defined food culture, this rare and liberal, democratic even, arena of ramen creation has proven itself unbound by conventions and time and time again, reinvents itself in the most surprisingly pleasurable way.  So no, there’s no such thing as too many ramen recipes.  But too many ramen recipes in a cookbook that is not all about ramen?  Okay, that’s a thing.  So think of this as an extension to my cookbook ramen spree.

HOW:  This particular recipe is inspired and adapted from a tiny ramen shop in Hong Kong called Ramen Nagi.  Its version of squid ink ramen, of which they call the Black King, is a missile of maximized flavors and color, a thick jet black pool of black things on top of, well, more black things, a bowl of slurpable crude oil but in the most edible and delicious way.  But the intensity, both of color and flavors, comes predominantly from black sesame paste that, even though an effective sensational booster, is quite overpowering for the elusiveness and subtleness of squid ink to come through.  So here I have opted to remove the black sesame paste entirely, replaced by the milder toasted sesame oil in a squid ink paste that uses the mighty porkiness of Italian guanciale as a foundation.  Then the indisputable presence of pork belly roll they call charsiu, simmered in a soy sauce bath warmed with star anise and cinnamon, and the jam-like egg yolk, the fried garlic powder, the toasted seaweed, the quintessential spanker of a house-blend chili powder, they are all here.

But no amount of supporting role could deliver a bowl of ramen without the core, the mother, the matriarch that is the emulsified thus milky bone broth to bind them all in a harmonious lagoon, as well as a ramen reasoning that conjures all the harvestable umami from natural ingredients this sweet mother of earth has to give, to bring a bowl of ramen to life.  Well, that, you know where to find them.

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