Author:mandy@ladyandpups

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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OLIVE OIL FROM SPAIN – HALIBUT SOUS VIDE IN HERBY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL FROM SPAIN

FIERCELY GREEN, GRASSY EXTRA VIRGIN PICUAL OLIVE OIL WITH ALMOST A BITE TO THE TIP OF THE TONGUE, THAT IS EXTRACTED AFTER IT’S BLENDED WITH GREEN CHILI, LIME ZEST, MAKRUT LIM ELEAES, LEMONGRASS AND GINGER, GATHERED AT THE BOTTOM OF A PORCELAIN BOWL LIKE AN EMERAL LAKE OF FLAVORS AND WELL INTENTIONS.

Sponsored.

There’s a Chinese saying that goes, “Wisdom resembles stupidity.”  If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it came from Spain.

Spain is, of course, well known as a pioneer for the consistently complicated, decidedly not-stupid molecular cuisines that went on to sweep the rest of the world.  But, in my short yet nonetheless life-changing trip to Madrid a few years ago, that wasn’t what I had taken away from it.  What had really stricken me, left a mark, drilled a hole in my perhaps unsophisticated heart, were the traditional, sometimes almost dumbfounded and simplistic everyday-foods from Spain that surprised me.  A few slices of jamón and nothing else in between a crusty baguette.  An omelet cooked with sliced potatoes.  A tomato rubbed against toasted bread.  Fried peppers.  Things that, on the surface, aren’t even trying.  But if you’re not careful, they might just be enough reasons for you to leave everything behind and move to Spain.

Of all the understated yet remarkable, seemingly careless but in fact highly meticulous morsels of Spanish foods, something, perhaps the most unassuming-sounding of it all, stands out near and dear to my heart.  Canned seafood.

This is by no means the dusty can of sardines in watered down tomato sauce that you ate in one regrettable night of desperation and bad life choices.  We are talking top-of-the-line quality oceanic delicacies: mussels, octopus, baby eels, squids, razor clams, attentively packed with flavored or unflavored extra virgin olive oil inside perfectly sized cans where they are cooked, fused, aged even, bilaterally transforming into something that is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.  With sufficient amount of time that they lay dormant together, the extra virgin olive oil from spain, viscous and fruity, exchanges flavors and even textures with the subjects that it submerges, making the seafood luscious and silky.

So it goes without saying that the minute I was asked to formulate a recipe featuring Olive Oils from Spain, that was where my mind immediately parked.  Well, sort of.

For obvious reasons, running a seafood canning factory inside a home kitchen presents its obstacles.  But what we can do is mimick the process of cooking seafood submerged in extra virgin olive oil inside a vacuum state, aka, sous vide.  Before I lose your attention, I’d like to point out that, quite the contrary from general beliefs, when it comes to sous vide, A) you do not need a vacuum machine, nor a sous vide machine to sous vide at home, and B) the process is actually significantly simpler and easier than most of the other stuff you cook home.  Say pancakes.  I, personally, rather do five sous vide meals than one batch of pancakes.

Because look, you stuff your subjects into a zip-lock bag.  Close the bag while eliminating as much air inside as humanly possible.  Dunk the bag into a large pot of warm water that mostly sustains itself at a constant temperature over the lowest flame setting.  And, well, that’s pretty much it.  Fifty minutes later, the unimpressive thing you walked away from without doing much else has turned into something that is now surreally fantastic.  It’s a method I often deploy against ingredients that are persistently keen on ending up as a pile of cardboards or wood chips, say chicken breasts and fish.

So, tell me how this sounds.  On one side, we have a fiercely green, grassy extra virgin Picual olive oil from Spain, with almost a bite to the tip of the tongue, that is further extracted after it’s blended with green chili, scallions, lime zest, makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger and cilantro, gathered at the bottom of a porcelain bowl like an emerald lake of flavors and well intentions.  On the other, we have a steak-like hunk of fatty halibut fillet.

Let the fateful merger of these two enterprises collide, settle, left undisturbed inside an airless bag, then send them off into a physical transformation inside a warm, silent, almost meditative bath.  The translucent flesh of the halibut whitens and tightens to the perfectly calculated and controlled state of being opulent and supple, where a small amount of its savory juice seeps into the Spanish olive oil, each releasing and absorbing the essence of the other, born anew.

At this point the duo is as ready to be served as any.  But I couldn’t resist to impose a little element of crispiness on the fish by finishing it in a hot skillet, and to emulsify the olive oil and liquid with yolk and garlics and turning it into a loose, mayonnaise-like sauce.

For more information on Olives Oils from Spain, please visit www.oliveoilsfromspain.org to learn about their quality olive oils. 

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MOLTEN SPICED BROWN SUGAR DONUTS

IT COLLAPSES AND MELTES TOGETHER INTO A VISCOUS DEEP BROWN GOO WHEN IT SURRENDERS TO THE WILLFUL STEAM INSIDE AN EXPANDING, FRYING BUN

As previously confessed on my Instagram (read for context), these days, I’ve been physically and mentally occupied with being a responsible dog mom.  This recipe was developed to be brought to Sesame and SRB’s playgroup – as one is required to do when one’s children are the least well-behaved amongst their peers – to maintain an illusion of their waning popularity and postpone the likely inevitable timing when they get officially kicked out.  When the stake is this high, mom goes to town.

So I’m proposing these fluffy yet chewy donuts stuffed with dark brown sugar that is formerly massaged with honey, vanilla extract, sea salt and spices until all parties clumped into a lustful wet sand, which then fatefully collapses and melts together into a viscous deep brown goo when it surrenders to the willful steam inside an expanding, frying bun.  It’s needless to describe to you how the molasses-y sweetness that’s brought into focus by a hint of cardamon, cinnamon and sea salt, oozes slowly out of a warm pillow, and how narrow of a window they will remain in their best possible state shortly after they came warm out of the fryer.  And so as my respect for these donuts demands, I seized and honored the moment and as a result, none of them had made it to fulfill their original intended purpose.  I’m not explaining anything but just saying.

Well, empty handed but still gotta go.  I’ll see you around.

 
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JALAPENO POPPER DUMPLINGS W/ PICKLING JUICE DIPPING SAUCE

ONE DOES NOT TELL YOU THAT WHEN PICKLED JALAPENO AND CHEDDAR CHEESE ARE IN THE COMPANY OF GROUND PORK, DELIVERED IN CAPSULE-FORM, THEN FURTHER DIPPED INTO A REDUCTION OF ITS OWN PICKLING JUICE, THE COMBO CAN BE BORN ANEW.

My speculation into a jalapeño popper dumpling began many years ago.  It was first brought into light by a specimen from my brother-in-law, who gave us two dozens of online-ordered frozen dumplings which, I was told, had become somewhat of a local internet sensation at the time.  The entire makeup of the dumpling was very well-balanced, a perfect ratio between silky and chewy wrapper, not too thin, not too thick, and a fully-housed filling of pork, chopped Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chili, cilantro, plus some other secret stuffs that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It was unexpected, well-flavored, totally legit.

I have since then, for a handful of times, attempted to replicate that particular dumpling outside of Taiwan where Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chili aren’t always a common item, and had found such task to be extremely impractical at best.  First of all, Taiwanese-style peeled and pickled chilis are, even when available, highly inconsistent in quality between various brands, ranging from awesomely crunchy and peppery with a tinge of sweetness, to barbarically over-sweetened, flaccid and tasteless.  Then what complicated the matter even further was that every attempts to replace it with another type of pickled chilis, had resulted in a flavor profile that was completely unrecognizable.  In some work, documentary for example, there are certain values in writing recipes involving ingredients that are highly specific and exclusive, necessary even.  This, I decided, isn’t one of’em.

I decided that the idea of a dumpling involving a delicious pickled chili, one that is available and reliable nonetheless, could only be realized from a perspective ungoverned by its original inspiration.  Which brings us to, jalapeño popper dumpling.

I made a jadeite-green wrappers colored by green scallion puree, sturdy yet soft, smooth yet chewy, a proper capsule for a filling that is fully specked with spicy and peppery chopped pickled jalapeño and cubes of sharp cheddar cheese, each occupying tiny gooey pockets throughout a fatty pork filling that is brightened with fresh cilantro.  The compatibility between pickled jalapeño and cheddar cheese requires no dispute, but one does not tell you that when they’re in the company of ground pork, delivered in capsule-form, then further dipped into a spicy, briny and tangy reduction of its own pickling juice, this classic combo can be born anew.

Sometimes the destination isn’t where the starting point had intended.  And often times that pisses me off.  In this case, I am not.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT CREAM CHEESE SHIN RAMYUN/BUDAE JJIGAE MIX

WHY CREAM CHEESE?  BECAUSE COMPARED TO THE COMMONLY APPLIED AMERICAN SINGLES, CREAM CHEESE PROVIDES CHEESINESS AND CREAMINESS WITHOUT ADDED SALT.

WHAT:  Perhaps the most internationally embraced instant noodle of our time, Shin Ramyun, now homemade, thickened with cream cheese, and… also doubles as an instant budae jjigae mix.

WHY:  I wish to pay a tribute to the untimely passing of Anthony Bourdain, the original, the first and the last, who is perhaps, in the end, a great speculator without answers.  Here’s a dish from Korea, budae jjigae, which he had openly embraced and advocated for without irony, both being a mutated creation that exists on the tipping point of conflictions and yet, brings epiphanies and enjoyments to their subjects.  We will sorely miss him.

HOW:  The flavor profile of the base for budae jjigae and the instant noodle Shin Ramyun is, to no surprise, close siblings from the same family.  Both prominent on the fragrance and heat of Korean chili powder, smoothed by a bit of sweetness from fermented chili paste called gochujang, followed by subsequent notes of garlic, a bit of onion, and a hint of soy sauce.  By successfully creating a base for one, you would’ve done it for both.  But to aim at a higher end goal with more complexity, I like to approach the question from the perspective of budae jjigae.

There is perhaps nothing more ironical about making budae jjigae than to try to stay “authentic” with budae jjigae.  The spirit of the dish was founded on improvisation, creating something special from the givens, making lemonade.  I first set out to build the groundwork by rendering, browning and pureeing pancetta, anchovies and shitake mushroom powder, which are not traditional but they lay the common bricks for this type of Korean soup-dishes that are often a mixture of meat broth, dried seafoods and mushrooms.  Then guess what?  That’s all the cooking there is.  The only step left is as easy as blending it together with gochugaru (Korean chili powder), gochujang (Korean chili paste), garlics, onion and seasonings, then last but not least, cream cheese.  Why cream cheese?  Because compared to the commonly applied American Singles, cream cheese provides cheesiness and creaminess without too much added salt.  Not mention that it blends more effortlessly into any H2O-based substances.

From this point forward, simply simmer the mix with low-sodium beef stock for Shin Ramyun.  OR, add kimchi, SPAM, hot dogs, and just about anything that sounds really wrong to make something that tastes really right, budae jjigae.   It will be thick.  It will be spicy.  It will be heavy, and it will be enlightening.  It will be too much, and it won’t be enough.  If this can be, then what else is out there?

Go, find out.

Move.” – Anthony Bourdain

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT DANDAN NOODLE MIX

IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD?  I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF.  BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.

WHAT:  The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet.  An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.

WHY:  Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness.  And they both want company.

HOW:  There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings.  I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche).  Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).

Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.

Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded?  Well, A)  I don’t care about authenticity.  And B)  Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development.  Then last and certainly not least C)  I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish.  Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.

Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have?  I dare not say that myself.  But you just might.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

 

THE UNFAILING WONDER OF AMERICAN SINGLES THAT MELTS INTO THE MOST VISCOUS INTENTION TO BRING OUT A BIT OF CHILDISHNESS IN ALL OF US

WHAT:  Using Japanese curry cubes – another one of their culinary ingenuities – as a building foundation for an even more complex, cocoa-y and cheesy curry paste that will bring instant late-night slurping to a new height.

WHY:  It’s creamy.  It’s delicious.  And if you need more than that then slap on nostalgic as well.  Because Japanese curry, or shall I say kare, is a deep-rooted comfort in just about every Asian’s dietary habit.  And if done right, it will withhold the same standing in your life as well.

HOW:  Japanese curry cube, on its own, can be a bit sweet and lacking of intensity, born out of this culture’s rounder and more reserved disposition on tastes as well as, I suspect, philosophy.  In the effort to deviate from its original path, I have been for years adding my own “defectors” to bring it just where I like it, more curry powder for spiciness, cocoa powder for complexity, instant coffee for a touch of bitterness and fragrance, and a kiss of Dijon mustard for acidity.  Then last but not least, the junky yet unfailing wonder of American singles that melts into the most viscous intention to bring out a bit of childishness in all of us.

This versatile paste can be used to create, instantly if I may stress, an array of noodle-companions ranging from a milder and drinkable broth for a Japanese staple called kare udon, to a more powerful and creamy gravy to dress any noodles “dry-style” (my favorite), all the way to possibly being used as an instant mix for this fried rice.  A soft-boiled egg, an extra single, or even a nub of cold butter, hell let’s put a few McNuggets on top.  There’s really no possible way to go overboard with it.  And even if there is, it won’t judge.

 

Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 10 cloves of garlics, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp onion powder
  • 6 cups (1400 ml) low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 regular box (230~250 grams) Japanese curry cubes, such as this one (see note *)
  • 5 slices of American cheese, torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 4 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground cayenne, plus or minus to your liking
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. In a large, wide and deep skillet (the wide diameter creates more surface area and speeds up the reduction process), cook canola oil, onion, garlics and onion powder over high heat, until the edges of the onions are slightly browned. Add low sodium beef or chicken stock, continuing to boil over high heat, until the mixture is reduced down by 2/3, about 20 minutes.
  2. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another smaller pot, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can then discard the solids. You should have about 1 1/2 cup of liquid left (it can be slightly under but not more). Now add the curry cubes, American cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, curry powder, cocoa powder, fish sauce, cayenne, instant coffee and Dijon mustard. Cook and stir over medium heat, until all the ingredients are fully melted and evenly incorporated into a thick paste.
  3. Transfer into an air-tight jar and keep chilled in the fridge until needed. Can be kept for up to 1.5 (estimate) months in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer.
  4. TO USE THE MIX: You can use the mix to make a lighter drinkable curry broth, or a stronger gravy-like sauce. To make a curry broth, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and whisk in 3~4 tbsp of instant curry mix, and let simmer for a couple minutes. Add udon noodles or other noodles of your choice. To make a gravy-like sauce, cook udon or other noodles of your choice in boiling water according to instructions. Remove the noodles and set inside a serving bowl. Mix a few tbsp of the cooking water with curry mix until it reaches your desired consistency and intensity, then mix it evenly with the noodles. As a general finishing touch, torch a slice of American cheese on top until melty, and serve immediately.

Notes

* Japanese curry cubes, or curry sauce mix, can be easily found in all major Asian supermarkets and/or online. This recipe calls for one regular box, which ranges from 230~250 grams depending on the brands (but they do come in smaller packaging sometimes so make sure you check the package). And they also come in "mild", "medium", and "hot". Here I'm using "hot".

https://ladyandpups.com/2018/06/04/homemade-instant-noodle-mix-series-instant-cheesy-japanese-curry-udon-noodle-mix/

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT PHO BO MIX

 

WHAT:  Instant pho bo noodle soup mix, the answer to the prayers of all the geographically misplaced and physically unable foodies who make the regrettable mistake of watching a Vietnam street-food video on Youtube pass 10 PM.  We know who we are.

WHY:  Widely known as a labor-intensive and time-consuming dish, yet cruelly happens to be the most desired slurp from Southeast Asia in North America, pho bo has been tormenting addicts who are kept apart from a proper fix due to cold hard geography, or, something no less ruthless, a human condition called sloth.  But this barrier is no more, my friends.  Because what is mankind if not the extraordinary will to cheat its way through shortcomings?

HOW:  Every single aromatics and spices that are used in the traditional preparation of pho bo undergoes the exact same treatment in this recipe, the charring of the onion and ginger, the roasting of shrimp paste, the calculated balance of spices.  The only difference is that the mixture is blended together with an ultra-reduction of store-bought beef broth and fish sauce, into a smooth, saucy seasoning.  When the craving hits, the complete obliteration of the ingredients allows their full and speedy release of flavors and aroma where they dissipate into more beef broth (don’t worry, still store-bought), creating a marvelously close-tasting broth to the ones that take hours, all in just 2 minutes.  From this point on, all it needs is a mandatory fine-tuning of lemon juice, sliced onion and fresh herbs to bring it quintessentially Vietnamese.  Then, a couple squirts of Sriracha and hoisin sauce to make it non again.

Here you ask, is this the same as the pho bo you tasted in Saigon where you lost a tender piece of your soul behind and was left to wonder this earth forever incomplete?  Pffff, of course not!  A cheat is a cheat.  Anyone who’s tried liposuction will tell you they don’t look like Gisele Bündchen quite yet.  But I will say this, that in between all the sad Vietnamese restaurants provided by the cities where I’ve stayed in the past almost two decades – New York, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing – or the alternative of plowing through 12 hours of labor whenever the craving hits, honestly, I prefer this instant mix over any of the above.  And if you know me at all, that’s saying a lot.  

 

FOR ALL THE GEOGRAPHICALLY MISPLACED AND PHYSICALLY UNABLE FOODIES, WHO MAKE THE REGRETTABLE  MISTAKE OF WATCHING A VIETNAM STREET-FOOD VIDEO ON YOUTUBE PASS 10 PM

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