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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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Book Bait: The Hulk, Dry-fried Green Hot Wings

WHAT:  In a shameless campaign to drum up anticipation for our upcoming cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story, today I am launching a new recipe series with a very self-serving, absolutely no-good intent.  Lady and gentlemen, may I present to you, The Book BaitWhat are book baits you ask.  Well, they are brand new recipes that are not in the cookbook but however, in order to make them, you will need an essential component from the book to complete which, yes, is not yet published until October 15, 2019.  And yes, I am willing to do that to you to sell books.

WHY:  Aside from the main motive to get you to pre-order the book (and you can do it here, here and here!), the inspiration for creating this recipe series – if there is still room for this argument – is not entirely corrupt.  There is a chapter inside the book called Condiments, consisting of sauces and spice-mixtures that are used more than once throughout the book.  But since the wrapping-up of the book, I continued to unearth new and exciting ways to utilize them that are too good to be left unbothered.  Which brings us to today’s subject, Fried Chili Verde Sauce.

HOW:  If I could put this green chili sauce in every recipe in the book, I would.  It’s a smooth, creamy almost, and fiercely fragrant puree made from green cayenne peppers that are cooked down, intensified, consummated.  It packs such a pronounced profile of that savory, mouthwatering pepperiness that so many other chili sauces strive for but fall miserably short on, with just enough heat to break a mist of sweat on your forehead without burning your hair off.  It sparkles as a supporting role in a small dollop but ultimately, can and should carry a dish as the main storyteller in a recipe such as this.

I call it, The Hulk, semi-butterflied dry-fried wings lathered in a fiery green hot puree with fried chili verde sauce as the base, and several varieties of green herbs to bring a grassy, fragrant, complex flavor profile to the overall, painfully pleasurable experience.  The butter that is traditionally mixed into other hot wing recipes, is replaced by my extra-brown browned butter that is poured on ruthlessly at the end, humming its respective tune in this crispy, spicy, creamy and finger-licking chorus.

You probably want this immediately.  I mean I certainly want it again since yesterday.  But if someone is making you wait five weeks… well, that’s just mean.

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Cookbook Preview – Shrimp wontons w/ spicy coconut shrimp oil

FYI, There is an entire chapter in our cookbook with delicious little morsels recipes just like this.  Preorder your copy now!

Here is another recipe preview from our cookbook – The Art of Escapism Cooking that is coming out on Oct 15th!

This recipe has many components – slippery, bouncy, rich, tangy, spicy, creamy – working collectively and in balance to support what is ultimately a perfect shrimp wonton.  The idea was born out of my desire to eat a bowl of shrimp wontons where the shrimp-ness is celebrated in more ways than one, and to reminisce the time when I was little when I would always try to gather the dark orange oil from my mother’s pan-fried shrimps and spoon it over my rice while sucking on the shrimp heads till my brain hurt.   No other person in the family did that.  And this is my way of doubling-down on their loss.

As previous recipe preview, I will include the entire intro and instructions exactly as it will appear in the book.  Reading back, this one in particular was undoubtedly written on a day of great angst and bitterness (insert lol emoji).  Thing is, the way I approached writing a recipe is very different from how it’s done on the blog, mood-swung and uncensored, not all but sometimes landing itself as short outbursts of emotional rhapsodies.  Varied from the first cookbook recipe preview, you’ll get a good sampling of the book’s state of mind.

Cheers.

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Goat cheese and cherry swirl ice cream

the goat cheese popping untimed and irregular bursts of mild saltiness and cheesy aroma that cuts and balance the sweetness, which then welcomes a current of tangy and floral compote of black cherries and honey

So some of you may already knew from my Instagram that I was forced onto a whiskey distillery tour in Scotland in spite of my lifelong disagreement with this confounding substance.  Although against contrary evidences, I could swear I exercised a generous though painful effort to have fun.  But ultimately, on a jam-packed five days excursion dead set on the sole purpose of hunting and gathering overpriced barley water and thus sidelining the other, infinitely more joyous activity of plowing into flocks of free-roaming sheep at every turn, it’s safe to assume that I absolutely did not.

And this brings us to today’s topic, Mary’s Milk Bar.  If there was any highlights at all in my five days of being unpaid escort, it had to be this highly acclaimed ice cream shop in Edinburgh, sitting just at the foothill against the backdrop of the magnificent Edinburgh’s Castle.  A fine quality creameries aside, what makes Mary’s Milk Bar attractive, to me at least, are her seasonal, unique profiles of unexpected flavors, pistachios and cardamom, orange and almond to name a few.  But I’m not going to focus on the flavors that she already perfected, instead, I want to remake one that I felt could improve to my likings, and that was one called goat cheese and honey.

Even through the cold barrier of the glass window, I could feel the strong attraction of this combination in my imagination, but when I actually tasted it, it fell softly on the promise.  The flavors of the goat cheese was very subtly blended into the smooth cream-base almost to the point of undetectability, which I guess I could understand, for goat cheese being such a pungent driver of tastes that too dominant of a presence could potentially ruin what is meant to be a sweet summer dessert.  But I couldn’t help but reimagining that instead of a smooth blend, the goat cheese should come as frozen bits of surprises scattered throughout a pure and dense cream base, popping untimed and irregular bursts of mild saltiness and cheesy aroma that cuts and balances the sweetness, which would make such an incredibly rich and intense ice cream that welcomes a current of tangy and floral compote of black cherries and honey.

I put my theory to the test.  And let me just say that if I had this with me everyday, I wouldn’t mind the fact that I was on a whiskey tour.

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Spicy mussel and burnt mushroom toast w/ broth

overcooking mussels is not a victimless crime.  do not engage.

Amongst all the abundant obstacles in between humanity and happiness, I am perhaps most snuggly and intimate with one in particular.  Jealousy.  I am jealous a lot, both in frequency and of subjects.  If you had just crossed my path in a white linen dress resting around a decently shaped neck, chances are, in the privacy of my somber awareness, I hated the shit out of you.  I don’t want to.  But it doesn’t matter what I want.  I am betrothed to my involuntary raid on all signs of missing things.

What does this have to do with mussels or mushrooms, or toasts for that matter?  Well, for it stands as a mascot for a particular specimen of humankind – one of many others of course – who consistently requests for my envy in every encounters:

Self-enjoying party hosts.

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