Dairy

DIM SUM MONTH: Creamy salmon & egg in rice wrapper rolls

DIM SUM MONTH CONTINUES…

WHAT:  Stuffed rice wrapper rolls they call “cheung fun“!

WHY:  These gorgeous and elegant beauties are often overlooked on the dim sum table because of their less flashy appearances, mellow flavor profiles, and batters with the wrong ratio that results in unfortunate, mushy-textured wrappers.  Well, that ain’t their fault, in fact, cheung-fun is the most versatile blank canvas waiting for someone who appreciates its possibilities.

HOW:  In restaurants, this dish is always made to order.  The rice batter is usually steamed with the filling on top then rolled into a log and served with sweet soy sauce.  This method has its virtues but also, many flaws.  It is convenient from a restaurant’s perspective, allowing them to serve the dish hot and speedy, but not necessarily so from a creative point of view.  Making the dish to order will be unrealistic to pull off for at-home dinner parties, and steaming the wrappers and the fillings simultaneously will greatly limits its possibilities.  So, we are going to prepare the rice wrappers beforehand, and assemble them with the filling at the last minute.  In my wildest dreams where money flows like abs in a Channing Tatum movie, I would make the filling with gently poached lobster meat and XL lumpy blue crabs tossed together with herby mayonnaise and a few popping jewels of ikura (Japanese cured salmon roes).  But I live in the real world.  As you can see that my XXL Magic Mike-version is reduced down to slow baked then torched salmon with cheap-but-not-sad 15-seconds magic scrambled eggs.  Still Magic, just less Mike.  Serve the dish on a hot plate and simmering sweet soy sauce to bring the warmth back.  Hey, still fucking sexy.

By the way, most of the recipes in DIM SUM MONTH is designed to be prepared ahead of time.  Make each items and store them in the freezer (well, not this particular recipe), and at the end of the month, we’re going to have a dim sum blowout party.  See ya!

CREAMY SALMON & EGG IN RICE WRAPPER ROLLS

Yield: Approx 8~10 rolls

For the RICE WRAPPER recipe, I strongly recommend measuring by weight (not volume).

Ingredients

    RICE WRAPPER/CHEUNG FUN:
  • 3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp (100 grams) short grain rice flour
  • 1/4 cup (33 grams) potato starch
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp (267 grams) water
  • FILLING: (see note)
  • 1 lb (500 grams) mid-cut salmon
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp finely diced scallions
  • 1 tbsp plain mayonnaise
  • 1 portion 15-seconds magic scrambled eggs (3 eggs)
  • fresh cilantro leaves
  • SWEET SOY SAUCE:
  • 1/3 cup (94 grams) soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp + 2 tsp (31 grams) light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) water

Instructions

  1. This instruction differs from how restaurants typically do it, which is to always steam the cheung-fun/rice wrapper and the fillings together simultaneously, right before serving. Here, I prepare the cheung-fun/rice wrapper separately and beforehand. It gives me more control to play with the fillings, and makes them easier to prepare for a party.
  2. PREPARE THE CHEUNG-FUN/RICE WRAPPER: Make the wrappers up to 4 hours before serving. Check out RICE RIBBON for more referrences. In a jar that's easy to pour, whisk together rice flour, potato starch and water.
  3. For steamer, you can use any large pot with a rack placed in the middle to hold the mold/pan. I used a 6" (15 cm) square cake-pan as my mold to make the rice wrapper because 1) It fits into my steamer/pot (see photo). 2) It's just the right size for one single roll. If you have a larger steamer that can allow a bigger pan that will cut down the number of time of steaming, you can do that as well.
  4. Fill the steamer/pot with enough water just below the steamer-rack, then bring to a boil over high heat. Brush the pan with a bit of canola oil and place it on top of the rack. Give the batter a little whisk (do this every time before you pour), then pour just enough batter to create a thin film on the bottom of the pan. ADJUST THE POT so that it's LEVELED, and that the batter is evenly thick on all sides. Close the lid and steam on high heat for 1 min. The wrapper is ready when you see large air bubbles when you remove the lid. Brush the top surface of the wrapper with a little canola oil, then tilt the pan over a piece of parchment paper so it faces downward, then scrape the wrapper off so it falls onto the parchment. Repeat until you've used up all the batters, and keep each wrappers sandwiched between parchments. Plastic-wrap the whole stack and set aside until needed.
  5. PREPARE FILLING: Two hours before serving. Preheat the oven on 155 F/70 C. Rub the 1 tbsp of salt all over the salmon and let sit for 20 min, after which, rinse and pat dry with a clean towel. Place on a piece of parchment paper and rub the salmon with a bit of olive oil, then wrap tightly with the parchment. Place in the middle baking-rack (NO BAKING SHEET) and bake for 1:20 hour. Crumble the salmon into large pieces, and if you have a blow-torch, torch the surfaces so they're a bit charred. Gently toss the salmon with scallions and mayo (do the same if you're using lobster or lumpy crab meats). Set aside. Make the magic scrambled eggs. Set aside.
  6. Lay one cheung-fun/rice wrapper with the oiled side down (that would be the top surface when it came out of the steamer, which is the pretty side). Scatter a few cilantro leaves across the middle, then a bit of salmon fillings and scrambled eggs. Gently roll it together, and repeat (only make as many as you're serving).
  7. Place the rolls on a hot plate (the dish should be warm when served). In a small pot, bring soy sauce, light brown sugar and water to a simmer until the sugar has melted, then spoon the sauce over the rice rolls. Serve immediately.

Notes

If your budget allows, you can switch to using lobster or large lumpy crab meats, or a combination of the two. I would gently poach the lobster, then cut the meat into small pieces. Toss the lobster meats together with lobster roes (or the "brain"), lumpy crab meats and the scallion mayo. If you have enough of this, you can even omit the scrambled eggs and go delux.

https://ladyandpups.com/2017/02/14/dim-sum-month-creamy-salmon-egg-in-rice-wrapper-rolls/
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A BETTER POPOVER/YORKSHIRE PUDDING RECIPE

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WE CAN ALL USE A LITTLE BETTER

It can be depressing today, either for political or personal reasons (for me, both).  So let’s not talk.  Let’s just all, perhaps, realize something about ourselves and others today with, if you can, kindness and faith.

I saw this recipe on a Bon Appetite’s special baking issue, and it has proven to be much superior than my previous Yorkshire pudding recipes.  Mainly, because it allows me to completely forgo the “resting stage” that I had emphasized so strongly before, and that is because this batter is mixed with simmering milk which has prevented the gluten from forming by partially cooking the flour.  No more resting.  This batter can go straight from being mixed to being baked, into the glorious, optimistic, better puffs that they are.

I can we can all use a little better today.

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A BETTER POPOVER/YORKSHIRE PUDDING RECIPE

Yield: 5~7 depending on size

Adapted from Bon Appetite Magazine. I've made several small changes to the recipe because it worked better for me, and I listed the grated cheese as optional because I want the flavour of these to stay neutral, that it can go with sweet or savoury. But if you really like the idea of it, then do it :)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (242 grams) half-half, or whole milk
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup +1 tbsp (103 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp (22 grams) cornstarch, or potato starch
  • 1/4 cup (17 grams) grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. Depending on whether your oven comes with the fan-on option or not, preheat the oven on 375 F/190 C fan-on, or 400 F/200 C no-fan. Meanwhile, whisk together half-half (or whole milk), light brown sugar and sea salt in a small pot, and heat over medium heat until it just starts to simmer. While the milk is heating, beat large eggs inside a large, easy-to-pour jar or container. Once the milk's ready, slowly pour it into the eggs while whisking vigorously (must be slow and keep whisking otherwise the eggs may get cooked). Then add the flour and cornstarch, and whisk until just combined (tiny lumps here and there is fine). If you're using grated cheddar, add now and whisk until combined.
  2. Generously butter each popover pan, or muffin pan, or individual tin cups with about 1 1/2 tsp of butter, then bake in the oven for about 3~5 min when the butter is starting to brown slightly. Pour the batter into the mold until about 50% full, then bake in the oven for 15 min. Then turn the heat down to 350 F/175 F FAN OFF, and bake for another 20~25 min. During this whole time, do not open the oven door. If the color of the popovers are getting too dark in the last few min, turn the heat down a bit. The popovers must be baked for at least 35~45 min in total depending on their sizes, otherwise they might deflate afterwards.
  3. Remove the popovers/yorkshire puddings from the molds. They can be eaten as is, or "stuffed" with sweet fillings (such as chocolate mouse, custard, buttercream etc).
https://ladyandpups.com/2016/11/10/a-better-popoveryorkshire-pudding-recipe/
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EGG FLORENTINE IN PULLMAN “BOWLS”, FOR CYNTHIA

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WE ARE GOING TO DISCREETLY PAN-FRY THESE IN AN INDECENT AMOUNT OF BUTTER, UNTIL THEY ARE PRACTICALLY SOAKED ON THE INSIDES, AND DELICIOUSLY CRISPY AND GOLDEN ON THE OUTSIDES.

YOU KNOW, THE BUTTER-EXUDING CRUNCH?

Have you seen Ben Stiller’s movie, While We’re Young?  Well, if you haven’t, there’s no need to really.  Given that it has its moments here and there, all in all, it’s not entirely spectacular.  But the reason that I’m bringing it up is because – well, equally as unspectacular and unrelating to the majority demographic – I’m kind of in the same pickle.

I’m 36 years old, and very early on in life, I have made a very conscious decision not to have children.  I’m happy married, stable, as far as I know, reproductively unchallenged and relatively speaking, mentally healthy, and I consider myself an affectionate if not responsible dog-parent.  So as I said, the decision is a very deliberate one and the reasons for which, well lets just say, don’t quite belong in this post.  Uh, ok whatever, might you add, but where’s my fucking pickle?  Well, this is where the movie might be more articulate, not to say much more entertaining, in illustrating my quandary.  Thing is, most of our friends, with all due respect and our best wishes, have buckled together on the baby-train and exited through the other side of the crossroad in life in sort of a Groupon strategy, leaving us, a bit unprepared, in a social limbo.

That’s correct.  We are them, the friends without children.  The awkward pre-middle-aged couple who didn’t get the memo that, at this point in life, a dinner party that ends at 10 pm on a Saturday night, however frisky with all the right signals to assume more, is the end of the program.  Where to next?  Theirs kids’ swimming lesson at 8 am the next morning, and our party equivalent of blue balls that night iced with yet another Netflix binging.  But listen, I get it.  People’s priorities change as life evolves, and as their friends, we shall respect that.  Which is exactly why it’s ok that the number of friends to call for a drink and their level of energy to participate is together in a fierce race to hit the bottom.  And the rule that there are things that just shouldn’t be placed in close proximity, such as fire and curtains, me and donuts, and in this instance, conversations and this thing called the baby monitors, are more frequently being broken.  Which is why, I’m not filing a complaint, but to simply say, oops.

But why now?

It may seem totally self-absorbed and obnoxious to bring this up at a baby shower.  Yes, this is a baby shower!, for my friend Cynthia who just gave birth to their baby boy Luke!  And seriously, earnestly, for Cynthia who has been one of the most amazing human beings I know of (She’s a full-time lawyer/woman/wife/daughter-in-law/blogger/then pregnant/now mother, I mean do you feel me!), I wish them all the exuberating enthusiasms and my best positivism at this special moment in their lives.  Reading her unpackaged words of tenderness and content, as a dog-mom, whether anybody disputes it or not, I can relate.  So I am happy, for her.  Even though it means that soon after, I will have to hang outside a 24/7 convenience store, asking strangers if they want to break a donut with me.

To celebrate Two Red Bowl’s baby birthday and our social demise, I have prepared, in the theme of bowls, egg florentine in pullman “bowls” with burnt butter hollandaise.  Well, more box than bowl but you know what I mean, and let’s not forget that this is a very cute and kid-friendly idea, no?… (or that I’m more out of sync with the other side of the world than I realize).  The original inspiration comes from a Taiwanese street-food where they deep-fry a cutout box of pullman bread then fill it with seafood chowder.  But that’d be just wrong for moms and kids, right?, totally irresponsible.  So for the sake of the health of our next generation of pillars of the world, we are only going to discreetly pan-fry these in an indecent amount of butter until they are practically soaked inside and deliciously crispy and golden on the outside.  You know, the butter-exuding crunch?  And with the next point, don’t say that I don’t understand raising children, because we are going to cut out a hole on top, and hide a healthy pile of garlic spinach with a bed of creamy Laughing Cow’s spreadable cheese.  Bribery.  Yeah.  I know all about that.  Then finally, we top each bowls – or what I would like to imagine as little boxed presents from Yummy Town – with bursting soft-boiled eggs and a lava-waterfall of my foolproof, burnt butter hollandaise sauce.

Each bite is a fluent, harmonic dance of crispy and runny, crunchy and creamy, buttery and buttery yet there’s spinach.  Big “bowls” for parents, small bowls for children, and baby Luke gets to suck the runny yolks.  I’ve got all grounds covered.  So.  Next weekend.  Can we exploit the only benefit of the in-laws, and let’s hit bar?

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CHEDDAR SNOW BRUNCH CAKE

  

GRATED WHITE CHEEDAR!  ON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING!!  ON TOP OF EGGY SPONGE CAKES!!!

Hey, what’s up?  I’m in the middle of my France cross-country road-trip!  But to make you feel good as well, here’s a cheddar snow brunch cake!  It’s got double layers of sponge cake, loads of cream cheese frosting, and yes!, avalanche of grated cheddar snow!!!

Gotta go now.  See you on the other side!

Kitchenaid mini mixer in the house.

  
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CHEDDAR SNOW BRUNCH CAKE

Roughly adapted from Vivian Pang

Ingredients

    SPONGE CAKE: adapted from Natasha
  • 1/2 cup (122 grams) milk
  • 6 tbsp (85 grams) unsalted butter
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 1/4 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (240 grams) cake flour, or all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp (10 grams) baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp (3 grams) salt
  • CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
  • 9.7 oz (275 grams) cream cheese
  • 6 tbsp (85 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup (75 grams) sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 tbsp (22 grams) powdered sugar
  • GRATED MILD WHITE CHEDDAR

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven on 350 F/180 C. Add milk and unsalted butter in a cup or pot, then melt in the microwave or over the stove until the butter has melted. Set aside
  2. TO MAKE BATTER USING MELTED SUGAR: Place the eggs and orange zest in a stand-mixer bowl, then whip on low heat until beaten. Set aside. Use a wide pot (the bigger the surface area, the more even the sugar will melt) and add the granulated sugar plus 1 tbsp water (the water is not in the ingredient list), then set over medium heat. Gently and slowly swirl the pot when the sugar starts to melt (too much motion will result in crystallisation). Once the sugar has melted, turn the stand-mixer on medium high speed, then slowly drizzle the hot sugar into the eggs. Then turn the speed to high and whip for 10 min or more, until the eggs forms ribbons behind the whip. The volume should have almost tripled. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.
  3. TO MAKE BATTER USING DOUBLE BROILER: Bring a small pot of water to boil, then turn off the heat. Add the eggs, orange zest and sugar (no water) in a stand-mixer bowl and let it rest over the hot water. Whisk vigorously until the egg-mixture are very warm to the touch and all the sugar has melted. Return the bowl to the stand-mixer and mix on high speed for 10 min or more, until the eggs forms ribbons behind the whip. The volume should have almost tripled. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.
  4. FINISH/BAKE THE CAKE: SIFT the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl (very important to sift). Fold the flour into the egg-mixture in 3 portions (don't whisk or you'll lose the air in the batter). Only adding the next when the previous addition has been evenly incorporated. Then slowly fold in the milk-mixture in 2 portions. Divide the batter into two buttered-and-floured, 8 1/2" cake pan. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 min, until an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean. The original recipe says 35 min but the cakes were over-baked. I would check at 25 min. Let the cake cool down for 10 min, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  5. MAKE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: Start with cold cream cheese and butter. Whisk the cream cheese and butter in a stand-mixer over high heat until creamy. Add the sweetened condensed milk and powdered sugar, and whisk until even. Set aside in the fridge until needed.
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: Smear a generous amount of cream cheese frosting in between the two layers of cakes (if you want more pronounced saltiness, you can add grated mild white cheddar in the middle layer, too). Cover the top of the cake with more cream cheese frosting, then loads and loads of grated milk white cheddar.
https://ladyandpups.com/2016/08/14/cheddar-snow-brunch-cake/
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THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART II, SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE AND SPICY FISH STICKS

This is Idea No 2 for incorporating what I call the red diamond of foods, salted duck yolk, into your everyday cooking regimen (check the previous post for a new age of carbonara!), and that is, it makes an over-the-top, creamy and decadent base in mayonnaise or aioli which goes on to become thousand different sauces with limitless possibilities.

In this case, an incredibly rich tartar sauce which is worlds away from those pale-assed, loose-fitted watery blah that we’ve gotten too used to to question its legitimacy.  This tartar sauce, using cooked then pureed salted duck yolks, has a creamier and velvety mouthfeel with a hidden depth of richness that whispers its secret through its beautiful orange-yellow hue.  Yes, this tartar sauce uses 2 extra salted yolks for the amount that’s made (the yolk-to-oil ratio), and you may be inclined to suspect that the difference may simply just be a result of the extra yolks, regardless whether it’s salted or fresh.  But I can’t sss this loud enough – salted duck yolks do not taste like plain egg yolks!  They just don’t, ok?  Does fresh pork belly taste like bacon?  Huh?  Does milk taste like cheese?  Huh?  We y’all female homo-sapiens but do I look like Giiiiiisele?  Huh?  I think you get my point.  Do not think of the cooked salted duck yolks as an emulsifying agent such as fresh yolks (no seriously, it will not emulsify with oil because all its moisture has been extracted through the curing process), but think of it more as a seasoning, a salty… oily… and almost nutty flavor that is unique on its own.

Of course, this is a sparkly fuse for you to fire up that imaginative brain of yours, because the possibility is limitless.  A herby and garlicky base for your summer potato and pasta salads?  A secret weapon for your weekend brunch hollandaise?  That burger is never going to taste the same with this added flare, and if you like battered fish… oh my friends, if you like battered fish…  Crispy, shattering, and slightly spicy beer battered fish sticks, piping hot out of the fryer to find a pool of cooling and creamy concoction of flavors and textures to wrap their heads around.  If that sounds good to you, this is only a start.

AN INCREDIBLY RICH TARTAR SAUCE WHICH IS WORLDS AWAY FROM THOSE PALE-ASSED, LOOSE-FITTED WATERY BLAH THAT WE’VE GOTTEN TOO USED TO TO QUESTION ITS LEGITIMACY

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SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE AND SPICY FISH STICKS

Ingredients

    SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE:
  • 2 salted duck eggs, raw or cooked
  • 1 fresh egg yolk
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2 tbsp minced capers
  • 1/2 tbsp minced baby cornichons
  • 1 tsp caper brine
  • 1 tsp tabasco sauce
  • salt and ground white pepper to season
  • SPICY FISH STICKS:
  • 250~300 grams catfish fillet, or any firm white fish preferred
  • 3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for drenching
  • 1/4 cup (26 grams) cornstarch or potato starch
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine chili flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (228 grams) light beer, really cold
  • 2 tbsp finely minced herbs, like basil and mint
  • canola oil for frying

Instructions

  1. MAKE SALTED YOLK TARTAR SAUCE: If using raw salted duck egg, wash clean under water (if they come encased in black salted sand) then place in a small pot and fill with water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 6 min, then transfer into cold water to cool down. If using pre-cooked salted duck eggs, omit this process.
  2. Crack open the cooked salted egg then scoop out the yolks. Place them into a food-processor or blender, along with fresh egg yolk, garlic and Dijon. Start running while slowly, SLOWLY, pouring 1/2 cup of vegetable oil to form an emulsion. Once all the oil is added, you should have a sauce with mayonnaise consistency. Transfer into a bowl and add minced shallot, minced caper, minced cornichons, caper brine, tabasco sauce. Mix well, then season with salt and about 1/8 tsp of ground white pepper. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or best overnight before serving.
  3. MAKE SPICY FISH STICKS: Pop your beer in the freezer for a few min while you work. Add enough canola oil into a frying pot until it reaches 2" deep (7 cm), and bring to 340 F/170 C over medium heat. Cut the fish fillet into long strips about 3~4" long (13 cm) and 1/2" (1.5 cm) thick. Season LIGHTLY with a little salt and ground white pepper, set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup flour, cornstarch, ground white pepper, baking powder, baking soda, chili flakes and salt. Pour in the cold beer, add the minced herbs, and stir with a fork gently just until it comes into a loose and lumpy batter (lumps are fine. don't overwork it).
  4. Drench 3~4 pieces of fish in plain flour, pressing the flour into the fish so it sticks well and dusting off excess, then transfer the fishes into the batter. Once the fishes are coated with a thin layer of batter, transfer gently into the frying oil. ADD THE FISH ONE AT A TIME and fry for 10~15 seconds before adding the next, so the batter has crippled up and won't stick together. If the fish is sticking to the bottom of the pot, give it a gentle nudge on the bottom with chopstick to release it.
  5. Once the fish sticks are golden brown and crispy, drain well and set aside on a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest. Serve immediately with salted yolk tartar sauce.
https://ladyandpups.com/2016/06/07/the-egg-you-didnt-know-you-need-part-ii-salted-yolk-tartar-sauce-and-spicy-fish-sticks/
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THE EGG YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEED – PART I, CARBONARA 2.0

I understand what it’s like.  It’s totally okay.  Happens to everyone.

We venture into unfamiliar, “exotic” markets coming from strange corners of the world, seeing bewildering ingredients for the very first time of our small existence, feeling intrigued, curious, excited even, and then at the end of a good thorough lap we walk out of the markets with our sparkly eyes wide open and our shopping bags, utterly empty.  Hey, I do it all the time, like last week in an Indonesian grocery store, and then again yesterday in this “sports goods” shop?  It’s no fault of our own, actually if anything, only human nature, to take caution with unfamiliarities.  It’s survival instinct 101.  As far as I know, no one has ever died from tomato sauce in a jar or freezer-section pizzas, right?  I guess I’m just trying to say, I can relate.

NESTED WITHIN, IS A JEWEL, DENSE AND COMPRESSED WITH THE ESSENCE OF ITSELF, HIDDEN TO BE EXCAVATED FROM THE BLACK SALTED EARTH

A RED DIAMOND

But growing up from two distinctively different backgrounds and cultures also means that, I too, relate to the other side, perhaps from your perspective, the scary side, the side that is teeming with strange and unfamiliar ingredients, flying pig-parts and deeply rouge sauces that hurt.  Being a Taiwan-born, Canada-fed then New York-aged piece of mind, one foot half-in half-out on all sides for as long as 25 years, naturally, you know for my thighs’ sake, I want to find ways to close the distance between each, a distance that is all but illusions and narrower than anyone thinks.  Because I’m also from the other side that knows stuff that you don’t.  The other side that tries to shout “Hey there’s good stuffs here, really good stuffs, and you should try it!”, but often times in inaudible volume with a world that is too busy to investigate.

It’s not anyone’s fault.  We didn’t shout loud enough.

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ZERO-FOLDING PASTEL DE NATA, A HYBRID

Ever since I came back from Lisbon, the question haunts me.

What is a perfect pastel de nata?

Well for me, now more than ever, that depends on who you’re asking.

If you were from the Asian parts of the world as I am, growing up, this wildly popular pastry since the 90’s actually came from, and have always been, more as a Macao thing.  Sure it’s known as the Portuguese-style egg tarts from Macao, the former Portugal colony famed for its many Portugal-influenced hybrid foods, but notice that it is NOT called pastel de nada, not even Portuguese egg tart, but ambiguously, “Portugese-STYLE” egg tart.  Style?  The name itself oozes deniability, suggesting that on one level or another, these tarts can’t be expected as a 100% identical replica of the originals, but a mere adaptation of some sort.  Therefore with time, as the popularity of these tarts swept through every bakeries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even KFC (yes, they sell these at KFC here…), the Portuguese association sort of fell irrelevant, and the gold standard on what is a great pastel de nata, in Asia at least, is set on however it is made in Macao.  And really, most people don’t have a clue on what the real thing is like.

But I’ve always wondered about this.  I mean is “Portuguese-style egg tart” even a thing in Portugal?  Do people even actually eat this stuff there or is it another freaky fortune cookie-phenomenon?  And if they do, the question isn’t if it was the same from Macao, because I know there was no chance in hell that they’re the same.  But the question is, how different?

So a couple months ago when I finally visited Lisbon for the first time, I was on a quest for truth.  I didn’t know what to expect, but almost as immediately as we landed at the airport, truth no 1 revealed itself.  Pastel de nada is definitely a thing in Portugal.  I mean, they were everywhere, as common as bagels in NY or surfers in L.A.  Well great, fantastic, because it allowed me to conduct an in-depth and thoroughly tasted investigation on truth no 2, which is, how different are the real things from Macao’s?  Well, this was where the troubles began.  They are, as expected, quite different on many textural levels, and now…

I’m completely torn.

I ASSURE YOU THAT THIS CONCLUSION, WHETHER YOU AGREE WITH IT OR NOT, CAME AFTER MUCH TORMENTS, SELF-REFLECTIONS AND EVEN SOME SOUL-SEARCHING ON WHO I AM AS A SENTIENT PASTRY EATER… (BUT THE ANSWER TO) WHAT IS ULTIMATELY A PERFECT PASTEL DE NATA?

WELL, A HYBRID

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MADRID, plus how to throw a tapas party

In the past few years, for more times than I’d like to admit, I have allowed myself to dance dangerously around a question that is as simple as it is complicated, as imaginable as it is hopeless, a secret irritation that haunts us all who have ever fell in love with a corner of this beautiful land they call Europe, but had to depart soon after.  You know you ask yourself this, we all do.

Why.  Why can’t I live here?

EVERY SIMPLE DELIGHTS FROM EVERY ASPECTS OF LIVING, RESTRAINED IN SMALL SERVINGS, BUT CONSTANT, AND IT DOESN’T STOP COMING

It’s a cliche, of course, for someone who doesn’t know or has travelled to Europe that much.  But is that what romance requires, muchness?  From the first time I landed a foot in Paris back in spring 2012, around the time when I just started this blog up till now, I have only been to a handful of European cities and each affair lasted no more than a week.  And yet, the immense imagery of lost stories behind every architectures and cobble streets, the courage I seek to enjoy life with ease that they breath daily as a birthright, the endless sceneries roaming from hill to hills, the effortlessness, irritating almost, the fact that they can take their dogs everywhere (!!!)…  All of it, everything, had left me in a stench of discontent at the boarding gates, the sense that I was going back to a place that was very much less so.

But having said that, it was a general infatuation for a region as a whole.  Specifically, if you asked me, I could never quite pinpoint a city, or a country even, where I could actually see myself living in.  As indisputably beautiful as Paris was and always will be, living there felt like being in a relationship with someone who would never love me more than I loved him.  As authentically ancient and charming as Rome, the even more hard-wired slowness stirred a sense of restlessness in someone who wasn’t embracing retirement just yet.  As much as the melancholic pessimism of Lisbon was alluring, it would probably deem unhealthy for me who’s equally negative, to marinate in large dosages.  As for London, which I haven’t mentioned, the idea of moving from under one sky blanketed in smog, to another blanketed in overcast, was… just depressing to say the least.  Then there was Nice, and Monaco… but who am I kidding?

That was, until Madrid.

I wanted to live here.  But more importantly, I felt I could actually live here.

Even with the inevitable unfamiliarity with its pace of life and various language barriers here and there, everything felt natural, easy.  It felt right.  Madrid, I hope we could all agree, wasn’t the most beautiful European city, or the most prosperous.  It wasn’t even the most convenient, given that few Asian airlines offered direct flights (but that’s gonna change this summer for Hong Kong).  But there was something about it, the perfect mixture of ease and vibrancy, like it ran in its bloodstreams of knowing when to slow down and when to party, and it carried us, without even thinking, into the same infectious rhythm.  An energetic morning, a late but overbearingly sumptuous lunch, a slow afternoon easing into the night, then a bubbling and munchy social scene to end it all perfectly.

Every simple delights from every aspects of life, restrained in small servings, but constant, and it doesn’t stop coming.  That was what it felt like, as least for me, Madrid’s promises.

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