Dairy

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. I feel at my most content when I am traveling these places; I wholeheartedly recommend that you get out into the world for yourself and seek out these experiences too. Of course, the cost is always going to be an issue when visiting locations on your bucket list. This can be helped by a cash injection from a loan – check out Lending Expert for more information. Although if you’re thinking about purchasing a property abroad or visiting some different countries, then you could get a loan or you could consider releasing cash from your home in order to fund holidays, or even holiday homes. As most elderly folk love their vacations, it seems to make sense that more people would want to release some money from their house in order to enjoy the rest of their lives.

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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SANDY OLD MAN ON X’MAS

  

ONCE THESE PIPING HOT, LIGHT AND AIRY DONUTS HIT WHAT I CALL THE “CHRISTMAS SAND”, THE HOUSE WILL INSTANTLY SMELL LIKE SWEET, BUTTERY AND EGGY HOLIDAY SPIRIT.

Quickly leaving you today with something awesome I discovered in Hong Kong.  And it comes with a funny name, too, called Sandy Old Man!

I found it at a traditional Catonese-style pastry shop and thought to myself that it was just donuts, but as I bit into the sugar coated fried dough, this little fella instantly sank into an airy sponge with soft and almost custardy interiors.  After some much needed research, turned out that this thing which they call “Sandy Old Man”, are essentially pâte à choux donuts!  By frying this classic cream puff-dough, you get a slight crispier exterior with almost hallow interior, permeating a salivating aroma of eggs and butter.

Traditionally Sandy Old Man are only coated in granulated sugar, but come on, it’s Christmas.  Granulated sugar turns into light brown sugar, then festivity turns into a pinch of ground cinnamon, cloves and a slight sprinkle of salt.  Once the piping hot, light and airy donuts hit what I call the “Christmas sand”, the house will instantly smell like sweet, buttery and eggy holiday spirit.

I’ll take this sandy old man over Santa any day.

  
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UPDTAE 2015/12/14:  The original measurement of 1/2 cup of flour worked for me, but because many had commented that their batter was too thin, I adjusted the recipe to 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp.

UPDATE 2016/01/11:  About comments that mentioned the batter was too thin – I tested the recipe again (added some weight measurements in the recipe, too) and it worked great with me.  Please note the “dough” should actually resemble a very thick batter.  By the way, I also just found out from my trip to Lisbon that these actually came from Portugal originally, and are called “sonhos” there which sounds  a lot like “sandy old man” in Chinese!  All makes sense now… :)

SANDY OLD MAN ON X’MAS

Ingredients

    BATTER:
  • 1/2 cup (118 grams) water
  • 3 tbsp (42 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (87 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Canola oil for frying
  • X'MAS SAND:
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. In a small pot over medium-low heat, add water, unsalted butter, sugar and salt, then cook until the water is hot enough to melt the butter (it should not boil). Turn off the heat and add the flour all at once, and stir with a fork until it comes into a smooth and even dough. Transfer the dough to a stand-mixer or into a large bowl, and stir for another min to cool it slightly. Add 1 egg and beat it into the dough until completely lump-free and smooth, then add the second egg and beat until the batter is shiny and smooth.
  2. Add enough canola oil to a small frying pot over medium heat. The oil's ready when it bubbles up gently around an inserted wooden chopstick. Scoop up around 1 tbsp of batter with one spoon, then scrape it gently into the oil with another spoon. Turning constantly and fry until the batter has puffed up (ALMOST DOUBLED in size, and will probably form a crack on the surface) and golden browned on all sides. This should take about 6 min to happen. If the donut browns too quickly before it puffs up, then the oil is too hot, and you should adjust the heat accordingly. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
  3. Drain the donuts thoroughly and set aside on a paper-towel to cool for 1 min, then coat it all over inside evenly mixed X'mas sand. Serve immediately.
https://ladyandpups.com/2015/12/12/sandy-old-man-on-xmas/

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Needle point pasta in light blue cheese sauce

  

IF YOU LIKE STUBBY AND CHEWY PASTAS, LIKE ORECCHIETTE, YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THIS

Are you still waiting for your simple, elegant, next go-to dinner party recipe that you can strut out in front of an impressed crowd and say “oh this?  I just pulled it out of the fridge“?

Well, this one is mine.

In case you aren’t aware yet, but for the past two weeks, I’ve been and will be stuck with tiny and barely equipped kitchens in rented apartments all the way till early January.  You know when they say, you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it?  Well, I feel exactly the same about my kitchen.  Because what I have now in my temporary possession is a bended cutting board, a non-stick skillet, and a knife that’s about as sharp as a letter-opener.  But, strangely, it is always when I don’t have something, that I find myself wanting it the most.

Two days ago, like a crippled soldier standing amidst the desert, not the most convenient timing of all you see, I found myself really, really craving some homemade pastas.

  
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PUMPKIN SPICE COCNUT ICE CREAM IN A BLANKET

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I LIKE TO HIDE MY VEGETABLES IN ICE CREAMS

Starting this Sunday, we’ll leave Bejing for more than a month, traveling to Hong Kong (for work), then Taiwan, then maybe Lisbon… Madrid… St Sebastian… or who knows.  Traveling used to be a big part of who we are, but we haven’t done this kind of “long distance/large scale” travelling for 2 years now, you know, for personal reasons, and I’m finding that it’s taking a bit of practice to get our grooves back.

So today, I’m quickly leaving you a recipe that I made from some leftover pumpkins.  As you know, I like to hide my vegetables in ice creams.  And do you know that pumpkin and coconut milk are great pals?  We got that from Thailand.  And do you know that ice creams are so much better on a pancake-cone instead of a regular one?  Learnt that from Seoul.

And I can’t wait to find out more, out there, on this new journey.

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STICKY TOFFEE PANCAKES

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A BUBBLY SYMPHONY OF BUTTER AND CREAM, SUGAR AND HONEY, A PINCH OF SEA SALT AND BRANDY HERE AND THERE, AND THAT LAST TOUCH OF VANILLA

I’m quickly leaving you the last post before we take a short trip to Hong Kong and Seoul next week.  It’s been… well… 2 years since the last time me and Jason traveled together.  What used to be frequent occurrences and a huge part of of our lives, now feels a bit unfamiliar and exciting again, well, tinted with a bit of sadness at the same time.

So with all the packing, cleaning out the fridge, packing again and feeling a bit empty now that we have minus-two dogs to say good-bye to, I’m gonna leave you alone with these pancakes that I’ve lately, grown quite fond with.  As I previously declared, I’m not a pancake person.  Still not actually.  But what I like about these pancakes, aside from the fact that they taste, preferably, like the lighter version of the often-times unbearably sweet sticky toffee puddings, is their relatively loftier heights that bring more tasty contrast to the fluffy interiors and the crispy edges.  The pancakes use, more or less, the chiffon cake-technique by folding beaten egg white into the the batter to pump up its airiness.  Then I cook them with a lid on, which speeds up the cooking time, and from what I felt, retains the height of the pancakes better.  You could add chopped dates to the party as the tradition, but I kept them lazy, only mimicking the flavours by adding molasses, grated ginger, ground cinnamon and allspice.  After all, the highlight of sweetness should only come from the thick and glistening syrup, a bubbly symphony of butter and cream, dark brown sugar and honey, a pinch of sea salt and brandy here and there, and that last touch of vanilla.

So here we go, to mark to the end, and the beginning, and then the repeating of it all that is change and life.  I’ll see you again, on the other side.

Gold brass spoon made by the amazing Ann Ladson.  Yellow mixing bowl from Dishes Only.

  
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