A “SOURDOUGH STARTER”… HOLD THAT THOUGHT, LET ME TAKE AN ADVIL
IF a consistent, punctual biological clock is the indicator of good health and well-being, surprisingly as evidence suggests, I may live much longer than I expected.
On a daily basis, for past 2 decades, my body insists on living breathing sleeping and eating, in a strict and firm accordance with… the Parisian time-zone. They say that your body is always trying to tell you things that you may not realize about yourself. To that, I have no argument. Then on a monthly basis, the beautiful reminder that I am, again, one-month-less away from entering menopause, always comes reassuringly and dependably… 10 days late. Punctual in her own ways, she loves suspense and once in awhile, watching me peeing on sticks. But here comes the part where I’m most proud of, a yearly reoccurrence, the kind that only wild animals who are most in tune with nature will demonstrate…
The pre-winter hair-shedding and my October flu.
OK, fine, maybe that sounded a little over-dramatic. Maybe I just count the hairs on my pillow more nowadays as a sign of mid-life crisis, and instead of a full-blown flu, it’s more like a passive-aggressive, trickling but ever-flowing stream of runny nose. The kind that is incompetent of granting me a whole week of in-bed movie-marathon, but at the same time, makes damn-well-sure that I look, walk and feel like a days-old, soggy unglazed donut. So this year, in response to a seasonal time like this, a new behavioural pattern has emerged. I bake breads.READ MOREContinue Reading
CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE, HARDLY ANY NEWS.
BUT A PROMINENTLY SALTY AND SWEET BUTTERCREAM, REALLY GETS ME EXCITED
THERE are good, convenient reasons why, I’ve never made cupcakes before.
There are things best left unknown, things that, let’s just say, won’t help you enjoy your favourite foods by knowing. Like the day I peed myself a little when I first poured in all that heavy cream, running as thick as blood, into making my most beloved Hokkaido “milk” toast two years ago. Oh mommy, it wasn’t milk… it wasn’t milk… And the same reasons that my fingers and soul trembled when, for the first time, I soiled my naive perception of a brioche dough with a rudely awakening amount of reality-butter. That stormy night, the brioche was soft, but innocence was dead… And then so many times after that, the freedom for ice cream was terrorized… and the guiltless-ness of salads wilted away… Let’s not even go there, where now every time when I gaze upon the starry sheen of a melty crispy and chewy chocolate chips cookie, the rim of fat around my waist reverberates in echo of the truth behind its sublimity… As a cook, I thought I wanted the truth.
I couldn’t handle the truth.
For someone who’s technically unemployed, I don’t know if this would violate the definition of such word but actually, for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been enjoying some sort of a “holiday”. Well… a holiday on house-arrest if you will, but nonetheless, a holiday. Despite the… minor inconvenience that we’re currently bound to the last place on earth that we’d like to spend more time in, Jason had decided to take the longest vacation-days he’s ever taken in his entire work-life, ever, an entire 14 blissful days to spend on doing something that we’ve practically elevated to an art-from… that is to do ab-so-lute-ly… nothing.READ MOREContinue Reading
SNACK ON THIS WARM AND TANGY YOGURT-CREAMED SPINACH. I’LL BE RIGHT WITH YOU.
Let’s pretend that you’re scooching on my overly soft leather sofa, and while I’m making a considerable amount of noise in the kitchen getting the dinner ready. You guys pop a bottle of something white, and snack on this warm, mildly spicy and tangy yogurt-creamed spinach with garam masala. There are crusty baguette and sour dough on the table for your breaking, and you’re being harassed by a slobbering… borderline-obese blonde. You surrendered a small piece over.
“If you keep my secret. I’ll keep yours.”
“I heard that~”.
And I’ll be right with you.
Serves: 2 ~ 4
Garam masala is quite different from typical curry powder in my opinion, consisting more spices that are “warmer” and “sweeter” such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamon, and less coloring from turmeric. Nowadays it should be pretty common in supermarkets, and of course, online. This would serve great as a side-dish, or just as a simple meal with a loaf of crusty baguette or sour dough.
Soak the raisins in hot water until plumped. Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Wash and remove the roots from the spinach, add to the pot and cover with lid. Let steam for 1 min, or until the spinach has just wilted. Transfer the spinach to a large sieve and rinse under cold water until cooled enough to handle. One small handful at a time, squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can with your hands and set aside (you should have approx 1 1/2 cup after squeeze). Finely chop the spinach.
Cook 2 tbsp of unsalted butter in a pot over medium-high heat until bubbly and browned. Add the finely minced shallots and cook until slightly browned on the edges, then add the grated garlic and grated ginger with 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper, and sauté a little bit until fragrant. Add the flour, garam masala and ground cumin, and cook for 1 min. Off heat, add the whole milk and stir everything together quickly to prevent lumping, then bring the mixture back to a simmer to thicken. Add the chopped spinach and raisins, re-season with salt’n pepper and sugar, and continue to cook over medium heat for 10 ~ 15 min until most of the liquid has reduced down.
Evenly stir in the Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro until creamy and cook until just warmed through. Do not boil the yogurt or it might break. Stir in the last 1 tsp of unsalted butter, and re-season with salt and pepper if need be.
Sprinkle with more ground cumin on top, and dried chili flakes if preferred. Serve with crusty breads.
AFTER 10 months of not being able to leave… not a country, not even a state/province, but a particular CITY due to personal circumstances, at a certain point, the “think tank” starts to resemble more like a warm puddle in the middle of a barren desert. Nowadays I seek recipe-inspirations like a stinking camel seeks for water, only minus the ability to regurgitate. Don’t get me wrong. All paranoid recipe-bloggers, me included, respects a well-stocked recipe-reservoir like doomsday-preppers hold high regards for canned beans. It’s almost a co-dependant relationship and my list is about a mile long.
I guess… a closet full of recipes and nothing to cook, best puts it.
But ironically, as the painstakingly studied and tested recipes often end in heartbreaks, some of the best things I’ve cooked here are incidental occurrences on a whim. Which brings us to today’s: So random I don’t even know what to call it. Yah. I don’t know what to call it because it came from a peripheral glance over the last 30 seconds of a TV-show that I don’t even know the name of, which (I think) pulled some golden-browned butter/sugar toast out of a skillet and served with soft cheese. The idea stayed with me not because it was as hazy as a hallucinated mirage, but because instead of the more popular way of making “creme brûlée” toasts as under the broiler, this does it more efficiently and successfully, inside a skillet.
CARAMEL STRAWBERRIES WILL BURST… THROUGH THIS BUTTERY, SUGARY, SALTY AND CHEESY GLORY
If you have ever tried making creme brûlée toasts under a broiler, you’d know that it’s an extremely volatile and unpredictable task. Every single factor – the type of bread, the amount of sugar, the type of oven, blah blah blah – can contribute to its blackened, smokey, inedible demise. But by doing it in a skillet – letting the toasts absorb a mixture of butter and sugar until they brown, caramelize and adhere to the golden browned toasts – the outcome is a much more controllable, crunchy, and delicious surprise.
Since we are already in the zone of talking caramel, why stop here? Drawing inspiration from a traditional Chinese roadside snack, where they skewer various types of fruits, coat them with a whiffy thin layer of hot malt sugar then let hardened, I thought there’s no reason why caramel-coated strawberries would be unwelcomed between creme brûlée toasts and warm, melty brie. And once in a very long while, everything just sort of goes according to plan. The creme brûlée toasts are buttery and crunchy, with just enough heat to soften a good smear of French brie. Then the caramel strawberries will burst through their crackly, lacey jackets as pressure applies and run their juices through this buttery, sugary, salty and cheesy feast of unnamed glory.
I guess there’s still some milage left in this tank.
Makes: 2 sandwiches or 4 open-face
I don’t know why I’m fixated on making these more of a “sandwich” when in fact, it will probably be prettier and easier to eat as an “open face” (you know, like bruschetta). So I’m leaving that option to you. For an open-face toast, you’ll maybe need to double the amount of caramel/candy strawberries depending on the size of your bread, and also the size of strawberries. I needed 6 small strawberries to fill 1 toast.
The freshly grated nutmeg is very important as it gives an “ooomph” to the flavour. Don’t be shy. You’ll want to see flakes of it through out the toasts.
Updates 2014/08/05: Thanks to a reader we now know the show that inspired this! It’s called Heartland Table with Amy Thielen. In the show she uses maple syrup instead of sugar, which I think is a even better idea! If you want to try maple syrup, substitute 3 tbsp of granulated sugar with 1/4 cup of maple syrup.
To make the caramel/candy strawberries: Wash and remove the stems from the strawberries, then set aside. Have a small cup of iced water ready. Heat the sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat. Cook until the sugar has melted and turned from clear to a pale yellow then to a rich, amber color (careful not to let it turn dark brown or it’ll taste bitter). This will take approx 5 min.
Remove from the heat, then pick up a strawberry with a fork and dip it inside the caramel to coat thinly (there will be a bit of sizzle). Let excess caramel drip off, then dip the strawberry in the iced water for 5 sec for the caramel to harden. Remove the strawberry from the fork and set aside. Repeat with the rest (If the caramel starts to cool down and is too thick to work with, return it to medium heat until it has loosen up again).
To make the toasts: Melt the unsalted butter and sugar in a large flat-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat (if your skillet isn’t large enough to fit all 4 slices perfectly flat, then do it in two batches). Once the butter and sugar look evenly blended (even though you may still see sugar-granules in the mixture), place the sliced bread inside the skillet with a tongs. Swirl the bread inside the mixture for a few seconds to coat evenly, then flip and coat the other side as well. Both sides of the bread should have evenly absorbed all the butter and sugar. Cook the breads until golden browned, with caramel crust on each sides.
Remove from the skillet, and while hot, apply a generous layer of brie on top. Pile the candy strawberries on top and grate a good amount of fresh nutmeg on top. Serve immediately.
CAN I JUST SAY… ONE OF THE TASTIEST GELATO I’VE HAD
TYPICALLY, this is where I enter the room, neck stretched and knuckles cracked, oozing a bit a creepy calmness to suggest the looming turbulence, and ghostly hovers over the keyboard… Inhale… Then screeeech, obnoxiously, on the worst, ever! weekend-getaway from hell, carrying a Dumpling that was dangerously “soupy” and could burst and leak out at any minute!
But… exhaaaale… I’m not gonna go there. Not gonna complain. My negativism is very bored with my discontent.
Instead, I’m going to, for just one day, do the thing that… you know the thing, the thing that happy people do. Right, to bring you only the bright side of life, with teethy smiles, flowers, breezes, and above all else, happy gelato and all. And not just any gelato, but can I just say, one of the tastiest I’ve ever had, too. Hey, I said I promised you bright things. But even with the promise not to go Gibson on you, it is impossible, from a literary point of view, to give you a complete narrative of this recipe without mentioning its less celebratory beginning. After all, it was a collateral payoff of the disaster itself.
So let’s fast-forward through the theatrical tragicomedy
where we found ourselves strapped to a ticking time-bomb in a smothering hot day, playing house with apathetic companies in a sluggish smog, and as if not comical enough, the farce promptly heightened with a side-plot of tree pollen-allergy. To cut it short, on the way home with a crippled spirit and minus four friends, the story brought me to a roadside fruit-stand which I was certain, giving my trickling “chi” lately, to be the final K.O. of my demise. But NO. Well… yes and no.
The high-season peaches, smartly, decidedly to side with main plot and joined the mockery. But tucked in an unnoticeable corner behind the loud flares of summer cherries and melons, was a box of quiet… off-season pears. Out of place, awkward and unwelcome, they stroke a string inside my empathetic core. As someone who isn’t normally familiar with pears, I felt a flush of faith and immediately… asked if I could conduct a taste-test.
God damn it! I can be really cynical sometimes!
But the pears were generous, sweet, and surprisingly fruity and fragrant. On the rest of the ride home, I had six new companies tucked between my feet. Of course right away, I started imagining ways I could play with my new friends… possibly… the only friend left. How about a glazed pear tart to up the already-boiling temperature of my apartment and switch my emotional meltdown to a physical one? Maybe not. How about caramel and poached pear cake to nudge me over the edge into those-curious-sidewalk-people-who-mumbles-to-themselves? Maybe later. Well, I guess any oven-related tasks were unadvisable.
So I turned my mind to transforming a warm, spicy autumn classic into high-summer treat. A sweet, fruity white wine cooked down to a syrupy consistency with pears, vanilla beans, cinnamon, star anise and cloves, then blended with cream to form a thick and supple gelato-base. The high sugar content, balanced by the tartness of pears, ensured the gelato with a dense, pliable and never-frozen-hard consistency that I love, and the flavours were above all else, elegant but rich. Hugging a cold, soothing box of poached pear gelato freckled with vanilla bean seeds, came the epiphany. I see that if it weren’t because of a will-bending disaster trip that has left me wary of all social gatherings, I wouldn’t have discovered one my favourite gelato creation and be able to keep it all to myself.
Hmph, if that’s not how your optimism works, I don’t want to hear it.
This is a seriously good gelato. I know that pears are not exactly in season yet, so I think a great substitute would be summer peaches. The moscato (a sweet fruity white wine) I used was slightly fizzy, which wasn’t actually intended but I don’t think it matters because all the bubbles will be gone in the poaching process anyways. You don’t need to bleed money for this recipe because the bottle I chose was very reasonably priced at around $10 and the result was still great.
I really struggled whether I should make this a no-churn recipe or not, because theoretically, you can whip the heavy cream to soft peaks then fold in the pureed poached pear-mixture then freeze until hard. But in the end, I still busted out the ice cream-maker just in case… If you want to try the no-churn method, chill the purred poached pear-mixture after it’s blended with potato starch, then fold it into softly whipped cream and freeze. It should do the trick I hope…
Peel, de-core and cut the pears into quarters. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the pears into a sauce pot with 2 cups of moscato wine, granulated sugar, honey, vanilla bean seeds and the split pod, star anise, cloves and cinnamon. Cook over medium to medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced a little more than half, and becomes thick and syrupy, approx 30 ~ 40 min. The pears should be very soft and translucent at this point.
Remove the vanilla pod, star anise, cloves and cinnamon, then transfer the mixture to a blender and add 1/4 cup more moscato wine and potato starch. Blend until the mixture is completely smooth and thickened (the residual heat should cook the starch which thickens the mixture). Then add the heavy cream and blend just until combined. Chill the mixture in the fridge for at least 4 hours until completely cold. Then churn it according to your ice-cream maker’s instruction, then freeze until hard. (DO NOT over-churn it. Stop when the gelato is slightly on the soft side then transfer to freezer. The denser/less airy texture is what separates gelato from ice cream.)
Serve with extra shot of moscato wine if you’d like.
IT IS Fourth of July. You’re busy. I know. Everyone has a list of jobs the length of their arm on Independence Day. Not only do you need to sort out the food, but you’ve also got to consider outfits, decorations (including flags – especially if you are one of the families with residential flagpoles) and generally organizing plans for the day. I get it. But just let me squeeze in a couple minutes of your time because if you missed this, it would be the second greatest mistake of your life. For we all know that the first in rank is always some hair cut (can’t beat that). Guys… this is your emergency Independence Day dessert. A discovery made after a kitchen-mistake of historic proportions, and in corresponding spirit of this holiday, proves again that greatness is often times a by-product of bad ideas. And this, this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened after the establishment of long weekend. What it is, is a gelato. Not any gelato, but the creamiest, virtually zero air-molecules or ice-crystals gelato, that makes itself.
THREE INGREDIENTS ? YOU WHISK ? IT FREEZES ? THAT’S IT!
It can be the base for any gelato flavour imaginable. No machine, churning, whipping cream or whatsoever! And it will look, feel, slide, melt and taste like the magic that it is. Go. Celebrate.READ MOREContinue Reading