Noodle/Pasta/Rice

Gluten-free, low-carb, chewy all-purpose noodles made of chicken breast

“  The wisdom in exploring Mars

lies in a single dumpling.  ”

The merits to explore Mars may not be a subject that lands on a food blog very often.  Yet.

Since the 1990’s, the world has spend billions of dollars over the span of numerous unmanned missions to probe at this relentlessly desolate planet far beyond human’s physical reach. And it has incurred questions, perhaps not so unreasonably, about what benefits, if any, that all of these hardcore sciencing could realistically bring to mankind. What’s the point of studying an unreachable plane that most likely cannot sustain any lifeforms but Matt Damon, at least in the foreseeable future?  Wouldn’t it make more moral sense to redirect all those money, instead, on the many more immediate issues left unsolved on good old planet earth?  And at the end of the day, does anyone really want to live on fucking Mars anyways?

While there are many scientific counter-arguments to those questions out there made by much smarter people who do math, here as a mere moron who survived one week in her high school physics class, I am simply going to put it like this:

The wisdom in exploring Mars lies in a single dumpling.

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Bastardized pork belly biriyani

”  NO REASON NEEDED, NO APOLOGY GIVEN.  “

I’m not religious.  I don’t have to explain why there’s pork, or fat-laden pork belly to be exact, in my biriyani.

Some truths hold themselves to be self-evident.  Very few gets realized.

I also don’t have to explain this recipe’s utterly impure pedigree, a zig-zagging parentage between Southeast Asian and Indian and even a little of Chinese, making it an indecent, inglorious, bona-fide bastard.  Drifted increasingly untethered to any particular nationality or culture, I feel somewhat of a kindred spirit to such mis-bred type, comfortable, reciprocal, defiant even.  From one bastard to another, we know what we like, no reason needed, no apology given.

Right is right.  Good is good.

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Miso congee w/ crispy scallion oil and cream

”  It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee.  “

Around this time of the year with its cold crisp air, with it carrying a smell of memory that I can’t seem to grapple, I am loosened and adrift.  I feel like anchoring to a sleeved cup of coffee with both hands, and wander aimlessly on the street decorated with relentless sparkles.  Like an old lady who has lost something but couldn’t remember what.  My fingertips are toasty, the coffee sleeve too thin… I’m a child to be fetched.

This, of course, could be seasonal sentimentality talking.  But also possibly early, really early onset alzheimer.  Both equally dangerous.

I’ve been meaning to cook something that satisfies my overindulged melancholy, something to be eaten after I sing me a river to skate away on and stare out the window for no apparent reasons.  Something to part from the perception that congee or porridge – still in my mind, the perfect comfort food – is bland and monochromatic, but at the same time celebrates the fact that it is nourishing, consoling, and the food-equivalent of very expensive therapists.

I started with a very clean, water-based miso broth as the foundation of a soothing but flavorful congee, then dribbled on pockets of excitements from crispy scallions and garlic chips fried in olive oil, quick-pickled shallots and lightly whipped heavy cream.  The miso congee is thick, enwrapping, but appropriately lubricated by the luscious mouthfeel of the herbaceous olive oil and the cool sweetness of cream, with a cadence of brightness from the crisped scallions and garlic, tangy shallots and the occasional burst of pain from finely minced pickled bird’s eye chilis.  It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee.  Break a soft-boiled egg on top and it’s a legit meal.

It’s the kind of stuff I crave around this time.  And I suspect you, too.

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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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Honeycomb macaroni w/ porky cream

”  Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the melted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.  “

On October 22nd 2018, in the darkness of the night, I laid on my eyes on Margeaux Brasseries’s “honeycomb macaroni” for the first time, and heard destiny calling.

At first it seemed that our connection was immediate and reciprocal, even through the barrier of the computer screen, that there was an understanding without words, that we instinctively knew each other’s needs and wishes, requirements and rewards, that I knew how to make it happy, and it too, wanted to be mine.  We would hit it off.  We would be an item.  We would hold hands at dinner parties and whisper secret jokes only we could understand.  We would complete each other.

But apparently, it had other ideas.

Six days later after two catastrophic failures at making this dish, it became increasingly clear that the affection was one-directional only.

But could I blame anyone else but myself?  No.  Because I took it for granted.  I made the classic mistake in a relationship when things felt so given, so seemingly straightforward, I forgot that it too, requires attentions to details.  First time around, sounding even stupider now said out loud, I used a type of macaroni that was tree-sizes too small.  If you enjoy weaving beads necklace for dinner, this is another way to pleasure yourself with.  If not, it’s probably a good time to know that when macaroni is big, it’s not called macaroni anymore.  It’s called ziti.  Who knew.

I felt good about this new piece of knowledge.  Perhaps too good.  Emboldened by the sense that I had figured it all out, the second mistake was, if possible, even dumber.  What had I expect from introducing a highly sticky material to another highly attractive surface?  Left them alone for five minutes, I walked in on the inseparability between my old friend copper pot and my new love honey macaroni in the most interlocked position there is.  What a cliche.  Cliches hurt.

Two near-permanent breakups, I learnt my lessons.  I gave it thoughts.  I right all the wrongs.  I paid the attentive devotion it deserves.  Only on our third date, I bent my knees and made it a faithful proposition.  And at the end of the kitchen aisle, shimmering, it stood as beautiful as I had imagined.  It is named honeycomb macaroni for a good reason.  Its tubular bodies, slender and uniform, huddles intimately with only gooey melted cheese as the mortar of its magnificent structure, like a bee hive made of carbs and dairy.  Where in between the gaps, the cheese droops downward like thick syrup to the hot skillet in anticipation where heat, butter and starch await in forming a golden flat cap, a delicate, crispy and delicious linkage.

Such beauty doesn’t need the distraction of a loud sauce.  Something simple, but thoughtful.  Something understated, but not without declaration.  So I “brewed” grounded and browned guanciale, the porkiest substance I know on earth, in a simple cream sauce brightened with nutmeg and cardamon.  It was then strained like a tea, removed of the solid source of its deep aroma, leaving only a silky blanket of cream curiously imbued with the thickness of aged pork.   Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the insulted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.

It was an affair that ignited passionately, even if one-sided only, and ended in what will certainly be a lifelong companionship.  Learn from my mistakes, and you will find yourself an object of your affection, too.

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The shroomiest mushroom risotto, without breaking bank

when powdered and browned in hot grease, dried shiitake’s exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb

If you have ever found yourself frozen in front of the mushroom isles at your local Whole Foods Market, cold sweats dripping down as you struggle to understand how on earth could a fungi — categorically no different than the molds crawling underneath your drywalls — be charging sometimes more than $50 per pound, while feeling utterly shitty about yourself, well, this recipe is for you:

Poor man’s mushroom risotto.

I’m speaking from a place of deep empathy.  Having been born as a relentlessly cheap human being, I understand the hurt when even a dickhead-shaped vegetation that lives off of decomposed matters could take one look at me, and smirk.  A brainless, judgy brainless sponge that grows next to if not on top of rotten shits, thinks I’m not good enough.  Who do they think they are?  By the way I’m not talking about the cheap mushrooms like White Buttons, pfff... who do you think I am?  I’m talking about the delicious ones, the truly robust, earthy, and nutty-flavored mushrooms with Elvish names, Chanterelle, Lactarius Indigo, Blue Foot, that grows in an enchanted woods with the fairies and talk to birds.  Those fuckers.  I ain’t sayin’ it’s a gold digger; but it ain’t messin’ with no broke n-beeeep.

Can you tell this is personal?

So for years, or more accurately since the 24 heads of dried morel we obtained from our France road trip had run dry, I’ve been secretly doing this.

Dried shiitake mushroom.

Cheap, common, found almost wherever Asian groceries stand and season-neutral.  Why is it generally much more affordable than other varieties of dried mushrooms such as porcini, morels and etc?  No idea (psst, because it’s Asian).  But I can assure you that flavor-wise, it does not dwarf in comparison.  In fact, it has been aiding the flavors and complexities of a huge number of Asian dishes, soups and stews, precisely because of its high natural-occuring MSG and a deep, musky, earthy aroma.  But regrettably, typically cooked whole or in slices, its true potential has yet to be realized by the general public.

It wants to be, no, needs to be, powered.

Think about it.  Remained as a whole, or slices, or even finely diced, the mushrooms are only allowed a limited exposure to direct heat and caramelization.  But when powdered and browned in hot grease, its exponentially multiplied surface areas darken and deepen boundlessly, releasing every molecules of that shroominess that would otherwise cost you a limb.  As a supporting role, usually a couple tablespoons will suffice.  But in the case of carrying an entire Italian culinary staple, say risotto, to whole new height, I suggest we go to town.

Almost 1/2 cup of shiitake mushroom powder will fry slowly in chicken fat, as transformative as the making of a dark roux, until its pale brown complexion takes on the color between cinnamon and dark chocolate, until its faintly woody aroma expands into a pungency that is almost spicy and sweet.  All this magic is then extracted by the chicken broth, and delivered into every single grains of arborio rice in a silky, totally un-grainy finish.  Although you may deem the appearance of fish sauce and soy sauce as out of place, but they only amplify and compliments the shroominess without making an entrance.  I urge you not to swap.

So there.  Go buy expensive dickheads if you want to be like that.  But me?  I’m sticking with this.

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KHAO SOI NEUA/BEEF

KHAO SOI HAPPENS TO HAVE THE RIGHT BALANCE OF BOTH EXOTICISM AND SAFETY IN THE EYE OF A CAUTIOUSLY CURIOUS BACKPACKER.

Scad has been said about khao soi on the internet — some well-informed and some, not so much — so I think I will not bother.  It’s possibly the most famous dish from Northern Thailand, a somehow debatable status in my view.  Being back from a quick trip in Chiangmai Thailand, the capital of khao soi, I’m attempted to assume that its popularity among foreigners is contributed to its relatively benign characteristics if compared to the other more “adventurous” yet far more stunning dishes the region has to offer.  Khao soi, being chicken or beef in coconut curry with egg noodles, happens to have the right balance of both exoticism and safety in the eye of a cautiously curious backpacker.  It certainly isn’t, by far, the best thing we’ve tasted on this trip.  But I’ve always wanted to formulate a khao soi recipe after I’ve actually tried it at its source, so here it is.

Pushing it further on its muslim Chinese origin, I’m replacing dried chilis with Sichuan douban chili paste for a more complexed flavor, as well as inviting the mild tinge of numbness and floral quality from Sichuan peppercorns.  Another trick is to dial down on the amount of coconut milk in the broth itself so it can be reintroduced again right before serving, increasing depth and layers of flavors as how it is done in some of the better khao soi restaurants we’ve encountered.  In a bit of a disagreement with the blunt, under-processed pickled mustard greens that are often mindlessly chopped and scattered in the noodle as a failing contrasting agent, I’m replacing it with pan-fried pickled caperberries that provides sharp pops of sourness and complexity.  Then last but not least, a reminder of Sichuan peppercorns in the topical chili paste to bring it all together.

Enjoy.

 

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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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