ice cream Tag

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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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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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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THE PARADOX OF ICE CREAM-SPRING ROLL W GROUND PEANUT BRITTLE

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…BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE.  THE REAL MIND-BLOWING PART IS THE LAST DESCENDING SPRIGS OF THE UNIMAGINABLE… FRESH CILANTRO LEAVES

If you were those who like to travel to unfamiliar places, see unfamiliar pictures, eat unfamiliar things, chances are that for many times, you have been caught up in moments where I’d like to call – the encounters of food paradox.  Foods that don’t make sense, shouldn’t make sense, but the moment we put one in our mouth, the argument between logics and instincts all quiets down, and the only sensation left with any capacity for thoughts, is how defiantly delicious it stood against our prejudice.   It changes everything, on top of the very least, our palette henceforth, will never be the same.  This post, I hope, is about exactly that.

I have been longing to find a way, an accessible angle, to tell you about a thing called, ice cream-spring roll.  It’s a common street-food in Taiwan, not particularly flashy or groundbreaking.  In fact, among the immensely competitive and ever evolving Taiwanese street-foodscape, one may even argue, standard stuff.  But if you have no affiliation with the food-culture from this island proud for nothing but, the concept of this ice cream-spring roll, with its deceivingly predictable name, may just very well be your next big revelation.  Up front, what is expected surely is that there’s ice creams, most likely local flavours like taro or mango but could also include strawberry and vanilla, which are rolled inside a chewy crepe made with simply flour, water and salt.  No innovation there.  But to make things more interesting, a tall pile of sweet nutty and salty ” sandy streusels” is being shaved directly from a ginormous brick of peanut and caramel brittle, matching its proportion to the ice creams to almost 1:2.  The shaved/ground peanut caramel brittle alone, already completely push the texture and flavour of the spring roll to another dimension, but, it doesn’t stop there.  The real mind-blowing part, is the last descending sprigs of the unimaginable, the last to belong in the dessert isle, the controversially pungent… fresh cilantro leaves.  What?!  

You know I would describe it to you if I could.  I’d say it’s melty, creamy, sandy and crunchy all encased inside a film of chewiness.  I’d say that it’s sweet with pops of saltiness, the permeation of powdered peanuts and caramel and a whiff of herbs in the back-note.  But for the life of me, I cannot describe to you the immense confusion upon the impact of the first bite, then the gentle surrendering into the next, then a breeze of exhilaration on the last.  So I won’t.  You’ll have to try this one out yourself.  Because, that’s the beauty of a food-paradox isn’t it?  One that does and should be lived outside the limitation of words.  Maybe you’ll hate it.  Maybe you’ll love it.  Whatever it is, we will celebrate the forever-forward exploration that is eating.

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MOSCATO AND SPICES POACHED PEAR GELATO

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…


Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized pears such as bosc (16.2 oz/460 grams after peeling and de-cored)
  • 2 cups (500 ml/480 grams) of moscato wine, or other sweet fruity white wine
  • 1 cup (200 grams) of granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp of honey
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (63 ml/60 grams) more of moscato wine
  • 2 tbsp of potato starch, or cornstarch
  • 2 cups (465 grams) of heavy cream (or half-half if you prefer)

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.

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SELF-MADE SOUR CREAM GELATO


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IT IS Fourth of July.  You’re busy.  I know.  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 MORE

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DEVILS ON HORSEBACK ICE CREAM

“IF YOU GOT SOMETHING AGAINST SWIMSUITS… THIS IS A GOOD WAY TO TALK EVERYONE ELSE OUT OF IT”

WOW… I mean… just WOW…  I know it looks like I should be addressing my every bit of amazement to this fine specimen of frozen dessert right now, which really doesn’t need anybody’s introduction to be quite honest I mean look at it.  But I’m actually, with all my fingers involuntarily shaking, not focused on the ice cream just then.  Truth is, I’m still hung over, mentally taken hostage, emotionally robbed by the malfunction of this blog that has turned a rarely beautiful Beijing weekend into 48hrs of computer science-nightmare (if you came here during the weekend and found “the fridge” empty, I’m sorry).  It was a crisis so beyond the language that I speak it almost felt Sci-Fi, like an alien invasion, a fire-breathing Godzilla attack on the island of Java-script-what-eh?  I’m ashamed to admit that under the complete chaos and panic, I was so close… this close… like one-push-of-a-red-button away to just wiping everything I’ve done and everything you guys have ever said in the past 10 days, in the effort to restore control…

I almost nuked it…  I almost ground-zeroed my blog…

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JUSTICE IS SOFT-SERVED

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“FROZEN YOGURT THAT COULD OUT-STAND ROOM-TEMPERATURE”

The past few days have been weird.

From what it seems, you’d think that I’ve been riding the creamy white waves of exhilarating… homemade frozen yogurt. But behind the coolness and calm, there had been an underground storm of anger and injustice.

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