italian 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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Final Cookbook Preview – Freezer dumpling ravioli

These things don’t involve a lot of thinking and rationalizing; they aren’t even bothered by common decency or responsibilities. I eat them free of my own judgment

This will be the last, but not least, recipe preview from our cookbook – The Art of Escapism Cooking that is coming out on Oct 15th!

It is one of the seven recipes in a little chapter I call, The Shit I Eat When I’m By Myself, a continuation of course, of our recipe category here under the same title in this blog.  I felt the need to create this category because it answers both the questions of why I cook, and why I eat.  As the chapter intro in the book sums it up:

“I don’t cook for myself.  Or at least, not the way it looks on my blog or in the rest of this book outside this section. I don’t know how it reflects on me as someone who’s selling recipes, but in my view, cooking and eating are two very different, entirely separate areas of investigation. Cooking, to me, is about curiosity, the insatiable need to know beyond necessity, the compulsion in the process of unwrapping a question, rephrasing it again, moving on to the next, the hunt.  Eating is about comfort.  I rarely find enthusiasm in repeating the same recipes, answering the same questions. But I can eat the same things over and over again. These things don’t involve a lot of thinking and rationalizing; they aren’t even bothered by common decency or responsibilities. I eat them free of my own judgment.”

I also want to thank Sam Sifton from New York Times for mentioning this recipe in his newsletter.  And please remember to pre-order our cookbook!  Now here’s how to make it:

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Super rich coconut, orange and mango panettone

see you next year, my friend

In a few days, we are going to pack our bags and head to Paris then Marrakech for our holiday vacation.  I probably won’t see you much on this blog during that time, which is why I’m throwing you a fat-bomb now to sustain your optimal winter-time figure all the way untill a new year comes. What a new year if one can’t make a diet resolution to fail utterly at?

This is what I call, the Crazy Rich Asian Panettone, lubed up with 12 egg yolks, coconut milk, and an ungodly amount unsalted butter and unrefined coconut oil.  This indecent level of fat not only keeps the crumbs sinfully moist, but also provides a backdrop of coconuty aroma where it pairs beautifully with speckles of dried mango and persimmons tinged with orange zests.  It could serve as an awesome “self-enrichment” during the holiday seasons but also, as we all secretly desire, as an ill-intended gift for our frenemies whom we would like to see de-shaped on that first depressing day back to the office.  Either way, we win.

So see you next year, my friend.  You’ve been lovely.

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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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Roast pork butt sandwich

A couple weeks ago, I wondered my way into a small break from cooking.  For no particular reason than because, over one morning coffee, I felt it was called for.  People talk about the ferocity of love and passion a lot, in all forms and sizes that drives humanity for what it’s worth, rising in salute for its consuming, inconvenient, majestic torment and glory.  But what fuels it, what fuels love and passion, is often less marketable.

At certain points, what fuels passion is simply absence.

 

THE AU JUS… AND THE THOROUGHNESS OF ITS RAMPAGE DOWN THE RECEPTIVE PORES OF A TOASTED ITALIAN ROLL, DETERMINES WHETHER THIS IS A SANDWICH WITH PORK, OR,

A ROAST PORK SANDWICH

 

So I took a break, cruising.  I didn’t think about cooking other than making basic sustenances.  I rubbed my dogs‘ heads a lot.  I binge-watched two Netflix original series eating junk foods.  I rekindled with the familiar joy of ordering take-outs.  Holding a brown bag of meal No. 2 and a large diet coke, I waited, on the curb, for the lights to turn.

And just like that, I bumped into Fedoroff’s.

To be exact, Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwich shop in Brooklyn.  And by “bumped into”, I really just meant, like everything else nowadays, that I saw it on Instagram.

It spoke to me.  I took one look at this monstrous, ageless battle of meat VS bun, and I felt the jolt of adrenaline seeping back into my veins.  I wanted to cook this sandwich.

For the record, once again, I have not had a Philadelphia roast pork sandwich in my entire life.  Hence, this recipe is not based on any single one of your particularly preferred joint, especially  not Fedoroff’s.  In fact, I’m dead certain that my approach to this beloved classic is as offensive to its disciples as inserting hot dogs onto a margarita pizza.  No one intact trunk of meat to marvel over!?  No searing before roasting!?  Oh sweet mother of Jesus, ginger?  Fish sauce!?

Why?  First of all, it just makes more sense.  To come to this conclusion, you have to be willing to let go of a few fairy tales about roasting.  No 1, there’s no such thing as “locking in the juice”.  Meats don’t get sealed.  They’re not sexual scandals.  Legitimately, they can get seared/caramelized/browned for more complex flavors, but if you think that’s going to stop their juice from leaving the mothership in the oven (the antidote to that would be super low temperature but that’s not the story today), I’m afraid this is the adult’s equivalent of realizing there’s no Santa claus.  Besides, why make the futile effort to “seal”, when au jus, or aka, drippings is exactly what we are gunning for?

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PORK CHOP W/ TUNA-SANDO SAUCE

 

MAKE THIS RECIPE RESPONSIBLY, OR NOT AT ALL


I haven’t eaten tuna for almost 10 years.  Except one time in Hawaii when/where it was responsible.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or conveniently turning a blind eye, you should know exactly what I’m talking about.

It is estimated that by 2050, a large number of species of wild fish, tuna especially, will be gone.  That statement was made more than a decade ago.  It still stands.  Are we better than locusts?  The question is, are we worse?

So why am I, a hypocrite on all accounts, posting a recipe that involves tuna?  Because I see it now no longer as a question.  But instead, an opportunity.

I first came across the inspiration of a “tuna-sando sauce” from an espisode of Mind of A Chef on Gabrielle Hamilton, where she made the Italian dish maiale tonnato, thinly sliced pork served with a mayonnaise-based sauce flavored with canned tuna.  I was instantly intrigued.  It was one of those instances where, without actually tasting something, I felt certain about its sublimity, the velvety texture of a sauce that is the sum of all that is awesome about a tuna sandwich but minus the bread and the gritty mouth-feel, the silky-smooth grown-up twin of a childhood favorite, the 2.0 of that inexplicably enticing flavor that have satisfied all palates across the world.  Plus served with pork?  I knew it’d work.  It’s genius.  Especially, in my imagination, with a thick-cut slab of marbled pork chop that is deeply and glisteningly caramelized in browned butter infused with fresh bay leaves and garlics.  I die.

So I spent two years, diligently, not making it.

After all, I’ve been celebrating my tuna-sobriety for a decade.  Not even a piece of hard-core, fat-laden toro could break me let alone this soft porn.  So I guess, that rounds us back again to why do it now.  The answer is simple.  Because I realized me not eating or writing about tuna is as helpful as a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.  The world simply doesn’t care that I quietly don’t eat tuna.  Over the years, I still see tuna sashimi continuously flying off of the rack from my supermarkets.  I still witnessed the rise of tuna poke-bowls walked through walls of social responsibility without a drop of effort or tear.  I still have friends who, I’m not sure whether intentionally or helplessly, order tuna again and again at gatherings despite my rejection.  I’d be lucky not to get a lecture from them let alone changing their minds.

I realized, thing is, no one can stop the world from eating tuna.  The world does not deal in the absolute, but only in compromise.  If anything, one can only possibly hope that it’s consumed responsibly.

So I’m taking this post as a chance to say this.  If you cannot not eat tuna, at least, make sure that it’s from a sustainable source.  And if you can’t be sure, then seriously, don’t do it.  It’s just fucking tuna, not a limb or dick.  It isn’t all that hard to cut loose.

I dragged for two weeks before posting this recipe, because even with all the precautions taken to  buy the tuna from a sustainable source or to talk to you about it, this could still be considered, on some level, a promotion to eat tuna.  And there’s no way for me to be sure that nobody who loves the idea of a sauce that tastes like tuna sandwich as much as me, wouldn’t just grab a dubiously sourced can from their local grocery stores.  So if that happens, it’s on me.  Yet, so what if I don’t post this?  Just a bleep of silence, one less tuna recipe out of a million and that’s supposed to be heard, let alone make a change?

So I chose to post it.  Not only it’s an opportunity to speak to those who come here to decide what’s for dinner, but also, as a member of the food-blog community which touches this subject all too rarely, it’s an opportunity to remind us all again that, not just our actions but more so, how our inactions matter.  Maybe you’re a food-blogger like me who’s never posted a tuna-recipe before.  Or, maybe you’ve posted recipes of tuna because it’s a popular ingredient, maybe you know about the issue of overfishing and maybe you choose not to mention it, either because it’s off-putting or that you’re scared it will give your readers an incentive not to share it, and maybe, that will hurt your traffic and followers, or maybe, you just don’t give a shit.  We’ve all been there.  We all still do it.

But our maybe’s are deadlier than a nuclear bomb.  Because it will play a part in rendering the ocean fishless.  You think North Korea is scary.  We should see what’s on our plates.

Look, am I a hypocrite?  Sure I am, I’m no vegan.  But not being able to do 100% is no excuse to do zero.  Even a hypocrite can do the right thing.  Starting with, we should at least give a fuck.

This recipe is good.  Really good.  And if you have the faintest hope to enjoy it for years to come, make this recipe responsibly.  Or not at all.

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PAPPA AL KIMCHI POMODORO, KIMCHI TOMATO BREAD SOUP

A HYBRID BETWEEN THE CLASSIC TUSCANY BREAD SOUP AND KIMCHI JJIGAE, SERVED HOT OR COLD

If you follow my Instagram, you’d know that I have a barking barfing fur-child to attend to (yes, still).  So I’m quickly leaving you this recipe, which is a fantastic way to use up any day-old breads, or any over-proofed-thus-deflated breads in my case, which happens a lot these days.  It’s a hybrid between pappa al pomodoro, the classic Tuscany bread soup, and kimchi jjigae, the national anthemic stew from Korea.  You can serve it hot with the AC blasting, or chilled and cold at the next rooftop party ya’ll kids are so good at throwing nowadays.  Relaxed, soothing and comforting, unlike my life as we speak.  So go now.  Have some fun for me.

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