italian Tag

Long string beans stewed in Thai curry tomato sauce

”  the devil lies in the impromptu dollop of Thai red curry paste, which I consider a tragically unrealized soulmate to tomato sauces  “

This may not look much.  It was an accident really, the kind that perhaps only landed so simple and good because of.

Yes I said “good“, to a vegetable.  What is happening to me?  In a household where most end up rolled out of the fridge only for postmortems and the rest consumed only in repentance instead of joy, this dish received an unexpected broad spectrum of endorsement.  Even though it may be deemed as a mundane green beans stewed in tomatoes – and you’re not wrong – the devil lies in the impromptu dollop of Thai red curry paste, which I consider a tragically unrealized soulmate to tomato sauces.  Its magic locked within the pulverized lemongrass and galangal was freed by sizzling olive oil, casting this old red sauce in a spell of lemony gingery fragrance and warm heat.  Of course such motherly sauce would’ve gladly taken any displaced vegetables under her wings, but I took a particular liking on her behalf to long string beans because of – other than the make-believe resemblance to spaghetti – their willingness to walk down a long simmering road together without throwing a mushy tantrum.

There’s a quiet elegant comfort about the careless ways those curly strings spread out on the plate.  With or without the substantialness of poached eggs, it’s a special but not too special anytime-meal that I think you would too, enjoy in repeat.

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Best sandwich bread, Florence-style schiacciata

”  A whopping 85% hydration… transforms into a gorgeously glossy and almost fluid blob of a dough that spreads willingly, and yields elastic translucent crumbs and a terrain of air bubbles.  “

I am no master baker.  But dude, you listen to me on this one.

Been to Florence?  No?  Well, okay… sorry I guess.  But this message is no less urgently relevant to you than those who have, particularly, those who have visited what is rumored to be the greatest sandwich shop in the world, All’antico Vinaio right in the center of Florence.  But what makes their sandwiches good you ask, some even say the best?  One could certainly make a convincing case for its market-style array of every single charcuteries, cheeses, vegetables and spreads that the great region of Tuscany has to offer.  But if you ask me, as it usually turns out in the subject of sandwiches, it is the bread.  More specifically, schiacciata.

What is schiacciata?  And do not mistaken it with focaccia don’t you dare.  Schiacciata is a Florentine flatbread that characteristically is closer to, I’d say, a pizza bianca than anything else.  Ever since my visit to All’antico Vinaio years ago, it wasn’t their truffle cream or fennel salami that haunted my restless keto dreams.  It was the carbsIt was the fucking carbs.  So last week, I finally decided enough is enough.

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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. It is a shame really, as there are so many fantastic VPN options out there. It’s fortunate that many of us in the Western world get to take advantage of VPN options, though not many of us take advantage of this luxury. Many of us are too consumed in our technological devices, like that latest iPhone or MacBook, to realize that our IP’s are prevalent all the time without a VPN, which can be especially dangerous if you’re visiting blocked websites. VPN’s can not only unblock websites on Mac and other devices, but also prevent our data from being stolen by particular websites. In today’s society where almost anything and everything is visible online, VPN’s are needed more than ever to protect our privacy. Which reminds me, just the other day I was reading this Ivacy review and I found myself wondering whether or not someone living in China could perhaps use it to their advantage. Of course, there are other ways to bypass these restrictions too. For example, some people find that using a proxy service can make it easier to access TV shows and movies on websites like The Pirate Bay. You can find more information about proxy services by heading to the Avoid Censorship website.

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. I wanted to break out. I had even considered going back to the USA, looking at the Visa Bulletin for updates to see if it was viable.

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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