porridge Tag

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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Yellow bowl from Dishes Only.



One sleepless night in Hong kong, I sat in darkness as my face was dimly illuminated with fascinations and lights extruding from an iPad, where David Chang and Daniel Patterson were performing the magic of turning popcorns into polenta.  Popcorns.  This lowly snack that nobody deems worthy as anything but an afterthought on movie nights, or an amusement as we watch them being tumbled in disgusting, clownish rainbow food-dyes, in their hands, became this creamy and velvety substance.  That moment, I suddenly became interested in the word polenta again.

I tried cooking real polenta before… once.

It was somewhere back in the early 2000’s when I was still a collagen-filled college student, merely trying to feed myself at the end of the month by counting coins left from a careless visit to the Urban Outfitters.  Had I, a barely seasoned juvenile cook, any business making this hopelessly romantic Italian staple with slogans like “stir till death do us apart”?  No, absolutely no.  But clearly, no one had the heart to tell me.  I remember standing by the stove for what must’ve felt like an eternity, blood sweat and tears, tending a pot of lava-like substance that constantly spat out skin-meltingly hot sputters onto every surfaces that hurt, and yet somehow, still tasted like a flavorless goo with crunchy, uncooked bits.

It’s been like… I don’t know, 15 years?  I’ve never tried again since.  Actually, I forgot about polenta all together.  Bad word.  Very bad word.

Well, until PBS arrived.

Or more accurately, the show The Mind of a Chef arrived on PBS which was featured on Netflix which had just recently become available in Hong Kong.

I can’t quite remember the specific episode, but it was Season One somewhere, featuring David Chang with guest chef, Daniel Patterson.  And the second they proclaimed, “We are gonna turn popcorns into grits” (not the exact quote)(and call it grits if you want but I’m calling mine polenta because it’s very yellow), I knew it was going to be very cool.  Of course, being a respectably fancy chef, Daniel had to demonstrate achieving this goal through extra laboring steps just to prove his self-worth (like… God-knows-how-many small batches of popcorns, separately, being poached then pushed through a ricer and then strained again…).  And leaving me, this lowly reputable home-cook with very little self-respect, to wonder why on earth couldn’t I cheat in like 4 steps?

Turned out, it can be.

Have your popcorns.  Blend them with liquid.  Strain.  Heat and season.

Without any stirring or sputters, I had creamy polenta with an extra nutty flavor from the popcorns in under 15 min.  Given that the texture may be less “pearly” compared to if I did it in 20 steps, but as a shortcut that served no other noble purposes but to make myself happy, I could gladly forgo the esthetic imperfections.  Especially, did I mention, that it was armed with melted cheddar cheese, and topped with deeply caramelized mushrooms with a dark pan-sauce made from garlics, fresh thymes, wine, chicken stock and a good dousing of tabasco sauce…  This gooey, buttery, savory, slightly spicy and tangy bed of comfort made an October Tuesday night really happy.

Who says that popcorns can’t be dinner?


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The enamel mini casseroles are a durable and very affordable selection from Dishes Only.





OK, quick post today, because I’ve got a whole day of shooting-blanks on writing something else (which, if you can imagine, is very time-consuming)(but Jaime, if you’re reading, everything’s going swell).  Today, I bring to you a wholesome and classy creation inspired by a great product, perhaps the most important humanitarian relief for all wo-mankind, that is… Activia.  Girls, you understand.  Without going further into the detailed records of accomplishment by this effective yogurt-brand, I would just like to say that the day it entered the direly needy market of China, that was a good day.

Just like any other international food brands, Activia offers different flavours depending on where it’s sold.  So I don’t know if this is available elsewhere, but here, it comes in the flavour of oatmeal and walnuts.  Weird?  No.  It is really good.  So good that I must turn it into a completely overblown and yogurt-purpose defeating extravaganza.  OK.. well.. maybe except that… I am personally not fond of biting into nuts in any form of foods, ice cream… breads, nothing.  I consider them an obstacle, like fish bones.  So the walnut has to go.  However my peeve does come with the one and only exception – pine nuts.  Pine nuts are not very nut-like, with its buttery and almost creamy texture, they don’t interrupt as much the pure pleasure of ice cream melting in my mouth, nor the soft and chewy progression of breads in between chews, nor in this case, the thick and creamy texture of a perfectly cooked oatmeal.

Oh no, not just any perfectly cooked oatmeal.  This oatmeal has two distinctive texture between soft and chewy (thanks April Bloomfield :), and that at the end of its cooking process when it gets as good as any, it’s further creamed with loads of thick Greek yogurt which adds not just body, but great flavours and a mild tanginess.  Oh wait, you thought I was just gonna throw some sad nuts over the top and call it a morning?  No, my friends, we are gonna coat these pine nuts in an almost-simple syrup, and then… and then we’re gonna fry them in a little butter.  You heard right.  This is not Paula Deen talking.  This is Brooks Headley with the James Beard thing.  So everyone just zip it.  And then since we already have that gloriously browned butter, it would be a complete shame if we don’t take a few tbsp of it, and make it a sticky sauce-thingy with honey, dark brown sugar and a good dose of salt.

See, it’s so good that I just couldn’t stop getting long and wordy with it.  OK now I really got to go.  I believe you have an oatmeal to attend to.


Serving Size: 2

Candied pine nuts are adapted from Brooks's candied pecans.


  • 1/4 cup (47 grams) pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp (25 grams) sugar
  • 2 tbsp (30 grams) water
  • 1/8 tsp ground cayenne
  • Small pinch (about 1/16 tsp) salt
  • 1 tsp turbinado/raw sugar
  • 5 tbsp (70 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 tbsp (70 grams) honey
  • 2 tbsp (24 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups (700 grams) water
  • 1 cup (123 grams) rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
  • 1 cup (75 grams) quick oats (not instant)
  • 1 scant cup (180 grams) Greek yogurt


  1. TO MAKE THE CANDIED PINE NUTS: Combine pine nuts, sugar, water, ground cayenne and salt in a small pot, then bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook and stir occasionally for approx 2 min, until the mixture is sticky and slightly thickened. Drain through a sieve to get rid of excess syrup, set aside.
  2. In a stainless-steel or aluminum pot (not non-stick), bring the unsalted butter from "BROWNED BUTTER HONEY" to a boil over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and stir gently with a fork to disperse. Keep swirling the pot during frying, until the pine nuts turn golden browned (any further they will be bitter). Drain immediately through a fine sieve, and reserve the butter. During the cooking process, the mixture will be filled with alarming burnt bits, but don't freak out. They will mostly stick to the side of the pot. Toss the fried pine nuts with turbinado sugar and another pinch of salt.
  3. TO MAKE THE BROWNED BUTTER HONEY: Discard 1/2 of the butter and leave the rest in the pot. Add honey, dark brown sugar, water and salt, then bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Stirring constantly, and cook for 30 seconds until the ingredients have fully melted. Set aside.
  4. TO MAKE THE GREAK YOGURT OATMEAL: Combine water, rolled oats and sugar, then bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 5~7 min until soft, then add the quick oats, and cook for another 5~6 min. The mixture should be quite thick. Stir in the Greek yogurt, then cook only until heated through. Do not boil the yogurt. You can thin out the oatmeal with a bit of milk to your liking.
  5. Serve immediately with a good ladle of browned butter honey (may need to be reheated slightly to loosen), and sprinkle with candied pine nuts.





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You know… this blog really wasn’t, even indirectly, meant to be depressing at all.  Angry?  Yes.  It’s kinda funny.  Depressing?  Is just depressing.  But what now?

I found myself murmuring these thoughts through the indifference of the keyboard, while I watched my dog sunken within a pile of blanket like a flaccid lump of meat, the very life in him crippled by the exhaustion of every hard-earned heartbeat.  His heart murmurs, the doctor said.  Why does it sounds like an expression you can put on a Mother’s Day card for God’s sake…  And what about an overgrown, sensitive big heart?  Fuck, could’ve gotten someone laid on a Thursday night even without game.  To shit with these expressions…

In reality, you can actually die of a broken heart.

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