summer Tag

SICHUAN MALA BUTTER CRAYFISH

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DO NOT MISTAKE THE LIKINGS OF LOUISIANA-STYLE CRAYFISH-BOIL TO THIS,

WHICH ONLY SHARES AS MUCH SIMILARITIES AS COFFEE HAS TO A FLAMING LAMBOURGINI

Just a small note for the weekend as you’ll need it.  OK, maybe it’s not small.  In fact, it’s a huge… epic… cardinally sinful and despicably addictive note that will forever change your summers, and you’ll probably regret it, hate me for it, really hate yourself for it, while being lost in a summer-long trance somewhere in between nuclear pains and unbearable pleasures.

Did you know, that Chinese loves crayfish?

Yeah, in fact, fanatical, is the more appropriate word.  So much so that in Beijing, they have an entire street called Gui, a whole freaking parade lined by jam-packed and neon-lighted restaurants that dedicates almost solely to the cult of this practice.  Now, do not… and I mean, do not mistake the likings of the southern Louisiana-style boil to this sichuan-style mala (numb and spicy) crayfish bloodbath, which only shares as much similarities as coffee has to a Flaming Lambourgini.  Underestimate these mean little fuckers, and you’ll be punished.  This is a dish that transcends the crayfishes through a condensed and ferocious red bath made by extracting every last bit of flavour molecules from a intense mixture of spice-blend, aromatics and sichuan fermented chili paste into the thick gravy of lava and glisteningly red butter.  Just a couple of bug-crushing and head-sucking into the whole thing, and your every taste-buds and every sensual nerves that link to the pleasure and plain receptors in your brain, will be spanked and whiplashed ecstatically by the unbelievable amount of flavours, happiness really, trafficked to you on high speed with an ill intention. You can’t eat just one.  No one can eat just one.  Even when every pores on your forehead and dripping sweats is begging, howling for you to show mercy.  You just can’t stop.  And after the irreversible damages done, you’ll want to robotically mop up the death-gravy with any carbs lying within an arm’s length.  There’s just no other ways for this to happen.  So think long, and think hard, before taking the plunge.

This summer, are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?

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OMBRE SALTED CARAMEL FLAN POPSICLES

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IN A COOK’S UNIVERSE, THE BAKER’S REALM IS A MYSTICAL AND DANGEROUS WORLD

Recently, someone asked me what’s the typical number of trials I have to go through before arriving on a satisfying recipe.  And to that I said, “Two, I guess?  Most likely?”.  Well… in all honesty, I didn’t mean to lie.  I just forgot to ask, if they were asking the cook?  Or the baker?

I’m definitely more cook than a baker.  And as a more-cook, relatively speaking, I have a more optimistic repertoire of savoury things where I have demonstrated slightly more competence in not screwing up.  But in reality, if I were to take into account of the other side of the fence as well, the wild and parched, the untamed and unpredictable, the land of where the sweet things are… then my friend, I don’t think I have hairs enough to count my failures.  In a cook’s universe, the realm of the bakers is a mystical and dangerous world, governed by a whole different set of laws and physics and creatures who look beautifully from afar like a herd of pink unicorns, but once approached, will vaporize into a cloud of black smokes and swallow my expectations in whole.  It is scary.  And it is real.  And it is a place, unless guided by other wizards specializing in this black magic, that I do not like to enter lightly.

But sometimes the universe, especially my universe, is not perfect.  Sometimes there’s no precedent, or magic potion to follow for what I wanted to create, or more accurately, re-create.  For this instance, a childhood treat that Jason and I practically grew up with and hold dearly in our heart, the caramel flan popsicle (or as they called it in Taiwan, “pudding popsicle”) that we used to be able to buy in almost every convenient stores, but mysteriously vanished in the past decade.  And in times like these, I just had to hood up, bid the loved ones farewell, climbed over the fence, into the woods, and hoped that something, anything, would make it back in one piece.

Well, it didn’t.

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SHRIMP AND RASPBERRY SALAD

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Beautiful crochet side plate is from Dishes Only.

THE OVERALL FLAVOURS ARE NON-AGRESSIVE, WITH THE TANGY AND SWEET INTENTION TO KEEP CALM, AND CARRY ON

Sorry, not particularly in a mood to talk today.  That can happen I’ve been powering through a day of anxiety attack, set off by my son Dumpling who so randomly decided that I too, should have a heart attack.  (If you needed recap, I have a very sick dog, whose apathetic small heart for the better part of his 15-years of unsocial life, sort of like the Grinch, have grown unstoppably large in the past 2 years.  Except that in the medical world, instead of Christmas, this would be called a congestive heart failure).

So here, I leave you with a summer shrimp salad starring my most recent obsession, the puny little sweet succulence that is Norwegian cold water shrimps (yes, like IKEA’s).  These shrimps have a almost candy-like sweetness which balances wonderfully with just a dab of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, and the bursts of tartness of frozen raspberries (keep the whole thing cold, you see).  The overall flavours are non-agressive, with the tangy and sweet intention to keep calm, and carry on, especially on a slice of well-buttered rustic bread and a lightly sea salted soft-boiled egg.  I think, I hope, that if I just eat enough of these, I may be able skip my next dosage of prozac.  Here, you try it.

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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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M(Y) SHANGHAI’S COLD WONTONS IN SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

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YOUR ULTIMATE REVENGE TOWARDS THE COMING ASS-BINDING HEATWAVES

A REFRESHINGLY PLEASURABLE PAIN, BEST SERVED COLD

It might say something about me, perhaps not in the most positive light, whenever I fell for a Chinese dish-inspiration from half way around the world while living right inside the epicenter of it all, where the “real things” are or so they say.  What kind of a food-blogger, who eats and breathes right off of the ground-zero of a very old, very diverse and rapidly morphing food-culture often generalized as “Chinese foods”, would cook you a Chinese dish that comes from an Instagram of a New Yorker who took it at a restaurant that are, out of all places, in Brooklyn. Lazy?  Perhaps.  Utter dumb luck?  That’s for sure.  Because you see, without this inconvenient loop around the globe it has traveled, the inspiration for this down-home Shanghainese summer snack, in one form or another, would have otherwise never found its way to melt in my warm embrace.  And this is, I guess especially for those who have experienced living abroad, a perfectly explainable social phenomenon.

Thing is, I believe across all cultures, that the restaurants indigenous to where they are located, often times with great effort, focus on serving what they perceive as “restaurant-style/worthy” dishes only.  It is a limiting but reasonable box that excludes the slightly less glamorous, homemade gems that are more commonly celebrated within the contentment of one’s own home.  It really isn’t hard to understand why.  Just imagine, that it would also seem odd, if not lazy, to see PB&J on the menu of a respectable American restaurant sitting in the heart of Manhattan, no?  However, when the citizens of such comfort are residing in a foreign land, say, a Shanghainese in Brooklyn, and decided to open a restaurant to selfishly serve his/her personal home-sickness, then guess what, dishes like these start to pop up.  And my friends, dishes like these, are always my favourite kind to eat.  Take this for example, M Shanghai’s wontons in spicy peanut sauce.   Something that I would have taken gladly from its bare and natural implications – burning hot pork wontons slurped cautiously from an even more inflammable pool of peanut sauce and chili oil – let alone after the discovery of its true, counterintuitive ingenuity over a much needed research.  It turns out (whether or not this is how it’s served in Brooklyn) that this fabulous summer-snack regrettably overlooked in most-if-not-all Shanghai restaurants in Beijing, is actually… eaten cold.

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FIRE-CRUSHED CUCUMBER SALAD

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THIS IS A CONVICT YOU’LL WANT TO FORGIVE, AND EMBRACE

I don’t mean to sound self-absorbed and overly theatrical if I mustn’t, but officers, I have a stalker.

Please, listen to me before you dismiss my report after I tell you that, yes, it’s a cucumber salad.  Harmless and gentle it may sound, but believe me when I say that this fella, is spicy… hard-core, and possibly painful.  And it has been disturbingly obsessed with me since… oh~ officers, at least a couple months!  I can’t provide the exact records of its past appearances because, you know, that’s the creepy thing about stalker-recipes.  Their shadowless movement between the blink of an eye, tailed with the constant awareness that it’s always there…  I know I saw it smiling at me between the flips of webpages somewhere during my cyber-surfing, multiple times, or was that through my swiping finger over the stacks of e-magazines?  And I could swear, officers, that it winked at me from the dinner-menu of at least two, or several restaurants that I’ve been to lately, plain-naked and sending me its very explicit intention.

It wants me, to eat it.  Oh my, you see?  I have to put it to rest.

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FROZEN GRAPES DAIQUIRI

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I’LL SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE

IN JUST a few days, lays a much anticipated family weekend-getaway to Beijing’s outskirt near the Great Wall.  Long neglected enthusiasm and BBQ-equiped, we were gonna shake the clouds of illness that’s been shit-storming us for the the past entire year, and dare to freaking live again.  Just a few days… juuust a dainty little few days…  And fuck.

My Dumpling has to drop a death threat on me.  I am being punished, for optimism.

If you knew me at all, you’d know that I am a walking train-wreck in situations like these ones.  Not even an usually delightful box of frozen grapes can soothe.  It needs to be boooozed up.  Please, drink up.  And I’ll see you on the other side.

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BROWNIE-COW POPSICLES

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 SHUT UP, SHUP UP, SHUP UP

Let’s play a game, shall we?

Let’s see how much of my babbling you can withstand before you say “shut up, shut up, shut up!” and burst into the kitchen to make yourself one of these milk and any-brownie, or as I call it, brownie-cow popsicles?

Right, so you see here’s the thing.  I kinda love Earth.  Maybe not enough to tie myself to a tree per se, but I do love Earth enough that I have more bicycles than mascaras, and I haven’t had myself an ungodly orgasmic piece of toro, for like more than three years now.  And believe me, I do love my ungodly toro.  But there’s something else I love dearly as well…  In the light of summer-days when reality strikes, I realized that I do also hold high regards for… a dry butt crack.  Yes, yes they do come loose-fit, oversized, or wet, and I daresay, more frequently so, since a few years ago when we decided to live in this particular apartment-complex in Beijing.  Little did I know that Earth and my butt crack were set on a collision course.

You still there?

Right, so where was I?  Yes, dry butt crack.

You see here’s the thing, as mentioned before, the apartment-complex we live in is supposed to be really “green”.  Whatever that means…  There’s no heater in the winter, or air-conditioning in the summer because the temperature inside the entire 10 ginormous buildings are monitored by… well, a “greener” system of some sort.  Or at least as I was told, at a time before I learnt my lesson about China, and still believed what I was told.  Awww…  So we moved in, with good-will kicking and feel-good blazing, we, were gonna save earth, one lease at a time.

Then came the lesson.  Never.  Never.  And I mean neeeevah, believe what you are told in China!  Four excruciatingly warm summers later, we are looking more medium-rare than “green”, still melting inside our boxer-briefs, extra-large-holes tank tops, and our butt cracks… feeling wet my friend.  Feeling wet.

Heh… hello?  Right, there you are.

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So why haven’t we moved you ask?  If you were still here to ask questions…  Well that’s a very kindly irresponsible thought for you to have I mean, what kind of earthlings are we if we were to bail on our promises just because we feel like we were brushed with meat-glue every time we hug?

Icecap-Jack, you melt.  I melt.

So perhaps you should know that… hey, you there?  I’m talking to you!  Right, so you should know that heat tends to do things to weak minds… the other day when I literally risked my sanity and as a result, Jason’s well-being, by boiling a huge pot of stock for 4 hours which turned our lukewarm bitchy beachy apartment into a steaming mind-bending crater of active volcano, I think I hallucinated a lil’bit.

I drifted to the nearest Cold Stone joint, took off my boxer-brief and sat my steamy butt-crack right on top of their sub-zero slab of freezing stainless steels…  Tssss~ aaahhh… like a steak on grill, now this is where my cheeks belong…  And then, only then, somebody came and handed me my go-to combo – sweet cream base with mashed brownies.

That’s it.  Nothing.  Else.  This is a purist’s Cold Stone and how it should be.  I peaked through my fingers to see the next guy ordering something as if the local candy store is unleashing a fuck-fest on top of his ice cream-cup, and got really, really bothered.  Get a room!  This is a family joint!  So I turned away and literally, with my ass chilling, I was about to dig into my…

… then I drifted right back to reality.  Pot.  Boiling.  Hot.  STEAM.  VOLCAAAANO!  See I have to take matters into my own hands…

Take a good brownie.  And I mean a good brownie, the dense… chewy, fudgy and chocolate-y brownie, and in this case, infused with Nutella.  Then break it into large chunks.  Force feed them to your popsicle molds, and if you don’t have any, some freaking paper cups!  Jam a stick in there, I don’t know, a chopstick for all I care, then pour milk that’s been thickened with sweetened condensed milk…  Up up up up, up riiiight there when it just fills the mold.  Then you freeze the bejeezus out of them!

Chewy gets chewier…  Fudgy gets fudgier…  Then we both get one and sit our asses down on a sub-zero freezer slab, and I’ll tell you about the other time when I…

Hello?….  You there?

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Makes:  10 popsicles

You don’t have to make your own brownie.  You can certainly use a store-bought brownie, with flavours to your likings to make these popsicles.  And if you want creaminess, you can substitute whole milk with half and half.  Note that 3/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk is enough sweetness for my taste, but if you like a closer-to-commercial-level sweetness for your popsicles, use more.

Ingredients:

  • Nutella brownie:  adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s favourite brownies
    • 2 oz (60 grams) of bittersweet chocolate
    • 1 stick (115 grams) of unsalted butter
    • 1.5 oz (45 grams) of nutella
    • 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp (163 grams) of granulated sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
    • 1/2 tsp of flaky sea salt
    • 2/3 cup (120 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • To make the popsicles:
    • 1 1/2 cup of whole milk
    • 3/4 cup (230 grams) ~ 1 cup (306 grams) of sweetened condensed milk

To make the nutella brownie:  Preheat the oven on 350ºF/175ºC.

In a microwave-proof bowl, add the bittersweet chocolate and unsalted butter.  Microwave on high at a 30-seconds interval, stirring the mixture in between, until just melted (you’ll need approx 1:30 ~ 2 min).  Whisk in the granulated sugar and large eggs until thick and even, then add the vanilla extract and sea salt.  Whisk again until even. Add the all-purpose flour, fold the mixture together with a spatula until there is no flour-lumps left.  Pour the batter into a parchment-lined, 8″ square-pan or round-pan.  Bake in the oven for 25 min, until a wooden skewer comes out with moist crumbs from the center.

Let the brownie cool for 30 min.

To make the brownie popsicles:  Break the brownies up into large chunks (you’ll need about 2/3 of the brownies).  Lay a couple of pieces at the bottom of the popsicle-mold so the wooden stick has something to rest on, then insert the wooden stick.  Fill the empty space loosely with more brownies until they reach to the top.  Repeat with the rest.

Combine whole milk and sweetened condensed milk together, and warm in the microwave just enough for the sweetened condensed milk to dissolve (if not fully dissolved, the sweetened condensed milk will float to the surface during freezing).  Whisk the mixture together to make sure it’s fully incorporated, then pour the milk into the popsicle-molds until it fills to the top.

Freeze for at least 6 hours to overnight until hardened (in my experience, the popsicles always feel a bit soft right after they are removed from the molds, so once hardened, keep them removed and wrapped in plastic-wrap instead of inside the molds).

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