December 20, 2010

Eating out in Taipei






Jon and I visited Taipei this past weekend for a quick pre-Christmas getaway. The last time I visited Taipei, I was less than a year old, so this trip was essentially the first visit not only for Jon but for me as well.

We only had two and a half days, so we mainly wandered around the city, snacking and eating nonstop. Our hotel was in Ximending (West Gate), the main shopping and hangout spot for young people; the area reminded us of Shibuya in Tokyo. We also visited some other parts of the city, including Yongkang Street, Shilin Night Market, and Xinyi (for the giant Eslite 24-hr bookstore).


Overall, I enjoyed Taipei. I would definitely go back for the great food (especially local Taiwanese, eastern Chinese [i.e. Shanghai, Fujian, Chiuchow] and Japanese) and the relaxed café/coffee culture (local family-run cafés, not Starbucks, dominate). Shopping-wise, I can see why people love to go crazy in Taipei, but many of the home goods, tchotchkes, clothes and accessories can also be bought in Hong Kong for pretty much the same price. Chinese-language books are a bargain for Chinese readers (not me, unfortunately) while English-language books are at the same unfavourable rate Hong Kong bookstores use.

Souvenir shopping tip: Taiwan pineapple pastries (fenglisu/鳳梨酥) are famous and crazy-good. The best place (recommended by bloggers and guidebooks alike) to buy these super-yummy little shortcakes is at Kong Kee in Ximending (opposite the East Dragon hotel). Staff here are friendly and speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese. You can try before you buy, i.e. free samples. The fenglisu's shortcake-like crust is crumbly, buttery-rich but not too sweet, while the inside pineapple filling is light and slightly sticky. It's like a lighter, airier version of Fig Newtons. I never really liked pineapple pastry as the ones I had before were very dense and brick-like, so authentic Taiwanese fenglisu was a revelation. Beware though, good pineapple pastries are very addictive...

Some of our stops included:

Jolly Brewery and Restaurant - A Taiwan microbrewery (not brewed on site due to municipal restrictions) that doubles as a sports bar and Thai eatery. Their home-brewed beer are respectable and reasonably priced (a 6 x 100ml sampler of their six home brews was NT$240 [US$8] if I recall correctly). I liked the sweet malt of the Scotch Ale (7.2% a.c.) while Jon preferred the lighter Weizen and the Pale Ale. Worth a visit for beer-lovers: don't expect amazing beer but it's not bad compared to all the Heineken, Carlsberg, and other supermarket beers that are served almost everywhere else.



Shilin Night Market - The mother of all Asian night-markets. A must-visit for foodies and everyone else. The temporary market building opposite the Jiantan metro station mostly contains some food and a few desultory amusement stands/games such as shrimp fishing, balloon shooting, etc. Oyster omelettes are one of Taiwan's classic dishes but Jon and I much preferred the Chiuchow version - the Taiwanese version had some transparent gooey stuff which was a bit too slimy in texture for our liking. (I later found out that it was tapioca starch.)

While the Taiwanese share the same intense foodie mania with most of the rest of Asia, they really up the stakes in craziness. Famous street dishes included the small sausage in big sausage, small bun in big bun and giant fried chicken steak (a gargantuan breaded fried chicken meat steak that's famous for being bigger than one's face and ridiculously cheap at NT$50/US$1.50).



The "big sausage" is actually a delicious mixture of garlicky, spicy glutinous rice stuffed into a sausage casing. The "small sausage" is a sweet, porky Taiwanese sausage. A relish of Chinese pickles, cucumber and a spicy soy-based sauce combines to create an AMAZING street snack.

Delicious sausages...mmm...the neon sign says "Small sausage wrapped in big sausage"



A bunch of victorious food maniacs who have lined up to buy the Giant Chicken Steak! (Seriously, Jon and I wanted to get this but we were stuffed from Din Tai Fung and the line for this was at least 30 people long.)


Din Tai Fung @ Yongkang Street - While I've never been that impressed by Din Tai Fung's food (especially after being served a drunken-chicken dish that had actually gone bad/rotten at their Shanghai Xintiandi branch a few years back - an unpardonable offense that I have neither forgiven nor forgotten!), the restaurant's xiaolongbao does have a cult following throughout Asia (particularly China, Korea and Japan). So I was willing to give DTF another chance, especially as all reviews indicated that the original branch at Yongkang Street in Taipei was much better than the other. Verdict? The xiaolongbao was good, but nothing special. I've had way better xiaolongbao in Hong Kong at Faye's Nouvelle Cuisine (aka Xiaonanguo/小南國) and amazing xiaolongbao in Shanghai (particularly at the xlb ground zero aka Nanxiang Mantoudian/南翔饅頭店 where these buns were invented). Anyway, I guess the food there is OK but not worth the 30-minute wait (Japanese tours bring huge groups here a LOT so be prepared for a long wait and very antsy crowds)

Crowds at Din Tai Fung.

OMG! Buns! Xiaolongbao! Steaming pork juice spurting into your mouth!

December 15, 2010

My first-ever attempt at knitting

So far, I only know how to knit straight lines. So a scarf it is!

Santorini, Greece




Chicken pot pie

Step 1: Make the filling. I used chopped pea shoots, carrots, potatoes, chicken breast, and onion in a bechamel sauce. I lightly cooked the vegetables in a saucepan until soft before adding to the filling.



Step 2: Make the shortcrust pastry ahead of time (you need to chill it before use) and place on top of the filling. Brush with beaten egg.



Step 3: Bake at 200°C for 50 - 60 minutes until golden brown.



Step 4: Serve hot and enjoy. It keeps for a couple of days in the fridge (just reheat in the oven or microwave before serving).

November 7, 2010

Shredded chicken, bok choi and Korean vermicelli in chicken broth


雞絲白菜韓國粉絲(金華火腿瘦肉清雞湯)
Shredded chicken, bok choi with Korean potato vermicelli in a clear broth made from two whole chickens, lean pork, and salty Jinhua ham.

The fat is skimmed off the top of the soup so this dish is almost fat-free but still very flavorful. The soup is a simpler, homemade free-style adaptation of Chinese "superior stock" (上湯). This dish is all about the soup. Soup is important in Chinese culture - it's comfort, medicine, culture and history in one steaming pot.

While I don't cook traditional Chinese food often, sometimes I like to experiment. This noodle soup turned out very well: it's my own customized mix of Shanghai vegetable noodles and Cantonese/Hainan chicken soup. The great thing about this recipe is that you can add whatever toppings or accompaniments that you like. The only drawback is that making the soup requires time and patience, but you can make ahead and put it in the fridge or freezer.

Soup recipe:
1 x chicken carcass (old chicken)
1 x old chicken (for soup)
chunk of lean pork (about 200 g)
a few thick slices of Jinhua ham (more if you're splurging)
several sprigs of spring onions
3 to 4 inch-long chunk of fresh peeled ginger
sea salt or other good quality salt
shiitake mushrooms or oyster mushrooms (optional)

  1. Rub in a good amount of salt into the chicken and pork (pretend you're exfoliating /giving it a facial). Rinse chicken and pork under running water briefly to get rid of any dirt and "frozen" flavor (you should be using fresh chicken too if possible but I am too cheap and lazy to get fresh sometimes and it works out ok, but if using formerly frozen then make sure you thoroughly rinse the meat so you don't get the "freezer chill" taste).
    NB: For the chicken, you can remove the skin and most of the fat in advance (leave a few bits of fat to give the soup flavor). If possible, keep the (thoroughly cleaned) chicken feet and head/neck: the collagen/gelatin gives the soup more umami flavor and that lip-smacking unctuousness. I usually remove the skin and fat from the neck and the butt area, deskin most of the chicken torso, but leave the harder-to-remove skin on the wings and drumstick areas.
  2. Chop chicken into bits so that both birds can comfortably fit into your pot. I get the butcher to do this; otherwise if you have whole birds, you can put one bird in at first, then put the other bird in at step 4. Using whole birds makes the removal process easier later.
  3. Clean and slice spring onions in half. Remove any withered parts. You can remove the roots if it's easier than cleaning the bottom.
  4. Put meat, ham, spring onions and ginger into pot. Salt generously, depending on how much of the salty Jinhua ham you put in. Bring to a boil, then turn to low heat and simmer until the meat and bones are almost falling apart. Skim off fat, scum and other stuff floating on the top at regular intervals.
  5. When soup is done, remove as much of the bones and meat as you can with tongs/spoon and then pour through a large strainer into a large bowl or container.
  6. This soup will freeze well or keep in fridge for a week or two. Once chilled and solidified, it's easier to remove the top layer of chicken fat. It should be a clear jelly once chilled due to the gelatin/collagen.

Chicken and bok choi noodle soup recipe

Shredded chicken meat
Fresh mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, shimeiji, etc.)
Bok choi or other vegetables (Napa cabbage, choi sum, spinach, etc. would be nice)
Chicken stock (see above recipe)
Korean vermicelli (or rice noodles, mung bean vermicelli, pho noodles....)
dash of salt/soy sauce/rice vinegar/lime juice
  1. Put chicken stock in saucepan. I tend to stretch the use of the chicken stock by using a 50:50 chicken stock and water combo (in this case, add enough salt to make up the taste).
  2. Add your chosen noodle and toppings. I used mushrooms and the leftover soup chicken meat, which was a bit tough but I didn't want to see it go to waste, together with bok choi. I used Korean potato vermicelli because I like its texture and taste but feel free to experiment.
  3. If the soup is lacking a little je ne sais quoi, add the following to taste: salt, soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice. (I think the slight sourness of vinegar or citrus juice really helps this soup, though).
  4. When toppings are cooked through, serve this dish in large bowl, piping hot.

November 3, 2010

Homemade vanilla gelato

Two cups of milk,
one cup whipping cream,
the scrapings of a vanilla bean pod,
half a cup of sugar,
four sunset-orange egg yolks =
delicious, light, fluffy homemade gelato!

Here's how:

Split lengthways and scrape the black beans/dots from the pod and put into the milk/cream mixture.


Whisk together the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and fluffy (hand or electric mixer; the choice is yours). (Don't let the sugar sit too long on top of the egg yolks or else a "skin" will form.) I used fancy Japanese eggs, hence the beautiful orange color. You can use free range or organic eggs as well - I would recommend doing so for this gelato in order to do justice to the expensive vanilla bean!

Heat vanilla/milk/cream mixture gently in a saucepan until bubbles appear around the edges. Don't let it boil or curdle!

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Pour carefully into the egg/sugar mixture, whisking all the while (you can use hand whisk or electric mixer). Don't worry if small lumps form - you can strain these out later.


Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and under a low heat, stir constantly until you get a custard sauce-like consistency (i.e. should be thick and viscose enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon). Take off heat immediately. Strain into a bowl (you want to keep the black vanilla bits but not any egg custard lumps/skin) and cover; chill until cool (2-3 hours or overnight).


Freeze in ice-cream maker, then place in freezer to harden. If the gelato is too hard, you can "ripen" or soften it slightly by placing it in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com

September 10, 2010

Chong Fat Restaurant (Chiu Chow cuisine)

A famous Chiuchow restaurant in Kowloon City, Hong Kong





Chocolate - vanilla marbled Madeira cake



I'd been looking for a good basic sponge cake recipe for a while, and this one came out perfect (not too heavy/dense, not too dry, not too oily). I might try it in decorated layer cakes as the base sponge.

Recipe: http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/607037

August 16, 2010

Dinner at Caprice, 3 Michelin starred French restaurant (Hong Kong)

Jon and I had dinner at Caprice, the 3-star French restaurant at the Four Seasons Hong Kong on August 14 (this past Saturday). I didn't bring my camera so no photos of the food, so I'm listing the food below so that we remember what we ate! :)


Free amuse-bouche:
Baked cheese puffs (a bit like a round bite-sized cheesy eclair). It was so light it was like eating cheesy air. Really yummy. I also liked it how the server called them cheese puffs instead of going the French route (gougères au fromage).

Free appetizer
Trio plate: 1) jamon serrano with cantaloupe and crispy cracker, 2) I can't remember any more, and 3) a little cup with eggplant mousse and tomato granita on top. It was all good. I remember the crispy cracker and the eggplant mousse being especially good. The eggplant mousse was light and airy and flavorful - not salty but full of eggplant flavor. The granita was a bit too sweet to my liking, I would have preferred a stronger fresh tomato flavor.

Bread basket:
Normally there's not much to say about the bread basket but I had to make a special mention of their bread, which was fantastic. Best bread I've had in HK (not that that's saying much). But the sourdough mini-boule, the black olive bread and everything was so perfectly done I'd go back just for the bread.

Appetizers:
Jon had Vendéen Frog's Legs with Spanish Risotto and Iberico Ham in Chervil Sauce. It was amazing. Crispy coated frog's legs were like mini chicken drumsticks and the risotto was amazing.

I ordered the Steamed Duck Foie Gras with Saffron Fennel, Liquorice and Orange Blossom Foam. Very creative and interesting, the foie gras flavor was more smooth without the caramelized coating you get from the usual pan-searing treatment. Not sure I would order again though as I'm a huge fan of the crispy bits, but that's just a personal preference.

Main course

Jon ordered Poitou Lamb en Croûte de Sel with Black Olive Polenta and Vegetable Tian in Brown Nut Jus. The lamb fillet came to the table in a pastry crust (i.e. en croûte) and the server cut it out before serving. It was a substantial size and very tender. The polenta was delicious (not dry or mealy at all) and might have been chargrilled.

I ordered Suckling Pig Rack with Carbonara Conchiglie and Fondant Zucchini in Sage Jus. I think they had amazing gravy - not too salty and perfectly balanced thickness and flavors (or as my server called it "natural pig jus"). Jon was impressed by the quality of their pasta (it was rather good!) but I fell in love with their fondant zucchini. Think of a very light, cheesy creamed spinach but using perfectly-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth zucchini. Yum! The pork was also perfecty cooked, juicy and tender and lightly seasoned.

Apparently a lot of their meat is imported from France and elsewhere in Europe. It may not be environmentally responsible or supporting local producers etc, but it tasted really unique and delicious - you can't get it anywhere else in Hong Kong

Free dessert & chocolate plate:
The restaurant also provides free chocolate plate and desserts.

I'll start with the dessert: 1) peach jelly (with some alcohol?) with crushed biscuits and with some sort of sabayon (?) on top. Totally amazing. It came in a skinny shotglass in a small glass cup, which the server filled with dry ice. A bit 80s but the effect was cool and it kept the dish chilled.

The chocolate plate consisted of four different items: 1) milk chocolate square. Nice. 2) can't remember. 3) pistachio-encrusted marshmallow with a mango or something mousse on top, 4) dark chocolat square (Jon didn't like this one so much).

Desserts:
Jon ordered a peach dish that I can't find the description of on the restaurant website. It was pretty good though.

I had Marinated Raspberry with Pistachio Mousse, Light Génoise and Lemon Yoghurt Ice Cream. It was so good. I loved the giant fresh raspberries (I did wonder though if they were just Driscolls), and the pistachio mousse and lemon yoghurt ice cream was very well executed - not too sweet / sour, allowing the natural flavours to come through, and creamy without being heavy.


Wines:
2006 Côte Rôtie (not sure of which vineyard, Jon chose it); Jon also had a French dessert wine (forgot the name). The French sommelier was young but he was enthusiastic, chatty and definitely knew his stuff.


Comments:
The food is pretty amazing (especially for Hong Kong), and the staff are friendly but not intrusive. However some of them seemed a bit unsure of themselves at times (especially for a 3 Michelin star establishment!). Some of that may be due to the language barrier - the local staff, while bilingual in Chinese and English, can create unintended smiles (e.g. pig jus?). However everyone is smiling and sincere so that's just a minor note.

The food is creative and very well executed. The unlimited bread basket was also very good - difficult to stop ourselves from eating it all!

The open kitchen provides some entertainment as well. The temperature, music and lighting of the room is carefully managed - no air-con blasting here and the music is muted but audible, allowing conversation (bossa nova was playing the night we went). If you can get a window seat (which we did), it is definitely a treat to watch the sun go down on Victoria harbour.

http://www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/dining/caprice/

June 6, 2010

Shortbread/butter cookies




Recipe adapted from several that I found online.

Ingredients:

A:
170g butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

B:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt

Method:
  1. Measure out A in a bowl, cream together until combined.
  2. Measure and sift together B.
  3. Add B to A and mix until combined. Shape into a ball (don't overmix or the butter will melt and go all gross and greasy) and place in a generous square of clingfilm. Loosely fold over with clingfilm and then flatten the ball into a disk.
  4. Freeze for 30 minutes (freezing it helps solidify the butter so that the cookie will keep its shape when baked).
  5. Preheat oven to 180 C.
  6. Take dough out of freezer; unwrap. Roll out so that it's about 1/2 inch thick or so. Cut out with cookie cutters or cut using knife into desired shape.
  7. Place on ungreased baking sheet.
  8. If your dough got soft and warm, it's better to chill the raw cookies in the fridge again if possible for a bit so that the cookies retain their shape when baked. Unfortunately my fridge wasn't bit enough so some of the later cookies lost their shape a bit. (My oven is also only 1/4 size of a conventional home oven so I had to do two batches.)
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges of cookies start to go golden brown.
  10. Take out and let cool on baking sheet. Remove and store in airtight container.

May 30, 2010

Wedding lunch at the Peninsula hotel


The Peninsula Hotel is the oldest and most historic hotel in Hong Kong, dating back to the heyday of the British colonial era here. The British surrendered to the Japanese here in 1941. More recently, a scene from the Batman Dark Knight movie was filmed on the hotel's rooftop helicopter pad. Also, the Felix bar was designed by Philippe Starck and is famous for its men's bathroom which have ceiling-to-floor glass overlooking the harbour.

I attended the wedding and lunch reception of a Cornell classmate here today. The menu was pretty good. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves (though I did not take a photo of the lobster consommé, it was excellent too):







May 22, 2010

Mulled wine pear chocolate tart

This is a layered tart, only the second tart I've ever made (the first was a free-form French apple tart last week, post to come). It was inspired by a similar tart made by Tamami-san, an amazing Japanese lady baker in London (originally inspired by another tart in a book about chocolate).

The layers of this tart are:
  1. pears poached in mulled red wine (sliced and arranged to look like a rose or chrysanthemum)
  2. chocolate ganache
  3. chocolate pie crust


Layer 1 - Mulled wine poached pear: 1 bottle of wine, 1 sachet of mulling spices, several medium to large-sized pears, halved and cored. Bring wine and mulling spices to a boil, then simmer pears for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your pears. Don't let your pears become mushy otherwise you'll have trouble slicing them thinly. Take out the pears and let cool. Reserve about a bit the mulled wine for making the glaze later (feel free to drink some hot too!). If you reduce the wine even further, it would make a fantastic sauce to pour over vanilla ice cream to eat with this tart :)


Layer 2 - chocolate ganache filling:
  • 100g good dark chocolate (70% min. cacao solids) , break up the squares, don't put the whole bar in one huge chunk!
  • 100ml cream (can use British double cream but I used Paul's Australian heavy UHT whipping cream but unwhipped, I heard you can use butter or condensed milk instead but the flavor won't be as complex)
  • a 2-inch square knob of butter (this makes the ganache more glossy)
  • tablespoon of Marsala wine (optional), I guess you could use sherry or other sweet alcohol if you wanted :)
Adapted from a recipe on the Scharffen Berger website. Melt all of this together in a small pan over a pot of simmering water. Mix until melted and combined (keep stirring! there will be a moment when the cream and choc suddenly come together and no longer be chocolate bits bobbing about in cream; it's a beautiful thing to behold)


Layer 3 - chocolate pie crust (makes 2)
I followed Nigella's chocolate tart crust in the raspberry chocolate tart recipe from How to be a domestic goddess but I was too lazy to bake blind or to bother with all that covering with tin foil and using baking beans, so my crust came out a little crumbly and graham-cracker crust like instead of smooth pastry, but that was OK with me. Still tasty! :)
  • 175g plain flour
  • 30g cocoa powder (I used Cadbury's in the orange tin, nothing fancy)
  • 50g sugar (I used raw cane sugar instead of white because that's what I had on hand)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp iced water
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut up the butter into small cubes and add into the bowl until the mixture looks crumbly. I don't have a food processor so I rubbed in the butter as if I were making crumble topping. Beat the egg yolk and iced water together. Add to the bowl.

Turn out the mixture and form two flattish disks. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge until hard. Take out of fridge, roll out to slightly larger than the tart tin. Fit into tart tin (the ones with removable bases are great). Pastry dough is fragile but it's easy to patch up the holes!

Freeze the whole thing for at least 30 minutes until crust feels hard. Bake in a 180C oven for about 15 minutes. Take out and let cool completely before removing from tin (since the crust has so much butter, there's no need to grease the tin and it should come out easily).

Assembly: After baking the pie crust by itself in the oven, I poured in the cooled room-temp chocolate ganache and let it set in the fridge for a further hour or so (more won't hurt). When the ganache filling has hardened, take it back out. Slice the poached pears thinly and then arrange as desired on top.

Serve slightly chilled, with some good vanilla ice cream. Mulled wine sauce is also a distinct (and highly recommended) possibility.

February 21, 2010

Yaki-onigiri (Grilled rice balls) 焼きおにぎり


Equipment: Short-grain Japanese rice (or risotto rice), soy sauce, non-stick pan, clingfilm/glad wrap, oil (may be optional), rice cooker (optional), mirin (optional), sesame seeds (optional)

More about yaki-onigiri at Momofuku for 2 or else you can Google it, there are plenty of sites out there discussing the various methods available.



Rice must be freshly made and warm so that it adheres and holds its structure when shaped.


Clingfilm is a great cheat, so the rice does not stick to your hands.


Lightly oil the plate, gently flip the onigiri so that it has a slight coating of oil. This will help when grilling the onigiri.

Only soy sauce is strictly necessary.


Grill lightly over low heat until a crust forms. Flip.


Brush the first (crispy) side with soy sauce. Be gentle so the onigiri does not fall apart.


Keep flipping, brushing and grilling until beautifully crispy and golden.


Eat. Goes well with beer or sake.