August 2, 2011

Checking in (and a tuna Niçoise recipe)

I'm alive! *dusts off blog* Whew, it's been a while since I've posted, hasn't it?

Fried cheese curds at Bastille Days in Milwaukee
Work and a lot of travel has kept me crazy-busy. Since my last post, I went to New York for a week and a half, Vancouver for a few days (including a crazy YVR-San Francisco - Tokyo - HK return flight due to the Fly America Act and missing my flight because of delays), Bangkok again in June, and Jon and I just returned a few days ago from three weeks in the US. (It looks like there's going to be another New York trip as well as Shanghai trip in early September too -- I like NY, but I'm at the point where I just want to stay home for now and don't want to travel for work!)

We went on a pilgrimage to New Glarus Brewing Co in New Glarus, Wisconsin (which is a mock-Swiss chalet town)
But let me think about happier things - like the great vacation I just had :). We spent three weeks visiting Jon's family and friends in Madison & Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (or, to be more accurate, Jon was the one who drove), where we eat a lot of good fresh food and drank even more fantastic craft beer (we squeezed in trips to two breweries - New Glarus and Lakefront). We also went to the Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field in Green Bay (it's an NFL American football thing, but it was pretty neat to see the Lombardi Trophy and Aaron Rodger's Superbowl ring).

It's funny, because I used to be such a geographical snob -- growing up, my family lived in Vancouver (Pacific Northwest) and I went to college in upstate New York, or having a transfer flight at O'hare airport, I didn't know much about the mid-West ("the fly-over" states?!) The only time I had been in the Mid-West was during a crazy 3-week road trip from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island and back (West to East Coast was through Canada; East to West was through the US on the I-90), where we ate Chinese food almost every night, thanks to my dad's need to eat rice with every meal. But that's another story for another time.

Cattle prices on the Agricultural reports on the TV news
What I want to say was I found myself really, really liking Wisconsin and the U.P. -- the commitment to sustainable local produce, the appreciation for the good things in life (cheese curds, sausages, beers, frozen custard!) and the friendliness and lack of pretentiousness that people had. It's very different from big-city Hong Kong or New York city, where I get tired about all the prattling about brand names and money and showing off. 

Jesse works for Alterra Coffee, which has awesome coffee and baked yummies. Their graphic designer is really talented - I love my Alterra T-shirts! :)

Here's one meal that Jon's sister Jesse and I made one sweaty evening in Milwaukee during that heat wave where it was in the 90s (Fahrenheit, which is about 32 C or so -- but in a place where they don't have air cons!).

Tuna Niçoise

Jesse bought the tuna steak from Trader Joe's. The fingerling potatoes and green beans we bought from the local farmer's market (not really a market, more like a cluster of stands on a street corner) in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee where she lives. The lettuce were grown by Jesse in planter pots on her deck.  It was one of the best meals I've had in a long time -- the potatoes were fresh and sweet, and the beans were crisp and tasted of sunshine and good things.

May 8, 2011

Travels near and far

It's been rather quiet around here lately. As well as starting a new job (chaotic!), I've been hopping around Asia too. So please forgive me if my updates are a bit sparse. First, we went to Cebu in the Philippines for the Easter weekend, where we lazed around and went island hopping and I ordered at least six green mango smoothies (much tangier and tastier than regular ripe yellow mangoes).

Then it was back to HK and work. I saw some pretty Japanese candies at the local supermarket. I had to get a smartphone for work (urgh! I have a terrible, compulsive email-checking habit) so I got an iPhone 4 and have been playing around with the Instagram app.

This weekend, I hopped on a plane and visited an old college friend for her birthday. She runs a chocolate and confectionery factory near Xiamen, in Fujian province. Here's a photo of the sea there, in Zhangzhou. Xiamen was prettier and the air was cleaner than I expected. It's a fast-developing middle-tier city, but it's also a relatively nice beach town with some good boutique shopping and an appreciation of music and arts culture.

I've got three more cities to visit before the end of May: next week I'm headed to Bangkok for work, then to New York the week after (also for meetings) and then a couple days' layover in Vancouver so I can renew my driver's license. Then it's back to Hong Kong and hopefully no more travel until July when Jon and I head to Wisconsin and the UP (Michigan) to visit family.

May 1, 2011

Pineapple almond upside-down cake

 I'm normally a huge fan of pineapple (my mother always soaked fresh pineapple in brine "to get the dirt out" before serving it to us as children, which I absolutely hated and left me with a lifelong wariness of the fruit), but I confess I do have a soft spot for sweet, sticky, caramel classic - pineapple upside down cake.

Here's an adaption of a great recipe that I tested out from the BBC Good Food Cookbook which gives you a simple soft sponge cake topped with crunchy caramel, sweet-tart pineapple, and nutty roasted almonds. I've adjusted the recipe to fit a 8"/20cm square pan, but if you want to make a slightly larger, taller, cake , simply double and bake in a 22cm square or 20cm round baking pan.

I also got rid of the maraschino/glacé cherries as a topping, as I've always been slightly grossed out by their glaringly gaudy artificial redness and their cloying sweetness. But of course, each to his/her own, so feel free to add them if you like. Just don't tell me. :)

April 17, 2011

Birthday Cake (Nutty carrot cake with dark chocolate and almond decoration)

Mom's birthday falls on Easter weekend this year but I'm going to be in Cebu, Philippines, so we celebrated the weekend before. I started a new job this week and didn't have much prep time (well, actually, I'm just not that artistically endowed), so this Easter-themed birthday cake has that "home-made" touch for sure!

It's a 2-layer carrot cake. The cake layers have carrots, pineapple, almonds, coconut, and golden raisins. I used my standard recipe and added extra nuts, raisins and 1/4 more pureed pineapple. Oh, and I also used grated fresh ginger this time as I ran out of the dried stuff (living in Asia, it's much easier to find fresh ginger than the powder). This resulted in a slightly more dense & moist cake, but luckily not too dense. It's up to your personal preference whether you prefer a drier and finer cake or a more moist, richer cake.

Sandwiched between the two layers is a mix of the lemon cream cheese frosting + raspberry jam. The remaining lemon cream cheese frosting was used to frost the top and sides of the cake.

April 11, 2011

First foray into bento (lunch box) making

Now, I'm not artistic or creative like some people, so you will never find me making patterns or beautiful cartoons with my food, but recently Jon and I have tried to eat healthier, and to exercise greater control over what, as well as how much, we eat.

April 8, 2011

Raspberry panna cotta

Panna cotta (Italian for "cooked cream") is one of my favourite desserts - lighter than a crême brulée, yet still creamy and milky-rich in your mouth.  Basically it is an Italian-style milk custard jelly, yet it's so hard to find good panna cotta when eating out as most places make their panna cotta too firm. Great panna cotta should be wobbly and soft, with a very luxurious and yielding mouthfeel, it should be rich yet light at the same time. Too often when eating out you get panna cotta that's nothing more than milky Jell-O, and that's just not good.

I've recently purchased a copy of the BBC Good Food Cookbook; it's got some interesting ideas for different dishes which I plan to test soon. This is the first recipe I've made from this dish (albeit with some major alterations/improvisations due to not having double cream or lemons and having leftover sour cream at home)*. I haven't made jelly in a long time; I think the last time was making Jell-O gummy worm vodka shots several years ago for a X'mas party (long story, don't ask!).

*The original Good Food Cookbook recipe was for lemon pannacotta with blackberries.This is a simple vanilla panna cotta with raspberry/blueberry topping.

April 3, 2011

Basic vanilla Victoria sponge cake

How many things that you learn in school are actually useful and delicious? At my high school in England, we all had to take two years of home economics (aka cooking) lessons. An elderly lady with a bouffant white hairdo oversaw my very first attempt at making Victoria sponge in a large lab kitchen. I remembered liking home ec lessons a lot - too bad there wasn't an option to continue them for GCSE!

I don't make plain vanilla sponge very often and have gone through a period of not being able to make a light airy sponge for the past few years. I blamed the humidity in Hong Kong for turning my attempts at sponge cake into dense bricks, but honestly, I think it was because I was trying to be too fancy and relied on complicated recipes. I've finally come full circle and accepted that there are some things in life you just shouldn't mess with, and Victoria sponge is one of them.

This sponge cake recipe is a good base for cakes and cupcakes.

March 29, 2011

Carrot cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut-almond garnish

Easter coconut carrot cupcakes (with chocolate Mini Eggs), with mini strawberry cheesecakes in the background. 

A simple, grown-up (?) version of carrot cupcakes.

For me, there are three cardinal rules of carrot cakes:
  1. Moistness: The cake has to be moist but not dense/heavy/greasy, with a coarse but soft crumb.
  2. Nuts (pecans, walnuts - take your pick): These can go on top as a garnish to add crunch and flavour but never inside the batter. I hate those soft mushy greasy lumps of nuts in some carrot cakes. I might consider adding raisins in the cake if I'm having that kind of a day.
  3. Frosting: It's all about the cream cheese frosting.
  4. The third rule is so important, it's worth repeating: it's all about the frosting.

This carrot cupcake looks melancholy without the frosting.

March 21, 2011

Gluten-free vanilla cupcakes with berry cream cheese frosting

A co-worker recently was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and has been having trouble finding gluten-free food (not just baked goods, but also a lot of Chinese food, as soy sauce contains wheat), so I decided to bake some gluten-free cupcakes to cheer her up.

I've never baked gluten-free before (besides some meringues), so I did some Googling and was initially a bit intimidated by the recipes I found, which all seemed to require unfamiliar and exotic-sounding ingredients like xanthan and guar gum. Luckily I found a gluten-free plain white flour mix by Dove's Farm (UK) at the supermarket, which can be used in place of regular wheat flour in most recipes.

Here's the recipe for the gluten-free cupcakes that I made. They came out lighter and looser than regular cupcakes, but I think my coworker will be happy to have these baked goods as they're equally tasty, even without the denser crumb of cakes made with regular wheat flour.

March 20, 2011

Fresh fruit tart

I've never had that much luck before with making pastry for tarts. I've tried various recipes, including a chocolate tart recipe (with chocolate pastry crust) from Jamie Oliver that came out too greasy and also too puffy, despite the blind baking.

This time, however, it went all quite smoothly. I made one big tart (8") and two mini (4") tarts.
Here's what I did:

  1. Make the tart dough (pâte sucrée). I used this recipe, but with a few minor alterations:
    • Instead of 100g flour, I used 70g flour and 30g cornstarch/cornflour. I'm not sure how big of a difference it made, but I like to add a bit of cornstarch as I think it makes cookies etc slightly more tender. I might try the original recipe next time (no corn starch) for comparison purposes.
    • Almond powder = ground almonds. I used ready-ground almonds but I suppose it would be better to grind your own at home (add some sugar if doing so to avoid your almonds becoming almond butter instead of powder).
    • You should really make this ahead but due to lack of time, I didn't leave the dough overnight to develop. Instead I let it chill 1.5 hours in the fridge before rolling out into the tart tins, then let it rest another 30 minutes in the fridge before baking.
    • My major discovery/revelation was that you don't need to mess about with beans, rice or pie weights to blind-bake your tart case. I just followed the suggestion of pricking the dough with the tines of a fork multiple times (both on the sides and bottom). This technique is called docking, and the little holes created by the fork allow the steam to escape and stop the dough from rising too much. I think the end result was not as perfectly presentable as using beans or pie weights, but the convenience factor won me over.
  2. Make your filling. I used a pastry cream/crème patissière recipe by Martha Stewart. The taste was good but the consistency/texture was a little too liquid/custardy for my liking. I might try a recipe with more cornstarch/flour next time to make a more solid filling.
  3. Melt some chocolate to line the bottom of the tart. Dark chocolate is traditional, but I didn't have any so I melted some milk choc buttons in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. I then spread the melted chocolate into the tart case (which was already blind-baked and cooled to room temp.), then spread it around with a spatula to cover the entire base of the tart. Let stand until the chocolate has cooled and hardened. This serves two purposes: A) it's yummy chocolate! and B) the chocolate layer keeps the wet filling from making the tart case soggy and helps prevent any possible leaks from the little holes made by the docking process.

  4. Once your filling is chilled enough, you are now ready to assemble your fruit tart.
    • Pour the pasty cream onto your tart slowly - you don't want to add too much and risk a spill/overflow! Remember that your fruit will sink slightly and displace some of the filling, so don't fill it up too much, about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the crust is about right.
    • Add whatever mix of fruit you like. I made two kinds: strawberry-blueberry and mango-banana.
    • Just before serving, dust with icing/confectioner's sugar or cocoa using a fine sieve.
  5. As you can see, the tarts I made don't look beautifully perfect - the crust is a bit straggly and uneven, but the taste and texture got a thumbs up from everyone at work. The only thing I would focus on next time would be to improve the pastry cream which was a little too liquid.

March 19, 2011

Tea-time dimsum and steamed pot rice

There's a cha chan teng (茶餐廳) [literally, "tea restaurant" but it means more of a Hong Kong-style diner or casual restaurant] near where I get off the bus in Wanchai. It's down an alley by an outdoor street market. It serves nothing but dim sum and steamed pot rice all day. It's a little family-run shop with simple tables and stools. The choices are listed on posters on the wall. There's a takeout counter at the entrance serving steamed buns and sticky glutinous rice with Chinese sausage.

During tea-time, they have tea sets. I ordered the steamed chicken pot rice, braised chicken feet and a hot lemon tea, all for HK$28 (about US$3.60).

This was a great find for me, because I love steamed pot rice (other versions include pork spare rib, egg and minced beef, fish, etc.).

Why I will be going back:
  • All day dim sum and steamed rice!
  • The people are quite friendly (at least during the afternoon tea period when it's not so busy)
  • It's not the best dim sum and rice I've ever had, but it is a decent choice in the area and really cheap, making it good value for the price

Kam Fai Dim Sum Restaurant
G/F, 49 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai

March 10, 2011

Lemon cake with caramelized lemon peel and almonds

After succeeding with Tamami-san/Coco & Me's cheesecake recipe, I decided to try her famous lemon drizzle cake recipe. I'm a huge lemon fan but have had only mixed results with the other recipe that I've been using to date (the lemon syrup cake from Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess). (Tamami-san is also working on a Coco & Me cookbook so I am eagerly waiting its release since both recipes I have tried from her blog have turned out very well for me!)

Tamami's method is slightly unusual as it requires you to whisk the eggs and sugar into a foam in a simmering bain-marie (almost like making a sabayon), but it does result in a light but airy cake. I'm guessing that heating the eggs here has a similar effect as doing the "cooked dough" in choux pastry recipes - it forces the dough to rise due to the egg content and steam.

Recipe: Lemon Drizzle Cake from Tamami-san at Coco & Me.


Stick to the recipe.
The recipe looks a bit fussy and overly detailed (rather than my usual "mix dry ingredients; mix wet ingredients; combine both; bake) but it makes a HUGE difference in what comes out of your oven. You get a proper delicious cake made with care and love instead of something that's too mushy, too dry or too tasteless!

Scale the amounts to fit your pan.
I scaled the ingredients to fit a Japanese no. 5 / 15 cm / 6" round cake pan. I also had enough batter and icing left over for two "tester" cupcakes (shown above).

Line both the sides and bottom of the cake tin.
Instead of just lining the bottom of the tin and flouring the sides, I lined both the bottom and the sides of the tin (I had some pre-cut tin liners that I bought from the Jusco $10 store here in Hong Kong. Side note: Jusco is seriously my favourite baking accessories shop as they sell cheap cake liners, tins, chocolate moulds, ribbons, trays, decorative bags/boxes and more. I highly recommend it if you happen to live in Hong Kong.)

Almond powder/ground almonds?
I substituted ground almonds for almond powder with excellent results.

Use an electric hand mixer.
Instead of whisking by hand, I used the electric mixer to whisk the eggs. I started off with a manual whisk but my wrist quickly started to hurt. So, make sure you use the electric mixer!

Cut off the muffin top.
The only thing is that my cake was not flat (it had a muffin top) so instead of turning it upside down as instructed in Tamami's recipe, I just lopped off the top. I found that removing the top actually made it easier for the lemon syrup to penetrate and soak the cake. Being a greedy pig, I then ate the top with a bit of leftover lemon syrup - the cook's privilege! I now feel a bit sick from eating a giant piece of cake, but I don't regret it for a second! :)

Try different kinds of garnish.
Instead of using chopped-up pistachio and sugared lemon peel as a garnish, I used flaked almonds and browned/caramelized lemon peel. (To make the caramelized lemon peel, carefully cook the lemon peel strips in sugar water in a saucepan on low heat until it turns brown and sticky. Then remove from heat and add warm water to "shock" and melt the caramel syrup. You should strain the peel (which should be caramel brown) in a sieve to remove excess water and de-tangle the lemon peel strips.

This also works for cupcakes as well as regular cakes.
The cupcakes turned out pretty cute. I think I'll use this recipe for little cupcakes to bring to the office next time.

I am so pleased with this recipe, even though it's more complicated, I think this will replace the Nigella Lawson one that I've been using for the past couple of years.

March 6, 2011

One-pot steamed Chinese chicken mushroom rice

A classic Chinese comfort food is steamed chicken with winter/shiitake mushrooms (冬菇蒸雞飯). There are variations with dried lily flowers but I like the ones with mushrooms best. In Chinese cooking, shiitake/winter mushrooms are more commonly used dried than fresh. The dried ones have a stronger, more umami flavor to them that the fresh ones don't, and the best dried winter mushrooms can be quite expensive!

I adapted my recipe from this one I found online.

The only specialized equipment you will need is a rice cooker (found throughout Asia). Rice cookers are amazing things - see this blog post by Roger Ebert (yes, the film critic) if you need to be convinced of its usefulness.

  • Rehydrated winter mushrooms (or you can use any fresh ones that you prefer. A "meatier" mushroom would probably work better here.
  • I used boneless chicken thigh, cut into small pieces, because my boyfriend doesn't like bones. In cheaper restaurants in Hong Kong, the chicken in this dish can have a lot of bone splinters :(
  • Didn't have spring onion so I substituted coriander/cilantro - not strictly traditional but I feel that you have a lot more flexibility for savory dishes than with baked desserts.
  • Rice + about 2/3 of the normal amount of water you would normally use in your cooker because the soy sauce marinade for the chicken will make up the remaining liquid.
  • If you don't have Shaoxing wine you can use cooking sake/mirin/pale dry sherry/gin. Not quite the same but close enough.
  • It's OK if your rice gets a slightly burnt and crispy crust - that's the BEST part!
  • The main point is, don't worry about following the recipe too strictly, play around with it depending on what ingredients you have on hand and ENJOY. It will be yummy.

February 22, 2011

Russian Twix: "Twixels"

Found these today in my local supermarket: Orange and chocolate Twixels all the way from Moscow, Russia.

Twixels are basically small elongated Twix. They look more elegant (could pass as dinner party nibbles) and are less chewy due to their thinness. They tasted basically the same as regular Twix but with less caramel. OK, but not sure I would buy these again as I'm trying to cut down on candies and sweets (I prefer saving my calories and money for higher quality splurges).

February 19, 2011

Going bananas

The supermarket here sells the usual Cavendish bananas but they occasionally stock other varieties, including the popular "emperor" bananas (small and sweet bananas with thin peel and little thready fibre) which you can find across Asia. Red bananas, on the other hand, are relatively more exotic (at least for me in Hong Kong). The supermarket here labels these as "Moroccan red bananas" but it seems that these are grown in Asia as well.

As for the flavor, they're a bit firmer and less mealy/mushy than regular Cavendishes. While they're still sweet and have the familar banana flavour, I thought the red ones had a little more tartness and complexity to them which I don't find in the normal yellow Cavendish.

Have you ever wondered why you can buy different kinds of apples, pears, potatoes and melons, but across the (developed) world, you usually can only buy one kind of banana (the Cavendish)? The reason for the domination of the Cavendish banana in supermarkets is mainly because of its hardiness/ability to withstand long-distance transport and ease of propagation. However, the whole banana issue is pretty complex - when you are dependent on only one single type of banana, you render the commercial crop vulnerable to pests/disease [viz. the Irish dependency on potatoes that caused the potato famine in the 1800s]). Also, the Cavendish is a relatively bland flavour, but it is popular because it is easy to ship and keeps for a long time. This means that consumers have sacrificed variety and taste in favour of convenience and mass production.

I find this kind of social info pretty fascinating because I believe that we take so many conveniences for granted in our 21st century lives.

For example, in Hong Kong, Sunkist oranges from California still dominate the market, even though it would probably be simpler and more cost-effective to buy fresh oranges grown in Asia/closer to home. Also, how can oranges/apples/strawberries shipped thousands of miles across the Pacific arrive in stores so fresh and sold at such a relatively low cost? Oranges from California at 40 US cents each? Apples from Washington state for US 30 cents each? I suspect that some of these costs, e.g. pollution and waste, is being passed on to the public and on to nature and is not being reflected in the supermarket sticker price.

And why doesn't China start growing high-quality perishable fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and other "Western" fruit? I'm sure there is a huge market in Asia for reasonably priced "luxury" fruits. I would totally buy blueberries grown in the region rather than blueberries flown all the way from Chile (which is what you currently get in the stores here for US$0.60 - $1.20 per 125g carton - how can they sell them so cheap?!).

Actually there are many types of bananas: at my parents' home in Hong Kong, they grow the common banana (or "big banana" in Cantonese), which is fatter and shorter than the Cavendish. It's also tart with only a mild sweetness which I like as it's not overwhelming. The ones my parents grow also occasionally produce black seeds. When was the last time you saw seeds in your supermarket banana?

Confession: my parents merely tend the banana plants, which grow wild in many places in Hong Kong. It's mainly transplanting the offshoots [bananas can reproduce by seeds which are genetically different or by offshoots which are clones] to avoid overcrowding, harvesting bananas and chopping down the trunks/stems to make room for new plants once the fruit is harvested as each plant usually only produces a single hand of fruit.

If you're interested in reading more about the commercial banana and the current challenge to the global crop caused by an infectious fungus, I highly recommend a recent New Yorker article from January 2011 by Mike Peed: We Have No Bananas (Scientists fight a devastating banana blight) -- subscription might be required but you can see a related short video for free on the magazine's Tumblr site (also pretty interesting).

February 13, 2011

Stecca - Jim Lahey's little baguettes

I used to be afraid of making bread, despite years of baking quick breads, cakes and cookies. The prospect of baking with yeast filled me with anxiety - what if the bread didn't rise? What if it just didn't taste right? I think the idea of working with a living organism was a tiny bit intimidating, to say the least.

Jim Lahey, via Mark Bittman, was the baker whose methods helped me lose my fear of working with yeast and making real bread. Now I've a convert and race through bags of flour and countless sachets of yeast. From pizzas to cinnamon rolls, Jim Lahey has opened up a whole new world of baking for me.

This is one of his easier no-knead bread recipes. As it's a essentially a small, flatter baguette with simple toppings, almost a cross between puffy breadstick and focaccia, there's much less anxiety about having the bread rise to the towering magnificence of the boule (round country loaf).

You can find the recipe at the blog Steamy Kitchen, which is where I first found the recipe. I've now bought Jim Lahey's My Bread book, which is the original source.

It makes an amazing country-style baguette (or giant breadstick, I guess you could call it) and is a good recipe to try if you're a relative beginner (like me) to baking with yeast. Actually it's good even if you are experienced with yeast, as it's an easy and tasty crusty bread that looks quite impressive and will awe your friends/family while the effort involved is quite minimal. Time does all the work for you.

PS As Jaden on Steamy Kitchen noted, this baguette might go soft relatively quickly after baking due to the sea salt and olive oil on top. To crisp it back up, put it in a toaster oven for 5-10 minutes. Perfect!

Here's the dough after the first rise.

Here's the dough on the baking sheet after the second rise, shaping, and adding toppings and olive oil.

Here's the dough after it comes out of the oven. The top one is garlic; the bottom is cherry tomato. Both are sprinkled with Maldon sea salt.

Door Door nougat - the best nougat I've ever had

The above picture might not look like much, but the unassuming little piece of nougat you see before you is SERIOUSLY the best nougat I've ever eaten!

Chewy but yielding rather than jaw-breaking, sweet but not sickeningly so, with a light layer of chocolate on top, and crunchy but not overbearing all adds up to nougat perfection.

Let me add that normally, I'm not a nougat kind of gal. I was a nougat Goldilocks - the different brands I tried before were all either too chewy or too crunchy/splintery. Unexpectedly, I've discovered the nougat that was just right.

There is a little story behind my nougat revelation:

In December, a close friend from college held her wedding celebrations in Hong Kong. A few of our mutual friends (my group of girlfriends) came from China, US and Thailand to attend the wedding banquet. As I had some free time, I met up with the ladies to shop, eat and get our hair done. You know, the stereotypical things that women do when they get together.

A, who had flown in from Bangkok, asked if we could go to this bakery to buy nougat. Sure, we all said; as we are all Asians, we understand the foodie obsession and think nothing of traveling far for delicious eats.

A: "It's called Door Door and it's in Mei Foo."
The rest of us: "?"

Now, understand that despite having been born, grown up and now returned to Hong Kong for 9 years, I had never heard of this place. In addition, Mei Foo is far off the usual tourist radar - it's a non-descript private housing estate about half an hour by MTR train from the usual shopping districts.

A then went on to explain that every time her Thai friends visit Hong Kong, they make a pilgrimage to this small family-owned bakery and cafe to buy the nougat. One of our group, Y, actually lived in Mei Foo but had never bought nougat at Door Door, so she offered to buy some and bring it over the next day.

The next day, Y came laden with heavy carrier bags of nougat. There were a few types:

1. Original peanut (shown in above picture)
2. Chocolate crispy (chocolate Rice Krispies sandwiched between original peanut nougat)
3. Coffee (a mocha style nougat with maple undertones)

The clear winner was the chocolate crispy nougat, as the crunchy chocolate krispies cut through the chewy sweetness of the nougat. It's incredibly more-ish - so much so that I went myself to Mei Foo the next week and bought 4 boxes of nougat to give to other friends, though unsurprisingly, I ended up eating a lot of them myself.

They also have a (healthier?) prune and cashew nougat which I haven't yet tried...not sure if it'll be a tad too healthy for my liking!

The moral of this little story is that if people from another country are willing to visit a previously-unheard-of little bakery out in the suburbs, then you would be a fool not to give it a try too!

Door Door Bakery (多多麵飽西餅)
G/F 65 Broadway Street
Mei Foo Sun Chuen
Kowloon, Hong Kong

February 5, 2011

Quest for home-made pizza

February 4, 2011: tomato, basil, onion, sopressata pizza before it entered the oven

Until Paisano's came along last year, you could not, for love or money, get decent New York-style pizza in Hong Kong. If you've ever had proper New York-style pizza you'll understand how much of a tragedy this was. My pizza cravings went unsatisfied by the meagre local offerings: Pizza Hut (ick!), Spaghetti House (gross), Pepperonis (mediocre but better than nothing), and Pizza Express (nice UK/Continental thin crust, but not the same as a New York plain slice). Oh for a proper New York cheese pizza, or for the white pies of Connecticut. I still have fantasies over an Italian sausage & caramelized onion white pizza that I had several years ago at the Fat Cat Pie Co. in Norwalk, CT. Other girls might dream of Brad Pitt, but I can't get that memory of those perfectly browned onions on a light, thin, crispy crust, out of my mind. (Yes, I'm sick and have an addiction! I freely admit it!)

After experimenting with baking bread at home, I had a Eureka! moment when I realized that pizza is essentially just flat thin bread with toppings, which meant I could probably make it at home. This meant I could make white pizzas, plain cheese pizzas, margherita pizzas...the world was my oyster pizza.

For me, pizza is all about the crust and the dough. I like my crust to be light and airy, crispy but not too chewy. I can't bear spongy or soggy pizza bases. I tried a couple of dough recipes but was never satisfied with the results (too bready, too soft, too ....). Finally, I found the GOLD recipe for pizza dough and now that I've found it, I'm going to stick with it.

Unless you've been hiding under a metaphorical rock for the past few years, you've probably heard of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe, made famous by Mark Bittman at the New York Times. It's not surprising then that the easiest and best recipe for pizza, which is at its most basic just a yeasted flat bread with toppings, also comes courtesy of Jim Lahey and his Sullivan Street Bakery.

I don't use a pizza stone or peel or any fancy equipment, just a baking sheet greased with olive oil. I never thought I could make decent pizza in a mini convection oven so I bow down and worship at Jim Lahey's feet. (OK, that might be overdoing it a bit but seriously, I am soooo happy to be able to make decent pizza at home and satisfy my pizza cravings!)

Here's a link to the recipe but I usually use my copy of Jim Lahey's book, My Bread, which gives slightly different instructions.

The base is essentially the same (the main difference is how thin or thick you stretch the base crust), so I've been playing around with different toppings.

May 26, 2010: Semi-white pizza with fresh tomatoes but no tomato sauce. I'm very partial to a good pizza bianca - it's less heavy than sauced pizzas.

December 21, 2010: Jon's favourite, with a LOT of cheese (mix of Cheddar, Parmesan, and Mozzarella) and tomato sauce. The uglier cousin due to the molten cheese and tomato that oozes everywhere, but undeniably finger-lickin' good. This one has portabello mushrooms and spicy Italian sausage.

I'm still experimenting with different toppings and crust thickness: these might not be true New York-style pizzas, but I find them pretty damn tasty. :)

Next post will be for another Jim Lahey recipe that's one of my favourite pot-luck and party standby: stecca with garlic and cherry tomatoes.

February 4, 2011

Kitto Katsu (Japanese Kit Kats)

Japanese Kit Kats: (top to bottom)

- Blueberry cheesecake
- Wasabi
- Matcha green tea

Not pictured (already eaten!):
- Japanese red apple

In Japan, Kit Kats are given to students before they take exams, as the name Kit Kat is similar to the Japanese for "sure win" - きっと勝つ "Kitto Katsu".

Thanks Mayumi-san for bringing these from Tokyo!

February 3, 2011

Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, Nanjing, Suzhou


My family is originally from Shanghai - Zhujiajiao (朱家角) water town in Qingpu (青浦) district to be precise. (Well, further back another few hundred years we are from Manchuria but for the past 700 years Shanghai has been the family "ancestral town".) My aunt and cousin still live in Shanghai, and my brother and his girlfriend were visiting from the US so we made a short trip up there to visit the old hometown.

Jon and I only went for two days because of work, but the others went for four days. They also went to Hangzhou to the West Lake, which I went to back in 2008, I think.

Anyway, not much to say about Shanghai - modern, polluted, expensive, lots of good food, and lots of photo-taking opportunities.

Here are the photos from Nanjing and Suzhou first as Blogger seems to have a photo limit:

Jon taking a photo of the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Nanjing.

Sun Yat-sen is considered to be the father of modern-day China. Personally I find it a slightly creepy Communist propaganda tactic to put their embalmed leaders on display (Lenin, Stalin, Mao...). Sun Yat-sen's body is not on display but his marble sarcophagus is. I guess you never stop working in the service of the people, even after death!

The Nanjing massacre memorial. (An estimated 300,000 people were killed by the invading Japanese forces.)

KFC street advertising in Suzhou

Our gluttonous, gourmet banquet in Zhujiajiao. I love Shanghai food - my mom makes it sometimes at home. My favourites are the Dongbo pork belly and the bamboo, but frankly, I love it all!

You can rent these boats to go up and down the canals.

Making pork belly wrapped in bamboo leaf.

Despite it being a bit touristy these days with souvenir shops, new cafés and art galleries, Zhujiajiao is still home to quite a few people.

You can see many more photos here.