'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

笑口棗 Fried sesame balls for Chinese New Year

As I write, it's New Year's Eve in Chinese calender, and soon we'll enter the year of the sheep. It's also the first time in five years that I'll spend the holiday in Hong Kong. Like Christmas, this is a time of homecoming when long separated family members reunite and gather round the parents' home. The customs vary in different parts of China, but it always involves 1. red packets (which I have received a couple) which are essentially pocket money from the elders to the young, and 2. lots of seasonal food.

Most of the food consumed in this time is made with rice, as the word for rice cake (年糕) rhymes with 年高 (a better/higher year). They come in many varieties and in Guangdong the three main varieties are radish, yam and cane sugar. Since these can be bought everywhere now even outside of China, I'm sharing another New Year's snack that is popular in Hong Kong: 笑口棗 which literally means 'laughing doughnuts'. Traditionally Cantonese families would fry crispy treats before the New Year to stock up their pantry for guests to nibble on. These doughnuts are essentially the same as a scone dough except that no dairy is used, and are fried as little balls coated with sesame seeds (rather than baked). The name 笑口棗 refers to the white interior which looks like a laughing mouth that puffs up after frying. To achieve this, the oil temperature mustn't be too hot or the protein on the surface of the dough will coagulate prematurely and the ball will not puff up in a 'laughing' manner. Who can resist crunchy fried doughnuts studded with sesame seeds? Forget the storebought versions that are as hard as a rock and taste of rancid oil and get frying!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Green tea ice cream... sort of!

Too sweet!
One of the nice things about living in Asia is easy access to green tea desserts. They have always been popular here in Hong Kong, but in the past few years vendors selling green tea soft serve ice cream have popped up everywhere in the city. You will see very long queues at these places paying pretty steep prices (US$5?) for a cone of green tea ice cream.

For a matcha addict like myself, it's nice to be able to slurp on matcha ice cream while hanging out, but they are invariably TOO sweet and rather stingy on the amount of matcha they put in. I want more green tea! (Well, some of my friends actually think they're matcha enough, but not for me!) Much better, then, to whip up your own icy matcha dessert! Since not everyone has an ice cream machine, I'm opting for a parfait which is in essence whipped egg yolks folded with whipped cream - similar to the Italian semifreddo. It is then frozen and usually sliced for serving. This frozen dessert is very popular in the UK and France but rarer in the US, where 'parfait' means some kind of layered dessert. This version as a pure, unadulterated matcha flavour unhindered by excessive sugar. It can be served as it is or as a component of plated desserts.

Friday, 30 January 2015

I'm back!

If any of you happen to still be following this blog, I sincerely apologise for the prolonged neglect... I know it's been donkey's years since I attended to the blog... but I had a excuse reason! Last year I was focusing on finishing my doctoral degree in music in Cincinnati, Ohio and I just had to cramp all my coursework and recital in that year. I still cooked a bit but somehow my mental focus just wasn't there to update the blog.

In July, I left Cincinnati after five years of study back to Hong Kong. I never expected to miss the place as much as I would, but above all it's the people I met there that I miss the most. Life has to go on, but the people and the events that I met and experienced in Cincinnati will always stay with me wherever I go.

Have you ever wondered why my blog is called 'Food Locker'? The profile picture you see is an actual locker at the university where I used to put baked goods for friends. I would text them if I'd baked something, and they would go fetch the sweets - yes, they did know the code!

My office as a teaching assistant... not focusing on my job!

My health hasn't been great, either. Ever since coming back to Hong Kong I have been almost constantly ill with some ongoing issues. BUT I decided it's time to for a fresh start and not to remain idle! Sorry to have missed your comments and messages for so long - I'm back!

My piano studio
The beautiful Greek Orthodox Church where I was organist

Monday, 22 July 2013

Tom Kha Gai, or Chicken soup with coconut milk and galangal 南薑椰汁雞湯

As home cooks, we tend to stay in our comfort zones and stick with the cuisines that we grew up eating. As a Chinese who spent almost half of my life in the West, I cook mostly Chinese food and bake western-style desserts, with occassional forays into French cooking. After all, the food of a people is like a language with its own distinct vocabulary that takes years to master. In this day and age, it's easy to pull out recipes of any cuisine in the world on the internet and try to cook up something 'ethnic'. But it takes years of living with the locals for a person to really know the food of a country different from his own.

I've always loved the food of southeast Asia with its kaleidoscopic melange of fresh herbs and spices. My grandma from my mother's side actually was born in Indonesia and my family always had a penchant for the spicy, aromatic cuisines of that part of the world. In Hong Kong, however, Thai food a lot more popular than Indonesian food. Most of the local Thai restaurants are not terribly authentic - they tone down the spices, the herbs and sourness for Cantonese people who like mild flavours. I've long stayed away from cooking Thai food since I felt that I don't have the necessary culinary experience and knowledge to cook genuine Thai food - until now!

I came across this cookbook by a Thai hairstylist called  阿泰 who has been living in Taiwan since 10. Even though he left Thailand at an early age, the flavours of his country stuck with him and he learnt to cook Thai food from his mother, who has sadly passed away. In fact, cooking Thai food has become something of an emotional therapy for him. It's a gem of a cookbook, with an index of common Thai ingredients and how to use them. The recipes range from familiar fair such as curry and tom yum kung to interesting dishes like raw shrimp in spicy fish sauce and sago meatballs. The book is in Chinese, and I would recommend anyone who likes Thai food to grab a copy.

Massaman chicken curry - first attempt at making my own curry paste!
I've made three dishes from the book so far: massaman chicken curry (see picture above), steamed fish with lime, chilli and garlic sauce, and this chicken soup with coconut milk and galangal which I'm sharing with you today. It's incredibly easy to cook so long as you can lay your hand on the ingredients. If you have a southeastern asian grocery nearby, chances are they'll carry them: galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass. One caveat: you really need to use fresh, rather than dried herbs! It summons up the fresh, herby, spicy mixtures of flavours that make Thai food so addictive.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Spaghetti with mussels

Recently I rediscovered how delectable mussels are, having forgotten about them for some time. I've been looking at recipes and looking for new ways of preparing them. I got another 2 kilos of them today but sadly they're not as plump as those I got last week - not that size is everything. Even though this batch of mussels wasn't the best, they were enough to satisfy my craving.

I stumbled upon a really simple recipe of spaghetti with mussels by the renowned English chef Nigel Slater, and I tried his recipe for dinner tonight. It's the sort of simple but rewarding dishes that should be a staple of home cooking. The flavour of the pasta comes from the liquor from cooking the mussels, but the brilliant use of chilli and fennel feeds make the flavours really exciting. The only change I would make to the recipe is to reduce the cooking liquor before incorporating into the pasta - you don't want your pasta to swim in a broth!

Nigel Slater's spaghetti with mussels

Serves 2 as a main dish

mussels - 1kg
white wine - 1 small glass
bay leaves - 2
whole black peppercorns - 6
spaghetti - 250g
garlic - 2 cloves
a hot, ripe chilli
fennel seed - a tsp
parsley - a few sprigs

Scrub the mussels and tug off their beards. Check thoroughly for any whose shells are chipped. Pour the wine into a deep saucepan, add the bay leaves and the peppercorns and bring to the boil.

Tip the mussels into the pan and cover with a lid. Leave for 3 or 4 minutes to steam until the mussels have opened. Take them off the heat and leave until cool enough to handle.

Cook the pasta in unsalted water - the mussel liquor will add plenty of saltiness. Remove the mussels from their shells, discard the shells but save a couple for decoration. Drain the cooking liquor through a very fine sieve, and reduce it in a saucepan until reduced by two-thirds.

Chop the parsley and the garlic.

Pour a little olive oil into a shallow pan. Add the chilli, the fennel seed and the garlic, cook briefly until fragrant then add the reserved cooking liquor and the mussels and warm through.

Drain the pasta as soon as it is ready, then toss together with the mussels along with a little of the cooking liquid. Add the parsley, some olive oil, check the seasoning and serve.