'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.'

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!

I added a copious amount of parsley...

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Cocoa chiffon cake

I've been making quite a lot of cakes lately. Soft, billowy sponge cakes are the perfect snack to nibble on in summer. Even though the actual process of making cakes requires more work than cookies, at the end of the day you are just responsible for making one 'thing'. For some reason I find the whole process of dividing up a cookie dough into individual cookies strangely tiring, so I tend to shy away from making cookies unless I have an insatiable craving or upon my friends' request.

Chiffon cakes, in particular, are a cinch to make. True, you have to whip up the egg whites, but so long as you make sure your bowl and beaters are clean and use a bit of cream of tartar to stabilise the meringue, it's almost fail-proof. It's much easier than génoise and what I love about it is that it is fantastic served on its own. You can of course glaze it but it's entirely optional.

Chocolate is my favourite flavour of all and here's my rendition of it in the form of a chiffon cake. It's essentially 'basic' - it uses only cocoa powder so it's light enough for people who aren't crazy about chocolate (and trust me, there're more out there than you think!).

Monday, 27 May 2013

Mussel risotto

A friend of mine was kind enough to take me to the local Findlay Market a few days ago, and I seized the opportunity to buy some fresh and plump mussels from the fishmonger there. I've always loved mussels - I can't get enough of their marine aromas, their juiciness and the ease with which one can reasonably cook up a good mussel dish. They're much easier to clean than, say, clams, too. (They didn't used to be, apparently!)

I used about half of the mussels I bought to cook in a Thai-style stew which turned out really well. I cooked them like moules à la marinière except the flavourings were Thai: coconut milk, red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lime juice. They turned out remarkably well although I improvised the dish:

I was rather encouraged by my little success with these little molluscs, and I wanted to cook something I'm a little unfamiliar with. I flipped through my cookbooks and came across a recipe of mussel risotto by Simon Hopkinson. I tried to think when was the last time I made a risotto, and I quivered when it struck me that it was 9 years ago, back in my undergrad! I still remember it was a pumpkin and bacon risotto I cooked back then. While I still remember the basics of cooking a risotto, I'm hardly experienced with cooking this ubiquitous staple of northern Italy.

Thankfully, Simon's recipe rarely fails, and I was rewarded with a glorious dish beaming with flavours of the sea. It was so sensational that I was almost in disbelief when I had my first bite. It was a beautiful amalgamation of al dente rice grains, plump mussels, acidic white wine and tomatoes, all spiced up by subtle garlic and parsley, and the final addition of butter binds everything together in a homogeneous mass of deliciousness.

I must confess that used one tomato instead of two because I'm not too keen on them, and I also needed more stock than Simon's recipe suggested. My only serious qualm about the recipe, however, is that the portion seems to feed one, rather than two, people (which Simon reckoned would serve). I adjusted the amounts slightly, but here is the recipe word by word from Simon's incomparable Second Helpings of Roast Chicken.