'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.'

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Brown butter chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies. That iconic cookie that is loved and raved about universally, and one that provokes the strongest personal responses and biases. Crisp vs chewy; giant vs dainty; nuts vs plain. A quick search on Google yielded 24,200,040 results which only shows how popular and divisive this humble cookie is! Every serious baker has got to have his own chocolate chip cookie recipe in his sleeves. Well, this is mine. I must qualify that statement because I always tweak the recipe slightly depending on what I have on hand - less nuts, no nuts, more chips, using a higher percentage of chocolate, etc. I suppose that's what makes this American cookie so endearing and endlessly creative - it's the fact that you can mix and match to suit your own taste.

With this in mind, this version sums up how I like my chocolate chip cookie: flat and crisp, with nuts, and loaded with the finest dark chocolate chips. I'm fully aware that in America, which is where this cookie originated, the majority of the people fancy the thick and chewy kind. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I've always found that underbaked chewy centre rather challenging. Most American versions also contain an astonishing amount of sugars (white and brown) to attain crispiness/chewiness. In fact, it's impossible to recreate the traditional American cookie texture if you cut down on the sugar.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Lemon chicken 西檸煎軟雞

We are all (or at least myself...) slaves of our habits, and I've been finding it extremely difficult to drag myself to go back to writing blog posts after a three-month absence! But here I am - the semester is drawing to a close and I'll try my best to dig up all the saved photos and recipes that I meant to post up ages ago. Thank you for checking for updates!

A few days ago the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away. It was a news that I had anticipated for a long time since her health had been on the decline for more than a decade, and yet when the news struck I was still shocked and saddened. Growing up in Hong Kong, many of us had a special fascination for all things British, and I remember that I went through a phase of Anglophilia in my teenage years. I held Margaret Thatcher in very high esteem and even read his memoir The Downing Street Years as a thirteen-year-old even though I hadn't the slightest clue about British politics!

 Even today, many Hong Kong people are still nostalgic about our colonial past. I dare say many of us wish the clock could tick back in time! It's common in human history to look at the past with somewhat misplaced nostalgia and think of the past as a bygone golden age. Such a tendency is even more pronounced when the current state of affairs is a cause for discontentment - which is the case with Hong Kong at the moment.

While the Brits aren't known for for their gastronomy, they had left an unmistakable stamp on the food culture of Hong Kong. Think of milk tea, custard tarts, and the fusion dishes that were created as a result of British influence on Cantonese cuisine. The dish that I'm preparing today, lemon chicken, is undoubtedly a product of Hong Kong's colonial melange of East meets West. Its name in Chinese, 西檸煎軟雞 'pan-fried succulent chicken with western lemon', clearly shows that it's a fusion dish. The Chinese didn't use fresh fruits in their savoury cooking traditionally, and the sauce for this dish usually contains Bird's custard powder, an unmistakably British product that lends a fluorescent yellow colour and a custardy flavour and consistency. It is the sort of sweet-and-sour flavour that Westerners love, and it's no surprise that it's a popular item in Chinese takeaways overseas - although I heard that orange (rather than lemon) chicken is the default version in the USA?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Würzburg, Germany

Sorry for abandoning my blog for more than three months! In the past three months I was focusing on my real major - piano - and was preparing for an international piano competition focusing on the works of J S Bach. Bach's music has been closest to my heart since my early childhood, so this was a challenge that was as pleasurable as it was challenging. Since I didn't have the foresight to start preparing sooner, in the past three months I had to spend all the spare time I had practising the pieces for the competition. The actual competition took place in March in Würzburg, central Germany in mid-March:

In the event, I got to the semi-finals. I was very nervous on stage and hardly played my best. In retrospect, even if I had played my best I doubt if the judges would have chosen me as a finalist. It turned out that they had rather dogmatic tastes and my style wouldn't be what they were seeking.

The former bishops's palace, opposite the music school

I hadn't heard of Würzburg prior to this competition, but it is a very beautiful city in Bavaria. Despite the devastating bombings in the Second World War, one could feel an unmistakable link to Germany's glorious cultural heritage.