'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.'

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Red-braised pork belly with watermelon and bamboo shoots 西瓜竹筍紅燒肉

I guess one of the reasons why China never turned Muslim (well, or Jewish :P) was that Chinese people are addicted to pork. It is by far the most consumed meat in Chinese cookery - in fact my mum almost cooks pork exclusively... really! Among the many Chinese pork dishes, 紅燒肉 or red-braised pork is among the heartiest and most common across different regions in China. It is the dish that a lot of Chinese people overseas would wax nostalgic about - the ultimate Chinese comfort food.

Red-braising refers to the technique of slow-simmering meat for a long period of time with soya sauce and sugar until the sauce has a reddish hue and a syrupy consistency. The meat should emerge tender and the fat deliciously melting. While this method of cooking could be found all across China, it is the speciality of the eastern regions of China, where food tends to be on the sweet side and their 紅燒肉 isn't as salty (thankfully) as those from other regions. This summer I saw an article in a newspaper in Hong Kong about how a chef came up with the idea of adding watermelon to 紅燒肉. Even though I'm open to outrageous sweet-salty dishes like Heston Blumenthal's bacon and egg ice cream, the addition of a fruit to so well-known a savoury dish made me rather sceptical. Anyway, my curiosity got the better of me and I tried to give it a go myself, and dare I say it was a resounding success. I cooked it for many sceptics and they were surprised that the watermelon blended so beautifully with the soya sauce. The fruit adds a mellow sweetness as well as an attractive reddish hue to the sauce. It is certainly not an authentic dish if one wants to be purist about it, but it works beautifully. Try and see if you are convinced.

Panna cotta

I love milk. This is quite unusual among Asians, many of whom are lactose intolerant. I have a Japanese friend called Hitomi who hates milk so much (even though she isn't lactose intolerant) that she has a phobia of any liquid that is white - soya milk, rice milk, cream, almond milk (even congee, so I am told). If I become lactose intolerant one day, food would lose half of its lustre for me. It actually has serious repercussions: it means no ice cream, no shortbread, no milk tea, no French pastry and of course no milk! How am I to live?

 The fat rises to the top over time because it hasn't been homogenised.
I was fortunate to have lived many years in England where you could find some of the best dairy in the world. The world-renowned Jersey cows produce 'gold-top' milk that is so sweet and 'true', along with some grassy notes which I absolutely adore. When I moved to Ohio, a friend told me that I could invest in a herd share for the lovely cows at Highland Haven Farm. For 25 dollars a month, I can get raw dairy from them every week - this means that the milk is unhomogenised and unpasteurised. Milk in its most natural state (well, except it is chilled...). My stomach did feel slightly funny the first fortnight I started consuming it, but since then I've had no problem digesting the stuff at all. Apparently the pasteurisation process that we find in commercial milk actually kills off a significant amount of good bacteria in the milk. Raw milk consumers argue that that raw milk preserves all the nutrients and pasteurisation actually does more harm than good. 

Cantonese congee 明火白粥

I've always felt that different colours in food often carry distinctive characters. For instance we tend to associate sunny, fiery flavours with red foods such as tomatos, peppers and chilli; we link deep, deeply savoury flavours with brownish, dark colours like soya sauce or a demi-glace. The most basic of these is perhaps white - the most virginal of colours and a lot of white food happen to be the fundamental ingredients of our diets, whether Asian or Western. I can think of rice and tofu in Asian food and dairy products in Caucasian diets. It is interesing that these ingredients are somewhat bland on their own, but it is their very blandness - or shall we say purity - that we return to for comfort every now and then. The very whiteness also carries with it a creaminess in texture, an unctuousness that coats the tongue gently and with warmth. It is a celebration of food in its most glorious simplicity.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Matcha green tea butter cake

As an Asian who has lived in the West for a long time, I have a soft spot for western desserts. As much as I like classic flavours like vanilla, chocolate, coffee and butter, I absolutely adore Asian-inspired western desserts. Most Asians are familiar with ice cream flavours like black sesame, red beans, or even tofu. In these East-meets-West creations, the texture is still western, but the flavour is unmistakably Asian. The one flavour that has really taken off in the West, however, has got to be matcha (Japanese green tea). Many westerns enjoy matcha ice cream (even Häagen-Dazs produces it!) as much as coffee or vanilla ice cream, and desserts like matcha biscuits, matcha crème brûlée, and matcha opera cake are popping up everywhere.

Apart from the appealing colour it lends to desserts, matcha is full of healthy antioxidants and helps balance excessive acidity in our diets. However, I find most matcha-flavoured desserts created by western recipe writers way too light-handed - kind of like how Asian recipe writers tend to be unforgivably stingy with the amounts of chocolate they use in chocolate desserts. I suppose something like matcha or chocolate has to be in your culture for a long time for a people to be brought up with it and therefore appreciate the assertive flavours that may seem overwhelming at first.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Food blogging and flourless chocolate torte

I'm a bit apprehensive writing this first post. Even though I love food and give it a lot of thought every day, it's something else when you have to write about it, let alone starting a blog! However, the idea of starting a blog to document (as it were) what I cook and bake has been germinating in my mind for some time. Since there's no better time to embark on it than now, I'm sharing a flourless chocolate torte recipe as the first post of my blog.

For those who know me, I'm a shameless chocoholic. I love chocolate in all its myriad forms - chocolate bar, truffles, ice cream, mousse, cake, hot chocolate - so long as it is made with a good high-percentage chocolate, rather than the milky stuff known to most people as 'chocolate'. I'm kind of a loner among my friends in this respect since most of them find real chocolate too bitter - and in some cases even too acidic. I've therefore secretly made a list in my head dividing my friends into for and against-chocolate camps so that I know who to share my chocolate creations with! lol

Compared to fancy desserts like a frosted chocolate layer cake or chocolate cookies, a flourless chocolate torte showcases the qualities that make chocolate a 'food of the Gods': the voluptuously melting mouth-feel, the earthy aromas, and the indefinably enticing flavours. The plurals here are important I think, since we are blessed with so many fine chooclates from so many chocolatiers worldwide, and each chocolate bar has its own distinct flavours and aromas that there's really no such thing as a 'common chocolate taste'. Mass-produced chocolates of course do have a flat, familiar flavour that most people associate with chocolate, but there's just so much more to the humble cocoa bean!

In something as 'basic' as a chocolate torte, there's not much to mask the flavours of a high-quality chocolate that you have chosen. Most recipes call for chocolate (a hefty amount, of course), eggs, butter and sugar. That's it. For my version, I have also included some espresso to complement the flavour (chocolate and coffee have synergistic powers!) as well as some whipped cream to keep the cake moist. I learnt this secret to a moist flourless chocolate torte from Shirley Corriher's Bakewise: apparently the milk solids in cream partially interfere with the setting of the batter and therefore the torte would end up moister. I've also kept sugar to a minimum so that all you taste is the unadulterated taste of pure chocolate. There's no butter in this recipe so it's relatively low-fat. Strictly for chocolate lovers!