Friday, October 27, 2006

Oven, smoven

I am either absolutely hopeless at baking or it’s my oven. I like to blame my oven.

In the spirit of fall (although it is summer weather out), I made pumpkin bars last week. I tried to follow the recipe to the letter. I have to admit that I’m notoriously bad at following instructions (stems from my repressed rebellion growing up in a Chinese family in small town Canada). But I did. The problem is when I asked the boy to pick me up cinnamon, the bought me cinnamon sticks.

Of course.

Trust a boy to buy sticks instead of ground cinnamon.

After a bit of elbow grease, I got some form of crushed cinnamon and the resultant “bar” turned out to taste more like moist, fallen banana bread with bits of cinnamon bark you had to spit out lest it becomes stuck in your teeth. However, shockingly, the boy loved it and ate more than half of the pan within 48 hours. (I suspect that its guilt for having bought cinnamon sticks) It was the first time he had ever liked anything I baked.

So, a friend came over yesterday and I thought I’d try the famous, highly rated chocolate chip pudding cookies. I halved the recipe and used oreo flavored pudding (hey, they said you could substitute!) but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.

What came out looked great and seemed nice and chewy but were in fact way too cakey. It wasn’t chewy, more airy and ‘puffy’ than the dense, chewy rich flavor I was looking for.

Stupid oven.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Macaron, macaroon, macaroni

Driven nearly mad with envy at The Girl Who Ate Everything’s description and ingestion of Macarons, I was determined not to be left out.

However, I still suffered a slight confusion of what a macaron was. The first thing I thought of was those deceptively light shredded coconut cookies drizzled or dipped in chocolate. However, what I saw others eating were more like light meringue type cookies with a ganache filling. So I wikipedia-ed both words: macaroon and macaron. Research done, I went ahead to fulfill my eating destiny.

Luckily for me, I live in a city which loves trends, especially those of the sweet nature, as evidenced through crazes of ‘light’ Japanese cheesecake, Portuguese egg tarts, not to mention the long queues at Beard Papa. Unluckily for my waistline, living in a district comprising of one of the most expensive retail space in Hong Kong, I have seen many a trendy food pass by within a short walking distance from my house.

Although the macaron trend has not been taken up with such mass enthusiasm, I was still lucky to get my paws on some at the new European style chocolate and cake shop in Sogo, Antique, and purchased two, one chocolate (bien sur!) and one earl grey (HK$10 each).

I decided to try the earl grey one first as I was afraid that the chocolate one would overwhelm my senses.

The small grayish white macaron was speckled with black and was crisp and yielding at the same time. The outside ‘shell’ was incredibly crisp giving way to a very light airy crumb with a delicious caramelly ganache. It was delicately perfumed with earl grey tea but did not overwhelm. It was delicious and I had to restrain myself from shoving the rest in my mouth at one go.

The chocolate one was similar in that it too had a crisp shell with a soft moist crumb giving way to a ganache of chocolate which was not as rich as it looked but still very sweet and tasty. It was good but I preferred the earl grey macaron by a large margin.


I want more!

The macarons very sweet but very delicate and although it was slightly small for my taste, but I enjoyed being able to try different flavors without becoming bored. Besides, two was absolutely perfect with a strong cup of tea.

You can find Ancient at Sogo in Causeway Bay, just under the escalator going up.

Monday, October 16, 2006

F-odd: fishy cheese

This is the first in my series of odd food, the aptly named F-odd (take that as you will).

At Muji, one of my favorite stores for foodstuffs of the crazy Japanese (insert a humorous shake of head here), I found a small packet in their promotional area.

Curious, I picked up what appeared to be small, perfectly square marshmallows.

Upon prodding, they seemed a little bit firm so I turned the packet over to discover that they were "Cheese & Cod Snack w/Black Pepper". If you don't believe me, here's the label.

<------ Although some of you might be thinking "Ewww, that sounds gross!". I obviously thought "Eww, that sounds gross....I'm going to eat it!" All in the sake of science, of course.
So I did. After careful selection and discarding all the ones I smooshed earlier in my curiousness, I selected a packet and took it home for testing in my specially designed lab aka kitchen.

Each piece was tiny. In fact, what you see on screen is probably close to actual size. It also appeared to be two wafer thin piece of dried cod fish sandwiching a 'filling' of cheese studded with black pepper. It smelled completely inoffensive but not like much at all.

I had a bite.

My first thought was "Ooh, you can really taste the black pepper". It was quite salty and dry (as you can see from the layery-ness of the photo). Not oozy or cheesey in texture nor in taste. In fact, it didn't taste cheesy or cod-y at all but it did have the warmth of the black pepper.

I shoved a piece into the boy's mouth before he could ask what it was.

His thoughts? "It would go nice with beer."

Although in his mind all foods go well with beer, I have to say he was spot on with this one. It is definitely one to go with a beer after work, just like those crazy Japanese men like to do! (those crazy Japanese......!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Zee wurst chips

Continuing onto my chip tastings, I came across Calbee 'Deutsche Wurst Wurzte Kartoffelchips' or as we like to call it, German Sausage Flavored Potato Chips.

The scene of German sausages accompanied by a dish of mustard, beer and a pretzel is designed to, I believe, inspire pangs of hunger and longing for foodstuffs of Germanic origin.

It wasn't especially attractive but I thought that the more subtle seeming packaging merited a tasting.

So, along with the bro and the boy, we opened up the package to find a very plain looking chip which was quite fragrant although none of us could place the seasonings used.

I for one liked the crispiness and the taste but the boy didn't like them much and the bro thought it was a bit too plain, like a cross between the curry and the bbq Calbee.

Verdict: no different and the pseudo sophistimacated packaging doesn't translate to the chip itself... and definitely no contest when placed next to a chip of a certain tangy tomato-ey flavor...

Monday, October 09, 2006

A whipp'n and a beet'n

Public Service Announcement: This is long and may be boring. Proceed with caution!

I was honored to have been invited by the illustrious Cha Xiu Bao to join him and his gang of friends of discerning palates to partake in a meal which was destined to be an ‘experience’. It was to be a private dinner at that place of non-ill repute, Kee Club, who, under normal circumstances, would turn up their nose and sniff at my complete unsuitability to enter into their nook of luxury.

Ok, enough drivel. I was really lucky to be asked by Cha Xiu Bao to join him and his friends for a dinner at Kee Club and decided to trot out the boy to celebrate one year of Sui Mai (which, by the way, is still lacking a logo… if any creative bodies out there is wondering what to get me for … well, any occasion really!) in September.

The chef, Gianluigi Bonelli is very well known and is famed for having worked at El Bulli and adopting some of the techniques and styles of the famous chef Ferran Adrià, who has transformed food as we see, smell, taste and eat it.

I figured this was the closest I would probably ever get to eating at El Bulli and was extremely excited (slight understatement).

The boy and I were on time if not slightly early. We had been lured by the faint possibility of a kitchen tour but it was not to be but this was only a slight disappointment in the anticipation of the food for the evening.

Now the food…

Please note that the names are not mine. I refuse to be blamed for other people’s abstract and cheesy oddness.

Interlude! (welcome from the Chef)

The unfortunate comparison at the table was of salt and pepper fried squid which you can buy by the crispy bagful at the local outdoor stalls for HKD$10 and the beet*, carrot and orange shot was also something which reminded me of drinks at the MIX.
But this was only the amuse guele so I wasn’t put off…

T&M Evolution 2006 (tomato & mozzarella)

The second course was a plat composee. It was a modern interpretation of salad caprese with chopped fresh tomatoes, tomato gazpacho, tomato foam with tempura capers, olive dust and a thin layer of tomato gelatin wrapped around mozzarella foam.

This is what I came for so I eagerly took up my spoon and tasted each little bit individually before putting everything together to put in my mouth. Individually, the tomatoes were nice, if not a little unremarkable, the tomato gazpacho didn’t have the strength or ‘pop’ of flavor I thought they would, the tempura capers were ok and the tomato foam was interesting but the taste wasn’t memorable, the olive dust was quite nice, salty but flavorful, the gelatin flavor was subtle and not bad but the mozzarella foam didn’t seem ‘foamy’ enough. My dining companions unfavorably compared it to whipped cottage cheese, which I had to agree with. It was interesting but not as spectacular or as memorable as we would have hoped. I did mention to another guest that I really expected the flavors to be very bright and vivid and was a bit disappointed that the presentation didn’t quite match up to taste.

06 H7@ (the sea in the memory)

This is dish which Chef Gianluigi Bonelli won an award for and which had been selected for a food exposition (or competition, I forget which…). It consisted of fresh scampi tail on ‘unreal’ shark’s fin made with seafood broth, with sauce of smoked eel and cold avocado mousse, beetroot* chips, tofu cubes, uni (sea urchin), peppers and mirin foam with paprika fingerprints. That’s a real mouthful for you!

What did it taste like, you ask? Well…shockingly, my scampy was mealy! I couldn’t believe it! It did not taste fresh at all! I turned to the boy to tell him when he told me his was perfect. I thus claimed the rest of his scampi tail and indeed it was. I was a little hesitant to comment when asked how it was but I thought the restaurant deserved to know if a supplier is cheating them (the boy will tell you how much I loath people cheating!) so I mentioned that my scampi was mealy and half the table chimed in with the same comment.

The unreal shark’s fin is made using (so the heavily accented but charming and attentive restaurant director told us) some type of gelatin which has limited distribution and sourced only from El Bulli. It tasted ok. Did not have the texture of real shark’s fin but was quite firm without being overly gelatinous. The smoked eel sauce I don’t remember too much of and the avocado mousse was very rich. In fact one of the guests commented that it was almost too strong and competed with the other flavors in the dish too much. The mirin foam in my opinion was the only ‘foam’ of the evening which held together well with enough froth to be a true foam. I enjoyed it but others commented again on the strong flavor. The uni was undoubtably fresh and the tofu tender.

06 The Sea & Co. (the sea in the memory)

The Sea & Co. consisted of caviar with tapioca, coconut, a whitish foam (which someone made the unshakeable comparison to mayo!) with small breadcrumbs accompanied by a sweet potato foam. This was ok and it was a nice play on textures with the caviar and the tapioca but nothing was particularly memorable and the emphasis that the restaurant director had on playing with the flavors of salty and sweet in the mouth didn’t come alive.

Palate Cleanser

In between this course and the next, was served a palate cleanser which was served in a type of plastic serum holder, with a bulbous end and a very thin spout. It was filled with a milky watery type liquid and the end had a tiny sliver of julienned lime.

Unfortunately due to its unusual appearance, it looked exactly what a science teacher would have used to demonstrate sperm. It tasted vaguely sweet and was what one of the guest identified as barley water. The lime was slightly crystallized with sugar.

06 Flour + Egg + Milk = Pasta!

This pasta, much to my surprise, was chosen to be one of the favorites of the meal. This was a serving of tagliatelle tossed with a light creamy type of sauce which was, as far as we could tell, seasoned with nutmeg, and a bit of vanilla. This was topped by a creamy centered soft boiled quail egg and corn mouse. The corn mousse was very flavorful and had notes of ginger and orange as well as the slight zing of Dijon. This was served with parmesan bread crumbs over the top. The boy loved this dish while I found it to be just ok. The flavors definitely worked together quite well, no doubt but not shockingly so.

06 Green Asparagus (texture/izato)

Dover sole, with a smear of taro mousse, overlaid with delicate thin strips of asparagus served with scampi foam, green pea mouse, almond mousse, almond dust and green pea chips. This was quite nice, with the fish just a touch over cooked and the almond mousse bringing out a slight buttery nuttiness to the fish and the asparagus. The taro mousse was nice but almost a little too creamy and rich for the dish and the green pea mousse didn’t have the intensity of flavor of the corn mousse. This was a nicely presented dish but again, something which could have been found elsewhere.

06 B-V-B! (beer-veal-beet)

Veal cheek on Spanish tortilla made with mash potato accompanied by beetroot* foam, flakes of concentrated horseradish and flour chips with a drop of beetroot* and red cabbage reduction.

Fabulous veal cheek, beetroot foam was again collapsed and tasted very soapy and sweet, flour chips were very bland and dusty tasting but the beetroot reduction powerful. However, by this time, the guests were getting a little tired with the use of the same ingredient, i.e. beetroot which made its appearance, rather aggressively due to its striking color, in a total of three dishes out of eight savory courses. I love beetroot but even then I thought that the chef could have used something a little different to spice up the flavoring.

Angus Beef

This course was a free addition by the charming restaurant director asked to be served and is one of his personal favorites. The Angus beef was served with Jerusalem artichoke mousse and chips. The beef was succulent and moist and the Jerusalem mousse dense and flavorful. The chips again tasted a little dusty although incredibly thin and shattered upon biting.

06 Basil & Coconut (tears of wine)

The first of our sweet courses, this was a basil crème brulee with coconut ice cream powder. This excited me quite a bit and I found it quite intriguing. The crème brulee was very nice, creamy and smooth but the ice cream powder was very interesting and looked and behaved like flakes while being cold and melting on the tongue.

06 After 8 (the 17th series) + Caviar and Fisherman!

This was a semi-solid chocolate mousse, vanilla mouse, peppermint gelatin and sugar mint flakes served with caviar. We were recommended to put a combination of everything in our mouths with the caviar bringing out the sweet intensity of the chocolate. The semi-solid chocolate mousse had a powdery texture on top I believe helped with the textural combination. Some of us liked the combo whereas others preferred it separated. I didn’t mind the combination but didn’t feel that I was getting the whole effect. This was a very nice dessert although the peppermint gelatin at the bottom tasted a little slimy and the mint sugar flakes were like candy and could have been thinner to melt upon contact with the tongue.

All in all I think the problem lies with myself. I had high expectations and it wasn’t matched. However, like one of the guests said, none of us had been to El Bulli and perhaps this is what the food is like. Perhaps we were thinking of a non-existant level of food combining. Or perhaps we were just jaded. Around the table the consensus seemed to be that the pasta was the best course. When I was asked, I honestly couldn’t answer. The Angus beef and the veal cheek were delicious, no doubt but it didn’t seem quite spectacular enough to make it “the best”. As the others agreed, other places could make delicious dishes out of these ingredients as well.

So the verdict? In the words of the boy, “I’d be happier if it cost 1/3rd less”. So while it was good food, it wasn’t spectacular and didn’t merit the glitz and glamour of the reputation and the premium paid.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Happy Mooncake Festival!

Last night we had the honor of eating once again at my second Aunt's house. Luckily, the focus was on the bro since he was visiting town. Comments made about his weight (he is very slim) and mine (I am not) as well as arguments about whether the chicken wing tip had more cholesterol than chicken feet dominated the evening. Yes, the usual family dinner type convo.

Going through the highlights of the ginormous meal was the excellent chilled, slightly seasoned bitter gourd...

the ubiquitous shark's fin...

delicious Chinese mushrooms with chestnuts...

the spicy, slightly charred, gorgeously tender and flavorful pork neck...

and many others...

The dessert, as is often the case, was the veritable icing on the cake.

We started small, with lovely glutinous rice dumplings in hot ginger syrup soup.

The small ones had no filling and the larger ones were filled with ginger flavored sugar which had melted during the warming process into a little explosion of sweetness.

Lovely, plump with a nice chewiness, they were delectable balls of handmade yumminess.

Then my Aunt brought out a big box. As you can see, it was a very large mooncake...

so large in fact that it contained...

wait for it... a whopping 18 salted egg yolks!!!

For those of you not in the know, the more egg yolks, the more expensive and valuable it is supposed to be.

Luckily my Aunt didn't want us to die of a heart attack at her table and only cut a corner out for us to try.

But what a corner!

I'm ashamed to admit it. As much as I don't think I like mooncake, I think I secretly do. It was absolutely delicious.

A close up shot for those of you unable (or unwilling) to share in Mid-Autumn festival eating....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ketchup chips from heaven...

The Bro (not boy) is back in town!

More exciting than this is.... he brought me Old Dutch Ketchup Chips*!


So after having endured red thumb and index finger on my right hand and red stains around me teeth after having gorged myself on a huge bag of them, I looked at the other two bags (yes, the bro loves me), and thought about hoarding them all to myself.

However, I happened to catch a glimpse of my crazed eyes and blissed out expression in the reflection of the window when I got distracted by the huge blight right in front of me! Horrified, I shrank back. Even more horrifically, it shrank back with me!

It was my belly.

So despite my greedy, hoarding tendencies, I decided to reward my lovely neighbors (who can cook!!!) with a bag of the tangy, thin, crispy goodies I knew they would love and trotted downstairs with a bag.

However, alas, they were not home. I momentarily believed it to be fate and that I was meant to eat the chips myself but I was held fast.

I was determined, after coming so far, that they had to have them.

So I decided to wedge it between their door and their metal gate. I had gotten it half way there when the bag exploded (being in the air pressurized plane *might* have something to do with it) in my face!

It was not to be! I sadly (kinda) took the bag upstairs and munched thoughtfully.

Maybe I was meant to have three bags all by myself?

But alas, I felt too much of the guilt weighing on me from consuming vast amounts of other people's cooking and forced myself to bring down a bag the following day.

It was worth it for the gratefulness a simple bag of chips inspired.

*For those of you who have not experienced the incredibly tastiness of ketchup chips (only the Old Dutch brand will do), get thee quick to Canada! The vibrant redness, the tangy, salty-sourish combo is strangely addictive. But for the curious among you, no, the boy does not like them.

(yes, yes, picture of bag of ketchuppy goodness to come)