Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My little adventure in Paris

Studying in Le Cordon Bleu Paris is unquestionably one of the best and craziest experiences I've ever had and dreamt to have! I have completed my course and returned home. I miss school and Paris terribly now! 

In Paris, I gobbled up huge chunks of cheese as if I were eating slices of apples, consumed enough sugar to give me diabetes but still managed to lose some pounds because of the intense walking and whisking of 500ml of cream and 8 egg whites by hand every other day. Also climbed over balconies just to make it to school on time! Of course, I also got a little overenthusiastic and practised French whenever possible, so befriended fruit vendors, fishmongers, wine sellers and random strangers!

For the first time, I did not feel like a tourist in another country. I really was living in Paris! Did I visit La Tour Eiffel? Well, not exactly but I passed by it. Did I visit Michelin restaurants? No, but I ate at amazing bistros and cooked for myself with the freshest ingredients straight from the open market just 5 min walk from home and the Bastille market. Did I line up to buy Chanel bags? No, because I did't have the money. I was already the happiest and proudest fellow on the street carrying big bags of fruits, veggies, seafood, meat and baking ingredients and utensils! Did I get the best view of the fireworks on 14 July at the Parc du Champs de Mars? No, but I did go to my French neighbor's party and together we ate, drank and watched the fireworks on his terrace from afar, donc, c'est pas mal (not bad)!

Oh, and for those who always have the impression that Paris is a city of love- Did I fall in love with a romantic French man? No. I just got flirted at on the train, at the information centre, at the open market and randomly outside Hotel de Ville while I was sitting on the edge of the flowerbed looking clumsy searching for my phone in my super big bag. Sorry to disappoint. 

Of course, there're also many times when staying in Paris and studying in LCB weren't that glamorous. Every day I spent substantial amount of time doing household chores. I had to cook, clean the stove, clean the sink and dishes, clean the bathtub, wash and iron the endless pieces of uniform to get rid of the butter stains, chocolate stains and egg wash etc. Getting a French phone with Internet access was a pain. Long lines easily taking you an hour of waiting, if you're lucky. It wasn't easy but I was happy. I felt joy living alone, felt life was meaningful in LCB and felt free getting lost and wandering aimlessly along the old, beautiful cobblestone streets in Paris.

Before I headed off, many were happy to discuss why this might not and should not work, threw at me countless hypothetical problematic situations and tried to talk me out of going to the seemingly chaotic Paris by myself. They did this out of good intention and genuine concern for me, but sometimes they just didn't know what we're capable of. In face of the negative rush of opinions, I was lucky to have my sister, Warren and Kevin who told me I could do it and gave me an essential boost of self-confidence.

Apparently, reading John Wood's Leaving Microsoft to Change the World before packing was a wise move. Very relevant, hugely inspiring and also strongly encouraging. "If there is something you want to do, do not focus on the obstacles. Do not ask for permission. Just dive in. Don't let the naysayers get you down."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lunch on the Seine- Day 6 at LCB

No Demo or practical class this day. LCB kindly prepared for us a combination of haute cuisine and sightseeing with this Welcome Lunch on the Seine. The food was average, but overall the experience was very pleasant. Great opportunity for us to mingle with other students who are studying Intensive Basic Cuisine. #

As you see from the picture, a substantial portion of students are Asians, but there are also many from the States, Canada, Mexico, the Middle East and other parts of Europe. Quite a nice mix of people from very different faculties and with very different aspirations.

One of my favorite chefs, Chef Pascal Quere joined us for lunch. I dare not say heś my favorite after all we are just half way through the course. But am sure heś making it to the Top 3 in the end.

He is responsible for many of the Demo classes, and sometimes supervise us in our practicals. He is by nature, not a very patient man, and he looks really pissed all the time! But he knows how to control his temper and tries very hard to keep his cool and even stay humorous even when in face of our very silly questions or mistakes and inefficiency.

He is gentle and helpful. When we mess up, he never shouts. Instead he quickly comes to our rescue and later explain to us what has gone wrong. Seeing how stressful and nervous we got during our practical, at the end, he took some time to give us a short but memorable speech. He said to us that pastry is a tough profession. We have good days and the bad. But we always have to take pleasure in what we are doing. We have to think of the person we are making pastries for and we have to really enjoy the process, otherwise the pastry will not come out right and we will of course suffer. We do not do things for the Chef, we do things for ourselves. It is ourselves to whom we are accountable.

This really made me reflect upon my attitude towards the pastry classes. I often thought I was more of a savory person, spent more time experimenting on savory dishes but failed to adopt the same inquisitive attitude in pastry-making. Having already gone through half of the course, I really appreciate pastry now. I have so much fun kneading and whisking, and decorating. Even when I completely messed up one of my cakes (Dacquoise, in later post), I managed to stay cool, stay cheerful and tried my very best to remedy the situation. Chef Pascalś words stay in my heart.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Saint-Honoré- Day 5 at LCB

In this Demo class, Chef Cote made Paris Brest and Saint-Honoré. These two extremely popular and beautiful French sweets are basically puff pastries  sandwiching a massive hill of cream. I am not exaggerating, that blob of cream can be intimidating. No doubt it is perfect and irresistible to look at, but I don´t think many people in Hong Kong, a city that relatively appreciates thinness, will be able to stand eating the whole thing without secretly scrapping off part of the cream.

Like many other Hong Kong people, I have never been a fan of cream. I often try my best to avoid it. When I eat cakes, I only eat the sponge cake layer and scrap off the cream with the back of my fork. Whenever I order ice-cream, I often make the request to skip the cream. But this Saint Honore opened my eyes and woke my taste buds. The chantilly cream we made and whisked by hand for a whole 10-15 minutes, was super light, fluffy and just taste sooooo good. Our hard work really paid off. If I were at home, I would have simply used an electronic mixer. If I were to whisk that 500ml of cream by hand at home, I would have given up in just 1 minutes. So I guess sometimes I really need some people to push me, only then will I realize my own potential.

The Practical class was super intense. The Chef assigned to supervise us this time is well-known for being strict. He is nice though, I like him. But his voice was the background music, rapping out strings of instructions with a cute French accent like ´Clean your station!´, ´What is this paper towel doing here?! It is like a market here!´, ´Allez, Allez! Quick, Quick, Quick!´, ´I want to see all the baking sheets on this rack in 2 minutes!´. 

This can be quite stressful I can assure you, especially when you already have super many things to do, including checking your cooking and easily-burning caramel every now and then, but you still have to clean the station and walk all the way to the other end of the room to line up and wash your gear. BUT, looking back, I understand how important it is to develop the habit of regularly cleaning and keeping the station clear of garbages and idle utensils. As the Chef always says, this is for our own good. This is afterall to protect us from accidents and em... undesirable inefficiency.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tarte aux Pomme- Days 3 and 4 at LCB

I was quite excited about the classes because we're doing the classic French apple tart,  Tarte aux Pommes, for our practical (hands-on) class! As I peeked through the windows of the pastry shops, the beautiful presentation of the French apple tart never failed to impress me. I always wondered how the apples could be so thinly sliced and so delicately and strategically placed such that the tarte surface would end up in the shape of a rose! Too much skill and effort required so I never attempted making one myself.

During the demo, Chef Pascal made it look so easy to do. He could slice apples at a lightning speed and all of regular thinness. He laid them out at ease, stacked them till they look too tall and fragile and prone to become, but not quite yet the Pisa Tower.

Along with Tarte aux Pommes, the Chef also demonstrated the Tarte Normande and Tarte Tatin. Yay, I finally know the difference between the first two! Apparently, Tarte Normande involves the use of cream, eggs and sugar to form a custard filling, whereas Tarte aux Pommes only has butter-cooked apples inside. We were so lucky that the Chef assigned to supervise us on our practical class is super nice and helpful, making an otherwise frustrating, chaotic and hurried situation quite fun and great for learning. He looks a bit like Santa Claus, missing the moustache though.

The practical class this time was slightly more stressful than the last one, after all the tarte requires more time and effort. So the time was quite pressing, especially when you were not at all familiar with the practical classroom, we beginners often had to run to the ends of the classrooms to get the baking sheet, and then another end for the cooling rack, and around around the classroom opening drawers to see if there were still any rolling pins left. In addition, it was my first time using the core remover and a peeler to peel the apple (I usually use a knife), it took me some time to adapt and try not to cut myself. Anyhow, it was fun. My tarte turned out ṕas mal´, meaning not bad, but when you look closely at mine, there really aren as many layers of apples as that of the Chef. So, still have a long way to go, got to practice slicing the apples now!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Diamants- Le Cordon Bleu Days 2 and 3

My second day at LCB started out with 2 demo classes by Chef Cott. The Chef is very patient, fun-loving, and loves to joke around. On one of the demo classes, the Chef made classic French cookies, including diamants and lunettes that are shaped like eye glasses.  For those who have been baking, this class does not seem to be particularly impressive or fancy BUT wait till you witness how quickly and organized the Chef works. 

In as short as 2 hours, the Chef managed to make over 15 dozens of cookies of around 10 different styles. Super quick. This also means that it is extremely difficult for us students to follow. For a moment, the Chef is making the dough for cookie A, and then in another second heś cutting out shapes for cookie B. Whatś worse, the school only provides us a list of ingredients but not the instructions, so we have to watch and listen to the Chef intently, jot down everything we need to do and bring for our practical class in the afternoon or on the next day. One thing I really like about Chef Cott, is that he often smiles at us mischievously and asks in a squeeky voice ´Do you want a little surprise?´ and of course expects us to say Óui, Chef!´. Then he will always happily show us extra techniques or interesting shapes or things that we have never thought of doing with a dough!

Finally our turn to bake on Day 3. Chef Patrick was there to supervise us this time. Very good-looking and well-built French man. Heś a cuisine chef, not specialized in patisserie but I guess diamants are so basic that every chef here knows the recipe by heart.

So, first things first. In the practical classroom, itś war. No time to sweet talk. Once we enter the classroom, we have to get all our equipment out and place everything in a steel tray to keep the station neat. Then we start weighing the ingredients, getting our hands dirty, running across the rooms to get the baking sheets and cooling racks, and of course, getting lost in a new environment just to find sugar.

We learnt the technique of sablage, mixing in the butter with flour. As the Chef has taught us, itś like ćounting money´. Then we use the heels of our hands to push the dough to make sure everything is properly incorporated. When the Chef says something to us, 80% in French, he always ends with a ´dáccord?´ meaning ´understood?' and no matter if you understand it or not, we always have to reply Óui, Chef!' immediately to show respect and acknowledgement of the instructions.

My first practical class went pretty well. My diamants were well baked, cute and with the sugar around the edge, they do shine like diamonds! No wonder they give it the name diamants- diamonds!

By the way, if you know me well enough, you should know Iḿ more into cuisine/ savory food more. I have been cooking quite a lot of savory food here in my little Paris appartment (living with host) and walking around different fascinating open markets here. Will update you on my life outside LCB too soon.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Le Cordon Bleu Day 1

Hello all! Sorry about not writing for the past few weeks. I was having a great time in Germany, eating sausages, sauerkraust, pork knuckle and drinking beer!

Now in Paris, at the mini computer room at Le Cordon Bleu. I have enrolled into the Basic Patisserie Course and today is my first class. Classmates from all over the world! So exciting!

Todayś class is mainly on introduction, going through school rules, handing over to us our uniforms (jacket, pants, apron and hat) and the impressive set of equipments and of course, taking us a tour around the campus.

Bearing such a big name, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris is unexpectedly petit. Cramped all the time. Locker area- disastrous. Jardin d´hiver (Winter Garden) is pretty, presents tasty-looking gateaux and tartes, but cramped again. The practical rooms- a battlefield. The moment I got into one, where the Superior Patisserie students were working, I could only hear super intense whippings. Whippings of eggs or cream. Nope, not with those helpful, luxurious machines, but by the most simple em whips, quite a lot of hard work and sweat there. The students were also super quick and extremely concentrated with their weighing of sugar and flour etc. Not one of them had the time to look up and acknowledge the presence of us, a group of 15.

This undoubtedly reminds me of the first day of law school, just that it appears to be 10 times more intense. But, I know this is what I want. I want to receive the best, the most professional patisserie training and simply get stuck in the kitchen with people who are just as passionate about food and cooking as me.

Will think of a way to upload photos here later.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Shanghainese Broad Bean Mash 豆瓣酥

Broad Bean Mash may not look the most delectable, but it is one of the richest, most scrumptious and satisfying cold appetizers you may find on a Shanghainese menu. Good news for those who are not into cold appetizers, this dish may be served hot as well!

Unfortunately, not many restaurants in Hong Kong serve this dish. I don't understand this because unlike the yellow mung bean bricks which I have introduced to you in the previous post, broad bean mash is not at all difficult or time-consuming to make! So, I decided to experiment and reproduce this family-favorite.

Let me warn you in advance. Spoon after spoon, you can easily finish a whole pack of broad beans and still feel like you haven't had enough. But do try to restrain yourself from over-eating this because soon after 5 minutes, the bloating will sink in and hit you and cause great straining at waist! ARGHH!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Yellow Mung Bean Bricks 豌豆黃

These delicate yellow bricks, born humble, accidentally made their way up to the royal lips one day in the Qing Dynasty a hundred years ago.

Given the very specific timing, I am regrettably unable to start my story with our familiar "Once upon a time", but I can assure you that this story has our usual happy ending. So, one evening, Empress Dowager Ci Xi was enjoying some peace and quiet when suddenly loud, repeated sounds of the gong hit in outside the thick walls of the palace. The disturbance brought a frown to Ci Xi's thin, moon-shaped brows, so before questioned, her trusted servant quickly explained that it was the sound made by a peasant selling treats. Ci Xi then summoned the peasant, who frantically offered her a bite of the little mung bean bricks he made for a living. Just one bite, Ci Xi was utterly impressed and made the peasant the dessert chef of the Imperial Kitchen. These delicate yellow bricks since then became Ci Xi's particular favourite. 

Now, you may be wondering- what is so magical about this little mung bean brick that managed to please the woman who was the most difficult to please?! These yellow bricks are sweet and refreshing. Delicate and light, but unlike jellies, there is this fine graininess that gives the dessert a bit of body and form this smooth, silky texture that just melts and silently slips away like sand when pressed against your tongue.

This imperial dessert is widely available in Beijing. You can find them in almost all Chinese eateries, both cheap and expensive. Unfortunately, it it not so in Hong Kong. My family and I all loveeeeee this dessert and we had experienced numerous counts of disappointment over the menus before its absence eventually became a matter of fact to us. So, my success in making these yellow mung bean bricks is the most recent big thing in the house! 

Now I understand why these adorable bricks are not widely available- it takes so so sooooo much time to get them to the table! Soaking the beans requires 4 hours, simmering the beans requires almost an hour, and freezing the bricks requires another hour! BUT, the actual cooking time that requires you to actively work in the kitchen is in fact, quite little! I think around 30 minutes will do. So, have fun turning your kitchen imperial!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Classic English Scones

I love tea time! When I was in kindergarten, one of my favorite moments was to open my Minnie Mouse snack box which my mom packed for me every morning. I always knew there would be those pretty sugary belly-button biscuits, chocolate-coated Digestives and bite-sized sausages, but my anticipation for tea time never ceased. I know they are nothing fancy, but that was tea time and I was happy.

Now in Hong Kong, afternoon tea sets can get quite lavish and sumptuous and having tea seems lofty and regal. But I really do not think tea time is exclusive to rich taitais, rich married ladies who do not have to work and sip their Early Grey tea well-mannerly with their pinkies up in the air. Instead, tea time can be simple, can be something enjoyed by everyone and form part of a child's fondest memories. 

Why pay a hundred dollars to restaurants when one can make scones that are just as amazing but more fresh at only HK$3 each in 30 minutes?!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Jamie Oliver's Sicilian Prawn Pasta

I respect Jamie Oliver. He is creative and adventurous with food, travels to seek inspirations. He cares about people's health, started the Food Revolution to combat the serious trend of obesity in America yet faced numerous setbacks and criticisms from children who were only introduced to and used to fast foods and school caterers who recklessly believed that they had already fulfilled their obligation for promoting healthy-eating simply by including fries (reason: potatoes are vegetables) in the children's meal plans. Each year, Jamie also hires and trains young ex-cons and drop-outs at his restaurant Fifteen to help them see their own value and better integrate them into society.

So many reasons to like Jamie. He understands home-cooks like us too. Work nowadays makes home-cooking almost impossible or a luxury. When work becomes hard, it is especially important for you to eat healthy, stay healthy, and please yourself with delicious food instead of oily takeaways or pre-packed microwavable pizza with pathetically little toppings or rice that stick together and can only be broken down by a fork.

This recipe is taken from Jamie's 15-minute meal. With break-neck chopping skills and cool kitchen gadgets, Jamie can easily whip up this pasta dish AND a lemon fennel salad in well under 15 minutes. I am not a particularly fast cook, but hey, in just 15 minutes I can make this pasta too! So do try this if you are pressed with time!

This generously spiced Sicilian prawn pasta is extremely cool. Saffron and cinnamon adds to this dish the aromatic arabic twist. I quite like saffron but I can foresee that not everyone will like its taste, so do give it a try before adding it to the dish. The one element that gives this ordinary pasta the WOW effect is the crunchy garlicky breadcrumbs! They completely elevate the taste and mouth-feel of a regular pasta in tomato sauce, and transform the pasta into something much more fun, interesting and even addictive! I seriously cannot help adding more and more of the breadcrumbs into my pasta as I eat it, I even grab handfuls of them and eat them like peanuts while watching TV. I can already see how versatile these crunchy breadcrumbs can be, suitable for many other pastas including mac & cheese.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Shanghainese Wonton 上海雲吞

This is a recipe passed down to me from my Shanghainese grandmother. Every year when I visit her in the San Francisco Bay area, she welcomes me with wontons. No matter what time I arrive, say, past midnight, she still cooks for me around 20 wontons. That is honestly too much, but knowing how much love and effort she has put in making them for me, and being a traditional Chinese who has been taught to place filial piety above everything else, I have to finish all the food placed in the bowl in front of me. 

My grandmother is proud of her wontons. She adds shrimps to hers. But I usually skip the shrimps because it is really time-consuming to wash, dry, remove the shell and pick out of the shrimps their intestines. Either way, the wontons still taste awesome. 

On certain days, my grandmother has to mass produce these pretty parcels for lunch with her mahjong friends. My mother and I, along with my grandmother's helpers, then help out under the direction and supervision of my grandmother. Making wontons is so calming and satisfying that it is almost therapeutic. It is, I must say, a great family activity too! I have tried my best to draw for you the steps to wrap these pretty parcels. Hope this helps and don't laugh! ;p

We call these little parcels "nurse's caps". The Shanghainese wonton wrappings are slightly different from those of Guangdong wontons. The Shanghainese ones are milk in colour and trapezium in shape. So make sure you buy the right ones for this recipe!

My grandmother only boils the wontons and serves them in chicken broth as in the picture below. For a naughtier and crispier version, which is greatly endorsed by my mother, you may pan-fry them and serve them with Zhejiang vinegar. They are sooo good, I eat them for breakfast, for lunch and even for dinner! So, enjoy!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Homemade Linguine with Mushroom, Thyme and Lemon

When I look at my newly-bought pasta machine, I can't help smiling like a proud Wall Street banker who has just nailed a great deal. I'm serious, I still think it's one of the best kitchen investments I've ever made! It has made life much easier for me, especially when my life now pretty much circles around pasta-making from scratch. 

Aren't they pretty? Hm, sometimes I really wonder if I actually think they're pretty just because I made them. But look! Delicate and highlighted with fine sand-like semolina, the unintended twists and curls are just like gentle waves stretching across the moon-lit ocean. 

Linguine is spaghetti squashed flat, best served with light vegetable sauces. Introduced to this pasta dish through the beautiful Nigella Lawson's cooking show a few years ago, I've been making this since then whenever I want a tasty meal real quick. Really, there's nothing to cook apart from the pasta! The mushrooms are served fresh. 

You know this pasta recipe is a keeper just by looking at the genius polygamy of mushroom, thyme and lemon. Like tomato and basil, mushroom and thyme, and thyme and lemon are best friends matched by heaven. So nothing can go wrong here. Perfect timing for me to share with you a little trick I recently learnt from Jamie Oliver on his 30-minute meals series. Before you pick the thyme leaves off the sprigs, wake them up by dipping them in hot water. It takes less than a second but you can immediately smell the thyme then. So good.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin soup is the ultimate comfort food. It is rainy and bleak now in Hong Kong, and like sunshine, this soup is exactly what it takes to warm you up and drive away the gloominess.

I found that making creamy soup is not just about putting everything together in the blender. The trick required to turn an ordinary creamy soup into one that is truly fantastic, is to roast the ingredients beforehand. Roasting caramelizes and wakes up the inherent flavors of the ingredients to their max while adding to them a subtle nutty flavor. So next time you make your creamy soup, be it tomato or asparagus, roast them first and you'll definately push your soup to a whole new level!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Homemade Farfalle

When people tell you that making your own pasta is extremely satisfying and no rocket science, believe them. I can verify this. For every 100g of flour, you just need 1 egg and a pinch of salt. There's really nothing more to remember!

But when these people, especially the Italian nonne, tell you that it's real quick and easy peasy, don't blindly believe them like I did. Well, actually you can! If you have a pasta machine, it's quick and easy. Without it, it's not the end of the world, but it will require a lot more effort. I will tell you what happened to me without a pasta machine in just a minute.

My recent pasta-making frenzy was actually provoked by a TV programme, Simply Italian, presented by a gorgeous, young Welsh-Italian, Michela Chiappa. In just 4 short episodes, she demonstrates how to cook the Italian way. From pastas of different shapes and colors, to delicious sauces and outstanding fillings, she never fails to impress! Unlike my beloved professionally-trained Little Paris Kitchen goddess, Rachel Khoo, Michela is not chained to the stove at all. Instead, she's a full-time marketing consultant. But thanks to her Italian upbringing, her family has been making pasta for generations and she's been taught all there is to know to cook and eat just like Italians.

After watching the show, I felt the urge to make my own pasta again. Since I was told by MIchela how easy and quick everything could be, I decided to go big and mass produce both green-hinted and orange farfalle and ravioli. At that time, I had absolutely no idea how ridiculously ambitious I was to have planned to accomplish all these without the help of a pasta machine! 

So on and on I kneaded and rolled, tried so hard to flatten the dough which just by nature, loves to retreat and shrink back into their original size and thickness. Phew, when I finally managed to roll them thin and nice, bits of it somehow stuck to the station and I had to stretch and carefully pull it off the table, and rarely would I not tore it apart or rip some holes out of it. This is absolutely normal and still fun if you're making pasta portions enough for two people. But bear in mind that I was mass producing both farfalle and very thin ravioli, of different colors too! So without a pasta machine, it took me around 5 hours of rolling, cutting and shaping in total. I was completely exhausted, with sore arms and shoulders I walked to my bed like a zombie at 9:30p.m. And in just a day, I dropped 2 pounds. 

Please don't get me wrong, I am not writing this to discourage you to make your own pasta. I am in fact encouraging you to do so while sparing you from any unnecessary pain and sweat! In short, if you don't have a pasta machine, it's fine, but be realistic and make limited portions of thicker pasta like fettuccine, as opposed to ravioli sheets that have to be really thin to be tasty. However, if possible, please buy a pasta machine! It's seriously one of the best kitchen investments I've ever made! It's not expensive, and I bought it from Pantry Magic in Hong Kong. Now, I can easily mass produce pastas of different sizes and shapes from scratch in just half an hour! You can now tell that there will be many posts on pastas up soon.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

Lately I've been making a lot a lot of pasta, of different shapes and colors. But before I bombard you with those posts, I'm sharing with you my little experiment on this quick, scrumptious and flavorful snack (for me, breakfast). Baked sweet potatoes wedges. Oh yes, they are flavorful, they are sweet and salty, sharp and hot!

I did not create this recipe. Credits to the Anthropologist in the Kitchen- Zhuang Zu Yi. Zhuang wrote a book The Anthropologist in the Kitchen (in Chinese) on her culinary experiences in the Massachusetts Cambridge Culinary School and a fancy hotel in Hong Kong after quitting her PhD study in Anthropology to pursue her passion in cooking. Ever since I read her book a few years back, I have become a fan of hers. Okok, I admit, I am a fan of a handful. First Jamie Oliver, then Rachel Khoo, now Zhuang and a few more coming. But they're all very special, creative and live in their kitchens.

Ok now, back to the sweet potatoes. Zhuang shared this recipe on her blog. She suggested adding honey, orange juice, salt and pepper and some chilli powder. At first I was quite skeptical about the sweet-sour-spicy combination. For me, it's either sweet and sour, sour and hot, or even sweet and hot, but just not that trio! Right? 

So putting on this geeky hat, I decided to do a little experiment. I made 4 batches of wedges, a batch of each combination. My conclusion is that the sweetness from the honey and the citrusy twang from the orange juice are a heavenly match. Also, baking them together caramelizes the sweet potatoes, yummy! So, each of them is indispensable. Whereas, the chili powder, it's a "nice-to-have", gives the wedges a little kick, but not necessary. Unless spiciness is your thing, I would suggest you to skip it and let the sweet and tangy caramel take the stage all to themselves and melt in your mouth.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad

This salad stack makes an amazing appetizer. Great colour combination, just looking at it makes one happy, refreshed and the excitement over it can sustain throughout the rest of the meal. I do think that only by layering the ingredients elegantly like this can do this salad justice. But, not having a cylindrical mold/ cookie cutter should not be an excuse to not recreate this beauty at home. You can always have this salad layered in short tumbler glasses or even martini glasses. Really, whatever works!

Another reason I urge you to try this out has to do with its fantastic taste and fulfilling mouth feel. First, the avocado gives to this salad the mild nutty flavour and makes a rich and creamy versatile base that is neither heavy nor greasy. The salad is then elevated by the tropical sweetness of the mango, which if finely diced, presents itself in a soft, pulpy texture that quickly melts in your mouth. Finally, the firm yet delicate crab meat, combined with lime juice, breathes in that gorgeous air of freshness from the sea.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Marble Tea Eggs 茶葉蛋

Happy Chinese New Year! I wish you all great health, luck and prosperity throughout the Year of Snake! 

This is my favourite and the most important festival for the Chinese! Throughout the entire period, families gather, juniors pay visits to the senior members of the families, children receive red packets (me me me! As long as I am not married I still get them!), lots of traditional cakes, sweets and snacks to eat, houses adorned with all sorts of colourful, symbolic festive flowers with the backdrop of dices rolling, mahjong pieces clattering and cards shuffling! Ohoh, and no matter where we are and who we bump into, we will definately generously pull out a string of 4-Chinese-character blessings which are mostly related to good luck and fortune!

Speaking of great fortune, I present to you these nice little tea eggs! I know those Chinese herbal tea houses and chain soup stores sell these tea eggs all year round but these eggs mean something to us. Tea eggs is a traditional must-have for Shanghainese every Chinese New Year. We call these brown, aromatic tea eggs yuen-bo, the traditional Chinese gold nuggets, outline of which I think, with a little bit of imagination, resembles an egg placed in a boat. Peeling off the cracked chestnut-color shell, you will find a pretty marble pattern printed on these yuen bos. They taste soooo good, I already had 3 yesterday! Yes, the egg yolks too, forget about the cholesterol, they are too good to be wasted!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Roselle Tea 洛神花茶

Roselle tea is extremely popular in Tai O. You can find them in almost every store there! Bottled up and cooled in mountains of ice, roselle tea is extremely rejuvenating.

Quite an eye-candy in itself, this ruby-coloured drink tastes tart like cranberry juice. Oh, in fact it tastes more like Ribena, the blackcurrant juice! But more to it, there is a faint, sweet air of freshness and earthiness, like the taste of those soft, fine fibre strands growing out of the ear of the corns. Thanks to Google, I finally know the proper name of these strands- corn stigma, 玉米鬚.

Apparently, roselle is a species of Hibiscus. It is well-known for its high Vitamin-C content, for reducing cholesterol and treating high blood pressure level.  I used fresh roselle to make my pro-health drink, but I was told by the market vendors that the same could also be produced out of dried calyces. You may also try making roselle jam by slowly simmering the flower with sugar.