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.