Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Waste not, Want not: New Series

This series has been inspired by my return home from Asia. I don't want to give the wrong impression but I was in tropical withdrawal and I didn't even know it. Two weeks ago, I was trying to convince myself that boxed coconut water was the best beverage of the Summer. Boxed. Coconut. Water!! It is an unfortunate consequence of cultural immersion.

But I'm back and I am coming to my senses. Last weekend's Mango Fest was a beautiful reminder of how much the Spice Isle has to offer. Sometimes it requires immense financial investment, other times just a little vision and a lot of passion. And when these three are combined, life-changing events take flight.

I want to challenge myself and you out there, to look for more ways to use the food around us. It can be an old method that just needs revamping or a totally new perspective on a process but if we keep sitting around, waiting for someone to tell us what to do, we start to become part of the problem.

First things first, is a change in mindset. Real change occurs when we become doers and not just hearers, relaxing in our comfort zones. If the only thing holding you back from trying out a new flavour, cooking style or processing technique is that you think it's weird, then try it anyway. Worst case scenario, you find out what doesn't work and you move on to the next one.

As I come across ideas, old or new, I'll be sharing them here. I hope it will start a forum of some kind so that we can inspire each other to WASTE NOT, WANT NOT.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

China taught me: The Old, New and Improved

It was only a matter of time before I had to admit how much being China has helped me to grow my food character. I am returning home a bachelor's degree in Food Science, a blog that not only documents all my food travels but one that helped me to open up my palette, pushed me to visit new places, allow myself beautiful dining experiences and spend more quality time in the kitchen. When it comes to the kitchen, I naturally leaned to baking. All the ladies in the family have a sweet tooth and sweet fingers. Finding out that I had to potential to follow in those foot steps was only possible by coming out here and finding that my cravings could not be satisfied at the local bakery. Pretty soon, I became that person on my floor, the one who never left the kitchen. Shushu would always frighten me at 3:00am when coming to check the lights as I waited for second and third batches to finish. Baking really brought home life to China and being able to share that with my friends was the ultimate blessing. But after one year and chabuduo 3 months, I will have to leave this baking life behind. I'm returning home and I probably will find everything I want to eat there but now I ask myself, 'What is the definition of everything?'.

First attempt at Red Velvet Cake
So to commemorate this parting with my oven, I did an old, new and improved version of my baking history and hopeful started a new baking tradition. I told people that I just wanted to finish my ingredients (to maintain my cold exterior) but the Lord knows and some how truly orchestrated this moment.

For the old, my first bun recipe from Ms. Wegman. The first recipe I ever baked in my new oven last year Easter.

I always liked making them into cookies because the outsides would get nice and crispy. Even though I didn't have dried fruits around, I did have a whole bag of grated coconut so, there was no stopping me.

For the new, I tried my hand at a green tea (matcha) chiffon cake and surprised myself. Previously, I made green tea frosting at a friend's request and that helped me get over the fear of adding green tea to cake. In fact, I even bought one at the bakery last week. Is it possible that I've been here too long?

It was also my first time to try a chiffon cake with real eggs (I'll explain later). Beating egg whites and yolks separately and recombining, the best trick in the book and apparently the basis of all Chinese baked goods. I may be late to the party but I'm not leaving any time soon.

This cake was so moist and sweet. I couldn't convince my country mates to join in the green tea but I'm sure my Indonesian sisters would be proud of me.

For the improved, Red Velvet and I had a bone to pick (Caribbean for unfinished business). Couple weeks ago, I read scores of comparisons of apparently America's most popular cake and was extremely daunted. When every one claims to have the best of something, you end up not even trusting yourself to make a decision. However,  I eventually went with version because the pictures and ingredients 真满足我的要求.

That vinegar and baking soda taste was too pungent and colouring, lackluster. Well, what are the odds that someone would give you a tin of beets in China.

I interpreted this as a sign that I should try again. By using a puree and 10ml of red dye I got an even softer cake than the previous cake which was made with cake flour and the cleanest, smoothest toothpick withdrawal evuuuur. 

The flavor was amazing. Not just a red chocolate cake, but actual velvety tasting cake. If only there was frosting.

This was really the perfect way to part. I could only dream of what next I will be a part of, whether it's more baking, some actual cooking, more blogging or all of the above. Because sometimes, you should get to have your cake and eat it too!

Till we see again at another location
Watermelon and Cheese

Find the recipes here

Coconut Bun Cookies:

Green Tea Match Chiffon Cake:

Red Velvet Cake:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bite me: 烤包鱼 Grilled Fish in bag

As uni students you find a few grub holes, establish a few food patterns that craft their way into your daily appetite. Yes, you with the fried ant in your mouth, we see you. In China, steamed dumplings 饺子, sour spicy noodles 酸辣粉, roasted pig brains; the only limitation was how far you were willing to go. And for most of us on a weekend night, BBQ was a necessity. Actually that's a really broad term due to the variations that exist but today let me introduce you to grilled fish in a bag.

The fish is prepared in oil, grated and whole garlic cloves, ginger, chives and the like and of course chilli and prickly ash pepper. All the cooking takes place as the fish is wrapped on the heated plate.

After about five minutes, the fish is completely cooked, richly seasoned and ready-to-eat. 

The enchanting smell that rises to the nostrils immediately arms your fingers with chopsticks, in preparation to launch attack.

This fish can feed up to four persons ideally. And vegetables and other meat can be added to the grill plate.

The results are just as stunning. To first timers, this may see a bit oily, but it isn't genuine if it isn't oily.

But when it starts to overflow, there are mechanisms in place for that.

The experience is as rich as the taste. So if you are new to Chongqing, be sure to put it on your list of dishes to devour. And if you're already sworn into Chongqing night cuisine, then 好好吃 next time around. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Travelling Nutmeg: Ciqikou 磁器口- Foodie Paradise

Take me back! Take me back! :'(. Do you know where to find all of Chongqing's cuisine in one place. Then you need to visit Ciqikou 磁器口. As the name suggests, from the mouth of the river leads out into bridges and ancient buildings of beautiful carvings and designs.

These patterned side-walks lead you to a land of food. Think Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs before the genetic distortion...grilled kebabs, freshly squeezed juices, ancient and modern tea brews, traditional yoghurt, fun cotton candy, hand made noodles, freshly made spice oils and pastes.

You may even see a dancing squid guy or a coconut having a smoke. You know, the things you can't make up. All this is coupled with pearl and silk shops, music holes (there was a reggae shop :O), and thirty minute  portraits.

Walk around with a crown of flowers like a Foodie Princess
I found food close to home like the tropical flavours of pineapple rice

and even closer...roti with its personalized chef direct from India. But something was different, There was no curry. Every filling was sweet, like bananas, strawberries and chocolate. And the skin was fried :O.

After speaking to the chef, he explained that changing the recipe was necessary to fit the locals palettes but if I came to his house, his curry won't disappoint. Well that was a relief.

But the real reason that everyone comes to Ciqikou isn't the cute trinkets, novelty shops and all the modern food.

It's the ma hua 麻花. 

There are long lines like the ones you find people waiting in for hot bread. There are about four stalls, each with a first prize plaque, I guess testifying to how great they ALL are. They even offer different flavours such as

purple sweet potato
pork floss
sesame seed

coconut and original. But really who wants original when there is so much awesomeness to choose from. Oh I forgot to tell you what ma hua is. Well, HINT every one calls my braid hairstyles that name. So basically, it's a braided flour snack that's crunchy, sweet and additive

But to really enjoy this place, you need to come early and with an empty stomach. Maybe even space it over a couple days. Allow yourself a chance to enjoy each food experience. Most of the chefs are really lively and would show you their preparation technique. But if you just want to eat, they'll be just as happy to feed you.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Travelling Nutmeg: Living the High Life

In a country where ordinary travel is very convenient and affordable and a university student budget is in consideration, flying becomes a luxury. Recently, yours truly had the opportunity to soar the clouds and it's amazing what you can learn from a different vantage point.

I was always a dreamer in Geography class and being up there helped me to understand why. Clouds, as creatively moulded as they are, allow you a realm of imagination, that otherwise would have you labelled as in need of psychiatric help.

The jets were much too fast to capture but fascinating to stare at. 

 And of course the thicker the masses, the more evident the turbulence.

 My excitement peaked when I noticed glitter-like particles right outside my window. Although I have never been to Disneyland, I wouldn't expected anything less that sparkles in the sky.

However my child-like bliss was cut short when I connected the 'glitter' to the approach of very shadow-coloured clouds,  a clear indication of the pollution and high concentration of dust particles prevalent in many cities in this region.

I tried to cheer myself up with food. Local airlines vary but this was my treat.

Considering that the human body will remain in a stationary position for quite some time, the above meal is a great example of food that will keep the metabolism at an active rate without sacrificing variety. Some airlines tend to serve protein and fat heavy meals to satisfy their passengers but there are different ways to achieve satiety. The main meal of noodles and meat sauce, a nod to Spaghetti Bolognese, is presented in a smaller than usual portion to allow the vegetable and fruit salad opportunity to round of the meal with some 'pick me up' vitamins and antioxidants. But before I get carried away, I'm coming off the soap box and in case you are still wondering, this meal did brighten my mood.

Keeping in line with health awareness, on landing, I aimed to rehydrate ma cells. I forgot the rule that 'Thou shalt knoweth the price of what drinketh' and proceeded to order still water at my hotel. I was served with this glass bottle of Voss water. Previously, I had never drank artesian water but I was aware of the world wide search for 'pure' water and from the reviews, Voss seems to be one of the answers. Beautiful tasting water indeed. Beautifully priced as well.

Nutrition facts: Ions _ Sodium 5-7, Chloride 8-14, Magnesium 0.8-1.2, Calcium 5-6; total dissolved solids 39-51; ph 5.3-5.7.

During a walk to the mall, I came across one of the most quickly spreading and newly opened chain stores in China, Miniso. Items range from cosmetics to electronics to household items all cute, blingified and brightly coloured with a starting price of 10 RMB.

It's the kind of store that will make you buy a lot of somethings for no reason. Haha and that's not always a bad thing. Like of course I need a neon-coloured adaptor, and a pink power bank. Those cute cow slippers, got to have it. And before I forget, that Starbucks mug is a must for my couch read.

Finally, I'll let you in on one of my favourite pastimes- aisle shopping which simply means window shopping in the supermarket. I love looking for new varieties of food and checking out the local market trends.

I want to cook all of these right now

I didn't know that I would ever spot four varieties of eggplants in China at the SAME TIME. And yet none of them resembled what I eat back home.

Meat is best bought fresh in Chinese supermarkets

As for these guys, no matter how much I love eating them, I can't stand to see them alive. Go figure.

In the tea section, the sorrel first caught my eye but I was quickly distracted by this fruit tea. A brew of dried kiwi, melon, pineapple and hawthorn sounds delightful. I am all for non-traditional teas.

And that is a run through of my very random visit to a very random city. Doesn't hurt to play tourist every now and then. You know, live a slice of the high life. But like Cinderella when the clock strikes, it's back to reality. So enjoy your moments when you're in them, find joy in the little things and live without limit or regret!