Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Easter taught me: Baking up a storm

An authentic Caribbean Easter is not about bunnies and eggs. After attending church in the fanciest of Easter hats, children and adults go their separate ways. Children search for the clearest field to fly their kites and adults get suited up for the kitchen.

The kid in me seriously wanted to go kite flying but the winds weren't up to it. Plus I love being in the kitchen. Actually that's where I spent most of the day. I had a new oven to bless and things looked up from there.

Beer and Cheese Bread

This is a super easy bread to prepare. No kneading required. The bitterness of beer complements the cheese and seasoning so well and it's extremely soft. Find the recipe here.

Hot Cross Buns

This is more of a Good Friday favourite. A really basic bun that's not too sweet. Again, extremely easy to prepare and with a baking time of 15 minutes, you have no excuse not to try this now. Find the recipe here.

Chocolate Cake

 It's moist, rich and has the perfect amount of sweetness. The best chocolate cake I have ever made and tasted and it's all thanks to the recipe. Unfortunately, there is no picture. In my excitement, I may have rushed the cake out of the tin, leaving almost half in there :(. Learn from my mistakes. Find the recipe here .

Banana bread

Usually when I make banana bread, I'm left unsatisfied due to the final gray color and that straight up mushy banana taste. I know I crushed the banana but it shouldn't remind me of baby food. On top of all this, most recipes usually call for oil which makes me hyper aware of the greasiness throughout the bread. Thankfully, this new recipe is a real keeper. It originates in St. Lucia, which was my first hint. The bread is moist and the rum smooths out the banana taste and cooks it to perfect flavour and texture.  Find the recipe here.

Coconut Buns

This is first thing I ever baked in Food and Nutrition secondary school class. The recipe was provided by Ms. Wegman and was my go to for impressing the parents and visiting relations. They would be like 'Child, you made that bun like my granny!'. Well, that's the power of a good recipe. I had to alter some ingredients, as usual, but it still remains the best homemade bun you'll ever make.

2 cups flour
½ cup margarine
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (do I ever bake with these two? Nah.)
1 egg
¼ cup milk
1/8 cup water
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup dried fruit like raisins or cherries (I only had goji berries)
1 cup grated or dessicated coconut

1. Preheat oven to 200 C.
2. In a large-sized bowl, sift flour and add sugar, baking powder, salt, spices, dried fruit and coconut.
3. Add softened (but not melted) margarine and use fingers to 'rub' into the dry ingredients until evenly distributed. Mixture should look like crumbs.  Make a well in the center.

4. In a medium sized bowl, mix egg, essence, milk and water together. Pour this mixture into the well and using a spoon. fold ingredients together. Don't over-mix.
5.Your batter should be sticky and a bit thick. Place in a prepared loaf tin and bake for 45 mins at 175 C or until the inserted toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown. As you can see mine has that extra tan. 

The good thing about spending the day in the kitchen is the reward of smiling faces on aching tummies with happy spirits. Not the same high as flying a kite but sure comes close enough.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tea Cup: 珍珠奶茶 Bubble Milk Tea

Tea, as most of you know is a staple in Asian culture and milk tea even more so. Forget coke and fanta. Grab me a bottle of tea!

Part 1 of local supermarket shelf

Part 2 of local supermarket shelf...the same shelf

Matter of fact, juice bars are making mad profits from this culture wave. My block has at least 10 juice bars, with the only competition being the 9 hair salons in between.

And the main item for sale is Milk Tea. It's black tea, the Lipton looking one, (they call it red tea 红茶 though) mixed with milk and sweetener, be it honey or sugar. To keep it interesting, floaters such as pudding, red beans, cake, oreos and whipping cream and ice cream are available, but it's the sinkers that I love. Behind door number one, black pearls or bubbles or boba.

They are made of tapioca (yay cassava!) and sometimes a little red bean paste. They're chewy, googy and a balance to the sweet, creamy tea. At first, I thought it was inedible and just for decoration but then they wouldn't stop climbing that fat straw the guy gave me. Hot or cold they are available all year round which is where it beats soda. Because unless you're sick, you're not drinking a hot coke.

Although it started in Taiwan, I read it's a craze all over the world. Wonder when it will hit the Caribbean?! Definitely looking forward to that day!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cooking @ Dawn: Vietnamese Shrimp Chips

So I scamper to the kitchen to make some Ice Cream Popcorn (popcorn layered in whipped vanilla cake frosting) when I bump into my Vietnamese friend. She also couldn't sleep and decided to cook at dawn.

In her arsenal were these instachips. They were already sliced and flavoured. Just fry in oil and poof! Large, puff, crunchy chips. And shrimp none the less. Say it with me: YUM!!

Of course, I couldn't find them in China. Such a bubble burster! But I did order some so expect an update soon!

For the popcorn, simply cook 2 parts popcorn to 1 part oil on medium heat. While hot, add frosting to taste. 1-2 parts should do it. A tip of salt to enhance the flavor. You're welcome!! 0(-_-)0

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bite me: 生煎包 Fried Steamed Buns

Finding cuisine of other cities in our university town is very essential to curing home sickness. For instance, only 40% of my classmates are Chongqing natives, which leaves many hungry tummies wanting. The fact that the Northerners eat little pepper makes it even more crucial to find their own feeding holes. I've introduced you to the Shandong wrap and XinJiang Chicken plate; now let's head to Shanghai.

Chinese breakfast generally invests in a meat-filled steamed bun called Bāozi 包子 or as I like to call it 'All in One'. This has been remixed by frying either the raw or steamed bun using just enough oil to cover the bottom. They are covered and fried in a shallow pan for a couple minutes, sprinkled with black sesame seeds, covered, sprinkled with fresh chive, covered, then uncovered and leaned to one side until all the liquid is dried out. Olympic gymnastic style precision.

Nice kicks chef!
The result is a crispy bottom, soft bread top and a juicy inside. For storage, it is placed crispy side up under a heated lamp, because cold and soggy is not optional. This particular outlet uses water to fry because it removes heat from the body as opposed to the original oil method which heats the body up. Nobody living in 40 degrees Celcius Chongqing wants that.

Fresh and ready to eat
I eat about seven in one setting but only because the four pack deal is such a tease. This is a breakfast food but since this outlet is open up to 10 pm ... *wink wink*. Don't play. I see you eating pancakes at midnight.

Can't wait to see what city I find next! ... stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bite me: 马蹄 Chinese Water Chestnuts

Peeled Chestnuts
What lives under ground, looks like a nut, tastes like a pear-potato mash up and is really good for you? Ding ding ding......Chinese Water Chestnut or Horse's hoof or which ever of the 100 local names you guessed. Nut is just a moniker. It's really a tiny corm that is grown in those muddy patches you get your boots stuck in. Once you dig them out, cut off the shoots, wash in cold running water to get all the mud out, peel and remove the crown, it's ready to eat.

When choosing the perfect chestnut, the skin should be red-brown. The best tasting ones are available between the Winter Solstice and it's peak period. Basically, the time when I'm busy hibernating. Spring chestnuts contain more water (not as sweet) and are identified by their dark-brown skin but no need to worry; they're 还可以 (ok).

For the most part it's eaten raw, however, it can be stir-fried with veggies or boiled but the latter isn't as tasty. Personally, I prefer them raw to obtain all the nutrients possible. We're talking Carotene, Vitamin A, B, C and E, Iron, Copper, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Selenium, Manganese. In addition, there's 0.2g fat and 1.2g protein per 100g. It is kind of heavy on the starch and fiber side being a corm all, so this is more of a daytime snack.

In Chinese medicine, it aids digestion (fiber), quenches thirst (water), increases metabolism (Phosphorus) and detoxifies (bucket load of macro and micro minerals) . It is a cooling food which means it's used to cure heat related diseases such as fever, jaundice, and inflammation. Recent research has revealed that it contains anti-bacterial properties which inhibit the effect of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

This super-food is still available so grab a few and incorporate it into your diet in between meals. For safety reasons, purchase from trusted vendors or supermarkets. Since chestnuts are cultivated in swampy areas, the risk of chemical and other toxic contamination increase.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bite me: 椰子角 Coconut Horns

Hai Nan Island 海南 is on every foreigner's and local's list of dream vacations. Located in the South China Sea, it's sunny all year round with beaches that would be a sight for these sore eyes. While I wait on that dream to materialize, I'm munching on this coconut snack. How proactive of me.

This 椰子角 roughly translated as Coconut Horns. The coconut flesh is cut into angular pieces and dried half way for thickness and juiciness. Then it's covered in powdered sugar. Oh la la...

When I can't go outside, pick me a dry coconut and nibble on the fresh pieces, which is all the time, at least I have this. If you don't know a Hai Nan native or have no plans to visit, the online Taobao store has tons of these. In the meantime, I'm trying to locate the packaging manager:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bite me: April Fools Chinese Food Gags

Forget the real sponge cake or rubber hot dogs. If you live in China, the best April Fools food gags are all around you. Let's get right to it!

English name: Chongqing Strange Tasting Balls
Chinese name: 重庆怪味胡豆
Main location: Chongqing
Description: The name is a big giveaway but some how no one reads the label until AFTER they eat it. With ingredients such as prickly ash pepper, chilli pepper, MSG, salt and sugar expect their face to contort to the recognition of every flavor. I even know locals who have spit this out.

English name: Red bean 
Chinese name: 红豆
Main location:  All over China
Description: This bean is popular in every part of Chinese cuisine. If you see it in a pastry or cake, you can easily mistaken for chocolate. Nothing is more disappointing than finding out you are not eating gooey chocolate  but a rather bland, fibrous bean. As a paste filling, it is even more disturbing.

English name: Stinky Tofu
Chinese name: 臭豆腐
Main location: South East and West China e.g. Changsha
Description: If you get someone to eat this unsuspectingly, kudos to you. White or black soya beans are used to make tofu which is further fermented for extra pungent flavour. It is then fried and served with parsley, scallions and pepper sauce. The smell, however, is a dead give away. You can smell yourself to a vendor's stall. So try serving this as far away from where you purchased it.

English name: Dried Chinese Date
Chinese name: 干红枣
Main location: All over China
Description: All berries are sweet or maybe there's even a bit of tang. And when dried, they make a super sweet treat. Well if this is your berriology, a dried Chinese date will blow all your faith out of the water. It's got ton of yeasty flavors with shadows, very faint shadows of sweetness. After that experience, I avoid every product in this flavor but I will admit that it makes a tasty and healthy tea when accompanied with Goji berries.

Now have some fun on April Fool's day with these local delicacies. There are really two outcomes here: leaving a temporary bad taste in your friend's mouth or introducing them to future addictions. Let me know if you have tasted any of these before in the comments below!