There always is

So,

why do we do Thanksgiving anyway? According to the internet*, or BuzzFeed (it’s all the same to me), it’s not about giving thanks. 44% of respondents said family was the point of thanksgiving, and 28% said it was all about the food. So what?

This means that T-dawg is f*cking stressfull, that’s what. Why? Because if the mother-in-law ain’t impressed with the less-than-impossibly-flaky crust beneath the pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving is ruined. Because if  the turkey is (oh sweet baby Jesus forbid) dry, Thanksgiving is ruined. Because if anything is less than perfect, T-dawg gon’ flip the table that you spent half an hour setting and send all the green bean casseroles, cranberry jelly, and lumpy mashed potatoes plastered to the wall.

Now, rewind.

Why do you think this hypothetical mother-in-law will be taking a ruler to your crust? And if your crust has only nine hundred and ninety-nine layers, or is kind-of soggy because you skipped blind baking it, will she loathe you for all eternity? And if you catch her pursing her lips and not taking a third bite, how does that somehow mean that Thanksgiving is ruined?

You see, much like in statistics, things are much more simple if we make the assumption that each covariate (fancy word for things that you think are important for, in this case, predicting the successfulness of Thanksgiving) is independent. If you see each gesture, each dish, each word, each family member, each unfinished or finished plate as somehow leading to another thing that adds up to how much you scored on Thanksgiving, you’ll find yourself seeing nothing but a huge bowl of tangled-up spaghetti (and spaghetti, I think we can all agree, is the worst thing to show up on this day. Literally a slap in the face.)

So stop.

Things are always going to go wrong on a day as big as this, just keep in mind:

  1. One bad thing doesn’t have to lead to another.
  2. Your family is there most likely because you’re their family too, and food’s secondary.
  3. There’s nothing a few extra glasses of wine can’t fix.

But is that the best you can do? See everything as a set of random events that don’t really lead to how well the day turns out?

Well, here’s the thing. If you define the value of Thanksgiving as spending quality time with family and eating tons of delicious food, then that really is the best you can do.

On the other hand, if we see Thanksgiving for giving thanks and appreciating everything we already have, then guess what? Thanksgiving will be 100% every time, because its value is based on that which has already been given to us and which nobody can discredit.

*Admittedly the internet has repeatedly proven itself to know nothing twice this year after June 23rd and November 8th.

 

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now;

rather, we fix our gaze

on things that cannot be seen.

For the things we see now

will soon be gone,

but the things we cannot see

will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:18

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Spiced Kofte with Roasted Garlic Tahini, Jewelled Rice, and Beet Pickle

Roasted Garlic Tahini

  • 1 c roasted garlic
  • 3/4 c tahini
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • water, as needed
  1. Place all ingredients besides water in a blender and blend until smooth. Add enough water and blend through to adjust the consistency to that of thick yoghurt. Store in a mason jar and refrigerate until needed. Stores up to 3 weeks.

Tahini Crema

  • 1/2 c Roasted Garlic Tahini (above)
  • 1/2 c plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • salt, to taste
  1. Stir together all ingredients until smooth. Use immediately.

Beetroot Pickle

  • 8-12 small beets, washed and trimmed (but not peeled)
  • 1 c white vinegar
  • 1 c raw sugar
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 5 cloves
  1. Steam the beets until tender. Place in a mason jar.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, coriander, and cloves. Bring to the boil and pour over the beets to cover.
  3. Seal with the lid and cool completely before refrigerating for at least a week before using.

Jewelled Rice

  • 2 c brown basmati rice, rinsed and drained
  • 2 1/2 c water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp rice spices
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp dried currants
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  1. Place all ingredients in the rice cooker and let the rice soak for 3 hours.
  2. Steam until tender and fluff with a fork.

Spiced Kofte

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 large brown onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp anchovy paste
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 4 c bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/3 c milk
  1. Saute the onions and garlic in oil until broken down and deeply caramelized. Stir in the anchovy paste and fry until fragrant.
  2. Meanwhile, place the cumin, fennel, and oregano in a spice grinder and grind until fine.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, season very generously, and mix through until homogeneous, without over-mixing. The mixture should be moist and soft. Add more milk or water as necessary.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Shape the mixture into 2 tbsp-sized balls and place on baking sheets. Brush the tops with a bit of oil and bake until browned, about 25-30 minutes.

Roasted Cauliflower

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Toss the florets with the oil and season well.
  3. Transfer to a baking sheet with the cut sides facing down and bake for 30-35 minutes until tender and charred on the bottom and around the edges.

Carrot-Top Skhug

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 bunch carrot tops, washed thoroughly
  • 1 tsp hot chili flakes, optional
  • 1 tsp toasted coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/3 c whole roasted almonds (in the microwave will do)
  • 1 strip lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp Parmiggiano-Reggiano, optional
  • 1 c olive oil
  1. Place the garlic in a pot of water and bring to the boil. Add the carrot tops and remove immediately (5 seconds max) to refresh in ice water. Squeeze out any moisture and add to the blender with the boiled garlic cloves.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients to the blender and blend until a textured sauce forms.
  3. Transfer to a mason jar and refrigerate until needed.
  4. When ready to use, spoon what you need into a small bowl and stir through with some extra virgin olive oil for brighter colour and flavour.

Assembly

  • Jewelled Rice
  • Tahini Crema
  • Spiced Kofte
  • Roasted Cauliflower
  • Beetroot Pickle
  • Skhug, thinned out with some EVOO
  • date syrup or pomegranate molasses
  • sumac

Divide the rice among 5-8 plates. Add a dollop of tahini crema to each plate and top with the spiced kofte (you can skewer them after baking if you want, for fun). Pile on the cauliflower and add a pickle. Drizzle the skhug over the meatballs, and everything really. Finish with a swirl of date syrup and dusting of sumac.

Enjoy!

On Alex Colville

It’s the ordinary things that seem important to me.

This Sunday I enjoyed the rare luxury of having the entirety of an afternoon liberated from any obligation to weigh it down. So I went see the lovely mister Alex Colville at the gallery across the bridge. If you’re anyone like me, regardless of the reason (be it the need to get the most bang for your buck, pure curiosity of a three-year-old, or genuine appreciation for the arts), you’d make your way along the walls of the gallery at approximately sloth-pace for the sake of reading every single description, quote, and commentary of every single painting.

Colville’s works, in all truthfulness, did not appeal to me in the least when I stood in front of the gallery, staring into the woman with the binoculars’ forehead on the oversized promotion poster. No vivid colors, nothing provocatively creative about it, just painfully ordinary.

But as I moved from frame to frame, I became moved frame by frame. Something about the way his impeccably detailed brush strokes merged into minimalism and the way the intense reality of each subject somehow hinted at the surreal was simultaneously familiar and refreshing.

Indeed enjoyment, at least for the modern busy soul, rests in the down of the everyday, and is defined by a taste for the yesterdays.

And behold,

there arose

a great storm on the sea,

so that

the boat

was being swamped

by the waves;

but he was

asleep.

Matthew 8:24

Tomato Creamed Eggs
Tomato Creamed Eggs – fan q’ieh chow dan

My grandmother had an unwavering belief in eggs. In the mansion in southern Taiwan where my mother and her three siblings grew up, they kept chickens on the rooftop terrace. It was at once a delight and a pain to reach past the menacing beaks of the angry hens and to sneak out a couple of down-specked eggs each morning. For my ah-ma a few eggs symbolized the wholesomeness she worked so hard to provide for her children. In retrospect, the eggs tell a different story – one of contentment, and how it only decays as our haves become greater.

Ingredients for the Tomato Creamed Eggs:

  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp canola oil, divided
  • 3 large free range chicken or duck eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk or water, optional
  • 3 large vine-ripened tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp loosely packed brown sugar
  • sea salt, to taste
  • splash of white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp corn starch, stirred well with a glug of cold water
  • freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the milk or water lightly using a fork in a small bowl.
  2. Add 1 tsp of the oil into the skillet and pour in the eggs. Stir and break up the mixture by pushing the outer edges into the center using a pair of wooden chopsticks. Dump everything back into the bowl once the eggs just begin to set. Set aside.
  3. Preheat a wok or a sauce pan on high heat until very hot. Tip in the remaining oil, swirl the pan to cover (it should be a shimmering coat), and add the sliced tomatoes. Add the sugar and season with salt to draw out the moisture. Cook the mixture on high heat until the tomatoes have dissolved and the juices have become syrupy, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add a splash of vinegar to brighten the tomatoes, stir, and fold through the eggs, breaking them up a little. Immediately pour in the corn starch mixture in a round motion and stir through until the mixture tightens up. Remove from heat immediately and transfer to a deep plate.
  5. Serve with freshly steamed short-grain rice or some crusty bread.
  6. Enjoy!

confidence, confessions, and a confit recipe

I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make.

Julia Child (1912-2004)

Neither do I, Jules. And for that matter, I don’t believe in twisting myself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food I eat.

Food was, before cloth became fashion, before sticks and stones evolved into architecture, and definitely before the inception of the word “definition”, the one variable that defined human society, its tragedies and its genius. It might be useful to restrict what I mean when I refer to “food” to be separate from sustenance. We eat not because we are worried about surviving long enough and well enough to produce offspring, but because there is pleasure in eating.

While humanity is without a doubt exclusive, it can be difficult to pinpoint what it is that makes us so special. Some might say it’s our advanced use of hands to manipulate materials into tools. Capuchin monkeys do that too, but I’m not about to invite them to my Thanksgiving family dinner. Others might say it’s our level of intelligence. Please, let’s not flatter ourselves and have those cetaceans with their permanently sarcastic smiles actually laugh at our ignorance.

Food, however, may be a simple way to mark the line between us and everything else. Specifically, if we define “cooking” as a process by which we alter the taste of an edible substance such that it might improve the experience of the eater, then we might have hit the jackpot. You might object and say that raw foods such as fruits and vegetables have not been processed in any way. Yet, cultivation in and of itself is by the definition above a form of cookery as the farmer, in order to compete with other farmers, must strive to produce a better-tasting crop and therefore uses anything from selective breeding to fertilizing in order to achieve his objective. What about sashimi? Well, it is probably one of the most intensely monitored, controlled, and complex processes a food can be subject to.

Take tuna for example. The time and location of ‘harvest’ matters due to the migration routes of the schools; in particular, fish that have reached their spawning grounds are less desirable as they are exhausted from the long swim and there is less fat and usually a metallic acidity in their flesh. The way they are captured matters; line caught is always better as the fish doesn’t drown before it’s hauled on board. Then there’s the speed and temperature at which it is flash-frozen as the quicker it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals and therefore the finer and more delicate the texture. Oh, we also want to defrost the fish nice and slow (also at a controlled temperature) so we don’t end up with a dry lump of bluefin swimming in its own juices. Then there’s the slicing and presentation that’s got diners at Tokyo’s Jiro-Sushi paying ¥30,000 for dinner (about $300).

Food is worth celebrating. But not because of what it is, because it is nothing if not for the mind and hands behind it. It says nothing about what we are. We are not what we eat – from a green-stemmed banana to sous-vide short ribs with. Rather, we are how we see food.

Take your pick, be a glutton, an innovator, an obsessive compulsive label-checker, an artist, a purist, a gastronomane, or a snob. The way you see food is your choice and you have control over that part of who you are. Why not be someone you’ll like?

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,

when he delights in his way.

Psalm 37:23

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Duck Confit

The word confit stems from a family of words that all huddle around the meaning of preserving. As most preservation methods are, the process of confit-ing was likely a peasant sort of dish as opposed to the reputation it occupies today. The breasts, which are more tender, quick to cook and best consumed fresh, were probably eaten first (or sold to wealthier folks), and the tougher quarters would be left to less à l’aise. In this context, confiting serves a few important purposes. In addition to substantially extending its storage life, it also stretches a small amount of protein to yield immense flavours. For example, the classic cassoulet uses duck confit as a seasoning to enhance the depth of what is essentially a pot of baked beans. However, you’d end up sacrificing the crackling that’s literally addictive as crack (and dare I say better than peking duck). Not the case here – just look at that crisp gold overlay.

Ingredients for the Duck Confit, makes 6:

  • 6 fresh free range duck legs
  • sea salt
  • bunch of thyme
  1. To make the duck confit, you first need to cure it – this will tighten the muscle fibers, making them more tender once they cook up and prevents them from drying out once they’re in the oven. To do this, simply rub the duck legs liberally with the sea salt.
  2. Line the bottom of a baking dish with a good layer of thyme sprigs, then arrange the duck legs, skin side up, in the dish. Cover tightly with foil then pop it in the fridge to cure for 2 days.
  3. On the third day, take it out of the fridge and send it straight into the oven – no need to preheat here. Turn it on to 300 degree F, and let it bake for 3~3 1/2 hours, or until the fat has completely rendered out and the skins are richly caramelized. Let it cool down to room temperature, uncovered, before transferring the to freezer bags in which you can then keep them in the freezer for at least 3 months.
  4. Tip the rendered, thyme-infused duck fat into a small jar and store in the fridge. I use the duck fat to roast potatoes and fry scallions for duck fat dry ramen. Don’t waste the flavour-bomb brown bits left at the bottom of the dish either. Flood the dish with water and bring it up to a simmer to lift up all those bits to make a beautiful complex stock, which you can take further by infusing with star anise, ginger root, szechuan peppercorns, dried orange peel, and a couple dried chinese jujubes.
Duck Confit with Warm Green Olive Potato Salad
Duck Confit and Warm Potato Salad with Green Olive Vinaigrette

Ingredients for the Warm Potato Salad and Green Olive Vinaigrette:

  • 1 lb new potatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives
  • 2 fat cloves garlic
  • 1 anchovy fillet, optional
  • 1/3 c finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 strips lemon zest
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  1. To make the potato salad, boil the potatoes in generously salted water just until tender, about 15-18 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pulse together the olives, garlic, anchovy fillet, parsley, lemon zest, mustard, and honey in a food processor until a chunky mixture forms. Scrape it into a large salad bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper if necessary.
  3. Once the potatoes are cooked, refresh them under cool water just until cool enough to handle – thy should still be quite warm. Halve the potatoes and toss with the green olive vinaigrette. Adjust the seasoning to your liking with either some more honey, or a bit more salt and black pepper.
  4. To serve the duck confit, heat a non-stick skillet until hot and add a good glug of flavourless vegetable oil such as avocado or canola. Add the duck, skin side down and sear until you can hear the sound of its crispness by tapping on it with the tip of a spoon (about 1~2 minutes), then flip to warm up the other side. Serve immediately with the potato salad. Feel free to drizzle a bit of the oil left in the skillet on the duck and potatoes! (That’s actually what gave the dish in the picture so much shine, not to mention it’s delicious!)

Enjoy!

Caught

Like everyone, I use filters. Oh how we adore them. We filter our lives through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s fantastic – it’s like Sephora, except not just for the female visage – it’s for everyone’s cyber avatar (which could arguably be a disturbingly independent, distinct identity from its owner).

But filtering is more than selectively publishing life statuses and photographs. Filters obscure, and make mild of perception. They deceive and dismiss the reality, the rawness of things.

Do you agree, that the heart is felt with more reality, above all else?

Do you agree, that the heart is beautiful?

But we filter the living breath out of it.

I’m far from perfect – I’m me, and I know better than anyone that I am despicable – but I try.

I try to be the person I want to become, and stop trying to become the person I want to be, else I’ll always wallow in self-loathing and self-pity because I will always be a step behind.

Let’s be honest. With ourselves and those around us. (This does not equate with being nasty.)

And keep hashtagging edited photographs with #nofilter. You wanted real, didn’t you?

Therefore let us celebrate the feast,

not with old leaven,

nor with leaven of malice and wickedness,

but with the unleavened bread of sincerity

and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:8

Also, raw is beautiful, just look at this beauty of a feast.

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This is honestly the best fish I ever had, and what’s even better is that it’s part of my 7-Ingredient series. I originally wanted to bake it en papillote, but the four-pound beauty has outgrown the paramenters of my parchment paper by an unsalvageable margin.

What I ended up doing was even simpler. Basically, from what you see above, I just covered that whole thing with aluminum foil, pinched down the sides tightly, and put it in the oven at a really low temperature. The result was phenomenal – the flesh was incredibly buttery and tender. And because I love all parts of fish, I ate the skin too, which was also extremely rich and creamy. That’s not all, the few roasted, sweet lemon slices basically worked magic and managed to permeate the entire fish with their vibrant perfume.

Ingredients for the slow-baked trout:

1 fresh trout, 3-4 lbs, cleaned (I had mine freshly caught and I highly recommend that)

4 tbsp coarse sea salt

1 small lemon, thinly sliced

3 tbsp basil pesto

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size half-moons

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

few rounds freshly ground black pepper

To make the slow-baked trout, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, with the rack placed in the center. Cover the bottom of a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. Drizzle it all over with 1 tbsp of the olive oil.

Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Trout have a slimy protective coating that also happens to be the source of its “fishy” taste. To remove this slime, rub the skin of the trout generously with 2 tbsp of the salt – that’s right, massage it with lots of love. Leave it for 2 minutes and rinse off the trout under cold, running water. Pat as dry as possible with paper towel, and repeat the process again with the remaining salt.

Place the cleaned, dry trout into the prepared pan. Smear the pesto onto each of the lemon slices and fit them snugly, overlapping slightly, into the abdominal cavity. Add the zucchini to the pan and season everything with black pepper and a little more salt. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 20 minutes, turn off the oven, and let it sit in the hot oven for another 45 minutes, up to an hour.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and/or a light green salad.

Enjoy!

 

Plain Lucky

Perks of knowing how to cook:

a. eating $100 meals for under $16

b. grocery shopping is a piece of cake

c. making fun of boneless-skinless chicken breasts

d. good food magically happens

e. people love you

f.  you love life

g. afjsdk;oiveoih09/@””!!~

Perks of not knowing how to cook:

a. all of the above**

**if you do the following:

Sprinkle their blood on the altar,

and burn their fat as a special gift,

a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Numbers 18:17

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Ingredients for the 72-hour beef ribs:

2 tbsp ground thyme

2 tsp rosemary leaves

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

4 fat cloves garlic, mashed to a fine puree

1 tbsp sea salt

2~3 tbsp olive oil, enough to form a rough paste with the spices

1/2 rack beef ribs (4 full-size ribs, preferably free range)

To make the 72-hour beef ribs, stir together the thyme, rosemary, pepper, garlic puree, salt, and olive oil until a thick paste forms. Rub this mixture all over the beef ribs (on all sides, emphasizing the top-side). Place the ribs in a roasting tin and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate for 3 nights (2 days).

On the third day, 3~4 hours before mealtime, preheat the oven to 315 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Take the roasting tin with the ribs straight from the fridge into the oven, you don’t even have to wait for the oven to reach its temperature. Bake for 3~ 3 1/2 hours until the meat literally falls off the bone and your house smells better than any steakhouse you know.

Serve immediately. I highly recommend serving this with mashed potatoes and a generous drizzle of the beef drippings. I’m sorry I don’t have photos of the finished product, but that just goes to testify for its deliciousness.

Enjoy! (Oh, boy you will…ahh..)