clay pots

Standing on any major milestone, some of us may gaze on the next mile, most of us will look back to see the stretch of our journeys thus far, reveling at how our own two feet have tread upon gravel, sand, mud, and mire to get to where we are: a place for breath. Almost never, however, do we give thanks for the gravel that put blisters on our feet so our soles would not be rubbed raw and open. Almost never, however, do we celebrate as we walk on the sand which gives strength to our legs first by depleting them. Almost never, however, do we give due credit when we are taught the meaning of examining our steps when we slip and fall in the mud. And almost never do we stand amidst the stench and slime of the mire and know that we cannot help ourselves. Always, we unlearn the wisdom which whispers that stillness is what we needed in order to hear the sound of help all around us.

The bitter cold of this past winter has left a legacy – a good one of fond memories and gastronomic strangeness. So the tale goes like this:

My food fairy of a mother flies over from the light-jacket-weathered West Coast, and the first weekend in here in Winter Wonderland Waterloo, she insisted that she wanted to go to the market and buy twenty pounds of chicken legs.

And twenty pounds heavier was the car when it pulled back into our parking spot, and we hauled the suspiciously bagged mass of dismembered poultry limbs up to the third floor.

As soon as the bag was set in the kitchen sink, she went merrily to work. I assure you, this is the first time I’ve ever seen her so comfortable around carcasses. She washed them one by one, patted them dry, and rubbed them with rice wine. Then in the wok, she toasted the peppercorns with the salt, waited for it to cool, then applied that to the chicken too.

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Then things got a little crazy – I became an accomplice in her act. I helped her make the cardboard coffin, lined it with a black garbage bag, and placed a steel rack in it. Then, one by one I carefully placed the chicken legs, skin side up, onto the rack. Once that was over with, I carried the whole box out the door, and left it on the deck. The wind was a bone-splitting -20 degrees, and the sun deceptively cold.

And in that weather sat the chicken legs for seven days.

On the seventh day, I flipped them over.

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And they stayed like that for another seven days.

At last, they had finished curing, and winter has served its duty in this household.

Ingredients for the wind-cured quarters:

20 lbs free range chicken legs

1 cup rice wine

1 lb coarse kosher salt

25 g Szechuan peppercorns

To make the cured quarters, follow the story above.

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Jeremiah 18: 3-4

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Obviously, nobody in their right mind would attempt to devour twenty pounds (or should I say ten now that they’ve thoroughly dehydrated) of chicken – however delicious they may be – in one sitting. No worries, that’s what we have Ziploc bags for, then throw them in the freezer (or back outside if it’s still below zero).

Now, when you want some really good chicken claypot rice, take out one bag to defrost, and keep on reading. Maybe I’ll give you a few incentives as to why you want to eat that chicken that’s been banished out along with Elsa for two weeks.

Yes, it looks all dry and dusty, but once you steam it directly on the rice, you’ll taste and understand. The texture of the meat fibers becomes firm, yet supple, like that of a giant seared scallop. The flavour of the bone marrow and peppercorn-infused chicken fat renders into each grain of rice. The salt which permeates throughout the sweet flesh is transformed into a condensed form of umami with the creamy aroma of rice wine.

Ingredients for the cured chicken claypot, serves 1:

90 g white sushi rice

115 ml filtered water

8 thin slices ginger root

1 cured chicken leg (recipe above)

1 scallion, thinly sliced

To make the chicken claypot, rinse the rice in WARM water for three times, draining after each rinse, until the water runs clear. Put the chicken in a small clay pot or ovenproof ceramic vessel.

Add the water and the ginger slices, then place the chicken, skin side up, directly on the rice.

Put the clay pot in the rice cooker**, and pour a cup of water in the rice cooker (not the clay pot), and cook until the switch springs back up. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then repeat this step.

Once it’s done resting a second time, sprinkle on the scallions, and dig in! Enjoy with these sweet, garlicky pickles, and you’ll never want to go out for Hainanese chicken rice again.

You’re welcome.

**If you don’t have a rice cooker, do it on the stove top! Place the deep ceramic dish in a heavy-bottomed pot, fill the pot to 2/3 inch with water. Cover the lid, and steam on medium high heat until the rice is cooked through, add more water to the pot as necessary.

add avocados – $2

I despised cilantro for the longest time. Blame the Taiwanese street vendors – they put it on everything. Taiwanese beef noodle? Cilantro it. Oyster vermicelli? Cilantro it. Sticky rice cakes? Why not, let’s cilantro the heck out of it! Thank God for Typhoons Saola and Tembin, which saved me my misery when I was there in 2012.

Yeah, no. When there’s something good, you don’t just put it on everything, bacon being the rare exception.

Growing up, honey avocado milkshakes were a weekend brunch treat that Ma would blitz up as my brother and I covered our ears and dashed to plop down on our own respective chairs at the table. That must have been around the year 2000, when they were still as alien to most kitchens as Shuvuuia eggs.

If I were born today, I’m pretty sure I would despise avocados as well. Now a cliché symbol of upscale minimalism much like the chair-stand iPhone shots of artisan latte art, it’s become more and more of a thoughtless commodity procured simply to serve as a vessel of vaunting for the consumer.

Restaurants are surfing this wave as well. Everywhere I go I see plain, untreated avocados – void of any culinary innovation – sold as legitimate menu items priced at upwards of $3. Avocado smeared on piece of multi-grain toast, $8. I don’t know about you, but I go to Costco for my avos.

Don’t get me wrong, I love avocados, which is exactly why the mindless consumption of these green eggs makes me cringe. Here’s something original to try. And no, avocados here are not an afterthought.

“Vanity of vanities,”

says the Preacher,

“Vanity of vanities!

All is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

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Black sesame oil is different from the more commonly found and used toasted sesame oil. It has a distinct bitterness laced with molasses and black tea, making it particularly compatible with ginger, poultry, and rice-derived alcohols. It plays triple-duty here, first to crisp up the ginger chips, then to fry the duck eggs, and finally, it becomes the sauce for the rice. The avocado lends a creamy texture which complements the nutty flavour from the black sesame oil and mellows the punch of the ginger. And the savouriness of the duck egg combined with the mirin soy reduction practically creates an oozing volcano of umami. For under 10 ingredients, it really doesn’t get more epic than this bowl.

Ingredients for the Duck Egg Donburi with Avocado, Soy Caramel, and Ginger Chips:

serves 2

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp honey

splash of water, about 2 tbsp

1/3 c black sesame oil

1 small knob of ginger, sliced as thinly as possible along the grain

2 local duck eggs, or free range chicken eggs

1 small ripe avocado, thinly sliced

3 cups steamed sushi-grade white rice

toasted white sesame seeds, optional

To make the sweet soy reduction, bring the soy sauce, mirin, honey, and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Let it reduce by a third and becomes a thin glaze consistency. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil in a wok until a piece of ginger dropped in bubbles vigourously. Fry the ginger slices, in batches so the oil temperature stays relatively constant until crisp. You’ll know when they quiet down because that means they’re fully dehydrated. Drain the ginger on a plate lined with paper towel.

Tip out most of the oil into 2 large bowls (which will be used directly to serve). Use the remaining oil to fry the eggs, sunny side up. Watch the whites around the yolk – the eggs are done as soon as the whites become opaque because the yolk will become part of the sauce to coat the rice.

Divide the hot rice among the bowls. Arrange the avocado and egg to cover the rice, drizzle with the sweet soy reduction, and finish with the ginger chips and sesame seeds, if using.

To eat, take two spoons and hack the heck out of those bowls to mix together everything. Then spoon in. You’re welcome.

Resistant Little Heart

If you’re cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad. If you don’t have time to make dessert, you can go and buy some macaroons to have later.”

-Wolfgang Puck

The man’s right. On so many levels that probably never crossed his mind when he said those words.

One. Women I know love risotto. While there’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of rice that’s so immensely creamy and sensuous that it becomes one with your tongue, I would argue that it’s the al dente heart of that rice, a proof of perfect sensibility and restraint, that makes risotto that much sexier than rice pudding. You can quote that.

Two. Women are defensive of their toys, I mean, kitchen. Because, just like how children are forever fearing that their out-for-the-evening parents are late to return because they’ve died in a car crash, we girls grow up to fear that boys will burn down our kitchens once 30 minutes pass. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. But that doesn’t matter – risotto only takes 25 minutes, phew.

Three. Women love men who can cook. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It’s just that everyone loves to have someone close who will, on the right occasions, cook for them. It could be a best friend, a brother, perhaps from a different mother, who cares? Who cares if they bought the dessert? They cared enough to make you risotto.

I cared enough to make risotto.

In all honesty, that’s all you need to make a good risotto. It’s not some pretentious art as gastromedia casts it. The only thing, which isn’t even difficult, is the constant stirring. Stirring increases the amount of the rice’s surface area which comes into contact with liquid, which in turn helps release the starch. This means you will have a very creamy risotto as the “creamy” texture is essentially the married portion of stock and starch.

And at all costs, keep tasting – that’s key to catching your perfect al dente!

I remind you that you should

stir up the gift of God

which is in you through

the laying of my hands.

-2 Timothy 1:6

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As much as I love risotto, I think I would still appreciate it more if it goes along with several varying textural components, not to mention a even coverage of all the flavour bases. Here, aside from the creaminess and al dente of the rice, there is equally the buttery firmness of the halibut, the crunchiness of its skin, as well as the near-transparent crispness of the fried basil and ginger. The acidity of the lime is hardly detectable in the finished dish, but it is crucial to the balance of flavours – it’s what keeps you coming for another bite without feeling weighed down.

Ingredients for the green basil risotto, serves 6:

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 c diced white onion

1 1/2 c short grain rice, do not rinse this!

2-3 tbsp green curry paste, depending on its strength

4 c unsalted chicken/vegetable stock

1 can unpasteurized full-fat coconut milk

1 c gently packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 lime, juice only

sea salt, to taste

To make the risotto, melt the coconut oil in a deep saucepan or small pot. Add the onions and sweat them until soft, being careful not to brown them. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil and are translucent. Stir in the curry paste until fragrant.

Pour in 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, still stirring and keeping the heat low for about 15~18 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the fatty portion of the coconut milk with the basil and lime juice to a vibrant green milk shake. Chill until needed. Stir the remaining watery portion of the coconut milk into the rice.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, taste your risotto and see if you like the doneness. It should be very creamy, but still retaining a bit of nutty texture in the center of each grain.

Incorporate the coconut basil mixture and take away from the heat. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the seared halibut, fried basil and ginger (follows).

Ingredients for the crispy-skinned halibut, fried basil, and ginger:

2/3 c mild vegetable oil, for frying

12 ginger slices, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife

18 fresh basil leaves

1 lb thick halibut fillet, cut into 6 neat portions

sea salt

To make the fried garnishes, heat the oil in a small saucepan until a chopstick’s point submerged bubbles vigourously. Add half the ginger slices and fry, spooning the oil over the slices occasionally until golden and crisp. Take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

To fry the basil, lower a couple basil leaves to the hot oil – be careful, it will sputter. Fry for 5-10 seconds, until crispy and bright green. Drain on paper towel.

For the halibut, blot the portions dry with paper towel and season the skin side generously with sea salt. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.

Add a couple spoonfuls of the basil frying oil to the pan and swirl to coat in a shimmery layer.Place the halibut portions (don’t crowd the pan, do it in two batches if you need to), skin-side-down in the pan and leave them there for 3 minutes, to really crisp up the skin. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes, you want to see a thin line that is still translucent beige along the sides. Transfer them onto the plate, keeping the skin side facing upwards, and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before plating.

Plate up and serve with a salad as WP suggests or, if it’s a chilly day where you find yourself, consider steaming some green beans and yellow zucchini to brighten up your day!

Enjoy! (And for once, dessert is optional!)

Hey, Pumpkin

Tell me, because I have to know, and it is a subject of legitimate concern:

is brunch a vanishing art?

Wait, wait…WAIIIITTT!!! I don’t want to hear it! Because I love brunch.

Brunch implies that life doesn’t have to be stuffed and jammed like a croque monsieur with answering phone calls and delivering papers at the last minute. Brunch implies that there’s a table of, perhaps two or three whose affection for one another is not a function of how many words fly across the plates per minute.

Brunch implies that we have slept, we have plenty, and who gives a care to the rest of the day?

We are together, soul and stomach, at brunch. At peace. At last.

You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields will be blessed.

Your children and your crops will be blessed.

The offspring of your herds and flocks will be blessed.

Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed.

Wherever you go and whatever you do you will be blessed.

Deuteronomy 28: 1-6

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Ingredients for the oat and pumpkin spice pancakes:

1 cup oat flour (grind rolled oats in your Vitamix, blender, or food processor)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg, cloves, or cardamom (yeah you don’t need all three, just one of them would do nicely so take your pick!)

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/3 cup coconut milk

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp fresh grated ginger

2 tbsp flax seeds, finely ground, mixed with 6 tbsp water (or use two free-range chicken eggs)

 

To make the pancakes, in a large bowl, whisk together the oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and dry spices, set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, coconut milk, lemon juice, maple syrup, vanilla, ginger, and flax eggs until smooth (or whiz it in the blender for extra tender and fluffy pancakes!) Pour the wet mixture into the flour  and stir to combine. Let it sit at room temperature for 5~10 minutes (don’t skip this step! Since oats don’t have gluten, they need more time to absorb the moisture.)

Preheat a lightly oiled crepe pan or heavy nonstick pan to medium-high heat.

Drop ice-cream-scoopfuls of the rested batter onto the hot pan. Cook for 3~4 minutes per side or until golden, fluffy, and cooked through. Be patient with these little cakes, they take longer than their wheat counterparts!

Serve with lots of maple syrup, and whipped coconut cream to your liking.

Enjoy your brunch!

 

why am I always in a curry..

Two weeks into university and the new people I’m meeting have already thrown at me a  stupefying sum of questions.

What’s your name?

Jen, but you can call me Ann, whichever works.

Why did you choose this program?

Well, for the longest time I wanted to be a plastic surgeon, but then one day Jesus told me to go into ActSci and PoliSci so..

Are you vegetarian?

Um, I’m actually closer to vegan (and wheat-free) since I don’t consume dairy, but I do eat meat on occasion.

Then what are you?

(**What kind of question is that!?**)

Well, it’s not that I’m contre-cruelty or pretending to be a health fanatic, because I do thoroughly love food and the rich stories that go along with it. So basically, I’ll eat with respect.

Huh?

For example, if it’s a piece of local, organically farmed short rib, carefully and patiently cooked with the most simplicity such that the natural deep earthy flavour of the marrow and fat permeates every fork-tender strand of flesh, then yes I do. I do very much want to consume that piece of meat.

So in the end, I guess I found my answer.

I don’t have a problem with “meat” – the concept.

Rather, I am appalled by inhumain farming practices, and the greed for money that is the root of this evil.

After all this, it’s only fitting that I dish up some heart-warming breathing space.

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Ingredients for the thai basil pesto:

30 g thai basil, woody stem trimmed

2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped

handful raw whole almonds, roughly chopped

generous pinch of sea salt

60 ml avocado oil, or other mild oil

To make the pesto, put all ingredients in the food processor (a small one will work better, or use a mortar and pestle) except for the oil. Pulse until evenly chopped and mixed, then slowly stream in the oil until incorporated. Store in a small glass jar and pour an extra layer of oil to seal, then cover and refrigerate until needed, up to two weeks.

Ingredients for the curry:

1 tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp minced ginger root

1 small onion, chopped

3~4 cups cut-up vegetables of choice, such as broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, water chestnut, etc..)

3 tbsp thai basil pesto (above)

1 can coconut milk

ground chili pepper, optional

sea salt, to taste

water

lime wedges, to serve

To make the  curry, heat the coconut oil in a hot wok or large saucepan. Add the ginger and onions and saute on medium heat until fragrant and the onions are softened. Add the vegetables and stir in the pesto. Saute for 1~2 more minutes. Add the coconut milk, chili, sea salt to taste, and enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Turn the heat to high and cover, until brought to a rolling boil. Check the seasoning, and the vegetables should be tender but still vibrantly colored.

Serve as is or with brown jasmine or basmati rice, and a wedge of lime should bring the whole plate alive with its fresh brightness.

Enjoy!

Green Fronds and White Froth

While my (somewhat) equals hop into re-done cars with muscle-top apes, I retreat to my favourite shops and market in the more quiet extremes of town. Bruce’s country market down by the riverside sits on the skirt fringe of my small enough gem-of-a-town Maple Ridge. It’s also my salmon place. Yes, I’m a B. C. girl and I love my salmon, but only wild sockeyes please. The farmed, beastly humongous monster fish of the Atlantic are practically lumps of hormone- and antibiotic-injected flesh anyway.

You may have noticed that I’m starting to clean up my blog, starting from the last post https://cocoetcocoa.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/casually-pudding-it-out/ in terms of style and image. Yes, and I’m not just starting now, with only what meets the eye. People, eat clean, eat less. That way you get the best ingredients, and don’t actually spend a dollar more. This is particularly true with proteins. These days, it seems the mot du jour is always along the lines of sustainability.

Hello, does buying so-called “sustainably sourced fish” in such large quantities that the following year you still find the carcass of an animal skinned and filleted twelve moons ago represent sustainable? Does cooking so much “free-range organic” ground beef into a tub of meat sauce then letting the leftovers (which is half that tub) stink and rot environmentally conscious?

I’m not saying that we should live as monks or saints. But I do find that moderation is a rather valuable trait, it will actually save you legitimate bucks.

So what does all this have to do with the plat du jour? Well, you don’t need a whole fillet to serve two. You just need 200 g of really good quality salmon.

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Ingredients for the coconut poached salmon:

1 can organic coconut milk

8 thin slices ginger root

20 lemon balm leaves

1/2 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp sea salt

200 g wild sockeye salmon fillets with skin, cut into 2 portions

2 drops sesame oil

finely shredded lemon balm, for garnish

To make the poached salmon, bring the coconut milk and ginger to the boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the lemon balm, fish sauce, and sea salt. Remove the pan from the heat and gently lower in the salmon fillets, skin side facing down. Cover and return the pan to barely a simmer for 6 minutes; you can cook it slightly longer, but I would not exceed 8 minutes. Add the sesame oil at the last minute.

Lift the salmon with a slotted spoon onto warm serving plates. To make the sauce, strain the poaching liquid and froth it up using an immersion blender. Spoon the sauce over the salmon and garnish with more lemon balm.

Serve immediately. Also, this makes plenty of sauce, which implies that you could double the amount of salmon to serve four people or mop it up with some french crusty bread. I would just throw some glass noodles and bok choi into the poaching liquid to make it a meal, though.

Enjoy!