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!)

Foodie’s Gold

For me, a good recipe should always hit the spot on taste, that is, flavour and texture. A recipe that I’ll make over and over again, however, must also be wittily simple, nourishing, and dirt cheap. I mean, sure, a delicate entremet is surely delicious, but let’s be honest here, ain’t nobody got time to chill and set six frickin’ layers. And yeah, totally, if I bacon anything (yes, it’s a verb now) I’m pretty sure I can tag it #mattprestonlikedit, but I’m sure I’ll enter a sweaty bacon coma shortly after eating it. And heck, I could practically do anything to a piece of chilean sea bass and it’d be yum, but I’d be broke in a week.

Thus arises the dilemma of a poor foodie: sacrificing taste vs sacrificing time/health/wallet’s embonpoint. But you can’t starve a foodie, it just doesn’t work like that. We are a very advanced type of people in terms of our ability to self sustain because a huge part of our brain specializes in just that: nom and nosh.

I am thankful that I can tell when tofu’s gone sour. I am thankful that I am educated to choose those foods that help me thrive. I am thankful that I am not rich, should the abundance turn me a glutton. Yet I give thanks that I am not poor, should the words that fill my mouth become bitter and dry. I am thankful that there is not one perfect way to make a dish, but many different ways to make a dish perfect. And I am thankful that I can find my way.

What are you thankful for?

Remove far from me vanity and lies:

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with food convenient for me:

Lest I be full, and deny thee,

and say,

Who is the Lord?

or lest I be poor,

and steal,

and take the name of my God in vain.

Proverbs 30:8-9

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Far from being traditional, this paella still hits all my check-points as far as a recipe is concerned: delicious, simple, healthy, and cheap. I ditched the saffron and gave turmeric a try. I used regular brown rice instead of imported paella rice. Excuse me for using frozen seafood, but excuse you for not knowing that flash-freeze technology has hugely improved since two decades ago. Also, I didn’t bother with any type of stock because I have no intention of using store bought, and time or spirit for simmering my own. Hence I added depth of flavour by charring my corn, tomatoes, and pepper which brings out their sweetness.

Delicious, simple, healthy, and cheapo points: check, check, check, check!

Ingredients for the paella – part I :

3 cups brown rice, soaked overnight

1 large red bell pepper

1 ear corn, husk removed

3 tomatoes on the vine

To prep for the paella, char the pepper, corn, and tomatoes on the gas stove by holding them with metal tongs over direct flame until the skin blisters blackens all over. Be careful when you try to do this with the corn – it will pop a bit! Leave them until cool enough to handle.

Core and remove the seeds from the pepper, then thinly slice. To remove the kernels from the ear of corn, hold it vertically over a large mixing bowl and slice downwards along the core. This way you save all the sweet juice and the hassle of chasing after kernels flying through the air. Finally, dice the tomatoes. Reserve until needed.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion, diced

1 spicy chorizo, sliced into 1-cm thick coins

1 fat garlic clove, minced

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp fish sauce (yes it stinks, I know, but it’s practically msg-less shellfish bouillon)

4 1/2 cups water

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

1 pkg (16 oz.) frozen mixed seafood, do not thaw

1 pkg (16 oz) frozen raw mussels on the half shell, do not thaw

To make the paella, heat the oil in a large roasting pan. Sweat the onion and chorizo on medium heat until the onions are translucent and the chorizo is browned. Add the garlic, paprika, turmeric, and fish sauce and fry until fragrant. Add the prepared vegetables and cook on high heat until the tomatoes lose their raw flavour, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the soaked rice and water, then season well. Cover and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with the rack placed in the lower third of the oven. Once boiling, remove it from the heat, stir well, and arrange the frozen seafood on top. Do not stir once you add the seafood!

Cover and bake in the reheated oven for 1 hour, or until the liquid has been completely soaked up by the rice. Turn off the oven and leave the paella in the oven to rest for a further 10 minutes, undisturbed.

Serve immediately with a simple herb salad.

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!

 

So Cali

I’m no lobster girl. Should I offend, I apologize.

I find prawns to have sweeter flavour, it’s almost as if all the umami of a lobster were condensed into the size of a shrimp. They’re less vicious, because if one’s going to splurge on seafood, might as well get it live, right? Choosing prawns over lobsters are by far friendlier to planet Earth as well; did you know, lobsters can easily live up to 150 years (without us eating them faster than they can reproduce), and it takes a decade for a lobster to reach a size presentable at restaurants? Even the “chick” lobsters take at least 5 to 7 years –  that’s more than the lifespan of beef cattle, who are sent to the slaughter house at 24 months. Notice how the size of lobsters being dished up are getting punier and punier?

Eat prawns, but shun the farmed stuff. Get them wild, too. Now now, there’s no need to get paranoid just because of what I just made your brain accept. Nearly everything is alright in moderation – you don’t need a pound of the stuff, 200g is enough for two people. That’s about 6 large prawns.

So my mum surprised me with half a dozen of these gloriously plump tiger prawns freshly caught off the cold waters of B.C., and off goes my mental fireworks shooting off to California. I don’t know, I might need some sun (daylight savings is in 3 days!!). Of course I did not want to tamper with them too much, so I made a salad, sort of, with six ingredients. I tossed the prawns in just enough mayonnaise and a touch of wasabi, chopped some avocado and drizzled it with a squeeze of lemon juice, an cut out inch-thick steaks of sunny ripe mango.

Perhaps I don’t need the sun so much after all?

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Ingredients for the cali stacked salad:

6 large wild black tiger prawns, peeled, blanched then plunged in ice water

1 tbsp mayonnaise

1/4 tsp wasabi paste

1 ripe, but firm mango, peeled

1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped

juice of 1/2 lemon

radish sprouts or wasabi peas, to garnish

extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle

To make the salad, chop the prawns into small pieces, and mix well with the mayonnaise and wasabi paste. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, “fillet” the mango so you get two large whole halves (discard the seed). Use a round cookie cutter (5 cm diameter) to cut out two thick rounds. Trim them so they’re nice and even in thickness.

Mix together the avocado and lemon juice.

To assemble, place a round cookie cutter (the same size as the one used for stamping out the mango) on a clean plate. Put a mango round back into the cookie cutter. Put another cookie cutter on top to add height, then spoon in some of the avocado mixture, pressing down gently to compact it. Finally, spoon half of the prawns over the avocado, packing it down again. Gently lift the cookie cutters. Voila, here’s a pretty stacked salad! Now just garnish with some peppery wasabi peas or radish sprouts!

Enjoy!

Shiozake Fried Rice

British Columbia’s coastline – where I live – is abundantly blessed by a multitude of seafood species that, anywhere else on planet Earth, would cost a fortune. Though I am no fisherman, I thank God for putting candy-cane-legged spot prawns, cream-fleshed oysters, and defensive dungenesses on my table. I quite friendly towards cows, boars, and fowl, I really am, since their place on my plate by fish etcetera.

I suspect I’m becoming a pescetarian.

Growing up, first on the island of Taiwan, then on the West coast, sea salt is practically my mother tongue. Anything from the sea I find I love, in any way, shape, or form. This week, I was delighted by a beautiful wild sockeye filet.  The front half had been masterfully transformed by my mother into a crisp-skinned deliciousness with braised salt plums, ginger, and scallions. The tail end, left to my care, I decided to cure.

It’s simple, just follow the 1:1 ratio of fine sea salt and raw sugar, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two to three days. I broiled it with the lightest kiss of sesame oil and a generous sprinkling of lemon juice to help crisp the skin. The left-overs I used in this fried rice, one that made me regret eating the salmon the night before as it has become obvious that I should have invested the whole piece to the fried rice.

This fried rice features, of course, the luxurious salmon, but equally brings to attention to the saccharine crunch of Taiwanese cabbage, the earthy meatiness of oyster mushrooms. These do not compete, but each shines on its own while remaining humble and true to their fair part. As far as I’m concerned, the spirit of fried rice lies in its being lavishly humble.

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Ingredients for the fried rice:

2 tbsp grape seed oil

1 small brown onion, finely diced

120g broiled cured salmon (see above), flaked with a fork

1 free range egg, lightly beaten

8~10 baby king oyster mushrooms, finely diced

1/6 head of a Taiwanese cabbage, finely diced

sea salt & black pepper

1 2/3 cups cold cooked brown jasmine rice

1/2 cup canned corn kernels, drained

1 scallion, thinly sliced

To make the fried rice, start by heating a wok until very hot. Add the oil, swirl it around quickly, then add the onion and saute until fragrant. Add the salmon, and saute until fragrant. Push the onion and salmon to one side of the wok and pour in the beaten egg. Let it brown slightly, then break it up with the spatula. Add the mushrooms and cabbage and season nicely, the salt will start to draw out the vegetables’ moisture, so keep stir-frying on high heat. Add the cold rice, corn, and white part of the scallion and stir well to warm combine evenly. I like little brown bits that stick to the bottom of the wok, so I usually stop stirring for a bit to let that happen before scraping it all up.

Spoon into bowls or plates, or serve it fami-style. Garnish with the thinly sliced green part of the scallion.

This keeps very well as leftovers if you cool it completely before storing in a sealed container and refrigerate. I myself have a weird preference of cold fried rice which my for which my mother makes fun of me, so I’d bring it as lunch, but it can just as well be microwaved before eating. Remember, fried rice is supposed to be 100% as-you-like-it. Whatever you decide will be fantastic.

Sanpei “BB” Calamari

I swear, they did not look so wee bb before I cooked them. Without exaggeration, these little squids started each with five-inch long bodies, and fifteen minutes later, when I lifted the lid…poof be gone they were! They became these thumb-sized miniature creatures that lost their original limpness and instead gained a plump, taut physique that’s pull-apart tender. Their pale, slender legs shrunk and became curly crunchy anemones whose suckers grabbed thirstily onto the deeply umami sauce.

How many bowls of rice was I able to annihilate with that sauce? (I who normally skip the rice during dinnertime)

3. Traditionally, in Taiwanese the dish would be described as shia jio, which literally means “down with the beer”.

Sanpei or “three cups” refers to the 1:1:1 ratio of black sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine. Another trio that’s not to be missed is ginger, garlic, and Thai basil – all of which are used in abundance. The ginger, thinly sliced, becomes fried to a crisp that can then be eaten whole. The garlic cloves are left whole, only pounded so that they soften and become reminiscent of sweet, buttery roasted garlic. Finally, the generous handfuls of peppery Thai basil are stirred in at the last minute to wilt. At the table, as the lid of the sand pot is lifted, the deeply layered aromas rise to stimulate the jowls.

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Ingredients for Sanpei baby calamari:

400g whole baby calamari (12~15 cm body length), rinsed

3 tbsp rice wine

1/4 cup black sesame oil

12 slices ginger root

12 cloves garlic, bruised

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup loose dark brown sugar

1/4 cup rice wine

40g fresh Thai basil

Marinate the calamari in 3 tbsp of the rice wine for 10 minutes.

Add the sesame oil to a very hot wok and quickly swirl it around. Add the ginger and fry until the edges curl up and crispen. Add the garlic and fry until fragrant, but not burnt. Drain and add the calamari, stir, then pour the soy sauce along the side of the wok so it caramelizes on its way down. Add the brown sugar and rice wine, cover. When the mixture comes to a boil, transfer it to a Chinese sand pot and simmer for a further 20~25 minutes, covered.

Uncover, and cook on the highest heat possible for an additional 5 minutes, stirring often, or until the sauce reduces and thickens to a glaze. Stir in the basil until wilted.

Serve with plenty of steamed brown jasmine rice, I mean it!

If you feel squirmish with the baby squid, I often use instead boneless skin-on chicken thighs, just add them skin-side down after the garlic and let the skin crisp up before adding the soy sauce.

I genuinely hope you give it a try, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!