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.

Mien Attitude

Noodles, beyond any other food group has the richest history and diversity. One can tell plenty of dish’s origin by simply reading its name as long as it involves a noodle of some sort.

I am, by no means, an expert on noodles – especially so when it comes to western pastas. BUT, to be honest, if your food memories have been pickled since childhood in Taiwanese gastro-culture, you probably know a thing or two about an iconic bowl of #saucyasiannoodles.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, noodles are very revealing. Just as how table manners of a kid will show you the discipline of the parent, a humble bowl of noodles will tell you the style of its cook, and maybe get even more personal.

This recipe here, please don’t smash it to bits, because it got me through freshman year. It’s unpretentious, but it insists on keeping the details. It’s cheap, but not so it should apologize. And it’s so damn delicious it will fix all of your problems.

That’s just me though, so I have no idea what this bowl of noodles will say to you.

Guess you’ll have to find out for yourself ! But in case you missed it, I’ll start you off and tell you that this is a “dan” good bowl of noodles! (No, do not excuse that pun!)

But solid food is for the mature,

for those who have their powers of discernment

trained by constant practice

to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:14

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Ingredients for the Szechuan dan dan soba with kale and chili oil, serves 2:

2 tbsp Chinese sesame paste (not tahini or the pastry filling)

4 tbsp natural smooth peanut butter (unsweetened)

2 tsp brown sugar

1/3 c soy sauce

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp Szechuan fried chili in oil and more to taste

1 bunch kale, trimmed and torn

3 bunches buckwheat soba noodles

3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

To make the dan dan soba, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Meanwhile, combine the sesame paste, peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and Szechuan chili in a bowl and stir well.

Once the water is boiling, blanch the kale until wilted and lift them out to drain, then squeeze out any excess moisture. Separate the kale leaves and put them in a large bowl. Add the sauce on top.

Keep the pot boiling, and add the soba noodles to the pot to cook until tender, not al dente (this is one of the biggest differences between Asian noodles and Italian pasta.) Lift the noodles out and transfer them straight into the bowl of kale. Make sure you are combining piping hot noodles with the sauce as the heat is what makes the sauce aromatic. Mix and toss thoroughly, adding a couple ladles of hot noodle water to reach your desired consistency. (Again, don’t just add plain water, as that will break the sauce.)

Divide among two big bowls, and garnish with the scallions and more Szechuan chili oil. (I usually add an additional teaspoon to my bowl, but I’ve been told as having a pretty h-core heat tolerance. However, I strongly recommend starting with a whole tablespoon in the sauce as a starting point.)

Enjoy with a cup of hot green tea!

Layers

It’s amazing how an actual attempt in putting your mind to something can make you realize how terrible you are at focusing. I am, by no means, one who is timid in enforcing self control. But at times (blame spring and the fever that comes with it) I just find progress depressingly close to being stagnant while my mind rummages through even the least significant details dating back to over half a decade.

And then I’m thinking, if I am carrying so much junk with me, how am I supposed to pick up anything new and valuable? How I wish I could just empty my mind like dumping all those second-rate photos into the recycling bin then emptying that with just a couple of clicks. I wish my mind could absorb new knowledge like downloading a (legitimate) program.

But then what kind of life would that be? Isn’t life supposed to be valued by the little things that take our breath away – the smell of fresh rain on the sun-baked sidewalk, the coolness of plunging my arms elbow-deep into a sac filled with rice, the shadows of branches swaying to the breeze?

Oh, please make everything new again.

Create in me a clean heart,

O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalms 51:10

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Ingredients for the Tofu Carpaccio – serves 2:

400 g organic silken firm tofu

2 tbsp thick soy sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar, or agave, or maple syrup (whatever you have)

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar

1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp Szechuan chili oil

2 scallions, thinly sliced

crumbled nori and toasted white sesame seeds/ chopped peanuts, to garnish

To clean the tofu, tip out all the liquid in the tofu container. Gently rinse the tofu under cold water. Put it in a lidded container  that fits and pour cold filtered water over it until it is completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight. This will give your tofu a very clean, delicate flavour without an overpowering soy taste.

The next day you will notice that the water has taken on a yellowish tinge, that’s perfect. Tip out that liquid again, take out the tofu, and rinse under cold water again. Pat it dry with some kitchen towel, then wrap it with a cheese cloth on your cutting board. Leave a weighted plate on it for 15 minutes or so to help extract the moisture. This will help you get those super-thin slices as well as prevent your finished carpaccio from drowning in its own liquid.

Unwrap the tofu, and using your sharpest knife, carefully slice the tofu as thin as possible. As soon as you make a slice, lay it on the plate overlapping to conform to the shape of your plate (it is nearly impossible to try and transfer each slice after accumulating them on the cutting board.) Once you’re done slicing and plating, chill it in the fridge.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil to combine. Take out the tofu (if moisture has formed, dab it gently with more kitchen towel. Drizzle on the sauce and chili oil. Garnish with the scallions and nori, sesame/peanuts, if using.

Serve with steamed rice…you’ll need lots, but enjoy!

 

 

A Girl and Agar

Being should not require an explanation. I am who I am. You are who you are. He is who he is. It’s very straight-forward, like conjugating verbs. In fact, there are more verbes (oops, excuse the french spelling…I tend to automatically go into french mode when I start thinking about grammaire and conjugasons) in this life than one that should not require an explanation. Sleeping, feeling, breathing, laughing, loving, crying…the list goes on. Oh, and needless to say, eating would be a member of that list too.

So what happens when you try to explain these things that aren’t meant to be explained? How can you explain to someone what sleeping is when you’re not even awake when you engage in it? How can you explain laughing when it’s often laced with tears, and crying when it wears a most heart-breaking smile. How can you?

You can’t. I can’t.

I’ve tried, I mean with the eating bit.

I’ve tried explaining to people how I eat. No, not the mechanics of sinking the teeth of a fork into a cherry tomato, subconsciously employing triangulation and advanced hand-eye coordination to bring it to my mouth, then embracing it with my lips only to sink my own teeth into it. No, I mean what I believe to be the right fuel for my body, mind, and soul. I’ve tried, but since I can’t really explain even the nouns body, mind, and soul, I was rather ill-equipped for the challenge.

And another thing, usually these attempts not only bring about confusion, but also casualty…ies. I mean, it’s only a tad bit awks when the person jabbing at a breakfast sausage in his plate sitting beside you in the cafe asks why you don’t eat meat (when you actually do, but just prefer to avoid those that are anonymously sourced.) Do you feed their brains right there and then of the hormone- and antibiotic-saturated conspiracy behind the commercialized farming practices that produced the now-become last bite of the sausage left in their plate?

Excuse me, but that would be rude. Then what? Well, maybe this will help.

Those who feel free to eat anything

must not look down on those don’t.

And those who don’t eat certain foods

must not condemn those who do,

for God has accepted them.

– Romans 14:3

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Ingredients for the Sesame Cucumber Slaw:

1 cup dried agar weed, cut into 2-inch strands

1 long English cucumber, julienned

Ingredients for the toasted sesame dressing:

4 tbsp Chinese sesame paste or tahini

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

1 tbsp rice winegar

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar or shiitake vinegar

1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

1~2 tsp Szechuan chili pepper confit (or chili oil)

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds or chopped toasted peanuts

To make the slaw, soak the agar weed in water that’s hot to the touch for 10~15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients except the sesame seeds for the dressing. Once the agar is re-hydrated, squeeze it very dry with your hands and place in a large bowl. Toss to combine with the cucumber and sesame dressing. Serve immediately or chilled (just make sure you stir it up a bit before serving), with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Enjoy!

Imagine in Purple

I doubt I’m getting to that age where I have the seniority to say “as you get older you find that every year passes you by so quickly that they blend into one another”. Nor am I quite so busy to say that the thin silver line between each day has disappeared. But there’s one thing I can say, because I believe that time cannot be quantified according to any device except for perhaps by one’s heart:

time took itself to sloth from one point to the next, which was back in August when lunch between mother and daughter was a three-hour affair that would take place under impromptu patches of flowery shade over crostinis and blueberry compote.

but then, like a child, it grew as an exponential function.

So here we are, in the very belly of November, and every man I see sports some sort of awkward hybrid between grubble and moustache on their face. In all honesty, the only possible thing I can connect that – whatever that is, movember? – to would be that stage when a cute fuzzy baby chicken overnight becomes this grotesque, almost reptilian creature with non-uniform spikes protruding from their pores. But for the cause behind the hairiness I think I can go another two weeks.

Afterall, two weeks feels to me like three days now.  And eggplants are running exponentially faster away from me. My mind, however, still dreams in purple – the deep, royal, amethyst sort of purple.

Best friend, math has not done so much to take away my imagination. I can still dream up a thousand and one ways to cook a deep, royal, amethyst purple giant of an egg. Here’s 1/1001 of the ways.

“How can people say

they don’t eat eggplant

when God loves the color

and the French love the name?

I don’t understand.”

– Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet

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Ingredients for the candied eggplant with akamiso glaze:

3 tbsp red miso

2 tbsp buckwheat honey, regular will do

1 tbsp mirin, or rice wine

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 large round eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 thinly sliced green onions, to garnish

To make the candied eggplant, preheat the oven to 415 degrees F with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush it with some mild vegetable oil such as grape seed or avocado.

Stir together the miso, honey, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Toss the diced eggplant in the miso glaze to coat evenly and spread the eggplant onto the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 25~30 minutes, or until the eggplant becomes caramelized and very tender. Transfer to a plate and garnish with the sliced green onions, and a thin drizzle of sesame oil, if desired.

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!