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!

 

 

Ain’t No Outrunning the Potato

Under normal circumstances I’m calm and umm… perhaps disconnected (not sure it’s the right word, but that’s not remotely important). ANYWAYS, oh my foodness gracious I can’ t wait to share this salad with you. And for you meat-and-potato guys out there, yeah you, I’m feeling pretty solid on this one. I mean, filled with crispy roasted purple potatoes, caramelized eggplant, toasted almonds, plump sultana raisins, surely something in that list must have hit your sweet spot.

Or maybe you’re wondering if you’d like that combination. But hey, practically everything in life is trial and error (don’t do drugs, kids). Yes, of course a homogeneous bunch of people will get along, but that’s probably the most they’ll ever be. As for me, I feel blessed to have someone sweet to lift my heart, someone spicy to tickle my mind, and someone to act as salt – whom I can’t live without.

Life is a potato salad; you can put whatever you want in it. It can be a side, it can be a show. It can ruin you, it can make you. I take chances with my potato salad. I take time with each component I’ve chosen. I don’t start with a recipe – so it won’t ever be wrong.

It’s just that you want it to fulfill its purpose of providing joy and nourishment to those you love, and not have it end up in the trash.

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Ingredients for the roasted eggplant and zucchini:

1 large round eggplant, diced

1 medium zucchini, quartered then sliced 1/2 inch thick

2/3 tsp sea salt

few rounds freshly cracked black pepper

2 tbsp grape seed oil

To roast the eggplant and zucchini, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with one rack placed at the lower third of the oven and the other at the upper third. Toss all ingredients together very well, spread in a single layer onto a clean baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven on the top rack for 15 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the centers are tender. Let it rest for 5 minutes before lifting them from the pan. The 5 minutes of rest will allow steam to permeate beneath the vegetables so they don’t stick and you can get them out of the pan with their beautiful caramelized bottoms intact effortlessly.

Ingredients for the crispy blue potatoes:

1 litre water

3 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp sea salt, divided

500g blue new potatoes, scrubbed clean and halved

lots of freshly cracked black pepper

glug of grape seed oil, about 3-4 tbsp

To make the roasted potatoes, combine the water and vinegar in a pot, cover, and bring to the boil. Add 1 tsp of the salt and the potatoes. Cover and boil for 5-8 minutes, or just until tender. Drain and rinse under cool water only until cool enough to handle, then cut each half in half again, to get quarters.

Observe the skin, and once it loses its sheen from the moisture, toss the potatoes with the remaining salt, pepper, and oil.

Place the potatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet (you don’t need to line it or anything – this way you can get the spuds super-crispy). Bake in the hot oven (450 degrees) for 15~20 minutes, until they whistle and puff (literally) and get, of course, super-crispy.

Ingredients for the salad:

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves torn, tender stems chopped, and tough stems discarded

20 almonds, toasted and chopped

1 handful sultana raisins

2 tbsp grainy mustard

big splash, 4-5 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

To assemble the salad, whisk together the mustard and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Toss together the roasted eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, parsley, almonds and raisins in a large salad bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine.

Serve with a fresh baguette or a steak for a rounded meal, or just have it all by itself, which is the way I have mine.

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!

my duckling ain’t ugly

Ms. Quack has been snoozing her beauty sleep in my freezer #2 for quite a while now. Then one day I decided to wake’r up and give her a little makeover, I’m thinking sort of a tan to give that pasty skin a bit of a warm glow.

Now, you have no I idea. Three years ago I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. Today I scoff at my youthful naivety at the time, and yet the qualities of that little girl are still in me; my eyes, my hands, and my mind. Mostly my mind, I would say, since I’m always feeling chased with a fire lit beneath my bum, that fire being time…or, rather the lack thereof.

So I won’t tell you how long that bird’s been hibernating. And I definitely won’t tell you how many times my mum nagged at me to free the poor thing and cook it already, each time with increasing urgency in tone.

But none of that matters anymore, since it’s all said (yes I do remember doing lots of talk on what I planned to do with the duck) and actually done.

So once I got ’round to the task, it was as easy as sticking a cake in the oven. Just the sticking part, since there’s no rush or anything against gluten formation or the sort. Two hours later, le voila! a magnificent king of the, um…pond! (?)

The skin, from the slow, gentle roasting is thoroughly rendered and as crispy as one can imagine, without any fattiness. The caramelization is deep and sweet. And the sauce (man the french know their sauce!) is so. flippin’. amazing. I threw some mint, from my garden of course, in there to serve, and it worked seamlessly with the brightness of the orange and richness of the duck.

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Ingredients for the orange roast duck:

1 organic duck, about 2~2.2 kg (spend the extra for organic, it’s worth it)

4 large, juicy navel oranges

2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half

1 big handful fresh mint, plus more to serve

95 g soft brown sugar

65 ml each kumquat vinegar and white vinegar OR 125 ml cider vinegar

80 ml whisky

30 g butter

To make the duck, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, wash the duck under cold water to rinse off any debris and fluid that may have accumulated in the cavity. Shake off any excess water and pat dry thoroughly with a paper towel. Cut an orange in half and rub it all over the duck. Cut the used orange in half again, then stuff it into the cavity of the duck with the mint and cinnamon sticks. Tie up the legs and wings (the legs are pretty straight forward, but if the wings are too intimidating, leave them flailing about, it’s fine). Prick the duck all over with a fork, piercing the skin and into the flesh, so that the fat beneath the skin can drain out effectively for an ultra-crispy skin.

Put the duck on a rack, with the breast side facing down. Put the rack in a shallow roasting pan, and send the whole thin into the oven and roast for 1 hour, turning the duck halfway.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, zest the remaining three oranges, then juice them, keeping the zest and juice in separate bowls. Pour boiling water over the zest, to cover and let it steep for a minute before draining. Repeat this two more times, then set it aside.

In a saucepan, melt the sugar over medium-high heat. When it becomes caramelized and bubbly, deglaze the pan with the vinegar and let the sharpness boil out a bit before adding the orange juice and whisky. Let it boil for two minutes.

After one hour of roasting, start basting the duck with the sauce every 5~10 minutes for another 1 1/2 hour, until the duck is deeply amber, with a reddish tinge. Turn off the oven, leaving the duck in there to keep warm while you finish the sauce.

Add the reserved zest into the remaining sauce and educe it over high heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy. Throw in the butter and stir until combined.

Serve the duck with the sauce, with mint leaves and new potatoes simply boiled in well-salted water.

Enjoy!