Just one post…

I was asking birthday girl’s boyfriend whether she liked Nutella, and was rewarded with a resounding yes (for which I was glad, because I’ve been dying for an excuse to make a Nutella cheesecake for ages). The answer was then followed by a jokingly-made caveat – actually, he liked Nutella so she must like what he liked! I probed as to whether he would know whether birthday boy liked Nutella, and pre-empted the correct response – he would like what he liked too. A very informative conversation (at least someone at the table would like Nutella).

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Interestingly, after this light-hearted exchange, I witnessed one of my colleagues receiving a massive bouquet of pink roses for her wedding anniversary, and her indignant comments that followed:

“I hate pink and I hate roses! This husband of mine! I have been married to him for 30 years and he still doesn’t know what I like. He sent me these pink roses just because he likes pink roses and imposed them on me!”

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Sometimes a choice is dictated – perhaps dictated is a strong word; affected – by the preferences of others who are important to us, either that we were indifferent in the first place, or that we were too polite to say “yuck” in their faces. Sometimes, we grow an adhesion to these preferences, and end up liking something we perhaps maybe didn’t in the first place. Sometimes, the line between an actual personal preference, and a preference influenced by a significant other, is blurred.

But I agree with my colleague. Pink, yuck, and roses, yuck.

I also asked “what goes well with Nutella”? One response was “bread”, an answer which I can only respond with exasperation – exasperation at the fact that it was a correct answer, but it was not an answer which my question had implied for. Further prompting resulted in “banana”.

In the end, from consulting both birthday girl’s boyfriend and birthday boy’s girlfriend, I gathered: she likes cheesecake (and what her boyfriend liked, so hopefully Nutella). He actually wasn’t as keen on Nutella, but liked cheesecake and chocolate, and said he would eat banana if I managed to incorporate this fruit element into the cake. So I settled for this: a banana curd filling between a layer of Nutella cheesecake and a layer of plain cheesecake, marbled on the outside, double-dripped with chocolate ganache, then topped and garnished with nutella/banana macarons and a handful of babybreath dropped where I felt like it.

gather.

Chicken Soup for the S(e)oul

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Those well-versed either in Chinese history (my mother) or Stephen Chow movies (the local Hong Kong public) would be able to identify the “ninth” rank as captioned above as the bottom level of a government official. Starting out life at the very bottom rung of the legal/corporate ladder for me has continued to be a box of chocolates, although the current selection has veered towards flavours such as anise-liquorice, artificial-banana and those of the like.  Nothing has changed from work-life-balance-what?, and the incessant mental chatter in my head trying to grasp at the meaning of this all doesn’t help with the growing number of distractions and interruptions each day. There was an increased urge to literally fly away from the 0.5sq. meters of office space I occupy and eat, breathe, and have on some occasions slept. Thanks to the Easter public holidays which overlapped the weekend, I was able to hop on the everything-Korean-is-the-current-trend! bandwagon a.k.a a flight to Seoul.

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Most of the days were hazy as with my mind and the occasional rain-shower…daily itineraries were planned around the myriad of restaurants, food stalls, cafes and bars that Seoul had to offer…and I don’t think there was a single moment I was hungry with something either savoury, sweet or caffeinated in my paw.

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I was also quite struck by the alarming number of coffee shops and cafes dotted around everywhere… each with its own style and diligent attention to detail in its interior design. The one with the loft – doesn’t that look like where Colin Firth, in earnest Portuguese,  proposed in Love Actually?

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Eat
Bibigo – chain fast-food restaurant for bibimbap
Korean Fried Chicken and Beer
. From anywhere. Nuff said.
Min’s kitchen – somewhere between traditional and modern Korean food
Osulloc – matcha roll, dessert and tea
Siwhadam – modern Korean fine dining; part of Relais & Chateaux
Two-Ppul, found at 532-9 Sinsa-dong, Garosu-gil – melt-in-the-mouth Korean Beef BBQ
Tosokchon (토속촌) – heartwarming ginseng chicken stew to warm up my insides after a whole day outdoors trekking on the DMZ tours
Woodbrick – Viennese coffee (where I burnt off half of my mouth), ice-cream macarons
*be on the lookout for all types of street food; I had this massive croquette-like item stuffed with kimchi for breakfast twice it was so yummy, not to mention inhalation of a variety churros, soft-serves, ice cream macarons… etc.

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Do
Changdeokgung Palace and the secret gardens
DMZ tour – a visit to the North/South Korean border
Shopping in Myeongdong (skincare), Dongdaemun (clothes)
Yeouido for cherry-blossom during April
Wander around Samcheong-dong – boutiques and cafes; art galleries

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Travel / lifestyle blogs, which I reverently study before jet-setting, make it look all too easy; holidays too relaxed. When one’s pulling all-nighter after all-nighter for a month, and bringing a suitcase into work just so she can go straight to the airport from getting off at 12am, just to make those four days or so out of town possible…although I’m thankful for the out of town breather it seemed to add on another type of stress. Or maybe I’m just still incompetent/have anxiety issues. This trip was one that the highly-strung me desperately needed, and somehow I felt that it wasn’t towards the end that I was able to loosen up..which by then sadly of course it meant the inevitable office-life came looming up again.

IMG_5422But if I don’t stop trying…maybe one day I’ll get it right.

 pining

Babybreath

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No elaborate feast-cooking, no tireless gingerbread decorating this year. Nothing ambitious. Just a simple something to go with a cup of Lapsang during this rainy Christmas. The sense of actually being able to project my mental images into real life is still one that’s unbeatable.

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Lately? Nothing’s changed much except maybe shorter tempers, deeper sighs and intensified resignation. Grateful for the few hours to spend time on this simple lemon drizzle cake, tinged with ginger and clove – subtle festive christmas spices. Bracing myself for the next couple weeks of a continual getting-used-to-things, refreshing myself for a constant lookout of inspiration, and reminding myself not to give up. Not to give up.

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It’s been a while, but here’s a recipe!

Lemon Drizzle Cake – Christmas edition

125g unsalted butter, unsoftened
175g wholegrain spelt flour, sifted
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g maple syrup
Grated zest of one lemon
1tsp ground ginger
2 pinches ground clove
4 tbsp milk

To glaze
2 tbsp ginger preserve
1-2 tsp maple syrup

1.     Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and grease a loaf tin.
2.     Cream butter until pale and fluffy in a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer or Kitchenaid. Add 2-3 tbsp of flower and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3.     Add the rest of the flour, baking powder, salt, maple syrup, lemon zest, ginger and clove, and fold in gently. Finally, add in the milk and fold until the cake mixture is smooth and of a good consistency.
4.     Scrape the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning it out on a cooling rack.
5.     To glaze, mix the maple syrup and ginger preserve, and brush over the top of the loaf. I love the kind that has extra bits of ginger to nibble on.

back to babysteps

Corks and Chocolate Chips

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I am a hoarder. In other words, I refuse to throw things away, resulting in boxes, jars and shelves filled with cinema ticket stubs, plane tickets, tags off presents, and bottle corks. Recently, after seeing a picture of Dominique Ansel’s cookie shots, I decided to give this a shot myself (ha!) – and finally put something I hoarded to use.

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Since coming back to Hong Kong it’s taking a lot getting used to the heat, the rain (yep complaining about the weather), the massive crowds, concrete jungles, time difference. I’ve also been watching Friends, and seeing Joey and Chandler in London (Westminster “Crabbey”) made me go awwww a little bit more. But then there are also perks, such as finding 2-inch cake tins with a removable base to make these cookie shots and a one-stop-shop for baking ingredients. Yummy homemade food and dim sum. Quit complaining.

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One novelty in my first year of university was the hype of “Midnite Cookies”. We found flyers under our dorm room doors telling us cookie delivery after around 11pm would be available if there was a minimum £10 order worth of cookies, and you would have a boxful of warm, buttery goodness for a midnight snack feast. Whenever we had a “midnight cookie meeting” we would make sure we had a pint or two of milk, which we would dunk these as-big-as-my-palm cookies in. This craze continued for another year or two, where we would call in different accents, or adopted names such as “James Bond” when making our deliveries. Then we started making our own cookies, maybe because Midnite Cookies stopped delivering (or maybe they stopped believing James Bond would order cookies). We even made some in the shape of the letters of our names. These gluttony treats saw me through essays, “deep meaningful conversations”…

…and motivation to go to the gym the next morning.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Shots
Cookie recipe adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

113g unsalted butter, softened
130g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out the cookie dough
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
110g dark chocolate chips
150g dark chocolate
corks and 2-inch cake tins (or I’ve read that popover tins also work)
makes 8  – 10 shots

1.     Preheat oven to 170 degreesC.
2.    Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, then add the egg beat until incorporated. Turn the speed to low and beat in the vanilla extract.
3.     Add flour, salt and baking soda and mix well by hand, scraping the sides of the bowl down. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips. Put the dough in the refrigerator so it’s easier to roll.
4.   Wrap 8 corks with foil, and grease the wrapped corks and the cake tins thoroughly. Cut out a circular piece of dough to go on the bottom of the cake tin. Then, wrap a strip of cookie dough around the cork, and insert that into the cake tin too.*
5.      Bake for 16 minutes, then let the tins to cool for a couple of minutes before removing the corks and the cookie shot from the tin. Allow to cool completely.
6.    When the cookie shots have cooled, melt dark chocolate (either in a microwave or over a pot of hot water) and carefully pour into each shot up to its brim. Wait for a minute or so then pour the excess back out, so that you have a layer of chocolate coating on the inside of the cookie shot. Check to make sure there aren’t any cookie bits exposed – this will otherwise cause your shot to leak when you pour milk in.**

*I did mine in 4 batches since I only bought two of those cake tins – it was kind of an experiment and I wasn’t sure whether it would work!
**I’ve heard Baileys is also a very good idea…

P.S. Thank you TJ for the pretty dish!

revamp

By the Sea

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The sea isn’t crystalline, the sand isn’t sink-in-soft. It’s not a Mediterranean-standard kind of beach but this coastline of Norfolk and the quaint town of Hunstanton offered a different getaway.

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Hunstanton is about 1.5 hours away from Cambridge, which can be reached by a bus from Kings Lynn. This seaside town is a purposely-built resort town that dates all the way back to 1846. My first impression was a run-down town full of old people, but I was way too excited at the prospect of seeing…

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these long whiskered fat blobs! The seal tour was originally fully booked (I threw a tantrum) but then I called again begging to be put on the waiting list and miracles do happen – the man said I was in luck; they’d decided to send out another vessel. And the seals were SO CUTE! I could just about see them lulling about through binoculars, and as the vessel turned closer to them they all waddled to the edge of the sand bay to investigate what was going on. Inquisitive little big creatures!

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We stopped to get soft serve cones. The wind was so ridiculous I couldn’t even take a bite without my hair being dyed white by ice cream; at least I didn’t end up looking like this poor kid (I don’t blame him)…

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The signature striped cliffs of Hunstanton was another something I did not expect to see in the UK. The three layers are white limestone chalk, red chalk and carrstone respectively, the reddening colours reflecting its iron ore content.

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Market Bistro in King’s Lynn is strongly recommended by Tripadvisor, which is where we headed after an hour of slotting in 2p coins into the Coin Dozer – not winning anything but fully understanding why this mindless arcade game was just so addictive. We sat our tired selves down to gin & tonics, and a dinner of crab, quail, pollock and trout. Market Bistro dishes are seasonal, and they claim that their catch(es) of the day depends on what they receive from suppliers every morning. This Alaskan Snow Crab Salad below is inspired by one of the starters we had. Crab salad, air delivery from UK to HK.

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Hunstanton to me was no breathtaking, love-at-first-sight town. But I guess life’s about learning to find that one thing to appreciate in a setting and giving second chances.

Alaskan Snow Crab Salad

(From when I was young up until now, my dad has unfailingly given me a hand (or two) with shelling crustaceans. This was no exception; without his help I would still be wedging crab flesh out of its shell.)

approx 10 legs of Alaskan Snow Crabs, flesh removed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pack salad leaves
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 purple sweet potato, cubed
3 radishes, sliced
6 mint leaves, torn into shreds
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp (or more) tabasco
salt & pepper

1.     Place the salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, sweet potato, radishes and mint into a large bowl, leaving a couple of slices of each for garnish. Drizzle olive oil over it and add salt & pepper to taste.
2.   In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise and tabasco together (you get tabasco mayo that can be used for dipping chips as well!). Empty that into the salad bowl too.
3.      Squeeze lemon juice over the crab flesh to get rid of the salty/fishy taste (dad’s tip!). Keep a few shreds to put on the side, and empty the rest into the salad bowl as well. Cover the salad bowl with a large plate and give it a couple of good tosses to mix well. Garnish and serve!

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References:

token

Contrasting Japanese

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Rain poured onto Cambridge this Sunday morning as I stood at the edge of Market Square. I couldn’t tell whether I was being drenched by water tipping off from canopies of stalls or the skies – actually, both. E and I had talked about a sushi night ever since Michaelmas and with less than a week to go until I leave we finally decided to make it happen. So here I was, standing in the rain, eyeing up the fresh fish at the fish stall.

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“Let me know next Sunday how your sushi goes yeah?”  said the lovely fishmonger, handing me my swordfish and salmon. I won’t be here anymore. I’ve never bought fresh fish from a fish stall and made sashimi / sushi out of it – I was so apprehensive I’d checked to see whether there was diarrhoea medication at home. But the fishmonger said it was fresh so I guess there was nothing that a lot of washing couldn’t get rid of.

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Excuse my slicing efforts! I might add that I don’t know much about making sushi; I’ve just known how to eat it. So it was a lot experimenting and pairing ingredients we thought complemented each other. E came running into the kitchen at one point with excitement, proudly presenting the two jars below. Another case of east-meets-west? Garlic mayo, and truffle paste brought all the way back from Milan with love. I think we need more of that in this world.

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I had so much fun building blobs of rice and fish into little sculptures. Sushi has always been a father-daughter thing in my family. Mum doesn’t really like the thought of cold rice and raw fish. So whenever it was just Dad and I left to our own devices for dinner, we’d go to the sushi train that used to be down the road from where we lived. Dad always got the “Boston Maki’ and katsu prawn rolls.

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My flatmates and I also had sushi nights in university. Exam period is normally when I get so fed up with repeating the same mundane task for 16 hours that I get most creative. In  third year, I got back from an exam and decided I would take the afternoon off revision by making brown rice sushi. Sadly Sainsbury’s “Scottish Salmon Fillets” didn’t look “sashimisable”, so I used smoked salmon instead. I also added sea urchin cream which I had bought from Muji to make little seaweed-rice-salmon mini rolls. I was so bored I started making little pictures with the sushi-ettes, according to J.

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As I mentioned in “A Cultural Melting Pot”, Hong Kong is where all types of traditions are blended together and homogenised to recreate its own unique culture. On the contrary, in face of ethnic and cosmopolitan components, the Japanese are keen to retain its cultural identity by initiating stark contrast with the West (Hiroko, 2008: 12). For example, although sukiyaki and tempura are commonly identified as Japanese cuisine, they were in fact adapted from Western dishes as a result of Westernisation, but reinforced its Japaneseness through its serving practices and presentations (ibid.). As demonstrated in E and I’s little experiment with these rolls, sushi has even counteracted Westernisation to globalise and allow other cuisines to infuse their own complementing components, whilst preserving its representation of “being Japanese”.

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N.B. All the sashimi-slicing / sushi-rolling was part of a trial and error and the result of utilising everything in the fridge and I’m definitely not in any position to “teach” anything but here is a list of ingredients for inspiration: fresh salmon, fresh swordfish, avocado, cucumber, garlic mayo, truffle paste and wasabi paste.

Sushi Rice:

2 cups* sushi rice
3 cups water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar 1/2 tsp salt

1.     Put the rice and water into a pot and bring to boil, then cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
2.     Take it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, mix in rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and cover the pot with a damp tea towel until you make the rice rolls** to stop it from drying up.

*This is a rice measuring cup. Apparently it’s 3/4 of a standard American cup. **When making the rice rolls, it’s useful to keep a small bowl of water at hand to keep your hands wet. This will stop the sushi rice sticking to everything.

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Reference: Hiroko, T. 2008. “Delicious Food in a Beautiful Country: Nationhood and Nationalism in Discourses on Food in Contemporary Japan”. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 8: 5-30.

experimental

Home-Family-Soup

A common craving after being far from home for many Chinese people is a bowl of heartwarming soup. In the eyes of the Chinese, soup is more like broth – more liquid-y and simmered for two or three hours for the flavours of the ingredients to seep through. It’s believed that drinking Chinese soup can take away the “heat” and nourishes a person, with effects of improving skin, health, and to soothe one’s emotions, especially those with certain Chinese herbs.

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I never understood nor appreciated the effort behind one bowl of concoction until I actually made it myself. As with many things. I’m not sure about any scientific evidence for better health, but I do know that the moment when I bring my bowl up to my lips and take a gulp I feel warm and fuzzy inside. And that’s when I understood the importance of home, family, and that toasty bowl of soup.

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Not to mention the lovely aromas from the simmering pot of goodness every time which would fill all two floors of the house. And the symbolism of making soup was a gesture that one cared. That one wanted to bring the sense of family back into the house. That it was okay to be homesick, because there was part of a cure at hand.

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Chinese Carrot and Corn Soup
Prep time: 2-3hours

5 sticks of carrot
2 sticks of corn, chopped in half
4 pork ribs*
2 dried figs (optional; they make the soup ‘sweeter’)

1.   Blanch the ribs in boiling water for about 5 – 10 minutes. This is to a) get rid of excess oil in the meat, b) the blood-water in the meat and prevent a layer of brown “cooked” blood on the top of soup, and c) to kill any bacteria in the pork.
2.   Chop the carrots into small chunks. Place all the ingredients into a big pot and fill with tap water. Bring to boil, then allow to simmer for 2 – 3 hours. Remember to check on it every now and again to make sure the water doesn’t all evaporate, otherwise you’d be left with a pot of coal.
3.   Season to taste and enjoy – I didn’t even have to add any salt into mine as the flavours from the ingredients were alone were already so dense!

*Most people would use a slab of lean pork meat, but it’s not that easy to find in smaller supermarkets in the UK. Ribs are more fatty though – I guess it’s true that calories are a measure of how good things taste.

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My experience in university is that having a massive pot of soup in the kitchen generates quite a few meals. You can always re-boil the ingredients by adding more water (and maybe a couple more carrots) and leaving it to simmer away for another 2 hours. One of my lunches at university would be using leftover soup from the night before to be the base of noodles for lunch – eating the vegetables and bits of meat from the soup is more filling and satisfying than expected!

home is where the heart is, and may it carry nothing less.

Cereal Bowls

The thing with Alpen. How many people like Alpen muesli? More importantly, is there anyone else who just loves those raisins in Alpen Muesli? My breakfast ritual could go – biteofcereal, biteofcereal, RAISIN!!!!!, biteofcereal. Why then, you may ask, not add in more raisins if I like them so much? But noooo, it’s Alpen raisins, not any other type of raisin, that cause clouds to clear and add a spring in my step. I promise I am not a nutcase. (In my defence I know at least one more person who shares this Alpen-raisin-enthusiasm.)

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I may have been living under a rock, but it was quite far on that I discovered you can buy papayas in the UK. Granted, they’re not the size of my head, which is the case back at home, but they’re perfect for an alternative cereal bowl! I don’t think I even came up with this on purpose (like I’m that artsy-fartsy – ha!), it was more of for convenience’s sake – inhale my five-a-day + carbs + RAISINS! and get out of the door in five minutes…although there were a couple of occasions where eagerness to scrape off every single bit of orange flesh from the green and yellow speckled skin caused punctures and more cleaning up than originally intended. Anyway, hereby presenting…

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Papaya Pontoons…(Or just I’m-too-lazy-to-wash-a-cereal-bowl)
Prep time: 5 minutes

1 papaya
cereal / muesli*
splash of milk
Greek yoghurt (or any flavour really!)

1.   Wash and halve the papaya, then scraping the seeds out with the spoon you would eat your cereal with.
2.   Slowly scatter cereal over the papaya-bowl until half is filled.
3.   Add splash of milk, yoghurt up to the brim of the “bowl” then top with more cereal. Done!

*I found that muesli works better for this since it doesn’t get soggy so quickly.
Also, if you halved the papaya in the sink, scraped seeds out over a bin, and didn’t make a mess you technically only need to wash a knife and a spoon. Sometimes I really am THAT desperate to get out of washing things. Sometimes.

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again-again

 

Recipe Reconstruction

A major part of my undergraduate memories include grocery shopping, making a mess in the kitchen with various food experiments, followed by sitting at a kitchen table for hours on end with laughter, Deep Meaningful (or meaningless?) Conversations, and the occasional trashy Stephen Chow film streaming in the background. What did we talk about? I remember one of us saying in our final year that if we digitally documented all those Meals (Meals with a Capital M because they were such Majorly Long Ordeals), an albumful of 100 gluttonous evidence may even be an underestimate.

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Whenever I chop onions, three four things happen:
1. I cry. Unless I have contact lenses in, which then becomes some sort of eye-armour  – I suppose that’s one up for not being equipped with perfect vision,

2. I always think of the scene in Julie & Julia where Julia Child comes back from the Cordon Bleu with a vengeance and determination to outshine her male counterparts in the onion-chopping department, and proceeds to almost blind her husband with the pungent smell of a small mountain of chopped onions.

3. Which leads me to be reminded of the time I was in the middle of slicing about 16 onions for an exceptionally large batch of this soup, when one of my flatmates J walked through the kitchen door and had a similar to Julia’s husband

4. Having the knife slip and cut my finger. Again. (But I’m sure that only happens to clumsy people like me!)

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I knew I wasn’t ready to leave the UK when I graduated, so much so that after a year I came back to do a year-long Masters. It’s also when I realised that no matter how long you cling on, once daily occurrences will inevitably become nothing but a memory. The other day, leafing through my 1/10th completed Moleskine Recipe book, I realised that there were so many oldies I’d isolated in pursuance of newer, more complicated, perhaps even weirder food combinations. Or that I’d fallen back into comfort zones of making the same few things over and over again. Gone are the days where I’d find a recipe online, get really excited and run straight out to the stores to buy ingredients. And in less than a month I don’t think I’ll ever get this freedom again.

So amongst the badly scribbled down recipes, here are a series of those which weren’t fortunate enough to be graced with the revision of the iphone camera my favourites.

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French Onion Soup

(adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
Prep time: 2hrs

650g thinly sliced yellow onions*
40g unsalted butter
15ml olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tbsp  plain flour
2 sprigs of thyme
1L beef stock
100ml dry white wine or vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
45ml cognac (optional)**

1.   Melt the butter and oil together in the bottom of a 2.5L+ pot over low heat. Add and coat onions with the oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to very low and let them sit for 15 minutes.
2.   Uncover the pot, raise heat to low / medium-low and stir in salt and sugar. Allow onions to caramelise by stirring frequently for 30 – 40 min until they have  turned an even, deep golden brown. (Don’t skip this step – it’s what gives the soup its flavour!)
3.   After the onions have caramelised, sprinkle in flour and stir for about 1 minute. Add the wine, then stock in 6 goes, stirring between additions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4.   Simmer (partially covered) for 30-40 more minutes. Finally, stir in the cognac.

Topping: although not most authentic, I used two slices of toast and two slices of cheese, put under a grill for 2 minutes until the cheese was melted. I also used red leicester as a) it was the only cheese around and b) I like stronger savoury cheeses. Mmmm.

*I discovered that Sainsburys Online Delivery does ready-sliced onion! (Although I chopped my own onion this time which resulted in tears streaming down my cheeks. I also am irrationally overexcited about Sainsburys Online Deliveries.)
**I used Grand Mariner and I think it added a faintly sweeter and zesty tinge to the onion soup, which I liked!

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 washed up upon