Category Archives: Food

Eggless Kahlua mousse with condensed milk

photo

For some, impulse buys can take the form of candy, magazines, and other tempting items by the checkout counter. Me? My impulse decided to buy me a can of condensed milk at the grocery store.

There’s something decidedly summery about condensed milk to me. Come June, I’d always looked forward to drenching strawberries in a big fat bowl of it when I was young. This time around, I wanted something a little more decadent and a little more grown up. I found a perfect chilly solution in kahlua coffee mousse.

As I’m working on my presentation, I dressed the mousse up with some homemade whipped cream and garnished it with chocolate shavings to boot. An embarrassing confession: I destroyed an entire chocolate bar doing this. The bar was pretty kept breaking into pieces the warm (for now) weather. If you’re working under hot conditions, definitely stick your chocolate in the fridge for a bit.

Other than this seasonal snafu, this dessert was pretty painless. Just beware that condensed milk burns easily, so stir well and avoid gelatin clumps. If you don’t like too-sweet sweets, try tweaking the milk-to-cream ratio.

EGGLESS KAHLUA COFFEE MOUSSE
Adapted from Gourmet’s iced coffee mousse on Epicurious

Ingredients, for mousse

  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 cup condensed milk (sweetened)
  • 3 tsp instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua

Optional, for garnish

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • chocolate for shaving

To make the mousse

Leave heavy cream in the fridge. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a sauce pan, making sure the powder is evenly distributed throughout. Let it soften for two minutes, then swirl mixture to minimize clumps.

Add condensed milk and stir over low heat until it steams. Add coffee powder and stir quickly until it dissolves. (If it’s taking a while, try turning up the heat slightly up to medium-low.) Being patient and making sure the powder doesn’t settle will help prevent burning.

Remove pan from heat and place in a bowl of ice water. Stir until mixture cools and thickens. Add Kahlua and mix evenly.

Take heavy cream out and beat 1 cup in a separate bowl until cream holds stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whip, which will make the texture lumpy. Fold cooled coffee mixture into the bowl evenly but gently. Spoon into glass containers and chill for 3 hours. Serve as soon as possible, since the whipped cream will start losing air.

To dress up your dessert

Right before you serve, beat the remaining 1/2 cup of cream until it holds stiff peaks. The better the peaks hold, the prettier the whipped cream will look (but again, avoid over-whipping). An electric blender is recommended.

Spoon the whipped cream into a zip loc bag, keeping the cream away from one bottom corner. Make a quarter-inch snip in that corner, then swirl the cream on top of the mousse. I spiraled mine up in circles the way one does with soft-serve cones, looping the cream as I went to create a ruffled looked.

Using a peeler, shave chocolate into the glasses. A knife also works, but shave the chocolate on a cutting board, then sprinkle over the mousse and cream. Serve proudly and enjoy.

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Baked Plums with Blueberries and Mascarpone

I first fell in love with poetry in middle school, thanks to William Carlos Williams. I’d initially chuckled at his silly-sounding name, but then something about his simple and tangible words charmed me. The first time I read “This Is Just to Say”  aloud, I fancied that I could actually feel the cold deliciousness of an icebox plum rolling across my tongue.

Ever since, the fruit has always evoked a strong sense of nostalgia in me, and this juicy baked rendition takes me right back to that fateful seventh grade class. We’re expecting snow in NYC this week, but perhaps giving this summertime staple some love can help usher in some warmer weather for good.

Though this dish is delicious any way you serve it, I prefer the plums warm, topped with a chilled dollop of mascarpone for just a touch of icebox-coldness. The result is a just-right symphony that’s not too saccharine nor too sour, perfect for a light dessert.

Or breakfast. Or a snack. Or no good reason at all.

I didn’t have mascarpone on hand, and, honestly, it’s a little pricey anyway. Not wanting to get too fancy, I used this shortcut: 8 oz cream cheese, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 2.5 tbsp sour cream. I also opted for a pomegranate black currant juice when I (uncharacteristically) ran out of wine.

BAKED PLUMS WITH BLUEBERRIES AND MASCARPONE
adapted from The Golden Book of Desserts

Ingredients

  • 12 ripe plums or small nectarines
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or black currant juice
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 2 tbsp confecioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions 

Preheat the oven to 400F. Wash the plums, splitting them into halves and pitting them. Lay them flat side up in a bake-safe pan (or two) lined with aluminum foil. Rub the brown sugar in on the cut surface.

In a small dish, zap the butter in the microwave until just melted. Dip two fingers into the butter, spreading it onto the plums evenly. Don’t be afraid to apply a liberal layer. The butter should cool pretty quickly and firm up on the plums.

Drizzle wine or juice over the plums, then bake for 15 minutes. In the meantime, combine the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside and chill. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the dish with blueberries, then bake for another 5 minutes.

Let the plums cool slightly. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone and a splash of juice from the pan.

____________________________________

THIS IS JUST TO SAY
I have eaten the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos Williams

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The sights and sounds of Taipei’s ShiDong traditional wet market

The plan was to stop by for a mere five minutes, but even before I step under the bright lights beyond the inner doors, it starts. Like the layers of an onion, what was first one big buzz begins to peel away and disentangle in pieces. First the clattering of shopping cart wheels gives away a shopper’s location, then the crinkle of plastic bags signify a successful sale and bargain. Spinning strips of plastic softly flap in circles, safeguarding fresh goods from flies in a gentle rhythm.

Even the reverberating hum of voices filter through my ears in stages. In one corner, a vendor calls out to advertise the freshest fish in the house. In another, a florist fondly names the blooms currently in season. Down the aisle, a little boy acts cute to wheedle his mom into buying some candy. She sighs in feigned exasperation, then concedes.

Such are the sounds of the ShiDong traditional wet market in the Taipei, Taiwan neighborhood of Tienmu. The sights of the market, however, offer no such moderated introduction.

Colors and textures explode, haphazardly splaying out on tables and hanging upon ceiling fixtures alike. In front of that fish vendor, a smatter of silver scales and red flesh gleam in a sea of ice cubes. Swaths of brilliant pinks and oranges surround the florist while lush green leaves trail down from overhead. Behind it all, rainbow packets of foil and plastic snake across the wall, hiding all traces of the tiles that hold up the fort.

In a place that strives to offer everything there is to be desired, there is no room for white space.

Today, I am there with my mom, who wants to pick up some goose for dinner because I am home. As she tells the vendor what she wants and the thud of a knife sounds, I look away, unable to watch the decapitation even though I know the bird is dead. Instead, I stare at the rows of trays fanned out to my right: golden braised eggs, plump squishy tendons, porous squares of tofu, dark green swirls of seaweed.

But then I look up at the vendor. She is smiling at my mom, who I know has been a customer for years. “Have some chicken soup with that, and some of this,” she says, scooping up a smorgasbord of dry ingredients I wasn’t quick enough to identify. “Toss it in with some vegetables. It’ll smell delicious.”

I always come to the traditional markets in Asia looking to awaken my senses. I’d somehow forgotten that the communities they forge, and the little kindnesses doled out with many a business transaction, also stir my heart.

Getting There

100 ShiDong Road, Shilin District, Taipei City
台北市士東路100號
+886-2-2834-5308

Photo Credit

Beitou Market — LWY / flickr.com

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Classic wonton soup

No kid grows up in Taiwan, where I spent my first 18 years, without learning how to make dumplings.

Yes, dumpling stands are ubiquitous on the streets of Taipei, but making this takeout favorite at home is a special kitchen project for most families. Especially when the Lunar New Year rolls around–dumplings are served at practically every traditional feast as an auspicious food–everyone gathers around the kitchen table, grabs a spoon for scooping filling, and gets busy wrapping.

I recently published a recipe for wonton soup in New York Family as a good indoor activities to do with kids. This thin-skinned and triangular-shaped variety of dumplings is easier to wrap than the thicker-skinned kind with scalloped edges. But the truth is that every so often, when I’m craving something cozy and familiar, it’s a whole lot of fun for me and the Asian friends I rally into the kitchen, too.  For us, the recipe is delicious and hassle-free–and it tastes like home.

P.S. Curious about the dumpling scene in Taipei? Check out my write-up in National Geographic Traveler!

Ingredients

  • 1 pack thawed wonton wrappers, available in Chinatown or specialty grocery stores
  • 1/2 lb fatty ground pork
  • 1/3 lb minced leafy greens, like bok choy or spinach
  • 3 stalks of chopped scallion or chives
  • 1 tsp minced ginger, optional
  • 1/3 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper, preferably white
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 egg
  • chicken broth soup, to taste

Directions

Place everything but the wrappers and chicken broth in a large bowl. Mush up the filling with a spoon or your bare hands–the latter is more fun as long as you wash your hands after touching the raw meat. The more vigorously you mix the better.

Set out a small dish with water. Use a spoon or your fingers to pat approximately one teaspoon of filling in the middle of each wonton wrapper. Dip a finger in the water and wet the edges of the wrapper, so the dough becomes a little sticky but not too soft. Fold the wrapper into a triangle and press down firmly on the edges—make sure the seal is tight so the wontons stay intact while cooking.

To get that classic wonton look, you’ll have to take the two bottom corners of the wonton and press them tightly together. But for less nimble fingers, wontons left in the triangle shape taste just as good. Set the wontons on a dry plate in a single layer to avoid sticking. To prevent drying, cover with plastic wrap.

Bring a pot of chicken broth soup to a boil. Drop the wontons in and bring back to a boil until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. If you’re not sure about doneness, remove one wonton to check the color of the meat; overcooked wontons will fall apart.

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Brussels sprouts braised with bacon and apple

Bacon makes everything better…even brussels sprouts.

Actually, I really love brussels sprouts, but I just wanted to make a dramatic statement about bacon, which I’m also enamored of. I found this recipe in The Bacon Cookbook during my bacon frenzy and really enjoyed how beautifully all its flavors came together. The subtle sweetness of the apple does a great job of balancing out the sprouts, so don’t worry if you’re not usually a fan of bitter veggies. And though I know bacon can generally speak for itself, I wanted to sing praises for how its savory smokiness adds delicious depth to the dish anyhow.

Since it was my first time cooking brussels sprouts ever, I wanted to make sure I was doing the prep work correctly. Because the sprouts I picked up at the market were rather large, I chopped them in half and scored them according to this video instead of cutting Xs on the bases.

All in all, it’s a deliciously buttery dish that’s hearty enough for a frigid winter day and bright enough on the off chance that we get a few days of sunshine. Mm mm good!

Brussels Sprouts Braised with Bacon and Apple
from The Bacon Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 quart fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 2 slices lean hickory-smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cooking apple, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

Remove and discard any wilted leaves from the Brussels sprouts, trim off the stems (but not too close or the sprouts will fall apart), cut an X in the base of each sprout, and set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet (not cast-iron), fry the bacon over moderate heat till it releases its fat, add the butter to the fat, add the Brussels sprouts, and stir gently till they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the apple and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and nutmeg, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook till the sprouts are tender and the apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.

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Bacon peanut butter truffles

There aren’t many ingredients I love more than bacon, so it’s not a huge surprise that I turned to The Bacon Cookbook for my next culinary project. Though I was looking for dinner dishes more than dessert, as someone who loves sweet-and-savory concoctions, I couldn’t resist some bacon peanut butter truffles.

These did turn out a little messier than I’d prefer. Part of this was probably due to substituting some of the butter with bacon fat, following The Wicked (Awesome) Whisk’s adaptation, for a stronger flavor of bacon. The chocolate coating didn’t set and harden perfectly, since the recipe doesn’t call for tempering, and I opted to skip the cocoa powder. I’m guessing it didn’t help that I used chocolate chips instead of bars, which are better for tempering, or that I might’ve been a little impatient and heated up the chocolate a little too quickly.

Some other notes: I didn’t have a food processor, so I chopped the peanuts with a knife. Because the peanuts weren’t ground as finely as they would have been if they were put through a blender, the truffle filling was slightly lumpy. Next time, I’d up the peanut butter and use fewer peanuts. But because I let the bacon get nice and crispy, it was very easy to handle.

Despite the messiness, these truffles are amongst the most delicious things I’ve ever made, if I may say so myself. Nope, bacon never ever fails to please.

Bacon and Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles Recipe

adapted from The Bacon Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices lean streaky bacon
  • 4 oz salted peanuts (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • six 1-oz squares semisweet chocolate

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, drain on paper towels, and let cool completely. Reserve 2 tbls of the rendered bacon fat and let cool.

In a blender or food processor, combine the bacon, peanuts, and sugar and grind to a fine texture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the peanut butter, and stir until well blended and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill about 1 hour.

Roll the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter, place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, cover with plastic wrap, and chill about 30 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, reserved bacon fat, and chocolate in a small sauce pan and stir over very low heat till melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool until slightly warm.

Using a fork, coat the balls completely in the melted chocolate. Set them back on the baking sheet and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes more). If there is melted chocolate left over, give the balls a second coating. Store in the refrigerator till ready to serve. Or eat them all now. It’s your choice….don’t think it’ll be an easy one.

via The Wicked (Awesome) Whisk

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My favorite cheap eats in Taipei

I could hardly believe when I “met” Kelsey Freeman on Twitter last summer that she was about to embark on a 10-week trip to France on $1,000. I wanted to know her secret — I’m young, I’m poor, but I’m an insufferable Francophile. How did she do it?

It turns out that it’s all about priorities. She’d rather people watch than go to a museum, for example, and she’d rather enjoy the countryside for a month than Paris for a week. Where do you want to put your money and what are or aren’t you willing to give up? It’s a simple but brilliant point.

Personally, the one thing I always have a hard time compromising on is great food — which is why I’m always so happy to visit my hometown of Taipei. When it comes to eats on this tiny Asian island, you rarely have to choose between taste and price. Sure, the city has it’s share of tremendous fine dining establishments, but a more than satisfying meal can easily cost less than $3 to $5 (tax included).

One of the first stops I always make when I’m home is a small mom-and-pop eatery right next to Wellcome supermarket in Tien Mu Square. I’ve been a loyal customer since my high school days at the nearby Taipei American School, when my friends and I would make a lunch outing here every couple of weeks. Even now, I usually opt for the wonton and bean sprout guo tiao, or thick rice noodles, with some shared sides to round out the meal. The noodles themselves are less than $2, and the bill’s rarely come out to over $3 per person.

Before that, though, I suppose I first technically set out for breakfast bright and early. Night owl I might be, but the Taiwanese selections for the most important meal of the day can rouse me out of bed at 8am with or without jet lag. While a big bowl of soymilk is a locally beloved default, I’m particularly partial to the roasted rice adaptation, the thick and fragrant mi jiang. I like to pair this with a fan tuan rice ball with fried Chinese cruellers — especially the ones with roasted seaweed and pickled radishes — or egg rolls slathered with sweet soy sauce. I’ve never been able to finish all three in one sitting, but if you wake up to ravenous appetites, these won’t set you back set you back more than $3 either. [Recommendation: 永和豆漿]

Another quintessential staple in the Taiwan food experience is the potsticker, a type of dumpling fried in a skillet. I like to think of dumplings as the ultimate Chinese budget comfort food, a no-hassle and frugal fallback anytime you’re hungry. The crunchy munchy texture of the potsticker makes it my favorite out of all the dumpling varietals, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they come at about 25 cents per pop. [Recommendation: 八方雲集水餃鍋貼]

Not a pork fan? Track down a $2 niu rou juan bing beef wrap rolled in a chewy, flaky pancake similar to the famed scallion pancakes. You’ll recognize the same sweet and pasty tian mian jiang sauce used in Peking duck (in my opinion, one of the best things ever to come out of Chinese cuisine). While these pancakes are ubiquitous in the city, I find the ones from Tien Mu’s Dao Xiao Mian to be the juiciest with the best meat-to-sauce-to-scallion ratio.

For a lighter meal, I often find myself stumbling into Sushi Express, one of the city’s main conveyor sushi chains. This is the most effortless kind of self-service dining I’ve ever experienced: simply take a seat, pull plates of the food you want off the conveyor, and the restaurant will charged you by the number of dishes you accrue (typically $1 each, serving two rolls). My order is typically the same: salmon sashimi, lobster salad, ikura, and masago rolls — and of course a cup of the restaurant’s amazingly fragrant tea.

Then when it’s time for a snack, nothing scratches the salty cravings itch like a couple of tea eggs. First hard boiled, the eggs are cracked and braised in soy sauce, five spice powder, and black tea. Scary as the marbled appearance might be, the darker the eggs, the strongest the flavor — so go for the blackest ones you spot. I wouldn’t really know, but if these could be considered eggs on crack, they’d be the cheapest addiction ever at 25 cents per piece. [Recommendation: 7-11 convenience stores]

Lastly, one of my biggest guilty pleasures is the glutinous meat ball available at any night market. “Guilty” because these globs of heaven are deep fried and “pleasure” because I’ve yet to find another sweet-and-savory dish as perfect this. I’m honestly not sure what that green sprig in the above photo is what that cilantro is doing in the above serving, but there’s just something about the way the chewy skin, the meaty interior, and the mouthwatering sweet and salty sauce all come together. If I’m left with 50 cents to my name, I’d spent it on one of these in a heartbeat. [Recommendation: 淡水 night market]

What are your favorite cheap eats from around the world?

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