Intuitive Cooking: Tomato reduction


This first post in a series (depending on how motivated I am) called Intuitive Cooking, by special request from Mr. L A A. He asked me to write about how I cook without measurements and without recipes so this will be my attempt at describing the process that occurs mainly in my head.

I usually start cooking because I decide I’m hungry or there’s something going bad soon in my fridge requiring immediate attention.

I shop for groceries in an ordinary supermarket or an Asian market (Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese are all good choices) weekly if not every other day. So I always have plenty of vegetables, fruit and some form of protein on hand.

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This is what I had to work with a few weeks ago – I had half an onion, a bag full of organic Roma tomatoes and 1 courgette/zucchini squash. (Nah, you don’t need to buy organic vegetables and fruit. I often don’t. But in this case, I will say that it made a huge difference in the taste and for that reason I usually think if the price is comparable I’ll go for the organic version because it simply tastes better.)

Garlic is the not-so-secret ingredient in all my food. Anyone who tastes my cooking and watches me make it knows I put A LOT of garlic in my food.

I like to chop it as finely as possible without unnecessarily wasting precious minutes in your life. You can always wrap up extra if you chop too much.

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Next I chop up the tomatoes almost as finely as the garlic. I have a new trick to make the work go by faster. Of course you have a sharp knife (mine is mediocre and it makes life harder). I like to chop the tomato in half, dig out the stalk part, then put the cut side down on the chopping board and slide across the tomato in thin slices then cut three times across lengthwise. It makes it easy and the chunks are small.

Dice the onion. Slice the courgette (called zucchini in USA). Heat up a pan. Add some oil or butter to make sure the food doesn’t stick. Add the tomatoes and onion. Let it cook on medium high until it’s a mush. You may need to add water and stir frequently so it doesn’t stick and burn.

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10 minutes later, plus or minus 5 minutes, throw in garlic. Stir stir stir!

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I took half of the mixture out to show you what it looks like.  At this point, it’s ready! That’s right.

Your tomato, onion, garlic concoction is ready as a base for any kind of dish you want to make from it. That’s the part about intuitive cooking that’s creative because with this base, you could make a spaghetti sauce, Indian food, Chinese stir fry noodles, and more  — I’ve tried all these options and they all turned out great.

I took half out too because I didn’t want to add meat into this so that it can last longer in the fridge. I wrapped it up and saved it for another meal.

To the rest of the mixture, I added in the protein at this point. I have ground pork above but this works with any kind of meat or tofu.

Add some flavor. Salt is a good option. I put soy sauce for extra flavor.

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That’s still not enough for me so I found this shady shaker of seasonings and I dump a bunch in along with red pepper to give it a bit of a kick.

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Alright, last steps. Put in any other things I could find in the fridge. They happened to be cauliflower, coriander (aka cilantro) and green onions sliced thinly.

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When everything is cooked, it usually is quite watery because the vegetables expel a lot of water. So I finish the dish by adding an amount of cellophane noodles; they soak up the liquid which make them taste delicious, and I really love the texture!

Bon Appétit!

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Favorite foods: char kway teow


I’m starting a new series about my favorite foods during this trip. It’s going to be too much work to wait until I have a sufficient collection before I post. So I figured I’ll just post them as a series once they come in.

And this edition will be on char kway teow.

It’s a Malaysian dish but it’s really just a variation on fried flat rice noodles with shrimp and egg that you can find in most Asian countries. This probably came from China but char kway teow how as it’s own distinct flavor from the sauces and spices (it is spicy!) added.

It’s made with flat, usually thicker when Malaysian, rice noodles stir fried with bean sprouts, egg, shrimp, and sometimes fried tofu.

It can be too greasy and heavy but definitely a must try. Delicious! And usually cheap (about 50-80 ringgit should be enough for a decent serving).

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These are all variations on the same dish from different areas. I have to say the best one I had was definitely from Penang in a little shack in the Red Garden street food court.
Delicious!

Malaysian Mangosteens


To say I came to Malaysia to eat the mangosteens would be an exaggeration. But my motives are not far off.

I arrived in Malaysia late last night, the first destination in my 3 week tour of South East Asia. While the weather certainly could have been more accommodating (it’s hot, humid, and muggy), I certainly can’t complain about the mangosteens.

We got them for 7$RM — a real steal considering I have paid that price for one before in US and more in NZ.

They are simply delicious.

A small pleasure to blunt the pain of finding out 3 hours into my trip today that coming to enjoy delicious food in Malaysia and other parts of South East Asia is going to be difficult. After all, I came just as Ramadan started and will leave the same day it ends.

While this could have been a horrible moment, I’ll take it as an additional challenge to sniff out the best foodie spots over the next few weeks.

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Food for Thought: The Kiwi fruit


I woke up to some alarming news today.

New Zealand is not the number one producer of kiwifruit in the world.

(And for those annoyed already I don’t call it kiwi, well kiwifruit is the commonplace name we use in NZ since kiwi refers to the bird that gave is name to the fruit – saying I’m going to eat a kiwi in NZ, well it could put you in jail.)

Why does this matter, you say?

I suppose in the grand scheme of agricultural production, it doesn’t really matter. But on the basis of principle, I feel kind of gypped that NZ isn’t the #1 producer of kiwifruit in the world.

Why? Well, we stole the fruit from the Chinese, renamed it and single-handedly propelled the furry brown thing to world fame.

OK OK. Histrionics aside, I’m surprised that NZ is only the number two producer of the world. Are you?

Not surprised? Well then, surprised that the number one producer in the world is….Italy?!?!

Of all places…

If you don’t believe me (and I didn’t believe my own ears this morning when I first heard the report on the radio), here are links to prove it.

– America says so!

A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes the level of production for kiwifruit from foreign countries.

Ok I get that the last sentence doesn’t have much credibility. But here are a bunch of other sources who say so too.

LA Times

Some random education website

Seattles Times

…after these watertight sources, hopefully you’re convinced.

I know about cotton dumping, corn production battles, Amazonian decimation for palm oil and the list goes on. But never thought it would be the kiwi too…Globalization is making a bigger stamp on agricultural practices than I had previously thought.

Guess this doesn’t really change anything. NZ kiwifruit is still the tastiest I’ve ever had (after eating Italian, Chilean – though must admit I haven’t tried Chinese yet).

Pumpkin Festivities: Hello big orange goodness


 

 

It’s fall. In NZ, we call this season Autumn. And for us, it occurs March-May. Despite living in the US for the last 4 years, it remains a shock to me that golden yellow leaves fall around the months of Oct to Nov until the end of the year. The Northern Hemisphere has introduced a new rhythm in my life and it is touching how zealous Americans are about their traditions.

Today’s photo is a cute reminder of the culinary preeminence that pumpkin holds in American society. Yes, Halloween as passed. But pumpkins will stay probably until the end of November if not into December. Hooray for seasonal foods!

Granted, I saw this outside Whole Foods – they are atypical of most grocery stores. But the feel-good effect of the pumpkins, hay stacsk and decorations encouraged me to post this as a way to signal the fast approaching Thanksgiving celebrations.

So what are you doing for Thanksgiving?

Eating pumpkin? I hope so!

 

 

Duck Breast with Peaches recipe plus Chocolates and strawberries


Puzzled after looking at the picture above? Don’t be. It’s a duck breast, cut into two, cooking in its own fat rendered from the skin.

More explanation necessary?

Since I’ve become a homebody for the next 2 months before my grad school apps are due, I decided I would report on adventures around the house and in the Mountain View/Palo Alto community as a way to keep you updated about my life. Sure it’s quieter around the suburbs. But it’s a unique challenge to find the interesting among the quotidian, the quirky among the mundane.

So what better way to start than with my kitchen endeavours. We all know this travel blog is a disguised food blog.

Here’s a dinner I cooked for my lovely housemate/landlady, S. She’s fabulous so I decided to make a nice meal to thank her for being awesome.

For cuisine, I chose French. For the main I chose fatty duck breasts with glazed peaches. Aka, magret de canard à la pêche.

The recipe came from the brilliant Mireille Guiliano. I modified it because it’s not grilling season right now (hello rain, another reason for my homebody tendencies). But it turned out perfectly too! Check out her other easy and yummy recipes.

Here’s are my mouth-watering photos to make y’all jealous! I’ll include the recipe as commentary for anybody who is interested in making this too. Note: tI don’t measure exactly. I’ve cooked enough that I don’t measure except when baking because it saves time and I don’t have to clean as many utensils. Plus, I can taste as I go along. If you must have the ingredients quantities, leave a comment and I’ll add them. But you should be able to assume how much salt to add and what seems reasonable.

You need some peaches. I used 2 and sliced them into eighths. Have as many as you want (within reason). Don’t forget to peel them or the texture will be too rough on the final plate.

Grab a fry pan, stick in some butter, honey, and 1/4c water (maybe less, you don’t want the peaches swimming in water) and throw in the peaches. Simmer until they’re soft but not overcooked. Leave them to rest.

Cook the duck. So refer to photo above. A duck breast comes with some skin that attached the 2 pieces of meat but you can really separate them into individual pieces, meaning 1 duck breast is 2 servings. While it looks big and fatty in the photo, you end up having a portion of meat about the size of a deck of cards – the size recommended, ironically, by most nutritionists. In other words, unless you’re really greedy and want a whole piece to yourself, just cut it in half. Makes it easier to cook too.

So fry pan on stove. Heat to medium. Score the duck skin in diamonds, helps the fat drain. Throw it on the heated pan, skin side down. Leave it for like 5-8 minutes (depending on thickness) until the edges look cooked but the middle  is still raw. Then flip it over, heat it for about 3 minutes. The goal is to have the middle still slightly bleeding – well done means tough and chewy meat. If you don’t like bloody meat, cook it for longer. Season – meaning sprinkle salt and pepper.

Lay some paper towels on the counter and quickly (but safely, burning yourself is NOT fun) put the meat on the paper towels to drain the fat. Put the fry pan back on the stove and throw the peaches in to reheat. And yes to cover in some delicious duck juices.

I made some vegetables to accompany but this is option. What types of veges don’t matter – you can see I have a medley of different elements from what I found in the fridge. It’s just to add some greens and colorful foods to your diet. You know, a health thing. Plus maybe you can trick yourself into believing that it will make your diet more balanced after swallowing all that duck fat. Haha, yeah right.

And by the magic of blogging, voilà, here’s the final product. So plating: grab the nicest places you have.

Gently slice the duck so it’s reasonably thick (about 1 inch or 2-3 cm if you’re used to metric – which is by far the easier system to use, of course!). Put some peaches next door. And there’s dinner!

Oh and just ’cause I really like S, I made dessert too. Strawberry soup with yoghurt and chocolate dipped strawberries. Her original recipes calls for Mascarpone but I prefer greek yoghurt with 1/2 tsp of honey stirred in because I find yoghurt lighter which marries well with the strawberries.

For the dipped strawberries, wash and draw the prettiest strawberries. I slice mine in half because it’s easier for them to sit still and the chocolate to harden than when they’re whole as they tend to roll around. Chocolate everywhere it messy to clean. I put some chocolate chips (dark) into a bowl and microwaved for 30 second increments until they were melted but not burnt. Be careful, it’s a fine line. Then I lay a sheet of aluminium foil on the counter, quickly dip each strawberry in the chocolate, lay it down and finish the rest. I throw them in the fridge so the chocolate hardens quickly and they’re ready for serving.

For the soup: grab some strawberries, wash them, dry them and crush them with a fork (you can try a potato masher but I find a fork is easier). Stir in some (tiny amount) of honey and lemon juice. Let it sit for a while. It should be quite watery with some lumps of strawberries in. Yum! I only let this one stand for 1 hour but if you plan ahead you can make this even a day in advance. If you’re in a hurry, you can serve it right now too.

To serve: pour some “soup” into a pretty bowl. Add some of the yoghurt mixture from above. Arrange the chocolate strawberries. And I even added mini basil leaves for decoration – whatever makes it more appetizing – go for it.

Serve dinner hot with some red wine and engaging conversation.

This is a good meal for a special occasion because it’s so easy to make but it looks like you put a lot of effort in. Try it and please let me know your results.

Bon appétit