Thursday, August 29, 2013

Shanghai Hong Kong Noodle Shop -- Eating Well for under HK $50

I was in Hong Kong for the long week-end and stayed again at my new favourite, the J Plus Hotel in Causeway Bay.  This area is worlds removed from the touristy feel of Canton Road in Kowloon where you are jostled by tourists who stand shoulder to shoulder, queuing for signature bags at Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and all the other luxury stores.
Causeway Bay is dotted with lots of small boutiques, cafes, shops and markets, street vendors with cartfuls of knock offs line small alleyways,  the lights are bright and people are out and about past midnight and you can find restaurants that serve local meals at very affordable prices.  

One small place along Jardine's Bazaar,  just a hop and a skip away from the hotel is open 24 hours and just can't be beat for great food at even better value.
I had passed by Shanghai Hong Kong Noodle Shop many times but never quite got the nerve to go in since there are no english signs or menus that are visible.
Besides, it's also always full of diners, no matter what time of the day it is.

But on this fine Sunday afternoon, the many rice rolls packed and all ready to go right at the storefront were just too much for me to resist.  English signs be hanged -- I would go in and indulge!

A hungry look is understood anywhere.   I was shown to a table that I shared with three other diners. Our table was right by the front so I had a great view of the rice roll lady as she prepped and made all the rice rolls.  It was the best seat in the house!

The slightly sticky rice is spread out on a piece of plastic wrap and pickled mustard greens, pork floss and a whole cruller (bicho bicho to us Pinoys) are laid out across it.  The whole thing is then rolled up into a neat, tight and compact roll.  When you order one, it is neatly snipped right at the middle so you can eat it easily and without much spillage.  

Here's how the cross section of the rice roll looks.  The rice is slightly sticky and warm, the pork floss is dry and salty, the pickled mustard greens are soft and tart,  and the cruller adds a bit of crunch.  All the textures combine for a different mouth feel with every bite!

Aside from rice rolls, which seem to be the most popular snack, the picture menu on the wall shows other possibilities.  I spy dumplings ... could it be what it looks like it is?  
I point it out to the waitress and she says something that I think sounds like xiao long bao ... I repeat the word ... xiao long bao?  
Yes, she nods enthusiastically! 
Food once again breaks through the language barrier.

I am almost done with my rice roll when my order of soup dumplings (as xiao long bao are also known as) arrive.  There are 5 in a small bamboo steamer.  They are freshly made and look perfect.
I can't wait to try them.

I couldn't quite believe how excellent this xiao long bao was!  The skin was firm but not thick nor sticky and it didn't break when I lifted it onto my spoon.  The filling was fresh tasting but it was the broth or the soup that made the difference -- light and delicate and so flavourful!
With a drop of black vinegar and some grated ginger on top,  each perfectly sized dumpling was a divine mouthful!  I was really sad when I popped the fifth and last dumpling in my mouth and felt that last squirt of "soup".
When I got up to pay, my bill came to just HK $50!  It tasted as if it cost three times as much.  Amazing value for very good food.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Glocal Cheese from Davao Malagos Farmhouse ... a taste of global quality from local cheese

On a week-end lunch visit to Chef Paul Huang's Fire Lake Grill in Tagaytay, one of the featured specials was a cheese plate of local artisanal cheeses.  
Chef Paul's very knowledgeable maitre d' David strongly recommended that we start our lunch with their carefully curated cheese plate.  All cheeses were sourced from the Davao Malagos Farmhouse. Chef Paul said that he had visited the farm himself and came away with a great respect and belief in the product that they produce.

The cheese platter at Fire Lake Grill comes with 3 samples chosen by Chef Paul.  Served with crackers, walnuts and a small bunch of grapes, the cheeses are a creamy and slightly tart chèvre, a local bleu and their version of a brie.  We were advised to start with the soft and end with the harder bleu.
I loved the chèvre best of all.
It's amazing and encouraging that such wonderful and delectable cheeses  are made right here in the Philippines!  One of these days, I must visit the Davao Malagos Farmhouse and see for myself how cheese this good can be made.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

No Cook Fresh Egg Noodle Salad with Duck Breast

A small pack of smoked duck breast had been languishing in my freezer for a week.  What to do with it?    How about incorporating it into a salad?  A green salad?  How about a cold noodle salad? It seemed like a good idea.

Fresh egg noodles are usually used  in soup but they're just as appetising when served cold .
You can easily buy them from supermarkets where they are usually in the chiller, or from your suki in the palengke.
Pour some boiling water and blanch the noodles for just a few seconds.  They're pre-cooked after all.
Drain them then pour cold water over them then drain again.

Since egg noodles are faintly chinese, I use a dressing that's a blend of hoisin sauce, light soy sauce, rice wine,  a bit of olive oil and a few drops of calamansi juice.  To add some colour and crunch, I also blanched snow peas or sitsaro and some finely sliced red bell pepper.  The aforementioned duck breasts  have been thawed and sliced into thin strips.

Now, just toss everything together!  The dressing is faintly sweet and salty with just a hint of tang. The vegetables are crisp crunchy and the duck adds that faint smoky and cured taste.
I just wish I had some cilantro to finish and garnish this dish.
This easy,  no-cook, one dish meal is definitely going to make a repeat appearance on my dining table.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Carbonara without the Cream

Carbonara is such an easy pasta dish to make but most of the versions that you find in restaurants are made with cream.  Classic and traditional Italian, actually Roman carbonara is made with just eggs, bacon, cheese, pepper and pasta -- no cream at all.  I have always made carbonara with just these ingredients.  It's the eggs and the freshly grated cheese that add that creamy texture and bite.

Carbonara needs real pancetta or Italian bacon, good extra virgin olive oil, some freshly grated parmigiano romano, a few garlic cloves and fresh eggs.

 Real pancetta adds a smoky depth to carbonara which you won't get from ordinary bacon.  Slice your pancetta into strips -- just 3 pieces of pancetta will do for a 450 gram pack of  pasta.

In your good olive oil, sauté the garlic cloves, then set aside. 

Remove the garlic cloves then fry your pancetta in the garlic infused oil.  Let the pancetta render its fat at low heat.  I don't overcook the pancetta since I prefer it tender and not crisped to extinction. 

While the pancetta fat is happily blending with the olive oil, take two fresh eggs that are at room temperature and separate the yolk from the white.  

Whisk half of the freshly grated parmigiano romano with the egg yolks and set aside.

Ordinarily, I use spaghetti for carbonara but I only had penne that day.  Mix your cooked pancetta (along with as much of the rendered fat as you dare) with the noodles then quickly blend in the egg and cheese mixture.  Do this in the serving bowl and not in the skillet.  You don't want to cook the eggs.

Add some of the reserved pasta liquid if you find the sauce a little thick.
Top with the reserved grated cheese and freshly ground cracked black pepper.
Fresh baked sourdough bread completes this simple but very satisfying meal.

With traditional Italian carbonara, how about a rustic Italian wine?
Lambrusco, a light sparkling wine from the Emilia-Romagna section of Italy is ideal with pasta and other light dishes.  I prefer lambrusco bianco myself but this vivacious and fruity rosso adds zest and zing to my pasta dish.
Buon appetito!

Eggplant in Green Curry ... vegetarian, quick and easy!

Sunday dinner is usually when you feel too full from a heavy Sunday lunch.  Sometimes we don't eat Sunday dinner at all since we all feel guilty from over indulging during the week-end.  However there are those nights when you need to whip up something simple yet filling enough for a quick meal.

What's in the fridge?  What's easy to cook?  I find some eggplants bought the day before from our week-end market, a small bunch of green beans are in the vegetable bin too.
A quick scan in the pantry yields instant green curry paste and a few packs of powdered gata ... just what I need for a vegetable curry.
This dish is ridiculously easy to make.
Saute' some onions, a few cloves of garlic and strips of ginger.  When the onions have become translucent, drop in the chopped eggplants and the beans.  Season with salt.
Stir fry till half cooked then cover your skillet to let the steam cook the vegetables some more.  We're not going for crisp-crunchy vegetables but a soft and tender bite.
Once done, maybe ten minutes or so, remove the cooked vegetables and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet and put in a large dollop of green curry paste, a bit more if you want that spicy kick.  Once the paste starts to sizzle,  mix in your coconut cream or gata.
Blend well together and heat through till the desired consistency.  I prefer my curry a bit soupy so I don't reduce it as much.

Next, drop in all the previously cooked vegetables and simmer some more till the eggplants and beans are well coated with the curry sauce.

And here it is...   a perfectly vegetarian eggplant and green bean curry.  It's a savoury, creamy one dish meal that might make you eat just a bit more rice than you should!

WTF (what's the fuss) with Cronuts?

There seems to be a food trend born every minute (and food suckers along with it?)  
A couple of months ago, Chef Dominique Ansel in New York City had the bright idea to bake up a new type of pastry -- a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. 
Et voila!  The cronut was born.  
Just to show you how globalization has made the world a lot smaller, the cronut found its way to our shores just a few weeks after its inception.  There are a few local shops now offering cronuts, even Dunkin' Donuts has gotten into the act.

Wildflour Bakery in uber-trendy and buzzy Bonifacio Global City area has come up with its own version of the cronut.  Since it's so popular, they can hardly make enough to meet the demand.
You'll never see it being sold at the bakery and you have to call in advance to place an order.
I called on a Monday and was told my order would be ready by Thursday.
A three day wait for a pastry?!  This had better be good.

My cronuts were supposed to be ready for pick up by noon but I was told there that they were deluged with orders so mine would finally be ready by mid afternoon.
One cronut at Wildflour is P120, quite pricey for a pastry -- whether doughnut or croissant.
I ordered one of each of their flavours -- strawberry, vanilla, raspberry, plain glazed, and 2 kinds of chocolate.
Now for the taste test.  If I am to go by what a cronut really is, as its inventor Chef Ansel declares -- it's made with a proprietary, secret croissant-like dough that goes through a process of laminating, proofing and finally, frying.  Wait, is he talking about a poster or a pastry?

I bite into the chocolate cronut.  My mouth and my mind both have pre-conceived notions of what we should be experiencing -- light, flaky croissant with the creaminess of a doughnut filling.
On the contrary, the cronut is crisp and crumbles when you try to bite or tear into it.  I thought it a bit dry and the cream between the layers didn't help dispel the dry mouth feel.  I can imagine that eating the cronut without a plate and fork can be a messy affair as it tends to disintegrate and scatter crumbs with each bite.

Here is a close up of my cronut -- the raspberry flavoured version was just as underwhelming as the chocolate.
So what are all those lines around the block at Chef Ansel's bakery for?  Perhaps the original cronut from NYC must be really delicious and worth the wait.
But,  the 3-day wait for an order at Wildflour Bakery -- no, it wasn't worth it at all.
I'm predicting that the cronut is a food fad that will not be a classic any time soon.