Monthly Archives: December 2011

VIEW FROM STANLEY

 

Several friends recommended that I check out the sights at Stanley Harbor, and despite an intense bout of car sickness — the only way to get to Stanley is via a shaky double-decker bus that races through the windy mountain roads — I had a great time. Between the Tin Hau Temple, the harbor, the rows of restaurants, and an impressive outdoor market, it was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. And how great is that 3-D fluffy bunny dinner plate, which bulged outwards like a ship’s porthole?? How do you eat on that thing?? It was so amazing!

HOT POT HOLIDAY

Of all the communal traditions of eating — sharing tapas, fondue, pizza, or a big banana split all come to mind — none are as great, as humble, or as messy as the simple and terrific Chinese hot pot.

In Hong Kong, contemporary hot pot offers two types of broth, one spicy and one mild, swirled down the middle like a Yin-Yang symbol. Our hosts ordered all the trimmings, which included hand-pulled noodles, soft pillows of tofu, imitation crab, fish cakes, thinly sliced lamb and beef, Chinese kale, glass noodles, tender pork dumplings, and tiny pieces of fish. The restaurant even had a make-your-own sauce bar, so I dumped just about every topping into my sauce bowl, like fermented cabbage, chili sauce, hot red peppers, ginger, garlic, crushed peanuts, fermented black beans, preserved vegetables, and scallions. Yet another perfect meal in Hong Kong.

(Here’s how we celebrate hot pot at home).

CHEAP HEAVEN

It’s easy to get a spectacular meal in Hong Kong if you’re willing to spend serious money at a restaurant, but where do you go if you want to spend very little money at all? In Mong Kok, my mom and I, fatigued form shopping, stumbled into this tiny Taiwanese-style noodle shop, where we had a small plate of pork dumplings and two excellent bowls of extra-spicy beef brisket noodle soup with thick, chewy Taiwanese noodles — all for less than $10. That’s what I’m talking about.

CHRISTMAS EATS

Not to disparage all of the spectacular Chinese food I’ve been eating, but it was honestly a bit of a relief to cook Western-style food at home for our Christmas dinner.

My dad was in charge of our relatively petite turkey (only 6 lbs!), while I commandeered the side dishes: buttery, lemony French green beans; tumeric-spiced potatoes with tarragon; cranberry sauce with grapefruit zest and rosemary; chopped spinach salad with pistachios, Medjool dates, and chevre; crispy shredded brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds. (Not pictured: yummy, fruity Gamay.) It’s likely that I just miss the act of cooking more than anything else; if too many days pass without consuming a meal that I prepared myself, I start to feel a little crazy. Does anyone else feel the same way?

What did you eat for Christmas dinner?

HONG KONG HOLIDAY WISHES!

Sending you love from the other side of the world! Happy holidays!!!!

NOODLE TIME

Growing up in San Diego, I regularly ate steaming bowls of yun tun mian for lunch at the cheap Chinese restaurants scattered throughout University City or Convoy (which resulted in my super-pro shoveling technique as seen above). In Hong Kong, the tiny, delicate “wontons” are stuffed with hefty chunks of shrimp, suspended in a rich noodle-dense soup. All of the magic, of course, resides in the broth, which is enriched with pork bones, scallions, and dried shrimps. Interestingly, the dish’s provenance is northern Chinese (hence my familiarity with it growing up), but it’s become very popular with Cantonese Hong Kong residents, who have adopted the dish to suit their own Southern tastes. I’ve noticed this with so much northern or Sichuan dishes — Hong Kong folk love to take regional cuisine and put a weird hybridic Cantonese spin on it. Just fantastic.

TONKATSU BLISS

God, even the mall food court offerings are fucking delicious. Great tonkatsu in under three minutes, what could be bad about that.

The reason for my mall adventure? I only get my hair cut about once a year, ever since I moved from Ithaca and waved bye-bye to the best stylist ever, aka my bestie Meredith. (I’m also very lazy). So I figured why not take the haircut plunge in HK? And boy do they know how to cut hair in Hong Kong!

A  really cute guy shampooed my hair twice (!) and conditioned for about 25 minutes total, so I think it was the longest shampoo I’ve ever received in the history of shampoos. It was exquisite. Then another equally cute guy (every stylist in this salon was a guy?) took over and cut my hair like a sexy wizard, while trying to convince me to get a new-school “perm,” which is all the rage in Hong Kong. (No, not this kind of perm). Basically, super pretty girls perm their hair to have that permanent “messy-wavy” look, and the effect is really subtle and actually very pretty. He tested it out on me with a curling iron and I love the soft look but ultimately it’s just too beauty queen for my taste. That’s the thing about my hair, even when I get six inches lopped off, it still manages to appear insane.

(Photos of my last traumatic haircut for comparison, here).

GODDESS OF THE SEA

A moment of prayer at the Tin Hau Temple, or the temple for the Goddess of the Sea. (Tin Hau is also the Goddess of Heaven, two pretty baller titles). Amazingly, there are over 70 temples dedicated to her on the Hong Kong islands.

TWO BECOME ONE

In case you’re wondering how to make the perfect peanut butter toast, here’s my little secret.

Toast a piece of bread. Immediately spread a bit of margarine (or butter if you’re feeling wild) on the toast. This serves as a moist base for the peanut butter to be applied smoothly and cleanly.

Grab two jars of peanut butter, one skippy (or similar childhood brand), the other of the all-natural, no-salt-added, stir-the-jar iteration. (Almond butter would be acceptable here, too). Add a thickish layer of the natural peanut butter. Then add a thinner layer of the jiffy stuff.

In my years of experimentation I’ve realized that I hate the full sugar blast of the artificial peanut butter, but I also don’t like the grainy, flavorless vibe of the natural stuff. Here, worlds collide and explode, happily, in my mouth.

SCONE SIMPLICITY

There are a million fancy ways to bake scones, from the somewhat reasonable (including additional ingredients like buttermilk, eggs, cornmeal, or oats) to the decidedly un-British (tropical dried fruit, chopped nuts, herbs, cheese). And while at work I sometimes experiment with crazier varieties (like a bacon, dried fig, and black pepper iteration), at home I like to keep it traditional: a plain, no-egg scone, maybe dotted with dried currants (and if my mom has sent me a care package from Trader Joe’s, then their dried blueberries), and slathered with warm butter and some jam. That’s it. These scones, with their absence of eggs and any kind of electric mixer, are so easy to make at home, and I like to whip them up when I have some half-and-half perishing in the fridge. I have a loose recipe memorized (which I believe I originally poached from an old Gourmet cookbook), and the proportions go something like this:

(Note: Scones bake at a much higher temperature than normal pastry; because of this, I like to use the convection function of my oven, which allows for the scone to get crisp and golden on top. No one likes a scorched scone).

You’ll need:
1 C AP flour, sifted
2 T white granulated sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 T cold butter, cut into small pieces
6 T half and half (plus more for brushing dough)
1/2 C dried currants (soften with boiling water if really hard)
Preheat oven to 400 and line a pan with parchment.
Stir flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
With fingers, quickly work in the cold butter, until semi-incorporated into flour (small peas of butter is good!).
Slowly drizzle in half and half, stirring bowl with a fork, until dough comes together into shaggy ball.
Add currants.
Turn dough onto counter and shape into a disc about 1/2″ high.
Cut into 4 wedges, and move to parchment-lined pan.
Brush scones with remaining half and half, and sprinkle with sugar (turbinado, if you have it!).
Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

The next time you have someone over for tea or a coffee, offer them these. They will not be turned down.

(Unrelated query: how do you stash your cookbooks? For me, they have to be in plain sight, because I use these selected few all the time. But they also look a little weird leaning against the refrigerator, no? I’m looking for an elegant and simple solution that doesn’t mean hiding them in a drawer somewhere.)