It’s Chinese New Year tomorrow and it’d be a travesty not to have lor bak go (蘿蔔糕/ radish or turnip cake) to eat in celebration. It’s always been one of my favourite dim sum items, and the fact that it’s a vital part of CNY lends the perfect excuse to make it at home. ;)
Last year I was lucky enough to be able to head back home to Hong Kong to celebrate CNY, but this year not so much. So in the past few weeks I’ve been trying to cast my mind back to 2008 when my mom taught me step by step how to make radish cake at home. Of course, I called a few days before and grilled her on the various steps, since I didn’t note down any quantities last time around! Her tips were to make sure your radish:rice flour ratio is high (minimum 4:1, though according to my calculations the ratio we used at home is more like 7:1); that you don’t add too much water when you cook the grated radish (as the veg will release enough of its own juices when cooking) and to sift the rice flour well to avoid lumps.
The vital ingredients are simple. With the ingredients I had, I made about 4 containers worth of radish cake paste, which makes a LOT – it would probably feed a family of four for at least a few days. To cook the radish cake, I use those simple aluminium foil loaf tins. You’ll also need two fresh, long white radishes, rice flour, 4-5 sticks of Chinese laap cheung (wind-dried sausage), 8 shiitake mushrooms and a small handful of dried shrimps. And we keep the seasonings simple with a small amount of salt and white pepper.
Step 1: peel and grate your radishes. This is the most physically exerting bit – my upper arms ache a bit the day after (er, which is probably a sign of how little exercise I’ve been getting lately…). I weighed all the grated radish afterwards so I could work out the ratio of flour I should be using. My two large radishes came to about 1.6kg’s worth.
* Now I should say now that my radish cakes in the end came out a bit too gluey because I got confused with my mom’s instructions – she told me to use a 4:1 ratio, so I calculated 400g worth of rice flour but used 300g to make sure it wouldn’t be too sticky. Turns out I noted in the margins that they used 200-250g of flour for their 1.8kg worth of radishes – a 9:1 ratio! D:
ANYWAYS, so make sure you don’t have too much rice flour. You can always add more if your mixture is too soft, but it will be hard to rectify a stiff radish cake!
Step 2: chop up your sausages and shiitake mushrooms (soaked beforehand, naturally. Reserve the soaking liquid for later!) so that they’re quite small. Wash and drain your dried shrimp. Heat a large pan and add the sausages (don’t add any oil) and fry for several minutes over a medium low heat until the fat in the sausages has rendered out. Then add the mushrooms and then the dried shrimp. Fry lightly until fragrant but don’t allow them to brown. Transfer the mixture to a bowl (keeping most of the oil in the pan) and set aside.
Step 3: tip your grated radish into the pan, along with about a small cup of the water used to soak the shiitake mushrooms, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occassionally, until softened. Make sure your radish isn’t swimming in liquid, but are comfortably moist. Season to taste with salt (not too much as the sausages and shrimp are quite salty already) and white pepper. Turn off the heat.
Step 4: measure out your rice flour, then sieve it. Add small quantities of the flour into the pan with the radish, stirring well to incorporate it before adding more. You want a mixture that isn’t too stiff, but not too watery either. It should be relatively loose and have a dropping consistency. Then, stir in your goodies – the sausage, mushrooms and shrimps from earlier!
Step 5: pour the mixture into your containers of choice (they should be heatproof). Set up your steamer. I didn’t have one large enough, so improvised with a wok, a steam rack, and another wok to act as the lid… haha. Set your radish cakes into the steamer (don’t let it touch the water) and steam for about 45 minutes to an hour. My mom says the water should be bubbling, not simmering. So keep an eye on the water level and top up with hot water often. When ready, a skewer (or chopstick ;D) inserted into the middle should come out clean.
At this point we take it out to cool, and we like to add a sprinkling of chopped spring onions and a drizzle of sesame oil. You can eat the cake now as is, but I much prefer radish cake pan-fried… (If you’re not eating immediately, allow to cool completely then put into the fridge. It’ll last about 3-4 days).
So, if you want to pan-fry…
T’is simple. Heat up a good non-stick frying pan, add a drizzle of oil and pan-fry on both sides for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp :-) Best washed down with copious amounts of Chinese tea…
Every family’s recipe is different, so you don’t have to take this as gospel. I have to say, my first attempt came out pretty decently, but I’m still a bit miffed with my messing up the radish:flour ratio as I like my radish cake a bit less firm (the crisp exterior/melting interior is king!). But essentially the recipe works. If you have any tips to add, please do!
In two weeks’ time, I’ll be looking forward to making tong yuen (glutinous rice balls) to mark the end of the new year… :-)
Some recipes are just so versatile – like this gorgeous yoghurt cake recipe from Bill Granger that a friend of mine recently modified. The original was a splendid sounding peach and almond yoghurt cake, but she replaced it with blueberries, raspberries and pistachio nuts. Three of my favourite things – naturally, I had to nick it and make it myself so I could spend my days stuffing it in my face.
The yoghurt in the cake is what makes it so lovely and moist – the crumb is quite dense, and yet it’s still quite light. I love the tartness of the blueberries and raspberries (uhh, not quite back in season yet), which offset the sweet sponge. The crushed pistachios also look great on top and add a nice crunch. This will definitely be something I’ll be whipping up at the next charity bake sale at work… ;-)
Berry and pistachio yoghurt cake
Adapted from Bill Granger’s peach and almond yoghurt cake
220g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
225g self-raising flour, sifted
250ml plain yoghurt
250-300g mixed blueberries and raspberries
50g shelled pistachios, roughly crushed
1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line the base of a 23cm springform cake pan. (I used a 23cm deep square cake tin and it fits perfectly).
2. Place the butter and sugar into a bowl mix until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
3. Fold in the flour, milk and yoghurt and mix until barely combined.
4. Gently fold in the berries.
5. I crush my pistachios by whizzing them quickly in a mini food processor until they’re nicely crushed but not blitzed to a powder. Then, I put them through a sieve so I can mix the finer powdery bits directly into the cake batter. Fold the pistachio ‘dust’ through the mixture.
6. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin, then sprinkle the remaining crushed pistachios over the top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover with foil for the last 20 minutes of cooking.
7. Allow the cake to cool… and resist touching it in the meantime – I couldn’t help it, it’s just so nice and springy to the touch! Serve in thick wodges with a nice cuppa :-)
Can you guess my favourite Christmas song yet? It was the title of last year’s Christmas post, too!
This was my second time away from home and family over the holidays, but I’m amazingly blessed with an ‘extended family’ of sorts who invited me to their house, and a very old friend who came down to visit me in London after Boxing Day. In fact, it’s only now after I’m back in this big (cold) house that I feel lonely at all…! Oh, what a good Christmas it has been…
The story? My dear friend Lallie is one of the (very) few people I’ve kept in touch with post-uni – she’s been my closest friend and housemate for the past four years, and this is the first year we haven’t been living together. Tragedy! So this year, after hearing about my somewhat disastrous situation that prevented me from going back home (will not elaborate), she invited me down to her home in Chichester, West Sussex. I’ve been there many times and the sheer hospitality of her family astounds me (*wipes tear from eye*).
And lucky for me, they really do go all out for Christmas – a big, happy, traditional English Christmas so to say. And boy, was I well fed. Before the festivities we had some marvellous sherries (a gorgeously nutty palo cortado and some crisp fino), and on the 23rd a simple dinner of roasted vegetables with pan-fried sea bass (sadly, no photos).
The real prep began on Christmas eve – we were up bright and early to make pastry for the sausage rolls, followed by some simple Rachel Allen biscuits (with cinnamon and nutmeg) for visiting relatives and a batch of Nigella custard creams. Everyone eagerly anticipated the sausage rolls, which I can say were positively divine. Good pastry (cough!). We also started the prep for a gorgeous chocolate and rum bread and butter pudding – with generous amounts of the stated ingredients…! That was left to chill overnight for the big Christmas day dinner.
Christmas eve dinner was relatively low-key, with roasted pork loin with Granny Smith apples and a cider gravy, served with roasted potatoes. Hats off to the chef!
And then Christmas day was upon us, with much fanfare and ripping open of a serious mountain of presents accompanied by yet more sherry and eating of biscuits. I don’t know how the weather was like elsewhere in the UK, but it was a beautiful day – a big contrast to the somewhat overcast week preceding it!
As the designated kitchen helpers, we busied ourselves prepping yet more things – namely, decorating the mini Christmas puddings (rolling blue food colouring into the royal icing was dreadfully messy…!).
There was also the setting up of the table, complete with a handcrafted ivy-candlestick arrangement courtesy of miss crafty hands herself, Lallie. Amazing what a few handfuls of foliage can do to a few sticks of wax!
The carving of the meat (rolled turkey) was, naturally, left to the man of the household. The dog, Saffy (short for Saffron) looks on with anticipation…
Check out the minimalist plate of obligatory turkey and (perfectly roasted even sans goose fat) potatoes before we all got really gluttonous – or rather I did – and loaded up like a fat boy in an all-you-can-eat buffet joint. The tray next to the jug of bread sauce (had bread sauce for the first time, and now I can see why all of y’all rate it so much!) is the apple, chestnut and pork stuffing. Divine. In place of crackers, we had poppers – the contents of which promptly draped themselves all over the stuffing and settled nicely into the gravy boat post-popping. Ah, festivities…
And so this was Christmas dinner – there’s turkey with bread sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy; roasted potatoes; peas and carrots; creamed parsnip; swede mash; apple, chestnut and pork stuffing; Brussels sprouts (am I in the minority?); broccoli. Now my stomach is quite expansive but after that dinner even I couldn’t face the rich bread and butter pudding waiting for us on the counter… no jokes!
It was the most satisfying Christmas – not only in terms of food and wine, but in company and good spirit. And, now I can say I’ve experienced a truly English Christmas. Hoorah!
I sure do love macarons. When did the obsession begin? Ah it was the year before university and the time of Xanga (who even uses that anymore?) when I was particularly enamoured by a glamorous blogger who wrote about her travails to Paris, Tokyo and beyond… one of the treasures she mentioned in one particularly fabulous post were macarons. Cue an image of the most adorable, pastel-coloured sweets I had ever set eyes upon.
Fast forward to university year one. Having made the move from Hong Kong to London, my very first foray into Europe had to be no other place but Paris. Ah, I was a knave living on cheap croissants and pain au chocolats for breakfast, baguettes for lunch, and god-knows-what for dinner – one night, we met a Belgian friend there one night and horreur of horreurs, he took us to a deep pan pizza place. Sigh. We also had a snack at McDonald’s, of all places… And that’s not all! Those were the days when I ddn’t know what an escalope was, oh ho! But that isn’t to say those ‘cheap’ purchases were anything but fantastic (maybe that’s stretching the truth a bit about the pizza and mini maccie D fish fingers) – it IS Paris, afterall. But if there was one thing I took away with me to heart, it had to be those lovely little macarons.
On our last day, oblivious to the joys of Pierre Hermé or even Sadaharu Aoki, we traipsed to Le Printemps’ food hall in search of these elusive little almond minxes. I gorged on the sight of those luscious little confectionaries in their hundreds, set behind glass domes. I don’t even remember whose macarons I bought, but I settled on a counter with relatively reasonable prices (I remember gasping when I realised how much these little things cost). With godawful GCSE French, I ordered a box. It was quite unglamorous as we took our bounty upstairs and plonked ourselves down in a random waiting area where there happened to be tables and chairs.
I opened the box and hovered my fingers over the rainbow discs… I believe the first one I sampled was classic vanilla, with its light golden buttery hue and slightly shimmery dome. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it was. Such a delicate, crisp shell giving way almost immediately to a texture that can’t be labelled as ‘chewy’ – indeed, it had some bite but it was so soft, so creamy at the same time. It was, quite literally, an epiphany. I couldn’t bear to eat the rest of my 11 remaining macarons because I didn’t want them to disappear! Looking back at the photo, the macarons I bought look amateurish compared to the picture-perfect versions perfected by Mr Hermé or at Ladurée.
(Thanks to the enduring qualities of the internet, the images above were the same ones I took from that trip and uploaded onto photobucket more than 3 years ago!)
It wasn’t until a year ago I attempted to make my own macarons. A combination of cockiness, impatience and a temperamental oven did not a success make. It wasn’t until the third try that my pistachio macarons came out with uncracked, smooth domes and the requisite feet – what an achievement! But that time, I’d fooled around with the recipe so much I had forgotten what made it so successful. So ever since, I haven’t been able to replicate the success.
But thanks to a group of bloggers who recently attended a macaron-making class at L’Atelier des Chefs, some of whom were kind enough to publish the recipes on their blogs, I decided to give it another shot. Everything this time was measured to perfection, and the store-bought ground almonds milled even finer in my tiny pestle and mortar (I lack a food processor, sadly, or even a spice/coffee grinder). I had always been afraid of over-mixing my batter, but persevered until my batter was somewhat shiny (the black sesame ‘dulled’ the mixture somewhat) and had reached the ribbon stage. I took it as a good sign that my macarons were developing a skin rather quickly – something that had never happened with any of my previous batches. Popped them in the oven for about 10-12 minutes and squeaked with joy when I saw they had come out perfectly, despite the fact that I had to make do with some foil when I came home and realised I didn’t have any baking sheets or even a proper baking tray…
In my recipe, I used about 100g ground almonds and 25g ground black sesame seeds – next time I’m going to increase the black sesame to almond ratio, since I prefer more speckling. I love the way the batter looks like smooth granite or pebbles when piped out! I also mixed plenty of ground black sesame into an Italian buttercream (which kept separating into a dreadful cottage cheese-like texture, though I managed to salvage some of it) – I used salted butter for it to take away the excessive sweetness I feel most macarons have. So I sandwiched them and left the macarons to rest overnight and tasted them the next day.
Now… I don’t want to brag, but it made me feel like that 18 year old girl again in Paris, trying macarons for the very first time.
So I have the itch to blog again… and what better time than now, when it’s time to hash out those lovely winter recipes that have been sitting around the kitchen for months on end? The last time I made buta no kakuni was last Christmas; impatience and a loose hand with the soy sauce led to a sad and salty affair with rough meat. This time, I was going to bring out the big guns. Cue this excellent recipe I came across from Chubby Hubby‘s blog, which in turn comes from Masaharu Morimoto’s ‘The New Art of Japanese Cooking’. When I first came across it, it looked impossibly complicated – with a very long cooking time and lots of waiting about, I was turned off of the idea. But I decided the effort would be worth it, and took the plunge.
I didn’t take any photos during the process because (a) who said I was cooking this for purpose of blogging about it? (b) I wasn’t sure how successful it’d be. Well, here I am now, blogging about a very successful dish… and it has inspired me to blog more again!
I did, as I’m prone to do, make a few alterations. One was using ordinary white short grain rice in the initial braising process instead of brown – I just couldn’t be bothered to buy a pack of brown rice (weirdly expensive in Japan Centre) and I couldn’t find any information on what the effect would be, except that it ‘tenderises’ the meat – not sure what the difference is between brown and white rice, though. For the first part, I’m guessing the rice keeps the pork tender by ‘insulating’ it as it braises, protecting it from too much direct heat? Brown rice probably doesn’t break down as much as white in that time, therefore ‘protecting’ the pork for longer? Err, Heston, give us a hand…?
The initial braising process is 8 hours, but I cheated. I did it only for 4 – my pork belly was already sliced into strips when I bought them, so I figured it needed less time. I started at 8pm after work and couldn’t leave the oven on all night, either! Then it was left to rest, as Chubby Hubby did, in the oven overnight. The next night, the pork was removed from the thick rice mixture and, instead of wastefully discarding the rice as suggested, I bunged it into my rice cooker, added some chicken stock and the soaked dried scallops and made the congee that way! The rice, afterall, had soaked up so much flavour from the pork during that initial cooking process so it would have been silly to throw all that away.
So then the pork went on to be braised again for several hours with a mixture of soy sauce, sake, sugar and water, along with bamboo shoots and chunky pieces of daikon (my own additions, because I love the way they soak up the flavours of anything it is braised with). Result! The pork was already falling apart after the first cooking process and by the second it was meltingly tender. Gorgeous.
See that piece just falling off? ;)
I’d recommend anyone to give this recipe a shot. It may sound daunting at first, but you really do just leave it to do its own thing most of the time. Set it aside for a weekend when you’re home, shying away from the cold.
The full recipe can be found on Chubby Hubby’s blog. Remember not to throw the rice away! ;) Times like these you really can tell I’m of an Asian (or ‘Oriental’ as they say here) persuasion…
Oh, and I’m intending to do a few more posts that I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Yes, I am talking about Colombia! And I have also recently discovered an unfinished draft of a second Vienna post hidden in my dashboard. Oops. So, yeah. Stay tuned.
Well, no sooner than I had promised posts about Colombia that I’m now posting (live-ish) from my first day in Vienna! Am staying in the positively marvellous but amusingly-yet-aptly-named The Ring (aptly because it’s on the Kärntner Ring road) where I have been – a la Bill Bailey – impressed by the in-room Nespresso machine but lamenting about the lack of tea-making facilities….
Just as well, considering it’s all about coffee – or more like, coffeehouses/kaffeehaus, where the atmosphere and surroundings are infinitely more impressive than the brew – it’s not Italy, afterall.
Rewinding a bit, after flying and making my way to the hotel and consulting my itinerary (which was not crafted by myself, mind you), I decided to forgo the boring option of lunching at the hotel’s At Eight restaurant and set off towards Kärntner Strasse – the city’s main pedestrian drag – in search for some grub. I hadn’t had much time to plan my trip, but one place that stood out was Trzesniewski.
Luckily, it was relatively easy to find… once you turn down that road, look for it on your immediate left. The exterior is so unbelievably nondescript I managed to head about a hundred yards down the road before I realised my bearings didn’t really match up to the map in my hand… so back I went, clocked the slate grey walls and lone door which opened up into a world of miniature egg-based open sandwiches. The ideal tummy filler for me, since by then I only had 2-3 hours before dinner.
Inside, it was just as threadbare and utilitarian as you might have expected from the exterior; just as well, as most customers only have eyes for the glass cabinet holding 20+ varieties of open-faced sandwiches. I was pretty overwhelmed by the choice, and while there’s a useful placard at the front of the shop with English translations of the different types, the identification ‘cards’ in front of each batch of sandwiches don’t. Severe, non-smiling staff had an air of impatience about them, despite the fact it wasn’t very full when I went – so, a little flustered, I just pointed at a few that looked interesting…
Of my selection, the liver was particularly scrumptious, all creamy textures and delicate flavours. Not overly pungent, which always turns me off offal (har har). Herring with onions came a close second, with nice briney fish contrasting with tangy, soft onions. The others were forgettable… Still, it was nice to stand around (there are limited seats) and check out the colourful clientele – everyone from dazed tourists to a particularly gaunt punter who downed his herrings and onions with much gusto, with a man-sized tankard of beer next to him. It’s very much an eat-and-leave place (I’m sure I annoyed the staff to no end by hanging about snapping pics).
After wandering about some more and getting fed up with the gloom and rain, I decided to seek refuge in a kaffeehaus. I’d intended to go to Café Hawelka, but again couldn’t find it (despite it being on the same street!); it’s known to be a very charming mom-and-pop run place (though tragically, Josefine died three years ago) and the intellectual hangout of the 60’s and 70’s. So by chance I wandered past Café Bräunerhof, which had some mighty cosy-looking booths…
I am already in love with the dichotomy between the elegant/opulent surroundings and a fully relaxed, convivial vibe of Viennese cafés. I could have spent my entire evening there, sipping melange and eating my apfelstrudel (could have done with some freshly whipped cream or some vanilla sauce, though!). It’s not hard to see why these places were the favoured haunts of writers, artists and revolutionaries (and the odd poor boy who could take hours of refuge in these formidable institutions for the price of a coffee).
Plenty more cafés to go to tomorrow, which I feel defeats the purpose of the kaffeehaus – I need more langurorous afternoons to fully enjoy them, instead of flitting all about the place!
1, Kärntner Ring 8 (+43 122 122/ http://www.theringhotel.com).
1, Dorotheergasse 1 (512 3291/ http://www.speckmitei.at). Open 8.30am-7.30pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat. No credit cards.
1, Stallburggasse 2 (512 3893). Open 8am-8.30pm Mon-Fri; 8am-6pm Sat; 10am-6pm Sun. No credit cards.
Hola from Jerez! (Edit: this was written on the second day … and not finished or posted until now!)
We arrived yesterday (Tuesday 29th) and got straight into sherry tasting, in the Bodega Sánchez Romate. As someone who had never drunk a drop of sherry in her life, the experience was an enlightening one, and I think I’ve become a convert! The cool, dark bodegas are stacked with thousands of barrels of sherry by the solera system (where barrels are stacked in rows at least three barrels high, with the oldest blend of sherry at the bottom, the suelo, followed by the younger barrels on the upper layers, the criaderas). I won’t bore you with the details, though it certainly is interesting how the quality of the sherries are kept consistent by constantly topping up each layer with the sherry from the layer above it, each time an amount (a third) is drained from the bottom barrel.
It’s fascinating how the wide the spectrum of sherry varieties spans – from light, crisp and dry fino (one of the more commonly known sherry types in the UK, alongside Harvey’s Bristol Cream) to deep, dark and syrupy Pedro Ximénez. In between, manzinilla (slightly salty, and the drink of choice in the seaside location of Sanlúcar, where we went on our last day), amontillado, oloroso (the last of which was very much a favourite among the group, thanks to its smoothness and nuttiness!). Then there’s the very special, and very rare palo cortado, which has the freshness of an amontillado, but the smoothness and richness of an oloroso.
We were very lucky because at this time of year the region plays host to the Feria del Caballos, a week-long festival celebrating three of Jerez’s best known elements – sherry, horses, and flamenco. Held in a massive fairground a few kilometres from the town centre, the Parque Gonzalez Hontori on Avenida Alcalde Alvaro Domeque, people flock from all around Jerez (and from neighbouring regions as well, as Jerez’s feria is known to be one of the best, while there are also ferias held in Seville and El Puerto) to eat, drink and be merry. Beautiful Andalucían white horses parade throughout the streets and into the grounds, pulling elegant black carriages carrying equally regal-looking men and women (many of them in colourful Sevilla flamenco dresses). There really are no two Sevilla dresses alike in this town – the saying goes that you can know a woman from the kind of dress she wears.
Many of Jerez’s restaurants, bars and clubs set up as casetas (stands/booths or tents – some of them with proper facades!) and basically we just flitted from caseta to caseta, indulging in tapas and sherry. In the afternoon, we were lucky enough to be taken under the wing of the Romate company and we wiled away the hours eating delicious nibbles in the shade, watching the colourful people and horses of Jerez waltz by.
We also discovered the joy of rebujitos (a popular refreshing cocktail of dry fino mixed with lemonade), which quickly became a tipple of choice under the hot Spanish sun, when even dry sherry seems too heavy. If they introduce this in the UK, perhaps sherry drinking would become more acceptable. I thought I spotted rebujito being served at Barrafina the other night, but when I asked was met by a curt “no” (on a side note, Barrafina’s service seems to be getting arsier these days).
The first thing to arrive on the table was a heaving platter of fresh seafood – crab legs, prawns, langoustines, crayfish, and small crab claws. Salty as the sea and juicy and fresh to boot. I honestly was in heaven.
And what is a trip to Spain but a chance to indulge in the country’s best exports? I’m not sure if the above constitutes as a tortilla or not, since it was a bit… deconstructed, with the eggs and potatoes seemingly just scrambled together – someone needs to enlighten me on this. And of course, there was a big plate of Jamón Ibérico – my personal favourite, as a fan of all cured hams! I have to say, the nuttiness of jamón matches perfectly with dry sherry.
And of course, there was the ubiquitous manchego cheese and crunchy-outside, gooey-inside croquetas de jamón.
After a long afternoon of eating and drinking, we soon headed back to the hotel for a power nap to recharge ourselves for the night at the feria (more eating and drinking!), which brings me to the end of this entry (and when I originally started writing it)!