Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Cooking Questions - To Brine Or Not To Brine

Should I brine these? (image via South Park Studios)
Around Christmastime, home cooks find themselves cooking larger cuts of meat, whole animals and the like, because we're generally feeding larger groups of people. No-one likes dry meat, and one of the eternal questions about cooking meat is brining.

Harold McGee, everyone's favourite food scientist, says that brining takes away the meat's own juices and flavours (because osmosis), and/but the salt breaks down some of the proteins so the meat will end up more tender (or mushy, if it was already very tender, or it it's been brined too long).

Breaking it down, the pros of brining are:
- Super duper juiciness
- Tender meat
- Meat flavoured with salt (which I suppose can also be a con)

And the cons:
- Meat juices (and thus flavour) lost and replaced with salty plain water
- Potential meat mushiness
- No brown pan juices from roasting

McGee recommends rubbing meat with salt and leaving it for a day or two ("dry brining") instead. With this method, however, it appears that dryness in the meat is a given, as is suggested in his article for the New York Times (he talks about serving turkey like pulled pork, with a ladle of sauce over the top). Question is, is compensating with a good sauce good enough?

Given the horror stories of dry meats at parties (I've sure eaten my fair share), I'm personally still a fan of brining. Your timing has to be right - over-brining can lead to awfully tasteless results, and I've found that lean, white meat in particular do benefit from brining, and when its dry, meat can be horrible to eat, no matter how flavoursome it might be. With calculated, minimal brining time, I've found that a balance of flavour and moisture can be attained*. I guess like most things in life, brining is a delicate balancing act.

Basic brine recipe: 1 litre of water to 4 tablespoons salt.

*Although I did learn from Harold that adding aromatics into the brine (herbs, veggies) etc. is pretty useless as those flavour molecules are mostly too big to penetrate the meat (see point 6 here). I've been using salt, water, onions, leeks, bay leaves and black peppercorns for lean pork chops, and Pioneer Woman's turkey brine for poultry. I'll try just using salt next time to test that theory out.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Christmas Tipple - Whiskey Infusion

After a whirlwind trip to Toronto last week, I came back with a suitcase full of chocolate and alcohol. I'll be writing about Dillon's, a spectacular new boutique distillery near Niagara Falls, soon (but probably not on this blog). First, though, I'm going to start on the low end - Canadian Club.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Eater Hong Kong Heatmap - 14 hot new restaurants in Hong Kong

It's that time of year again! The second 2013 edition of the Eater Hong Kong Heatmap is out.

The number of restaurants in HK that have opened in the past few months has been astounding. I couldn't include them all in the Eater map. Aside from the ones on the Eater list, others worth noting are: Teppanroom (new teppanyaki room in the Grand Hyatt's Japanese restaurant Kaetsu), Ham & Sherry (Jason Atherton), Prune (new deli by the lovely Grassroots Pantry gals), 85 South (southern BBQ), The Bellbrook (Australian), Sushi Kado, Plat du Jour, La Vache, Zafran, Ginza Iwa, Upper Modern Bistro (ex-chef at St. George at Hullett House), The Boss (Cantonese), Little Burro, The Butcher's Club (butcher, private kitchen, dry-ageing specialists), Locofama, Pez, Opendoor Cafe and La Cantoche.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Eat Turkey and Give to Charity - The Great Big Turkey Feast, November 25, Hong Kong

The Great Big Turkey Feast!
Mark your calendars for Monday November 25, for The Great Big Turkey Feast. Hong Kong's top chefs and food writers (including yours truly) will cook & serve you a Thanksgiving-slash-Christmas feast for charity. It'll be held in Linguini Fini.

Tickets cost $888 - all profits go to the Hong Kong Neuro-Muscular Disease Association.

Get your tickets here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Attica, Melbourne, and a chef who walks the talk

Deep-fried mussels
I've been procrastinating about this post about Attica, because there is so much to say, and when that happens, I end up like a clumsy teenage nerd on her first date and I ramble and fail to say what I really want to say. This blog post is not going to be anywhere as lyrical as the meal.

The restaurant is in Ripponlea, an inconspicuous suburb in the south, on what is essentially the suburb's high street, amidst pharmacies, second-hand bookshops and takeaway eateries - basically, it's not where you'd expect to find one of Australia's best restaurants, which is refreshing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ronin, Hong Kong, and the search for Wow

I love eating out (duh), and just like anything you choose to immerse yourself in, you quickly find yourself in search of "wow" moments. To me, achieving a state of "wow" on the palate is seriously not dissimilar to an orgasm, however cliched that sounds (ok, very). It makes you ecstatic. You come out of the meal fists pumping and gasping for breath because it was, quite literally, taken away.

Anyway, it's a big deal when I am wowed. Lately, I've been very lucky - just in the past month, I've scored 3 wows - big personal record.

One of these was at Ronin. I've been here three times now, but only two for a proper meal. If you don't know that it's the new sister restaurant of Yardbird, you've probably been living under a rock, but it's okay, there's nothing wrong with rocks, especially with whisky.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Banana Matcha Cake - One-pot baking

Banana matcha cupcakes, or tea cakes, I suppose, as there isn't any icing
Two things happened recently.

One, I came home to a shattered glass bottle and half-fermented ginger beer in my cupboard (thanks to G's experiment), and at the back of the cupboard, found a long-forgotten bag of different teas, one of which was matcha (green tea) powder. Two, I got a giant bunch of very ripe organic bananas from a farmer for free (it was the end of the day at the Markets).

Matcha and frozen bananas
I went online to see if I could freeze bananas (yes I could!) and found that the best way to freeze them was to peel, then freeze them whole. (Apparently freezing them in their peels makes them black, but still edible, although it means you always need to defrost them a little and peel them before you can use them). And then I went online again to see what I could do with bananas.

After a couple of days of banana smoothies (awesome, because since the bananas are frozen, you don't need to add ice, but it's a pretty heavy breakfast) I decided to bake with them and found a recipe for matcha banana cake - perfect.

If you're lazy and hate washing up, you could potentially make this in one saucepan. If you do, make sure your saucepan is a little bigger so that the batter won't overflow.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Retail dreams - Top 5 Artisans & Food Retailers in Hong Kong

Moving Coffee / CENG [photo by Edmond Keung of Moving Coffee]
Recently in my guest blog for HK Tatler Dining, I talked about 5 top food artisans (I cheated and added 1 retailer) in celebration of Island East Markets' first birthday. In case you're thinking that I was mean and chose ones exclusive to IEM, I didn't - these all have other outlets, either brick and mortar, online or other markets around Hong Kong. If you're into things that are truly unique, independent, and are backed by a real story and real people, I recommend that you check them out. I've posted direct links to their businesses below.

The Conservancy Association
Chopsticks (Connoisseur Groceries)
Sour Times Dairy Company

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A date with Green Monday - vegetarian recipe competition

Green Monday is Hong Kong's take on Meatless Monday, working with restaurants and school canteens around town to make access to vegetarian meals easier (and healthier). It's based on the idea that going meatless, even part-time, reduces carbon emissions significantly, and is also better for our health. Raising animals for food uses a lot of resources - resources that are finite that we can't afford to deplete.

Until October 20, 2013, you're invited to submit your best vegetarian recipe to Green Monday for their Green Mondate competition. (It's all in Chinese, unfortunately, so ask a friend to help if need be!) I'm among the judging panel that will pick six winners to cook for actress Annie Liu Xin-you (劉心悠), pictured above. (You know how in high school the dorky ugly chicks are gatekeepers for their cute friends? Well, I'm the dorky chick and Annie is, like, totally my bestie). Join us and read more about it here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nothing sloppy about Paste, Bangkok

Prawn, galangal peanut relish and pomelo on betel (cha-plu) leaves 
It's a funny coincidence that I'm writing up this blog post in Sydney, because this was the city that the chef-owners behind Paste were before opening earlier this year (well, calling it Sydney is probably a stretch, as they were in Mittagong). We came on the recommendation of fellow food & travel writer Gloria @foodandtravelhk, who described Paste's steamed rice as the most fragrant thing ever (well, the literal translation was "so fragrant it has no friends" that's Cantonese slang for you). If they can make plain ol' steamed rice worth talking about, then it was good enough for us.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tomahawk Time at Grand Hyatt Steakhouse, Hong Kong

It was G's birthday and there are few things my personal anti-foodist loves to eat more than steak. The Grand Hyatt Steakhouse has been on my to-try list forever, but like the many other lists in my life, I don't often refer to them (cue self-help guru).

It's notoriously popular, but it being a Sunday night, I decided to give them a call and try my luck. After I gave them my contact phone number, it appeared that they had me on the system (freaky, but cool) and I was told that there are normally two sittings but I could get a 7.30pm booking bang in the middle of them. I guess I'm on the special pain-in-the-backside or those-idiots-they-call-bloggers list. It was awfully nice of them, and I think they have me on the system because I've been a Hyatt Gold Passport member for a while and stayed at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong recently (a junket), but to be honest I'd be just as happy either way.

Disclaimers done, let's get onto the food.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Be-juiced - a Juice Detox from a Foodie's Perspective

Bejuiced's six juices (one day's worth of juices)
I did a 3-day juice detox recently. Not the hardcore kind where you make juices at home out of kale and wheatgrass all day, every day. I went the lazy convenient and curious first-timers route of purchasing 3 day's worth of juice from a juicing company. The three companies on everyone's lips are The Genie Concept, Punch Detox and Be-juiced. I chose the latter simply because they were at Island East Markets, and I convinced some friends to taste the juices there before we decided to take the plunge. We managed to get 10 people, and got a group discount, hurrah (so Asian).

I should explain why I was interested in juice detoxing in the first place. Some people do it to clean out the toxins in their system, others do it to lose weight, for better skin etc. etc. I don't really care about these things, and don't really believe in the concept of "detoxing" per se*. I did it because I was told that a juice detox cleans out your palate - that by the end of it, your tastebuds would be able to taste everything. (Nb. this is not a claim that the juicing companies make, I got this idea from other detoxers). That was enough to get a foodie interested.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Eat Your Words - Food Critics Cook for Charity!

5 Food editors
5 Chefs
5 Course dinner
125 Critics
All for 1 fantastic charity

You've read our reviews, now see if we're actually worth our salt!

For 1 night only, 5 food writers will be paired with 5 chefs and put to the ultimate test – serving a 5 course dinner to 125 critics at The Salted Pig!

Who are the critics? Well, you, the public of course.

You will be invited to “crit” each course on its merits - a turning of the tables so to speak - and a challenge for our favourite food critics to eat their words!

It is all for a bit of fun, of course (you can even watch us bumble about in a commercial kitchen from live cameras in the restaurant), and, most importantly, it's to raise money for local food charity Foodlink, to alleviate food wastage and hunger in Hong Kong.

The 5 teams are (in order of course/dish appearance):

And check out the fantastic auction prizes, including:
  • A pastry and bread master class for 10 people with Gregoire Michaud and his team at Bread Elements
  • A rooftop dinner cooked by Anthony Fletcher at The Pawn 
  • A meat cooking class for 10 people with Jason Black at Pantry Magic, with a little goodie bag for each person from Pantry Magic
  • A HK food tour led by me, as part of Little Adventures in Hong Kong
  • A cheese and wine pairing for four people at the Caprice Cheese Room at the Four Seasons Hong Kong
  • A $1000 gift voucher for dining at Yardbird
  • A two-night stay for anyone visiting HK at the J Plus Boutique Hotel in Causeway Bay
  • A custom-made chef uniform by Chefworks
  • A blind date with the gorgeous Ale Wilkinson of The Dim Sum Diaries
That's me in my Chefworks uniform! (Just trying it on for size, not my team "colour" hehe)
Tickets are $888 for the 5 course dinner, including a matched beverage with each course, it's communal seating, and you'll also get an Island East Markets tote bag filled with goodies!

Tickets are available for purchase from today onwards exclusively at The Salted Pig, 2/F, The L Place, 139 Queen's Road Central, Central.

Proceeds from the evening will go to Foodlink.

Additional beverages will be available for sale during the evening to the thirsty!

Date & time: Monday June 24, 2013, 7pm
Location: The Salted Pig, 2/F, L Place, 139 Queen's Road Central, Central
Tickets: $888 each, including a matched beverage for each course (you can buy additional beverages at the restaurant) All proceeds will go to Foodlink.
Buy tickets at: The Salted Pig, 2/F, L Place, 139 Queen's Road Central, Central.

Tickets are limited, so purchase now now for a communal evening of food and fun!

View e_ting in Hong Kong in a larger map

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Standing Chicken, and More Cantonese Calories at I Delicious

Standing Chicken, or Gentleman's Chicken (or really, crispy skinned Chicken)
When I was shown a picture that was very similar to the one above, I said two things. 1) Where is it? and 2) When are we going? The first question was actually unnecessary because I honestly don't care if I had to be taken there blindfolded, that chicken was too cute* to miss.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ta Pantry - A Private Kitchen That's Worth It

Petite fours on tableware in Esther Sham's signature pink
After whining continuously about the private kitchen scene in Hong Kong (and how really, people shouldn't get so excited about them - they shouldn't be differentiated from regular restaurants), I figured I should be a good sport and write about a private kitchen that is worth your trouble (and cash).

Ta Pantry was opened by Esther Sham, who, when she first started the private kitchen, was a very good amateur chef. Her old location in Wanchai could only sit one party a night, and it was often full, which also meant she had plenty of chances to perfect her cooking. She also staged at Amber, and took a few months off to stage in France last year. Upon the opening of her new and much larger space in North Point, shared with wine cellar Hip Cellar, we went to check her out again.

Guest blogging for Hong Kong Tatler Dining

With the ridiculously small amount of time I seem to spend on this blog, you might be kind enough to wonder where I've gone. Aside from Island East Markets, I've been doing lots of writing, and have picked up a guest blogging gig with Hong Kong Tatler Dining, which nowadays, is becoming one of the best sources of Hong Kong food news & reviews, mostly thanks to the new leadership of foodie and food journalist extraordinare (and friend) Charmaine Mok.

Generally speaking, I file one blog a month (or a month and half...) and so far here's what's been published, with a new one on food movement movies coming very soon.

You'll find all of my posts here, but don't forget to check out the fine company I'm in, including the brilliant Shane Osborn, head chef at St Betty, Classified's new cheese expert Celine Watine (who replaced my heroine Wendy Wu), and one of the hippest restaurateurs in town behind Blue Butcher and so on, Malcolm Wood.

I leave you with an excerpt of one of my posts, What Went Wrong with Hong Kong's Food System?

Some of us like food more than others, but no one can deny that it’s a necessity. So, it’s bizarre how little time is spent understanding how food arrives on our tables. In an attempt to paint an overall picture, I’m going to present a series of figures about how much food we import, grow and waste in Hong Kong. Brace yourselves, because this picture ain’t pretty.

Around 90 per cent of the food we consume in Hong Kong is imported. When it comes to fresh food, the figures are even higher at around 95-99 per cent, with most of it coming from mainland China.

Due to climate change, China’s food production is projected to reduce by 5-10 per cent within the next two decades. In a country that is home to 20 per cent of the world’s population, this is a huge issue. When that time comes, the chances of sufficient stores of food coming to Hong Kong can only be described as slim.

Continued on Hong Kong Tatler Dining >

Monday, April 08, 2013

Le Marron - A "French" private kitchen in Hong Kong, the land of compromise

Duck breast a l'orange (I think)
Le Marron is my standard answer to the question: "Where do I go as a party of 6 (or more) for 'Western' food? Oh and it has to have free corkage".

Everyone thinks private kitchens don't charge for corkage - that couldn't be further from the truth, so there's no real advantage to them (apart from the "secret" element). I've said it once and I'll say it again - most private kitchens in Hong Kong, especially non-Chinese ones, kinda suck.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Taipei - Jin Feng Luroufan (Braised Pork Rice)

Luroufan at Jin Feng
There are a few signature or staple dishes in each city - some seem geared towards tourists (egg tarts in Hong Kong - not that locals don't like them, we just don't eat that many of them), while others truly live in people's subconscience and and are eaten by locals on almost a daily basis. To me, an example of the latter would be luroufan in Taiwan, or braised pork rice.

On previous trips, I had been introduced to Formosa Chang, or "bearded Chang" in Chinese (鬍鬚張), which, in my untutored opinion, is a very decent chain, but I decided I'd go looking for more options, just to compare (this will sound familiar to food nerds...).

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Cocktails and Whiskey in Taipei - Caffe Libero, Marsalis, Fourplay

Souvenirs from Taipei - Kavalan Concertmaster, and vintage glass from Nostalgic Future
When I tell people I'm planning my wedding, they naturally ask about the person I'm about to be married to. "Is he a foodie too?" is probably the most common question, and my answer is always "absolutely not".

So a month or so ago, when I caught up with G in Taipei (he had already been there a couple of days), I was more than surprised when he suggested we go bar hopping after dinner. He said this knowing that my kind of bar hopping involves more whisk(e)y and proper cocktails than party scenes and bottle service (and in many cases, beer). Needless to say, I took that license to drink and ran.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

11 favourite drinks of 2012

Scapa 16 years at The Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge, The Galaxy Macau
As you can tell from the new "e_ting drinks" section on the blog, drinks have become an increasingly important part of my diet. This sounds crazy, because, everyone needs fluids, right? But around age 15, when I first started getting acne, I suddenly became obsessed with the idea of detoxification. Back then, we didn't have juice cleanses and the like (even if there were, they weren't easily accesible to teenage me) and the best and easiest way I knew was to drink gallons and gallons of water. For many years, probably half my schoolbag's weight came from my bottle of boiled, filtered, room temperature water.

As I grew up, I just kept on that path - first thing I do in the morning, even before coffee, is very warm water. When I went out, it would just be warm water, or warm tea, then maybe a glass of wine with a meal. I came to realise, however, that it was normal for people drink a whole range of things that were beyond my usual repetoire - juices, soft drinks, cocktails - and plus, my curious self drove me further down the paths of my mainstays coffee and wine, which saw me (and will still see me!) taking all sorts of lessons, classes, workshops and examinations.