Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Water Chestnut and Lemon Soup Dessert

The first time I had this dessert it was in the heat of summer years ago at a traditional Chinese dessert house just off of King's Road, North Point. It was one of those mom and pop shops that you fear would one day succumb to skyrocketing rent and, like much of Hong Kong's precious heritage, become history. Perhaps it was the combination of place, company (my much esteemed elderly uncle whose inner child lets loose at the sight of desserts), and the surprising burst of lemon that made this experience particularly memorable.

Water chestnut soup is about as simple as it can get, but chilled and lifted with fresh lemon juice and lemon slices, it is an electrifying treat that snaps you out of summer's indolence.

Widely believed to help remove excess heat buildup in one's body, water chestnut desserts are especially popular and refreshing in summer. Select fresh and firm water chestnuts, but if skinning the suckers proves too tedious, look for vaccuum sealed peeled water chestnuts in your local grocery or even canned ones for a shortcut.

Enjoy the lemony burst and juicy crunch of water chestnuts!

What you'll need...
250g of skinned water chestnuts
3 cups water
80g rock sugar
1 tbsp water chestnut flour
Lemon juice from half a lemon
Lemon slices
Lemon zest

1. In a blender, blend half of the water chestnuts into a puree. Set aside. Take the remaining half and either pulse in blender or chop into small pieces.

2. In a small bowl, mix water chestnut flour with some water until smooth.

3. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add diced and pureed water chestnut and return to a slow boil. Stir in water chestnut flour solution and rock sugar and turn heat off shortly after sugar dissolves completely.

4. Let soup cool to room temperature, stir in lemon juice, zest, and lemon slices and chill in the refrigerator. Serve chilled and garnish with more lemon slices as desired. Enjoy!

Tips for skinning a water chestnut: Deshelling a water chestnut is easier than it seems. First, cut the top and bottom off. Then, with thumb gently pressed against the blade of a small knife, carefully peel the skin off by running the blade along the side of the water chestnut.

To make a clearer soup, adjust the proportion of pureed versus diced water chestnuts. Reduce the proportion of puree for a clearer soup.

馬蹄  250 克(去皮計)
清水  3 碗(約 715 毫升)
冰糖  80 克
馬蹄粉  1 湯匙
鮮檸檬汁  約半個檸檬

1. 將一半的馬蹄用攪拌機磨成茸,另一半切成小粒。
2. 馬蹄粉用少量清水調勻。
3. 燒滾水,加入馬蹄茸、馬蹄粒煮滾。
4. 加入冰糖和馬蹄粉水拌勻,待冰糖完全溶化後熄火。
5. 馬蹄露晾涼至室溫,拌入檸檬汁、檸檬皮碎及數片檸檬,再放進雪櫃冷藏。
6. 冷凍後即可隨時品嚐,另加檸檬片更添風味!


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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last-Minute Apple and Mint Cabbage Slaw

My mother was a phenomenal home cook and a natural entertainer. Old family friends fondly recall the days when my mother threw banquet-style feasts at our large Chinese antique table, wooing a dining room full of guests with course after course of meticulously presented dishes fit for emperors and empresses.

My mother would begin planning weeks in advance, polishing our heirloom silverware set retrieved from the depths of storage, orchestrating her nine-course menu to ensure a seamless score for the palate.

Not a single detail escaped her. Whether it is the wreath of paper-thin cucumber half moons encircling her Poached King Prawn Salad; or the individually rolled and plated hand towels accompanying her famous Wok Fried Crabs with Ginger and Scallions - my mother executed each and every facet of her performance with precision.

Yes, my mother was a perfectionist, and she took her craft seriously. Her banquets were venerable culminations of an extraordinary culinary gift and a life dedicated to feeding her family well.

Only one thing, if any, was often missing from her banquets. Her.

Having inherited a passion for cooking and home entertaining, I periodically throw party gatherings at home, once catering up to fourteen hungry friends cramped into a tiny apartment. While my parties are never going to be full-blown formal banquets like my mother's, they invariably involved extensive planning and certain levels of stress, ranging from sheer stage fright to virtual breakdowns.

Entertaining means spending time with your friends!
The culprit? Over-ambition, poor time management, occasional kitchen mishaps (i.e. the oven rack that collapsed under the enormous weight of a three-pound pumpkin cheesecake circa 2011. Both the cake and I survived, though). Oh, and obviously, the lack of a dish washing machine is much to blame. Nonetheless, nothing can be worse than disappearing from your own party, slaving away in the heat of the kitchen and getting frazzled by things like cream that is yet to be whipped.

It took me years to finally understand Nigella Lawson's philosophy in entertaining. Entertaining means "spending time with your friends, not anguishing alone in the kitchen." And here are my two cents:
Things need not be perfect nor utterly life-changing. And, in my opinion, it is perfectly okay to cheat once a while with store-bought frozen pastry.
When deciding a menu for a party, creating dishes that are simple yet presentable is just as important as designing a coherent menu. When you are already busy dancing your solo through the dinner preparations, the last thing you need is yet another side dish that requires more complicated choreography. This is where this beautiful cabbage slaw comes into rescue.

With no more than a few ingredients and requiring just minutes to assemble, this slaw is perfect to toss together just minutes before your guests show up.

Salads always add a delightful touch to a dinner spread, complementing and balancing out other heavyweight dishes, helping to cleanse the palate in between. Without any mayonnaise, buttermilk, or even yogurt, this zingy and crunchy slaw is refreshingly light and tangy sweet, melding beautifully with mains like smokey meats, barbecue, and Mac 'n' Cheese without contributing any heaviness.

I first had this salad at Ribs and Burgers, Brisbane (some of the best ribs I ever had!) made a few tweaks, and now it became my go-to salad for my party gatherings. Check out my previous party featuring this colorful slaw!

This simple yet elegant slaw adds a wild burst of summery colors and festivity to any party!

What you'll need...
3/4 head small green cabbage (approx. 480g)
1/2 head small red cabbage (approx. 200g)
2 Granny Smith apples
A handful of fresh mint (approx. 20g)
A few sprigs of fresh parsley (approx. 10g)
Lemon juice from half a lemon
Lemon zest
1 tablespoon white sugar

Suggested additional toppings:
Toasted Pine nuts

1. Finely shred cabbages, discarding the core. Set aside. Core apples and chop into matchsticks. Zest lemon and squeeze juice over the chopped apples to prevent oxidization.

2. Finely chop mint and parsley. Toss cabbage, apples and lemon juice, herbs, and sugar together and finish with desired toppings.

* Select apples that are firm and crisp.
* If making this salad ahead of time, sprinkle lemon juice over the chopped apples and keep chilled separately from the cabbage in the refrigerator. Toss all ingredients together at the last minute.

My recent reunion party features this light and refreshing slaw to balance out heavier dishes like Slow Cooked Pork and Bean Chili and Broccoli, Asparagus, and Spinach Mac 'n' Cheese

Mint and lemon add a pop of freshness to this slaw
青椰菜  3/4 個(約 480 克)
紫椰菜  1/2 個(約 200 克)
青蘋果  2 個
薄荷葉  約 20 克
義大利香葉  約 10 克
鮮檸檬汁  約半個檸檬
檸檬皮碎  隨意
砂糖  1 湯匙


1. 椰菜去芯,切成幼絲備用。
2. 蘋果去芯,切成火柴條。
3. 檸檬表皮擦成碎碎,再在蘋果絲上榨檸檬汁,以防止氧化。
4. 薄荷、義大利香葉剁碎。把以上材料拌勻,拌入砂糖再撒上其他配料即成!

1. 建議選用果肉較爽脆而不粉的蘋果,如青蘋果。
2. 如欲提早準備此莎拉,可先切好所有材料,把沾了檸檬汁的蘋果切條跟其他材料分開冷藏,最後才加入拌勻。

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