Saturday, May 27, 2006

Carrot Cake and Otah (Asian Spiced Fish Paste)

In most of Asia, we do so love our starch and carbs. So much so, that sometimes for breakfast, we have meals that are like an entire course in itself. My family has such habits over the weekends when everything slows down a notch or two and we can enjoy a leisurely breakfast together.

One of the regular breakfast foods we have is Fried Carrot Cake. Over here, we are not referring to the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting that is literally a cake. The ones we have here, uses white carrots (I think?) and it is a smooth paste that is steamed, before being fried, cutting the cake into tiny bite sized portions. We have two versions, the 'white' and the 'black' and it is usually fried with eggs and spring onions. The white is fried as is, the black is a sweet black sauce.

Recently, mom bought another version of this Carrot Cake also known to locals as 'Cai Tao Kway' (Loosely translated to mean Carrot Top Cake). It is about the size of an index finger and it is pre-fried. I have tried this before, piping hot with a warmed otah. Otah is another local speciality. It is a fish paste mixed with herbs and spices, spread onto banana leaves measuring 15cm by 3cm. It is then placed on one of those small grills and toasted till slightly burnt.

I forgot to take a pic of the Otah in its entire glory, but this is what I had for brunch yesterday. It is quite delish if not overly carb filling and not something I can take too many times in a month.

Fried Carrot Cake and Otah

Does it resemble french fries? It probably has the same amount of oil since it is soaked in as much oil during the frying process.

This is the famous Otah.

Quite a nice match if I do say so myself.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Taipei Food Shopping

I just got back from a little getaway to Taipei with some friends. I didn't expect myself to be astounded by the multitudes of really great tasting stuff in their convenience stores!

Sure... the food streets served pretty palatable stuff, but if you aren't used to the unique taste of the sauce that covers most of their foods, you might not enjoy the lunch and dinners there.

Food shopping started innocently enough, we initially wanted to get some bottled water from the convenience stores and maybe a bottle of Green Tea Milk to quench our touristy thirst. In the end, a pack of Green Tea with Milk, led to Green Bean flavoured Milk, leading to Instant Beef Noodles with real beef within, to Pineapple Cake, to Sun Biscuits, to fast dinners on the go, to pastries and cakes and bread. The possibilities of food you could get in a singular convenience store was mind boggling. The best part was that every random food/snack we bought tasted darn good!

We also ventured into the town called Wu Lai filled with authentic aborigin-like sweet desserts hand made by the locals. This is where I went nuts over their mochi. You name it, they can mochi it. Things like Sakura Mochi, Blueberry Mochi, Green Tea Mochi Cake, Molasses Mochi covered with a dusting of peanut powder, Black Sesame Mochi, Peach Mochi, etc.

I travelled with a small little luggage, less than half full. I came back with the luggage bulging, a straw bag measuring 1metre x 1metre, and a duffle bag measuring almost a metre in length. All of these were brimming with mostly foodstuff such as :

Green Tea Mochi Cake. One of my Favs. The mochi isn't too sticky where you have trouble cutting a little piece each day as a snack. Goes great with a cup of hot Matcha too. They had it in Cherry Blossom Flavour as well but that was a disappointment. Perhaps their Mochi is too intense a taste for me to discern the fragrance of Cherry Blossom within.

My Favourite-test Drink To Date:
Green Bean Flavoured Milk
Tourists fall in love with a particular country or sight, or even people... I fall in love with food and drink. Sounds like such a Glutton. *sigh*

These are quite simply, the most delicious Rice Puff ( 小米) Crackers I have ever tasted. There are tonnes of varieties amongst which are rice malts, sakura, black sesame, original, etc. Loved it.

This packet of Milk with Green Tea (抹茶奶绿) is my second favourite drink during the trip. Mmmm...

Lu & Sons Sweetened Instant Green Tea Milk.
My third choice of Drink. You just scoop a tablespoon into a mug, add either hot or cold water, and you have a mug of frothy Green Tea Milk. I wonder what would happen if I added Milk instead of plain ole water?

The infamous 'Tie Dan' (铁蛋) from Dan Shui. Quite literally translated, it means 'Steel Eggs'. The ones here are vacuum packed hard-boiled quail eggs, baked in the oven with a variety of flavours such as original Tea, Herbs & Spice, Black Pepper, Garlic, BBQ, Spicy Hot, etc. I got at least one pack of each. *Sigh*

This is the Taiwanese' answer to Beef Jerky. Large slices of beef, semi dried but still moist enough to chew on. It has an array of tastes within, spicy, sweet, a little tad of herbs. Mmmm... Oishi!

These were bought by word of mouth from folks back home. I think they originated from Hong Kong but I guess it transcended into something the Taiwanese could do well too. It is a square little cake with a filling of semi thick pineapple jam with loads of texture.

I walked into a very girlish candy store in XiMenDing because I saw one panel of the display window stacked with pic on left. I was wondering what sorta marketing theories these people were conjuring, stacking feminine products in the display window. I realised much later, that all of the above pics were edible candy. Warped but cutesy. A little too reminiscent of the cutesy stuff Japanese gimmick stores have though. I had to buy these nonetheless... too odd to pass.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Obachan's Matcha Pound Cake

I couldn't resist buying a new brand of salted butter the day before. It's from New Jersey and weighs about 400gm per pack. The neat thing about this butter is that it's not one huge slab with markings on the wrapper for every 25gm. It comes in 4 individual sub-packs and each are marked to the max of 8 tablespoons per sub-pack (coming from the metric system, butter measured in tablespoons was new to me). I also bought some unsalted french butter and decided the next day would be Pound Cake day.

I woke up early to experiment on Obachan's Matcha Pound Cake. I started laying out all my ingredients only to discover I didn't have Cake Flour. In the end, I had to run to 4 different places before I managed to get a semi-substitute. I bought 'Top Flour' from the bake shop I frequent instead. When I asked the staff if they knew what percentage of protein or gluten strength this contained, no one knew. Resigned, I bought the 'Top Flour' with an ominous premonition.

It might surprise some to know that I actually went thru home economics class as an O level subject during my teenage years. This means I had to sit for exams on Theory as well as Practical aspects of Cooking. It also means that I should still have some notion of elementary science of Baking. For afterall, regardless the number of years since I sat through such exams, these science theories still hold true.

After I creamed the softened butter with sugar, I got careless and tipped over too much egg at one go. No amount of high speed whipping would stop the curdling that occurred thereafter. For those of you who are interested, curdling is when the fat receives an overwhelming amount of contrast liquid at once, such as egg, and hence separates. The appearance would be something akin to oil & water not mixing but gathering together in tiny lumps. The way to prevent this is to always introduce the egg into your creamed butter, by the spoonful (i.e. Whip, add 1 tbsp egg, Whip, 2 tbsp egg, and so on till the batter is more liquified and well mixed, before adding in the rest of the egg).

I was disgusted with self for such a rookie mistake. I was left with no alternative but to keep the mixer on high and gradually add in the egg, tablespoon by tablespoon. Theoretically, after curdling has occurred, we were taught to stop adding egg altogether and fold in flour to bind the two. I decided to continue adding the egg since the receipe given seems to yield a fairly small loaf. Thereafter, I folded in the twice-sifted flour and although the mixture was visibly smoother and together, deep down I knew something would go wrong with the end result.

I then mixed a little warm water with my terribly expensive yet miniscule tin of Matcha, groaning at how little was left. This was then mixed in with a little of the original batter, so I now have two batches of batter. Plain and Matcha flavoured.
(Note: This little tin measuring 8cm in height, cost me approximately 5.50 Euros, akin to daylight robbery if you ask me. See my pretty little precious Matcha? : )
It was then that I noticed the oven temperature had not been keeping a steady temperature during the preheat process. Hmmm.

I was deciding between pouring the two mixtures in batches onto the loaf pan and then swirling it with a toothpick or to give the mixed batter a few swirls before pouring it into the pan. I followed the latter.

After pouring the swirled batter into my NON-STICK-greased-lined-greased-again, loaf tin (I won't even begin to narrate my horrific nightmares when young, of my cakes sticking to the aluminium cake tins during the final Practical Bake exam, falling off in chunks when I forcibly upturned and shook the baked goods from the cake tin, to lay on my exam Presentation Table, complete with Menu, Fine Dining Cutlery & Crockery and flowers), I then proceeded to do something I had never done. I proceeded to knock the air outtav the loaf tin by dropping it repeatedly from a height of about 5cm. This feels strange, I have never had to sift flour, fold it into batter carefully and then knock the carefully incorporated air at the end.

In the end, it wasn't the preparation process that killed me. It was my cranky oven that did it. Obachan mentioned she had problems browning cakes with her oven (they still look fantabulous btw). I should introduce her to mine. It has problems cooking the insides of cakes and cookies properly, resulting in me having to go into overtime with the baking time and usually burning the tops of my cakes, and the rising of the cake hampered. Next to my oven monster, her oven is a dream come true.

I realise that my oven preheat temperature was too hot and inconsistent, leading to the browning of the top too quickly, causing the expanding liquid batter below to rise later, breaking the crust formed on top. I resolve also, to be more generous with the Baking Powder the next time round when using Top Flour, for this flour's characteristic seems to resemble a higher tensile strength, yielding a lower rise in cakes. I should also learn to be more light-handed when swirling marble cakes in future. (p.s. This Matcha Marble Pound looks NOTHING like Obachan's Matcha Marble pic. Refer to hers for inspiration please)

Pound cakes are Mom's favourite, whilst anything Matcha is mine. A mix of these two seemed like a good idea for the twain to meet. I loved it that the cake was only subtly sweet and the taste of Matcha was quite distinct. Yay!

Mom later revealed that she liked her pound cakes sweeter, and she didn't care much for the Matcha. I then decided that I might as well put all that butter to good use and whip up another Marble Pound Cake, this time chocolate and looking at the receipe, it seems to be slightly sweeter.

I will blog this tomorrow as it is now way past 2.30am. I will be bringing both my Matcha Marble Pound Cake and Chocolate Marble Pound cakes as breakfast for two of my closest colleagues tomorrow. Will report their responses in my next blog.

Verdict: Success in Taste. Needs improvement in appearance. Should also start saving for a new oven (donations anyone? hehe).

Monday, May 01, 2006

Aussie Nougat

A friend of mine, at my beheist, brought back an unusual form of Nougat from Australia. Ok, it was more of my physical threats that he bought these for me.

The story of how I got these Nougat is kinda strange. One day, whilst chatting over the internet, this friend of mine told me to start writing down certain words. After the fourth word in one week, I had to be bribed to continue doing so without a reason. I accepted the bribe for the heck of it.

After which, it turns out these 12 words he gave me were questions to a pop quiz on aviation. I was to find out what the actual meaning of those aviation slangs he had given me over the course of 2 weeks. Again, I decided to push my luck further by asking if I would get a prize for doing the quiz. Then finally, I asked if I would get another prize if I got all the meanings of those words correct.

So, he is finally back in town and I got these:
1) Aussie's Honey Roasted Maccademia Nuts (juz coz I am his friend... hehe)
2) Previously delivered Book on Aviation or WWII (for doing the quiz)
3) Aussie Nougat (coz I insisted I got all terms correct otherwise Google should be sued! He sorta insists I am getting them coz he is always kind to dumb animals. hehe)

The Nougat I am used to eating comes individually wrapped and in a large bag of about 25 pieces. This friend has never seen nor eaten Nougat and so when he saw those individually wrapped ones, decided it was too cheap a gift and hence bought me these:

I have never seen a block of Nougat and much less the different kinds of flavours they come in. I love the name of the honey used in these two blocks:

Truth be told, I could never taste the difference in honey no matter where they come from. To me, honey tasted like honey and there was no differentiation. After tasting the Leatherwood Honey used in this block of Nougat, I am now a reborn Honey believer. The name of the honey may have nothing to do with wood but the intensity of the honey as well as the earthy taste and smell is something I have never tasted.

I have yet to try the Ironbark Honey... but I can't wait. Oh! Before I forget, this is how it looks like after you chop em into bite-sized chunks: