May 31, 2011

Our Trust and the Promise: Nuked Tangzhong

Whole-Wheat Bamboo-Charcoal Tangzhong Buns With Mayo-Tuna Filling 沙律醬吞拿魚餡全麥竹炭湯種麵包

People, I feel thankful for the support you’d given me in my last post. I’ve been going through a rough time, unfortunately, and to be honest, but reading your comments did cheer me up. There are a few mornings on which I woke up to your encouraging words, and, you know what, I smiled. For all that, THANK YOU!

One of the things I’ve learned, besides being grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with, is to cherish trust. Trust must be treated right; once violated, you’ll lose grip of it, forever. Among the key ingredients for trust are sincerity, honesty, and faith. Trust is hard work: In every relationship, it has to be built from scratch and then, to preserve it, must be continuously nourished and fortified.

Because of my and the others’ breaking of the Trust Rules, over the years, I have lost friends and come to be paranoid. It was tragic, a painful lesson learned. And I don’t want the same to happen to you, my reader. So to the promise I made a month ago, that I would share with you before May ends, here’s another post on the tangzhong (湯種). This time, it is, however, prepared on not the stove but in the microwave. And the charcoal-black buns at the top of this page are made with microwaved tangzhong. They taste so good!

(Yep. I do love to cook and bake, but since my sophomore year of college, the microwave has been an indispensable part of my kitchen, because, after all, I’m a leftover queen.)

Actually, microwave to prepare tangzhong is no novelty. It’s a method that’s been circulating, for several years, among the Chinese bloggers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China. In fact, since I first read about it on a Chinese baking blog, in the summer of 2008, I’ve been occasionally relying on the microwave to prepare tangzhong.

Microwaved Tangzhong -- Microwaving 3

Sorry that I can’t link you to the site where I first learned about the nuked tangzhong. I’ve failed to recall how I chanced upon it and, worse comes worst, the name of the site. (Oh dear, is this a sign of dementia?) What I can be sure of, though, is that the microwave method is particularly useful in making a small batch of tangzhong. You know how most tangzhong recipes tell you to whisk together 50 grams of flour and 250 grams of water, right? That golden ratio of one to five? How obnoxious it is, that 300 grams of tangzhong, in the end, gives you too much left over to deal with? (If you’re planning to bake two kilograms of bread, the story will be different. Because you are going to use up the entire batch of tangzhong, anyway.)

Essentially, alongside the usual ingredients of bread flour and water (or milk, if that’s what you use), you’ll need plastic wrap, a small or medium-size microwavable bowl, a microwave (most households do have one, eh?), and a mini egg beater or fork or, what works nicely for me is, a pair of chopsticks. That’s it. Next, simply adhere to the five-parts-water-to-one-part-flour ratio — depending on the tangzhong bread recipe you’ve chosen to try, do the math and adjust the quantities accordingly — and proceed with the instructions below for preparing tangzhong. Do note that a smidgen of flexibility is necessary along the way.

So I’m leaving you with the instructions for microwaved tangzhong. But before I go, I do have to tell you that I’m drained. I’ve been struggling, physically and emotionally, to find the most suitable path for my career.

My close friends have been supportive and lending an ear to me. Fellow writers whom I know have given me words of wisdom to reflect upon. I’m handling the crisis the best that I can. But I’m too tired and overwhelmed. While I can’t say much at the moment, I hope I can share more about this stage of my life, in retrospect, with you in a few years. Till then, it shall be a matter of whether you’re still listening to me and if this blog is still around. I know this crisis isn’t something that can be resolved overnight; I suppose it’ll take years. It’s part of the process of growing up and understanding myself better.

With all that, I hate saying this: but I’ll have to take things slower, even, on here. Needless to say, mood swings(!) slow my writing, too. (Erm, I’m a moody writer.) What you can be assured of, though, is occasional updates on this blog, and that I’ll always be checking incoming messages from you and, if needed, reply to them the soonest possible and to the best that I can.

I’m working hard, for all the trust you’ve put in me, because I don’t want to lose it.



Microwaved Tangzhong (微波爐湯種)

This recipe should be treated as a reference. Depending on the amount of tangzhong called for in the recipe you’re using, you’ll need to adjust the quantities for the below ingredients accordingly. Remember, what always stands is: five parts water to one part flour.


20 grams plain bread flour
100 grams water or milk


Adjust the microwave’s setting. You’ll want to cook the flour-and-water mixture in a moderate heat — neither too strong nor too gentle. Having said that, I always set mine to medium-high.
Microwaved Tangzhong -- Microwaving 2

In a small microwavable bowl, whisk to thoroughly combine the flour and water. The mixture should be smooth and free of lump.
Microwaved Tangzhong -- Weighing Bread Flour
Microwaved Tangzhong -- Weighing and Adding Water
Microwaved Tangzhong -- Mixing Water and Bread Flour Together
Microwaved Tangzhong -- Microwaving 1

Send the bowl to the microwave, and start off by nuking the mixture for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the microwave and give the mixture a good stir. Return to the microwave and, depending on how much you’re making, nuke for another 30 to 40 seconds. At this point, check the mixture for its consistency every seven to 10 seconds. Be more careful, especially toward the end; otherwise, you may risk overcooking the mixture. It’s tangzhong when, with every stir, there are lines trailing behind the beater or fork or chopsticks (whichever one you’re using for this purpose). The tangzhong should also be somewhat runny. Stop cooking the mixture and remove it from the microwave.
Microwaved Tangzhong

To prevent a layer of skin from forming, immediately seal the surface of the tangzhong with a sheet of plastic wrap. The plastic wrap must be touching the surface of the tangzhong. Set the tangzhong aside, let it cool completely before using. If you’re not going to use it shortly thereafter, refrigerate it. The tangzhong keeps for up to three days, chilled. Just be sure that it’s brought to room temperature the next time you want to use it.

Yield: 115 grams tangzhong
Microwaved Tangzhong 2

May 24, 2011

It Turns Two, and I’m Trying

My heart is throbbing, and my head feels giddy. I don’t know where to begin with. I dread writing this, and, in all honesty, I never thought I’d be writing this.

People, this blog turns two today!

A year ago, due to a tight schedule, I was late to mark this big day down on here, for this tiny space I’d carved for myself two years ago in the boundless, expanding cyber world.

The Commencement ceremony is just about to begin ...

When I started this blog, I was a jobless fresh grad in the States. I had a mass communication degree in one hand and, in the other, a few years of training in journalism and copywriting. I was actively seeking job, but I was also not quite sure what to do with myself yet. (Remember the job market back then was gloomier, even?)

What I now do know of, though, is that my college years in the States had been formative. I was rediscovered in the kitchen; I was rewritten through language and words. Since then, food and writing have been taking center stage in my life. I knew that whatever I pursue, it’s got to do with food and words.

Unquestionably food blogging was a great answer to that. I’d wanted to write on a blog for the longest but was also intimidated by such a seemingly daunting commitment. That was why, when I was in college, I’d chosen not to blog because I was already writing for a student-run newspaper, my senior thesis, and other academic papers. Plus, I was held back by the language barrier that seemed to bother me. I’m not a native English speaker to begin with.

Then, the instant I discovered Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette and read her words, I was, for some inexplicable reason, startled. As strange as it may sound, I felt like I got punched on the face — and the blow was AMAZING!
My best advice is to write. Write honestly and thoughtfully about what moves you. Start a blog, keep a journal — whatever works for you. Just keep writing, and have fun with it. Set high standards for yourself, and work hard to meet them. Try to always write better, smarter, tighter. Read good writing and try to figure out what makes it work. Read up on book proposals and literary agencies, research other books and writers in your field, work hard, and stick your neck out. Definitely stick your neck out. And keep your fingers crossed.

Her words were like a mysterious force that — bam! — drove me to Blogger to create this blog on May 24, 2009, in that small efficiency apartment I once lived in. And the next day I’d written on here my first piece of food writing on a condensed milk pound cake. (I just reread it. My cheeks feel hot.)

Looking back into the archives on this blog, I’m astounded by how much I’ve evolved, be it in my baking and cooking, palate, writing, or thinking. I realized I’m not as pastries-savvy as I’d thought, that I don’t have the patience for details, and that I tend to stray from one recipe to another. Though I may be some homely snob who’s all for good home cooking, l actually enjoy learning about different cultures through, especially, food. I am, at heart, a writer who loves to cook and bake and photograph her food. (My cheeks still feel hot. Dammit.)

Photoshooting Session #2: Simple Cantonese-Style Steamed Chicken

I seriously can’t believe this blog has made it to today, because over the year, I’d undergone bouts of meltdown — due to career, relationships, and uncertainty about my future — and was on the verge of giving up on writing this blog. Along the way, the devil’s advocate came knocking on my door.

Who am I writing for?

Do my words even get read?

Why am I writing on here then?

Okay. I have this paranoia fear running through me, and have been feeling discouraged.

I’d tried to get myself back up every time I tumbled. I felt burned out and lost, and yet I still found myself sitting in front of the computer and write, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Every time, I had barely an idea of what to write about, but I needed to write. I must write — like what breathing and drinking water are to you, me, and every other living thing.

You see, writing isn’t something that occurs in me naturally. Over the years, with practice as well as pointers and encouragement from my professors and fellow writers, I mustered up courage and forged ahead with writing. (Not that my writing and English are flawless now.) Every time I finish writing and self-editing, I’d exult with a sense of accomplishment. Had I not gratified myself through writing, especially in a long time, uneasiness would haunt me. Writing is so part of me, and this blog helps hold me accountable to writing regularly, even after work hours.

In those aimless days, even with only the faintest idea of what my future holds, I knew I had to be a writer (though I’d also tinkered with the idea of becoming a chef). In fact, the first jobs I applied for were, mostly, writer positions: magazine writer, copywriter, corporate writer, technical writer, and journalist. But now, while in the midst of greater self discovery, I believe I’m more of a food writer, and I perform best in a corporate-stress-free, no-interruption environment.

So, this blog has become an outlet for me to write with the most freedom and latitude and with the least interruption. This blog is where I can find my true self outside of the pretentious corporate world and the dehumanizing rat race of the brand-conscious society I’m living in.

Chives

This blog has also led me to you, my reader — known or silent. I’ve got to admit I like the satisfaction flowing from reading the emails and comments you’ve left on this blog. But sometimes I hear from you and other times do not, so my heart is teetering between certainty and uncertainty. It’s taking me an ocean of faith to believe that someone out there is reading my words.

Still, as I tried to stand up from every fall, the heartfelt and encouraging words from you came gushing toward me like water from a hydrant. Every word counts. They are comforting and so powerful that you, too, have pulled me back from faltering faith over and over.

Today begins my third year of blogging — another year of untold stories from my romancing with food and words. I really, really want to share with you a truckload of good and tested recipes from my kitchen, including the two perfectly chewy-crisp chocolate chip cookies that will make you swoon and ooooooooh. I don’t know how long this blog is going to last, though. The road hasn’t been easy, but I’m trying.

Oh, I think I can hear you. Can you hear me, too?

May 15, 2011

Best of Both Worlds

Pumpkin Bars With Maply Frosting

I compare book with book. I compare recipe with recipe. I compare guy with guy (which, for a single lady, and to her benefit, is a legitimate thing to do — at least that’s what I think).

Anyway, I love to compare. I compare myself with others (this isn’t self denial; this is self improvement). I even compare mother with mother. It irks me to know that, about this quirk of mine, but I do compare my mother with my “mother.”

This is what happens when you’re endowed with two mothers, just like me. (Don’t give me that searing look, yet.)

As I age, as 24 draws nigh, I’m here telling you, admittedly and shamelessly, days of yelling and arguments make up the bulk of my relationship with Kim, my mom. Occasionally the space between us is a silence, an emotional yet comforting one. Our eyes would strike up a conversation across the hall, and our bodies would speak a language that no one, not even my dad and brothers, can fully understand.

Maman
Kim

Don’t even try to disagree with a Chinese parent, as many would say, and this is particularly true about the older generations. The Chinese parent is, at the first glance, apathetic, intimidating, and perpetually untouchable. But deep down, he or she is shy, and is trying to hide all emotions and feelings from the child. The Chinese parent cares for the little one like any other parent would.

Mama, I’m back. Upon reaching home from work, I sometimes let out a quiet sigh, with exhaustion printed across my face. Kim is sitting before the TV set, watching an episode or two of a Cantonese soap. She glimpses at me, then welcomes me with a gentle, unpretentious smile and a light nod of her head, a nod that would go unnoticed have you not paid attention to. Finally she shifts her focus to the TV, again.

It’s been hard for me to have a long, intimate talk with Kim, much less a chitchat or other possibilities for a bonding session. Mama, can we just sit down and chat? I suggested on a Thursday evening two weeks ago. Don’t you want to know more about my life?

Alas, that’d never happened. My effort went down the drain. The shyness of the Chinese parent frustrates me and has me compare my mom with the past. I miss the openness and yearn for the warmth found in my American mom Bonnie.

Hello, Pei-Lin! How was your day?

I’d hear words like these, said in a crisp, motherly, melodious voice, if Bonnie happened to pick up the phone. It’s just a simple line. Still, it warmed my soul. It was what I needed in the six-month-long bone-chilling winter of Minnesota.

Bonnie

At her humble abode, which opens up to a 40-acre plot of woods nestled in the beautiful lake country of northern Minnesota, we’d sink into the couch, relax, and talk. It rarely occurred to me as hard to open up myself to Bonnie. And she’d share her stories with me, too. Spending time with her was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I felt home away from home. I felt cherished. I felt as if we’d known each other for years, though I was there for 32 months.

Every now and then, I dream of being in Bonnie’s kitchen again, helping her prepare a meal at the stove, or enjoying a homecooked meal with her and her family, or standing by the sink doing dishes with her  she’d wash the dirty bowls and plates in suds while I rinse and drain by the dish drainer.

When I think of Bonnie, her kitchen, and the adjacent bookshelf of dog-eared cookbooks whose worn pages have turned yellow with age (unless you’ve moved the entire shelf since I left, Bonnie!), I often think of her pumpkin bar smeared with maply cream-cheese frosting.

Pumpkin Bars With Maply Frosting

Every year, from late summer through early fall, before frost hits the ground (winter in Minnesota comes in as early as October), Bonnie and her family would be busy gathering wheelbarrows of pumpkins and winter squash in their huge backyard. (These two look similar, and so, to avoid confusion, let’s stick with the name “pumpkin.”)


My American family would wind up with a mob of these round, thick, pulpy vegetables, which are then tucked in the coolest part of my American dad Steve’s workshop. They are usually more than enough to last the family through the year, until the next fall.


With pumpkins all year round, over the years, Bonnie’s family has embraced ways to savor them: frosted pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, yeasted bread tainted gold with pumpkin purée, chocolate pumpkin cake, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin-pie cake (and maybe more, which I can’t recall). I love them all, especially her frosted pumpkin bar.

The revelation came in the February of 2007, while having lunch at Bonnie’s. The dessert bar, of a darker shade of gold and under a blanket of beige, creamy concoction, was one of those Americana I was first exposed to.

Bonnie's frosted pumpkin bars – the ones I ate more than four years ago.

I didn’t jot down Bonnie’s recipe to bring home, nor did I email her for that. When I was in a mood for frosted pumpkin bar, I couldn’t wait and, out of desperation, Googled for a recipe and landed on Christina’s. I poured in lots of faith, hoping the bars would turn out as how I’d remembered: spiced, fluffy, very moist and tender, and with a luscious maple-inspired frosting redolent of burnt sugar.

Using Christina’s recipe, the pumpkin bars I’d made differed slightly from Bonnie’s but in a welcoming way. They remind you of the pumpkin bread, the wet-to-dry-then-mix-and-bake one. They’re incredibly moist and tender but not as cakey-fluffy. They carry the sweet, warm, woodsy aroma of the cinnamon, which helps to accentuate pumpkin’s natural sweetness. Do note, though, that Bonnie uses pumpkie-pie spice mix, so, more dimension and greater depth to the flavor of her bar.

These pumpkin bars are delicious on their own, and nothing is wrong with that, but when daubed with big, fat slabs of the maply cream-cheese frosting, they become out-of-this-world deliciousness. Don’t skip and don’t skimp on this! (I know. I know some of you have aversion to frosting. Too bad.) The dark, rich burnt-sugar-like scent of the maple entices me to eat the frosting straight off the spoon. The way the frosting melts in my mouth and slinks down my throat is sexiness beyond description. Mmm!

Maply Frosting

Once they were baked, I patiently let the pan cool thoroughly, and afterward, plastered the bars with a thick layer of the frosting. I patiently let them chill and their flavors mellow for an hour in the fridge. On that warm Sunday evening, I gobbled up two generously frosted pumpkin bars. Craving sated.

Kim ate some, too, though she thought the frosting needed a pinch of salt, which is redundant, I think. Then again, this is arbitrary, so I’m not arguing with my own mom. It’s just, when I’m living in two different worlds and overlooked by two mothers who don’t share the same history and palate and view, I’m wont to fall into the comparison trap, which has led me to realize …

Hey, I’m a blessed kid!

My moms rock my socks off!

These maply-frosting-covered pumpkin bars are 10 times better than the brownie!



Pumpkin Bar With Maply Frosting

Pumpkin Bars With Maply Cream-Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Christina


(A)
220 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

(B)
4 eggs, at room temperature
250 grams caster or granulated sugar (I’d reduced the sugar, but if you like yours sweeter, up the amount by 125 grams.)
237 milliliters flavorless oil such as canola, corn, or vegetable
425 grams pumpkin purée
Baking Whole Pumpkin
Cooked Whole Pumpkin
* Here’s an easy way to get cooked pumpkin pulp out of a whole pumpkin, which I’d learned from Bonnie. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Using a sharp knife, you first perforate the pumpkin, all over, then place into a rimmed baking pan or dish that’s been filled with water to 70-percent full. Bake the whole pumpkin in the water bath for about one hour or until cooked through. Try piercing the still-warm pumpkin with a knife, and if the knife meets no resistance, the pumpkin is cooked. Let the pumpkin rest until it’s cool enough to handle. You may cut it in half, gently remove the seeds and fibrous strings from the center (you may discard the seeds or toast them in the oven for a healthy snack), and, with a spoon, scoop out the pulp. Purée the pulp in a blender  it’ll be smooth and ready for use.

(C)
227 grams cream cheese, softened
113 grams unsalted butter, softened (You can try with salted butter, too, or fillip a little salt to the frosting, like what Kim had suggested.)

220 grams powdered sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon Mapleine, or sometimes labeled as imitation maple flavor instead (I use McCormick, and, for those of you in the Kuala Lumpur area, I got mine from Ampang Grocers. Still, if you don’t have that, pure vanilla extract will work fine.)


Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan generously with, say, shortening, and set aside. I used an 8-by-12-inch baking pan  the best I could find. Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together (A), and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, mix together (B) at medium speed until pale and fluffy. I mixed things up by hand, with a large balloon whisk. Then sift in the flour mixture, and, using a rubber spatula, thoroughly combine the dry and wet ingredients by hand  don’t overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Make sure the surface of the batter is level.

Place the pan in the preheated oven to bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The pan of “sheet cake”  before cutting into bars, that is  should look golden brown. Because I used a slightly smaller pan, so mine turned out taller than Bonnie’s and Christina’s. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a cooling rack to cool completely before you frost it.

For the frosting, using a handheld electric mixer, cream together (C) until smooth at medium speed. Then, stir in the powdered sugar and mix well on low. Mix in the Mapleine. Spread the frosting on the cooled “sheet cake.” You may cut it into bars to enjoy now, but I chose to refrigerate mine for an hour before serving. These frosted pumpkin bars taste better with rest; I liked mine best on the second and third day. Store them in covered container(s) in the fridge. Enjoy them preferably at room temperature.

May 6, 2011

Friday Morning


This was taken a few hours ago, at 10:25 p.m. yesterday, while I was trying to catch a ride at a downtown LRT station, to get home after slogging for 12 hours in the office.

It was one of the longest days I’ve ever had. A rather awful one at work, too. Sitting in the passenger coach, I imagined myself shaking off the repressed anger and frustration, and, after that, I stared into the middle distance. This row of people are jerking along with the commuter train, I thought to myself, feeling amused. Then, there was this brown-skinned guy, with a slightly messy-looking black hair, picking his nose and trying to rub off the unwanted goo stuck on his fingertips as a result of that. And I was seated next to him, screaming within, lord, please help me! (You know, I know, that picking nose in the public, including in the office, is one of worst favors you could do for yourself.)

The long ride concluded with a stench that blew my way, from the armpits of a sweat-sticky man. Thank goodness I didn’t pass out. To console myself, after having to go through all these, I had the music player in my car play The Wallflowers’s “One Headlight,” a classic and an all-time favorite of mine, and I cranked up the volume on the stereo, loud. Though it was for that brief five-minute drive home from the LRT station, it did cheer me up, and I drove with both the headlights on. I haven’t lost my sanity, fortunately.

The clock struck 11 when I, finally, reached home. Tired? Giddy already?

Not quite, yet. I suspect that I’ve been overstimulated. I’m feeling kind of high, if you may.

Not because of staring at the computer screen for 12 hours. Not because of the sugar rush from the cake. Neither is the late dose of caffeine having an effect on me(?). I think the stimulation comes mainly from the fact that my American best friends, Becky and Ryan, will be staying in Bangkok to teach English for 10 months, and during which we’re hoping for a reunion trip that will take us to a few parts of the Peninsular Malaysia and, if possible, Singapore.

I’ve been feeling a funny kind of euphoria since last morning, after we Skyped each other, and after I got to hear her voice again in months! I’m still psyched, that I can jump off my seat now and scream like a lady gone wild, but I ain’t going to do that. (Chill, Pei-Lin. Chill …)

Since then, my brain has been so busy that, besides worrying about the mundane routines of work, budget management, grocery shopping, cooking and baking, and writing, as well as the planning of my future, part of this gray matter is now devoted to mapping things out for our reunion trip.

Since 2007, when we first met, I’ve been giving countless promises to Becky and Ryan that, someday, it’ll be my turn, my honor, to host them and take them around my home country for that ultimate cultural experience, just like what I’d had in America, like what Becky and Ryan and their families had shared with me while I was there.

We graduated from college in mid-2009, and I last saw Becky in August that same year, before I left America for home. I still can vividly recall Becky’s promise of visiting me in Malaysia by 2012. It is coming true – sooner than what we’d imagined!

At the graduation party thrown by Becky's, Ryan's,  Wendy's  and Andrew's families. Becky and I are on the left while Ryan on the right, who spots a grayish-white sweater.

In less than two hours, Becky and Ryan are going to fly out from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and are expected to touch down in Bangkok on Saturday morning. I’m thrilled, and at the same time, I hope they’ll have a safe journey across the Pacific. I’ll be here, patiently waiting for them while getting on with life.

Well, now that it’s 4 a.m., I better tuck myself in bed shortly, because, in a few hours, I’ve got a story to rush at work before it’s due at four in the afternoon! In all honesty, I have, in the meantime, started writing another blog post, but, alas, it has to be put on hold for the time being, until I’ve had the other deadline headache cleared and I feel relieved and calmer again.

I’d also like to let you know that my laptop has been revived! Hurrah! It feels so good to have my personal computer back. To you, my treasured reader, here’s a big thank-you for being there for me all along. You’re the strength that fuels and pushes me further.

Oops, I’d almost forgotten about the Mothers’ Day this weekend. Having said that, here’s to wish all you gorgeous moms out there, including mine (I have two moms, in fact), a happy Mother’s Day!

While I’m striving to meet the deadline at work, allow me to procrastinate a little on the deadline here. I’ll be back, I promise.


P.S. Coming to think about it, I must have lost my sanity. I stayed up for impulse writing!
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