September 6, 2012

Where We Draw Inspirations From

This blog is not dead, my friend.

I swore to keep it going, and I declared the same again a couple weeks ago, after reading this. I’m holding on to my words for as long as I’m alive. It’s just life has gotten in the way. Well, everyone has got to live their life — that’s where we draw inspirations from. Right?

After two months of joblessness, I finally returned to work end of June. During the day, I write about restaurants, food, and sometimes culture and people for an online food directory. (Note: I’m not and never want to be a restaurant reviewer, and I don’t like being labeled as such.) Occasionally, I go on interviews with restaurateurs and chefs and get to taste their specialties. Such opportunities recently led me to an enlightening session by master chef Martin Yan. Remember “Yan Can Cook” and the “If Yan can cook, so can you!” catchphrase? Boy, I got to meet him after 15 years, since the days I watched his show as a fourth-grader! And I was blown away by his talent and generosity in sharing.

In Kuala Lumpur, part of his Autumn Treasures tour ...
The master chef is plating up his Seared Fish Fillets, which is served with silky, savory Egg-White Sauce.

Work takes up a huge chunk of my waking hours. After a long day, I tried making myself sit down before the computer and write away. Alas, I either dozed off or got distracted by some TV cookery program (I’m into “New Scandinavian Cooking” lately, especially when Andreas Viestad is on), or a cookbook I’d bought recently (such as this and this), or that I needed to catch up on my reading or photo-editing.

07.16.2012

Despite the inactivity in blogging, I’ve been very productive in the kitchen, especially on weekends. I’d post all the updates on my Flickr page and occasionally Tweet about them. Kenelm had his first birthday celebration with me on a mid-July weekend. It was a three-day project that took a week of planning, including shopping. That weekend we stuffed ourselves to the brim, and these are what I’d prepared:

Rich and luxurious boeuf Bourguignon — or Burgundian beef stew — served alongside tagliatelle.
Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundian Beef Stew), Served With Pasta

A light and simple salad of butter lettuce with Dijon vinaigrette.
Butter Lettuce With Dijon Vinaigrette

And, for the birthday cake, decadent Devil’s Food Cake with Midnight Ganache.
Devil's Food Cake With Midnight Ganache

I don’t get to cook for him every day, since we’re not living together. And due to work and other commitments and the geographic distance between us, we only meet up once or twice a week. While I’d travel to his place after work on Friday evenings, Kenelm would do the same on Sundays, when I’d prepare lunch, and sometimes a dessert, to have together. We love home-cooked everything.

Living right above the equator means the weather can get unbearably muggy at times. So, when I’m not quite in the mood to fire up the oven or the stove — though a little bit here and there is still okay — our menu of the day would be something of a cold preparation, like bibim naengmyun (비빔냉면), or Korean spicy cold buckwheat noodles, which I first made and tasted more than two years ago. I couldn’t get it off my head, that three weeks ago I rustled up two plates of it again so Kenelm could have some, too.

Bibim naengmyun 비빔 냉면

Bibim naengmyun stars one of my favorite noodles, soba, the thin and nutty and somewhat firm, grayish Japanese buckwheat noodles. They are cooked to al dente in a deep pool of boiling water, and are then “shocked” through a few rinse in running cold tap water, which immediately halts the cooking process to give you springy bites in every mouthful. Now, plop the noodles in the fridge to chill while you prepare one or two hard-cooked eggs to serve alongside later.

Gochujang 고추장 (Korean Hot Bean Paste)
Gochujang.

What actually elevates the noodles is the no-cook dressing. The hot, salty punchiness of gochujang, or Korean chile paste, is jacked up with MORE chile powder (ROAR!!), soy sauce, garlic, and toasty, nutty sesame oil. To which sugar is also stirred in to harmonize and mellow the bold, clashing nuances within. And since it’s an almost-no-cook, refreshing summery treat, the last you’ll have to do is julienne some fresh, crisp cucumber and honeyed, juicy nashi pear; halve the hard-cooked eggs; jumble them up with the chilled soba and bloody gochujang dressing; and sprinkle over a judicious handful of toasted sesame seeds for extra nuttiness. The author of the recipe suggests a scattering of crushed ice cubes over the bloody, delicious mess. Though, out of laziness, I didn’t heed his advice, I think that little touch would have added short, exciting bursts of iciness to cool the numbing heat.

Fiery. Cool. Savory. Sweet. Springy. Crunchy. Nutty. All in each bite. Glad I made this again for Kenelm. Nothing beats seeing a big, beaming smile on his face.



Korean Spicy Cold Buckwheat Noodles (비빔냉면 / Bibim Naengmyun)
Adapted from The Food and Cooking of Korea, by Young Jin Song

A quirky side of me thinks seeding cucumbers creates a waste of food (look at all the juices that are dripping down!!). So, to make myself feel better, I almost always use Japanese cucumbers, which need not be seeded — unless you’re extremely fussy — on top of giving good, juicy crunch.

As for the chile powder, Korean one makes the most sense here. But if you don’t have that, just use whatever on hand, as long as there’s a heat to it. I used Malaysian chile powder.

The author has also shared some useful tips for preparing soba: (1) do it in a large pot with plenty of water; and (2) add a few drops of flavorless cooking oil while cooking to help prevent the water from frothing up and boiling over, and to help keep the noodles separate when they’re first drained. Soba is highly starchy and sticks easily.


90 grams soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
1 or 2 hard-cooked eggs, cooled
½ medium-size cucumber
½ medium-size nashi pear
Crushed ice cubes, to serve

(A)
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot chile paste)
1 teaspoon chile powder
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 big clove of garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds, and more for sprinkling


Cook the soba in a large pot of boiling water for five minutes, or until al dente — firm and springy to the bite, and yet yields to the pressure of your teeth easily. Drain, and then rinse in running cold water, twice or thrice or until the water runs clear. This is to “shock” the noodles and rid of excess starch — different from cooking pasta. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

In a small to medium bowl, combine (A) for the dressing, and set aside. Halve the hard-cooked eggs. Seed and julienne the cucumber. Peel the pear, if preferred, and core and slice it as you would the cucumber.

Arrange the chilled soba in the center of a large serving platter. Pour over the dressing and scatter over with the cucumber and pear strips. Place the eggs on top. Just before serving, strew some more toasted sesame seeds over, if want to, and add crushed ice cubes and toss everything together.

Makes enough for two moderate eaters.
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