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Long Live the Century Egg

In Chinese, Recipes on September 19, 2010 at 10:49 am

My dear readers, apologies for my long hiatus from blogging.

After five weeks of food indulgence in my food haven home of Singapore and…
five weeks of food travels and organic farming in Eastern Europe…

I’m now back in the Netherlands, once again living within one of the most neophobic cultures in the world. The Dutch have a saying that goes: Wat de boer niet kent dat eet hij niet, often used in excuse of their reluctance to allow unknown foods on their palate or even their plate. It happens to be the only Dutch saying that I know, as ever so often when I prepare something unusual from Southeast Asia, it would be met with equal reactions of delightful curiosity and of politely watered-down gag reflexes, AND a proclamation of this saying.

Surprisingly though, with this return to Wageningen, the friends seem to be a lot more fearless, unquestioning, and willing to ingest some foreign objects laid on the table by yours truly. Perhaps, by now they have been positively conditioned to know that poorskinnychef here loves them and loves food and will not poison them with ingredients laboriously lugged 10,000km across the globe?

With that, I refer to one of the foods that I missed so much while being away for 11 months last year. It is probably the last thing I would expect a Dutch person to want to try due to its freakish appearance… yet, several friends have pleasantly surprised me by their positive acceptance of the CENTURY EGG. 🙂

(See the snow-flake pattern on the egg that I had with pickled ginger as a side with my dinner? Beautiful, isn’t it?)

While being home this summer, I had a fair dose of this wonder of traditional Chinese preservations. The century egg or 皮蛋 (leather egg, in reference to its leathery texture of the brown jelly that was once the white) is made by preserving eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, calcium oxide (alkaline ingredient), coated in rice husks, and left to be transformed over the next several weeks to months.

The alkaline medium that the egg is stored in raises the pH of the egg, and in the process, proteins are denatured, sulfur and ammonia is released from the amino acids, resulting in reactions that are responsible for:
1. green colour of the yolk (iron sulfide that is also responsible for the green layer on the yolk of overcooked hardboiled eggs)
2. broken down proteins and fats to produce a sweetish ammonia flavour and other flavourful compounds (MMM!) that give this egg so much more character than a ‘normal’ one.
3. clear gelled egg ‘white’ probably due to the breakdown of proteins that result in a more open gel that forms in comparison with a heat-coagulated opaque egg white. just my hypothesis.
The point is that, there’s really nothing to be afraid of (no horse urine myth, please)…

My favourite way of eating the century egg is in Century Egg and Minced Pork Congee, because the flavour of the egg compliments the rice porridge deliciously well, sending a warm and wonderful sensation through my entire body 🙂 It’s the ultimate comfort food, the ultimate winter food, the ultimate homesickness food.

Century Egg Minced Pork Congee Recipe my own recipe for 2 from previous congee-cooking experiences

Ingredients:

  • 100g minced pork marinated in soya sauce
  • 1 cup rice (long-grained)
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1/2 chicken stock cube
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • sesame oil, white pepper, soya sauce, fried shallots, chopped spring onions, fried dough fritters (you tiao) for optional but recommended topping
  • 1 century egg

Method:

  1. Stir fry minced pork in pot (enough fat in the meat to not have to grease pan), and set aside when cooked.
  2. Add rice, water, ginger to the pot and bring to a boil
  3. When rice has softened after 15 min, lower to a simmer and stir until rice has broken down (about 30 min)
  4. Add chicken stock cube to taste (depends on how salty you like your congee!). Add more water to the desired consistency.
  5. Remove ginger slice, mix in minced pork and century egg sliced into small wedges / cubes.
  6. Top with a sprinkle of soya sauce, sesame oil, pepper, spring onions, fried shallots… and tuck in!

But of course, you wouldn’t have to spend a whole hour at the stove stirring the magic pot to enjoy the egg as here’s a couple other alternatives that are just as awesome.

Century Egg with Pickled Ginger Recipe see Camemberu’s

Ingredients:

  • 1 century egg
  • pickled ginger

Method:

  1. Slice century egg into 8 wedges
  2. Top each wedge with a slice of pickled ginger
  3. Eat!

That was too simple, wasn’t it? Here’s another delicious one.

Century Egg with Silken Tofu Recipe from the Graces of NUS FST’05 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 century egg
  • 1 block / 1 tube of soft chilled silken tofu
  • 2 tsp soya sauce

Method:

  1. Slice silken tofu into 1cm slices.
  2. Chop up century egg into cubes of half cm dimensions (or bigger or smaller, it’s up to you) and sprinkle on top of the tofu.
  3. Sprinkle soya sauce over the dish.

To the supportive Wageningen readers of my blog, I have 2 more of these treasures remaining, and I would love to prepare these dishes for you IF you would make a comment here that you would like to try it. Really, good food isn’t good food until it’s shared. To non-Wageningen Dutch residents, I’ve seen these century eggs (6 euros for 6 eggs) in a hidden bottom corner of a shelf of a Chinese supermarket in Amsterdam’s Chinatown. 😉
Interestingly, an alternative Chinese name for this egg is the ‘松花蛋’ or ‘Pine-patterned egg’ — Why interesting? Because I have just started my research project on the Pine Nut Syndrome and I’m currently (and desperately) collecting reports and samples from the public regarding pine nuts that have caused their taste disturbance that is described as : an offending bitter metallic aftertaste in the mouth upon consumption of any food, and these symptoms show itself 1-2 days after ingesting the pine nuts, and lasts for 1-2 weeks. Please contact me at pinenutsyndrome@gmail.com if you have a recent experience of this!

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So Long, Scandie #3 – the Unpronounceables

In Danish, Danish, Eats, Recipes on June 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Usually, when I travel to non-English-speaking countries, the only words of the local language I could speak would be hello, thank you, and the words on a menu. Usually, those words and a few hand gestures are more than enough to satisfy me (it gets me the food I want) and satisfy my server (who happily serves me the food I want). But after FIVE months of eating rugbrød (rye bread) sandwiches and smørrebrød (open sandwich) in Denmark, and hearing their names being pronounced a million times by a million different people….I still can’t say it right. Anyway, whatever you’re saying in your head right now, is probably not right too.

Photo credits: <http://magnesiumagency.com/2010/01/17/the-food-we-hate-to-love/&gt;

The way I hear my Danish housemate say it, rugbrød sounds something remotely like ‘ROALLB-BPLOALLH’ or ‘ROW-BLOW’ pronounced with a frikadeller/fishball in each cheek; and smørrebrød uhhhh…sounds s o m e t h i n g like ‘SMOUHR-BPLOALLH‘. Even if I’m given a script of ten random words and an audio guide, I don’t think I can manage to pick out which word is rugbrød and which one is smørrebrød. I’m thankful that at least ‘Thank you’ is as easy as ‘tak’ (pronounced as it looks)…. though the response of *##$@$* that I hear from the cashier almost every other day has never ever been understood by my Asian ears.

Smørrebrod is a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich that originated from the words ‘smørre og brød’ or ‘butter and bread’. It’s usually served on rugbrød, which is a Danish dense rye bread that is as healthy as it looks (very high fibre low calorie – 9g fibre and 180kcal / 100g while keeping you full for twice as long) and definitely a lot more flavourful and moist than it looks (thin and almost-black rectangular slab of grains bounded together). Unlike most other sandwiches that are dominated by the bread, Smørrebrød features the sandwich ingredients while the rugbrød quietly supports from under with pleasing contrasts in flavours and textures. And unlike most other sandwiches that are modes of nutrient delivery, smørrebrød is a work of art, pleasing to the eye and extremely easy to impress the observer.

The basic idea of smørrebrød is to TOTALLY cover the buttered rye-bread with toppings such as salad vegetables, shrimps, fish, meat, egg, cold cuts, sauces, cheese, liver paste… whatever you have in the fridge in the combination that you would like to eat them. DON’T even try to pick it up with your hands. Eat with fork and knife.


How to make your own Smørrebrød (Video instructions here!)
1. Cut a piece of rugbrød in half.
1*. Lavish butter on it (I didn’t have butter with me then)
2.-4. Start stacking your ingredients until you can’t see the bread.
5. Stack more ingredients.
6. Put sauce or something with a sauce (I had a last bit of marinaded herring in mustard)
7. Add more ingredients until your sandwich threatens to topple…. then, DEMOLISH IT!

That was my version from ingredients that were available in my refrigerator at that time. Check out these typical Danish combinations from the Danish Food Culture Website!

Smørrebrød. Rugbrød.
It’s healthy, delicious, pleasing to the eye. I’ll miss you, roallb-bploallhh. I’ll miss you, smouhr-bploallh.

So Long Scandie #2 – Danish Cultured Milk

In Danish, Eats on June 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

This is one rare week that I’m absolutely certain that I have met my recommended calcium intake requirements… AND… I’m also pretty sure that any wars the ‘good’ bacteria in my colon had been fighting have been triumphant (rmb the Vitagen advertisement with the little soldiers flying through the intestines?).

Tykmælk. Check.

Ymer. Check. A38. Koldskål. Check. Check.

Together with my daily gobbles of milk and ice cream, and the windfall of cheese I earned from the housemate (thanks U!), I hereby proclaim that I’m officially done with milky stuffs for now and I’m absolutely looking forward to having some good ol’ soy milk / douhua / soy ice cream (oh Mr Bean!)  in <2 weeks!

Though I did enjoy these cultured milk products with fruit, raisins, muesli, lingonberry jam, soya bean agar ( I used vanilla soya milk with agar agar), crispbread crumbs, crisp cookies etc etc, I must admit that I was rather disappointed with the lack of difference between the products, and especially the lack of communication of the nature of these products that are so differently named. Is it too much to expect a different product when buying something of a different name? I mean all the sourdough breads with different cultures ARE still called, sourdough bread, aren’t they?

Like yoghurt, these cultured milk products have been inoculated with some species of lactic acid bacteria that ferment the lactose in the milk to produce lactic acid that lowers the pH of the product, causing the major milk proteins (casein) to coagulate and increase the viscosity of the milk. The plus points? The milk keeps longer, it suspends delicious crunchy goodies wonderfully and LAB bacteria are good for our gut. And so, if it’s Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, it’s called yoghurt. If it’s not, it HAS to be called something else. Gee, those food regulations.

TYKMAELK is cultured with Lactococcus lactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. Same consistency as yoghurt, but less acidic tasting (L. bulgaricus in yoghurt causes a tarter taste), hence it tastes great consumed with less sweetening than YOGHURT.

YMER is cultured with just Lactococcus lactis. It was less thick in consistency than YOGHURT and tasted pretty much the same to me as TYKMAELK, with a little hint of buttery flavour (diacetyl!).

A38 is a product of Arla, which is cultured with Lactobacillus acidophilus and some other unspecified strains (oh well). Tastes like BUTTERMILK to me, more sour than TYKMAELK and YMER, and with the consistency of YOGHURT.

[I’ve forgotten to take a photo of this, can you believe it??]

KOLDSKÅL is the most different from the lot, and is made with BUTTERMILK in combination with eggs, sugar, milk/cream/tykmælk, vanilla and citrus. Just like a flavoured YOGHURT DRINK, refreshing and usually enjoyed with crisp cookies a.k.a. kammerjunkers.


So much for food variety. If I were to make a choice, I’d just buy whichever is on offer at the supermarket and enjoy it with lingonberry jam and muesli! 🙂

So Long, Scandie #1 – Messmör

In Eats, Swedish on June 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm

It suddenly dawned on me that it is a mere 2 weeks before I wave goodbye to Scandinavia. Normally, when I travel to a new place, the first thing I would do is to comb the shelves of the supermarket and the list of ‘cuisine of XX’ on Wikipedia to make sure that I’ve eaten everything local that there is to eat. At least, everything affordable and remotely edible-sounding.


Recently, a fellow foodie friend (thanks, I!) bought for me some messmör (browned soft whey butter) from Sweden – apparently the OTHER ‘weird’ thing (besides brunost) that the Scandinavians do with the co-product (whey) of cheese production. It is like a semi-liquid brunost: whey that is boiled down a little less, without the cream, and with a little more sugar, to yield a spreadable whey ‘butter’ that is low in fat (5%), high in sugar (~50%) and tasting something like sweet boiled caramel milk with a creamy consistency.

I must say that it is pretty difficult for someone who didn’t grow up with it to take an instant liking to messmör, because it doesn’t quite fit the expectation of caramel (different lactose-type sweetness), nor butter (not quite as creamy), nor cheese (really really sweet), but it does grow on you. I first got accustomed to it on my hands-free bread (last FAB), and now I enjoy it on soft Swedish bread (got more again from Lund!).


Well, if that’s not convincing enough, perhaps knowing that it’s a more enjoyable form of whey supplement, high in good quality protein, calcium and iron would be an incentive to give it a shot 😉


While googling info about messmör, I realized I’ve overlooked the entire supermarket cultured milk shelf — the cartons of STUFF that resides above the milks and beside the yoghurts. The STUFF called : Tykmælk, Ymer, Ylette, A38, and Koldskål. They all come in the same dairy-style cartons, they all indicate some level of fat content (0,1% , 1,5% or 3,5%) in big bold fonts, and they all have ingredient lists that say ‘Højpasteuriseret homogeniseret sødmælk, syrnet med mælkesyrekultur’ — simply meaning pasteurized and homogenized milk soured with milk culture (i.e. some kind of lactic acid bacteria). What are the differences then, and are they so huge that they warrant this variety of labeling, boggling the mind of a frazzled foreigner who still can’t figure out the simplest Danish? Hey, that’s what I’m trying to find out now — I’ve currently eaten my way through one carton of Tykmaelk and half a carton of A38… would you care to join me to complete my mission? 🙂

Orange Overload!

In Dutch, Eats on May 5, 2010 at 11:13 am

It was great to be back in NL, even better that it was QUEEN’S DAY and SPRING! The Dutch sure are one crazy bunch of party-ers with their wild spirit of wacky orange party antics! With the biggest annual Dutch celebration of the Queen’s (mother’s) birthday, orange is the colour to be in and partying is the central activity on the agenda. But despite being one of the most creative and comedic bunch of people I’ve ever met (when it involves partying or funny random discussions), they aren’t exactly the most adventurous when it comes to food (or as the saying goes: Wat de boer niet kent dat eet hij niet / what the farmer does not know, he does not eat LOL)…..but WAIT, don’t go yet, I’ve still got some treats coming up for you!

Although I once complained loads about the monotony of breakfasting on bread with excessively sweet toppings, lunching on the same bread with ham and gouda cheese (one cheese, one ham to be specific. unexplainable.), dinner on potato mashes (stamppot)… and snacking on cakes and cookies of every shape and size of the same flavours (butter or speculaas)…..experiencing Dutch again after being away for 3 months in Copenhagen was surprisingly comforting. Now, ontbijtkoek (spiced breakfast cake) and broodje hagelslag (bread with chocolate sprinkles) possesses a new charm for me- a feeling of comfort and familiarity that tugs at the heart the way ice-cream sandwiches and kaya toast does for homesick Singaporeans. That’s when I realized I’ve been such a food snob* to judge the Dutch for what is simply Culture.

*’anyone who practises overt social or cultural bias… who insist too loudly on a scale of values’ -Alain de Botton
hagelslag | stroopwafel |ontbijtkoek | fluffybread | bischuit | gouda cheese | bapao | littleparties | bigparties | soppymusic | dutchbarstandards | orangefever | multitaskingcyclists | dutchifiedindonesianess | coolbunchofwagbuddies… miss them alllll!:)

If you’re not in the Netherlands and don’t have access to a whole supermarket shelf of hagelslag varieties, you’ve gotta grab some plain ol’ chocolate sprinkles from your baking department and try this:

Generously topped on buttered fluffy bread. Delicious!

PS: I’ve now got an ample supply of ontbijtkoek with me. Any suggestions on NEW ways of eating it are most welcome! 🙂 Maybe brunost. hahaha…. we’ll see! 😀

Mix a Quick Greek – Tzaziki

In Greek, Recipes on April 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

In a stubborn attempt to give blood pudding another chance, I searched for a good healthy dressing that I can slop on the Draculian food and ward off any residual evilness that pervades my thoughts. Garlic, of course! And with Greek yogurt on offer at Fakta, Tzaziki, of course!

Here’s a really quick, refreshing and surprisingly healthy dressing that is often used to lift the greasy heaviness of Gyros. Another recipe under 10min.


Tzaziki Recipe adapted from About.com

  • 200g (low fat) greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5cm segment of cucumber, diced
  • salt and dill to taste

1. Mix the lemon juice and olive oil together
2. Mix in the yogurt
3. Mix in the chopped garlic and diced cucumber
4. Mix in some dill and salt to taste!
5. There you go: a really queeek greeek mix, to go with your blood pudding!

Ps: it was so delicious that it dispelled all psychological apprehension about eating blood pudding (and housemate U loved it too!). I now enjoy it even without garlic’s protection.

Brunost – My Breakfast Candy

In Eats, Norwegian on April 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

This must be one of my most interesting eats so far. Sweet caramel cheese? It’s one of those foods that non-Scandinavian neophobics (people with an aversion to novel foods) are likely to crinkle their nose to and mutter a You want me to try THAT? at frequencies inaudible to their offering host.

But I absolutely absolutely love it! Brunost is a sweet Scandinavian whey cheese that is (almost) Norway’s national breakfast food. And if you’re a poor student, it makes some great lunch food too. Brunost is a special type of cheese made from goat’s milk (traditional) or more commonly now, a mixture of goat’s milk and cow’s milk. Unlike typical cheese production*, it is made by concentrating a mixture of milk or cream with whey by evaporation until approx 80% dry matter. This slow process of heating promotes the Maillard reaction of the sugar (lactose) and proteins. This gives the cheese it’s characteristic brown colour and rich caramellic taste.

*Typical cheese production involves the acidification of milk (with acid or starter culture), curding, pressing of curd and ripening.

How to Eat Brunost

  1. Butter on bread and a slice of brunost (safest, simplest and most rewarding).
  2. Add some jam to no.1 (lovely combination, and if you’re a stickler for variety).
  3. Add a thin slice of apple or cucumber to no.1 / no.2 (for people with complex taste preferences, like yz and myself haha).
  4. Make it into a brown cheese sauce (that’s what I heard, but never tried).
  5. On crisp bread (simple and awesome snack).

I loved it so much, I’ve brought back 700g of Brunost with me, which I pack with my ryebread sandwiches and snacktimes!

How to Eat Brunost Adventurously

  1. Try it on vanilla ice cream — it’s almost like topping with caramel fudge and it adds extra creaminess! Five stars.
  2. With tuna in a sandwich — smoothens out the harsh taste of canned tuna and adds an interesting flavour dimension.
  3. Little bits on bran flakes — you’d be surprised how well the tastes go together (initiative of an impulsive snacker in her bid to reduce rate of calorie intake).
  4. Combined with a slice of ‘normal cheese’ in your sandwich — if the sweet taste is too disturbing for you, combining it with another cheese lessens the caramel note, but still keeping it detectable and adding to the sensory pleasure!
  5. I’m going to try it next in a sauce to go with blood pudding that I’ve just bought from Sweden. Watch out for this post!

Acknowledgment to hlyf for feeding me with brunost.