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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 #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? 🙂

Teochew-style Steamed (Freaky) Fish

In Chinese, Recipes on May 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

FINALLY, spring is here and the garfish has just started streaming into Danish waters. It’s time to hit the coast and scoop up some of these eel-like fishes that have a wonderfully textured meat similar to our beloved stingray (ohhh, would somebody pleeaseprettypleeeease bring me some grilled sambal stingray from Changi?). It’s such a pity that such a palatable fish hides some skeleton in the closet under its skin that often sends people’s faces scrunching up in fear and disgust when discovered. BLUE-GREEN BONES. Can you handle that?

The housemate U had told me about this unusual colouring of its bones and scales before I had seen it for real, but I must admit, I still shuddered when I first set my eyes upon it. Of course, now I think it’s darn funky cool (I’ve saved some bones, anyone wants to make art with it?). The colour is due to the presence of the pigment biliverdin, which is a product of heme metabolism (same pigment responsible for the blueness of our bruises). In mammals, biliverdin is reduced and converted by enzymes to be secreted in bile, but many marine animals are believed (not yet strongly established in research) to lack the necessary enzyme for the metabolism and hence accumulate these pigments in their bones, muscle, skin, scale, etc….

By the way, this was supposed to be the product of my first fishing trip but the meet-up with the fishermen of 2nd floor biological department failed as a result of double phone malfunctioning… but a big DANKE SCHÖN to the mighty kind fisherman T for offering me part of his catch and the good ol’ housemate U for delivering it right into my refrigerator shelf! 😀

As it was my first time eating this fish, I wanted to cook it in the best way possible that will allow the taste and textures of the fish to come through… and I couldn’t think of any better way than Teochew-style steamed fish, just the way mom does it. Preserve the taste, preserve the moistness, preserve the nutrients! Food for the soul. 😀

Teochew-style steamed fish recipe produced from eating mom’s cooking for 24 years.

  • One garfish / fish to serve two
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 onion
  • handful of preserved vegetables (substituted with shredded pickled cucumber)
  • 3cm of ginger (slice half, shred half)
  • 1-2 tsp soya sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • shallots
  • scallions (spring onions)

*dried chinese mushrooms not available, but would have been awesome

1. Fill the base of a steamer with water and heat to a boil. Or mom’s suggestion: fill the base of a large pot with 3 cm depth of water and place a small bowl in it, on which you can set your plate of food upon.
2. Wash the scale and wash fish and rub with salt and pepper.
3. Make deep slices in the fish meat and insert slices of ginger.
4. Arrange slices of onion at the base of a soup plate and lay the fish on top.
5. Top fish with pickled vegetables, sliced tomatoes, shredded ginger and sprinkle soya sauce over.
6. Steam for 8-12min (until fish turns white and flakes easily).
7. Heat up oils in small pan and fry some shallots. Pour sizzling oil over fish and top the dish with chopped spring onions.
8. Serve with rice or rice porridge! *spoon the sauce gathered at the bottom of the fish over your rice / porridge — MMMM!!

FAB – Tangy Tomato Peas of Cake!

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, Recipes on April 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I’ve always marveled at the amount of resolve pea pickers have. Yes, those diligent diggers who pick every single little pea out of their plates (even the puny Dutch peas and half peas and the pea innards that fall out of their skins). What is it about peas, really? What is it that makes kids say ‘pea-ew’ and parents say ‘eat your peas or I won’t let you have your ice cream’. Is it their flavour? Their freaky dimpled heads? Or their sheer numbers (the thought of fighting 100 peas vs 3 leaves of cabbage)?

A couple of days ago, I chanced upon an interesting muffin recipe while scouring the net for recipe solutions to the pea (or veg) eating issue. Here’s my list of criteria upon applying research lessons learnt from Food Choice course:

  1. Don’t give the kiddo a chance to pick the peas out. (common sense)
  2. Sneak the peas into the kiddo’s favourite food (but remember, the food still has to look good and taste good).
  3. Make sure the pea flavour is still recognisable, and the texture still fleetingly present (in order for flavour-flavour learning to take place)
  4. Divulge the identity of the peas only if the kiddo expresses a liking for the cake (positive reinforcement), otherwise blame it on adding too much sugar / fat (aversive learning). hurhur cunning.
  5. Stop telling the kiddo to ‘eat your peas, or else…’ (confers negative intrinsic meaning to the peas).

Unlike my usual kitchen adventures, this time I followed the recipe to the T, only reducing the batch size and making it into one cake in a loaf tin for easier dividing into bite-sized portions. I must admit that I was rather skeptical at first (peas and tomatoes in dessert?!) but I’m now absolutely won over. The tangy volcanic vermillion tomato layer with the sweet speckled pea layer was a burst of colours and flavours, with a wonderfully soft texture dispersed with nutty green bits of pea. Whoopidolicious! Excellent party food especially for Christmas and Halloween. And btw, it was wiped out at the dinner party I brought it to, despite the warning sign of PEAS AND TOMATO CAKE EXPERIMENT.


Sweet Pea & Tangy Tomato Cake Recipe originally in muffin form by Sylvia Regalado

  • 200g flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g sugar
  • 80ml oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice (half a lemon)
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 100g frozen peas pureed (not too fine because the bits add a really nice texture!)
  • 100g tomato paste

1. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt
2. Mix the eggs, sugar, oil, lemon juice and vanilla essence in a separate bowl
3. Fold in (2) to (1)
4. Divide equally into two bowls (about 300g each) and mix in pea puree to one and tomato paste to the other.
5. Pour the pea batter into an approx 30cm long rectangular loaf tin (better heat transfer to the centre than a square or round tin), then top with the tomato batter. Use a fork to swirl parts of the layered mixture or drag some pea batter from the bottom if you’d like to create a marble effect.
6. Bake in preheated oven at 190˚C for 25-30min!


Tastes great too with Greek Yogurt Vanilla Frosting! 🙂 A lovely healthy frosting recipe from the Cupcake Project.

World Peas.

Hemophobics Beware

In Eats, Swedish on April 9, 2010 at 1:57 am


Not for the faint hearted. Last Wednesday, I was combing the supermarket in Sweden with a 100 Swedish kronor note (77DKK/SGD$19) in my pocket for picking out interesting eats (thank you supervisor K!). I found many appealing new foods, like lingonberry and cloudberry jam, flat and crisp breads, apple-pear cream cheese, bright green sweet pastries and awesome marabou chocolates that a normal person would probably have picked out. But something compelled me to grab THIS off the shelf. My food weirdo gene told my brain that I have to try some of this. Black pudding. Blood pudding. Mmm. Mmm?

It sat a week in the fridge because I didn’t want to try it on my own. I’ve eaten lots of weird foods before (snake, crocodile, ostrich, whale, crickets, jellyfish, sea urchin, octopus, century eggs…) and foods in weird [but really good, I insist!] combinations (ham&jam, icecream&bread, milk&peas, blacksesamesoyamilk&oatmeal)… but to eat blood, I needed some extra courage of a fellow food adventurer. So, the day yz came over to study, I cooked blood pudding for lunch.


Doesn’t look too bad, eh? The texture was rather unexpected. I’d thought it’ll be soft and crumbly, but it turned out gooey and clayey like a paste, nothing like the texture of clotted blood. Didn’t smell of it either — all hints of bloody metallic iron were totally masked by the flavours of cinnamon and cloves. I pan fried thin (0.5cm) slices of it in a little butter, that transformed it to a pitch black cakey mass. A slightly gummy blood pudding with a crisp crust, topped with brunost sauce (that I made by adding some brown cheese to a basic bechamel sauce), unsweetened applesauce (apples boiled in a little water and mashed), strawberry rhubarb jam and slices of gherkins and laid on Swedish Tunnbröd. — It actually tasted really good!

But that’s not how my story ends.

One important lesson I’ve learnt from my sensory science classes is that single exposure to a new food is not predictive of long term acceptance of the product. It’s because most people assume that preference is as simple as i-like-it-now-therefore-i-like-it-forever, that many products on the market fail despite extensive consumer research. Time is a factor, context is a factor. And because I have a penchant for new experiences, novel first experiences is most of the time positive for me.

With leftover ingredients from the lunch, I decided to reconstruct the meal in the lazy microwave way. I put the blood pudding in a bowl, scooped some leftover cheese sauce onto it and heated it up. Then I topped with some applesauce and pickles again and had some toasted bread to go with it. Mistake. DO NOT microwave blood in sauce because it becomes one bloody BLOODY mess.

Even though the ingredients were the same, this time, the texture of the blood pudding resembled blood more than it did before when pan fried till crisp. Now I can understand why some people can tell such horrifying stories of blood pudding, or strongly denounce it for its high fat content for the amount of sensory pleasure it gives (nobody ever says how terrible a brownie is, do they?). Eating the blood pudding soft wasn’t so much a bad sensory experience than it was a sudden psychological realization of disgust. I gobbled it up quick and fulfilled my iron requirements whilst persuading myself that I’m eating the same thing as the first time. After that, I went on eating rampage (ice cream, fruits, tom yam soup, ABC cake…). I prefer to think that blood pudding is calorifically unhealthy because of the amount of things you have to eat after that to wash those disgust emotions out of mind. But mind you, only if you don’t cook it right.

I’ve still got 200g of blood pudding sitting in the fridge, waiting for me to do it right again the next time, but this is a good example of how aversive learning (associating an experience with a negative consequence) can have such a commanding presence over earlier positive experiences.

Food choice and acceptance exam in 5 days. Wish me luck.

Thanks to yz who diligently translated the packaging with google translate while I was cooking, that I can share with you that Swedish blood pudding from ICA supermarket contains: 35% pig’s blood, water, rye flour, sugar, bread crumbs, fat and scraps of beef and pork, potato starch, pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, marjoram, onion powder, 220kcal /100g, 9g fat and 140% RDA of iron. Costs only 10SEK (~7DKK / 1Euro /SGD$2) for 400g, so it’s really an excellent and cheap nutritional source of iron. Good for you if you like it! 🙂

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.