If you are ever in Matsumoto, Japan and have an hour or so to spare, head to Nakamachi Cafe on Nakamachi Street.
Order their pancake soufflé. Bitter chocolate. You must. Moist and fluffy….They were so good my toes are curling thinking about them. Two can share the pancake and feel satisfied after. Get coffee too – their house blend, hand dripped, was pretty good. You won’t regret it.
Its interior is modern with no-fuss, clean lines furnished in natural wood and oxidized metal – feels Scandinavian but is clearly Japanese. The staff are attentive but not intrusive, polite, understand simple English and they have English menus, so ordering isn’t a problem at all.
The total bill came up to about 1400 yen including tax for the pancakes and the cuppa.
I am inspired to make my own!
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Bao (Hanyu Pinyin) or 包 in Chinese means bun. Within them, there exists numerous types of stuffing, both orthodox and unorthodox. All sinful, except for perhaps the vegetarian variety.
My favourite is the savory one typically found in dim sum places – the 流沙包 （liu sha bao) or the Salted Egg Custard Bun.
One generous bite gives a good dose of warm, gooey, golden yellow, salty-sweet custard accompanied by bits of melt-in-the-mouth soft and fluffy white bun; And the butter that it is cooked in unceremoniously dribbling down your chin.
Then there is the Brazilian Cheese Puffs or the Pao de Queijo. Another Bao I really like for its gloriously cheesy taste and chewy texture.
Good food is seldom too healthy – I saw how much oil there was when I made them today. But c’est la vie, food makes life extraordinary!
Recipe (from epicurious.com)
2 cups tapioca flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter (unsalted)
A pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
2. In the mean time bring the milk, salt, and butter to a boil in a sauce pan while constantly stirring mixture.
3. Once boiling remove the mixture of milk, salt and butter from heat
4. Slowly add tapioca flour, stirring constantly until thoroughly mixed
5. Add the cheese and eggs to mixture
6. Mix until smooth, incorporate air!
7. Fill each muffin cup
8. Bake until golden brown, usually about 20 minutes
I thought I should start with the visuals. 🙂
Pork is not my favourite meat. But I do make the exception when it comes caramelised with a bit of charring. Roasted Pork, or Char Siew as it is known locally, goes very well with fluffy white rice or thin yellow noodles.
I’ve peeked into kitchens from where pieces of these meats emerge – the process looked complicated and laborious; And it sure looked alike a whole lot of cleaning. *Shudder* But I came across a Char Siew recipe posted by a famed food blogger who is a doctor by day and foodie by all other moments that was enticingly straightforward to follow.
So I did. The recipe required the use of a wok and frying. I surely did not. But it turned out better than I hoped it would from an oven. This homemade Char Siew keeps well in the fridge over a week or the freezer if it is two, and good for several meals. Perfect for people who like to cook bulk and store for later. Like squirrels preparing for winter. Like me.
Here’s how for those who want to try it out:
- 1 kg worth of pork belly strips; Rinsed, skinned and some fat removed
- 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Shiao Tsing)
- 2 tbsp good oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp good sesame oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp white pepper, ground
- Throw everything in a bowl
- Stir well to ensure good mix
- Cover bowl and leave in fridge overnight to allow marinade to do its work
(the next day)
- Preheat oven to 190degC
- Place pork strips and the juices in Al foil covered pan; ensure Al foil is large enough to go round and cover the pork strips while they cook
- Place pan with the pork in oven and bake covered for 30mins (or until the fat renders)
- Bake uncovered for 10mins to get the colour and crisp; turn pieces over and bake other side for another 10mins (I did this step twice to get some charring too)
Serve sliced. If not eating the entire 1 kg of meat in one seating, allow to cool and store strips (not slices) in fridge or freezer. Reheating may be done via microwave.
And we are done!
I am now responsible for my lunches and three weekday dinners a week. That being the case, and with my weak repertoire of cooking know-how, I have been diligently looking up books and the internet for recipes to experiment with.
I stick to one-dish meals that require no frying because I am best friends with the oven and an avid fan of clean cooking. Billowing smoke tends to show its face when I use the frying pan and with it, oil particles. They are a menace and always overstay their welcome. I cannot deal with the oil slick (arghhh!) in the kitchen after.
Baking soda and Febreeze don’t work all the time, and waiting it out is not an option for me. But stove top boiling/steaming/stewing are all good!
I love the braised nuts that some Chinese restaurants serve as appetisers before the meal, and wanted to recreate it at home. I did some sleuthing and made some adjustments here and there, and this is the result:
Hubby gave the thumbs up 🙂 Yay!
- 300g raw groundnuts, shelled, with skin on; Soaked in water overnight and strained after
- 10 pcs Shitake mushrooms; Soaked in water till soft and drained
- 2 tsp allspice powder (or five spice powder which is more pungent; but allspice was in my fridge so I used it)
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 3 tbsp dark soy sauce (the sweet variety; or add 1 tsp sugar if the sweet variety is not available)
- 3 tbsp fine white sugar
- 3 pcs Star Anise
- 4 cloves Garlic, smashed (or 3 tsp chopped Garlic)
- 1 stick Cinnamon
- Put everything except mushrooms into a heavy bottomed pot
- Add water till contents of pot are just covered
- Bring to a boil
- Lower fire to allow contents to simmer over 1-1.5 hours; Check every 15-20 mins to ensure that pot does not dry out (add water if necessary); Stir regularly to ensure good mix.
- In the final 30 mins, add the mushrooms. Allow to simmer till mushrooms are cooked and nuts are sufficiently soft and crunch to your liking.