Tastebuds

A food blog from everywhere!

Guangzhou: Quasi dinner party chez moi

Tonight, I hosted my first dinner/birthday event at my house, ever! It was my friend Kanisorn’s birthday, so somehow we came to an agreement by designating my home as the place to congregate. I didn’t mind, except that I had to spend so much time scrubbing down the kitchen these past few days! Actually it was supposed to be more like a potluck but I ended up cooking most of the dishes. Not that I complained, of course, since I would naturally hop at any opportunity to cook anyways.

Our Asian smörgåsbord on a very Chinese lazy susan table

I was really excited beforehand, thinking of and writing out everything that I’d like to cook. I really like cooking for other people, even more than I like eating…I guess like any cook, I cherish the moments when someone compliments a dish that I’d made. But I think that tonight, I overstretched a bit and tried to do too many things, leading to some rather unspectacular results. I imagined the shrimp with salted yolk pumpkin sauce, for instance, much more stellar than it actually turned out. And the braised pork stew wasn’t too interesting either. Oh wells, learn from my mistakes I guess.

Here are the dishes that I made:

Prawns with salted egg yolk pumpkin sauce; the sauce had too much pumpkin inside, hiding the chalky yolk flavour. The pumpkin slices, sadly, I didn't roast them long enough! =(

3 Cups Chicken! This turned out really well; nice and crispy chicken with a sweet, smoky flavour.

Baked scallion rolls. These turned out really well as a typical Chinese bread; soft and buttery and slightly sweet.

I don’t have individual photos, but I also made a pork stew (which, as mentioned, wasn’t that popular and lacked a little something), bacon + cream cheese + apple canapes following this recipe (turned out all right, nothing super interesting), and just plain grilled shrimp (which I didn’t find special at all but everyone else seem to enjoy). But then again, with dinner gatherings like these it’s always more than just the food; it’s really the company that makes the night. After dinner I dragged everyone into playing taboo and I think we all had great laughs and an awesome time!

And lastly, here are some of the dishes that my friends made!

A roasted chicken dish that my friend Rena brought!

Stir-fried greens that Rena and Wing made; turned out pretty well!

Thanks everyone, for a wonderful evening!

OH! And on a completely differently note, I’ve decided on a name change for the blog. Instead of the previous mouthful of a name, I’m going to go with something shorter, Tastebuds. And it’s less embarrassing.

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July 25, 2011 Posted by | Guangzhou, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lyon: Cooking at L’Atelier des Chefs

Perhaps one little-known tidbit about me is that nobody ever taught me to cook. I’ve never been much impressed b my parents’ cooking, so I took over the kitchen myself by the end of my middle school years. My cooking skills are a product of cooking shows, cookbooks, food blogs, and just self-experimentation. I remember the first dish that I’d ever made  from scratch was a cheese soup from allrecipes.com. Not a great resource for serious cooks, I now realize, but back then I was pretty proud of that processed-cheese soup.

Well, during my one-week stay in Lyon I came upon L’Atelier des Chefs, a cooking school offering 30 min – 1.5 hr long classes for non-professionals. Since I was there and wasn’t in a hurry to do anything and the price wasn’t too steep, I decided to give the tart-making class a go.

Reserving a spot was really easy. All I had to do was go on their website, find the course I want, and make my reservation. No need to pay until I got there the next day.

The school is pretty conveniently located in Presqu’ile, about a five minute trek from the Musee des Beaux-Arts. There was a little cooking gadgets store up front and the kitchens and stuff  were at the back. Getting there, I was definitely pretty nervous at first cause it was my first time in a non-touristy environment where I’ll HAVE to rely on my French abilities! No falling back on English if I don’t understand something.

Because I signed up for a class on a weekday morning, there were only 2 other people with me: a 50ish lady and a 12ish boy. A kid, me, and a graying lady; basically we hit all the age groups. The chef ushered us into the kitchen, a big professional kitchen, and handed us aprons and placed us at our stations. He’d already laid out all the ingredients and utensils beforehand, so basically he instructed and demonstrated and we did the tasks needed. It was pretty fun, although a bit quiet once the chef stopped talking cause, well, we three highly diverse people weren’t the most talkative bunch. But I was pretty content just being able to understand everything, and sort of surprised too!

The whole course took about an hour, and afterward they packed up the food for us to take home. It was a pretty enjoyable way to spend the morning, and I created some nice tarts for lunch, but I have to say though, I think I could have learned the same stuff from a cooking show or a book. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same as having someone guide you, but it sure would be a lot cheaper!

Ah, and yes, below is the recipe of one of the tarts that we made, translated by yours truly from http://www.atelierdeschefs.fr/fr/recette/4122-tarte-sablee-au-parmesan-compotee-d-aubergines-basilic-et-anchois.php:

Tart with parmesan crusts, basil eggplant compote and anchovies

For the biscuits:
– wheat flour 150g
– soften butter 150g
– shredded Parmesan 150g
– egg 1
– pinch of salt

For the filling:
– 3 pieces eggplant
– 1/2 bunch (10 sprigs?) fresh coriander
– oil packed anchovies 24 pieces
– white onions 2 medium
– cumin 5g
– basil 1/2 bunch (10 sprigs?)
– 3 tsp olive oil
– 5 tsp water
– grilled pepper antipasto 24 pieces

For the garnishing:
– roquette leaves 300g
– lime 1
– olive oil to taste
– sea salt flakes to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 °C.
  2. Mix together flour, parmesan, a pinch of salt and butter in a medium-sized bowl until well-incorporated. Then add egg and roll into dough-like ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and then slap between two pieces of parchment paper. Stick into the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Once done, cut out eight disks of tart crust using any hollow round-rimmed object (e.g. cookie cutter, a glass). Set aside to let cool.
  3. Dice eggplant and onions. Chop up fresh herbs and set aside.
  4. In a very hot pan, heat 3 tsp olive oil. Add onions, eggplant, a pinch of salt and saute for a min, then add 5 tsp water and cover. Once there’s no more water, let the eggplants sweat out their juices. Once the veggies stick a bit to the pan, stir them a bit and then add coriander, basil, and any spices you feel like adding (e.g. cumin maybe? Or curry? Not really necessary but if you want an extra kick, there you go)
  5. Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing 10 tsp olive oil, the juice of one lime, and a pinch of salt.
  6. Now, here’s the method to assembling those tart towers: parmesan disk + eggplant mixture + antipasto peppers and anchovies, and repeat! Sprinkle the top with leftover herbs and drizzle everything with olive oil. Serve with a simple roquette salad. Nom nom nom.

My tarte sablee! It held together better when cold

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Lyon, Recipes, Travels | 1 Comment

Thoughts about food blogs

Today, I’m deciding to take a break and reflect a bit about food blogs and why I’m bothered joining the fray.

This evening I watch some show from a random pirated Chinese DVD about food bloggers. They went around and interviewed some of the most well-known names in food-blog cyberspace, including David Lebovitz, Chez Pim, and Cha Xiu Bao. Apart from it being interesting giving voices to these names and faces that I’ve seen for so long, it also got me thinking about how much work these top-end bloggers put into this singular hobby. Taking notes, photographing, and actually analyzing the flavours and textures and combinational intricacies of their meals. And doing it all in an engaging, relate-able, humourous manner as well. As for me, I sometimes don’t really know exactly where I want to go with this blog.

I think I first started this blog as a way to grow out of the comment section on other food blogs, to voice my own ideas and to write about my own meals. Because I was living in Guangzhou at the time, there was a wealth of little-known food-related fodder to blog about. Like the breakfast culture in southern Chinese cities, vegetable markets, and sooo many more interesting things that I really never got around to sharing. But time and, more importantly, motivation became an obstacle.

I wonder often who bloggers write for, whether they write with an audience in mind. I bet the big name ones do, but for underdogs like me, well, I really don’t know. Sometimes I write for myself, just treating the blog as an opportunity to put down my experiences. Almost like a diary, really. But sometimes, though, I’m really not in the mood to write but I still feel the obligation to write, as if someone out there expects a new post and I mustn’t fail them. Most of the time, though, when that hits me I end up being lazy and reasoning that since my readership is so low, there’s no harm in skipping a couple of days. (Believe it or not, I actually planned to post at least once a week initially! Uh uh, didn’t happen AT ALL).  Then a “couple of days” turn to weeks which turn to months and then, voila, I have a near-dead blog. I actually feel pretty guilty about not writing the whole time, but the lack of readership just provides justification to laze off…

Fellow bloggers, if any of you have faced this problem before, any advice to give an underling?

Another note: One major aspect that differs between most food bloggers and myself is that I’m pretty self-conscious about my food craze. I do not go around advertising the site (partly because the name’s sorta embarrassing. “Gastronomic Adventurer”? Reminds me of…I don’t know, Star Trek or something extraterrestrial. So if anyone can think of a better title to supplant mine I’d really appreciate it), and only mention it in the slightest passing to even my closest friends. I think it’s partly because I’m pretty aware of the negative view that some people have of food bloggers as people who go out to criticize without having any credentials. I’ve met people who view this very strongly, and it intimidates me. As a person I hate being on the wrong side of the line, and so I keep low with my blogging to avoid “playing with fire.”

As for foodblog-haters, I do see what they mean. I mean, bloggers aren’t like restaurant critics who I guess actually know what they are doing. But then again, eating is all about personal taste, and nobody needs prerequisites to express their preferences. I think that as long as bloggers don’t go around haranguing others to match with their preferences or diss people for their choices, there’s nothing wrong with blogging. And that’s the only wimpy argument that I’m offering to justify myself. =)

So why am I getting all deep and reflective all of a sudden? Just to figure things out, I guess. I remember the one blog that really influenced me to start my own was Robyn’s The Girl Who Ate Everything. I just love love love Robyn’s humourous style, and her entertaining rants about food. And especially in the earlier entries, you can sense that despite the humourous gloss that she drizzled over her words the things she wrote about were pretty…heartfelt. And for me, relate-able as well. Yeah, someday I really need to send Robyn a note congratulating her on her awesome blog, although I bet she gets loads of fanmail that I’ll just be one more on the pile.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lyon: Savoury macarons from Les Halles

I’d say just about a year ago saw the heyday of the French macaron. Miniature, delicate, flexible in terms of flavours, and difficult to perfect; what’s not to like about it? However, I think that after a year of seeing these almond cookies everywhere, I’ve gotten a bit tired of them. But a few weeks ago, while in Lyon I was ambling through Les Halles, an indoor upscale food market in the city centre, when I came across a patisserie store featuring savoury macarons. I was pretty intrigued and had to try some for myself.

I remember Seve had four savoury flavours: foie gras, gorgonzola, porcini, and something else that I forget. Well, I tried the first three. The nice saleslady gave me gorgonzola as a sample, a WHOLE macaron. Wow! Never had that happen before. I was pretty surprised at the generous offer but then, upon chewing my first bite…well…not to say that it was terrible but it wasn’t exactly something that I’d fork out three euros for. I understand that as a blue cheese, gorgonzola is supposed to be strong, but it’s also known for being quite salty. And Seve geared towards bending savoury flavours and making them sweet. So that first macaron tasted like cheesecake made with strong blue cheese. I’m sure there are people who would like that but it didn’t really go down that well for me. The texture, at least, was airy and light; had it been dense, my goodness, I wonder how sky-high strong the flavour would be!

Macaron aux cepes/Porcini macaron

Despite that initial drawback I still bought two other flavours, and those worked better (in differing degrees). The porcini, hmmm…tasted like mushroom with sugar added. Sweet and earthy. The filling was pretty dense, and the macaron cookies, like those of all three savoury macs, were the normal sweet kind. I didn’t really know what to make of it.

Foie gras macaron with a copyright on it. Fancy

The last one, the foie gras macaron, worked the best out of the three. I guess maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with the idea of eating sweet jams with goose liver pate, cause that’s exactly what the macaron tasted like. Well, no jam was present but the sweetness of the filling and the cookies reminded me of it. It’d have been nice if the liver flavour had been stronger, cause it was only barely detectable beneath all that sugariness.

So, that was my experience was savoury macarons. Somewhat disappointing cause I was actually expecting something salty. Maybe I need to try making my own.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Bakery, Lyon, Travels | 1 Comment

Back in Guangzhou!

Just a small note: after almost a year away, I’ve made it back to Guangzhou! It’s so nice to be home again, in the place where it all started, even though the stormy muggy weather and the pushy crowds did not welcome me all that warmly. Still, that’s all part of the experience, isn’t it?

Now that I’m back, I can’t wait to start filling up on good Chinese food again. A year of deprivation is simply too long. Today, at the Jusco near the train station, I got so excited coming across this:

A mountain of durians!!!

What a beautiful sight =D

Anyways, I’ll try and wrap up my Europe adventures in a few more posts and start feasting on GZ.

July 15, 2011 Posted by | Guangzhou, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lyon: Fraises des bois

After reading David Lebovitz’s (who has a wonderful blog, btw, and pretty foodproof recipes!) post on fraises des bois a few weeks ago while still in Lyon, I decided that I had to get some for myself when I saw them at the St. Antoine market. I have had these little miniature strawberries before; while staying in the Annecy area, we sometimes came across them while hiking in the mountains. But they were rare on the often-trekked hiking trails, so one had to wander off the beaten path to find them (and in fact, once I got lost in the woods chasing after these elusive red fruits!).

Box of wild strawberries

But a whole box of fraises des bois may have been…too much of a good thing? When bumping across them in the wilderness, a surge of excitement and self-satisfaction accompanies their consumption, but when they’re already all boxed up, that aspect is lost. Fraises aux bois are more tart than typical strawberries and sometimes even bitter, and the roughness of the surface seeds adds an extra dimension to them. Truth be told I think I prefer steroided strawberries, which are sweeter and has more traditional strawberry flavour. Or maybe I just don’t have selective enough a palate to enjoy them.

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Lyon, Travels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Paris: 2000 feuilles from Pierre Herme

Yesterday I took a day trip to Paris and, of course, as with any trip to Paris, a visit to Pierre Herme was required.

I picked up their 2000 Feuilles to try. Basically it was a millefeuille (but mille/1000 times two) with almond cream and choc-hazelnut fillings.

2000 feuilles from Pierre Herme

I have to say, though, that as much as I tried to like it, I did not. Perhaps it was because it had already sat in its packaging at room temperature for 4 hours before I finally got to eat it, but the textures and flavours just didn’t play well together. Of course, having been out so long, the cake no longer held its shape, with the praline cream and chocolate-hazelnut filling erupting out the sides. I found the fillings, because they were at room temperature, to be overpowering. The tones of almond and chocolate were no longer gentle and caressing but loud and abrasive. Even large pieces of pastry failed to mellow small dollops of filling. Plus, even a very sharp knife failed to truncate a cross-section in the millefeuille, making it difficult to appreciate the intended textural combinations and rendering the process of devouring the cake a very messy operation.

I suppose one praise-worthy aspect of the cake was the pastry, which remained crispy and mostly unsoggy despite its four-hour journey in an air-less cardboard box. Next time, though, I’ll be sure to finish millefeuilles as soon as I purchase them.

Hopefully the macarons that I got will fare better!

July 7, 2011 Posted by | Bakery, Paris, Travels | 1 Comment

Lyon: Café Comptoir Abel

25, rue Guynemer, Lyon
Tél.: 04 78 37 46 18

I’ve only been in Lyon for just over a day, but already the city’s food scene lives up to its hype and renown. Tonight I had dinner at Café Comptoir Abel, a small restaurant serving traditional Lyonnaise fare, otherwise known as a “bouchon.” It was recommended to me by several sources so I went in with high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Even before arriving I’d already settled on trying their highly praised quenelles. Quenelle is a Lyonnaise specialty consisting of cone-shaped poached fish dumplings served w/ a sauce. I ordered mine with a side of ratatouille to get some vegetables in.

When the dishes came, I was taken-aback by their sizes! Chez Abel serves up hearty portions: the quenelle was as long as a medium banana and twice as wide, and the ratatouille came in a medium-sized casserole. After a small gulp & a few photos, I dug in.

Quenelle w/ mushroom cream sauce

At the very first bite of the quenelle, I realized that I wouldn’t have been too surprised should I end up finishing the dish. The chef somehow managed to adroitly manipulate the simple flavours of the ingredients into a beautiful combination. I could taste the savoury fish base in the quenelles along w/ a nice, creamy eggyness. The mushroom cream sauce blanketing the quenelle wasn’t crucial to the flavours but did add a further richness and cut back the saltiness in the quenelle. The melted cheese, on the other hand, I could not taste at all and was probably unnecessary.

While its flavours were amazing, but I think one drawback of quenelles is their lack of textural contrast. Not that its soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture (semblant of soft scrambled eggs with more substance) isn’t wonderful, but it gets dull after a while. The mushrooms in the sauce helped a little at the beginning but I quickly polished those off. Despite this little complaint, though, I still managed to finish about 2/3s of the dish.

Lackluster ratatouille, but no matter!

The ratatouille, on the other hand, stood little chance next to the star dish. It seemed like they dumped all the vegetables together at the same time in making it, because the zucchinis were all gloopy due to overcooking. The better ratatouilles I’ve tried also boost a nice olive-oil burst which Chez Abel’s version lacked. Oh well, no matter, cause the amazing quenelle was enough to salvage any meal.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | French, Lyon, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment