Sunday, June 29, 2008

Garlic squid bread

This funny 'Halloween looking' bun was bought in the worlds tallest skyscraper (for now, Dubai is catching up), Tapei 101. Not on the top (509m) but in a supermarket in the basment. The bun is called "Garlic squid" as the bread is made with squid ink and it is filled with garlic and parsley butter. And that's how it tasted as well.

In the same supermarket you could also buy a square watermelon. Have never seen a square watermelon before, looks strange but beautiful.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Portuguese egg tarts

Shanghainese people are absolutely mad about Portuguese egg tarts. You can basically buy them in every corner in Shanghai. I really didn't know about these little tarts before coming here (have not been to Portugal yet), so you can wonder how Shanghainese people know about them.

Well, Portugal used to have a colony on the south east coast of China, a place called Macau. So from Macau these little tarts have spread around in China and neighboring countries. There are different version but all of them resemble similar tart: pastry filled with egg "custard". And oh are they delicious! The dough is similar to puff pastry and custard is similar to creme brule but it is not quite the same. They just taste wonderful!

So in Macau there is a cafe called "Margaret's Cafe and Nata" that is famous for these little tarts. And I can totally understand why, so it is definitely a 'has to visit' place when in Macau.

And the best thing was that couple of days later I bought food magazine called "Food and Travel" and guess which recipe was futered? YES, recipe for Portugese tarts! Cannot wait to try it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meet my bamboo steamer

It is definitely the most beautiful thing in my kitchen: my bamboo steamer. It is beautiful and it does magic as well...steam magic! I didn't know anything about steaming food before coming to China, absolutely nothing. But food steaming has a very long tradition here, probably couple of thousands years (when it comes to China almost anything you talk about is thousands-of-years).

So to learn how to use my bamboo steamer I got my self a book called "Steamed-food & cooking". This tiny book with 20 pages explains how steamer works and has 23 recipes from China, Japan ans South-East Asia. I have tried many of them and although it was first time I used bamboo steamer it worked excellent.

I also tried to steam western type of bread and it worked quite nice. You can see how exactly the same bread looks different when steamed and when baked.

The great thing about steaming bread in a bamboo steamer is its lid. As the lid is made of bamboo water does not condensate and drop on the food that is being steamed, so it is perfect for steaming bread and cakes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Starch balls

I bought these starch balls in Taiwan because I thought they were different from sago pearls and that they had taste. Well they don't. They look pretty and all, just like sago pearls do, but no taste at all. Starch balls differ from sago pearls in the way they look because they are made of tapioca starch, sweet potatoe starch and caramel colour and they dissolve completely if you put them in cold water (did it). They need to be put in already boiling water and after about 40 minutes they will turn all translucent and cute. But no taste, they look nice as decoration though.

This simple but very cute looking dessert has following ingredients: a bag of powder vanilla pudding, a bag of lemon jelly, boiled starch balls and some unflavoured gelatine.

First I boiled some starch balls and mixed them with a bit of warm water with unflavoured gelatine. I poured them in molds and I let them sit for a couple of hours. Then I made vanilla pudding and jelly, I let them cool a bit so that they would not melt the gelatine that is holding together the starch balls and when they were a bit cooler I pour them over starch balls. Very simple and very cute dessert.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Banana and papaya plantation

Being an island with a tropical climate Taiwan is a place where many, many exotic fruits grow. We spent couple of days on the east coast of Taiwan and next to our hotel was this wonderful banana and papaya plantation, totally amazing!

Banana and papaya plantations were just next to each other and it was really kind of magical to come so close to the real thing.

Under a layer of paper and blue plastic cover, green bananas were hiding. I assume they are covered to make them ripe faster and to protect them from some insects and animals. Just while taking these pictures I was bitten by tropical spider 3 times. Although they do not have enough poison to kill you, I was left with annoying,scratchy, swollen bumps under my skin for a week or so.

I was amazed to see how many papayas can grow on a single tree. And they are all concentrated at one place, so crowded, but oh so beautiful. However, it was new to me to see a big tree where fruits are not spread around, like apples or pears.

And just couple of meters from these plantations you could buy these wonderful fruits. Papayas had this amazing orange colour (my camera didn't quite catch the magical colour), totally wonderful!

And yes, I can confirm, there is a huge difference between bananas ripen-in-the-sun and bananas ripen-in-a-boat container. Although these bananas had a tiny trace of green on their skin they didn't taste "green" at all, not even close. They were just perfectly ripen and the texture was very meaty. It was great while it lasted!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New fruits

Here are three amazing fruits which I have seen for the first time here in China:

Myrica rubra - it is kind of berry, has no skin, but at the same time not, it has a seed. Flesh is sweet, jucy and made of long threads that are waxy a bit on the surface. My favorite new fruit.

Loquat - it looks like a pear but it is completely different. Skin peels off easily, it has 4-5 seeds and flesh is sweet and soft, not crispy like a pear can be.

White peach - it smells almost like a regular peach but the flesh is more tender and a bit less juicy. It is quite flat and skin peels off easily by hand. It looks really beautiful.

So having these 3 fruits at hand I decided to make a meringue dessert called pavlova (named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova). Australia and New Zealand are still having a dispute over the origin of this dessert, but by pouring a New Zealand raspberry honey over my mini pavlovas I think I have coincidentally chosen a side.

2 egg whites
1,5 dl sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

2,5 dl cream
fresh fruits

makes 4 mini pavlovas

Preheat the oven to 120 C. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, add slowly 1 dl sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Mix the other 0,5 dl sugar with the cornstarch, add slowly to the meringue and beat until stiff peaks form. Mix in vinegar and vanilla extract.
Make 4 equal meringue circles on the baking paper, with at least 5 cm between each. Bake for 45 minutes, let cool in the oven.

Meanwhile beat the cream and cut the fruits. When pavlovas are cooled, spoon the cream and then fruits on the top. Drizzle some honey over.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Blog Quesadillas turns 1 year!

This little blog of mine has turned 1 year! I really have been enjoying blogging about food and all new food-experiences while abroad.
You really can learn a lot about a country and its culture just by visiting food-market or exploring street food. I have tried to do that (and more) and although everything on this blog is experienced through my eyes, I also hope that all you readers have learned and experienced something new as well.

Nevertheless, this 1 year celebration is a great excuse to make a cake! As I am in China right now I just felt I needed to make a cake that has some typical Chinese ingredients, and what is it if not red bean paste.

So I made a mini chocolate cake and I steamed it in my good "old" bamboo-steamer (so Chinese). When done I filled it with red bean paste and Italian meringue mixed with whole and chopped red beans. And the cake was covered with a thick layer of Italian meringue. Happy Birthday Blog Quesadillas!

Chocolate cake with red beans and Italian meringue
1 egg
1 dl + 2 tbsp of sugar
10 gr of butter
30 gr chocolate, divided in 2 equal parts
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 dl + 1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
bit of salt

2 egg whites
1 dl sugar
1/2 dl water

1 dl red bean paste
1/2 dl whole red beans

a mini cake pan, 10 cm in diameter

Melt the butter and half of the chocolate, add milk and vanilla. Grate the rest of the chocolate as small as possible. Beat egg and sugar until pale and thick. Add butter mixture. Mix flour, salt and baking powder and add carefully to the egg mixture. Blend in almost all grated chocolate, leave some for the top. Pour the batter in the cake pan, sprinkle some chocolate on the top and steam on high heat for about 15-20 minutes. When it is done it looks like this:

The best thing about steamed cakes is that it very hard to end up with a dry cake. When you bake in oven sometimes a couple of minutes can make a difference, but when steaming you really have to work hard to end up with a dry cake. I like a lot!

To make meringue start with the sugar syrup. Mix water and sugar in a pan and boil until it gets a consistency of a syrup, 2-3 minutes. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and add slowly hot syrup. Beat until meringue is cool and stiff, at least 10 minutes, by hand.