Monday, June 5, 2017

An Encounter in Ubud - Some Enchanted Evening


There's so much I want to tell you about Bali, but it's hard to find the best place to start. My interests lie more with the people of the countries I've visited than the museums and monuments that house their history. Please don't misunderstand. There are wonderful structures and museums in Bali, but the spirit of these gentle people is what touched my soul and captured my heart. Touristy matters will come in due time, but first I'd like to share memories of the people who surface whenever I think of their beautiful country.

"South Pacific" had Bloody Mary and "Eat Pray Love" had Ketut Liyer. "One Perfect Bite" - that would be me - has Puspa to illustrate common traits of the Balinese. Generally, the Balinese are easygoing, courteous, gentle, and readily reciprocate kindness that is shown them. While they have a wry and wicked sense of humor, their broad smiles can be misleading. They are not in the business of making friends of strangers and it is almost impossible for outsiders to penetrate the tight-knit hierarchy of their communities. To say they are business and family oriented would be an understatement. In business they can be sly and conniving, but their hearts and homes are open to needy members of their own clans. Like other Asian cultures they display unwavering loyalty to family and clan and are conditioned to defer personal needs to those of the community. The Balinese, however, have no concept of time and could easily adopt the Tagalog "inshallah" of the Philippines or the "manana" of Mexico. I had a brief conversation with an expat who prayed his roof, victim of a hurricane, would never again need repair. His contractor smiled a lot, but it took 11 months to replace the thatch.


Now back to Puspa. She and her husband operate the cooking school, Paon Bali, in a family compound perched above a tropical forest. In form she is round and firm and has a voice that is nasal, high in pitch and as grating as nails on a blackboard. Her shtick would be the envy of a Catskill's comedian and it was literally peppered with the familiar "honey" whose use raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I was prepared not to like this woman, but her wild sense of humor and skill as a teacher won me over before our cooking chores were done. We hugged a lot. We also "melted" together. Orson Wells had an oft quoted description of Rita Hayworth in tropical heat. He insisted, "Miss Hayworth doesn't sweat, she glows." Unfortunately, we didn't glow, we melted and looked like a fine mist descended on our bodies. If you visit Bali, leave your makeup at home or apply it with a fine hand. It won't last. Our dinner that night was the food we made in her class, and we ate on the terrace overlooking the rice terraces her husband tended. It was the best meal of the trip and a truly memorable evening.

When I first began "One Perfect Bite" I was asked why I had chosen food as a subject. Truth be told, I had no "creds" in particle physics, and while I wanted to communicate with thoughtful women, I had only one passion that could be sustained and shared on a daily basis. It was, of course, food and the women who prepare it. I've always viewed food as a universal equalizer. It unmasks us. A practiced eye can determine background, experience and belief by examining what is being served and how it is made. While it provides sustenance, food also has become part of ceremonies that mark our celebrations and our passage from birth to death. Ceremonial food first caught my interest and made me curious to learn more about the women and the kitchens in which the food was prepared. I've always loved the kitchen. They are places of warmth and comfort and are universal reflections of family life wherever they are found. They reveal how women think about themselves, how they raise their children and how they relate to other women. The ingredients they use say as much about climate, geography and economic status as do more scholarly endeavors. I've been blessed and have had the opportunity to visit many kitchens, even those in remote parts of the world. I've learned more about people, customs and belief in those kitchens than I have in museums. I know my approach is not for everyone, but it works for me and it's how I came to know Puspa. I'll be sharing many of her recipes with you, but I wanted to start with something that most of you have never tried. I thought some of you might like to attempt this recipe for Tempe Me Goreng. Tempe is made by fermenting cooked soy beans and pressing them into a block. There is no need to make your own. It should be available in all large supermarkets or natural food stores.


Tempe Me Goreng - Deep Fried Tempe in Sweet Soy Sauce...from Paon Bali Cooking School

Ingredients:
2 blocks of tempeh
10 red chilies
5 tablespoons Indonesian sweet soy sauce (i.e. Kecap Manis)
4 shallots
8 cloves of garlic
1 spring onion
5 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 liter coconut oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Directions:
1) Slice tempeh into thin strips. Bring coconut oil to a boil in a large pan. Add tempeh and fry until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper toweling.
2) Slice red chilies and remove seeds, Slice garlic, shallots, spring onion and red chilies. Heat 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in another pan and saute until they are light brown.
3) Add deep-fried tempeh to pan containing garlic, shallots,spring onion and chilies and mix, adding Kecap Manis and broken Kaffir lime leaves. Stir well to coat tempeh in sauce.
4) serve hot as a main course. Yield 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tourists, Travelers and Singapore Slings


While you probably don't dwell on it, I'll wager you already know, or can guess, the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Per industry professionals, tourists can easily be spotted simultaneously juggling their cameras, guidebooks and maps. They generally make no attempt to speak the language of the country they are visiting, and they dress as they do at home. You rarely find them in locations that are off-the-beaten-path and the only locals with whom they have contact are tour guides. Conversely, travelers tend to blend into the environment. They've studied local cultures before their arrival and they are ready to learn and experience new things. Travelers consider their trips to be adventures rather than vacations and many return home in need of rest because, God's honest truth, not all adventures are relaxing. I considered myself a tourist for years, but was dispelled of that notion by a tour guide who overheard a heated conversation I had with an Indian cook regarding the preparation of Gobi Manchurian. He dubbed me a traveler while I argued techniques for frying cauliflower.

India was our third Asian adventure. Other Asian trips followed, but because these adventures required hours of flight time and layovers that would make even the young old, we never got to Indonesia. That changed this year when space on a trip to Bali and Java became available. We braced ourselves for the 2 day journey that would get us there. It started with a 2 hour flight to San Francisco. Five hours later we boarded the plane that took us to Hong Kong and then on to Singapore. That stretch of the trip racked up 18 hours of air time and another layover of nearly 5 hours before we took the final 3 hour flight to Bali.

Strangely enough, time passes fairly quickly on these flights. The ones we have taken all leave San Francisco at 1 or 2 in the morning, and, whatever airline we have been on, they all seem to follow the same routine. As soon as the plane is airborne, warm towels are distributed and juice is offered. About 2 hours into the flight, the first meal of the trip is served and beer, wine and spirits are made available to those who want them. Those who fly economy - that includes Bob and I - have to know what is available if they want something other than what appears on the service cart. The Singapore Sling, the signature drink of the airline on which we flew, had to be asked for. Later on, we would be served another full meal, but snacks, sandwiches and noodles were available at all times in the galley. There's usually wine there as well.

Once meal service is complete, it's mandatory lights out. I generally doze off, but it is a twilight kind of sleep and it doesn't take much to wake me up. As it happened, we flew on Easter Sunday and there was a church group traveling with us. I don't know what time zone they used as a reference, perhaps they were working on the theory that it was sunrise somewhere in the world, but they had a Bible reading to begin their Easter Sunday and, despite its muted tones, it caused me to stir. About an hour later, two young men sitting in the aisle across from me, briefly stood. On returning to their seats, they quietly responded to the Muslim call to prayer. There is now an "app" available to traveling Muslims that signals the time for prayer as well as the direction of Mecca.

I nodded off again, but real sleep eluded me. Rather than fight it, I decided to catch up on all the movies I missed this year. Thanks to Singapore Airline, I can proudly say I have seen all of this year's Academy Award nominees before next year's are announced. That doesn't often happen. On the return trip, I was also able to finish 4 books given to me by a friend, so my time, coming and going, was well spent. The upshot of the trip, despite its length and our lack of sleep was we had no jet lag when we arrived in Bali. That has never happened before.

I had my first Singapore Sling on the flight to Bali and I want to share the recipe for the drink with you. It is a gin based cocktail that was first served at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel a century ago. Raffles is a a Singapore landmark that today charges $35 a pop for the drink. Now, I must be honest with you. I'm not a cocktail person and the color and taste of the sling reminds me of the canned citrus "Bug Juice" that was served in hospitals years ago. Others, however, enjoy the drink, so I suspect the problem is with my palate. They are easy to make and all that fruit juice might even convince you they are good for you. Here's the recipe.

Singapore Sling...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

Ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
1/4 ounce Cointreau liqueur
1/4 ounce Benedictine
4 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/3 ounce Grenadine
1 dash bitters

Directions:
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Garnish with cherry and a slice of pineapple. Yield: one cocktail.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Popover for Some Yorkshire Pudding with Make-Ahead Gravy


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...In my world it's impossible to serve a rib roast without Yorkshire Pudding on the side. I suspect my family would abandon me on a dessert island if I even tried. Fortunately, the pudding is simple to make and comes together quickly. It's made with the same batter that's used for popovers, and I'm always amazed that a handful of ingredients can produce such airy golden towers. Years ago, I followed English custom and made the pudding in a single large baking dish. That worked while the children were small, but as their appetites grew, the pudding disappeared before everyone at the table was fed. At that point, I switched to popover pans so every member of the family could have their own to nap or drown with gravy as they saw fit. The individual puddings are a visual delight and the trick to their towering, gnarly height is three-fold. First, the batter must sit so the gluten in it has a chance to relax. Second, the initial temperature at which they cook must be high. Third, while the temperature is manipulated as they cook, the oven door must not be opened till the puddings are done. I guarantee that if you follow the directions in the recipe below, you'll have perfect puddings every time you make them. Because my kitchen is small, I do as much cooking as I can ahead of time. I make gravy the day before the feast, so the mess and last minute stress of getting it to the table becomes a non-issue. I like to use a New Orleans-style roux as the base for the gravy I pass with the puddings. It has wonderful flavor and I think you'll agree it's worth the time and watchful eye it takes to make. Here are the two recipes I used for our Christmas in February feast.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Christmas in February - Prime Rib and Fixin's


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The Silver Fox and I live in an area surrounded by small cattle ranches and, seasonally, that can lead to beef bargains not found in other areas of the country. During the Christmas holidays, standing rib and and strip roasts can be purchased here for what ground beef costs in other communities. My mother raised no foolish children, so I take full advantage of these bargains and pack the freezer when those holiday sale signs appear. That leads to some wonderful meals, and one of the the things I love to do is to serve a "Christmas" meal at odd times of year. We had some good friends for dinner this past Sunday and I decided to celebrate their company with one of the rib roasts stashed in the freezer. Whenever I do this, I go whole hog and make a dinner fit for the groaning board of an English country estate. There is, of course, the roast, but authenticity demands Yorkshire pudding, and the "pud" demands a gravy we find too heavy for the juicy rare, red beef we so enjoy. I make the gravy a day or two before the meal, while the wine sauce is a task for the morning of the feast. Potatoes, too, are made early on and sit in a slow cooker protected by a shallow puddle of cream that keeps them milky white for serving. I do, however, postpone the puddings till the last possible moment. While they can be made ahead of time, we prefer ours so freshly warm and moist you can almost hear them begging to be drowned in gravy. They share the oven with chunks of roasting carrots whose preparation is sheer simplicity, but whose color adds brightness to what can easily become a beige meal. While many think it unnecessary, we are salad folk and I think the meal demands shades of crisp greens to make it complete. To be honest, the salad, made with watercress and Belgian endive, is nearly as expensive as the beef and actually more work to make, but I can't prepare this meal without knowing it will grace my table. I generally make rolls of some type for the feast and dessert depends on the whims or dietary restrictions of the folks sitting at my table. This past weekend we had a luscious pear torte and a creamy lemon pudding to end the meal. I can't feature all these recipes in one post, so I thought I'd pick and choose and share those for the roast and its various sauces with you today. I have several recipes for standing rib roast, but I recently resurrected this one which is failproof. I think you'll enjoy its flavor and ease of preparation. Here is how it's made.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pan-Fried Hong Kong Noodles - Chinese New Year


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...When the children were home, a Chinese dinner would include 3 main dishes plus soup and rice. These days, the Silver Fox and I just don't eat that way. That's not a bad thing. Fortunately, appetite diminishes with age, so we can still fit through the door, and when we have a dry spell, can actually bend and touch our toes. That's not to say we don't eat. It's just that a dish once meant for one now feeds two or three with ease. Tonight I made the pan-fried noodles for our dinner. While they were a main course for me, I augmented Bob's supper with Chinese-style salt and pepper pork chops, the recipe for which can be found here. Despite my best efforts, the Fox remains, a committed carnivore and I rarely get away with serving him a completely meatless meal. We both love pan-fried noodles and they make a perfect accompaniment to dishes like the chops I made for him. We have a well-stocked Asian market in town, so I have no trouble getting the noodles or the dark soy sauce called for in the recipe. Dark soy sauce is thicker in texture and despite its deep color, less salty than the everyday varieties most use for cooking. Dark soy is fermented for a longer period of time and it's usually augmented with sugar or molasses, that gives the sauce a sweet-salty flavor and viscous texture. Dark soy sauce is used solely for cooking. If you can't find it, replace it with regular soy sauce. Your noodles will be lighter in color, but their flavor will be fine.  I know those of you who try this recipe will be pleased with the noodles. Here's how they are made.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Noodle Bowls - For a Quick Chinese New Year Lunch


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...We've had a busy day. The saving grace was accommodation had been  made early on, so, while the day was over-scheduled, we got through it with a smile. In keeping with my plan to serve Chinese food during the Spring Festival, I whipped up these noodles for our lunch. I had asparagus and fresh mushrooms in the refrigerator, and I thought these lovely noodle bowls would be perfect for a Chinese-style lunch. While the recipe I'm featuring is not truly Chinese, in appearance, taste and execution, the noodle bowls would fit perfectly on a Chinese table.  I found the recipe last summer when looking for ways to cook asparagus from a harvest so successful it caused the shelves of farm stands to sag under its weight. I can't resist a bargain and, as a result, my refrigerator shelves sagged as badly as those in the farm stands. The question than became, "now that I have it what do I do with it?" I went searching for recipes and found the original source  for the noodle bowls  here. While I've made  few changes to the original, the dish still contains only four basic ingredients, including asparagus, mushrooms, eggs and of course, noodles.  The eggs which provide the protein in this dish are handled in the same way as those that are used to make Spaghetti Carbonara. This dish, however, is more mildly flavored. The noodles are quite nice and perfect for any time of year.  While I think you will enjoy them, I do not want to mislead you. This is not an Asian noodle recipe. It's for an all-American dish that happens to use Chinese noodles and sesame seeds. It has several things going for it, among which is the speed with which it can be prepared. The recipe is also scaled to feed two or three people, depending on how hungry they are, so it would make a great addition to the recipe collections of those who are now cooking for two. I know many of you have carnivores at the table, and, if you wish, chicken or pork can be added to the ingredients without changing the basic nature of the dish. The bowls can be on the table in less than 30 minutes, and as Martha use to say, "That's a good thing." Here is how the bowls are made.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Chinese Donuts and Pancakes for a New Year's Brunch



From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The Silver Fox and I are having guests for brunch on Saturday. In keeping with my plan to serve Chinese food for the duration of the Spring Festival, I've put together a menu that I think our guests will enjoy. I'll be serving congee, noodles, shrimp omelets, dumplings, and creamed bok choy as well as Chinese donuts and pancakes. The recipes for these dishes have been featured on One Perfect Bite in the past, but I came across new recipes for the donuts and pancakes that I wanted to try and share with you. They are easy to make and I think your family and friends will enjoy them. Here is how they both are made.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Lion's Head Meatballs for Chinese New Year


From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The Silver Fox and I use the 15 days of Spring Festival to enjoy some of our favorite Chinese dishes. Over the years, I've collected a huge number of recipes for Asian food, particularly Chinese. These meatballs are a personal favorite of mine, and I always make them during the holiday, as much for their symbolism as their wonderful flavor. There is discussion, sometimes contentious, about the origins of this dish. I favor Shanghai, but the beautiful city of Yangzhou is also a contender. Children love this dish and it's whimsy. For some, the four large meatballs represent the cardinal points of north, south, east and west. For others, they represent the blessings of felicity, prosperity, longevity and happiness. The meatballs are braised with a mild Asian cabbage in a delicious brown sauce. The finished meatballs, festooned with shreds of cabbage, do resemble a lion's head. When there are no children at the table, I opt for smaller meatballs. There are hundreds of recipes for Lion's Head; this version is based on one developed by Jacki Passmore. If you do not eat pork, or abstain from meat, you might like to try this recipe using a product called Gimmee Lean. In Shanghai these meatballs are served as an appetizer. They're also great for church suppers and other potlucks.

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