in the borderlands, two kitchens make food fusion not food war

fried yellow chilis, photo from NPR

fried yellow chilies, photo from NPR

I love this photo of fried yellow chilies because it captures the essence of this fusion. Served with a dipping sauce, these chilies blend Chinese and Mexican food cultures. Recently, a friend in Canada sent me this article. She knows I am a foodie and she knows my family’s history. After all, her family is Chinese-Filippino and they count themselves Canadian. Fair enough.

This NPR article by Lisa Morehouse discusses the culinary hybrid cuisine that developed in the borderlands between the US and Mexico when an upstart import asserted itself: Chinese food meets Mexican food. The fusion also explains why my own family came to Jamaica. Perched on the doorstep to America but unable to enter the US because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, these immigrants, my ancestors, went to other places to live and developed a new cuisine. The common thread throughout the generations: we live to eat. And so we endure.

As a Jamaican of Chinese ancestry, hybridity is not surprising. I grew up eating food that was a hybrid of two cultures. The favorite dish of my childhood: pork and yam. It has a pungent sweet-tart sauce (Chinese) and steamed (BTW Chinese cooking method) with slices of fat pork (Chinese and Jamaicans both adore pork) alternating with slices of yam (Jamaican). Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods sampled this fusion and dubbed it “Chimaicanese.”

pork and yam, photo from Phenomenon

My cousin Peter lent me Norma Benghiat’s cookbook and I copied the recipe for pork and yam. I have yet to try it because I cannot find yam, a y-shaped tuber that is essential to this dish. I have an idea to try taro (เผือก) instead. After all, I will be following in my grandmother’s footsteps to create this three-way: Chinese, Jamaican, and Thai.

chocolate-banana bundt cake with caramel glaze

Chocolate-Banana Bundt Close Up

DSC04486I made this cake for the friend who has been sharing his mangoes with us. The mangoes that went into the mango surprise came from his trees. We have been enjoying them–Andy eats one for breakfast everyday. They make a marvelous accompaniment for sticky rice (ข้าวเหนียว) with coconut sauce. I admit I’ve been slowing down, and there is so much mango in the freezer for smoothies. That’s the trouble with mangoes: feast or famine. I know that I will miss mangoes when the season ends next month. I digress. Now back to this cake: it’s a banana cake with a chocolate center. The sweetness of the banana complements the bittersweet chocolate. So delicious.

Chocolate-Banana Bundt Cake with Caramel Glaze

Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 40 minutes

1/2 cup (113g) plus 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (338g) superfine sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ripe, medium bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
2 cups (250g) plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream (or low fat Greek style yogurt)
1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Generously grease and flour the inside a 12-cup bundt pan (10-inch diameter) with 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon flour. Tap out excess.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one by one, waiting until each has been incorporated to add the next. Beat in vanilla extract and mashed bananas.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the sour cream or yogurt, followed by the remaining flour mixture, stirring after each addition.

Remove 1 1/2 cups of batter into a small bowl and stir in cocoa powder. Pour 2/3 of the plain batter into the prepared bundt pan, top with cocoa batter and spoon the rest of the plain batter on top. Smooth the top to cover the chocolate layer beneath.

Cake Baker’s Note: Run a skewer through the batter gently to swirl, using a figure eight motion to create a marbling effect. Or leave it as it is to create a chocolate “tunnel.”

If the pan has a dark non-stick finish, reduce heat at once to 325˚F after putting the pan in the oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed.

Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Gently loosen the sides with a skewer. Turn cake out onto rack to cool completely before slicing. Wrap thoroughly cooled cake airtight in plastic if not going to be eaten right away. Serve plain or dusted with powdered sugar. Or serve it with a caramel glaze like I did!

johanna ware’s breakfast bao

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DSC04503This is Chef Ware’s take on that quintessential southern breakfast, biscuits and gravy. Instead of biscuits, she uses baozi or filled buns, a Chinese dimsum staple. The complex flavor of the baozi filling is due to the combination of fennel, black vinegar, garlic, and honey. Baozi is usually eaten out of hand as a snack or as a meal on the go, but Chef Ware ladles gravy on these buns and tops them with fried egg, southern style. The gravy is full of flavor, tangy and interesting with a hint of the sea, thanks to the nori or seaweed, an ingredient in the katsuo nori furikake. Furikake adds just the right kind of savory or umami taste that is as hard to describe as it is unmistakable.

DSC04506I made my bao both small and large. Andy prefers the 4-inch bao to the 3 inch so this recipe reflects that. I also doubled the bao dough. The first batch I made I forgot the oil. But it made very little difference to the taste or texture. The buns are done when they look cream colored. They may feel solid and heavy but do not be alarmed. They are soft inside and when you bite into one, yielding to the teeth, chewy like fresh bread and delicious.

Johanna Ware’s Breakfast Bao

Bao Dough
Yield:
12 to 14 buns

Prep Time:
20 minutes, plus proofing time
Cook Time:
8 minutes
Total Time:
28 minutes, plus proofing time

INGREDIENTS
2/3 cup warm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/4 cups bread flour, plus more for if needed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

DIRECTIONS
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the water, yeast and sugar until the yeast dissolves. Let the mixture sit until the yeast starts to get foamy and bloom, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the oil and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, sift the bread flour, salt and baking soda together. Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula. If the dough feels sticky, add 1 additional tablespoon of flour at a time until it is less sticky.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rest until it has doubled in size, 1. to 2 hours. Fold the dough over on itself to flatten it.
4. Portion the dough into balls that are 3 inches in diameter and let rest for 5 minutes. Flatten each ball into a disk 4 inches in diameter.
5. Fill the buns with the filling (see recipe below) and wrap by gathering the edge and twisting slightly. Put each bao on a parchment lined baking tray. Cover with a damp kitchen towel to keep the bao from drying out.
6. Fill a wok or skillet with 1 to 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Line a steam basket with a circle of parchment paper. Place the buns 1 to 2 inches away from one another, as they will expand as they cook.
7. Working in 2 batches, steam the buns. Place 5-6 buns in the prepared steam basket and steam until the buns have expanded, 7 to 9 minutes. Serve warm.

Breakfast Bao
Yield:
12 to 14 buns

Prep Time:
30 minutes, plus cooling time
Cook Time:
20 minutes
Total Time:
50 minutes, plus cooling time

INGREDIENTS
For the Bao:
Bao dough (recipe above)
1 pound ground pork
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
2/3 cup honey (or 3/4 cup maple syrup)
2 tablespoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon water

For the gravy:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine or sherry
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
1/3 cup chicken stock, preferably home made
2 tablespoons Katsuo Nori Furikake (or 1 1/2 teaspoons togarishi)
2 teaspoons soy sauce (reduce if using canned chicken stock)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For Serving:
Fried eggs
2 medium scallions, leaves of Chinese celery, and cilantro, chopped

DIRECTIONS
1. Make the bao dough as directed in the recipe above.
2. Make the filling. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the pork while using a wooden spoon to break it into small clumps, 7 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, then add the garlic, fennel seeds, honey or maple syrup, black vinegar, soy sauce and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water together to make a slurry. Bring the pork to a simmer and pour in the slurry. Once the sauce has thickened, after about 2 to 3 minutes, remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely, or chill and skim off the congealed fat.
4. Make the bao as directed in the recipe above.
5. Meanwhile, make the gravy: In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter begin to foam, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the shaoxing wine or sherry then whisk in the warm milk slowly until the gravy has thickened slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, furikake (togarashi) and soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.
8. To serve, place the steamed bao on a plate and ladle the gravy over the bao. Top with the fried eggs and scallion mix.

banana bundt cake

DSC04485I’ve had this recipe for a coffee cake-style bundt for years. Like a coffee cake, it has a topping of nuts and sugar, and another layer of nuts and sugar in-between. I had cut the recipe out of a magazine (which tells you this was sometime before Flipboard!), yet this is the first time I got around to trying it. When I unmolded the cake, half of the sugar in the topping had caramelized and welded itself to the bottom of the pan. Ever tried to get caramelized sugar out of a pan that isn’t non-stick?! Major bother!  So this is how I discovered the recipe was untested, for what was missing from the topping was the butter. I also removed the cinnamon from the topping because I ended up with a two-tone cake; due to gravity all the cinnamon in the middle migrated to the bottom. Here it is corrected for the butter and cinnamon, and weights have been added to the measurement of ingredients where it matters most. Despite the mishaps, this is a cake with a tender crumb, lightly sweet, and nutty-crunchy with a smooth banana flavor.

Banana Bundt Cake (from a magazine which shall be nameless)

Topping
1/2 cup (118g) almonds, chopped
1/4 cup (56g) sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Cake
1/2 cup (113g) all vegetable shortening, room temperature
1 cup (225g)superfine sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup (227g) bananas; mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (123g) sour cream or plain yogurt
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven 350˚F/180˚C

Make the topping. Combine almonds, sugar, and butter; stir well, and set aside. Grease (1 tablespoon unsalted butter) and flour (1/2 tablespoon flour) 10 inch bundt pan. Use all to generously grease and flour the crevices. Tap out the excess flour.

Make the cake. Combine shortening and 1 cup sugar; cream until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time; add bananas and vanilla; fold in sour cream or yogurt.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add all at once to creamed mixture, and fold until just combined.

Sprinkle half of reserved almond mixture into bottom of prepared bundt cake pan; spoon half of batter into pan. Gently smooth the top. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon mixture over batter; spoon remaining batter into pan. Gently smooth the top. Rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.

Cake Baker’s Note: Drop dollops of topping in the pan and spread it out. Also, drop dollops of batter in the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Loosen edges of cake, if necessary. Invert cake on serving plate; serve warm or cold. Dust completely cooled cake with with powdered sugar if desired.

April 15, 2015: Here’s a picture of the cake after I adjusted for the butter in the topping and the cinnamon in the cake batter! I felt like it needed something decadent, so I poured some home made caramel sauce on the cake.

DSC04490

easy baked risotto with shrimp and sugar snap peas

DSC04484

Ina Garten’s risotto recipe gave me the idea to bake this risotto instead of standing at the stove and slowly stirring the rice after each addition of stock. It cooked up so quickly in the oven, in 30 minutes, so I quickly took it out and added the shrimp and other ingredients, including a handful of minced Chinese celery (คุณไชย). I forgot the wine but this risotto really didn’t miss it. It turned out buttery, with the crunch of the peas, the mild zing of the celery, and the fresh taste of just cooked shrimp. It’s Italian with a Chinese accent!

Easy Baked Risotto with Shrimp, Ham, and Sugar Snap Peas
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 37 minutes

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups chicken stock, preferably home made (I used 2 1/2 chicken bouillon cubes to 5 cups water)
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed, blanched 30 seconds and dunked in cold water to set the color
1 cup cooked ham, chopped into strips (optional)
1 sweet bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons Chinese celery, stems only, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the rice and 4 cups of the chicken stock in a Dutch oven that is heat-proof. Cover and bake for 30-45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente.

Remove pot from the oven, and put on stove top on medium high heat. Then add the remaining cup of chicken stock, shrimp, bell pepper, wine (if using), butter, and stir vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy and the shrimp just turns pink. Don’t overcook the shrimp!

Add the ham (if using), Chinese celery, and sugar snap peas, then stir until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

vacherin or meringue glacé with mango cream

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Don’t you just hate it when a recipe’s directions don’t tell you everything?

This is a fantastic frozen dessert called a vacherin from the French word “vache” meaning cow. I figure it means a dairy dessert. It’s like a layered pavlova sandwiched with cream. I had changed the original recipe so the execution wasn’t the prettiest dessert I have ever made. It is based on an Epicurious recipe for a vacherin using rhubarb and strawberries, and since I can’t run out to the grocery store 15,000 miles away to get them, I had to make do with mango.

Most disconcerting of all, I had to figure out what the recipe meant when the meringue disks did not dry out like a pavlova meringue when it said “firm, dry, and pale golden.” After two hours baking at 250˚F, the meringue disks were, in Nigella’s description, still very “squidgy.” What I discovered was that leaving the soft disks with the oven heat off as they cooled did indeed make the meringues firm, brittle, and eventually, very dry and light.

After layering the disks with the mango cream and freezing the whole torte for 6 hours, I ended up with a dessert that wasn’t very beautiful to look at but it was interesting: crunchy, sweet, creamy, and with a smooth mango taste throughout.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 2 hours
Resting time: 8 -12 hours

Meringues
Nonstick spray
6 egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch salt
1 cup superfine sugar (aka caster sugar)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mango Cream
3 cups fresh mango, cut into cubes (size doesn’t matter as it will be pureed)
2 tablespoons orange juice
2/3 cup superfine sugar, divided
1/4 cup water + 2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 large egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream chilled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 250˚ F/120˚C. Trace two 7-inch circles on a sheet of parchment paper and one 8 inch circle on another sheet of parchment. Place parchment tracing sides down in two baking trays.

Cake Baker’s Note: Make sure the bowl and beaters are grease free. Wipe the beaters and bowl with a damp cloth or paper towel dipped in white vinegar.

Make the meringues. In a large mixing bowl beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and salt. Beat until soft peaks form. Continue beating until smooth and glossy. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time while beating until whites turn stiff and glossy. Spoon meringue into piping bag fitted with a large plain tip. Fill each circle with meringue piped in spirals to fill three circles.

Cake Baker’s Note: Fill a piping bag with a small amount say, one-half to three-quarter cup of meringue and pipe a little bit at a time, squeezing from the top of the piping bag. After making the circle, pipe over it again to get a height of about 1 inch (about 2 cups of meringue per circle). Don’t worry if there are holes; just try to overlap each spiral and use a firm steady pressure. Use a spatula to smooth the top—and fill in those holes.

Bake meringues until firm dry and pale golden about 2 hours. Leave in the oven to cool at least 4 hours or overnight.

Cake Baker’s Note: After two hours baking in the oven, the outside will be a bit “squidgy” or soft. Do not worry. It is a meringue after all, so it will not have the crisp outer shell of a pavlova. But after four hours cooling in the oven, the meringues dried, becoming crisp and airy. Because Bangkok is so humid, I wrapped the cooled meringue disks airtight and stored them overnight in a cake tin with a tight fitting lid.

Make mango cream. In a medium saucepan combine 3 cups mango, 1/3 cup sugar, water and cornstarch mixture, and orange juice. Bring to a boil stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until mango is tender about 10-15 minutes. Purée in a food processor. Chill until cold about 1 hour.

Whisk yolks and 1/3 cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water. The bottom of the bowl mustn’t touch the water or the eggs will scramble. Whisk until mixture thickens and reaches a temperature of 140˚F on an instant read thermometer about 3-7 minutes. Chill mixture until cool about 15 minutes. Gently fold mango mixture into yolk mixture.

To a chilled mixing bowl add cream and vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks form. Fold cream into mango mixture.

Place a cooled meringue disk in the bottom of a 7-inch spring form pan. Spoon mango cream on top leaving a 2 inch border. Cover cream with the second meringue disk and cover it with mango cream. Cover that layer with the third disk. Cover the disk with the remaining mango cream, pouring any extra over the whole thing. It will look ugly but will taste heavenly. Freeze 6 hours or overnight.

When ready to eat, unmold the frozen torte, slice and eat. It has the creaminess of ice cream and the crunch of a Crunchie honeycomb candy bar.