Browned, and So Tender

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I haven’t come across any memorable descriptions of food in my recent reading so I thought I’d post the Ingalls family’s blackbird supper froom Little Town on the Prairie.

Pa’s corn crop is attacked by blackbirds, but Ma won’t be beaten:

[Ma] opened the oven door, and took out the tin milk pan. It was full of something covered thickly over with delicately browned biscuit crust. She set it before Pa and he looked at it amazed. ‘Chicken pie!’

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‘Sing a song of sixpence–‘ said Ma.

Laura went on from there, and so did Carrie and Ma and even Grace.

‘A pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds,

Baked in a pie!

When the pie was opened

The birds began to sing.

Was not that a dainty dish

To set before the king?’

‘Well, I’ll be switched!’ said Pa. He cut into the pie’s crust with a big spoon, and turned over a big chunk of it onto a plate.. The underside was steamed and fluffy. Over it he poured spoonfuls of thin brown gravy, and beside it he laid half a blackbird, browned and so tender that the meat was slipping from the bones. He handed that first plate across the table to Ma.

The scent of that opened pie was making all their mouths water so that they had to swallow again and again while they waited for their portions, and under the table the kitty curved against their legs, her hungry purring running into anxious miaows.

‘The pan held twelve birds,’ said Ma. ‘Just two apiece, but one is all that Grace can possibly eat, so that leaves three for you, Charles.’

‘It takes you think up a chicken pie, a year before there’s chickens to make it with,’ Pa said. He ate a mouthful and said, ‘This beats a chicken pie all hollow.’

They all agreed that blackbird pie was even better than chicken pie. There were, besides, new potatoes and peas, and sliced cucumbers, and young boiled carrots that Ma had thinned from the rows, and creamy cottage cheese. And the day was not even Sunday. As long as the blackbirds lasted, and the garden was green, they could eat like this every day.

Makes me hungry for some blackbird chicken pie!

Say Ahhh …

For a change, something from a graphic novel.

Uncomfortably Happily is comic book artist Yeoh-Sik Hong’s memoir of the two years he and his wife spent living in the countryside.

With pristine forests and clear mountain streams at their doorstep, the pair spend a lot of time outdoors, including having picnics and campfire barbecues. Often they are broke and can’t afford to eat much more than vegetables or even plain rice, but sometimes they treat themselves …

 

These next six pages are near the end of the book and the couple’s pet cats and dog join in the fun. Even if it didn’t happen exactly this way, Hong’s depiction of the couple and their pets bonding over delicious food and drink feels spot on.

Stop, You’re Making Me Hungry!

fat1I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, based on the book of the same name and hosted by its author Samin Nosrat. It’s one of those inspiring cooking documentaries that makes you want to rush into the kitchen and start taking food seriously. Samin Nosrat is a delight — funny, warm, passionate. Her enthusiasm about food is infectious.

I am now also reading the book and here is an excerpt, about fat. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learnt from Nosrat about the ‘four elements of good cooking’ and trying some of the recipes too.

(The book is beautifully illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton.)

Used as a main ingredient , fat will significantly affect a dish. Often, it’s
both a source both of rich flavor and of a particular desired texture. For
example, fat ground into a burger will render as it cooks, basting the meat
from within and contributing to juciness. Butter inhibits the proteins in flour
from developing, yielding tender and flaky textures in a pastry. Olive oil
contributes both a light, grassy flavor and a rich texture to pesto. The amount
of cream and egg yolks in an ice cream determine just how smooth and
decadent it’ll be (hint: the more cream and eggs, the creamier the result).
The role fat plays as a cooking medium is perhaps its most impressive and
unique. Cooking fats can be heated to extreme temperatures, allowing the
surface temperature of foods cooked in them to climb to astonishing heights
as well. In the process, these foods become golden brown and develop the
crisp crusts that so please our palates. Any fat you heat to cook food can be
described as a medium, whether it’s the peanut oil in which you fry chicken,
the butter you use to sauté spring vegetables, or the olive oil in which you
poach tuna.

Certain fats can also be used as seasoning to adjust flavor or enrich the
texture of a dish just before serving: a few drops of toasted sesame oil will
deepen the flavors in a bowl of rice, a dollop of sour cream will offer silky
richness to a cup of soup, a little mayonnaise spread on a BLT will increase
its succulence, and a smear of cultured butter on a piece of crusty bread will
add untold richness.

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From Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat.

Tofu in an Earthenware Pot

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I have been reading Hiromi Kawakami’s fiction and came across the following description of yudofu in the novel Strange Weather in Tokyo. Such a simple dish, but so delicious and comforting. Reading it, I craved some simple tofu, drizzled with soy sauce and fresh onion oil, then sprinkled with finely chopped spring onion and deep fried shallots.

On the third day of the new year, when my brother and his family had
gone out for a round of well-wishing, my mother made me yudofu for lunch.
Yudofu had always been one of my favorite dishes. It’s not the kind of thing
children usually like but, even before I started elementary school, I loved my
mother’s yudofu. In a small cup she mixes saké with soy sauce, sprinkling it
with freshly shaved bonito, and then warms the cup along with the tofu in an
earthenware pot. When it’s hot enough, she opens the lid of the pot and a
thick cloud of steam escapes. She heats the whole block of tofu without
cutting it, so I can then ravage the firm cotton tofu with the tips of my
chopsticks. It’s no good unless you use tofu from the corner tofu shop, and
they always reopen on the third, my mother chatted away as she cheerfully
prepared the yudofu for me.

It’s delicious, I said.

My mother replied with obvious pleasure, You’ve always loved yudofu,
haven’t you?

I can never seem to make it the same way.

That’s because you use different tofu. They don’t sell this kind of tofu over
where you live, Tsukiko, do they?

After that, my mother fell silent. I was quiet too. Without speaking, I
demolished the yudofu, dousing it with the saké soy sauce as I ate.

A Mellow, Sweet Taste Unfurled

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I was recently in Singapore for six days and it’s taken me more than a week to catch up with life and start blogging again.

Whenever I’m in Singapore I eat dry fishball noodles or mince pork noodles. It tastes much better there than it does here. (I’m sure this declaration will send most Malaysians into a rage, but, on the whole, I prefer Singaporean food to Malaysian food. Or maybe it’s my home state, Johor’s food I remember and love, and Singapore is close enough to Johor for its food to be similar, while KL is a totally different world.)

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When in Singapore I also try to have coffee and kaya toast at Yakun. It’s a chain, but the toast is consistently well made at all its outlets, as far as I can tell. This time round, my best friend Jenny (She’s Singaporean) and I had Saturday breakfast at the Yakun at Fortune Centre on Middle Road. We had kaya and butter toast as well as buttered toast sprinkled with sugar. We drank kopi C kosong, which is sugarless coffee with evaporated milk.

I haven’t had good kaya toast in KL so I look forward to my visits to Yakun in Singapore. I wonder if anyone has described this traditional kopi tiam breakfast (coffee and kaya toast) in a book.Read More »