Thursday, October 30, 2014

Classic Red Wine Sangria

As I write this entry, I am probably already tipsy. What better way to start your day than to wake up to some booze laced with your daily serving of fruits and vitamin-C? (Alright, keep moderation in mind, guys. Especially those who went to bed over booze.) Joke aside, I am ecstatic as I whip up this giant pitcher of classic Sangria because not only is it a breathtakingly glorious day out today (good weather should never be taken granted for), my long-anticipated leave is also nearing on the horizon. I may not have a travel buddy this time, so to take advantage of my week and a half off, I am considering to take up a challenge, to learn something completely new and wild - and it might just be surfing in Bali. Stay tuned for updates!

Order a glass of Sangria at a bar or restaurant, it may set you back a hefty bunch. Make it at home, and you will soon realize that this traditional Spanish favorite costs little more than the wine you choose. It requires no mixological skills - only time in the cooler to allow flavors to mingle.

Sangria is peculiarly forgiving when it comes to variations in ingredients. Add more juice or soda for a sweeter drink, go easy on the brandy, or tip in other fruits such as peaches and halved grapes. Use fresh, quality orange juice or squeeze your own, none of that concentrate crap.

People tend to think of Sangria as a summer drink, but in fact it is just as delightful any other day, at a party, weekend brunch, or a cozy candlelight dinner like tonight with close friends. One does not need a reason to celebrate with Sangria.

To prepare...
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine (I used an Australian Shiraz) 
Orange juice of two oranges, freshly squeezed (approx. 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup brandy
1 tablespoon Simple Syrup*, or more to taste (*equal parts sugar and water, heated until sugar dissolves, cooled)
1 apple, Granny Smith or Pink Lady, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces 
Orange and lemon slices
1 can of lemon-lime soda (optional)
Fresh mint sprigs

In a pitcher, combine the red wine, orange juice, brandy, simple syrup, and fruit. Stir to combine and refrigerate until drink is chilled and flavors are blended, 4 hours up to overnight. Serve over ice and garnish with sprigs of mint. Add soda if desired.
Any hour is happy hour with a pitcher of Sangria. Salud!
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Monday, October 27, 2014

Leek and Mushroom Tart

There are three things that, when swirled together in a skillet, smell absolutely heavenly. They are mushrooms, garlic, and butter. Say no more. I just hover over the stove and innn-hale.

Pair sauteed mushrooms with leek - the elegantly long, weighty cylindrical bundle of leaf sheaths, recognized by its white, yellow, and green hues and bold flavors of onion, shallots, and scallions - and you've got fireworks going off in your kitchen. Layer the ensemble on buttery, flaky pastry, dress it with gruyère or goat cheese (or even sour cream), and spruce it up with a touch of fresh thyme - and there you have a sensational tart that is sure to carry you deep into the woods into the French countryside.

Make your own pastry if you have the time and the energy; otherwise, go for puff pastry sheets like I did and practically have this delicious tart piping hot out of the oven in 40 minutes. Serve as an appetizer, a vegetarian main dish, or tote this savory tart to a holiday gathering; just be sure to grab a slice before it vanishes!

Rinse in between sheaths to remove any dirt
To prepare...
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed if frozen
2 leeks, parted in the middle and thinly sliced into half moons
1/2 lb. (227g) cremini mushroom, cleaned, stemmed, and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of butter
85g cheese of your choice (eg. crumbled goat cheese, gruyère. I used 1/3 cup of grated cheddar)
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
Fresh thyme and flat leaf parsley, chopped

1. In a skillet, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter over meduim-high heat. Briefly sauté garlic, then add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are soft and have released their juices, 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter. Add leek and sauté until softened and barely browned, about 4-5 minutes. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 200C. Place baking sheet in oven to warm up. In a small bowl, whisk together the cheese, milk, egg, and a generous pinch of pepper.

4. Roll out puff pastry on baking paper. Lightly dust pastry with all-purpose flour if too sticky. Spread the cheese mixture to within 1 inch of the edge of the dough. Cover with leek, and fold the edges of the dough over the filling to make a free-form tart.  

5. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet along with the baking paper. Bake until the crust puffs and both the crust and the leeks are golden, about 15-20 minutes. Scatter mushrooms over the leeks and bake for 5 minutes more.

Tip: Adding in mushrooms towards the end can prevent the mushrooms from drying excessively. If added in the beginning (pictured on left), lightly cover the filling with foil halfway through baking, like I did.

Sprinkle tart with thyme and parsley, serve!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Honey Roasted Pumpkin and Zesty Couscous Salad

Muggy, steamy days are finally giving way to crisp and breezy mornings. The blistering sun has softened, casting warm, glowing beams as it retires earlier each evening. Everywhere, shopfront mannequins are exchanging capris and tees for cardigans and plaids, signaling that - at long last - Fall has arrived.

In Hong Kong, Autumn is as pleasant as it is transient, no longer so much a distinct season as in the past, but more of an elusive transition into the dry, and sometimes harsh winter. With that said, fall is unquestionably my favorite season to do just about anything: taking a leisurely stroll, hitting the outdoors, having a barbecue... all without the fear of a heat stroke. Heck, even my garden plants seem to be perkier these days. 

A dear friend currently positioned in Saudi Arabia was in town last week and I promised to throw a cozy dinner party for three. Planning a dinner menu is like composing an orchestra: how does each dish flow with one another? What is the sequence of preparation? I needed a substantial salad cum starch that is at once guilt-free, easy to make, and most importantly can be made ahead of time.

With fall and Halloween around the corner comes a plethora of pumpkins big and small, ready to either be carved or thrown into an oven. A rudimentary survey of my pantry has me rounding up a basket of seemingly incongruous ingredients: a box of couscous, some oranges, and an assortment of dried berries and nuts. Surely with a little creativity these can turn into an amazing salad. 

Some simple web-surfing quickly captures my attention on a fascinating recipe that laces them all with accents of aromatic herbs and zesty orange. With a little tweak and some simplifications, the result is an explosion of bold flavors and a tantalizing palette of colors. So delightful and captivating it is with its combination of berries, pecans, and the perfumes of orange, it is like a little bit of Thanksgiving and Christmas, summer and fall all in one! Makes a wonderful side for fish and poultry, and definitely Thanksgiving-worthy.

To prepare...
600g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2 cm cubes
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 - 1 cup couscous
A large handful of dried cranberries and currants
Orange zest of one small orange
2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves (optional)
1 bunch of fresh mint leaves
1 bunch of fresh coriander leaves
1/4 cup chopped pecan nuts, toasted

Dressed in honey and olive oil, heading for the oven
1. Preheat oven to 180/200C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. In a large bowl, toss pumpkin with honey and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in a single layer on prepared tray. Bake for 20 to 25 min until caramelized and tender.

2. In the same bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons orange juice and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place couscous, cranberries, currants, and half of the orange zest in a large heatproof bowl. Place water, remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice, salt, and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. (Alternatively, mix orange juice with 2/3 cup chicken stock)

4. Pour over mixture and cover bowl with foil. Stand for 5 min or until liquid has been absorbed. Fluff couscous with a fork to separate grains.

5. Add pumpkin, mint, coriander, nuts, and orange dressing to couscous mixture. Gently toss to combine and garnish with remaining zest. Enjoy warm or at room temperature!

Note: if making ahead of time, leave herbs, dressing, and nuts until just before serving.

Adapted from Claire Brookman's recipe on Super Food Ideas
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

100 Likes on Facebook Today!

It's super flaky!
"Alvin's Penthouse Kitchen" on Facebook has reached a milestone of 100 Likes today!!! Just one more reason to celebrate at tonight's 4-course dinner with visiting friends! Thank you everyone, dear friends and home cooks, for your support, I will keep up the effort and bring you more and more yummy home cooked recipes!! Stay tuned for upcoming entries for tonight's menu... coming soon! 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cantonese Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice

All eyes fell upon Hong Kong in the preceding weeks as students and the public took it to the streets in an escalating rally calling for democracy and the ousting of the territory's incumbent Chief Executive C.Y. Leung. Few have foreseen the evolution of a movement that originated as a peaceful student-initiated sit-in; many were taken by surprise by the widespread coverage of the events in global media.

As the city fights for democracy, embracing and warding Hong Kong's hallmark freedom of speech and press, it is only apropos to feature a Cantonese classic - "workingman's fare" as some may call it - to honor those who are wholeheartedly urging for change, as well as those who are working diligently to keep the city in order.

"Salted fish and chicken fried rice (鹹魚雞粒炒飯)" - needless to say, is an inexpensive, savory local cha chaan teng favorite meal all-in-one. As for our non-Asian friends who are turned off by now by the thought of funky... salted fish? Hang on! Or you will seriously be missing out.

Now, there is a little twist and a little tweak that I threw in to make this easy cha chaan teng staple this much easier and approachable for the busy home cook. In place of the usual cubed chicken thigh, I call for minced chicken that will save you loads of time from dicing and cooking raw chicken. Can't find salted fish? Substitute it with anchovy fillets (or even anchovy paste that comes in a tube), which is what I did. Rest assured the flavor is spot on and will have you asking for more. Use iceberg lettuce (the norm) and chopped spring onions as you please. I used organic garlic shoots for ease of preparation and storage.

To prepare...
3-4 cups cooked rice, ideally leftovers refrigerated overnight
150g minced chicken
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 anchovy fillets
6 stalks garlic shoot, chopped
(or 2 cups finely shredded lettuce)
1 garlic clove, minced
Handful of spring onion, chopped (optional)

Marinade for chicken:
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
A dash of white pepper

1. Marinate chicken for minimum 15 mins.

2. In a wok, heat oil on very high heat, stir-fry rice until rice begins to take on color and becomes fragrant. Break any clumps. Rice should not be sticky. This is an important step that makes a huge difference. Set aside.

3. In the same wok, heat oil, add garlic, and minced chicken, stir-frying rapidly for even cooking and to avoid clumps. Add garlic shoots (if using) and anchovy and stir-fry till the heady aroma hits the air. Set aside.

Take a moment picturing yourself at a raging firestove tossing the wok like a chef!

4. On medium heat, pour beaten egg into the wok, gently stir and swirl until half cooked. Fold in rice, then add the chicken and anchovy and stir-fry everything together, for another minute. Season with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine or white pepper to taste. Finally, add the lettuce and spring onion (if using) and give it a final stir. Serve hot on a platter or in bowls!

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