January 14, 2012

Elves in my kitchen day 2: eating non-stop

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I woke up this morning to the sound of something being slammed against a hard surface.  Thwack!  Thwack!  I opened the bedroom door and found Dyson 2000 hard at work, working one-handed on some dough.  I guess we'd be having some homemade bread for breakfast!

When I returned from voting in the presidential election, there were 3 little piles of dough in my oven, and the fragrance started the disperse through my kitchen to the rest of the apartment.  We could already see the large air bubbles...

The brioches were sent back to the oven a second time after glazing, and re-emerged with beautiful brown tops.

The cross section reveals the beautiful texture, which Dyson 2000 attributes to doing it "the old fashioned way" by hand instead of using an electric mixer.  Light and airy.  Yum.  I broke out a jar of my Pierre Hermé / Christine Ferber Ispahan confiture for this, and poured everyone  a glass of sweet soya milk.

The parental units came over and continued the prep work for today's syllabus.  As it was lunch time, I decided to take my guests out for more local food.  We strolled around the Yongkang Street (永康街) area and finally settled on Yongkang Shaved Noodles (永康刀削麵), as both J and Dyson 2000 wanted some beef noodles.

We were told that as it was kinda late, they only had 1 bowl of beef noodle left.  The owner recommended that we share 2 large bowls of noodles plus a bowl of soup.  That sounded OK to us...

The beef noodle (牛肉麵) was OK.  The noodles are shaved from a block of dough, so they are irregularly shaped.  Texture was a little chewy but I thought they had overcooked it.  Could have been better.  The beef was OK - tasting halfway between the light broth (清湯) variety and the full-flavored braised (紅燒) variety.

Zha jiang mian (炸醬麵) was OK.  I've grown up on mom's version so it's kinda tough to beat...  We also talked about the bastardized Korean version of jajangmyeon (자장면), and how I've never had a decent version - even in 5-star hotels.

I was reasonably satiated, but knew that my guests still had a long way to go.  We tried to get some rice with pork lard (豬油拌飯), but both Lu Sang (呂桑) and Sit Fun (喫飯食堂) were taking a break after regular lunch service, so we walked away empty-handed (or was it with half-empty stomachs?!)

Our next stop was Ximending (西門町), since it was on the way back to my place.  In fact I live just across the river from here.  Ji Guang Delicious Fried Chicken (繼光香香雞) was a convenient place to stop and grab some popcorn chicken.  Deep-fried meat that you poke with a sharp stick, dunked in some spices.  Mmm mmm good.

Since we're only a few steps away - accessible through a small back alley - there was no reason not to stop at Ay-Chung Rice Flour Noodle (阿宗麵線).  This is one of the most famous street food stalls in all of Taipei, and I think the ladies were impressed.  After grabbing some bubble tea, we headed back home to finish the lessons.

J had whipped up some batter for canelés, and decided to bake some even though there hasn't been enough time to age it.  So once again my oven was put to good use while mom was stir-frying on the stove and dad and I watched the vote-counting live on TV.  This was the first time for me to watch these babies during the baking process, and it was kinda cool to watch them rise out of the copper molds.  Unfortunately I didn't have any beeswax to coat the insides of the molds, so the finished products didn't pop out of the molds as easily as they should have.

Dinner time, and we all got the enjoy the fruits of the ladies' labors.  No doubt mom did the bulk of the heavy lifting, but J and Dyson 2000 both spent a lot of time sharpening their knife skills (pun intended).  We all sat down in my dining room, and used the space (and furniture) for the first proper meal since I moved in.

I wrote about mom's perfect ten (十全十美) a while ago, and our lunar new year celebrations are never without this essential dish.  Tonight my guests got a glimpse of just how much effort was needed to come up with a dish that, all too often, could be easily dismissed as just another vegetarian starter.  Try cutting up 10 different ingredients into thin shreds, stir-frying them separately, cooling down each ingredient so that they retain a crunchy texture, and gently mixing them together so that the texture of each bite is reasonably uniform.  No small feat.

Another of mom's specialties is stir-fried diced smoked chicken with green garlic (大蒜炒燻雞腿).  We tested out the quality of the smoked chicken drumsticks earlier in the week, but still ended up putting a little too much chicken in the final mix - thanks to our northern cousin whose palate is used to more salt.  The knife work that went into this dish - making sure that the chicken, winter bamboo shoots and green garlic are reduced to almost a powder - was also incredible.  Wanna see someone inhale a bowl of rice in 10 seconds?  Just add a few spoonful of this.

Finally, the one dish where only a handful of people can come close to mom... sautéed string beans with minced pork (干扁四季豆).  Most restaurants just want to get their customers out the door quick, so they never bother to take the time to ensure that the beans are in the wok for long enough to dry them out and get the flavors in.  The results speak for themselves...

We needed some exercise after all that food, so we did a shopping excursion to a few department stores around town... and eventually ended up at Eastern Ice Store (東區粉圓).  No, this ain't no secret hole-in-the-wall gem, but just about the most famous outlet in Taipei selling shaved ice.  When I brought another visitor here about a month ago, we sat in front for 45 minutes and there was never a moment without a new customer lining up to place an order... and that's in December!  I got myself some mung beans, sweet potato "balls", grass jelly and aiyu jelly (愛玉).  Looking at the way three of us inhaled the contents of our bowls, you'd think we never even had dinner...

A pretty fulfilling day, I think...

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