Green Jackfruit Confit with Fish Mint

Part eight in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a past event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or order online.

The 2020 FFS was, like almost everything else, canceled because of the pandemic, but the organization has announced a 2021 iteration of the event coming soon. At a previous show, I was introduced to Nature’s Charm canned Young Green Jackfruit Confit; in its yellow ripened form it’s one of my favorite fresh fruits, but the unripe green version also figures into a number of cuisines (particularly Southeast Asian) as a savory ingredient and is especially popular as a meat substitute among vegetarians and vegans.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I used this confit variation in a stir-fry with fresh Chinese noodles, peas, and cashews. The dish started out with caramelized onions, shallots, pressed garlic and ginger plus a paste containing dried chilies, tomato paste, and a bit of coconut milk to loosen things up. The outlier ingredient was fish mint used two ways here: julienned and sautéed with the aromatics, and fried as a garnish.


Fish mint (botanically, Houttuynia cordata) does have something of a vaguely fishy character, but that doesn’t really describe it precisely. Its common name is almost calculated to drive you away (like “mugwort”), even though it does have a toe dipped in accuracy. It’s also known as rainbow plant and chameleon plant. Better.


The jackfruit confit straight out of the can is falling-apart tender (it’s a confit, after all), not sweet in the least, and it picked up the flavor of the aromatics beautifully. I also used the seasoned oil in which it was packed as an ingredient for the sauce.


Ready to try some experiments of your own? Find Nature’s Charm Young Green Jackfruit on Amazon.com.
 
 

Vegetarian Alert

And while we’re on the subject of vegetarian meat (isn’t that an oxymoron?), I’ve concluded that Suniupai Vegetarian Beefsteak has even more possibilities for incorporating into a dish than the skewers from the previous post; I can easily see how these could figure into a stir fry. (For the record, I’m not necessarily looking for a meat substitute, just experimenting.)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Like the skewers, this “Dried Beancurd Chunk” is available in several flavors; I chose the one labeled “Cumin” and it was surprisingly delicious. I also tried the “Spicy” version and it lived up to its descriptor perfectly.


The bag contains nine foil packets (about 3" x 4"), each of which encloses a single slab (about 2" x 1¼") of pressed wannabeef with similar shredding capabilities as the skewers; they possess an unmistakably (unmisteakably?) meat-like texture, although perhaps with just a bit of processed meat chew – a little too much bounce, but I’m quibbling.


Actually, just biting into a chunk wholesale definitely misses the mark and I don’t recommend it, but shredding brings out its formidable potential. I see a Home Cookin’ post in the future.

More from the snack aisle coming up – next time: sweets!
 
 

If It Looks Like Meat, and It Shreds Like Meat, and It Chews Like Meat…

…and it’s in a Chinese supermarket snack aisle, then it probably isn’t meat.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Flushing lately reworking my local ethnojunket, so I have the freedom to wander through every single aisle in sensational supermarkets and tell myself I’m working rather than just indulging my culinary whims. I confess to being a sucker for the snack aisles at Asian supermarkets; the treats are subdivided into savory and sweet categories and frankly, it’s a bit of a gamble – some are truly remarkable and beg another bag, some, well, not so much. More about that in an upcoming post.


These diminutive wannabeef barbecute skewers fell into the former category; the two chunks impaled on each wooden stick measure about 3¼ inches taken together. The four “flavors” available on this visit were Exoticism, Passion, Enjoy, and Soar; I selected Enjoy because they were identified as spicy on the back label: “Beancurd String (Spicy Flavor)”. Aside from the incredible shreddable texture and true chew, it was sufficiently spicy to give it a pass as well-seasoned meat.


I understand that these are marketed as snacks, but I’m inspired to incorporate them into some home cookin’. We’ll see. Of course, there are actual dried fish and meat jerkies to be found in the same aisle as well, but I’ll save those for another post.

More Flushing snacks to come. Stay tuned.
 
 

Shrimp Patia – Masala Mama

Part seven in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a past event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or order online.

The 2020 FFS was, like almost everything else, canceled because of the pandemic, but the organization has announced a 2021 iteration of the event coming soon. At the last show I attended, I was pleased to see the folks from Masala Mama and their Organic Spice Kit for Shrimp Patia, one of those Indian dishes that’s so delicious but so labor intensive.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Unlike many of the curries you find on local Indian restaurants’ menus, shrimp patia is a spicy, sweet and sour dish that has roots in ancient Persia. It’s based on tomatoes (whole, paste, or puree) for umami, gets is sour component from tamarind, lemon, or lime, its heat from red chilies, its sweetness from a touch of jaggery (brown sugar), and a variety of herbs and spices which are found in this handy packet.

It’s a sauce that accompanies shellfish, chicken, lamb, or even paneer equally well. And it’s also a pain to prepare. But Masala Mama makes hunting down and measuring out the spice component easy and the dish tasted like it came from a restaurant. (The rice and parathas are my own.)

They’ve also got a line of jarred sauces – even easier! Check out their website, masalamamafoods.com, to shop online and see what they’re up to now.
 
 

Cremature Judgment

The stretch of 5th Avenue between about 38th and 59th Streets in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park is a mecca for Mexican, Central and South American food (at the risk of mixing my geographic meccaphors).

My plan had been to do a definitive roundup of the varieties of crema to be found there but as Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” Each time I set about composing the post, some new question popped up that warranted an investigation and prompted another trip back to Sunset Park: I had to stop somewhere even if I hadn’t evaluated everything there was to evaluate. So rather than an exhaustive report (because it would be exhausting to write and even more so to read), I offer these tasting notes perhaps prematurely.

I’m going to assume that you are already familiar with crema and when you run across a Mexican recipe on the interwebs that calls for sour cream, you raise an eyebrow, question its authenticity, and wonder if the result will taste pretty much like the real deal, particularly if the next ingredient is Velveeta.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Any well-stocked supermarket around these parts is likely to have a least one brand of crema, usually Mexican style and often Tropical brand. Note that Tropical refers to its product as “cultured sour cream”; I don’t know if that’s an actual distinction or just a clarification for the American marketplace. If you see it, try it; in the vernacular of cybershorthand, IMHO any crema > any sour cream. But if you want to take a deeper dive, and you should, it’s easy to find Quesos La Ricura brand and others in Latin American neighborhoods.

The difference between these two brands of Crema Mexicana is both significant and subjective: for starters, Tropical is saltier. Regarding texture: I could be wrong but I find a lot of dairy products (including yogurt) seem to have upped the ante these days on guar gum content; it’s a stabilizing and thickening agent made from guar beans and imparts a viscous, not quite sticky quality to whatever it “enriches” but doesn’t affect the flavor. (Note that all of the brands I sampled for this post use gums of one kind or another. So does your favorite ice cream.) In this case, Tropical is thicker but gummier and, based on my experience, enjoys a longer shelf life than Quesos La Ricura, enough to make me speculate about the fingerprint of higher guar gum content. Tasted good though.


But Mexican crema only begins to plumb the depths; here are examples of Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan cremas as well to champion their own rendition of this (literally) crowning achievement, each proudly displaying its flag and crowing “para el gusto de nuestros pueblos”. Gotta love it.

The nutritional info on the back of the jars as well as the ingredients listed on the front are identical; the color variations run from Honduran ivory though Guatemalan then Salvadoran and finally to Mexican snow-white.

Texture notes: Mexican and Honduran were the thinnest. Guatemalan is the heaviest, more like a hybrid of sour cream and crème fraîche.

Flavor notes: Among the four, Salvadoran was rich, salt level just right, and a little sweet (my fave if you must know); Mexican was saltiest; Honduran was salty and a little more acidic, perhaps with barely a hint of cheesiness; and Guatemalan was less tart/tangy than the others. In general, the Central American versions were a bit nuttier and richer than their Mexican counterparts.

But bear in mind that these are fine grades of distinction; YMMV based on your own personal taste and the age of the product. Age of the product? Read on….

Now, originally I thought that Guatemalan had a slight cheesy funkiness to it – but was it “on the edge”? So I went back to Sunset Park (one example of what I meant by new wrinkles hindering me from finishing this post) and bought another jar of the same brand (the one evaluated but not photographed here). Curiously, this time it was in a shorter jar like the others and topped with a white cap. Was the first one past its prime? I used it well before its sell-by date. I’ve decided that those dates should be taken with a grain of salt (ahem); technically, these all still have a month to go but I know there’s no way they’re all going to survive that long. Is it this particular brand or the store’s handling of it? We’ll never know. But don’t let that deter you: get one with a distant sell-by date and you’ll most likely be fine.

Also be aware that the variations from brand to brand are almost more important than their national styles. But in general, cremas are all richer and runnier than sour cream and that’s really what you’re after, especially if you’re not doing an OCD A/B comparison.

And I won’t even begin to talk about the commercial products that come in plastic bags, or even better, unlabeled plastic bags in the dairy case – that’s the housemade stuff and usually worth getting.

But now, a problem has emerged: What am I supposed to do with all this crema in the fridge? Expect to see some home cooking where I’ve swapped it in for sour cream, yogurt, crème fraîche or even buttermilk.
 
 
But if you see me putting it in my coffee…send help.
 
 

Crispy Prawn Chilli

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

At least that’s the way that Heng’s spells it on their label, and orthography notwithstanding, this stuff is outrageous.

On a recent visit to a market in Sunset Park’s Chinatown as I was ogling the infinitely many sauces and condiments, I couldn’t help but spot this product with its flashy reflective gold label. I suspected it might be a fishy requisite that could take its place beside the jumbo jar of spicy chili crisp in the fridge and I was not disappointed.

Remember when you first heard about sriracha and soon began dousing everything in sight with it – until you heard about spicy chili crisp and started slathering everything in sight with that? That’s where I’m at with Crispy Prawn Chilli now: I’ve even incorporated it into a dressing for seafood salad. There are other brands, of course (it’s not a new creation) just as Laoganma has its challengers in the spicy chili crisp division and Huy Fong has among sriracha rivals; Heng’s is a product of Malaysia.

The label lists its main ingredients as soybean oil, chilli, shallot, garlic, dried shrimp, sugar and salt; it’s spicy but not overly so, crispy and shrimpy, and can be used as a condiment at the table or in a stir fry as in this hastily flung together dish. For its maiden voyage, I decided to do a stir fry with Chinese cauliflower and peanuts to ensure that the prawn flavor wouldn’t compete with another protein in future applications, but now that I’ve experimented with it, I don’t think it would present a problem any more than fish sauce turns a dish “fishy”. Got a little delicate brown char on the cauliflower which played well with the crunch of the peanuts and the crispness of the prawn chili.


The verdict: delicious!

It’s also available in Fish and Cuttlefish versions, so now it’s back to Chinatown to sample its mates. (As if I needed an excuse. 😉)

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Angkor Cambodian Food

Part six in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a recent event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or even order online.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Chrouk Metae Paik Kouk (Spicy Jicama Slaw)

Saich Ko Chrawkak (Beef on a Stick)

If you live in an area where Cambodian food is not well represented (and that’s true even here in New York City) and you’re interested in doing a little quick and easy (yes, really) Cambodian home cooking, these are the products for you. At last year’s Fancy Food Show, I met Channy Chhi Laux, the founder of Angkor Cambodian Food, a San Francisco based company that specializes in authentic Cambodian spices, pastes and sauces and had a delightful conversation with her about her company and her personal history.

Those of you who follow me know that I’m an avid home cook with a focus on international cuisine, so I knew I had to try Channy’s products and she provided me with jars of Chrouk Metae (Cambodian Hot Sauce) and Lemongrass Paste (Kroeung). The photos above are the results of my experiments, and I can tell you that they were simple to prepare and tasted as good as they look.

You can get the recipes and order these (and more) ingredients on their website, https://www.angkorfood.com. And while you’re there, be sure to read the remarkable story of Channy’s life as a thirteen year old survivor of Cambodian genocide and her subsequent emigration to the United States.


 
 

An Eggnog Excursus

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That time when folks dust off words like ’tis and ’twas as Bing Crosby croons creaky, arthritic chestnuts with inscrutable lyrics like “Christmas is a-comin’ and the egg is in the nog….”

That one always baffled me. I mean, what else would be in the “nog”?

There is vigorous unresolved debate over the etymology of the word “eggnog” (or phrase “egg nog”, if you prefer), proof that anything so resplendent is worthy of detailed analysis and ultimately obsession. Investigation harkens back to the late 1600s and hypotheses range from the term for a strong ale or possibly the wooden mug it was served in to a scrambled portmanteau of colonial argot, “grog” (rum) and “noggin” (mug). Eggs and dairy never even entered the picture (or perhaps, in this case, the pitcher). A libation did exist, however, called “posset” that was prepared with alcohol, milk, spices, and sometimes eggs, quaffed by the Brits during medieval times, that persisted for centuries. The recipe underwent refinement (as all worthy recipes do) and was surely the forerunner of today’s glorious elixir.

Inevitably, there are those who refuse to be satisfied until they’ve added a little something extra to the standard issue brew: down south, eggnog is often spiked with bourbon, not to mention Southern Comfort, but sherry, brandy, cognac, whiskey, rum, and grain alcohol, individually or in combination, have all managed to stagger into America’s punch bowl. Of course, this wouldn’t be an ethnojunkie post without at least a nod to international mixology, so from Wikipedia: “Eggnog is called coquito in Puerto Rico, where rum and fresh coconut juice or coconut milk are used in its preparation. Mexican eggnog, also known as rompope, was developed in Santa Clara. It differs from regular eggnog in its use of Mexican cinnamon and rum or grain alcohol. In Peru, eggnog is called biblia con pisco, and it is made with a Peruvian pomace brandy called pisco. German eggnog, called biersuppe, is made with beer and eierpunsch is a German version of eggnog made with white wine, eggs, sugar, cloves, tea, lemon or lime juice and cinnamon.” The list goes on. (Speaking of far away places with strange sounding names for things, I have to admit a certain fondness for the French spin on the word for eggnog, lait de poule – hen’s milk.)

All of which raises the question of whether I favor mixing eggnog with alcohol. I was afraid you’d ask. My personal observation is that it’s a waste of good booze and a waste of good eggnog. Unless of course it’s homemade (the nog, not the hooch) but that’s a nag of a different color. This post is about commercial eggnogs, and we’re only considering dairy based entries at that – not soy, rice, coconut, or almond milk nor lactose-free rivals – simply because there would undoubtedly be winners and losers among those categories which would eventually be pitted against “the real deal” and that would only serve to complicate comparisons.

If you’ve read me, you know that I have a few (ha!) guilty pleasures when it comes to holiday food, and for me, nothing heralds the advent of the season like the first appearance of eggnog on supermarket shelves. And snatching it away precipitately as they do every year when the yule log’s embers have barely begun to evanesce only makes the anticipation and craving for next year’s batch more intense.

But which one(s) to buy? Fret not. I and my OCD are here to offer you the benefits of my research and experimentation regarding this happy holiday quandary.

You probably know that flavor variations among brands of eggnog aren’t like those of milk – milk tastes pretty much like milk regardless of the purveyor (there are nuances but they’re not worth considering in this context). The dissimilarities among brands of eggnog, however, are cosmic by comparison; they may as well be different beverages. And to complicate things, a few brands taste radically different from year to year. (My theory is that there is some sort of practice among smaller dairies where they acquire the flavor base from a third party source and blend it with their own milk, but sometimes, for whatever reason, the base changes – perhaps it’s sourced from an alternate supplier, perhaps it’s a mandated change in recipe – hence the extreme annual variance within a single brand. It’s all about that base.) Note also that some brands are local and unique while others are the regional offspring of a national food company that may provide the same product under varying names (see the Garelick and Tuscan cartons above, both brought to you by Dean Foods).

Having read dozens of reviews, I find it fascinating that there is absolutely no critical agreement as to which commercial eggnog tastes best; one reviewer’s nectar of the gods is another’s paint thinner, so it is evident that eggnog’s charms are very much in the mouth of the beholder. My own memories of the bewitching flavor of the Ethereal Eggnog of My Youth remain vivid to this day and are the genesis of the impassioned quest I am about to share with you. But even if you disagree with my personal preferences, you’ll be able to make use of the template I’ve devised in order to develop the ultimate eggnog of your sugarplum dreams.

The Great Nog-Off Schema

The strategy is to identify significant universal eggnog characteristics and rate how each contender performs in each category. Picture a table, the kind that folks use Excel spreadsheets for even though there are no numbers to crunch but that are ideal for sorting data. Headers across the first row are Brand, Vintage, Body, Creaminess, Artificial/Natural, Flavor Notes, Finish, Special Features, Comments, and Overall Rating. Let’s examine each:

• Brand – seems obvious, but might include subtitles like Hood’s brood of Golden, Caramel, Cinnamon, Sugar Cookie, Pumpkin Pie, and Vanilla flavors; the single column simplifies sorting.

• Vintage – the year you’re evaluating. This is useful for two reasons: Tracking by year can identify certain brands that vary annually. For example, in 2008 (yeah, I’ve been at this for a while), Farmland was running well but then for a few years it had drifted to the middle of the pack; happily, in 2018 it hit its stride again. It’s like waiting for this year’s vintage Beaujolais Nouveau to appear: Le 2018 Farmland Lait de Poule est arrivé! And some unpredictability can be welcome; after all, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some surprises. Farmland actually comes in handy, as you’ll see later.

The second reason is that some brands never change and that’s a good thing because it can make life easier. For example, in 2014, I sampled (and had unsurprisingly forgotten about) International Delight and observed that the flavor notes included Butter Rum Lifesavers (not in my nog, thank you very much). Then in 2017, I inadvertently bought it again and my butter rum flavor notes were identical to those from three years earlier. Since my comments ran along the lines of “worst ever”, “the word ‘egg’ never even appears on the label nor in the ingredients list so no surprise there”, and so forth, it’s obvious that I’ll never need to carry that brand home again. See? Makes life easier.

• Body – rated on a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is thinnest and 5 is thickest. You might not care for a super thick eggnog (or the yellow mustache that accompanies it), so maybe a 4 in this category beats a 5 for you, but it certainly shouldn’t be a 1, otherwise you’re just drinking eggnog flavored milk and what’s the point of that? But it’s all a matter of taste, as is everything in this post.

• Creaminess – different from body, this is about mouthfeel where 1 may very well be thick but not at all creamy (think Pepto-Bismol) and 5 coats your mouth with dairy cream.

• The Artificial/Natural continuum – where 1 denotes dominant artificial flavoring (usually ester-based) and 5 tastes like someone made it at home using only eggs, dairy products and sugar. Appreciation of this trait is idiosyncratic. Personally, I’m trying to recapture the Magical Eggnog of My Kidhood and that one had just a wee dram of that ester component. To understand them, you first need to know that there are many flavors derived from ester compounds. You’ll find them in artificial flavors of every stripe but probably the most universally recognized example I can describe is that artificial banana-y flavor of Circus Peanuts, those orange, oversized-peanut-shaped, marshmallowy candies that are an affront to the tastebuds of anyone over the age of five. That’s only one kind of ester (isoamyl acetate, C7H14O2, for my fellow science geeks out there) but there’s a common combination that screams “Eggnog!” to anyone whose tongue is half listening. I’m searching for just a soupçon of that in my nog.

• Flavor Notes – for example, descriptors like eggy, nutmeggy, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, carrageenan (a thickener often found in commercial rice puddings and a flavor easy to recognize once you’ve experienced it), cooked, nutty, or sugary sweet.

• Finish – you oenophiles will grok this. A food’s aftertaste is often different from its flavor (think artichokes) and it’s connected to whatever remains on your tongue plus the sense memory that you’re left with after taking a sip. I once had some eggnog that was sort of okay in the mouth but whose aftertaste was downright chalky. I’ve found that a few organic brands have a “grassy” finish.

• Special Features – categories like organic, lite (whatever that means), and if you must, soy/nut/coconut-based, lactose free, etc. This is the column in which I noted that SoCo actually provides instructions on its label, admitting, “Preparation: Mix with Southern Comfort” so perhaps it’s intended to work optimally in that application – as a mixer, not a beverage – since I don’t care for it as a virgin standalone. Again, that’s just me; YMMV.

• Comments – have fun with it. One eggnog I tasted (which will go nameless) inspired me to write, “tastes the way my parents’ plastic slipcovers used to smell when I was a kid.”

• Overall Rating – where 1 is worst and 5 is best. Do not confuse this with an average of any numerical ratings you may have assigned. Think of it as how many stars out of five you’d give the product.

Now as you buy particular brands of eggnog (I’ve been through dozens of brands and vintages), fill in the cells in the table. I recommend using a blind taste test form listing the aforementioned categories so that you’re not haunted by ghosts from Christmas past in the row above competing for your attention, but you don’t have to. (I did warn you that this was an OCD undertaking, right?)

So you’ve collected a mountain of data but how do you use it? Surely there is no such thing as the perfect commercial eggnog as the lack of consensus among reviewers would suggest. I find those beverages always lacking in one dimension or another and that’s where this chart comes into play. The best way I can demonstrate its application is to show you how I’ve implemented the information to recreate the taste of my Childhood Enchanted Eggnog.

In 2017, Ronnybrook Farm Dairy’s eggnog was pretty darned delicious straight out of the (deposit) bottle (I gave it a 4.5 overall) and if you wanted to just buy one brand without all this folderol (or falalalalalderol perhaps) it would have topped the list, but its carrageenan and guar gum levels make it a little thicker (rated 5 for body) than the Nog of My Dreams. That’s where a solid middle of the road eggnog like that year’s Farmland (3.5 overall) comes into play. Farmland is a journeyman level nog, modest and nicely balanced in terms of flavor, and coming in at 3.5 on the body scale is the perfect addition to mitigate Ronnybrook’s viscosity while not overpowering its essence. But when I cut Ronnybrook with it, an ineffable characteristic was missing. Another sip. Ah, the ester component, of course – which was ultimately provided by Turkey Hill. Turkey Hill scored a 1 on my artificial/natural scale (way too estery for me) but a dollop of it added to the Ronnybrook/Farmland mix was all the recipe needed. Three parts Ronnybrook to two parts Farmland plus a good glug of Turkey Hill was the ratio I formulated. (Don’t forget to garnish with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg!)

Another time, when I couldn’t locate Farmland for my attenuation purposes, I was able to procure Cream-O-Land (whose slogan used to be “Made From Real Cows” before some marketing guru thought the wiser of it). That year’s batch was okay but nothing special (rated 3 overall), certainly not horrible, but its 2.5 score for body indicated that it could provide the tempering influence that was called for. Since Cream-O-Land is more artificial tasting than Farmland, bringing Turkey Hill into the lineup was unnecessary.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about 2018’s trials, Ronnybrook has lost a bit of its luster; a 50-50 blend of that and Trader Joe’s was rather good. And oddly, a 50-50 blend of over the top Turkey Hill and under the radar Cream-O-Land was a hit as well.

So there you have it. Yes, I concede that this venture involves imbibing an ocean of eggnog and ignoring a volcano of calories. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Needless to say, you shouldn’t feel that you need to slavishly follow my recipe proportions or recommendations. The takeaway here is for you to identify the special characteristics you’re seeking in the eggnog of your fantasies, and piloted by a little R&D as you navigate the nogosphere, come up with your own bespoke, personalized blend.

Incidentally, recounting your saga comes with the delicious bonus of dumbfounding your discriminating foodie friends.

And perhaps your therapist. 😉
 
 
Happy Holidays!
 
 

Fusilli alla Canapa Bio

Instagram Post 8/6/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Dear friends returned from a trip to Italy bearing this gift: Fusilli alla Canapa Bio. Canapa? My Italian may be a little rusty but I was pretty sure canapa means cannabis. My thoughts immediately went to making a big pot of “pot pasta”, perhaps even developing a recipe called Pollo alla Canapa – you know, pot in every chicken – until I read the label a little more closely. This was organic hemp fusilli – 20% hemp seed flour, 80% organic durum wheat semolina. It tasted very much like whole wheat high fiber pasta – the only thing “high” about it. Not sure if the wheat was stone ground. And in case you’re curious, it did not cause the munchies.

Bummer.
 
 

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of…Fish?

You’ve undoubtedly seen these if you shop at Asian markets whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Southeast Asian because they’re a favorite everywhere in that part of the world. (Scandinavia has its own variant, but we’re not going to venture that far north this time.) There are even fish cake emoji like 🍥 (narutomaki) and 🍢 (oden). In local Asian markets, you’ll find fish balls and fish cakes in the freezer case packaged in bags or plastic wrapped in a small tray, but if you’re lucky they’ll also have bins of loose assorted varieties where you can cherry-pick as many or as few of whichever ones suit your fancy – my style of shopping, of course.

At their most basic, fish balls are made of fish paste: finely ground fish (pulverized and pounded), egg white, starch, plus a little seasoning. You may have also encountered fish paste as Japanese surimi which is used to make imitation shellfish like the crab stick you see in those ubiquitous California rolls. Incidentally, you can often purchase a few types of fish paste by the pound at the larger markets in the fresh fish/meat department. These are generally the stores’ own blends and are worth trying, but they’re easier to work with as filling for a dumpling or stuffing a vegetable, dim sum style, rather than for rolling your own fish balls, so I strongly recommend getting the ready-to-go frozen ones as an entry level fishy requisite.

Anyway, I was shopping at Jmart (136-20 Roosevelt Avenue in the New World Mall in Flushing, Queens) and fortuitously happened upon one such bin – fortuitously because I had just made a savory Chinese duck soup from a pair of carcasses that contributed their meat to a Thai duck salad I crafted and I had been trying to decide whether to put noodles or dumplings in it. This bounty made the choice easy – and now I had the perfect excuse to buy a few of each kind.

It’s difficult to rate them on some sort of 1 to 10 scale because they’re all quite good but the cuttlefish balls and all of the filled varieties were especially tasty; the shrimp ball filled with pork and sea cucumber and the fish ball with pork filling were excellent. By way of identification, from left to right in the photo above:

Row 1: shrimp ball, fish tofu, imitation lobster ball, Chinese brand mini bite sausage

Row 2: beef tendon ball, fish dumpling with lobster flavored filling, fish ball with fish roe filling, cuttlefish ball

Row 3: fish tofu with shrimp filling, fish ball with pork filling, pork and chicken patty ball with pork filling, shrimp ball filled with pork and sea cucumber

Preparing them is a piece of cake (no, not fish cake) because they’re already cooked. The easiest method is to simply drop them into boiling soup/water; they’ll float to the top when they’re good to go. Alternatively, they can be fried and served with just about any Asian dipping sauce; you’ll find them on skewers at some food trucks, and I’ve seen them served with a curry sauce as well. Obviously, they’re incredibly versatile.

The flavor is mildly fish-like (except for the ones made from meat which are mildly beefy or mildly porky) which partly accounts for their affinity for various dipping sauces and also for their adaptability in combining with other ingredients. The texture is tender and frankly springy/bouncy, but in a happy way.

The final photo was taken just before adding more soup since it would have completely covered them up; there are some greens in there for good measure.

So I’m curious: let me know if or how you’ve used these little wonders in the “Leave a Reply” box below! (If you don’t see it, click the reply button next to the title of this post.)