christine wei

Stories on food, travel, design, media, happy endings, and other important things in life.

Baked Plums with Blueberries and Mascarpone


I first fell in love with poetry when I was in middle school. I chuckled at William Carlos Williams’ silly-sounding name, but I loved his simple and tangible words even more. The first time I read his “This Is Just to Say”  aloud, I could feel the cold deliciousness of his icebox plums rolling across my tongue with the lines I spoke.

Ever since, I’ve viewed plums somewhat romantically, as strange as that might sound. Something about this fruit makes me feel safe and warm, evoking childhood summers as treats like condensed milk do.

These simpletastic baked plums make an effortless dish that perfectly suits a nostalgic evening. Not too sweet and not too sour, it’s a just-right summer dessert. Though I prefer this dish warm, the chilled mascarpone adds a little sweetness and a touch of the icebox-coldness from that poem I love so much. 

I’m sharing the original recipe’s 4-person serving size below, though I was only able to eat two halves in one sitting. That said, the plums are also great during breakfast or for a snack and can still go pretty quickly. 

As far as substitutions go, the grocery store didn’t stock mascarpone, which is pricey anyway. Not wanting to get too fancy, I used this shortcut: 8 oz cream cheese, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 2.5 tbsp sour cream. I also added a pomegranate black currant juice instead of wine.

BAKED PLUMS WITH BLUEBERRIES AND MASCARPONE
adapted from The Golden Book of Desserts

Ingredients

  • 12 ripe plums or small nectarines
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or black currant juice
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 2 tbsp confecioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions 

Preheat the oven to 400F. Wash the plums, splitting them into halves and pitting them. Lay them flat side up in a bake-safe pan (or two) lined with aluminum foil. Rub the brown sugar in on the cut surface.

In a small dish, zap the butter in the microwave until just melted. Dip two fingers into the butter, spreading it onto the plums evenly. Don’t be afraid to apply a liberal layer. The butter should cool pretty quickly and firm up on the plums.

Drizzle wine or juice over the plums, then bake for 15 minutes. In the meantime, combine the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside and chill. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the dish with blueberries, then bake for another 5 minutes.

Let the plums cool slightly. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone and a splash of juice from the pan.

____________________________________

THIS IS JUST TO SAY
I have eaten the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast 

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold 

- William Carlos Williams

Eggless Kahlua Coffee Mousse


For some people, impulse buys tend to be candy, magazines, and other paraphernalia by the checkout counter. Me? My impulse decided to buy me a can of condensed milk at the supermarket this week.

There’s something decidedly summery about condensed milk to me. Come June, I looked forward to drenching strawberries in a big fat bowl of it when I was young. This time around, I wanted something a little more decadent (and a little more grown up). And as summer starts becoming unbearably hot, I found a perfect, chilly solution in kahlua coffee mousse.

As I’m trying to work on my presentation, I decided to dress the mousse up with some homemade whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings to boot. I’m pretty embarrassed to say that I destroyed an entire chocolate bar doing this — I kept breaking the bar into pieces because it’d become pretty soft in the weather. If you’re working under hot conditions, definitely stick your chocolate in the fridge for a bit!

Other than this seasonal snafu, this dessert was pretty painless. Just beware that condensed milk burns easily, so stir well and avoid gelatin clumps. If you don’t like sweets that are too sweet, try tweaking the milk to cream ratio.


EGGLESS KAHLUA COFFEE MOUSSE
Adapted from Gourmet’s iced coffee mousse on Epicurious 

Ingredients, for mousse

  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 cup condensed milk (sweetened)
  • 3 tsp instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Optional, for garnish

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • chocolate for shaving

To make the mousse

Leave the heavy cream in the fridge. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a sauce pan, making sure the powder is evenly distributed throughout. Let it soften for two minutes, then swirl the mixture around to minimize clumps.

Add the condensed milk and stir over low heat, until hot enough to steam. Add the coffee powder and stir quickly until it dissolves. If it’s taking a while, you can turn up the heat slightly, up to medium-low. Being patient with the condensed milk and making sure the powder doesn’t settle will help prevent burning.

Remove the pan from heat and place in it a bowl of ice water. Stir until the mixture cools and thickens. Add the Kahlua and mix evenly.

Take out the heavy cream and beat 1 cup in a separate until it holds stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whip, which will make the texture lumpy. Fold the cooled coffee mixture into the bowl evenly but gently. Spoon into glass containers and chill for 3 hours. Serve as soon as possible, since the whipped cream will start losing air.

To dress up your dessert

Right before you serve, beat the remaining 1/2 cup of cream until it holds stiff peaks. The better the peaks hold, the prettier the whipped cream will look (but again, avoid over-whipping). An electric blender is recommended.

Spoon the whipped cream into a zip loc bag, keeping the cream away from one bottom corner. Make a quarter-inch snip in that corner, then swirl the cream on top of the mousse. I spiraled mine up in circles the way one does with soft-serve cones, looping the cream as I went to create a ruffled looked.

Using a peeler, shave chocolate into the glasses. A knife also works, but shave the chocolate on a cutting board, then sprinkle over the mousse and cream. Serve proudly and enjoy.

Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) + dinner in Taipei


I’m currently visiting Taipei, Taiwan, where my parents live.

Anyone who knows their food in Asia will tell you that steamed xiao long bao (小籠包), otherwise known as soup dumplings, is a must-try. Whether you’re in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China, this dish is loved by all locals alike.

But not all xiao long baos are made equal. Ding Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), a Michelin-starred chain with many international restaurants, originated in Taiwan and is argued to have the best xiao long bao in the country. So when a friend claimed that he knew a better place, I had to see for myself.

And that’s how I ended up at Yi Ping Qiao Chu (一品巧廚) in the Tien Mu neighborhood for dinner.

Like many traditional eateries in Asia, this one provides order forms listing everything on the menu. Instead of firing dishes at the waiter, all you need to do is mark how many of each dish you’d like. Probably because Tien Mu is home to Taipei American School and Taipei Japanese School, this restaurant also has an actual menu with dish names in English as well as pictures.

Upfront, there are shelves of self-serve small dishes like bean curd and pickled veggies that are popular as appetizers (top and bottom left). We also ordered some snow pea shoots that was slightly greasy for my tastes, but this is typical of any eatery here. Though I’ve had crispier, the fried pork chop was still delicious — and the scallions certainly didn’t hurt.

I’ve had better fried rice, but this wasn’t terrible. Tien Mu just has a lot of really good fried rice. And look how cute! Only in Asia…

Now this thin-sliced pork I definitely loved. Don’t be put off by the fatty bits — it adds a deliciously chewy texture to the meat. And since it’s boiled, you could argue that the cooking method balances out on the health factor. Besides, the dipping sauce is a garlic lover’s dream. (It’s literally garlic made into dip with soy sauce.)

But enough dillydallying. On to the star of the show: so named for the juices trapped inside, soup dumplings are usually eaten in one big bite. This way, you don’t risk losing any of the “soup.” Simply dip in vinegar and soy sauce — with some ginger if that’s up your alley — and it’s a party in your mouth.

So were these at Yi Ping Qiao Chu better than the ones at Ding Tai Fung? Because I haven’t been to the latter for a long time, I don’t honestly think it’s fair to rank one restaurant above the other. But I will say that these xiao long bao sure are comparable: the meat is flavorful, the skin is soft, and broth abounds.

Whether or not it’s infinitely better, the price is definitely cheaper and the lines much, much shorter. So if you want to maximize your funds and skip the long lines, I’d vouch for these xiao long bao as a more than satisfying alternative to the world-famous chain.

And if anyone’s been to both these restaurants, please feel free to chime in on the comparison!

Brussels sprouts braised w/ bacon and apple


Bacon makes everything better…even brussels sprouts.

I found this recipe in The Bacon Cookbook during my recent bacon frenzy and really loved how beautifully all its flavors came together. For those of you who aren’t usually fans of bitter veggies, the apple does a great job of balancing out the mini cabbages. And I know bacon speaks for itself, but I wanted to sing praises for how its savory smokiness adds delicious depth to the dish anyhow.

Since it was my first time cooking brussels sprouts ever, I wanted to make sure I was doing the prep work correctly. Because the sprouts I picked up at the market were rather large, I chopped them in half and scored them according to this video below  instead of cutting Xs on the bases.

All in all, it’s a deliciously buttery dish that’s hearty enough for a rainy spring day and bright enough for the luckier days of nicer weather. Mm mm good!

Brussels Sprouts Braised with Bacon and Apple
from The Bacon Cookbook 

Ingredients

  • 1 quart fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 2 slices lean hickory-smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cooking apple, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

Remove and discard any wilted leaves from the Brussels sprouts, trim off the stems (but not too close or the sprouts will fall apart), cut an X in the base of each sprout, and set aside. 

In a large, heavy skillet (not cast-iron), fry the bacon over moderate heat till it releases its fat, add the butter to the fat, add the Brussels sprouts, and stir gently till they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the apple and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and nutmeg, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook till the sprouts are tender and the apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Gourmet Doughnuts from Zac Young @ Flex Mussels


A comfort food over two centuries old, doughnuts evoke chains America supposedly runs on more than they evoke upscale dining. But if someone’s going to glam up these globs of fried dough as gourmet sweets, it’ll be Zac Young, the dessert-loving pastry chef who proclaimed he couldn’t do anything without a deep fryer and edible glitter.

This disco dust diva might have caught your attention on Top Chef: Just Desserts last year when he cried, “Have you been snorting buttercream?!” But long before his TV appearance, Young had always favored whimsy and creative expression, whether in his language or in his pastries. Classically trained in French technique at the likes of Bouchon Bakery, Valrhona, and Chocolate Michel Cluizel, Young revealed in an interview: “I see desserts as a funny, almost irreverent pursuit…desserts are silly! Dessert is such a luxury—let’s make fun of it a little.”

And amidst many servings of traditional chocolate cakes and vanilla ice cream, Young has indeed brought an inspired twist to post-dinner indulgences in the Upper East Side since he joined Flex Mussels in 2009, most notably in the form of housemade doughnuts. Served with a side of vanilla dipping sauce, the fluffy doughnuts are coated with just the right amount of sugar for a satisfying crunch.

But more important than the plush dough and textural contrast are the tantalizing fillings like salted caramel, meyor lemon, raspberry, and fluffernutter. As a huge fan of sweet-and-savory concoctions, I instantly fell in love with the salted caramel flavor. The savory complimented the caramel and kept it from being too cloying, as all sweet treats risk. If you like your dessert tart, the lemon provided a refreshing balance to the fried dough, and lovers of all things marshmallow can’t go wrong with fluffernutter. It was only the raspberry filling that was too sweet for my tastes.

It turns out that the salted caramel is Young’s favorite, too. “I think there’s something about finishing a meal and then coming off a savory buzz to something too sweet,” he explains. “A meal should have an arc to it.  Savory, then salty sweet—then maybe more sweet.” Perhaps this explains the creamy sauce on the side, which didn’t enhance the donuts particularly but was delicious to lick off a fork for a vanilla bean lover like me.

The Flex doughnut flavors are often updated and vary slightly at the West Village location, so check the website often. And If you find yourself wanting one last drink, consider asking for the night’s off-the-menu boozy doughnuts instead.

Fancy making your own boozy pastry? Here’s the recipe for Young’s dark chocolate Grand Marnier filling.

Childhood summers
Something about these glowing mason jars reminds me of childhood summers.
Maybe it’s the incandescent colors that evoke lemonade in the backyard, beach balls in the pool. Maybe its the fading daylight that orchestrates the buzz of chirping crickets warming up to sing into the night.
Either way, something about this photo propels me into a place of faint breeze and endless swaths of suspended time. And looking at this photo, my mind stretches back with the lazy essences of these summer memories and yawns.


Childhood summers

Something about these glowing mason jars reminds me of childhood summers.

Maybe it’s the incandescent colors that evoke lemonade in the backyard, beach balls in the pool. Maybe its the fading daylight that orchestrates the buzz of chirping crickets warming up to sing into the night.

Either way, something about this photo propels me into a place of faint breeze and endless swaths of suspended time. And looking at this photo, my mind stretches back with the lazy essences of these summer memories and yawns.

(via iamblessed)

Asparagus and mushroom tarts


Do you know someone with a deathly fear of mushrooms?

I don’t understand the aversion at all. A few of my friends make claims about mushiness and tastelessness, but I passionately beg to differ. Mushrooms soak up so much flavor and make deliciously juicy mouthfuls. Unless you like bland and dry, what’s not to love?

In the midst of all my dessert-making a few weeks ago, I decided I needed more green in my diet. And that’s when I found the best recipe in defense of mushrooms: Asparagus and mushroom tarts from Bon Appetit on Epicurious.

Since I was cooking for two and didn’t have a rolling pin, I simply divided a single pastry sheet into four equal tarts. Don’t be afraid to pile on the veggies: The asparagus and mushroom will flatten while baking, and the puff pastry will rise to cradle the filling.

Creme fraiche sometimes proves tricky to track down. For a substitute here, I whipped a mixture of heavy cream and sour cream in a 4:1 ratio until soft peaks formed. (Other substitute recipes call for 1:1 ratios or use buttermilk instead of sour cream, but this second kind usually needs to sit for a day and I wanted to make these tarts the same night.)

Considering we gobbled the tarts right up without the thyme and lemon peel, which I’d forgotten in my hunger-induced haste, I’d say those two ingredients are quite optional.

This recipe does require some prep work, but other than the extra steps for making the creme fraiche substitute, this dish was pretty straightforward — and an absolute pleasure to the palate. If you want to change someone’s mind about mushrooms, I’d definitely give this a shot. 

Asparagus and mushroom tarts

Ingredients

  • 1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche*
  • 1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs (for garnish)

Roll out each pastry sheet on work surface to 10-inch square. Cut each into 4 squares. Using small knife, score 1/2-inch border (do not cut through pastry) around inside edges of each square. Arrange squares on 2 rimmed baking sheets. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to large bowl; cool 15 minutes. Add asparagus, chopped thyme, lemon peel, 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to mushrooms. Mix in crème fraîche and cheese. DO AHEAD: Filling can be made 1 day ahead.Cover; chill.

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Mound filling atop pastry squares, leaving 1/2-inch plain border.

Bake tarts 12 minutes. Reverse sheets. Continue to bake tarts until crusts are puffed and golden and filling is cooked through, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer to plates; garnish with thyme sprigs.

via Bon Appetit / Epicurious



Good morning!

I’m currently loving “Breakfast Interrupted,” a beautiful slow-motion video that captures the best kind of start to the day. Panning a pristine table of yummy breakfast foods, it’s one of those sleepy mornings where you wake up appreciating the small details around you. Then the music quickens playfully and the food goes flying, and everything suddenly comes to life with bright energy. For some reason, I’m particularly tickled by the frames where berries collide with an arch of OJ…it’s these kinds of beginnings that make me happy about waking up early!

Bacon peanut butter truffles


There aren’t many ingredients I love more than bacon, so it’s not a huge surprise that I turned to The Bacon Cookbook for my next culinary project. Though I was looking for dinner dishes more than dessert, as someone who loves sweet-and-savory concoctions, I couldn’t resist some bacon peanut butter truffles.

These did turn out a little messier than I’d prefer. Part of this was probably due to substituting some of the butter with bacon fat, following The Wicked (Awesome) Whisk’s adaptation, for a stronger flavor of bacon. The chocolate coating didn’t set and harden perfectly, since the recipe doesn’t call for tempering, and I opted to skip the cocoa powder. I’m guessing it didn’t help that I used chocolate chips instead of bars, which are better for tempering, or that I might’ve been a little impatient and heated up the chocolate a little too quickly.

Some other notes: I didn’t have a food processor, so I chopped the peanuts with a knife. Because the peanuts weren’t ground as finely as they would have been if they were put through a blender, the truffle filling was slightly lumpy. Next time, I’d up the peanut butter and use less peanuts. The bacon was easy to handle, since it was so crispy.

Despite the messiness, the truffles were amongst the most delicious things I’ve made. What can I say — bacon never ever fails to please!

Bacon and Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles Recipe

adapted from The Bacon Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices lean streaky bacon
  • 4 oz salted peanuts (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • six 1-oz squares semisweet chocolate 

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, drain on paper towels, and let cool completely. Reserve 2 tbls of the rendered bacon fat and let cool.

In a blender or food processor, combine the bacon, peanuts, and sugar and grind to a fine texture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the peanut butter, and stir until well blended and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill about 1 hour.

Roll the mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter, place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, cover with plastic wrap, and chill about 30 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, reserved bacon fat, and chocolate in a small sauce pan and stir over very low heat till melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool until slightly warm.

Using a fork, coat the balls completely in the melted chocolate. Set them back on the baking sheet and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes more). If there is melted chocolate left over, give the balls a second coating. Store in the refrigerator till ready to serve. Or eat them all now. It’s your choice….don’t think it’ll be an easy one. 

via The Wicked (Awesome) Whisk




I’m sure everyone’s heard of this epic stolen laptop recovery via Twitter by now. For those who are curious about what went down, here’s a summary and chronological compilation of key tweets in a easy-to-read format.

My fave part: “A thoughtful(?) spambot offers Sean a chance to win an iPad to replace his laptop.”

A tweeter who was on scene also wrote his own summary of the rescue mission.

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