Hosting

We’ve been doing a fair bit of hosting in our home the past few weeks. After almost a year here, I can finally say that we have made a few more friends that we’ve been comfortable with and want to maintain friendships for the long term beyond our short sojourn in the US. Unfortunately, some of these folks are moving away soon, some back to their original hometowns in other parts of the US and some to other parts of Chicagoland. Hence, we will have less opportunity to meet up again. No matter, it just means more places and people to visit in other parts of America.

Have been really really happy introducing our guests to Singaporean dishes since most have not had the opportunity to visit our sunny shores. Chicken Rice, Popiah, Dumpling Soup and Char Siew have been on the menu so far. Have also hosted enough times to figure out the right permutation of food to satisfy guests with various dietary restrictions. I would say that it is really quite tough sometimes still but we try to make it work.

Besides sharing our love for our home foods, our guests have also helped us to discover really yummy stuff available in the US. I discovered my now favorite spanish red wine a few months back and a week ago, we were introduced to the most delicious coconut sorbet and butter cookies! I have to qualify that both sorbets and butter cookies are not naturally my favorite things to eat. But these 2 brands, Ciao Bella and Butter Bella (hey! just realized the word “bella” is in both) are scrumptious. Both are available at Whole Foods, hence not the cheapest yummies around. Promise myself to only get them again when they are on sale. Curbs my overindulgent tendencies too.

Savory/Salty Soy Milk 咸豆浆

It’s no secret that good Asian food is few and far between where I live. But there are still a few gems here and there. One of them is this small cafe run by a nice Taiwanese family in downtown Evanston. Only Asian students eat there, never seen a single ang moh having a meal there – a sign of its authentic and yummy food I guess? A friend here commented that the locals don’t really know what to order here since there is no familiar  Sweet & Sour Pork, Chop Suey or Mongolian Beef on the menu. So the locals flock to the pseudo Asian place next door.

Cafe 527 has a special weekend menu where they serve 油条 (Chinese dough fritters) and 豆浆 (soy milk). The soy milk comes in a sweet or savory version. The sweet version really reminds me of the ones we get from our hawker centers back home, so comforting. The dough fritters are a little too dense but a good substitute when you have nothing else close available. The savory soy milk is very unique to Taiwan and I must say, quite an acquired taste. But I love it! Have always been a more savory tastebuds kind of girl anyway so this hot savory sourish drink really hits the spot on an empty morning tummy.

To say that it is a drink is not quite right really. It’s actually more of a soup and is served in a bowl. The texture is kind of like broken bean curd. Vinegar is added to the milk so the soy curdles and splits, leaving behind some lumps of bean curd  and a savory clear soup. The dish is usually served with cut up bits of dough fritters so it kind of looks like a bowl of congee.

I figured it wouldn’t be difficult to replicate this recipe at home. So after looking around at different recipes on the net, here is my version. Makes 1 serving.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain unsweetened soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon preserved radish (菜脯)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoon white vinegar (or to taste)
  • Pork floss (you decide)
  • Dough Fritters (you decide)
  • A few sprigs of coriander and spring onions for garnish

Method:

  • Fry preserved radish for about 3 mins and put in a bowl
  • Heat up soy milk till bubbling
  • Combine soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar with radish
  • Pour hot soy milk into bowl and top with pork floss, dough fritters and garnish
  • Stir and Eat!

I actually do love my vinegar so I added more vinegar to get a more sourish taste. Had to make do with my frozen pratas as well since I had no dough fritters on hand. And lots and lots of garnish since I love them. I think I’ll be making this quite often.

Land of the Unhappening

So apparently it’s officially Summer already. Wud?! I was just talking about the onset of Spring just a few weeks ago. I guess I have to concede defeat and accept that I now live in a geographical area where Spring is elusive and short lived. The flowers have almost mostly disappeared. Trees that I have admired for their young green leaves and burst of flowers are starting to have crispy brown patches. Nothing reminds you about the ephemeralness of life like the four seasons.

To celebrate the end of the academic year and start of Summer, NU organized its annual Dillo Day last Saturday.

The husband and I actually had no idea what was going on. We were awoken by loud music, cheering and shrieks and thought an unfriendly neighbor was having a party at 9am in the morning! Turns out, hundred of college kids were crawling around our neighborhood in what we think was some kind of amazing race and attending parties in random houses down the street.

The crowd also spilled into downtown Evanston and I was supremely sad that I couldn’t eat my favorite bagels for breakfast as the shop was just chockfull of hungry young ones. Felt extremely unhappening and very old walking about after our grocery run surrounded by partying kids. But also very exciting since our little city/town isn’t usually so buzzing. Especially during that cold winter.

To emphasize how uninformed we were, Dillo Day actually turned out to be quite a big event around here, something which we found out too late to enjoy. It’s a summer music festival by the lake with two stages for the invited bands (some apparently quite famous *shrug*), activity booths and food trucks! There was also a long round of fireworks that ended the night (we heard them!). It’s such a huge thing that tickets were issued for crowd control. Obviously we didn’t know and didn’t have them. Something to note for next year for sure!

We did the next best thing that night. A cosy Summer BBQ (in my oven! 😀 ) of kebabs and ice cold berry beer. Perhaps this was more our kind of scene anyway.

Purple Asparagus

With the onset of Spring, the Farmers Market in Evanston has started again. Visited it when we first moved here but that was around the end of Summer/start of Fall. Figured that the Spring time vendors and produce would be quite different, so I decided to take a walk over while the husband brought Rusty for a long run.

It was a short 20 min trip but I came home with $33 worth of stuff! 😛 To be fair, the olive oil I bought was already $15 and that can last me pretty long. It’s also from Old Town Oil, a cool manufacturer from Evanston that carries many varieties of flavored and pure olive oils. They encourage tastings so I tried a Blood Orange one for fun, but ended up with a more practical Tuscan blend that was more herby and garlicky.

Also bought some lilacs to prettify the house and fresh mozzarella. But the highlight has got to be these Purple Asparagus! I know everything looks very purple-fied but hey we’re in purple town after all! NU’s color is purple so everything in Evanston is mostly purple, even the fire hydrants.

I shaved the ends of the asparagus a little in case it was fibrous and tossed them in the olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. They were done after 25 mins in the oven. They actually look like green asparagus after the skin gets shaved off. The purple that’s left also dulls a little after cooking. But it tastes very different! So sweet, juicy and tender! Am glad the oddness of the color didn’t translate into its taste. I definitely prefer it to regular asparagus.

I did more research and found out that they taste good raw and in salads too. Perhaps the shaving of ends was unnecessary. Purple Asparagus has its peak season in Spring and early Summer, so should eat more while they are still around.

Flourless Chewy Chocolate Cookies

I can whip up a meal but am such a total toot when it comes to baking. Thankfully I don’t really crave sweets often so just as well. But sometimes, I do love a cookie, especially, actually, exclusively the chocolate chewy kind. They sell this for $2.50+ per cookie at Starbucks! I don’t think I’ll buy it anymore once I perfect the recipe.

Found a very very simple recipe online and my cookies actually turned out great! Not like the big mass of cookie dough that melted and spread across the whole tray in my disaster attempt many years ago. Anyway, this was so easy that a friend commented that it’s almost like the instant ones that you find on supermarket shelves. As pretty and yummy as this batch was, I did find the cookies rather bitter and could have done with a little more crackle and chew.

So I searched around and found yet another simple recipe. This second attempt has a few more additional ingredients. But this is a winner and I dare say better than the store bought versions. For the record:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional and I didn’t put)
  • 3/4 cup cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Stir together all ingredients till smooth. Texture should be quite thick and fudgy
  • Drop soft batter-like dough onto parchment paper. Make sure you space out the cookies as they will spread while cooking
  • Sprinkle some nuts on top (I used almonds)
  • Bake cookies for about 9 mins or till shiny with crackly tops
  • Yield about 20 medium sized cookies