March 2009


danbin-stack

I am terribly excited to announce that I mastered making the bin for dan-bin, one of my most favorite breakfasts in Taiwan. Dan, which I believe is the Mandarin for pancake, is a thin stretchy pancake also known as a Mandarin pancake. It is usually enjoyed in Taiwan for breakfast, accompanied by a slightly scrambled egg and rolled up with some cooked bacon, chicken or melted cheese. Very satisfying and I could never get enough of it while living there.

After leaving Taiwan (twice now) I always became very sad because I could not find the frozen pancakes used to make this breakfast at any import grocers, neither here in South Africa, nor in the States or even Thailand. I firmly believed that these pancakes could only be bought and not made yourself. I am still not sure where I got that idea from, but it kept me from ever trying to find a recipe.

I once stumbled onto a recipe in a newspaper in Bangkok of something that sounded like dan, but the process seemed complicated. Twice since have I read recipes, but the instructions always confused me and I never mustered the courage to try it. We recently picked up a really old Chinese recipe book and in it I saw a recipe for Mandarin pancakes. The steps seemed simple and easy to follow, and today I finally decided to try it out. And it was so easy!

The steps still sound a little awkward, but it turned out to be a lot of fun preparing them with Alexander and having our very own home and handmade dan-bin at home.

To make dan-bin you need to get:

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons sesame oil

Process:

Mix the boiling water gradually in with the flour. I ended up not using the full amount of water recommended as the dough was looking like it was going to become too sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed for about 5 minutes or more to form an elastic but not sticky dough. Leave in a bowl covered with damp cloth four 30 minutes or more.

Remove the dough and roll it into a log, about 1.5 inches thick. Cut 16 pieces from the log and roll them into balls, then flatten to about half an inch thick little rounds. Brush each round with the sesame oil and put them together two-by-two, oiled sides together. Flatten them slightly more before rolling them into thin pancakes, 5-7 inches in diameter. The two rounds look like they become one.

On a heated skillet (not greased), cook them quickly on each side, only until brown spots form on the underside of the pancake. Be careful of burning, they should stay on each side for only a few seconds. Remove the pancakes and separate them, storing them on a plate under a warm towel or aluminum foil. The pancakes can be refrigerated or frozen in aluminum for a later occasion, just steam them until warm before using.

The new roti pan we picked up today worked perfectly for making the pancakes and although mine did not turn out anywhere close to round the colors were perfect and the taste and texture fantastic. Just as I remembered it.

I served mine like they do in Taiwan with the egg, bacon and I added some avocado too for fun. To prepare it, break an egg into a pan and break the egg just a little in the pan and shape into a slight circle. Drop a pancake on the egg and push down a little to bring the two together, flip everything at once so the pancake is on the bottom. Let the egg cook while adding the bacon (or whatever else you want on it), roll up and serve. A thick soy sauce or chili sauce makes a pleasant accompaniment.

danbin-filling

I was really surprised at just how easy it was to make the pancakes and I cannot wait to serve them to friends for breakfast now. The best of all is that I can now enjoy this tasty breakfast whenever I want in my own house. Of course this does not mean I don’t still miss Taiwan terribly, but it does help a little.

One more thing ere I go. I read about this event of BloggerAid on Jeanne’s blog a little while back. Through the creation of a cookbook they are contributing to the UN’s World Food Programme, specifically to the School Meals programme, which aims to provide meals to children at schools with low-attendance in poorer communities acroos the globe, thus encouraging children to attend school and get an education, as well as feeding them.

And all food bloggers are invited to help! Until the end of March, recipes can be submitted to BloggerAid for the cookbook, which will go on sale towards the end of this year on Amazon. They are looking for original recipes that you have not blogged yet. So if you have been experimenting with something new and would like to contribute to this project, head over here for more information.

It’s a fantastic excuse to play around in the kitchen and help some less fortunate kids.

*Note- I am so sorry for not commenting and reading any blogs at the moment. We are still figuring out internet at home. So I am limited to writing entries in Word, running to a cafe occassionaly and posting them, without getting time to catch up. It sucks, hopefully we can get something figured soon.

As I sit here by our new breakfast table, admiring the view of Signal Hill, the fragrant aroma of an adobo is wafting in from the kitchen. I woke up this morning craving this Philippine dish that blends a variety of spices, meats and other ingredients to create a wonderfully flavored stew. Another blog friend introduced me to it when she sent me The Little Adobo Book from her native Manilla a long time ago.

Back then I experimented with a couple of recipes, but it has been forever since I’ve last tried any of them, so over morning coffee I paged through the book looking for a recipe. There were so many delicious-sounding versions to choose from; fish in coconut cream, duck adobo, spicy chicken adobo, one with pineapple and pork. I finally settled on adobong pang-inumam or drinker’s adobo. So named, I assume, for the generous amount of gin that is added to the stew.

drinkers-adobo-in-wok

It was not the gin that was calling out to me though, it was the combination of vinegar, black pepper corns, garlic, onion, fish sauce, soy sauce, bay leaves and fresh chilies that impressed, and had me feel like dinner at breakfast. After a quick trip to a local weekend market to look for some home items we stopped by a grocer to pick up some ingredients and headed home to start preparing for tonight’s meal.

To cook a drinker’s adobo for two you’ll need:

1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon garlic, sliced
½ white onion sliced
500g meat (I used pork)
1.5 tablespoons vinegar
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1.5 red chilies (or more if you like)
¼ cup gin
¼ cup soy sauce
2 cups stock (I used vegetable and no I did not make it I bought it)
2 bay leaves

Prepare:

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic and onions until fragrant. Add the meat and brown while stir-frying. When the meat has been browned, add the vinegar, don’t stir until it has released its acidic odor. Add the pepper, followed by the fish sauce, chili, gin, soy sauce, stock and bay leaves. Bring the dish to a simmer and cover, leaving it to simmer and cook until the meat is tender.

I prepared the adobo, removed it from the heat and left covered for several hours before serving. It was only about 2PM when I prepared it and we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the beach, soaking up the sun and dipping in the icy Atlantic.

I heated it up quickly for dinner and served it on a bed of rice noodles. I’m sure rice would have been more appropriate, but we are waiting for pots to arrive, so I had to make do with something else. It worked out quite well. The dish turned out flavorful and satisfying, washing it down with refreshing gin and rum drinks Alexander mixed.

drinkers-adobo-on-plate

strawberry-swirl

Ever since I was a child I loved avocados. I used to slice one in half, take out the pit and pour lemon juice and some freshly ground black pepper and salt onto half, mash it up slightly in the skin and eat it with a spoon. Avo sandwiches were always a winner and any form of salad that involved this rich fruit.

Imagine then how horrified I was when I discovered avocado shakes in a health food store in Taiwan. The mere idea was just wrong to me and I avoided this item for the longest time. One day my curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to give it a try. And loved it. The pulp from the fruit was blended with a caramel custard, flavoring the earthy flavor of avo with a rich sweetness. It was pure decadence.

While Alexander and I were living there again for two months last year we tried it several times. Traveling through Vietnam we also discovered that it was a local favorite at shake stands there, mixed with sweet milk instead of custard. We often stopped at stands to enjoy a glass of cool avocado shake.

Robyn from Eating Asia writes that they are also enjoyed in Indonesia, usually with a swirl of chocolate syrup added, but you can even enjoy it with some strawberry swirled in. The recipe I used to make these shakes was borrowed from her blog.

I made them while we were still in Albuquerque where we had lots of ripe avocados in the kitchen the whole time we were there. Being neighbors with tropical Central and South America must be fabulous.

To make avo shakes you need to collect:
–    2 medium ripe avos, flesh scooped out
–    1 cup milk
–    ice cubes
–    blended fresh strawberries juice

The process:
Blend the avo, milk, sugar and ice until smooth. Pour into glasses and swirl in some of the blended strawberries and drink up. For a slightly more decadent version, use sweetened milk or some custard.

doorway

I would like to start this entry by apologizing for my terrible lack of blogging activity since the end of January, but then again I believe most of you are used to my lapses in writing by now. I know, very lame.

We have been rather busy since my last entry. We arrived in a very windy Cape Town three weeks ago, ready to begin a new chapter in our lives. After spending the past two years traveling around Southeast Asia and the US we decided to move back to South Africa. We missed living somewhere familiar and we have been inspired by our time in the East to start on new projects at home.

We were living with some friends while house-hunting, which turned out to be a nightmare of note. The highlight of these was a particularly nasty Wednesday when we found we were not getting our dream apartment. We discovered that doing freelance work and travel for a living does not make you an ideal rental candidate in the eyes of realtors.

We were getting ready to move in with our friends for good when Alexander finally found a listing on gumtree.co.za that seemed promising. A privately owned two-bedroom apartment in the city bowl, next to the Company Gardens, walking distance to most fun areas in the city and with views of Lion’s Head. We went to the viewing, loved the owner and space right-away and asked where we could sign. Three days later we arrived at our new front door with our boxes that traveled from Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, the US and Northern South Africa. (Look here for some before pictures.)

lions-head-view

After living out of bags and in other people’s homes for the past 8 months it felt incredible to finally have a space that was our own again. Of course our furnishings are still rather rudimentary and we still need to do a lot of work, but slowly we are settling in. We painted, picked up some stools, and even baked during our first week here.

shortbread

Feeling comfortable in our own place has also inspired us to make better use of our new city; climbing Lion’s Head at 5:30 in the morning, going to the Clifton beach and braving the icy waters, enjoying the invigorating Turkish baths and seeing owls getting chased by squirrels in the gardens in the evening. As things start falling into place I will continue to update you on how things are going and what we are up to.

chicago-1

Before our return to South Africa we spent 3 freezing days in Chicago, visiting a high school friend of Alexander’s in Chicago. We spent the days leading up to our visit mentally preparing ourselves for the freezing weather she warned us about. I thought Albuquerque was cold, but Chicago was supposed to be way worse.

Her boyfriend picked us up from the airport on the icy evening of our arrival and took us to their lovely apartment building near Lincon Square in the former German neighborhood of the city. I was amazed at the mountains of snow everywhere and the way my condensated breath turned icy on the car windows.

Chicago is one of the coldest places I’ve ever visited, but it was not as bad as I expected and besides my feet going numb every time I stepped outside I thought I was doing quite fine. The snow that fell ever so often, giving everything a fresh coat, and the lovely houses and fascinating architecture certainly helped distracting my mind from the sub zero temperatures.

chicago-day-1

Our first day was spent riding the El into the city, wandering around the downtown area and visiting the Art Institute, admiring the original artworks and displays. The warning signs beside all the skyscrapers had me rather nervous about my own safety.

chicago-clarks

We stopped for late-late lunch at Clark’s Hot Dogs, a decidedly seedy joint near Boy’s Town. I would not have it any other way. The disinterested lady serving us kept on peering over our shoulders as we placed orders and shouted at someone that may not have been there. I ordered a hot dog with chili and a root beer. It was incredibly satisfying.

For dinner that night our hosts ordered stuffed pizza from a popular local chain who’s name I now forget. The pizza resembled something between a pizza and a pie with a thick crust coming up to about an inch from the base. This was filled with loads of mozzarella, sauce and peppers. I had a hard time eating two slices, the pizza was super filling and really delicious.

chicago-stuffed-pizza-in-box

On our last day we strolled around the trendy Division Street Corridor, browsing through all the hip stores and enjoying a long lunch at Milk & Honey, which included sandwiches and tasty desserts. Too soon we had to hurry on to O’Hare International to catch two very long flights and a dull Frankfurt layover to the warmth of the South African summer.

I would have loved to stay longer, exploring more of the neighborhoods and the architecture. I have not had nearly enough hot dogs or pizza or locally brewed beer and would have enjoyed being shown around more by Meghann and Tom. There were also lots of suggestions from Erin and Jeanne we did not get to. Next time we will go when the weather is a little warmer and make more time for Chicago.