Egg Tarts

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One of my all-time favorite sweets is 蛋挞, literally translated to “egg tart.” This is somewhat of a misnomer, as the filling isn’t savory but rather a crème brûlée-like custard made with eggs, vanilla, sugar, and milk. Here in the US we usually associate egg tarts with Hong Kong style dim sum, but they actually were derived from Portuguese-style custard pastries called pastel de nata; the custard pastries made their way to Hong Kong through Macau, which used to be a Portuguese colony.

Why do I love it? What’s not to love? The silken and somewhat squishy custard filling, with its rich and robust vanilla flavor with subtle caramel notes, combines beautifully with the buttery and flaky crust. It’s a match made in pastry heaven.

The best part? This is actually a very simple recipe that shouldn’t take much time at all, especially if you use a store-bought crust dough. But since I generally refuse to buy anything that I can make, I like to use my favorite pie crust recipe.

Materials: large mixing bowl, set of 12 2.75-3 inch diameter tart pans (or you can use a muffin tin)

Ingredients:

  • Pie crust dough for 1 9-inch pie
  • 1 egg, 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 heaping tsp vanilla extract
  1. Beat egg and yolks together until fluffy. Add sugar, milk, and vanilla extract and mix until sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Divide the pie crust dough into 12 pieces and press into greased tart molds or muffin tins. Pour in the custard filling.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes, or until nicely browned on top.

Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Feel free to use puff pastry instead of pie crust, which would be delicious too.

Make and enjoy!

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Gombei

This afternoon, my mother, brother and I went to meet up with an old family friend for lunch in San Jose’s Japantown! Not the greatest part of San Jose, but there’s no shortage of excellent Asian stores and markets and, of course, Japanese restaurants. Apparently at the turn of the century Japanese immigrants began to build houses next to the city’s Chinatown, most of whom were single men working in the fruit orchards. Most residents were forced to go to Wyoming during World War II and then moved back following the end of Japanese internment. These days, there are plenty of family-owned businesses that remain, including a fantastic tofu store that sells some of the best home-made tofu I’ve ever tasted.

Of all the Japanese restaurants in the neighborhood, Gombei is supposed to be among the best. They don’t serve haute cuisine gourmet food like they do at Nobu, but rather hearty and authentic Japanese comfort food. For $8-$12, diners get what seems like as much food as a three-course meal.

There’s actually no waiting list for tables, so customers have to line up outside until they’re called in. Despite being a party of five, we actually didn’t have to wait that long; probably about half an hour. Because it was peak lunch hour, the waiters were extremely busy, but at least they weren’t inattentive.

I ordered one of the special lunch combos of the day, a beef yakiniku with various seafood fry (shrimp, calamari, and a crab croquette). The meal also came with a small plate of what we call 小菜 in Chinese; somewhat like an appetizer but smaller and lighter. This particular dish was a bit of cold marinated sliced cucumber, soybeans, and two chunks of sea cucumber.

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The marinade was sweet with a bit of a sour tang from the vinegar, which didn’t have the dark and cloying flavor of basalmic vinegar but rather a light and crisp feel which made the cucumbers taste more fresh. While the cucumbers were good, I liked the soybeans even more; they were tender without being mushy or too solid, and took on a pleasant graininess when chewed. The sweet and sour marinade enhanced the milky and vanilla undertones of the beans, leaving a very pure earthy flavor. The sea cucumber, while not the most flavorful seafood, had a fun squishy and slippery texture.

After I finished my mini appetizers, I moved onto the fried food.

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The fried seafood had panko breading that gave the exterior a slightly rough and crunchy texture, and was topped with something that was like tartar sauce. While there wasn’t anything wrong with the flavor (let’s be real; you can never go wrong with a combination of fried food and tartar sauce), it was a bit too heavy for me. The crab croquette, with the bits of imitation crab meat mixed with peas and carrots and mayonnaise, was especially hard to stomach.

The beef yakiniku, though, was excellent.

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Yakiniku, sometimes called Japanese barbecue that involves grilling small chunks of meat or vegetables over a griddle, is said to have been inspired by Korean barbecue, and I could definitely see the similarities. Both were on the same spectrum of smoky-sweet, and had the addition of some chopped green onions and sesames to top the meat and enhance the flavors. The yakiniku, though, was a bit closer to the sweeter side of the spectrum than KBBQ. The meat was cooked to a medium-well, which made it a bit tougher than I would have liked, but the bit of fattiness of the cut improved the flavor and texture. Despite the toughness, each bite was still thick and juicy.

The fried tofu that was part of Mom’s lunch combo is also worth trying, with the seafood flavors and chunky and juicy textures pairing well with rice. While the tofu texture wasn’t uniform throughout, each bite proved to be interesting. Her tuna sashimi, however, wasn’t the freshest. Then again, I suppose it’s difficult to get perfect sashimi-grade fish around here.

Though Gombei’s by no means the best Japanese restaurant in the world, if you ever find yourself in Japantown, I would still say that it’s worth a visit for lunch. It’s a lot of food, so be sure to bring a large appetite so that you can do the meal justice.

Rating: 4/5 spoons

Apricot Jam

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Yay, it’s finally summer! Which means that I suddenly find myself with a ridiculous amount of free time on my hands. And since I don’t have any jobs or internships lined up, what better way to spend it than cooking, eating, and taking pictures?

During the school year, I never have an extra couple of hours to spare for baking my favorite sweets, so the recipes that I’ve been meaning to try out have just been piling up. Well, I suppose that the amount of time I spend procrastinating and looking up said recipes could be spent in the kitchen (or I guess in the library doing work). Anyways, the point is that I haven’t baked anything since I was home for the winter holidays. But now that I have access to a kitchen with pretty much all the equipment and ingredients that I could possibly need, I can cook and consume sugary goodness until I become diabetic! 😀 Who needs a bikini body when there’s deliciousness like torta caprese to be made?

Today I decided to try my hand at something I’ve never done before: jam! Honestly I don’t eat jam more than a few times a year, if at all, but I thought this would be something fun. Plus, summer is apricot season, and there’s no shortage of the good stuff around here.

I chose to make David Lebovitz‘ version because it’s pretty easy to follow. As a jam novice, I couldn’t wrap my head around things like how the pectin content in different types of fruit influences how the jam sets or how to adjust the technique based on these variables. Usually I decrease the amount of sugar in each recipe I make, but that doesn’t work with jam since sugar is necessary for the jam to thicken properly.

Yield: 3-4 jars

Ingredients:

  • 2.25 lbs fresh apricots, about 13-14 medium to big fruit*
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. Cut the apricots in half and take out the pits. If desired, crack open each pit and place the inside kernel into each jar that you’re planning on filling; this will give the jam a subtle nutty flavor.
  2. Put the apricots in a big pot and add the water. Cook with the lid on over medium heat, stirring often, until the fruit is tender but not quite mushy.
  3. Put a clean small plate in the freezer.
  4. Add the sugar and continue cooking over medium heat, this time without the lid, stirring constantly. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface to remove any potential impurities.
  5. When the mixture breaks down to the point at which it looks like jam, turn off the heat. Take your plate out of the freezer and put a dollop of jam on the plate. Put the plate with the jam back into the freezer for 2 to 3 minutes, and then nudge the bit of jam with your fingers. If the jam sets and wrinkles slightly, it’s ready; otherwise cook a bit longer until it passes the so-called “nudge test.”
  6. Add the lemon juice and mix. Ladle jam into jars; you can make a funnel by cutting off the bottom of a paper cup to help with this process. Oven mitts and towels will also help protect hands from heat as you fill the jars. Seal tightly and let the jam cool to room temperature. Store in refrigerator after opening.

*Use only fruit that is perfectly ripe. Underripe fruit may not have enough pectin for the jam to thicken properly, and overripe fruit will have lost its pectin.

Breakfast is served!
Breakfast is served!