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Maybe soon I’ll be baking pecan tarts and more expertly blowtorching a creme bruleé. The universe somehow senses I am not a dessert person and is taking revenge. My desserts have been such an embarrassment that I have lost all the confidence to stir sugar into flour or beat egg whites to prescribed stiffness. So, in the meantime, dessert is some hard candy you can scoop out of that small, shiny jar on the sideboard by the dining table. Go take a couple or more after a meal, or before you leave, as I often forget to be a gracious host and offer guests some sweets.

 

Salted Egg Sliced Open

It gets my goat whenever I crack open a salted egg and find the yolk missing that bright yellow-orange hue and that oily but firm, grainy center. There’s also that level of saltiness I expect from the white, the one that grips the surface of the tongue, but nicely blends into the tartness of tomatoes and the pungency of cilantro, one that I can push a little bit more to the edge with a drizzle of patis, then pull back to safety with some fried rice. It’s a little tug-o-war I love to play with salted eggs, but with the dull, bland ones I get occasionally from the Chinese grocery, it’s game over even before they’re plated.

So, why not make the salted eggs myself?

I found this link in Purple Yam’s Facebook page and proceeded to buy (chicken) eggs and (a lot of) salt. Except for the waiting part (14-20 days), making salted eggs was easier than I thought. The only challenge was keeping the eggs submerged in the water, but a ramekin placed on top of the eggs effectively pushed the lot down as soon as I closed the jar. It was also important to ensure that the water was properly salted, but the recipe was very clear on how to achieve that.

While I was satisfied with the results, I thought I do a few things differently with my next batch.

1) Use duck, instead of chicken, eggs. Yes, I just spotted fresh duck eggs in my favorite store in Chinatown! Duck eggs are generally bigger; they’re also fattier, so they’ll give that sought-after oily rim and center. The yolk is also brighter. If I have to use chicken eggs, I’ll get the organic ones; their yolks are naturally deeper in color than the hugely commercial brands.

2) Pump up the saltiness level by keeping the eggs in the brine solution for at least 20 days. A 22-day soak was more to my liking.

3) Boil the eggs in tea-infused water. It won’t flavor the eggs, but tint the shell so it’s easy to differentiate the salted eggs from the regular ones. Better than painting each egg a hideous red which stains hands, cutting board, kitchen counter and, ironically, everything in the kitchen that I want to keep immaculately white.

4) A dark green color around the yolk means the eggs have been over-boiled or cooked. Check this article for tips on how to boil eggs. Purple Yam also mentioned that a friend prefers to steam duck eggs (10 minutes). Hmmm, very interesting. Will definitely try, next time!

Need I say I saved money, too? Not much, maybe 15-20 cents a piece. But in the end, it’s not really about the money, but the pleasure of the harvest. Awwwww…..

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Here’s the recipe for Salted Eggs (Khai Kham):

Ingredients

12 Raw Large Eggs
500 gms Salt
4 Litres Water
Large Boiling Pan
Big Glass Jar

Preparation
1. The eggs are salted in a saturated brine solution. This means the maximum amount of salt you can dissolve in the water!
2. Boil water in a large pan.
3. Add the salt to the water and dissolve it. Add more salt until the salt can no longer dissolve.
4. Leave to cool, as the water cools, salt crystals should form. If they do not, heat it up and add more salt.
5. Put the cold brine and eggs into a jar, the eggs must be submerged in the brine.
6. After 14-20 day take it out of the jar. They can be kept for a long time in that salted condition.
7. They can be used boiled or fried or to add salt to a dish.

Salted Eggs with Fried Rice

It seemed it wasn’t only I who had gone through the anguish of hard, refrigerated butter ripping through my toast. I got a few, but quite earnest, questions about the French butter bell that I showed in my last post. How does it work? Can it really keep butter soft and spreadable without refrigeration for a month? Will it work in Manila?

First time I saw a butter bell, I couldn’t even imagine what it was for. It had two parts: a little pot and an inverted cup that also served as a lid. The design made even less sense when I was told it was for storing butter. The crock was supposed to hold the water and the cup, the packed-in butter. And that’s all there was to it!

Flashback to a typical breakfast scene: Rama exasperated at the hard lumps of butter that refused to budge and spread on her toast; Poch and I glancing at our mangled toast in the oven, the butter seeping through its cracks.

The thought of another unpleasant morning involving butter and toast did it. We went ahead and bought the Le Creuset Butter Crock.

Yes, life-changing!

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Despite some negative reviews and not-too-great experiences written about the butter crock, we have been quite happy with ours. Maybe there are some things we do right:

1. Take butter – about one stick – out of the refrigerator and leave until just soft and easy to slice with a butter knife.

2. Fill the bell with butter up to about 1 cm from the rim; make sure it’s packed in. Fill the crock with 1/2-3/4 inch of water (Le Creuset has a “fill line” mark).

2. Do not top up old butter with fresh butter. Wait till butter in the bell is finished, then wash both bell and crock thoroughly. When completely dry, refill with butter. Change the water regularly.

3. Use clean butter knives.

4. Keep where temperature is at 80F (27C) or lower.

Other names for this late 19th century French-designed crock are: “French butter keeper”, “French butter crock”, “Butter Crock”, :Beurrier à l’eau”, “Beurrier Breton”, “Beurrier Normand”, “Cloche de beurre”, and “Pot à beurre Breton (French) Butterdose(German)”. Two manufactured versions are the Norpro Butter Keeper and the Butter Bell (a registered trademark of L. Tremain,Inc).

1. Mac, the knife

A friend couldn’t believe that I spent a fortune on my Japanese knives. Why, she asked, when most restaurant chefs would use ordinary $10 knives. What she didn’t know, of course, was that those were restaurant-supplied knives. What restaurateur in his right mind would invest in expensive knives that he knew would simply be thrown around in the kitchen by the commis and mindlessly tossed into the dishwasher by the busboys?

If I had a maid, if I didn’t have to cut and chop the food myself, if I didn’t yet know the deep, inexplicable pleasure of feeling the blade slice ever so smoothly through a tomato, if I hadn’t ever held a knife with such reassuring heft and balance, then an inexpensive knife would certainly do.

2. Le Creuset Dutch Oven

One word: adobo.

I swear nothing’s as perfect for cooking adobo and our other vinegary stews as an enamelled cast-iron dutch oven. Somehow, stainless steel taints the dish with a subtle, but off-putting “tinny” taste, close to that of raw vinegar. This is where I cooked my best adobo yet, and two other dishes I had cooked before – Moroccan beef stew and  kare-kare – also turned out much better, with more intensified, well-blended flavors.

Why Le Creuset? Well, it’s a classic that’s been around long enough to trust (86 years, to be exact). And it’s still produced in a foundry in France, using time-tested sand casting methods, finished by hand and sprayed with 2 coats of enamel, each fired at 800°C. That’s solid, single-piece construction which, in the kitchen, translates to even heat distribution, the kind we need for slow-cooking, braising or roasting.

I’m told I can even bake bread in it!

3. Nespresso Coffee Maker

First, I fell in love with the design.

Then I marvelled at the engineering. Just power on, pop a pod, push a button. No more fumbling with the coffee jar, no more eternities to wait for until the coffee steeps. No surprises; my coffee would taste the same each time, not bolder nor blander than the day before or the next. Best of all, no more coffee moments marred by having to trash the dregs or hose them down the drain.

There’s more to mornings, and life, than struggling to make a perfect cup. I’d rather try perfecting a sunnyside-up.

4. Le Creuset Butter Bell

Trust the French to find a way to keep butter fresh and spreadable, for up to 30 days without refrigeration. It’s such simple science – all a butter bell (also called butter crock) needs is about half a cup of cold, fresh water and a cool spot on your countertop.

No longer ripping my toast with hard, refrigerated butter… wow, that’s life-changing.

5. Ikea Dinera Dinnerware

They look and feel like the Noritake Colorwave Stoneware set I have in Manila. But at $2 a piece, they don’t break my heart everytime I break a bowl or a cup.

And so the following morning, it was breakfast fit for this batang maton, the little thug who grew up in Singalong, who secretly hammered thick, long wires into deadly arrows, to arm a band of little kids against the spectre called Boy Bina, leader of the snotty rogues who lived across the street.

Don’t mess with me, kid! I eat baboy rrrramo for breakfast!

Hubad na langgonisang baboy ramo, fried egg, fried rice and pickled beans.

I lost my  blog for the stupidest reason: I failed to renew my domain subscription and someone else was quick to buy it. I lost all content, all of 200+ blog posts, all published between 2005 and 2010, the 6 most significant years of my life in terms of food, wine, travel, love.

My last post – one about my trip to Montreal and a memorable dinner at Au Pied de Cochon – was in August 2010 and I hadn’t written since. Then, many months later, as  a postscript, I wrote that I had published my entire blog into a book using an online app. It’s a beautiful book – two volumes, hardbound, full color, glossy paper –  proof, at least, that my blog once existed, a record of a life with its many distractions, each one pursued and indulged, and their stories generously shared.

But the book could well be proof of the inertia I was in. Many things were happening in my life, too fast and urgent to put down in writing: my retirement, my eventual immigration to Canada. Lazy and impatient to write, I decided to yank tennisandconversation out of cyberspace, give it physical form, a finality, and maybe, some permanence.

If there’s any good that came out of losing my blog, it was this: a reason – no, the compulsion – to write again. So here I am, albeit with a bit of effort, cranking my first post. I’m bobbing up for a second wind.