After yesterday’s mess hall meal it was a no brainer to accept the invitationÂ to dine at Ming Court, the Michelin two-star restaurant at Langham Place, Mongkok. I’ll be moving to Langham Place in a few days, too, so not only did it give me the chance to do a bit ofÂ neighborhoodÂ reconnaissance, but it also gave me the leisurely opportunity to sample the contemporary CantoneseÂ menu of chef Tsang Chiu King. Sophisticated yetÂ approachable -Â and very, very comfortable – it’s an engaging dining experience of traditional fresh flavors, creatively presented: a trio of dim sum;Â bean curd three ways – with prawns, braised with black truffle & gold leaf, and stuffed inside whole abalone with black mushroom; subtly elegant matsutake and bamboo funghi soup; stir fried giant garoupa; award-winningÂ pan-fried chicken skin filled with chicken and black truffle, accompanied with sliced pumpkin;Â baked rice with chicken and cheese served in bell pepper; and a refreshing tofuÂ bird’s nest “extravagance.” Best of all, the food doesn’t takeÂ itself too seriously. Chef Tsang is obviously – thankfully – focused on form following flavor. Which makes for happy palates – not to mention empty plates.
New Year’s Good Fortune Soup has become something of a tradition in my house the last couple of years.Â While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been a harbinger of extraordinarily good fortune, it certainly hasn’t hurtÂ matters either. I think.Â Plus, it just so happens to be both simple, delicious, and – how shall I delicately put this? – cleansing, which makes it the perfect palliative for a lazy New Year’s Day.Â Greens and beans are long a Southern tradition – served with rice it’s called Hoppin’ John, another traditional good-luck dish – and for this simple soup you’ll find the staples in virtually any neighborhood grocery: collard greens, for their resemblance to money; black-eyed peas, which symbolize coins – those others grimly claim they represent Confederate soldiers; and pork, because, well, what soup isn’t enhanced by a fresh ham hock or slab of bacon?Â In a good-sized pot saute an onion in a little olive oil.Â Stir in a pinch of thyme, oregano, a few shakes of hot sauce and a pound of dried black-eyed peas, which have been soaked overnight and rinsed.Â Add a half pound of roughly chopped pork/ham/bacon and a few quarts of stock and/or water and allow to simmer for an hour until the peas are tender.Â Cut your collards into ribbons, add to the soup and cook another 15 minutes.Â Voila, that’s it. Finish with a grind or two of fresh pepper before ladling into bowls and divining the winning lottery numbers.
It’s barely November, yet my Le Creuset is getting quite the workout:Â these wintry weekends seem tailor made for steaming bowls of soup and crusty bread to soak it up.Â In the spirit of last weekend’s onion soup, I went in search of something familiar and comforting while trying to lighten it up a bit, too.Â I chanced upon a gorgeous selection of plump creminis and chanterelles at the market, which settled the internal debate for me:Â cream of mushroom soup,Â here I come.Â As with the onion soup, my recipe search was disappointingly stilted away from the eponymous ingredient. Heavy on the cream and low on the mushrooms is not what I was after.Â I wanted a soup that tasted earthy; I didn’t want the predominate flavor to be butter.Â Of course, I should have known I’d find the answer in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.Â As soon as I read about dicing the mushroom stems to flavor the vegetable stock I knew I was in good hands.Â Her secrets to a rich soup without resorting to a pound of butter and a quart of cream?Â First, a proper well-cooked roux to thicken the mix of sauteed mushroom caps and stock.Â To give it that velvety mouth-feel that makes “cream of” soups so seductive, beat a few egg yolks with a little heavy cream.Â Make a liaison with the warm soup and cream mixture by slowly ladling the hot into the cold – you’ll incorporate the two without accidentally making scrambled eggs.Â Return it to the pot, correct the seasoning and allow the egg to poach.Â Piping hot, garnished with a little parsley, you’ll feel the cold melt straight away.
Something about this cool autumn weather has had me craving onion soup.Â Well, the weatherÂ combined with this giant bag of yellow onions that’s been sitting on my kitchen counter.Â But it’s not theÂ bog-standard crock-stuffed-with-stale-bread-and-dripping-in-burnt-cheese variety I’m after, no.Â I wanted something flavorful, savory, and tasting of onions without being too heavy – or unhealthy for that matter.Â In search of the ideal recipe, I learned that the biggest complaint most cooks have with onion soup is the time and attention necessary to evenly brown and caramelize the onions.Â I also learned that mostÂ of the onion soup recipes out there seemed overly reliant on cheese and croutons to give them their flavor. Â So I had an idea; one that started with building my own recipe from the ground up.
Instead of browning the onions on the cooktop I thought I would try them in the oven.Â Not only would it save me the effort of constant stirring, but I hoped the roasting process would release more of the onion’s natural sugars and produce a richer carmelization, too.Â Putting approximately four pounds of sliced yellow onions into a Dutch oven with a few tablespoons of butter, I roasted the onions, covered, for an hour, by which point the onions had reduced in volume by half.Â Stirring the pot and scraping up the few brown bits, I added a little sea salt and put them back in the oven with the lid slightly ajar.Â After another ninety minutes, I pulled out what I’d call an onion ragout.Â It was beautiful, deep brown, and I was tempted to simply spread it on toast and devour it then and there.Â But I persevered, deglazing the pan over high heat withÂ a little Madeira before adding a few bay leaves and a quart of vegetable stock.Â Once it came to a simmer it was done.Â As with most soups I knew the flavors would really come together overnight, so I allowed it to cool and added a little black pepper for good measure.Â The following night I brought it back to a simmer, cubed a few pieces of French bread, and ladled soup over them in a bowl.Â It was exactly what I had been craving:Â simple, warm and richly flavored without being heavy.Â One pot, six ingredients, perfect.