Friday, September 29, 2017

Nutella Hazelnut Toffee Magic Cookie Bars

Nutella Hazelnut Toffee Magic Cookie Bars - made September 9, 2017 from Tasty Kitchen
Back to the States and back to the recipes. Magic cookie bars could possibly be the most versatile bar cookies and the easiest ones to make. The basic elements: graham cracker crust, add-ins, coconut and sweetened condensed milk, are what makes a magic cookie bar.
But there’s a lot of wiggle room in the “add-ins” part of the bar. The most common are nuts and chocolate chips of all flavors (milk, dark, white, butterscotch, peanut butter, cinnamon, etc). This version takes it a step further and adds a layer of Nutella on top of the graham cracker crust. The nuts are hazelnuts in keeping with the Nutella theme and I used semisweet chocolate chips.
To make this easier, I would warm the Nutella very slightly, just enough so that it flows easily over the graham cracker crust. The crust isn’t very thick and it’s easy for the graham cracker crumbs to separate and lift off the rest of their brethren valiantly holding the crust together in order to stick to the Nutella if the Nutella is too firm. Microwave the Nutella so it’s more liquid and spreads more easily over the crust.
This version has you putting all the add-ins before laying the coconut over everything then pouring the sweetened condensed milk over it all. That makes for a plain landscape, if you will, since everything is hidden underneath the blanket of coconut. If you want things to look a bit more lively, reserve some of the chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips to sprinkle over the coconut before you pour the sweetened condensed milk over it all.
This was a good magic cookie bar. Then again, I haven’t met a magic cookie bar I didn’t like. Feel free to get creative. Use more Nutella than the recipe calls for if you’re a Nutella freak; fly that flag! Be generous with the chopped hazelnuts (toast them first to get the best flavor) and the chocolate chips. Spread the coconut with a lavish hand. There’s no wrong way to make this.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup Nutella or more if desired
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 cup coconut, flaked or shredded
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter, mixing until combined. Press into an even layer in the bottom of prepared baking pan.
  3. Spread nutella evenly over crust. Layer on the chopped hazelnuts, chocolate chips and toffee bits.
  4. Cover with a layer of coconut then evenly pour the sweetened condensed milk over entire pan.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until top is slightly golden brown. Cool completely before cutting.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hong Kong - Loaf On Cuisine

Loaf On Cuisine, Sai Kung Market - dinner on August 31, 2017
My last post on Hong Kong. It’ll be back to the recipes after this but I hope you enjoyed a little tour of Hong Kong. It wasn’t really a travelogue as I normally like to do since I didn’t do much research before or after of the places I saw nor is it any kind of bakery or restaurant reviews of the places I ate at. Regardless, I like to document some of my travels this way, not really so much as a reference for any other travelers but as a reminder to me of what I’ve done and where I’ve been, which, for me, always translates into local food and what I ate there.
For our last night in Hong Kong, our host took us to a Michelin star restaurant called Loaf On Cuisine. After our tour of the wet market, we were turned loose for an hour to wander around the various stalls, some selling non-edible items such as clothes, backpacks and bags and various trinkets. But when the time was up, we boarded a shuttle and were driven over very verdant hills and valleys and entered what seemed like a different world than the one we had just left. I don’t have much of a geographic sense of Hong Kong Island or Kowloon so all I know if we ended up at the water’s edge, at a place called Sai Kung, along a boardwalk that housed restaurants and shops. It wouldn’t be accurate to call it the Hong Kong version of Sausalito but it definitely had a more affluent and distinctively other-worldly air from the wet market and the more crowded business district of Hong Kong island.
I was a bit concerned about attire since we went straight from the wet market to the restaurant and I was in shorts and a tank top since the day was so hot and muggy/humid. But I was assured the restaurant was pretty casual, Michelin star and all. After arriving, I wouldn’t say the restaurant was casual as much as “we care about our food, not what you look like and so will you by the time you’ve eaten here”. We were shown to a table on the second floor, separated from the rest of the room by wall dividers so it was as good as feeling like we had the place to ourselves. If there were other large groups on the rest of the floor, I literally didn’t see or hear them.

Again, I don’t know what the dishes were called, but I do know they were amazing. I need to come up with new adjectives as I feel like I’ve worn that one out with my previous meals. The “best seafood dinner I’ve eaten anywhere in Asia” might come close and even that would be tepid in comparison to how delicious the dinner was.
Fried Rice

I hardly need say the seafood was really fresh, right? Beyond that (and that’s no small thing as I’m not sure I can eat at a normal seafood restaurant again), the dishes were well prepared. I’d almost call it deceptively simple in terms of preparation because there wasn’t a lot of (or any) fancy sauces or anything fancy in the prep. One dish of whole fish appeared to just be the fish poached in salt water. I don’t know if that’s all it was. I just know that fish was fresh and really, really tasty.
The presentation was also simple but in a classy way. They let the food present themselves, so to speak. It’s hard to explain without going into endless raptures about how good everything was but the whole dinner was marked by classic simplicity and showcasing the food in the best possible way, with flavors that enhanced and brought out the best in the ingredients. 
Scallop with glass noodles
My favorite was the scallops. Served in the original scallop shells (this is how scallops really come), covered with glass noodles with a light soy sauce. OMG. So good. I could’ve eaten multiples of that alone and been happy. But yes, I paced myself again. The only one I didn’t love as much as the others was the abalone but that’s mostly because I don’t care for the rubbery chewiness of abalone, rather than anything wrong with the dish itself. And I admit, I skipped the periwinkles or sea snails. By the time it arrived close to the end of the meal, I was legitimately full and wasn’t willing to push myself beyond that just to try them.
Prawns - freaking amazing.

But if you’re ever in the area, Loaf On Cuisine is worth a stop on your itinerary. It was incredible. Many thanks to our host and my coworkers for not only a delicious meal but also great company to enjoy it with. After that, it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave the next morning. So long, Hong Kong. I hope it isn’t another 19 years before I’m back again.



Fried Tofu

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hong Kong - Wet Market, Kowloon

Wet Market, Kowloon - toured on August 31, 2017
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you might want to skip this post entirely and come back tomorrow for the last Hong Kong post. I’m a carnivore and even I almost converted as I faced the visual reality of seeing the live or nearly live versions of the protein I consume. But that’s looking at things from a very Western lens where we are used to our proteins in nice, flat, cellophane-wrapped packages in neat rows lined up in refrigerator units housed inside large, well-lit supermarkets.

In Asia, they’re a little closer to protein in their natural forms. They aren’t necessarily nice, neat, shrink-wrapped packs but they’re definitely very fresh. Culturally, they’re also not as squeamish (as me) and are more pragmatic. Less affluent populations literally cannot afford to forego cheaper sources of nutrition (fish harvested from the sea, poultry and pork, etc).

Our last full day in Hong Kong was a team-building activity where we gathered as a group to be taken on a tour of Kowloon’s “wet market”. In the Philippines, we would call them “palengkes”. In the US, they’re like farmers’ markets on steroids where not just produce is for sale but also poultry, fish, pork, beef, etc; some cooked and ready to eat, some raw and available for purchase in family-consumable sizes. 

Our guide said he wouldn’t call himself a food guide but he had spent years learning about the history of food and its culture in Asia and he had some interesting stories to impart about where certain practices came from and what those common practices were. For instance, he showed us a stand where selections of freshly cooked pork was laid out on a table. Customers can come up and choose what they wanted and walk away with their selection, the meat ready to eat and to supplement a family’s dinner.
Ovens are not common in Hong Kong (as they aren’t in the Philippines) and certain meats were rarely cooked by a home chef but were instead always purchased from vendors who had developed the expertise and had the facilities and sources to prepare the meat. It was easy for consumers to stop by on their way home from work to purchase parts of their dinner. This is the same in the Philippines so the practice wasn’t foreign to me. It’s no different than Europeans picking up a baguette on their way home from work to include as their dinner. There are many bakers who produce superior bread and have the facilities to do so and it’s culturally appropriate and easy to buy a fresh loaf than to spend the hours making it yourself.

We walked through various parts of the wet market. There were rough groupings of types of food; some were stalls, others were more traditional stores. The stalls were mostly the freshly cooked meats and poultry or raw seafood while the more traditional stores sold fresh produce. We did go to a particular building that housed 3 stories, the first two floors of which were stalls upon stalls of fresh seafood or produce. And when I say “fresh seafood”, I actually mean “live fish” you can select. Some were freshly killed and keeping in water. This was the umpteenth time I considered going vegetarian even though I don’t eat a lot of vegetables. But I could definitely understand why people go vegetarian and vegan.
Chinese doughnut

But I wasn’t there to judge (or be a hypocrite). It was an interesting, close-up look at Kowloon’s wet market, an exposure to a different type of “foodie” experience, one that is more real than I usually get. It gave me a huge appreciation for the amount of work that goes into providing a food supply for the population and it’s probably normally thankless work.