Congee Breakfast with Pork Floss and Fermented Tofu

This past weekend I was craving a certain savory breakfast, one that I used to eat often as a child when I was living with my beloved grandparents in their 30th floor flat in Paris’ Chinatown. The whole family lived together, grandparents, aunts and uncle included. It was a fairly big two-bedroom apartment, with a living room overlooking Paris and an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower.  From our windows, it looked as though the Eiffel Tower was standing on the roof of the nearest building, sparkling at night to say hello. I loved to look down and observe the cars riding by, like ants following each other in neat lines. But what I loved to watch most was the playground, and every day unfailingly I would ask my grandfather to take me down there and play.

My grandfather is one of those early morning types (I did not inherit those genes apparently). He would wake up around 5 or 6am, get dressed, put on his French-style beret and go for a walk around Chinatown and do his rounds. He’d stop by and say hello to people he knew, and perhaps practice some taichi in one of the nearby parks. Sometimes he’d bring back a baguette or two. And he’d have breakfast. And the whole household finally waking up would have breakfast too. It was a simple breakfast, some rice porridge accompanied by a few side dishes, pork floss, fermented tofu, pickled mustard greens, chinese olives, and sometimes an omelette with pickled radish.

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Beurre au Piment d’Espelette – Homemade Butter

[Homemade buttermilk and butter flavored with piment d’esplette]

After learning about buttermilk substitutes, I actually realized that I didn’t know a whole lot anything about buttermilk in the first place (for my French readers, buttermilk is called babeurre, lait battu, petit lait or lait de beurre). So what exactly is buttermilk? Traditional buttermilk refers to the slightly sour left-over liquid from the butter churning process. Hence the name, butter-milk. Contrary to popular belief, buttermilk does not contain butter and is in fact low in fat.

Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional buttermilk in your regular supermarket. Most often, you’ll see cultured buttermilk, made from adding lactic acid bacteria to pasteurized milk (whole, skim or non-fat) and left to ferment for 12 to 14 hours. The fat content of the buttermilk will usually depend on the fat content of the milk from which it was made.

The good news is, making your own buttermilk the old-fashioned way, and by extension making your own butter, is a breeze. Well, almost. Bear with me. The recipe involves heavy cream, a jar, and a lot of shaking. You put the heavy cream in a jar, close the lid tightly, then shake until the cream turns into whipped cream, then shake some more until the whipped cream separates into a solid, butter, and a liquid, buttermilk. Tada, that is all.

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Learning from TWD: Buttermilk Substitutes

I mentioned in my first post that I joined Tuesdays With Dorie because of this whole concept of community learning. So after my first TWD baking experience, I was looking forward to reading other bloggers’ comments on the recipe. I decided it would be nice to do a sort of lessons learned post afterwards. So here’s what I learned from fellow bloggers.

The majority of TWDers loved the bread although some thought the basic recipe was too plain. Most bloggers actually altered the recipe, with the addition of raisins, currants (both often soaked in some kind of liquor) and/or carraway seeds the most common. Another common addition was that of cheese. Delectable Delights with Rebecca recommends adding about 2 cups of grated cheese to Baking with Julia‘s base recipe. Some other people also used a mix of whole weat and regular all-purpose flour in order to obtain a more wholesome loaf.

My favorite variant came from The Double Trouble Kitchen. She added sundried tomatoes, rosemary and sprinkled it with sea salt and black pepper. Salt plus pepper, a common flavor profile in Chinese cuisine, is pretty much a sure winning combination in my book (incidentally, Costco sells these amazing salt and pepper pistachios that we’re addicted to).

But what I love most is the learning of techniques, tips and tricks. And this time, I learned that if you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can easily substitute it with one of several things:

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