Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Year End Meme, Weekend Dog Blogging and New Year Wishes

Mumu at A Curious Mix tagged me for a meme, which originated at The Seasonal Cook. Essentially, the meme calls for a list of things I would bring in order to cook in someone else's kitchen.

I have to say I've almost never cooked in someone else's kitchen. Usually, I'd prepare the dish at home and then bring it over. At the very most, I'd save the last step for the foreign kitchen -- which is often to bang the dish into the oven or fry it up in a pan. So what I've done is thought about the various kitchens that I am most likely to cook in and made a list from there.

The first would be my mother's kitchen, which is bursting at the seams with all manner of cooking equipment to turn out a fabulous meal. The second is my good friend L's, whose oven I have baked cakes in a couple of times. The third is in C's mum's kitchen, where I've pottered about once or twice putting together a salad for a barbeque in the garden. And so without further ado, here's my list:

1. My Henkel's chef knife
I don't know how our mothers can own all sorts of wierd gadgets for shaping carrots into roses and lifting surface oil from a curry, but not have a good knife that would slice a cabbage in half without any sawing action.

2. Oven thermometre
L's oven is the single most finnicky, unpredictable, and frustrating oven ever built. We've wasted many cakes in that damn appliance. Cakes that turn out perfectly fine in my dinky-ass DeLonghi mini oven, shrivels up to a burnt mess in hers. Or they take three times the duration to bake.

3. Real Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Modena
Once I tasted the sweet, mellow flavour of the real, aged stuff, regular Balsamico just doesn't cut it anymore. I take my precious bottle anywhere that requires me to whip up a salad dressing.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share Oxford's breakfast shenanigans in this Weekend's Dog Blogging event, which is, as always, hosted by the lovely Sweet Nicks. So without further ado, here's How To Steal A Pancake, by this weekend's guest blogger, Oxford.

Step 1: Practice stealth. Approach the plate quietly and keep it at eye level.

Step 2: Attack swiftly. Keep an eye on the guards who may waste no time in taking you down.

Step 3: Exercise restraint. Never try to pull more than one pancake off the plate at a time. Keep your eye on the prize and wait until the next opportunity.

Happy New Year everyone and thanks for all the support you've shown me in the last two months. See ya next year!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

And So The Feasting Begins

If I really were a goose, I'd be a prime candidate for foie gras right now. As of 23 December, I've been eating just about non-stop, living up to my blogging moniker and then some. That night, my cousins -- bless their greedy hearts -- decided that they would start a new tradition: The Gourmet Christmas Dinner. On the menu was an appetiser of foie gras terraine laid on a water cracker between a lick of French onion spread and Cabernet Savignon jelly. There was also a platter of blue cheeses, brie, and some sort of double cream cheese before our main course of Wagyu beef steak and a stuffed chicken. It's a good thing that when it comes to dessert I'm rather bovine, with a separate compartment in my belly to digest the butterscotch and chocolate ice cream log cake and several buttercream gourmet chocolate truffles. Now's that's a tradition I could get used to. Burp.

On Christmas Eve, our family dinner was, as always, stupendous. Aside from the turkey and our family's signature minced pork stuffing, there was a bone-in ham with apple and honey sauce, some sort of veggie stir-fry, otar (a spicy fish cake), curry devil (more on that later), sushi, feng (curried innards, another Eurasian tradition), and fried noodles. For dessert, my aunty served black rice pudding topped with ice cream, a chocolate log cake and yet more chocolate truffles. Suffice it to say, I had to eat at least one portion of everything. It's only polite.

What I love best about Christmas Eve dinner though, are the leftovers. Christmas morning just isn't the same without the Christmas Morning Fry-Up. Leftovers from the night before re-fried and gobbled up again, and like all leftovers, taste better when left to steep in their own flavours overnight.

My Christmas Fry-Up breakfast menu is the same every year -- slices of ham, whatever vegetable dish was on offer the night before, and my mother's turkey stuffing (chestnuts, minced pork, mushrooms, celery, baby corn, and onions infused with star anise, cloves and a dash of soy). I've been eating stuffing like this all my life that when I spent my first Christmas away in England at age 25, I expected the stuffing at my hosts' dinner table to be, at the very least, similar to that I'm accustomed to. So imagine my shock when I took a mouthful of their mushier stuffing of breadcrumbs, sage and onions and very nearly gagged. Luckily my greedy gene kicked in and in the time I took to rearrange my face, I managed to not only swallow the stuff but convince myself that it wasn't all that bad. My palate was simply expecting something different.

Christmas Day lunch, as tradition dictates, is taken in front of the TV. On the menu is a piping hot bowl of Curry Devil, with slices of white bread to mop up the fiery gravy. Devil, as we like to call it, (or Debal, the accurate Christang name for it), is a traditional Eurasian dish, that like Sugee Cake, is served at every festive event. Unlike other curries, it uses no curry powder, but a spice mix that comprises LOTS of fresh and dried chillies, onions, candlenuts, and turmeric.

This paste is then fried for about half and hour as it absorbs the oil in the pan and then releases it again, signalling well-cooked chillies and little risk of a stomach ache the morning after (less than cooked chillies, especially in such large quantities, will leave you clutching your belly in pain on Christmas morning before sending you to the toilet for a lengthy visit). That said, it is not Devil until you break out in a sweat as you eat it -- I guess that's where it derives its name. That, and it's fiery red colour. My advice to Devil virgins usually is to leave a roll of toilet paper in the fridge the night before.

Traditionally a curry for leftovers, Devil usually contains plenty of meat from the Christmas dinner table -- turkey, duck, pork, etc. However, these days Devil is made for the dinner table, so it usually holds sausages, chicken and roast pork, with potatoes, cabbage, and cucumber. What gives Devil it's full-bodied flavour is a bunch of bacon bones or smoked ham hock. At the very end of its cooking process, when the meat is cooked and the bacon bones have released its wonderfully smoky and savoury flavour, the curry is spiked with ginger, English mustard and healthy splashes of vinegar. At the risk of sounding Nigella-ish, I have to say, mmph, just writing about it makes my mouth water and my tastebuds tingle.

So that was lunch.

Dinner was at my childhood friend M's house, whose Indian-Chinese heritage saw to another menu of curries -- mutton rendang, chicken curry, devil -- fried fishballs and chicken wings, more turkey, fried egg noodles and oh, I can't even remember what else was on the table. For dessert, an amazingly filling coconut jelly that was so delicious I had to have two.

Tomorrow, as the saying goes, is another day. My mum will be hosting a group of family friends and it will no doubt be another round of turkey and stuffing, devil, lasagne (for the kids, but adults seldom resist) and god only knows what else. Meanwhile I'm off for a long run in preparation for yet another day's feasting. I can already feel my arteries clogging.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Icing On The Sugee Cake

This was my virgin attempt at cake decorating with marzipan and ready-roll icing and, boy, was it a bitch. Still, it proved rather enjoyable for the first hour or so, as I experimented with various shades of red food colouring, hoping to turn the icing a deep Christmasy magenta for the ribbon on my gift-shaped cube of cake.

One bottle of "Christmas Red" turned my pristine white icing a bright orange, while another tube of regular red colouring rendered a lurid shade of pink. Defeated, I dripped an itsy bit of blue colouring into a new batch of icing and came out with the shade in the picture you see here.

It's a tad bar mitzvah-ish, I know, but it was the least offensive of the colours I experimented with. And what with all the Christmas chores left to be done, I couldn't indulge the exercise the hours it would have required. After fiddling with the quickly wilting icing (damn this tropical weather) and fashioning them into the best ribbons I could, I gave up and dug out the christmas cake ornaments I saved from all the log cakes I received last year. These proved far easier -- just stick 'em on the top of the cake. What's not to love?

What's underneath all that icing and marzipan, by the way, is the unctuous, buttery goodness of Sugee Cake. Sugee Cake to Eurasians in these parts of the world (usually of Portuguese descent) is what traditional fruit cake is to Anglo Saxons -- the celebratory confection of choice at Christmas, weddings and christenings. Dense with semolina and chopped or ground almonds (depending on the recipe), it looks like any other yellow cake, but is so much more. You'll gasp at the amount of butter it requires, and how much it shows. Just lay your sugee cake on a sheet of greaseproof paper and watch the fat form a small, oily pool. Okay, I exaggerate, but I assure you, I'm not far off. Be that as it may, the crumbly, nutty texture of this artery-clogging tradition is worth every stent you'll have to endure in your old age.

It was difficult finding the perfect recipe -- the old Eurasian women who harbour the best ones guard it with their lives. Eventually I found mine in the most unlikely of places: my old home economics recipe book from my secondary school days. It's not the best, but it'll do. I recently found another promising sounding one here.

I might try that after the festivities are done. Meanwhile, I'm all caked out and ready for more savoury delights - my mother's turkey stuffing, curry devil (which I'll make tomorrow), and all the other good stuff I'm expecting at my family's dinners which begin in earnest tomorrow. I can't wait.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Festive Chocolate Cupcakes

What's not to love about cupcakes? Especially soft-as-clouds chocolate ones, topped with decadent chocolate ganache made with Valrhona 70% choclate. These were my final entry into C's client goodie bag and boy were they as easy to eat as they were to make. The recipe is from More From Magnolia (I've been obsessed with Magnolia cupcakes ever since I watched Sarah Jessica Parker bite into a pink one in Sex And The City - I'm such a follower, I know). You can get the recipe here.

Instead of using Magnolia's suggested Buttercream Frosting, I decided to top it with my favourite ganache recipe.

You essentially chop 115 grams of the best bittersweet chocolate and boil up 125ml of heavy cream. When the cream is boiled, pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for about 30 seconds before stirring it up. Then add 30 grams of cubed butter, softened at room temperature and stir till you get a smooth mix. Refrigerate it, stirring every 5 minutes or so until it's at the consistency you want. Then spread over the cupcakes.

To add a touch of festive shine, I sprinkled silver dragees on top.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Holiday Cookie Exchange #3: Chocolate Malt Cookies

I am completely of the same mind as Dawn of So Cal Foodie, who just happens to be hosting the Final Instalment of Holiday Cookie Exchange # 3.

I've spent the last week icing countless ginger bread stars and putting together stained glass christmas tree cookies that I am starting to get ever so slightly burned out. And while the said cookies are irresistably pretty, let's face it, gingerbread and butter cookies are not everyone's cup of tea. So I decided that for the last batch of cookies that will go into C's client Christmas goodie bag, I would make something that's wonderfully chocolatey and universally liked. Again I delved into Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies and decided on her Chocolate Malt Sandwiches. They sounded like just the thing, with their deep brown hue and crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside texture. So while C slept in this morning, I decided to whip up a batch and make use of that bottle of Horlicks malt drink powder sitting in my cupboard, the leftover of a Horlicks ice cream experiment several months ago (I'm still experimenting, in case you're wondering).

As it turns out, the cookies are a real treat. As expected, they are deeply chocolatey and are given an added dimension by the malt powder. In fact, they are so good that I didn't bother to make the chocolate filling. Rather than make them sandwiched cookies as the recipe suggested, I've decided to just pack them up as is, which offers them the added benefit of being able to keep better as well. Besides, it's near impossible to find the half-and-half required for the filling in Singapore.

Here's the recipe. I've added the recipe for the filling as well, just in case you're feeling more industrious than I am.

Chocolate Malt Sandwiches
For the cookies
2 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plain malted-milk powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 170 degrees C. Sift flour, cocoa powder, malted-milk powder, baking soda and salt.
Mix butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in egg, vanilla and creme fraiche and 3 tbsp hot water. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture.

Space tablespoon-size balls of dough 3.5 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until flat and just firm. 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on parchment on wire racks.

For the filling
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup malted-milk powder
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp half-and-half
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring. Let cool. Mix malted-milk powder and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Gradually mix in half-and-half, chocolate mixture and vanilla. Refrigerate, covered, until thick, about 30 mins. Mix on high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Assemble cookies: Spread a heaping tablespoon filling on the bottom of 1 cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat. Sandwiches can be refrigerated between layers of parchment in an air-tight container up to 3 days.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stained Glass Christmas Tree Cookies

These biscuits have been a hit since I started making them almost a week ago. There are certainly painstaking (I manage only three dozen a day), but are worth the effort since they are pretty impressive. Given that I gorge myself with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate all the time, I think I've forgotten how delicious plain sugar-cookies can be. And these served to remind me well -- they are crisp and not too sweet, with a rich, buttery fragrance that hits you every time you open the cookie jar. Add to that the wow factor of the luminescent stained-glass windows (made by way of chopped hard candies) and you have another winner that's going in to C's Christmas goody basket for his clients.

The recipe has been adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies, a special issue with over 100 recipes that will take me more than a year to try!

If the cookies look like a mission to make, it's because they are. Chopping the hard candies are a messy and back-pain-inducing affair, so I tried pounding them in a mortar and pestle, which was even messier. At first I thought that blitzing them in my mini food chopper might grind them too finely, but as it turns out, that is the best option. Though if you live in the hot humid tropics as I do, it might be best to grind only what you will use each time because they end up melting extremely quickly and sticking together in clumps (not to mention all over your fingertips too). On top of that, the dough is pretty soft and buttery, so it's best to keep it in the fridge until ready to use. You should also flour your work surface generously so it doesn't stick all over the place. Finally, when it's ready to go into the oven, you need to check it every couple of minutes with a toothpick in hand to fill any little holes in the "glass" as the sweets begin to melt and boil.

Now, if you're still fancy making up a batch, here's the recipe:

Stained Glass Trees (makes about 3 to 5 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutter)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more (lots more!) for work surface
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
7 ounces (about 30) assorted clear coloured hard candies (colours separated and finely chopped)

Sift flour, salt and baking powder and set aside. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted wth the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and mix till smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture. Mix till combined and stir in vanilla. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (or 170 degrees C) with racks in upper and lower thirds. Roll out chilled dough on a well-floured surface to a little more than 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes using a tree-shaped cookie cutter. Using a metal spatula, space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a triangular cut-out in the centre of each cookie. Re-roll scraps and cut.

Sprinkle candy in a single layer in the hole of each cookie, avoiding the edges of the triangle. Bake until candy has just melted and the cookie edges are just starting to turn pale golden brown, about 11-12 minutes. Midway through baking, quickly open the oven door and check for any holes in the "glass" (there will probably be lots); use a toothpick to fill them in. Try not to let the candy centres become bubbly.

Cool completely on sheets on wire racks and use a metal spatula to remove cookies from parchment.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Weekend Cookbook Challenge

I loved the idea of digging into my oldest cookbook and attempting a recipe for the first time, as suggested by Alicat from Something So Clever and Sara of I Like To Cook in their Weekend Cook Book Challenge. Like everyone else, I'm guilty of a rather large collection of cookbooks, of which barely an eighth has been fully delved into and used to its fullest potential.

As I trawled my shelves, I tried hard to remember exactly the book that started my collection. Was it Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess? Mary Berry's The Complete Cookbook? Or Zarina's Home Cooking by Zarinah Ibrahim? And then my eyes fell to a tatty red spine languishing quietly at the end of the second shelf.

I'd almost forgotten about this old treasure. With its blue hard cover and yellowing pages, this was the cookbook that I spent much of my childhood poring over, pointing out recipes that sounded tempting to my mother, who would then oblige me by whipping them up. Now here it was, on my shelf, an heirloom of sorts, with the binding coming charmingly loose and pages and pages of old-school recipes written in my mother's amazingly neat hand (the lack of computers certainly did something for good handwriting). In between those pages are also similarly yellow and tatty loose-leaf pages of recipes painstakingly typed out on the old Olivetti typewriter.

Though I've had the cookbook for a couple of years now -- my mother knows all the recipes in there by heart, it seems -- I've never actually used it. Why would I need to? Some dishes are best left to mum to produce. The cookbook would eventually be her legacy to me, but in the meantime, traditional Peranakan sweets like Kueh Ko Swee or Kueh Bangkit are best eaten hot out of my mother's ancient steamer (I intend to make that mine eventually too) and oven.

So, when it came to choosing a recipe to try out, I decided to go with one of my childhood favourites: Orange Trifle. This is old-school trifle at it's best -- it's sweet, it's simple enough and it's lip-smackingly good. When we were kids, my mum used to make this at least once a week. When it was sufficiently chilled and ready to eat after dinner, my brothers and I would devour the entire tray in exactly six minutes, sometimes less.

As I read through the recipe, I started to get a bit confused. The instructions in the sponge cake recipe called for me to "whip the egg whites and add in sugar a little at a time and heat well. Then add one yolk at a time and heat well again." I'd never heard of heating eggs for a sponge cake -- maybe she meant heating the eggs in a bowl above a pan of simmering water.

When I called mum, she sounded peeved. "Heat? Why would you heat the eggs?" she asked incredulously.
"Mum, that's what you wrote in the recipe."
"Rubbish, I've been making it for years and I've never heated any eggs."

When I read out the line from the recipe to her, she laughed. "BEAT the eggs! Not heat!"
See what I mean about mum knowing the recipes by heart?

Anyhow, once I figured that out, the rest was a doddle. The trifle was made and eaten in a day.

The following recipe is enough for two trifles. If you do try it, you must let me know how it turned out for you.

My Mum's Orange Trifle

For the sponge cake:
6 eggs
120g self raising flour
60g corn flour
1 tsp vanilla
4 tsp orange juice
120g melted butter
120g sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Whip the egg whites and add in sugar a little at a time. Beat well. Add in one yolk at a time and beat well till thick. Fold in the flour, vanilla and orange juice. Lastly, fold in the melted butter and pour into two ovenproof glass trays.

For the jelly:
1 cup boiling water, 1 box orange jelly powder (or Jello), the grated peel and juice of 1 orange, syrup from 2 cans of mandarin oranges (you'll use the orange wedges for decorating the top)

Mix the jelly powder with hot water until it is dissolved, and then add in the orange juice and the mandarin orange syrup. Mix well. Leave to cool.

For the custard:
1 teacup evaporated milk, half cup fine sugar, 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons custard powder, a pinch of salt

Cook all the above on a slow fire, continuously stirring until it boils. Set aside to cool

For the topping
2 cans (170g) Nestle's Cream (essentially cream with 25% milk fat)
2 cans mandarin orange wedges

To assemble
Pour jelly mixture onto the cake. Allow the cake to absorb and be soaked in the liquid. Then pour custard over the cake and spread evenly. Next pour the cream over. Spread evening and then arrange orange wedges on top. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My Childhood In A Mouthful

One bite into these fabulous coconut candies and memories of my childhood come flooding back in bright saturated colours. Perhaps it's the bright happy hues of these old-fashioned gems that seep into those memories, or the chewy texture that makes me feel like a kid all over again. Whatever it is, it's really, really good.

Time was when you could find packets of these at almost any mamak* stall or at fun fairs. These days, they are a lot harder to come by, though they can still be found in confectionaries along Little India. I also spied some at Glory Catering on East Coast Road. A fragrant concoction of grated coconut, sugar and milk, cooked to a dense sticky mix, these coconut candies are a doddle to make and last two weeks in an air-tight container or about a month in the fridge -- well worth the effort.

The recipe below has been adapted from Sylvia Tan's Singapore Heritage Food: Yesterday's Recipes For Today's Cook, a great book that summarises some of Singapore's best loved dishes, and a bible for Singaporeans living abroad hungry for a taste of home.

* "Mamak" is a colloquial term that describes Indian Muslims. "Mamak stalls" then are small shops run by Indian muslims selling sweets, drinks, snacks and provisions like canned food, sauces, onions and garlic. In the old days (um, that would be around 1970), mamak stalls were a common sight on the ground floor of apartment buildings in almost every Singaporean housing estate. These days, with supermarkets around every corner, the once ubiquitous mamak stalls are a disappearing sight.

Coconut Candy (Makes 24)
3 cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
3 tightly packed cups of grated coconut (skin removed)
1 tbs butter
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
a few drops of food colouring

Butter a wide, shallow tray and set aside. Boil sugar and milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it becomes a thin syrup. Add the butter and coconut, stirring constantly to prevent burning. The mixture is ready when it thickens and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. To test, drop a small piece into cold water. It should harden immediately.

While it is still boiling, add the vanilla essence and salt. Take it off the fire and quickly mix in a few drops of food colouring. If you want to make different colours, have another saucepan (or several other saucepans) ready so you can divide the mixture and then colour them separately.

Spread the mixture over the buttered tray. Cut into pieces while still warm and leave them to harden.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You Are What You Eat Meme: My Top Ten Favourite Foods

I was tagged by the fabulous Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen, who's been so wonderfully supportive since I started blogging mere weeks ago. Since she tagged me, I've been racking my brain, trying to limit my number of favourite foods to just 10 (I am greedy indeed). After a while, I figured the best way to do this was to list foods that I simply cannot live without. So, here goes:

1. Chocolate
I know it's cliche, but I can't go one meal without chocolate -- the darker the better. I often say that I have a second compartment for chocolate in my stomach. To wit, I could eat a massive buffet and stuff myself till bursting point and moan about how I am simply unable to put anything else in my mouth. But then place a piece of chocolate under my nose, and I'd inhale it in just one mouthful and ask you for more. I stopped smoking about two years ago and, alas, chocolate is my substitute for cigarettes. The end of every meal is punctuated with a small piece (oh, alright, a whole bar) of chocolate. Hey, there are worse habits a girl could have, no?

2. Chilli Sambal
Like a true Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese), I eat sambal belachan (fresh chilli pounded with toasted fermented prawn paste and a squish of lime) with everything. Not many places serve sambal belachan though, so I've developed a taste for any kind of sambal (chilli jam, for want of a better way to describe it). Asian dishes are just not the same without sambal and I'd rather forgo Asian food than eat it without chilli.

3 and 4. Prawns and Crabs
I love prawns and crabs cooked any way. Even if they are just boiled in hot water.

5. Oysters
Fresh and writhing slightly in their shells when touched, with a spritz of lemon and a dash of hot sauce. I've been known to knock back 35 oysters all by myself in one sitting. The ones pictured above are a platter of Bateman Bay oysters which I had the pleasure of supping on at Sydney's restaurant-of-the-moment Flying Fish. In fact, once that picture was taken, they all slipped down my throat in less than two minutes.

6. Fried Chicken Wings
I don't care for chicken breasts (white meat is just not my thing). But I adore chicken wings, particularly if fried in a light, crispy and spicy batter. My all-time favourite are the Prawn Paste Chicken Wings from the Crystal Jade chain of restaurants available all over Singapore.

7. Foie Gras
This is one of my favourite foods that I prefer to eat outside of home. Cooking it myself just serves to show me how much pure fat I'm consuming in one (very small) sitting. My favourite place to have it is at Saint Pierre, where chef Emmanuel Stroobant serves it pan-fried with caramelised green apples and port sauce.

8. Steamed White Rice
To be honest, I don't really like white rice that much. When I do eat it, I don't consume much of it in terms of portions. Yet, strangely, it is a staple that I cannot live without. Rice is the ultimate comfort food for any Asian, and I guess I'm no different. Though I could go a whole week without eating a meal that consists of rice, it is only a matter of time before something deep inside me starts to gnaw and growl and demand that I feed it with a spoonful or two of steaming white rice -- preferably served with a dollop of sambal belachan and a spicy, braised meat dish on the side

9. Pasta
This is another taste for which I cannot understand. When I'm carbing up during triathlon season, I literally dream of pasta in my sleep. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, craving those damn noodles, drenched in sauce -- any sauce. I crave it more often than I crave rice!

10. Ice Cream
Real Italian gelato, Haagen Daz, Ben & Jerry's, luscious home-made creations -- the richer the better -- need I say more?

Now I have to tag five more people and since I don't have many food blogging friends (yet, I hope), I'm going to tag five blogs that I enjoy reading. They are:

1. Liz from Gastronomy Domine
2. Dagmar from A Cat In The Kitchen
3. Ilva from Lucillian Delights
4. Cupcake Queen from 52 Cupcakes
5. Sam from Becks & Posh

I'd love to see what you guys name as your favourite foods.

Monday, December 05, 2005

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

When C mentioned he wanted to send a bunch of Christmas goodies to his clients, I immediately volunteered my services. I imagined a basket of cookies, cupcakes and maybe a couple of chocolate truffles -- if I make some successfully when I try to -- studded with elegant silver dragees and perhaps some sort of Christmasy decorations that I hope to pick up from the baking supplies store sometime this week.

But first, a round of testing in the kitchen. Over the weekend, I pulled out my trusty Baking At Home with The Culinary Institute of America and attempted the recipe for Gingerbread Cookies. From the moment the batter was made, the smell was just awesome -- honey, dark brown sugar, ground spices like ginger, cloves and cinnamon richly amalgamated into butter, eggs and flour. was enough to conjure Christmas right there in the tropical heat of my kitchen. As you might imagine, that heady scent also flooded the house once the cookies began cooking in the oven. Oxford waited desperately at the door hoping for a scrap or two to float his way. All he got, I'm afraid, was a pool of drool at his feet.

The recipe called for 5.5-inch star-shaped cookie cutters, but as I only had a small star-shaped cutter, I used that instead. The recipe makes about 48 small cookies or 24 large ones, and if you decide to make them small, be prepared to spend plenty of time icing them -- they are much more fiddly as diminutive stars. The cookies came out pretty cakey as well, which isn't bad at all, just not good if you were expecting harder crunchy cookies (which, um, I was). Still, they taste great though they soften even more when you leave them out to ice and then dry.

3 3/4 all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
2 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1.5 tsp ground all spice
1 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
Flourless cooking spray

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (or 375 degree Farenheight). Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking soda, ginger, allspice, and salt and set aside.

Cream butter, brown sugar, and honey on medium speed till smooth (about 2 minutes). Add eggs and mix till smooth and light (another 2 - 3 minutes). Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until the dough is evenly mixed. Turn it onto a lightly floured work surface, pat into an even disc, and chill for 10 minutes.

Roll dough to a 1/4 inch thickness and cut out cookies with a cookie cutter. Transfer to prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake till firm (12 - 14 minutes). Transfer to wire racks and cool completely before decorating.

2 large egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2.5 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Beat egg whites on low speed in a clean, grease-free bowl until they become loose (1 min). Add cream of tartar and continue mixing on low speed till the whites become frothy (2 minutes). Add the sugar gradually with the mixer on low speed. Continue to mix until the icing reaches the consistency you want (in this case, a thickish goo-ey consistency so it's easy to pipe and spread).

(Recipes adapted from Baking At Home with The Culinary Institute of America)