Friday, January 27, 2006

A Sweet For Some Treats

Throughout my adult years, I have, for one reason or another, spent quite a fair bit of time in London. Thus, over the years, I have come to love several things about Britain's capital city, like for example, Walkers crisps. Yes, I am indeed a junk food junkie and personally, nothing beats sitting in front of the tele with a pack of Walkers crisps and a bubbly sugary drink. So when my good neighbour Tom told me he was heading back to his hometown for a short spell, I begged him to bring back a few packets of my favourite Prawn Cocktail flavoured Walkers Crisps. The dear, dear man obliged.

And so last weekend, Tom turned up at my door bearing a pastic bag full of my favourite junk food. I could have kissed him, except C was standing right next to me. Once I accepted the bag of salted calories, wolfed down a pack and put the rest aside for later, I set about making Tom and his wife Kate a suitable thank you gift.

As usual, I went with my foolproof, always impressive Bitter Chocolate Tart -- it's super easy to make, yet elegant and extremely and, well, impressive. Its base is made from either ground Marie or Digestives biscuits and melted butter (yup, a cheesecake base, essentially). Once that's been shaped in a tart tray and refrigerated, I fill it with a chocolate ganache made with the best dark chocolate available in my cupboards (there's always dark chocolate in my cupboards) and thickened heavy cream. The ratio of cream to chocolate is 1:1. Which means if you use 150 grams of chocolate, then you mix it with 150ml of heavy or thickened cream. You simply chop up the chocolate, bring the cream to a boil, and then pour the cream over the chocolate and let it steep for about 30 seconds. The chocolate will melt under the heat of the cream and you then stir it all together to mix it into a shiny homogenous mixture. Pour that into the tart shell and refrigerate again. Two hours later, voila, a bitter chocolate tart that's as good as, if not better than, any patisserie-bought version.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ten Things You Never Knew About Me Meme

The wonderful and ever-popular Paz recently tagged me for this meme, so here goes:

1. Let's get this bit out of the way real quick: I'm 33

2. Besides my Dalmatian, Oxford, I also have two cats, Flash (in the picture above with Oxford) and Chyna (below)

3. All the camera equipment I use for the pictures in this blog belong to my partner, C, who just happens to be a photographer

4. I'm terrified of getting fat. Since I was a young, impressionable lass, I've worked in industries that place much emphasis on how a woman should "ideally" look (read: thin). First I was an air stewardess with Singapore Airlines, then I worked for a major fashion company, after which I joined a women's fashion magazine. Now that I'm older and (slightly) wiser, I've finally accepted that you cannot be model thin and 1.58meters tall. It's just not physically possible.

5. I'm one of those people that simply cannot sit still for more than an hour

6. I love running, swimming, cycling, yoga, etc. And I've since put it to good use and completed a triathlon and a biathlon last year

7. I am currently studying to become a Pilates instructor. It's so bloody hard!

8. I've had long straight hair all my life. A few years ago I cut it really, really short. Boy, was that a bad decision. I nearly went out and bought a wig. Sadly, it's almost impossible to find a good wig shop in Singapore.

9. I am petrified of cockroaches

10. I'm a shopaholic

Friday, January 20, 2006

Pomegranate Pavlovas, My Way

Like everyone else, I love the way a pomegranate looks when it's split into half and its neat cross section of ruby seeds come tumbling out. To be honest, until this week, I couldn't quite remember what a pomegranate tasted like. It's not a fruit you buy to devour, as you would, say, a big juicy Navel orange or a fat, sweet peach. But since I chanced upon a pile of them in the supermarket's fruit section, I decided to pick up a couple and decide what to do with them when I returned home and consulted my cookbooks.

Surprisingly, none of my cookbooks yielded any recipes that featured pomegranates. And so I turned to my pile of Donna Hay magazines and Vogue Entertaining + Travel , where I found several recipes for a couple of cocktails, some salads, and a pretty trifle. Still, in my mind's eye, a beautifully shot picture of some luscious beads of pomegranate seeds atop snow white pavlovas repeatedly came up. And the picture in my vision was shot in a way that just screamed Nigella Lawson. So once again, I pulled out my copy of How To Be A Domestic Goddess , and there it was -- mini pavlovas with those fuschia seeds piled atop them.

As some of you know, I'm always slightly dubious when trying out recipes from the Domestic Goddess book. Sure, several recipes work beautifully; yet others render results so far removed from Nigella's brilliant descriptions of the dish (for example, her brownies and scones) that I now find myself wondering if it's worth the effort to try something new from it. However, I remembered a conversation I had with a friend about this and recalled her saying something about the pavlova recipe working for her. So I casted my doubts aside and jumped in, if anything, because the picture is the book was just so damn gorgeous.

I am happy to report that the recipe was indeed a foolproof one. But alas, this time, the fault lay with my oven. Because I live in a rented apartment, I don't have a "proper" oven - i.e. one of those Miele/Aga numbers that is embedded below the stove and amongst the kitchen cabinets. Instead, I have a smallish DeLonghi freestanding oven that, I must say, has been so good to me over the years. Anyways, because the oven is small, the heat tends to get extremely close to the food in it. Therefore, if a recipe calls for an oven at a temperature of 180 degrees C, I tend to set it at 170 degrees and bake the confection for slightly longer. I made two batches of pavlovas and both of them turned, well, a muted shade of beige -- a hue that looks great on soft furnishings, but not quite flattering on a pavlova. With the second batch, I turned the oven down to about 120 degrees but I still got a batch of light beige discs and thus concluded that the heat in my oven is just way too close for me to ever get pristine white pavlovas that don't fall flat.

Still, the beige pavlovas tasted pretty good and had a wonderfully light texture. So when they cooled, I topped them with a small pillow of unsweetened whipped heavy cream and a handful of pomegranate seeds. Like a mother who finds its hard to see the ugly side of her children, I still thought my beige, white and pink pomegranate pavlova dessert was quite pretty. Perhaps when I, ahem, grow up, and afford my own apartment and kitchen, I'll finally turn out a flawless batch of ivory pavlovas. Till then, these beige ones will just have to do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Two Meats & Veg

Over the weekend, I decided to delve into one of my new acquisitions, Jane Lawson's Yoshoku. From it, I chose two easy enough recipes to ensure I could spend my now precious weekends doing other things besides slaving in the kitchen (much as I love it, I also love plenty other things).

Her Beef Tataki Salad as well as the Crisp Duck Breast with Orange and Daikon Salad seemed wonderfully fuss-free. I made up the tasty dressing for the beef salad as well as the ponzu sauce for the duck on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, I headed to the new gourmet butchery that recently opened up in the mall near where I live and picked up a nice cut of Wagyu beef (because the barely cooked beef is sliced paper-thin, I decided to splurge and buy a small cut of the best). Then off to the market I went and bought a packet of rocket and a couple of other bits and bobs for our weekend meal. Deep in the recesses of my freezer was a frozen magret of duck (or, in less pretentious terms, a big-ass duck breast packed by the French). To be perfectly honest, I bought it months ago, but the expiry date had at least another year left on it (who knew you could keep meat that long?). Thus, I figured that this was as good a time as any to put it to use.

I am pleased to report that, if the two dishes I chose are anything to go by, Ms Lawson's recipes are a doddle to follow. Sunday evening saw me quickly searing that beautiful slab of beef just to brown the outsides and then pan-frying the duck breast before tossing the rocket (or arugula) in their respective dressings. Then it was a matter of slicing a daikon and some oranges, arranging the dishes on the plate and serving.

Both dishes turned out superb. The melt-in-your-mouth beef and peppery rocket was laced with a tasty dressing, sharp with the zing of grated fresh ginger. Similarly, the rich, pink flesh of the duck was counterpointed with the fresh orangey dressing and ponzu sauce. We had quite a bit left over, so we had it again on Monday night. Fab!

To go with the two dishes, I bought and served a pack of salmon sashimi from the new Japanese fish market that opened up alongside the butchery (it's great, the revamped mall!), together with some cold soba served with its traditional condiments of nori flakes, spring onions, wasabi and senka sauce.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Weekend Dog Blogging #17

C's family's golden retriever, Molly, recently gave birth to a litter of the most beautiful pups. Unfortunately, of the six that she birthed, only three survived (one was stillborn, and the other two she stepped on on separate occasions). Indeed, she's not the best of mothers -- when she birthed her very first pup several years ago, she took one look at it and ran away -- but she has her charms, including an amazing ability to entertain herself for hours, swimming in the sea.

We soon found a favourite in the three pups that survived. Not surprisingly, it is the runt of the litter, whom I've named SlowMo for now. As her name suggests, little SlowMo moves at a much slower pace than her two siblings; she's always the last to reach her mother's milk-logged nipples and she sleeps far more than either of them. She has an extremely sweet and quiet demeanour and, given that her mum tends to be rather indifferent to her and her brothers, has taken a shine to C's other retriever, the grande dame of the house, Becky (shown in the picture below with Oxford when he was a wee pup) . On the rare occasions when SlowMo manages to rouse herself from slumber (that's her sleeping in the pic above), she crawls quietly to Becky and makes a game of catching Becky's constantly wagging tail.

As always, Weekend Dog Blogging is hosted by the lovely Sweetnicks, and this week's pictures were taken by the very talented C.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Otak On Toast

Most Peranakans have extravagant tastebuds. And I'm no different. While others eat porridge, buttered toast, a greasy fry-up, or milk and cereal for breakfast, it isn't uncommon to find members of our family dunking you tiao (fried dough fritters) in ikan assam (a spicy and sour fish curry) gravy or buah keluak gravy.

One of my favourite breakfasts is Otak on Toast, especially if the otak otak was made from scratch by my mother. Otak otak, for those who haven't heard of it, are fragrant parcels of minced fish in a spicy paste that are grilled to succulent perfection within coconut leaves. My mum's otak is yet another of her recipes that I have yet to try. I know I'm a lazy goose, but scraping the makerel's flesh off its many bones and cutting and grinding the spices and coconut milk seem like hard work. Besides, mum does it so effortlessly. Still, given that it is such hard work, I can't expect mum to whip up a batch everytime the hankering strikes me. So when I do crave the spicy creaminess of otak, I head to Lee Wee Brothers, which is the next best thing and wonderfully easy to procure (Lee Wee has stalls all over Singapore).

Usually, I consume the otah neat, in front of the TV, with a tumbler of Coke and lots of ice. But I always save a couple to spread on slices of white bread and then lob in the oven for breakfast or a light lunch. Since today is a public holiday in Singapore (Hari Raya Haji), I woke lazily and indulged in this favourite childhood breakfast. It certainly was a good start to a wonderfully cold and sleepy day.

Meanwhile, Kel from Green Olive Tree, who incidentally, recently went on a fabulous sounding trip to Paris (read about it in her blog) has asked for my Pepper Crab and Crab and Saffron Tart recipes. Now who am I to refuse? You can get them here.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Oh, Crab!

All last week dinner was made up of anything I could find in my cupboards or that could be bought on my way home. Being utterly unaccustomed to commuting from home to office and back, and spending eight hours each day talking or typing, evenings saw me completely knackered, unable to move a muscle once my butt hit the couch. Thus, my dinner menu last week read like a college kid's -- essentially, pot noodles and McDonald's.

By the weekend I was craving some proper grub and when I bought those crabs on Saturday, I had it in mind to make something that would see me through most of the following weeknights. And for that I turned to my favourite recipe from Nigella Lawson's How To Eat. This Crab and Saffron Tart is the bee's knees. It can be a cinch to make, especially if you buy ready-made pie shells like I sometimes do from Culina. Alas, this little gourmet store has stopped selling savoury short crust pastry shells of late and now only stock the sweet (really sweet, actually) variety. No matter, though -- you can still roll out some ready-made frozen pastry and bake that blind to start with.

Over the weekend however, I felt like a little work in the kitchen. So I decided to make my own tart pastry from scratch. All the conditions were perfect for it. It rained hard all day (which meant cool, cool weather; as cool as it ever gets in Singapore) and I needed the kind of therapy that only pastry making offers -- a kind of strange Zen that comes from carefully grinding butter with flour and patting the ball of dough gently with ice-cold hands and iced water before rolling it out with gentle care. I usually turn to the pie dough recipe from my trusty Baking At Home With The Culinary Institute of America, but that day, I thought, why not give Nigella's pastry recipe a shot.

I am pleased to report that her tart pastry recipe rendered a wonderfully crisp and slightly flaky crust that stood up well to the wobbly custard filling. On a side note, I have to admit that I often approach Ms Lawson's recipes -- especially for cakes and pastries -- with some measure of dubiousness. If you own a copy of How To Be A Domestic Goddess and tried more than a few recipes from that book, I'm sure you'll understand my doubt. But I digress.

The tart's filling is simply exquisite -- lining its bottom is a thin layer of a wonderfully robust tomato sauce infused with garlic, thyme and a single bay leaf. On top of that goes a custard fragrant with the goodness of saffron and fresh crab meat, which is cooked to a quivering mass that melds all the flavours together harmoniously. When it comes out of the oven, the cooked custard literally heaves and sighs, rising and falling like a sexy, tasty bosom. That alone is enough to make anyone want to attack it lovingly with a knife and shovel a healthy slice straight from knife to mouth.

Indeed as Ms Lawson comments in her book, this tart is best served "neither hot nor cold, but warm; this is at its paradisal, slightly baveuse best about 50 minutes to an hour after it comes out of the oven."

"And," she continues, "I have found that you can bring any fridge-cold leftover wedges back to optimum, faintly runny room temperature in a low microwave...And if you do have any left over, it is worth cutting into individual fat slices and freezing like that, only to resuscitate them for a perfect, gloriously luxurious dinner for yourself in the evenings ahead."

Which is exactly what I did. By the way, dinner tonight was just divine. I can't wait to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next. But don't worry, by week's end I won't want to look at it ever again.

The tart used up the flesh of just two crabs, and with the third I decided to go local and do a Pepper Crab. If you're as much of a crab fiend as I am, I'm sure your next question would be, "how can you have just one pepper crab??" Relax. This little piggy went to market again on Sunday morning, headed straight for the slightly amused crab seller and bought two more of those delicious crustaceans. And so for dinner Greedy Goose and my dear partner C, supped on spicy pepper crabs. You can see how greedy I got from the picture here.

I couldn't even muster the effort to style it or care about lighting. In fact, as soon as i set the dish on the table, I tucked in and instructed C to take the picture. Good man that he is, he obliged. Burp!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

On The Menu This Week...

Yes, beginning with one pill of each twice a day and increasing the dosage by another pill every day until every last spot of Christmas food has been purged...hopefully in time for Chinese New Year. Which by the way, happens at the end of this month. Which, in turn, means more eating.

So if you're wondering why I've been rather quiet in the kitchen of late, I'm merely resting and preparing my greedy tum for yet more festive treats. Meanwhile, if I have to eat another ounce of mash potato, stuffing, minced meat of any kind, steak or any manner of roasted meat, I think I may just throw up. Evidently my greediness knows some limits. See, we learn a new thing every day.

This is yet another reason why I haven't put to use all the wonderful gifts that I received over the festive season. My friend M gave me a meat thermometre, my mum bought me a pair of serving spoons and forks, and with shopping vouchers given to me by my brother, an aunt and two cousins, I bought myself my very first Le Crueset pot - a 20cm French oven that's my new pride and joy in the kitchen.

Just before Christmas, I also received Gary Rhode's latest book Keeping It Simple from its publishers for review. I haven't quite delved into it yet, but I will pretty soon. My other new acquisition is Jane Lawson's Yoshoku, which I bought as a Christmas gift to myself. Over the festive season, a small Japanese fishmonger and supermarket opened up at the mall near where I live. I of course viewed it as an opportunity (finally) to start attempting to cook the modern Japanese cuisine, which i so love to eat. I also started a new job this year, and my office is conveniently located close to a much larger Japanese supermarket close to the heart of town. Again, another sign that I needed to buy Ms Lawson's book, which I'd been eyeing for some time now.

The new job is taking a bit of getting used to given that I've worked comfortably from home for the last five years -- yet another reason why I haven't been in the kitchen this week. But hey, you can't keep a greedy goose down for long. This morning, I literally woke from sleep thinking about what I would like to make and eat over the weekend and next week. So this little piggy went to market and came home with three lovely crabs which I've boiled and will decide what to do with later this afternoon.