Sunday, May 28, 2006

Lychee Season

I'm not much of a fruit person. Often, I prefer my fruit cooked rather than fresh and raw. For instance, I'd happily dig into banana cake or banana fritters; and I love a good apple pie or tarte tartin. But you won't soon find me eating a fresh apple or a banana straight from its comb. There are, however, certain fruits that I make exceptions for.

While this is one of those months where everything culminates into workdays and weeks that never seem to end—hence the long stretches between posts (my apologies to those who've been checking in only to find me MIA)—there are still a few little luxuries that I am thankful for. One of which is lychee and mango season, which kicked in about two weeks ago. These are probably the only two kinds of fruit that I eat and eat lots of, and given that my long workdays also mean my diet is completely out of whack (which means I eat anything that can be bought at a hawker stall), the arrival of these fruit at every fruit stand, stall and supermarket is a very good thing.

Few fruit have such sweet, juicy flesh that, when eaten straight from the refrigerator needs nothing more than a damp napkin too wipe the juices off your chin and elbows. It's not often that you find a ripe but sour mango or lychee. At least it's never happened to me before. However, it's not impossible to find yourself with a ripe mango that's relatively tasteless, or worse, lychees that are short on sucrose. Which is exactly what happened to me last weekend, when I picked up a kilo of plump red-shelled lychees from my fruit seller. When I got home and excitedly sat down to a bowl of them in front of the TV, I was disappointed to find that one after the other, the lychees were just short of tasteless, as if someone had forgotton to inject them with their requisite dose of syrupy sweetness.

What to do? Well, if, like me, you've just gotten a new ice-cream maker, you shell and seed the lychees, liquidise them, add water and syrup, and make sorbet. I adapted the recipe for Lime Sorbet in Frozen Desserts by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir and used the same proportions with my bum lychees.

The results were fab, but I still couldn't get my mind off the thought of biting into fresh, juicy lychees. So out I went again to the fruit seller, who brought out a more expensive batch, which she said was imported from China. I was skeptical at first because of its green hue (which I thought meant they hadn't ripened and would be tart), but she shelled one and literally force-fed it to me. And I was sold. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a whole basket of lychees and some episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives that I need to catch up on.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Chocolate Malt Ice Cream

Chocolate and malt are some of my favourite childhood treats. When I was a kid, I would eat spoonfuls of Horlicks straight out of the bottle, or use whatever leftover pocket money I had to buy Horlicks sweets. I love a tall glass of ice-cold horlicks spiked with a spooful or two of condensed milk. And when the local supermarket started selling Malteses, I bought and ate so many packets that the roof of my mouth was sore for a whole week.

No surprise then, why this recipe jumped out at me from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course. I recently acquired a lovely ice cream maker which a kind and unsuspecting friend (I didn't tell him it weighed 11kg) lugged it home for me all the way from Perth, Australia. Since then, it's been ice cream galore for me and my neighbours, as I experimented with all sorts of flavours from vanilla and raspberry ripple to lime, lychee, coconut and dulce de leche. Using 1.25 cups of malt powder to 4 ounces of chocolate, this ice cream was super-malty (which I really like), though I think it could benefit from a stronger dose of chocolate. Next time I might experiment with using less milk and more cream and using more bitter chocolate and less milk chocolate to richen the texture and the chocolate factor. But for now, it ain't half bad at all.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Jam Thumbprints

I can't help but think that these are the closest Western equivalent to our Chinese pineapple tarts which Chinese women whip up in truckloads come the Lunar New Year. So very more-ish and terribly addictive, these Jam Thumbprints from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course just melt in your mouth before an explosion of the sweet jam bursts onto your tastebuds. The recipe is really for Quince Jam Thumbprints. But the quinces proved too tart for me, even after hours of simmering over a stove, so I substituted it with raspberry jam instead and we were happy campers indeed. Strawberry jam didn't work so well; the combination was overly sweet for my liking. As Fleming suggests, these cookies can be eaten on their own as well, with a dusting of icing sugar. Neat, they reminded me of yet another Chinese cookie, the Walnut cookie, which is sold in every traditional Hong Kong confectionary.