Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Organic Gems

In a recent bid to eat healthier, I finally gave in to my better (financial) judgement and decided to go organic (well, as organic as I can afford and is possible here, that is). My friend put me in touch with Elena from Red Gum Organics and now, every Thursday, a boxful of organic fruit and vegetables arrives at my door. Besides the known and obvious benefits of organic produce — no pesticides, no steriods, etc, etc, etc — going organic in this manner essentially forces one to find creative ways to cook whatever's at your door before they expire. Before you know it, you've also reached more than your usual daily quota of fruit and fibre.

Another upside to this arrangement is that Elena imports her produce from Australia, which means very often her list will include fruit and veg uncommon to Singapore, including jerusalem artichoke, passionfruit and rhubarb. These I buy up with glee, mostly because it forces me to rifle through my cookbooks and attempt recipes I normally wouldn't.

When it comes to finding recipes for rhubarb, one name on my bookshelf springs to mind. Nigella Lawson is the queen of bright and splashy produce. Stumped for ideas with clementines, pomegranate, peas or watermelon? The domestic goddess herself has them all in her books—if only, I suspect, so she can wax lyrical about their "gorgeous colours" and refer to them as "jewels" or "gems".

Anyway, with my stash of beautiful organic rhubarb, I made a Rhubarb Meringue Pie from Nigella's How To Eat. If you're going to attempt this in an 8-inch pan as Ms Lawson suggests, then I suggest you halve the quantity of the rhubarb and egg filling mix. The 650g of rhubarb was enough to fill two pies, which actually, was a good thing, because the recipe leaves out cooking temperatures for the filling and the meringue top. The only temperature instruction in that recipe appears when she calls for you to preheat the oven to 200 degrees for the pastry.

Essentially, you bake the pie shell blind and when it is cool, fill it with the rhubarb, egg and sugar mixture and bake till that is set. Then you whisk the egg whites with sugar and cream of tartare to make your meringue and bake that. Now, if you bake everything at a steady 200 degrees Celsius, what you'll get is pastry that is one minute from burnt and a bronze meringue that slices to a runny, watery inside that tastes of uncooked eggwhites. At least that's what I got even though I turned down the heat to 180 degrees when cooking the meringue and filling. Luckily there was still enough rhubard mix to fill another pie, so the next day, I tried again.

The pastry is dead easy to make — in fact, Nigella's recipe for pastry is quite foolproof. Measure out butter and flour in a bowl and freeze it for 20 minutes before blitzing in a food processor and binding with a bit of liquid. I got excellent, easy-to-handle flaky pastry every time. This time I baked the rhubarb mix at 180 degrees and the meringue top at 160 degrees. The results were far better. Even my cat, Flash, agrees.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Luxe Leftovers

I'm a real pushover at the wet market. In most other aspects of my life, mine is a take-no-prisoners attitude. Yet in the face of the wellington boot-clad fishmonger, I turn into a wuss and take whatever he throws at me (thank goodness it's always fresh). We had two friends over for dinner last week, during which I served an Italian zuppa de mare. All I needed were 10 prawns, two handfuls of mussels, and four crayfish, but because he sells seafood by the kilogram, the fishmonger decided that he would round my stash off to the nearest 500 grams. Moments later, I was walking back to my car with far more seafood than I needed, kicking myself for not being more assertive.

So what to do when faced with extra crayfish, prawns and crabmeat? I fried it up with some leftover mushrooms, a bit of cream, paprika, white wine and saffron and served it on a thick slice of garlic toast. What a wonderfully luxe yet simple dinner it turned out to be. 'Seems being a pushover every now and then has its merits after all!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tarts with Graham Cracker Crust

When I first bought the book this was the one recipe that I knew I needed to try. Others had already raved about it and my good friend L even picked it out and said, "This looks damn good. You have to make it for me." It took me longer than I liked to finally get down to it simply because the whole wheat pastry flour that the recipe calls for isn't available in regular supermarkets here. I couldn't even find it in my baking supplies store (which doesn't say very much for it, come to think of it).

I finally found it in a humble little supermarket somewhere in Bangkok where I spent the weekend some time ago visiting a friend who was doing a baking course there. Of course when I came home and did a post about it, several lovely people left messages to tell me where I could find the pastry flour in Singapore (thanks guys!). Apparently I just hadn't looked hard enough.

Anyway, these are the results of my long-awaited tarts. They aren't the prettiest tarts in the world, but they sure were tasty. As the recipe suggested, I tried rolling the pastry to 1/8-inch thick, but it kept falling apart on me and refused to form a neat sheet that could be laid over my tart tin. I ended up pressing the pastry (like you would a biscuit crust on a cheesecake) into the tin and baked them blind. On a larger tart tin (I used 12cm-diameter ones), the pastry turned out thicker than I liked and the tart was a bit of a mess to eat—cream cheese custard oozing all over the plate and blueberries tumbling willy nilly. Indeed, not a disaster, but it could definitely be better. Plus as a dessert portion for one, a 12cm tart was kinda huge.

I then remembered these little boat-shape moulds that were part of a collection of baking tins my recently passed uncle left to me. These are quite wee (10cm long and 5cm at its widest), but they turned out tarts that could downed in just two bites. As you can see from the picture, I still haven't gotten the hang of the pastry, though it was easier to press in a thinner layer. But, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. And since the tarts were fabulous taste-wise, there certainly is an impetus to try and try again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Simple Shellfish Risotto

C and I love risotto. It's hearty, warm, tasty and an elegant one-dish meal that soaks up all the yummy flavours of the stock used. Shellfish risotto is one of our favourite variations. Cooked in a rich shellfish stock—usually prawn or crab based—it goes with just about any shellfish, though we like the soft white and coral flesh of crayfish best. Alas, that day we decided to cook it last week, there was nary a crayfish to be found. So we settled on scallops, whose texture is equally tender, but with a slightly stronger taste of the sea. That's fine as long as the scallops are fresh and sweet. There are few things worse than less-than-fresh scallops to leave a stale, fishy taste in the mouth.

As a base for this winningly simple dish, I used chopped onions, garlic and bacon in a mix of butter and olive oil. Because I also added morels (C's new favourite mushroom), I added its stock to the shellfish stock to give it an extra, albeit, subtle taste dimension. To serve, a few drops of truffle oil for a touch of luxe.