learn one recipe

On an episode of Jamie and Jimmy’s Food Fight Club they asked their guest of the week, Selma Hayek, what dish she’d like to learn from any professional chef. She mentioned a Lebanese chef and a Lebanese dish, I didn’t catch the name. But it got me thinking, if I can learn one dish from a professional chef and then forever be able to make it perfectly, what will it be?

For this purpose I will exclude the fiendish 90-step nightmare that are Masterchef pressure test challenges. Most of them are simply impractical to make at home. What if I did learn how to make Christy Tania’s Mystique? I won’t have the opportunity to make it.

There are well-known difficult dishes to master and these are contenders: baked alaska, soufflé, beef wellington. I saw paella and consommé on the list and upon reflection, they are difficult to do well. Classic French cooking is challenging with the emphasis on technique and sauces. Baking too–croissant, sacher torte, gâteau st honoré. Asian dishes such as curries, tamagoyaki, xiao long bao are also not easy to master. I don’t know much about Latin American dishes either. There’s an old mefi thread that has a lot of interesting suggestions in addition to traditional difficult dishes: follow the recipes in cookbooks such as Alinea, El Bulli, Fat Duck; trying to accurately replicate a twinkie or big mac, make your own cheese.

croquembouche03

The most difficult recipes I’ve tried to make are all baking and desserts: croquembouche, chocolate fondant and handmade salted caramel truffles turned out really well; tart tartin and chocolate soufflé less so. The apple tart had a soggy bottom and the soufflé was more like chocolate cake. I don’t know why I’ve always classified desserts as tricky. Rack of lamb is difficult for some people, but I make as often as I make roast chicken.

In my mind, the dishes to be learned can be grouped into categories:

  • time consuming — cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, haggis, head cheese
  • showstopping — baked alaska, beef wellington
  • deceptively simple — sole veronique, perfect roast chicken, scrambled eggs (remember how Gordon Ramsay said it’s how they test new chefs)
  • baking & desserts — bread, croissant, pastry, meringue, macaron, tempering chocolate
  • needs years of practice — sushi, soba noodles, mole
  • sauces — béarnaise, hollandaise, mayonnaise

It’s difficult to pick just one recipe. I’m going to cheat and pick one savoury and one sweet. For savoury the contenders are beef wellington and cassoulet. My choice of cassoulet is based on what I would like to eat again and again and again. I have better access to duck leg than filet of beef and, well, I’d pick duck over beef most days.

gateausthonore

For the sweet recipe, I’ll go with one of the Cordon Bleu’s three most difficult recipes to make: gâteau st honoré because of the sheer number of pastry techniques needed in one single dish:

puff pastry, pâte à choux (dough for cream puffs), caramelized sugar and Creme Chiboust, a filling made from pastry cream and Italian meringue.

flavours

aquavit

Sis gave me a pack of small bottles of aquavit from the Swedish shop a while ago. Since I’m trying to reduce my total amount of stuff, I opened it to give it a try. The labels are all in Swedish and I’m too lazy to google translate them. I can figure out some info from the pictures, there are bottles flavoured with rosemary, orange and some classic-looking labels. Aquavit is a spirit distilled from grain or potato and flavoured with caraway, dill, anise, fennel–caraway being the primary spice used. In Sweden, it’s a holiday or celebration drink drunk as a shot and accompanied with singing, before, during and after each round of shots with increasing enthusiasm. I can definitely taste the caraway and there’s a strong aftertaste of anise too. My first few sips had too much anise, but after a few more, it became sweeter and I was able to tolerate it better. I did not burst into song.

Tried with orange and passionfruit juice (which was what we had in the fridge) and it was quite nice.

Another spirit I’m trying to finish is a small bottle of ouzo I got in Greece. It’s been said that if:

you’re a fan of absinthe, aquavit, or liquorice in general, you’ll dig ouzo

because they all have the base note of anise together with fennel, coriander and cloves. Again, I had it with juice and it was pretty good.

This is very, very odd. I absolutely do not like anise-flavours and I will spit out liquorice. I can’t stand coriander either, it smells like detergent and I can’t stand to have even a small morsel in my food. But I love, love, love fennel and I was fine with both aquavit and ouzo. Okay, I wasn’t very keen on tasting them neat, and perhaps the sweetness of the juice masked the anise notes. I’ve also had absinthe before, once in France and once in the Czech Republic (oh, sorry Czechia) and I didn’t like it. There’s some whacky flavour palate thing going on.

Liquorice, like durian, is a very black-and-white flavour in that people either love it or hate it. There seems to be some scientific theories behind it, that there is a difference between how we handle the aroma vs the taste of flavours. Or precisely, specific chemicals in the food. Anise type food contains glycyrrhiza glabra, and aversion to its taste seems to determine whether someone likes or hates these foodstuffs. The compound that gives this class of food its distinctive smell is anethole, and reactions to smells can be changed over time. Still doesn’t really explain my experience.

One thing is clear, I’ll finish the aquavit and ouzo (with lots of juice), continue to cook fennel, and stay far away from liquorice.

the theatre of food

This was the first semi-final of Bake-Off Crème de la Crème (ie the professionals). One of the tasks was to live plate a dessert in front of the judges. Not only must the dessert taste good, they were also marked on the theatrical element. A lot of prep, planning and teamwork went into creating this experience.

achatztabledessert

The idea of plating a dessert on the table originated at Alinea. Of course. I should have guessed either them or one of Heston’s. It was the last course of of a 20-course menu. With meals starting at US$175 and going up to US$385 for the kitchen table–per person, before wine and must be pre-paid like theatre tickets–diners expect a lot. And with Grant Achatz, I bet they do.

Someone on reddit was posting about showing a pic of this to their SO and complaining about how people are supposed to eat it. SO replied:

You’re supposed to eat this with your eyes.

Food? Art? Foodart? Art food? That’s bordering on very deep.

solskinsoen

via Outside magazine, Solskinsoen is a film about running a brewery on an island in Denmark.

Penyllan brewery is located on Bornholm, which is mainly a holiday destination that fills up with holiday crowds in the summer and is very quiet in winter.

penyllan

What a beautiful place and committed brewers. They’ve only just started, their website is a landing page only. Their fb page says they will launch their first beers on 4 October.

camping food test

When I created my emergency go bag, I bought a pack of MRE to put in the bag. It’s vacuum sealed and can be stored for years. The mains is chicken pesto pasta, and there are other pouches in the pack with crackers and stuff. I hadn’t given much thought about the flavour, I think I was more focused on a value-for-money single pack that could keep for a while.

Looking at the Wirecutter post about best camping food, I’m thinking when the MRE expires I should consider supplementing with other food. The camping food in the test are one-pouch meals that are prepared by adding boiling water. First they did a taste test of specialised camping food vs standbys from the supermarket like spaghetti and mac & cheese in their office. Interesting discovery:

a surprising number of our backpacking standbys are, in fact, revolting when served indoors on real dishes

Then they asked their testers to take the camping food with them on one- or two-week hiking trips in locations as varied as Corsica, the Colorado 14k peaks, and the 1,000 mile Centennial Trail in Idaho. The food they tested weren’t boring chicken pasta. They had curries, chili, noodles, fajita as well as the usual pasta and meat flavours.

campingfoodthaicurry

Their best in terms of taste was a Thai curry. It’s likely that after a long and exhaustive day hiking, the testers’ palate appreciate the intensity of flavour of the curry. Seems like there’s a lot of vegetables and the addition of powdered coconut milk (in a separate packet) is a winner. The disadvantages are price, small portion size and it took a long time to rehydrate.

ramen

ramenyokohama

Had a meeting in the morning, don’t want to jinx it by giving too much away.

I finished around noon, so I was on the lookout for a quick lunch. Wandered around and the candidates were the usual diners, one that has pasta and a glass of wine, or this ramen shot that usually has a big crowd outside waiting. When I went to the ramen shop, it was just 12.05pm and there were counter seats. So ramen it was. The name of the shop is Yokohama ramen, but I don’t think there is anything special about Yokohama.

Watched the chefs make the ramen and they were authentic enough. The ramen were from Japan and the broth made from pork bones. I had one with the charsiu in cubes as opposed to the usual sliced. Overall, enjoyed the meal. When I left, there were already more than 10 people queuing outside.

meat index

ire055butchercote

Interesting article about meat prices around the world, based on a a study by a UK b2b catering company. The study itself is a huge table that looks a lot like airinc goods & sevices tables.

meatprices

The Eater graph shows the top and bottom 10 countries in the study in terms of meat prices compared with the average global price. Switzerland is way out front with meat prices almost 1.5 times that of the global average. The US comes in at only 17.94% and the UK actually below average at -3.06%. Meat in Switzerland and Norway is expensive because they are expensive countries. Meat in HK is expensive because everything is imported. Which is why I don’t buy minced beef–there is not that much difference per kg between minced beef and braising beef like cheeks and oxtail. I already know meat in the US and UK are not that expensive, especially if cooking at home.

It’s not very useful to simply compare prices. A more indicative index is affordability. The study also indicated how many minimum wage hours will be needed to buy 1kg of meat. In Switzerland, that comes to 3hrs. The US comes in at 2.67hrs, UK 1.42hrs and HK around 5hrs. The most expensive, in terms of number of hours needed, is India at 27.38hrs.

There are also other areas of consideration like regulations, trade tariffs and cultural differences. All in all, an interesting area.

slow cooked duck legs

duckleg01

Recipe from Mark Bittman at the NYT. He was writing this week on grubstreet about grilling duck legs too, although the only grill I have is the one at the top of my oven and isn’t the bbq grill he was talking about.

Anyway, the method we see people on cookery programs most of the time is confit duck legs. I don’t really want to waste a bottle of oil so this slow cooked method is better.

In a cold pan over medium heat start browning the duck legs, skin side down. In the meantime, prep carrots, celery and potatoes. The recipe has onions but I ran out so I used extra celery and 4 cloves of garlic. Added potatoes for a true one pot meal. I chopped the veg into larger chunks than the recipe to give more bite.

Once the duck skin has crisped up, turn over and brown the meat for a couple of minutes. Transfer to baking dish.

Pour out almost all the duck fat (I have an old peanut butter jar I use to keep my duck and bacon fat). Sauté the veg for about 10mins, transfer to baking dish with duck. Season with s&p, rosemary, thyme.

Heat chicken stock in pan to deglaze and bring to the boil. Pour into baking dish until most of duck legs are covered, making sure the skin isn’t covered. I didn’t have enough stock, it was perfectly fine to top up with boiling water.

Cook at 200ºC for 30mins, then turn oven down to 180ºC and continue cooking for around 1hr until duck is tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

duckleg02

Very, very good. There was just about enough sauce to cover the baking dish, and it had a nice intense flavour. The recipe says use homemade chicken stock and I agree, it makes all the difference. The duck was fork-tender and had lots of flavour.

We are lucky that we can get duck breast and leg fairly inexpensively, perhaps because the locals don’t know how to cook them. It’s frozen and definitely not gressingham duck we get in the UK, but with the right cooking method, is one of our staples. Easy to make too. Total cooking time around 2hrs, but mostly unattended.

pub party

ashleyrdpub01

Sis, Rob and I went to the first anniversary party of one of R’s friend Andy’s pub. R is an investor there also, like a few others that Andy has opened. It’s a nice little pub in a central area but on a street that is less crowded. I’m glad to have found it, sometimes I have a little time to spare and nowhere to go to, like a pub. Of course I can find a fast food place and sit for a bit, but honestly who wants to sit at Mcdonalds, having to share a filthy plastic table with others.

ashleyrdpub02

The party was between 4-9pm, so they could still take in customers. They had beer, rosé and red wine, all served in a plastic beer cup. Snacks too like chicken wings, salad, pasta. R’s friend Patrick showed up and he somehow snagged a bottle of prosecco for our table. Yay for young Patrick. We left at around 8pm, I got home with enough time to shower and watch MKR.

giant mango drink

giantmangodrink

Mum and I went to the warehouse outlets for a looksee. I was able to find a pair of crocs to replace the ones I’m wearing at home. It’s the last one on the shelf and I think they call it aquamarine. Considering the current one is bright green, and I’m only wearing it inside, I’m not that bothered about the colour. Pink, no. Any bright blue or green colour, okay.

On the way back to the station, I noticed a young woman with a giant cup of mango. A few steps later I saw the entrance to a small arcade, the sort that is in old buildings and a tiny bit crappy. This stall sells mango drinks, located amongst several other fast food stalls selling noodles, fishballs and the like. I ordered this one that comes in a big gulp size cup with mango juice, whipped cream, mango shaved ice and fresh mangos. The girl there says there is one full litre of mango juice inside. Mum opted for the small size but that one still had mango juice, whipped cream and fresh mango.

The mango juice tastes diluted even though the stall claims it’s not. May be it’s the type of mango they use. I wish they’d leave out the whipped cream, may be if I order it again I’ll tell them to leave it out. The fresh mango is from large mangos and was the best part of the drink.

We stayed and finished it, although we could have asked for a lid. We were going on the train so we didn’t want to (no eating and drinking on the mtr).

Good value, Large came to equivalent US$5 and small just under $4. We have a few frozen giant mangos in our fridge, we can probably make this ourselves. I’d replace the cream with ice cream, that’ll make it a proper dessert.

lunch at jinjuu

jj22meal

Met with sis and gis for lunch at jinjuu. Korean place with ayce starters and we can choose one main dish. They gave us one of each of the starters and then we can order extra. Sort of fusion korean food: beetroot cured salmon, dumping soup, chicken skewer, grilled corn with sweet spicy sauce, kimchi arancini, grilled prawn. The salmon was too tart, too much vinegar in the cure. The dumpling was good, with a little bit of theatre as the broth was poured in from a teapot. i thought the chicken was tastless but gis liked it. I liked the corn but since they didn’t like it I ended up eating their portions so I didn’t have to order extra. The arancini and prawn were the two better starters.

For mains I chose barley bibimbap and I had may be 3 spoonfuls. The taste was okay, but nothing spectacular, underseasoned. The greatest thing about every bibimbap is the crust, and this one had zero crust. I didn’t mind that it was all vegetarian but the execution was disappointing. Sis had ramen and she said it was boring. Gis had a rice doughnut filled with bulgogi beef that she said was okay. Mum had the best main dish, of fried chicken.

Dessert was one plate of a mixture of ice cream, sorbet, and two cones. The ice cream was meh, the sorbet was okay, it was all a melting puddle when it reached our table.

For an additional charge sis and I had the 2hr freeflow drinks package. I started with a spicy kimchi mary which was a bloody mary with kimchi flavours and pepper flakes stuck to the outside of the glass. The flakes were useless and I could barely taste the kimchi. Not bad as a bloody mary. I moved to prosecco and ended up drinking quite a few glasses. They ran out of prosecco and for my last glass they gave me champagne, moët too. I liked the prosecco better.

Jinjuu is in london too and Jay Rayner described it as

glossy

and the brainchild of celebrity korean-american chef Judy Joo. It seems that neither Mr Rayner nor Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard were that impressed with the london branch.

Expensive too. Brunch for 4 people came to local$2200, or US$280. Okay, two of us added drinks but actually the drinks was the best value because we took full advantage. I don’t shy away from expensive meals, if they are good. I just don’t feel like this was value for money at all.

The silver lining I could muster is I was too full to have dinner so I can argue the cost covered meals for one whole day. Not very convincing, right?

climate change and the food of the future

It’s very, very hot. Climate change deniers may insist otherwise, but we are slowly and surely destroying our planet. I confess I’m also guilty of not doing as much as I can–I don’t sort my rubbish (we have no recycling collection separate from regular rubbish collection), I’ve been turning the air-con on a lot, I still eat meat.

That said, I take public transportation, I cook my own food from fresh ingredients, I try not to waste food and resources. I walk in the afternoon heat to the market before taking the shuttlebus home. It’s my reducing carbon footprint, getting exercise, and daily pokémongo activity. I’ve also been reading about how climate change affects food production and availability. Already, several food crops have been identified as being at risk:

  • coffee, chocolate, avocado — in 2016, Brazilian coffee farmers lost 90% of their crop due to drought and heat, many farmers in South American are turning to cacao. This drives cacao prices down and affects the livelihood of traditional cacao farmers in west Africa. Another knock-on effect is Californian farmers are now turning to coffee, which replaces their previous avocado crop. It’s simple economics. There’s a trend towards carob production, replacing cacao. The dessert of the future may be carob based
  • wine — as the world becomes warmer, vineyards will move closer to the poles. UK, Canada, China may be the wine producing countries of the future
  • honey and maple syrup — both very fickle products and at risk with changing climates
  • seafood — overfishing and pollution are two important factors in seafood production; as sea levels rise the type and location of seafood will change
  • sea vegetables — seaweed, kelp and sea vegetables may be the food of the future, they are hardly in difficult water conditions, absorbing nitrogen from waste
  • red meat — will become increasing rare and expensive, alternate protein meat sources will need to be found

Artist Allie West initiated a project to bring to life a possible dinner party of the future:

visualizes the possible future effects of climate change on our food system

All images below © Allie West, Heami Lee, C.C. Buckley, and Rebecca Bartoshesky.

seafood

The starter will be from the sea. Mussels and seaweed are both easy to grow and can survive in different conditions.

main

There will be no meat for main, because of rarity and price. Instead, it will be foraged vegetables such as burdock and mushrooms.

dessert

As mentioned above, carob will replace chocolate.

I don’t mind all these food. I love shellfish and can’t get enough of sea vegetables like samphire. I’ve had carob before, and although I’m not so keen, I’m okay with it taking a larger part of our diet in place of chocolate. But it’s not about me changing my palette to carob, or eating more oysters and mussels. Those are #firstworldproblems compared with actual suffering in regions that have been ravished by drought, or the refugees fleeing to Europe because They.Have.No.Food.

President Obama, writing about food and climate change says he will devote time to create a global network of activists to tackle climate change. But he also says he wants everyone to be involved–young people, families, people in developed nations and in developing nations. Make what we do on a daily basis matter:

It’s millions of decisions that are being made individually that end up having as much impact as anything

bake-off channel 4


Ugh. Channel 4’s Bake-Off trailer is here. This is not the Bake-Off we know. Channel 4’s Jay Hunt:

It’s got a new tone to it.

bakeoffch4

If we get it here, I know I’ll watch it. But it’ll be accompanied by much hand-wringing that I’m somehow not being loyal to the BBC version. However good they are, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding are not Mel and Sue. Prue Leith is okay. I just don’t feel any warmth or cosiness in this group. Quite the opposite, there’s something creepy and off-putting. Sandi Toksvig is the only one who looks normal and approachable.

I’m looking forward to Mary Berry’s new show to find Britain’s best cook. Not that keen on Mel and Sue and the Generation Game though.

ingredient vs cook

lambrack04

The small supermarket had rack of lamb, buy 2 packets at 30% off. We don’t have room in the freezers for 2 packets so today’s lunch was rack of lamb #firstworldproblems.

From start to finish, 45mins. I seasoned with s&p and rosemary, browned in a pan then put in 180ºC oven for around 15mins. I almost overcooked them because I put the rested chops back in the oven (now off) to keep warm but luckily they were still pink inside. Making rack of lamb is straightforward for me, I consider it an easy staple. Occasionally I undercook or overcook slightly but I’ve always been happy with the results. Mostly, the lamb we get are frozen and from new zealand. I’ve also tried australian, welsh and scottish with good results.

It occurred to me that it may not be as simple to make for other people. How hard is it to ruin lamb? How hard is it to ruin good ingredients?

Which comes first, the ingredients or the cook. Difficult to answer. A good cook can make the most of poor quality ingredients: beef stew instead of steak, using vegetables wisely. But give a perfect wagyu to a cook who only knows how to boil meat or grill steak until well done and the meal is ruined.

turkey quesadilla

turkeyquesadila

I’m gradually becoming more knowledgeable about mexican food. I wish I can eat at Rick Bayless’ place all the time but mostly it’s tex-mex that I encounter. I know I prefer soft tortillas and I don’t like gigantic burritos–just looking at it kills my appetite. I’m nowadays more likely to order quesadilla.

We made really nice homemade tacos in chicago, I enjoyed it very much. So much so that I took the remaining tortillas home. Actually, quesadillas are very easy to make, hardly need a recipe. I had to go to the more expensive japanese supermarket to get grated mexican cheese. Then it’s just heating a tortilla, sprinking cheese and adding turkey (from the freezer), then more cheese on top and another tortilla. Flip so both sides are golden brown. I used the 2 tortilla method instead of folding one over.

So yummy! I have to check if I can get tortillas, too much trouble to make my own.

avocado toast

avotoast

Saw avocados at the supermarket 3 for US$5, large and ripe too. So it’s a no-brainer to make avo toast for lunch. There are plenty of recipes out there, that combines the avo with poached eggs, smoked salmon, feta cheese. Many recipes smash the avos and season with s&p. I just sliced mine and arranged on toast, didn’t need seasoning.

Yummy yummy yummy.

It seems to have become some sort of hipster, millennial food and attracted some unwanted attention when an Aussie baby boomer scolded millennials for ordering

smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop

(that’s AUD) instead of saving up to buy a house. Honestly, with so much corrupt 1% money floating around the world, young people will need to skip thousands of avo toasts in order to afford to buy property.

avotoasthousing

The BBC did an avocado toast housing index. They:

took the average cost for avocado toast in a handful of cafes in each city, and looked at how many you’d need to forego to afford a 20% deposit on a home. House prices are based the average price for a 90sq m apartment outside the city centre

67 years in London, 54 years in HK, 32 years in Sydney. For Aussies, it’s ironic. When Chef Thomas Lin from Ruby’s, an Australian café in NYC, arrived in the US, he was surprised that people treated avo toast as a fancy, trendy food item rather than something normal people ate for breakfast:

There are two things you have in the morning on toast. You have Vegemite on toast, or you have avocado on toast. Sometimes you have Vegemite and avocado on toast.

I hope avo toast doesn’t go the way of artisanal anything, matcha-flavoured everything, food served Jamie-style on chopping boards and gets classified as a food trend that needs to die. Because it’s delicious, simple and healthy.

More avo! More avo toast!

paris cake walk

pariscakewalk

Keeping this in my food and travel research file, food52’s paris cake walk. The plan:

We’re going on a cake walk, straight through the glamorous heart of the old school 7th arrondissement, steeped in Belle Epoch spirit, stuffed with gorgeous museums set in formal gardens (coucou, Musee Rodin). On the way, we’ll be collecting a grand assortment of the finest pastries, cakes, and chocolates that the City of Light has to offer. Then, we’re going to sit on a specific park bench and enjoy them.

The walk starts at Musée d’Orsay station. The walk itself according to google maps is around 15mins but the actual time taken will be much longer because of the stops. At least 10 pâtissières along the way where we have the option to get macarons, chocolate ganache, pralines, truffles, fruit jellies, cakes, tarts, breads and all manner of delectable goods.

The walk ends at the Square des Missions Étrangères with a marble bust of Vicomte Châteaubriand, politician, writer and who had a steak named after him. One of the best cuts of steak too.

paris055clerpatiss

There are so many great food destinations in Paris that it’s hard to go wrong. Each neighbourhood will have its greengrocer, butcher, cheesemaker and baker. Hope we can take a trip back to europe soon.

lazy day

A lazy day. I did go out for a walk around the neighbourhood, it was a hot day but not so humid that would make spending any time in the sun horrible. I started playing pokemongo one year ago so I went round to the nearby pokestops. Either the signal was bad or the app was in its usual poor performing state I found myself having to stop every 2 minutes to restart it. So frustrating.

I went to the local church and the park outside, where I did a lot of running last time I was here. The park was fenced off, with a sign that said they were returfing it. I walked a little further and found an orphanage, with a pretty building and a gym at its front door. Couldn’t do much with the gym because the app wasn’t working. In the end, walked for about an hour and it felt good.

threemilkcake

The reward (and more than the calories spent walking) was a slice of three milk cake I bought at the bakery yesterday. Three milk cake is also known as tres leches cakes, where the cake is soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream. Rich in taste but still light in texture. Found a useful recipe with lots of pictures.

comfort food

crackerrainbow

We had a few errands to run–clinic, post office. While we were out we went to cracker barrel for late lunch / early dinner. It was around 3.30pm and the place was pretty busy.

Cracker Barrel serves comfort food. Big cooked breakfasts, american styled biscuits and gravy and grits. I used to have either the breakfast or angst over what to eat. Nowadays I have the fish. Their grilled rainbow trout is pretty tasty and comes with 3 sides. I got hash brown, broccoli and the new brussels sprouts & kale salad. Unlimited iced tea.

I even bonded with the server. I had pokemongo open and we chatted a bit. He saw a snorlax the other day but his phone died when he was trying to catch it. The pokemongo experience for me so far has been disappointing. More than disappointing. Common catches, no stops nearby and login issues. I’ve given up on daily stop bonus.

Talking about comfort food, there seems to be some hullabaloo about mince toast. To recap, eater visited a british restaurant and declared the mince on toast is a

quintessential British comfort classic

I can imagine what mince on toast will taste like but I’ve never eaten it nor have I ever come across it.

Eater later backtracked, calling it a quintessential British dish but it’s still wrong. There’s nothing quintessential about it. Again, not dissing it, because I can imagine it can taste good. It’s just wrong for people to randomly assign things to us in this day and age of #alternativefacts.

bbmm tea, beer, dinner

Met mm after her appointment. Lots of catching up, just a couple of cups of tea. Then went walking for a bit, went to a gift shop so I can get some small presents then to a clothing store where she got a t-shirt. I was looking at some cargo pants and when I put it back my finger caught the metal hanger. At first it was an annoyance, then it started bleeding quite heavily. The staff reacted quickly and put 2 plasters over it. It’s like a paper cut but much deeper.

On the way to the restaurant for dinner we came across a small craft beer store with a blackboard outside that said free tasting. They were featuring beers by Singapore brewlander brewery and we got to chat with their brewer John Wei. He started as a home brewer and only started producing commercially a few months ago. The beer is actually brewed at premises he rented in Cambodia. The first beer we tried was a light, floral brew that is supposed to be perfect for the hot, humid tropical summer. We also tried their saison beer and liked both.

japbuffet201706

For dinner we went to a japanese ayce place. I think I was there with my parents a long time ago but haven’t been there with mm. The usual ordering method by ticking various pieces of paper of sashimi, sushi, grilled, deep fried etc. The sashimi selection was good, although not fantastic. They had a special offer of complimentary uni which was well received. Drinks including sake, beer, soft drinks were buffet style so we can fill our own sake jug. I tried half a glass of Orion beer and it wasn’t as good as the brewlander so I stuck to sake and tea.

jicama salad

jicamasalad

Mum bought a jicama from the market, her friends told her they eat it raw in a salad. It must be good because her friends are not the type to eat raw vegetables.

I’ve never knowingly tried jicama although apparently it’s an ingredient in popiah and rojak. It’s interesting to see it being described as the most exciting vegetable you’re not eating. I see it in the market fairly often and never thought to buy it.

Lots of salad recipes, usually with fruit like mango, or orange and a lime chili dressing. It seems to be a little tasteless, like a savoury apple, so need stronger flavours.

I julienned half of one and had it with salad greens, cucumber, cherry tomato. I could have used orange, apple or watermelon but there were fresh lychees in the fridge so I popped a few in. Normally I don’t use dressing in salad but for this one I whisked up some lemon juice, white balsamic, honey and evoo.

It’s really good. Crunchy with some texture. Definitely somewhat like an apple or pear. Really helps add depth to a salad.

handmade coconut oil


So much time and effort went into stripping, grating, setting, straining, cooking one hundred coconuts to make coconut oil, all by hand at the village food factory in India. The reward, chicken drumstick grilled over open fire and basted with the coconut oil, looks absolutely scrumptious.

The hilarious thing is, the title of the video is instant coconut oil and there is nothing instant about it. I saw this via boingboing and the comment is:

Arumugam and a friend make quick work of 100 raw coconuts

Quick work. Am I missing something? Must be irony week and nobody told me.

home alone dinner

cucumbermiso

Mum went out with her friends so I was home alone in the evening. I finished off the giant red velvet cheesecake factory cheesecake she bought the other day and was too full for dinner. I had cucumber with miso and an orange, that was it. Felt healthy, and my stomach wasn’t as bloated.

If I’m at home by myself I usually just eat leftovers or a whole packet of ham. There are days when I wish I could go back to those days and not have to cook 2 meals a day.

kcl group lunch

kcllunch20170610

One of the kcl group is here for a quick visit. She is now in India, having been to 8 countries over the years (her husband is in the diplomatic services). Everyone is a lot older now, although physically the change is subtle, all are recognisable.

Had lunch at a chiu chow restaurant. We were one of only 2 tables there so we had a great time. Good food too, ordered the set for 12 people. Assorted starters, soup, pepper prawn, black cod, whole chicken, really great vegetable with soup, fried rice, sugar & vinegar crispy noodles and a dessert of deep fried taro strips which are then covered in sugar.

Met mm afterwards, looked at fridges, bought some dvds then camped out for almost 3 hours at dan ryan’s. Two glasses of wine, complimentary olives and a hummous plate snack. Proper dinner was at the supermarket foodcourt of chirashi.

chocolate truffle ice cream

Met mm and lily for lunch to share japan travel experience. At first we talked about going together but extensive communication with lily showed that we have different travel styles so best if we stuck to sharing experiences.

We went to toast box and had laksa. It’s a casual semi-fast food place so we could sit there as long as we liked; and we ended up having more drinks. Singapore place, so teh-o for me. It was a hot day but dry so we walked around for a bit after lunch.

Lily went home for dinner and we continued to look for a replacement fridge. My credit card points run out tomorrow so we were especially in a hurry. The problem was the available space, width and height were okay but not deep enough for most of the models we thought we okay. The smart shop assistant suggested we call up the bank to check if I can extend the points and, yay, success! Three months’ extension which solves the urgency issue.

We had wine and pizza at hmv café to celebrate and then went to find this ice cream stall. I had 2 vouchers for a free ice cream cone that expire tomorrow and no extension this time. This was from a chocolate place called dalloyau that we’d never heard of. Their shops are in the high-end shopping centres and they seem to peddle expensive chocolate, cake and coffee. The vouchers are for specifically, chocolate truffle ice cream.

choctruffleicecream

As soon as the assistant handed me the cone I knew it wasn’t quite the chocolate truffle we were thinking of. Instead of truffle made from hot cream/milk and chocolate, this is truffle the mushroom-fungus that grows in the ground and gets shaved over food like pasta and omelettes. The smell is distinctive. The problem for me, it overwhelmed the rich chocolate taste of the ice cream and left an unpleasant aftertaste.

Adding truffle to a dish instantly signals it’s something luxurious and exclusive. And like the gold leaf ice cream we didn’t try in Kanazawa, truffle in ice cream screams of pretentiousness, pointlessness and frankly, lack of palette. At least gold doesn’t taste of anything. I have come across truffle in dessert before and mushroom dessert is unusual, but can be tasty. Obviously no one in dalloyau watched the episode on MKR where truffled truffles with truffle ice cream got creamed by the judges.

The conclusion is, this shop added a luxurious ingredient for marketing purposes and we are clearly not shallow enough to be in their target market.

cucumber miso

cucumbermiso

Something we discovered in Japan: cucumber with miso. Saw it at many izakayas and street food stands, ordered it a few times ourselves and fell in love with it. I bought some yuzu miso at the supermarket yesterday and chopped up a Japanese cucumber. Absolutely delicious. So simple, so healthy.

cauliflower steak

caulisteak

I made not very successful cauliflower steak. This is one of the trendy cauliflower food that has cropped up recentlly, a far cry from the awful soggy cauliflower we used to get when we were younger.

It’s simply a matter of cutting the stalk part of a cauli, seasoning with s&p, chopped garlic and lemon juice, and roasting in the oven. 200ºC for around 45mins. I think these weren’t as successful as I wanted them to be because I was using a different type of cauliflower. Not the usual tight bulb with white florets, these have more space between the branches and so didn’t give a whole steak. Tasted nice though.

mum birthday

mumbday01dinner

Mum’s birthday! We went out for an errand, had tea at mcdonalds. I left mum with her cheesecake and met sis for an hour at a wine tasting event. It’s an english sparkling wine company that is expanding and they had 4 different wines for tasting. I focused on the drinking and eating some of the canapés while sis was busy socialising. I did some small talk but found the posing, invisible social jostling and marketing speak way too fake for my liking.

Picked mum up from marks where she went after she fnished at mcdonalds. Dinner was at Jimmy’s Kitchen, an old colonial era restaurant. Except for my niece who opted for pasta, we all had the set menu. I had tuna tartare as starter, mum and sis had roast beef salad which sat on top of a chewy, hard cold yorkshire pudding. For mains sis and mum had rainbow trout and I had slow cooked lamb shoulder.

Sis ordered a baked alaska for dessert and they wrote happy birthday on the plate. Nice meal, predictable food.

gelato university

siena018gelato

I saw an article about a gelato university in Italy, of course.

A little googling reveals that it’s a combined museum and school in Bologna, offering different courses in 4 languages:

to assist all those entrepreneurs throughout the world who want to open gelato shops, as well as those who are already working in the sector but seek to strive towards gelato excellence

Courses range from casual one day tasting at €100 to a fully immersive 4 week course that combines their basic, intermediate, advanced and internship courses for €4000. Students learn techniques, recipes, recipe design, flavour balance and the business aspects of running a gelato shop.

Sounds fun. €4000 is a lot, and here are also accommodation, airfares and daily expenses to consider too. In comparison, the 9-month pastry course at le cordon bleu in Paris is €22800. Guess it’s a matter of supply vs demand. There are people who want to open gelato shops and they may see the course as investment.

And talking about gelato and ice cream, here’s a sort of related but not really sandwich alignment chart that was on twitter:

I’ve had ice cream in a sandwich made with bread. I’ve had sandwiches made with waffles. So ice cream between waffles is definitely a sandwich. Anything between or wrapped in an edible container is a sandwich.

lunch platter

lunchplatter01

Lunch today consisted of food Lily brought plus other ingredients from all over the world. Smoked eel, reypenaer cheese and foccacia from the Netherlands. Brunost brown cheese from Norway I’ve had in the fridge for a while. Coppa from Italy. Grilled asparagus from…the supermarket (I think they’re from the US). Leftover hollandaise from the other day. Apple & plum chutney from Bosham church fair–that’s West Sussex, UK.

I only have a small wooden chopping board so I couldn’t serve it Jamie-styled. I used my large chopping board instead, the effect isn’t as pretty but it got the job done.

Nice lunch. I’m reminded how I love cheese. The smoked eel was as spectacular as expected. We finished one packet, there is only one left. 🙁

braised pork rib tips

braisedribtip

The small supermarket is having a chain-wide 30% off sale on all items until Monday. The aisles, usually choc-a-bloc with boxes and goods, are already clear and some shelves are almost empty. There are also more people than usual.

I bought wine, water, noodles, cheese, ice cream and saw rib tips at a low, low price. Easy to cook, just stew in the vacuum pot overnight with mirepoix, chicken stock and a glass of red wine. Had half a lemon left over from cooking salmon, added that. Some sweetcorn, added that too at the end.

Served with bulgar wheat. First time cooking bulgar wheat (though not first time eating), I think I like it better than couscous. Same cooking method: simmer in water till absorbed, turn off the heat and sit for 5-10mins.

What’s great about the rib tips, aside from tenderness from braising, is that there are lots of soft bone, or cartilage, in with the meat. It’s the white tube-like nub at the tip of the bone, it doesn’t have much flavour and is chewy and crunchy. It’s one of those food items like offal or fish cheek, that are revered by people in the know but most lay people will spit it out.

salt

The NYT had an artlcle on the single most important ingredient in cooking.

Salt.

Salt obviously adds saltiness. It also reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness and brings out aromas. There’s science involved.

There was a time when I undersalted everything, and my dad used little or no salt when cooking. I’ve changed it up a little now, and have stopped worrying about the amount of salt I use. Yes, I’m aware of all the health warnings about salt’s effect on blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and all that. But as the NYT article says,

anything you cook for yourself is lower in sodium than restaurant food.

On average I eat out once or twice a week, so around 10% of my meals are higher in sodium and potassium. My theory is, the rest of the meals at home will balance it out. I enjoy eating out, but honestly I prefer cooking at home. Outside food is too salty, too oily and there are certain cuisines I rarely eat because I can cook it at home. Two lamb chops in a restaurant cost the same as two racks from the supermarket; most pasta we can cook ourselves; steak too, even though I will splurge out and go to Hawksmoor or a good steakhouse.

The trick to using salt is to use it better. There are so many different types of salt, it’s a poor excuse to use table salt. Table salt is the worst, a teaspoon of it is much saltier than, say, a teaspoon of sea salt or herbed salt. Here’s some of my salt collection:

salt

Left, from back: plum salt from wakayama, japanese sea salt, korean sea salt, himalayan pink salt, good-with-everything salt, truffle salt, regular sea salt, french flavoured sea salt.

I don’t think I even have common table salt at home. If I need to use plain white salt, it’s from the mill. My day-to-day salt is the blue tub front left, lakeland’s good with everything salt that is mixed with herbs. This means if I take a pinch, it’s not all salt. I’m so used to flavouring with this that I know how much to use and what it will taste. The NYT article again:

what matters most is that you’re familiar with whichever salt you use.

I’m also keen to use other sources of salt. Soy sauce, cheese, bacon, duck fat. Anchovy is expensive here so I rarely use it. When I was around 10 years old my parents told me to marinade some pork. Young me discovered marinading with worcester sauce and I’ve been adding it to everything that needed flavour since then. Even at 10 I knew about umami? Probably not, but it’s a cute story.

I can’t remember which tv chef–I guess it’s all of the–who told us to season and taste each stage of cooking. I never add salt when I’m making stock and anything that needs to cook for a long time, I salt at the end. As for how to salt, Jamie Oliver tells us to sprinkle from a height; Emeril does his ‘bam’ routine. And of course there’s salt bae aka chef Nusret from turkey:

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flounder spinach rollups

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I bought a couple of packets of flounder filets at the supermarket. Mum and I aren’t very good at fish with bones so I prefer to stick with salmon or white fish filets. This is the first time I tried cooking flounder. The first batch, I pan-fried them but it wasn’t successful. The filets were too fragile and difficult to keep whole. Plus I couldn’t find much flavour to them.

For the second batch I decided to roll them up and bake them. It was dead easy. Cooked some spinach, rolled in filets, secure with toothpick. Baked in 180ºC oven for 15mins. I served them with hollandaise sauce which shamefully I have to admit came from a packet. I can make my own, but we had the packet so it’s best to use it up before it expires.

Since I was turning the oven on, I made sweet potatoes too. I’m so much happier with the rollups than the pan-fried version. I’m sure I can cook the rollups in a pan, either pan-fry them or poach them. Oven seems the best though, to keep them whole.

trip research: food

For our nagoya-takeyama-kanazawa trip (read the first post, there are beautiful pics) there will be the usual sushi, sashimi, seafood, ramen, izakaya food but on top of that the region has speciality food that we will want to try.

hida beef

hidabeef

Kobe and matsuzaka beef are famous all over the world for their tenderness, marbling and, well, high prices. Hida beef, or hida-gyu, is lesser known but have the same high quality taste and marbling. In order to be labelled hida-gyu, the meat must come from black-haired Japanese wagyu cattle bred in the Gifu prefecture and fattened for at least 14 months. The meat must be certified to be graded 3, 4 or 5 by the Japan Meat Grading Association. They take their meat grading very seriously in Japan.

Gifu cattle first started being reared as meat as opposed to use for work in the 1980s. Hida beef has won numerous awards in the Wagyu Beef Olympics. Yep, they do take their beef seriously in Japan.

The onsen hotel in Takayama where we will spend 2 nights includes the typical kaiseki dinner. The dishes page has numerous pics of hida beef and we think we’ll be able to enjoy at least one meal with hida beef shabu shabu or grilled. I’m sure we’ll want to try it more than once ao I’ve been doing research on other restaurants in the area that also offer hida beef and have a list.

There are also street stalls selling hida gyu-man or hida beef buns. These will be nice snacks. Or we may even be crazy enough to buy some to bring home.

hitsumabushi

hitsumabushi

Nagoya is one of the top regions for producing river eel. Hitsumabushi is a style of unagi-don that is ubiquitious to the nagoya region. The difference is in the preparation: the eel is grilled vs in other regions it’s steamed then grilled. I can just imagine how much more smoky flavour there is in the grilled eel.

The most well known hitsumabushi restaurant in nagoya is atsuta horaiken; they have been preparing eel over charcoal grill for 140 years. And being Japanese, they have suggestions on how to savour the meal:

  1. taste the eel as is
  2. taste the eel with condiments served (spring onions, ginger, nori)
  3. add green tea
  4. eat as you like — ie whichever favourite from the last 3 methods

Unagi has gotten expensive over the years, especially wild river eel which is fattier and more tasty than ocean eel. We’re thinking this will be dinner on our first night.

gold leaf ice cream

goldice

Kanazawa produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaves. The latest craze is wrapping soft serve ice cream in gold leaf.

Seems more of a gimmick. To me, edible gold is one of the Stupidest.Ideas.Ever because it’s literally flushing money down the loo. Gold leaf ice cream is around ¥1000, or US$9. Normal soft ice cream is probably 1/4 or 1/3 the price.

But we may still give it a try, if only for the instagram moment.

p.s. again, not my pics. Google image. No copyright infringement intended.

tabletop bbq

bbq15

Met mm and her brother’s family for bbq. This is a style of bbq we’ve never tried before–table top bbq. We’re all sat around a wooden bench and they brought a rectangular charcoal grill which sat on top of some bricks. The charcoal was already lit and ready for grilling immediately.

All you can eat for 3 hours. The ingredients are in an indoor pantry area, the meat in a large fridge unit and vegetables on shelves. Most food was skewered so the grilling was super easy and efficient. Much safer than the traditional bbq pit and so much faster; there was no wait for the food to cook unlike the pit bbq. We had king prawns, clams that cooked in a claypot, steak, ribs, tongue, chicken wings, fish balls, courgettes, mushroom, pumpkin, enoki mushrooms in aluminium foil. I got a bucket of beer.

Liking this style of bbq a lot, would want to try again.

burgers off- and on-menu

nyc082spottedburger

Interesting long read about the rise of restaurant quality off-menu burgers in the US. How a gastropub that usually served small plates was saved from the brink of failure by objectively the best burger in New York that the chef initially put on the lunch menu and was hesitant about putting on the dinner menu.

There seems to be two totally unrelated factors going on here. First, many of these good and “famous” burgers are not common and garden fare. Daniel Boulud’s db burger, made with sirloin and has fillings like black truffle and foid gras, debuted in 2001 at $27. It’s now $35. There is an emphasis on quality ingredients and care in cooking, partly to justify the high price and partly because we’re talking restaurant chefs, not Mcdonalds.

Second, the off-menu aspect. For example, In-and-Out’s secret menu isn’t a huge secret. There’s probably some psychological high reached when people perceive they are getting a better deal than other customers. Or it’s an opportunity for oneupmanship, to show off, or in general be cooler, hipper, than one actually is.

There is cultural currency in speaking the language and knowing how to get the good stuff.

That said, it’s interesting to read about the burger eclipse effect. Like

if you build it, they will come

the rule is, if there is a burger on the menu, customers will order it. It’s predictable, it’s familiar, it’s satisfying. But it also means customers are not ordering food that the chef may consider more special, more worthy, more interesting.

One chef who has a great burger on the menu is April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig, who another chef described as the queen of burgers. It’s been almost a year, I can still taste it.

ex-colleagues dinner

bdaycake02

Yesterday we met up with the ex-office girls for dinner at a thai place. There was a slight panic when we were told we can only have the table for 1.5hrs, but in the end it was an empty threat–there was no one in the queue after 1.5hrs so no need to return the table. Nice food, the place has the same name as a dingy, crowded place I’ve been a few times, wonder if they are the same.

Satay, spicy chicken feet salad, green curry chicken, pad thai, pineapple fried rice. We had beer and the girls had lime soda. I’d actually gone out earlier to run errands and attempt to pokehunt. Errands took quicker than expected, coudln’t lot into pogo and it rained very hard so I spent more than an hour at a happy hour place nearby and had 2 beers already. Too much beer!

The girls brought a nice green tea cake for dessert. Perfect small size for 5 people. Great to catch up.

bbmm lunch

simplylife20170410

Late lunch with mm, she had an appointment nearby so I walked down to the simplylife at festival walk. I’d already had lunch at home so we shared the meal. Spinach & mushroom pizza was nice, thin crispy crust and good flavour from the chanterelles. They initially brought us a chicken pizza and when we flagged a server down they realised it was for the table next to ours.

They have a really great selection of breads and cakes. It’s the same place I got the raspberry truffle cake and chestnut cake for mm’s birthday last week. Today we had a chocolate jaffa tart. Their chocolate pastries are good! The ganache was rich and the sweetness was balanced by real mandarin pieces. I found some frozen chocolate shortcrust pastry in the freezer the other day, I hope I can still use it, make chocolate tart.

Anyway, she wanted to go home to rest so we walked around the mall a little then she took the train. I stopped quickly at the supermarket and got tomatoes and carrots. I have an oxtail in the freezer, I want to use it this week.

birthday

2017bday039lunch

Sis treated us to lunch at ON dining. It’s busy at lunchtime, good to see that business is good.

For starters I had pork knuckle carpaccio, which is pork terrine sliced very thin with an emulsion of egg and herbs topping. Mum and sis got an amuse bouche of soup since they didn’t order starters; gis had onsen egg with black truffle sauce.

Mains Sis and I had pigeon with foie gras. Perfectly cooked pigeon, delicious. Gis had beef and mum had hake.

I got a surprise birthday cake, their raspberry & yuzu that was on the menu. Mum got the same cake for dessert. Sis and I both ordered cheese so we got a large cheeseboard of comté plus six strong, oozy, yummy, cheese.

Met mm after lunch. We were going to have drinks but I thought we could get haircut since that was our original plan for saturday. Even better, because sam said he was pretty booked on saturday.

2017bday065shot

Early dinner at frites. It’s rugby sevens weekend and friday and we didn’t have a reservation. If we sat at a table we’d have to give it back by 7.30pm, but we were free to sit at the bar for as long as we wanted. So I picked the bar. We shared a plate of fried camembert and a pot of mussels. I had a beer and mm had a glass of red wine. Really lovely. The manager gave us each a complimentary shot of tequila for birthday, and I got a discount card too.

It was a nice birthday. Everybody made an effort and I felt blessed and loved. I just wish I felt better and more cheerful inside.

mm birthday

mmbdaycakes

It’s mm’s birthday. We were going to go have haircuts but it seemed our hairdresser is closed today for public holiday. She also seemed to be not answering my telepathic pleas to decide on when and where to meet.

So finally we fixed a time. I detoured to simplylife and bought 2 slices of cake: raspberry truffle and chestnut. They turned out to be very, very nice.

mmbdaysteak

Walked a little, then settled on dinner at the hotel near her. Semi-buffet. Salad bar was pretty good: salad, charcuterie, oysters, crab legs, mussels and a nice poached salmon that ran out way too quickly. For mains we shared the 400g rib-eye that came with shoestring fries and waldorf salad. The server tried to flambé the steak with a tiny shot glass of Jack Daniel’s and it was a pretty sorry sight. The steak was average, mm says I cook them better.

pillastro wine

pillastro2014

Normally when I drink wine at home I use a mug. Yes, it’s terrible.

So I opened a bottle of Pillastro Primivito 2014 that sis gave me. I thought I should do it better justice and use a proper wine glass. Okay, it’s still a stemless, not a fancy one but it’s an improvement.

Nice wine. Primivito is the same grape as zinfandel apparently. No wonder it was fruity and fragrant. Easy to drink too.

duck risotto

risottoducktomato

When we took my great aunt to lunch a few weeks ago for peking duck we came away with leftover duck meat and the carcass. They’ve been sitting in the freezer so i should use them.

I made stock with the carcass. Half the stock I used in congee, which seems to be traditional at least in my family; the other half I made risotto whch is less traditional–I think I’m the only one who makes risotto. Honestly, it’s not difficult.

Heat the stock and keep at a low simmer. Sauté garlic in olive oil, add risotto rice to toast for a little bit. Add the stock one ladle at a time, stirring until it has been absorbed. Total time was around 40mins until the rice was cooked. I added sun-dried tomatoes (soaked and diced) and fresh tomato because that’s what I had in the fridge; plus the duck meat. It’s good use of leftovers.

One thing I’ve notice about my cooking the past year, I’ve barely done any baking or made food I used to eat when I was living by myself. Whereas in the past I’d stick a tray of chicken thighs in the oven, cook a whole savoy cabbage and eat that 3 days in a row, that’s hardly what I can serve to mum. She’ll say she’s fine but I bet opening a whole packet of ham and calling it a meal is not something she would be happy doing. I’ve had to plan what I cook for lunch and dinner almost every day and try not to repeat two meals running. Mostly it’s pedestrian food. Fry or grill some protein (salmon, pork chop), add simple vegetables (greens from the market) and some form of carb (mash, rice). Try to make soup (pork+carrot+sweetcorn) every week. Everything is seasoned with s&p and italian seasoning. Perfectly edible but no spark.

recipebooks

I can’t remember when was the last time I flipped through a recipe book for inspiration. I don’t know where the creativity has gone. What happened to a whole weekend of cooking, or beetroot & sweet potato stack, or summer lasagne, or vegetarian savoury bread pudding, or roast belly pork, or delicious chocolate quinoa cake. Sigh.

What has worked is forward planning and cooking for multiple meals. Adam Liaw, masterchef australia s2 winner, wrote that the fundamental issue with modern day recipes assume it’s for one discrete meal:

Making a simple dish that’s over and done with in under an hour is all well and good, but it is also a very inefficient way to cook.

He gave examples: Japanese cooking relies on pickles and condiments made in advance; French cooking is full of sauces and stocks that cannot be made in the alloted 15-, 30- or 60-minute timeframe of a typical recipe.

Motherjones takes it further and tells us we’re using recipes wrong and the one-meal recipe is not a good use of time or money. We should be taking the long view:

Say on Sunday, you cooked a pot of beans, roasted a whole chicken (tip: butterfly it), and whipped up a simple vinaigrette as a salad dressing and marinade. Monday’s dinner could be a quick chicken-bean soup; Tuesday could be taco night; Wednesday, these elements could be incorporated along with some quick-sautéd vegetables into a pasta.

I’m fully on board with this. Planning and leftovers are such an important part of my daily cooking. Here’s to the duck that was first served as fancy Peking duck, its carcass made into stock and two different dishes came out of it for multiple meals.

Next up, 101 Cookbooks’ one tomato sauce, three lunches. All vegetarian too and I’m loving those tiffin boxes.

magic cake

magiccake01

The ingredients for magic cake are straightforward: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, milk. The magic is created with the proportion of the ingredients and when baked at a low temperature, it separates into 3 layers: the lowest layer is a dense cake, the middle layer creamy custard and the top layer is a crunchy, light genoise sponge. This recipe was from the telegraph.

500ml milk
2 vanilla pods
4 eggs, separated
150g sugar
1tbsp vanilla extract
125g butter
110g flour

scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods, heat seeds and pods with milk until boiling
remove and leave to cool and infuse for 1hr
beat egg yolks with sugar and vanilla extract until thick
melt butter and add to mixture
fold in flour
add milk little by little
whisk egg whites till soft peaks and fold into mixture, no need to mix thoroughly, there should be lumps of egg white floating in a liquid mixture
bake at 150ºC in a lined tin for around 50mins
leave to cool in tin before turning out, chill in fridge to set

Very tasty and rich. A little less sugar next time, I find with most baking recipes I need to reduce the amount of sugar. My magic cake didn’t separate as well as the ones people post; the bottle dense layer probably needed a little more cooking. I was also impatient and ate a slice before it had a chance to chill in the fridge.

Definitely must make again. Most people credit jocooks as the originator of magic cake recipes and she has many different flavours like lemon, chocolate, butterscotch (ouch, too sweet probably), coconut.

lunch with great-aunt

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My great-aunt from canada called out of the blue this morning. She’s visiting for a week. Turned out she went on a last minute cruise with some friends. Now the coincidence is, they were on the Star and boarded in Auckland on the 18th!!! That’s exactly the leg after ours and we actually got to Auckland just in time to see it sail off that day. I showed her this pic I took as the bus was turning into britomart and she was there on the ship. If only we’d known. Their itineray was changed too, but at least the azipods kept on working. Theirs was a 19-day cruise that took them back to Sydney then to cairns, darwin, bali and singapore.

springdeer201703

We treated her and her friend to lunch at the traditional restaurant spring deer. Shark’s fin soup, peking duck, minced pork and pastry parcels. Way too much to eat, we took the duck carcass and leftovers home. Lovely to see her and we enjoyed the food. Not too expensive, local$ 1600, around UD200, for 4 people. I remember going to this restaurant with my grandparents, it looks the same and the food is the same high quality. Okay, it’s controversial to have shark’s fin soup nowadays, we don’t really make it a habit. The soup was mainly a chicken soup with depth of flavour; shark’s fin itself is bland.

food at home

butternutsquash

Mum bought a small pre-cooked chicken from the frozen food shop last time she went to the market. The cooking instructions were to remove outer packaging and put chicken in inner wrapping in boiling water for 17mins. I had it boiling in the bag for around 30mins just to make sure it’s heated all the way through. Quite nice, can buy again.

I put the bones in a ziploc bag and realised I already have 3 large bags of chicken and turkey bones. Time to make stock.

Went to the market and bought a ginormous butternut squash to make soup. Some carrots, an onion and a couple of tomatoes too. I have celery at home. Then because I couldn’t resist, broccoli and cauliflower. Also a loaf of bread and a bottle of korean rice wine that was on sale. Pretty heavy load to take home.

family day

Visited Papa in the afternoon. No taxi on the way down so we started walking, luckily one came by around 5mins after. Chatty driver, sigh.

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Early dinner at pizza express. We were there around 4.30-5pm for a 6pm reservation so we totally took our time. Sis had a voucher for a free pavlova, which turned out to be a ginormous portion. Delicious too. For mains I had mushroom truffle pizza, it was pretty good.

thai coconut curry

Mum visited a farm expo with her friends and came back with galangal. I’d only recently started cooking with more ginger so I was like, I have to learn a new recipe.

Googling ‘galangal recipe’ gave lots of examples such as curry, soup, satay. It’s used in several iconic southeast Asian dishes: beef rendang, penang laksa and tom kha gai. Kha is the Thai word for galangal.

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There are plenty of Thai, Indonesian, SE Asian stores around. Two already at the market. The nice lady there helped me gather all the other ingredients for a Thai curry in addition to the galangal: lemongrass, thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, chili, fresh lime. I already have coconut milk. I didn’t really follow any particular recipe or measurements.

3 chicken leg, skinned and deboned, cut into pieces
1 cauliflower, cut into pieces
about 2 tbsp galangal, finely grated
3 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 handful keffir lime leaves, sliced
1 handful thai basil, reserve some for decoration
3 cloves garlic
half a red onion
1 small chili
1 can coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
chicken stock
small block rock sugar
fish sauce

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Mise en place took a good half an hour. The chicken and cauliflower had to be cut into bite-sized pieces. All the herbs and spices were chopped or grated. I decided to use only one small chili because mum can’t eat food that is too spicy.

Brown the chicken, remove from heat. Sautée garlic, onion galangal and lemongrass until onion and garlic are soft. Add rest of herbs and spices. Return chicken to pan, add cauliflower and rest of ingredients. Season with salt, pepper, fish sauce.

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Simmer for about 1hr. The cauliflower got a bit soft and some of it melted, but I didn’t mind.

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Serve with rice. I added a couple more slices of chili to my plate, it was just spicy enough to feel the heat. Very coconut-y and tasty. I think leaving in the fridge overnight will improve the flavour.

Other ingredients that will work: potato, carrot, pork, fish, tofu. For a low carb version, make cauliflower rice instead of normal rice.

I had galangal, chili and thai basil left over. They all went into the freezer. The galangal directly; the chili after washing and drying; and the thai basil after blanching in hot water for 2 seconds then drying.

masterchef desserts

Getting quite tired with the bingewatching. Last night the last episode didn’t finish till 2.30am and since it was a Heston episode we stayed up to watch it. Then today sitting in front of the tv from 11am. The grand final was 10pm-midnight, so an ‘early’ night. All finished now. Very pleased we managed to catch it, it was a fantastic season.

mystique pear

The memorable dishes were the ones at the pressure (elimination) test. They get a famous chef to bring one of their fancy creations, or get a Nobu to make them make a plate of sushi. The standouts were Christy Tania’s Mystique and the pear, walnut crumb, nest dessert by Dave Verheul which the contestants had to decipher from just a critic’s review.

choctop

The deceptively simple looking ice cream cone from gelato messina caught our eye. Not because of how complex it was to construct, but because it’s now on our list of places to try in Sydney. Good thing they have several branches around the CBD. I also learned that what we call choc ice they call choc top. Anyway, they have a lot of choices, may be we’ll need to go twice. And again in Melbourne.

sake kitkat

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Still bingewatching Masterchef Australia. But now I have snacks. Got these last week and only just got round to opening the packet.

Yep, it’s sake flavoured kitkat. It came out last february in Japan. 0.8% alcohol, so it’s really just for the taste.

Honestly, they taste pretty good. Can definitely smell the sake aroma as soon as the packaging is opened, although the taste isn’t as pronounced. I think they use white chocolate so it’s less overpowering, and so it looks nice. May be I’ll think about taking a supply to the conference this year to give out. They’re more expensive than regular sweets and chocolate, so it’ll have to be only for selected few.

turkey and kale frittata

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When I was stripping the turkey we got for Christmas I ended up with a box of small bits of meat too small to serve on its own. It’s useful for fried rice, soup, filling for baked potato, pizza topping. I made frittata.

Fry some kale until soft, add turkey and season. Pour in 8 eggs and cook until bottom is done. I had to add more eggs as the pan is too large. Put under the grill to firm up the top. Very easy and tasty. I drizzled some sriracha on my slice.