Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pandan Chiffon Cake

I decided to bake a pandan chiffon to share with my classmates at-Sunrice tomorrow. Makes sense to share food and recipes in a class of extra virgin chefs. It's also a good chance to update my previous post on this cake with my newfound foodography skills. The motivation for wanting to learn to bake the chiffon for me started because, one, I was curious about how it was made and two, I wanted to know what I was eating. Hope you enjoy this step-by-step sharing. The recipe is here.

Do you know there are 9 parts to an egg? Here, I separate the yolks. I love the natural golden orange colour of an egg yolk. I stare at it rudely, and for as long as I like - it's mesmerizing! I have not learned to separate them without breaking at least one, as you can see here. 
Mix 8 yolks with 2 oz castor sugar, 5 oz self raising flour, 3 fl oz olive oil, and 2 fl oz pandan juice, then set aside.  Thadd takes a short break from study time to help me whisk them together.
I extract fresh pandan juice from its leaves (will have to take pictures of this to show in future). I am a strict, no-artifical-colouring person and dislike the fake green you get from the stores.
A store-bought piece, the green thingy
Next, beat the egg whites till frothy. If you use your hand instead of an
electric mixer, it takes longer but you get a good workout on your arm.
Once you get it to this frothy stage, just a couple of minutes on the mixer, increase speed while slowly adding 3 oz of castor sugar (original recipe is 5 oz but I think that's too much and will start to taste like those from the stores) and a pinch of salt. Thadd says, I want to pinch it!
Beat at high speed for about 3-4 minutes to get this white meringue.
Some recipes call this "soft peak". It shows a peak when you turn the beater upside down. If it drips, it's not ready. Don't stare at this pix for too long or it will start to look like The Phantom of the Opera.
Add your pandan mixture to the meringue and gently fold it in. Don't lose air that has already been whipped in the meringue. The folding technique affects how light and fluffy your cake will turn out later. For the same reason, it's ok for the pandan mixture to be lumpy to prevent over mixing and losing air.
I pour the mixture into a tube pan inherited from my sister. She was crazy about baking at one stage in her life and never in her wildest imagination would think that I would ever be interested to step into the kitchen.

Oven preheated to 175C, I pop this in for 40-45 minutes.
I know my Brandt oven enough now to know it's perfect at 44 minutes.
After 25 minutes, the batter rises so high it covers the tube.  
40 minutes later, it sinks back again which is expected.
It's done when the stick comes out clean with no trace of batter.
Remove from oven immediately and turn it upside down to cool for an hour.
For those with no tube pan, just place it upside down between 2 glasses.

All set for tomorrow.
Maybe some day, I'll have an-EVC embossed cake box?

What became of your lamb, Clarice?

Boneless leg lamb in slow cooker - I seasoned it with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, made some slits on top and stuffed garlic pieces in them, then I added all my favourite vegetables (also known as whatever is in the fridge
that you want to get rid of), some rosemary prigs, set my slow cooker to high and left it alone to go watch fireworks for the National Day rehearsal.
This is how it looks after 5 hours of high heat on a slow cooker followed by another 5 hours of low heat.  No carving needed, everything falls off and disintegrates into a gooey, messy, juicy stew.

I am happy I applied what I learned in school this week and thawed this responsibly.
Last night, after 4 hours, some friends popped over and I carved out a few pieces for them to try. Forgot to take some pictures as I was concerned not to feed my friends raw meat and kept checking to make sure the lamb was edible. It was quite beautifully medium rare.

My 2 boys had a few pieces as well and compared it with the stew this morning. They like the 4 hour version better so maybe what they like is a steak rather than a gooey stew. Looks like there'll be at least one more round of this.
I would have much preferred it with basmati rice but somehow the kids don't like the long grain, which is surprising to me. So now, this is waiting for the husband who's on his way back after the Osim Triathlon. 

Playing with food words

Children play with food, adults play with food words. I have to share this with you that I found in different parts of the Web and collated here.

"Sometimes I pray to Cod for the veal-power to stop playing with my food words, but I fear it’s too bread into me. For all I know, the wurst may be yet to come."

"Eggcellent recipes. I'll have to ketchup on all of them."
"Sea eeled with a kiss"

"I will clam every mountain in this life."

"Nearer my Cod to thee"

"Roe, roe, roe your boat" (and may I add: Gently down the steam)

"Shark the herald angels sing"

Favourite celebrities: Cod Steward, Mussell Crowe

Favourite movies: Jurassic Carp, Marlin Rouge

Stealing someone's coffee is called Mugging.

Drinking too much coffee can cause a latte problems.

Does a coffee shop have the grounds to operate in the black?

What do people buy coffee with? Starbucks?

Stir-fry cooks come from all woks of life.

A good baker will rise to the occasion, it's the yeast he can do.

There was a cook who had mushroom for improvement.

He got angry with the Italian chef and gave him a pizza his mind.

The lights at the Chinese restaurant were too bright so the manager decided to dim sum.

An experienced waiter can give a lot of good tips.

He was a restaurant critic but had no taste. 

Like them? You have one to contribute?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Responsible thawing

"What became of your lamb, Clarice?" Do you remember who uttered this line in the most eerie fashion you can imagine?

I just remembered I have a lamb leg in the freezer and this could be a nice weekend to make this for my son after his triathlon tomorrow. I apply everything I've learned this week on Food Safety. This is the best way to close the theory-practice gap.

 A poster in the Main Kitchen in school shows the order of things you should
organise in your fridge.
My son loves lamb to eat. He will appreciate this surprise.
Good quality meat and good value for money, courtesy of Ben's Food
I thaw it in the fridge and not at room temperature. My fridge is at 4 degrees Celsius, outside the TDZ
(Temperature Danger Zone). The bacteria cannot multiply in this environment. Placing it at the
lowest shelf also minimises possible cross-contamination.  
I also use a tray to catch any liquid that may drip out of the raw meat even if it is double-packed.

And now, to look for some good leg lamb recipes to try out. I am thinking a slow cooker stew. Nobody is born a good cook. Everyone learns by doing. Happy weekend, everyone.

Luan's 'perfect' omelette

An egg-cellent recipe. I'll have to ketchup on all of them.
I made this in class today. Does it look good? Recipe and instructions at the bottom of this post.

A perfect omelette is pale in colour. Any sign of brown means it's overcooked and becomes a fried egg. Mine's a bit rough on the edges but the shape is good. Folding it into half when it was still runny was the most tricky part. 'Gordon' walked in even though he's not the Executive Chef today and the kitchen atmosphere changed.  Some people make sure their presence is felt when they enter a room. Gordon is undoubtedly one of them.  

He walked towards my station just as I was about to fold the omelette. "Faster. Faster. Faster," he deliberately breathed down my neck and whispered. Gordon's way of egging someone on. Somehow with Gordon, even a whisper is as intimidating as his holler. I made a flash decision to ignore him and focus on the task at hand. A split-second prayer and I did it! No breakage. The chef in charge was pleased with my omelette and a few chaps came round to look at it. Gordon stared at me expressionless. Silence from him is a compliment, I decided, and went about my way.

Days later, Gordon told the class that eggs coagulate at 63.5C. The window to fold it is a matter of seconds, that's why he was egging me on. He said I almost missed that window of opportunity. Also, omelette is one of those things that is easy to cook but difficult to master and an elementary culinary student will never be tested on.

We learned to "close down" the kitchen, checking all safety equipment and washing and sanitizing all utensils. I want to go buy a sanitizer for my home kitchen. It has live enzymes that eat up bacteria. Just spray and leave them overnight. No wipes needed. Sorry to have this in a food post but I wanted to show you the sanitizer we use in school.

Well, this ends my second week in at-Sunrice. From here on, we will be in the kitchen much more now that we have passed the Food Handling Safety and Hygiene module and are certified food handlers deemed "Fit for the Kit" as I call it. Did I tell you I scored full marks for my Food Safety exams

I also heard from the grapevine we may be making a foie gras dish too in the coming weeks. How exciting. Unlike most corporate executives, I am looking forward to Monday.

Meanwhile, here's the recipe.

Omelette Recipe
4 servings

1. 8 eggs (about 2-3 eggs per person)
2. 8 bacon strips, diced. (Or sliced mushroom or diced tomatoes for vegetarians. Or whatever you want to get rid of in your fridge.)
3. 120 ml milk (optional)
4. 30g chives, chopped. Leave a few long strands for garnishing
5. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat non-stick pan with oil, cook bacon till crisp (I left out the oil as there is already animal fats in the bacon)
2. Remove bacon to paper towel to drain, discard drippings
3. In a small bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Add milk, chives, salt, pepper and bacon
4. Add some oil and pour egg mixture into same pan. (Instead of oil, we used clarified butter, also called ghee in Asia. This is how we made it. I like it as it has a higher smoke point and doesn't burn easily.)
5. Cook over medium heat. As eggs set, about 40 seconds, lift edges, letting uncooked portion flow underneath. When eggs are set, about another 10 seconds, fold omelette into a semi-circle. It still looks runny and uncooked but this is when you have to remove it from the heat to maintain the pale colour. A few more seconds and it will turn brown, making it a fried egg instead. It is still cooking even when you remove it, so don't worry about it being raw.

See how Jamie Oliver does it and try it for your weekend breakfast.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A glimpse of Jewish cuisine & culture

This morning, my friend showed me his cooking books from home - they all look so very interesting so I've borrowed them for the weekend. You can't get any of these food in Singapore at all, nothing quite near as authentic. 'Gordon' said there is a market for a truly authentic Jewish/Lebanese food and cultural experience. Here are some pages for you, sorry for bad photography:

A sweet-smelling bread and the ultimate symbol of Shabbat.
Kindergarten kids knead and braid miniature challahs
on Friday mornings to welcome the Shabbat.

...where God gave the 10 Commandments.

Kosher also means the separation of meat and dairy.
I did not know of this before. It is a custom to wait for
up to 6 hours after eating meat before eating dishes that
contain milk. There goes our curry chicken.

Hanging out with Elli everyday has made me more and more curious about Israel. In the past week, I've read a chocolate recipe in Hebrew and today, I read a Hebrew proverb that says, roughly translated, Let food be your medicine. Don't let medicine become your food. Elli also told me about Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, and who believes doctors should be not just mere technicians of the physical body but also alchemists of our souls.  

I have not been to Israel since 2002 but now I so want to do a food tour there! Anybody interested to join me? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Word of the Week: Rotisserie

My home rotisserie. Too lazy to cover the wings with foil resulting in uneven cooking.
I later learned to truss a chicken and the roasting was much more even.
Pronounced "roh-tis-uh-ree", this can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it means a machine with a rotating, motor-driven solid rod used to hold meat over a fire. As a verb, it means the technique of roasting a meat which is skewered on the rotisserie machine. Like a BBQ skewer. This method is generally used for cooking large joints of meat or entire animals such as turkeys. The rotation cooks the meat evenly in its own juices.

My Brandt oven comes with a rotisserie function. It sounded very complex and complicated to me when the Brandt man came to our house to explain its usage upon purchase. But when I actually tried using it, it was rather simple and the results rewarding and worth the effort trying and learning. I also insert a tray of vegetables with some sea salt and ground pepper to catch the melting fats and then I get 2 dishes for the same amount of effort. 

As the sous chef for today, I had to read and explain this to the class. Before introducing them to the new term, I asked if they remembered last week's Word of the Week. No one did. So I revisited that lesson and told them I have tried it and the barded chicken was amazing. At break time, somebody came up to me and said he is so going to try it now. He said he didn't catch it the first time.

Then, I introduced rotisserie. The dear aunties in the class were wondering if it had anything to do with "roti" (bread). I thought the best way to explain to them was to refer them to the grilled chicken wings you find in the Singapore hawker centers. Then they went, "Orh!" I am learning auntie language.

A Taste of Hell's Kitchen

A batonnet is 5mm x 5mm x 5cm
A julienne is 3mm x 3 mm x 5cm.
A fine julienne is 2mm x 2 mm x 5cm.

Small dice is a 5mm cube
Medium dice is a 12mm cube
Large dice is a 2cm cube

Getting your culinary art and cut right helps cook the food evenly and enhances visual appeal for the diner. I would probably need to cut about 100 kg of carrots and potatoes each before I can get mine close to these. Or as one of my friends say, You need to spend 10,000 hours on an activity before you can become an expert in it. We calculate that to be around 4 years if you want your Sundays off.

Today was a nervous day for me due to a combination of factors - it was my turn to be sous chef, it happened on our first day in the kitchen, and we have been forewarned about the Executive Chef in charge for the day - a Gordon Ramsay, no less. "Whatever he says to you, don't take it personally," another chef pre-warned us. I had all sorts of images conjured in my head about how the day will take place.

The class dynamics developed from the past week changed dramatically in the kitchen environment. Some who could not contribute in the classroom became stars at once - their basic knife skills were too apparent. They finished first, way before the deadline, their cuts were precise and clean, and they could go round helping others. I was sandwiched between 2 of these guys, so I just did a copycat following their steps. I think I did pretty ok for a first timer.

I had a close shave on one of my fingers, shaving off some nail surface and had to compose myself again. It didn't help that when I got home and googled "culinary cuts", it led me to a video made by a culinary student in the US detailing all her injuries and burns. A bit shaken after watching the video, I started to question if this is what I really want to do.

Meeting my 'Gordon Ramsay'
'Gordon Ramsay' put a lot of pressure on me for obvious and deliberate reasons. I suppose having entered the industry the hard way, he had earned his stripes and rights to bark, yell, humiliate and reduce his students to nothing, so they too can learn the hard way he did back in his old days of ducking flying plates from chefs just as abusive. That was how he became a top-notch chef and that is how he will be teaching us.

To tackle his pugnacious management style, I tried hard to strike a balance between being obedient without being a puppy, and being quick without acting up like a headless chicken. If he shouted, I responded with the same volume. "Sous chef!" he yelled at the top of his lungs to the extent the other class could hear him and were trembling, probably the very desired effect he was seeking. "Yes! Chef!!" I yelled back, keeping my voice firm. "You don't know how to wash a kitchen? You don't know? Go back to your corporate job!"

Thank you, Chef, I just might. But not today.

If you're new to this site, check out the author of this post and what this blog is all about.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dressed for Success

Dressed to grill
Being a first class chef is not only being able to cook great food, you also have to look the part. This is truly Primary One elementary class - how to wear your apron, your grandmother hair net (I really don't fancy this one at all), chef hat, and personal kitchen towel. Remember when Catherine Zeta Jones folded her apron in No Reservations? It's in fact a safety precaution to fold in the apron strings so they don't get caught in machineries.

In this picture is my regular seat in the lecture room. I look like a complete goon, and the thumbs up sure don't help, hahaha. "You score points for dressing safely, not prettily." So on top of everything else, I have to also park whatever remaining beauty is left on this middle-aged body of mine. The chef said we need to get used to it now that we've hung up our power suits.

So this is my caterpillar transition in action, moving from media work to menial work and uprooting myself to a foreign land where a degree means temperature, not qualification, and the only spa I know now is a tula.


Get it?


Elementary class in progress. Everyday
we are exposed to learning from a
different chef. They all have interesting
backgrounds and stories to share of
their own culinary journey.
So much to learn from them. 

Cooking for Goliath continues with
this giant handheld blender.

I have to tell you about this super oven. My friend Eli and I keep talking about it!
It's a combi oven, with steam and convection. Such combination of dry
and moist cooking can do wonders for your food and bread,
especially baguettes, where at some point in the baking process,
the oven shoots out some water to moist the bread and makes it
much more aromatic.

It's also bluetooth-enabled -plug your thumb drive in there
and it reads your recipe and instructions. There's a built-in
water jet for easy cleaning.

For those who can't cook at all, it has an idiot-proof menu.
Click, fish, chicken or beef.  Click, bake, steam or grill.
15,000 Euros, anyone?
Tomorrow is kinda a big day for me. I'm the sous chef and it's our first real lesson in the kitchen and the debut of my Extra Virgin Chef Knife set. I have been advised to bring band aids! 

Tomorrow is also Wednesday which means I will also share the Word of the Week. I think I will have lots to say after tomorrow. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Every orientation presupposes a disorientation

I went to school hungry this morning and just murmuring that
somehow God will provide. True enough, our classmate from Israel
turned up with a chocolate cake to share!
We finally got to step into those beautiful kitchens I've been admiring from a distance outside the glass windows. Not to cook but to get orientated and understand the functions of the various tools and equipment. A key takeaway from the morning lecture for me was this - Proper tools are essential and could mean the difference between a job well done and one done carelessly, incorrectly or even dangerously. Doing the kitchen orientation brought this to life for me. In our home kitchen, and in the Asian context in particular, we seem to practise minimalism - you can use a Chinese chopper for almost everything including opening a tin can! The western concept, on the contrary, seems to have a tool for everything, even zesting a lemon, which my mom would dismiss as totally unnecessary, wasteful and "ley-chey" (troublesome, in local slang). I think a safe and practical balance between the 2 can be achieved.

With a thick layer of beautiful ganache! He is sweeter than the cake.
God bless his sweet soul. He's the one who wants to cook well
for his wife and daughter. I want to know who his Singaporean-
corporate-lawyer-wife is!
In the Asian Kitchen, we saw a modern
tandoor at 400 degrees Celsius.
I was excited to hear we will be learning
to do a naan later in the course.
This is a Tandoor pillow used to slap
the naan dough onto the Tandoor walls.
The dough will stick and cook there.

2 long skewers are then used to flip it back up.
Giant-sized dough hook, beater and balloon whisk. 

For baking a cake for Goliath

Rice cooker for Goliath

Skillet cooking pasta sauce for Goliath

Salamander - browns the cheese on top of your baked rice in seconds

Meat slicer and all the industrial accident horror stories.
I'm not going near this man-eater.

Sorry, no more pix as I had to take notes after that but we got a chance to go into the walk-in chiller at 4C and the walk-in freezer at -12C and tried to trap some classmates in there. We quickly snapped back to behaving when the younger students marched past us. We toured the Asian Kitchen divided into stove cooking and induction cooking. (2 cups of water can boil in 8 seconds with induction!) We saw very cool, James-Bond kitchen gadgets complete with blue tooth functionality.

The chef announced at the end of the tour that tomorrow, we will do the Pastry and Bakery Kitchen orientation. I let out a girlish Yeah! as if I had just won some Bieber concert tickets, to my own embarrassment! Hee hee.

Well, that's it for today. Signing off for now. Culinarily yours, Extra Virgin Chef.