Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Top 7 Links

There is a chain going on in the bloggersphere through an initiative called "The 7 Links Project". Basically, a blogger invites another blogger to put up his/her top 7 blog posts and the invite continues to the next blogger. The project was started by TripBase blog who say the project is designed "to unite bloggers from all sectors in a joint endeavour to share lessons learnt and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again."

I don't know enough bloggers to be nominated by anyone but I don't plan to sit around, waiting to be invited. So here's my top 7:

1. My Most Beautiful Post

As I started to blog and post pictures of my experience and my food, I realised the increasing importance of good photography, and so began my plate-to-pixel learning journey. And with great reluctance, I might add. Aperture and depth-of-field and all those incomprehensible abbreviations on the camera were and still are too much for my little brain to understand and absorb, much less apply. This oxtail stew post marked the start of some more decent photography compared to the old ones and I'm amazed I crossed that hurdle at a time I was learning to blog and learning to cook all in one go!

2. My Most Popular Post

An intern at 46.
"My first day at work" continues to be the most popular post amongst my readers, old and new, friends and strangers. It happened in June this year when I ditched my corporate job of 20 years and went to work in a commercial kitchen as an intern with zero kitchen experience but high on passion and at a 95% pay cut. I am pleased to see this as the most viewed post since it was the trigger for starting my blog in the first place.

The spirit of this blog space is to capture the journey of moving my own cheese when I abandoned the corporate cage to become a free-range human and replaced the keyboard with the chopping board. Closely related to this popular post was how I got the kitchen job and how different kitchen politics was from corporate politics, which were the 2 most frequently-asked questions I received.

3. My Most Controversial Post

I don't have any controversial posts but this one on Sarah's birthday did upset one person. He asked why I was condemning the rich when they had a right to celebrate and enjoy their wealth. I was of course not condemning anyone or anything. I only wanted to blog that I now had a perspective of the world of extravagance like I never did before. The Prince of Wales spent a night sleeping in the cold together with the homeless. I had a less extreme experience working side by side with low income earners. And it's made me all the more richer with this experience.

4. My Most Helpful Post

Barding, a culinary term introduced in Word of the Week to mean cooking meat
using wrapped animal fats to retain moisture
I started a category called Word of the Week in which I introduce a new culinary term every Wednesday. I have received encouraging feedback that people find this helpful especially with some illustrations, and the ever inquisitive learner always finds something new there to learn. In addition to French culinary terms, I also introduce Asian and Middle Eastern ones which you cannot find in one place on the web.

5. A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

My post on Home-made peanut butter took me 5 minutes to write but it attracted much attention and hit high pageviews. It seemed to strike a chord with people who are increasingly more conscious about the type of food they eat. Trans fat and processed food are evil and home-made or hand-made or natural are embraced with a passion. Even non-regular followers of my blog wrote to ask me more about the process. For this, I have a fellow blogger May to thank for inspiring me to try it on my own.

6. A post I feel didn't get the attention it deserved

My posting on Lucy, a 9-year-old kidney patient, received little traction.
My blenders ended up with food bloggers rather than underprivileged families.
After my restaurant internship, I signed up for a certificate course with a reputable culinary school called At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy. As part of its social responsibility, the school invited children kidney patients to experience what it is like to be Chef for a day. I posted about my experience with Lucy but was disappointed with the page view hits I got and the number of likes and comments it garnered. 

In the same vein, my blender posting did not get enough attention either. I was hoping someone would pass me a lead or 2 on any underprivileged families who may have a need for this kitchen tool but no one came forward. Instead, it attracted food bloggers who find this useful and I pray they can use it to bless others with their good food. Thankfully, the 2 winners turned out to be very sweet people. We are all blessed to be a blessing to others.

7. The post I am most proud of

Home-cured salmon, my most daring culinary adventure to date for an extra virgin chef
It has to be my 3 posts on Salmon curing, a culinary adventure I took on after hearing about it from a friend and doing my own research on the internet. In the first post, I was just thinking about doing it and shared some research findings. In the second post, I documented a step-by-step photo capture of the curing process I undertook at home. And in the final post, I showed how I served it when it was ready a few days later.

Did I tell you my next culinary adventure will be home-made duck confit (wink, wink)?

So there you have my top 7 and in the tradition of the 7 Links Project, I nominate my 2 blogger friends The Experimental Cook and Hankerie to post their own top 7.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Word of the Week: Lemang

I'm on a road trip in East Malaysia. One of the most traditional dishes here is Lemang which the Malays prepare in celebration of Hari Raya. It is sticky rice with coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed into thick bamboo sticks, then smoked over charcoal for 7 hours. We had Lemang for lunch yesterday for a mere seven ringgit.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C

Home-made orange ginger cookies - biting into them while staring at this afternoon thunderstorm got me
into a rather nostalgic mood
On our last road trip to Malaysia, we had baked some cookies and muffins and funnily, that turned out to be one highlight of the trip 'cos it got us happily munching all the way. It's now a habit in the family to always bake cookies for our long road trips.

It will be a cosy squeeze for the 5 of us in our Mini, and with the monsoon season, we're not too sure of sunshine but everyone we love is in one place and that's all that matters.
Peanut butter cookies for the kids - taken with my iPhone. Crumbly and sweet!
These reduced-sugar, orange zesty ginger cookies are more for me!
Recipe for orange ginger cookies

21/4 cup plain flour
2 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
(You can add 1/2 tsp turmeric if you want it to look orangy)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 salt

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey (replace with corn syrup if you want crispier cookies)
1 orange zest
2 Tbsp orange juice

1. Sieve the first 7 ingredients into a bowl and set aside.
2. With a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy.
3. Add egg.
4. Mix honey, zest and juice.
5. Slowly incorporate flour mixture into butter mixture.
6. Cling-wrap in a mixing bowl and chill dough in the fridge for an hour.
7. Pre-heat oven to 190C.
8. Make 24 1-inch balls and slightly flatten with a fork to make lines.
9. Bake for about 10 mins or until it browns to the colour you like.
10. Leave it on a wire mesh to cool and harden.
11. When completely cool, keep in an airtight container and bring with you to that roadtrip.
12. Enjoy, take some pix and post on my wall!

Word of the Week: Molecular Gastronomy

The first time I heard this term was from 'Gordon'. Together with a partner chef, they tried to open a restaurant in Singapore based on molecular gastronomy cuisine but it seemed the small nation was not quite ready for something so experimental. That was a few years back and I'm not familiar with the F&B scene to know if this is picking up. 

Based on my layman understanding, molecular gastronomy is a form of food science that makes practical use of the physics and chemistry of ingredients that occur during cooking. This modern, experimental style of cooking distills cooking to a scientific discipline.

My research shows the term was coined in 1988 by an Oxford physicist. Some chefs dislike the term and instead call it "culinary physics" or "experimental cuisine". Heston Blumenthal is an icon of this modern style of cooking. 

Catch self-taught Chef Heston Blumenthal on the food channel. His experiment on Tudor Court royal cuisine is funny and absurd and has won rave reviews from top food critics in the world. 

Heston Blumenthal - the man who doesn't like the term "Molecular Gastronomy"
but is probably responsible for making it popular

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Basil, basil, wherefore art thou?

Gasp! My big pot of beautiful basil! I can guess who did it. After what I just wrote about them yesterday!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Home-cured Smoked Salmon Part III - An afternoon snack with some class

My own high tea at home on a wet afternoon
I made more home-cured salmon this week. See my first post on this, and a step-by-step photocapture of the curing process I did at home. The man who sold me the whole salmon said I'm technically marinating it, not curing it. I have given up trying to understand the technical differences between marinating, curing and smoking after reading several sites on the web. Some people use these terms interchangeably and others have their own definitions. What I know is how to do it safely and the end product I get looks like and tastes like smoked salmon from the store. OK, not that oaky smoky flavour from dry smoke but it would still be labelled smoked salmon.

Here, I eat them on wholemeal crackers with cream cheese and some chopped dill. Quite a classy afternoon snack, don't you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rabbits are NOT food!

Our family's first love,  Bobby Ng Tu-zi (a.k.a. Bobtail), 2002-2009. 
I subscribe to many newsletters and sites about healthy eating but this one today really got me flustered. It says, "If you’re a meat-eater who’s concerned about the environment, rabbit is worth considering." Hell, NO! A thousand NO! Rabbits are NOT food. They are loving creatures made by God to be our pets, our friends. In my house, rabbits are family!

So in case you are one of those "considering", please stop. The term "rabbit stew" is akin to "infant stew", "braised toddler","roasted elderly" or "corn-fed human", and you should therefore not even step into a kitchen with a chef as barbaric as that.

Having said my piece, I want to introduce you to my other family members. Bobtail (picture above) was our family's first love affair with rabbits. He was a pure-breed Holland Lop, and his parents were Dutch. Bobby had the most beautiful, silky, snow-white fur that cleans itself. And believe it or not, Bobby had blue eyes. Seriously! He's our ang-moh (Westerner) rabbit. Bobby died of old age in my daughter's arms on the way to the vet. 

Lilo, 2010-2011
Baby Lilo
We took a while to get over Bobby, then we had Lilo. She had the biggest, roundest eyes. She brought lots of cheer to us with her mischief and sense of fun compared to a very laid-back Bobby. Tragically, Lilo died as a baby rabbit. Like some infants, she had Sudden Rabbit Death Syndrome and collapsed on the floor of our living room. I spent hours researching on this at that time as part of the closure and healing process with my kids. Lilo is buried just outside our gate and will always be in our hearts. I had wanted to write a Rabbituary then but couldn't find the words.

Because of our special affection for rabbits and having experienced 2 rabbit deaths, we were hesitant when invited to adopt 2 new rabbits. In the end, we gave in because they are just such adorable, awesome creatures from heaven and we had the space for them to run around.

Luna is about 6-7 months old, female. She is shy and acts as if she had previously been abused. Easily scared and needs lots of tender, loving care. She loves the rain and gets dirty easily too.
This is Buckminister - my daughter named him. He's about Luna's age. Not sure if they're siblings but I intend to let them mate! Buck is naughty, playful, buay pai-seh and adventurous, always exploring every nook and crook of our house. He recently brought down our home internet biting off the fibre cable that cost us more than $60!
Buck is super cute when he crosses his paws!
Can you bear to kill and eat this face?

Dinner at Artichoke, a Moorish delight

Meat platter - an assortment of freshness
I mentioned last week I would be checking out Artichoke, a contemporary and chic Middle Eastern restaurant located at Sculpture Square, and one of few courtyards left in Singapore. I had the rare opportunity to observe the kitchen and taste some interesting ingredients commonly found in the Middle East but foreign here. Seeing so much heart and soul in every plate that was pushed out to the dining hall, I decided I had to eat there. I pulled about 10 more friends to come along. I will spare you the ME jokes we shared (bad taste! Pun intended!) and focus on the wonderful glorious food that was presented to us.

Be inspired by the Meditteranean feel of the Sculpture Square and the museum next door
Creamy humuus dip with juicy pomegranates.
Great combination of taste and texture, and easy for me to copy at home!
Roasted carrot dip with dukkah (combination of nuts and seeds dry-roasted to fragrant).
I tried this at home too - easy, delicious, healthy, and my guests liked it too.
Yoghurt-cucumber mix with Za'atar - yummilicious with freshly-baked pita bread

Sauteed onions with pomegranates and a sprinkling of assorted spices

Practising food photography
This one stole my heart for the night. It doesn't even have a name yet. It's a new salad dish to be introduced to the menu
next week and Chef gave us a sneak preview. Everyone seemed intrigued by this new shining star. I invited Chef
to join us at the table and introduce his food - it makes such a difference talking to the person who prepared your food.
Not my personal favourite but I would love to be able to serve up a dish like this for meat lovers. I had the rare
opportunity to see how this whole dish was thoughtfully spiced and that made it so much more meaningful
by the time it reached the table.

A definite must-visit for those who have not been there. Check out Artichoke at Sculpture Square (junction of Waterloo Street and Middle Road).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Word of the Week: Za'atar

We had Za'atar with home-baked pita bread during our third Living Room Talk.
Miss Za'atar is seen here accompanied by Mr Atlantic Kosher Sea Salt.

I tasted Za'atar three times this week and thought I should highlight this interesting wonderful spice. It is a mixture of wild thyme, oregano, basil with kosher sea salt, toasted sesame seeds and dried sumac. Some varieties may include cumin, savory, coriander or fennel seeds. The commercial ones add roasted flour. I'm all for the home-made one though!

According to Wikipedia, "there is a belief in the Middle East that this particular spice mixture makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam. Palestinians also remind their children in the morning before sending them off to school that eating za'atar for breakfast will make them smarter." Any Palestinian friend out there who can verify if this is accurate?

Za'atar shrub in Jerusalem

It's definitely Middle Eastern cuisine week for me this week. I made Labane at home and added some Za'atar to it too. I also did a Mediterranean Labane plus plus - check it out here! Thanks to some dear friends who gave me a Mediterranean cookbook for my last birthday!

I am checking out a chic Moorish bistro tomorrow and will blog about it, so look out if you're interested.

Labane plus plus -  tested and tasted by some friends last night during caregroup

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Labane plus plus

I talked about Labane in my last post. Look here what I'm adding to it.

Chilli, garlic, dill, parsley soaked in olive oil....
....then add my Labane to them. Great dip and can keep for 3 weeks.
Whole, healthy, home-made, unprocessed, REAL food.
Didn't cost me a bomb either.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Living Room Talk #3: Getting to know Middle Eastern cuisine & culture

Eli shows a prayer shawl used on Sabbath to pray and bless the little children at home.
As a child, it always made him feel secure when his Abba tucked him inside the shawl.

This is the third Living Room talk I've held and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this one with Eli, my friend from Israel leading the conversation. 

Eli started the evening with a demonstration on how to bake pita bread, za'atar bread and how to prepare labane. Then he gave a presentation on Israel - geography, history, politics, tourism, agriculture, and shared with us his beautiful photos of the land.

As always, I got busy and didn't make time for good photography. Still, I want to show you whatever I managed to shoot.

We baked some 8-10 pita breads. I enjoyed watching them puff up in the oven. One secret is to dab some water
on the dough before popping into the oven. 
I prepared again some humuus but this time, I learned to add pomegranates on top of the dip for an extra crunch.
That added texture and sweetness to a dry dip. I was happy to see an empty bowl at the end of the evening.
Za'atar - mixed herbs of wild thyme, oregano, and a few other things. Look out for the next Word of the Week.
Next to it is some Atlantic kosher sea salt
Not exactly picture perfect to say the least, but I want to show you this interesting dish called Labane -
traditionally using goat's cheese but here we used yoghurt. This is how it's made...
Yoghurt, dill, salt. Mix them and place them in a cloth bag to strain liquid in refrigerator.
Keep for 2 days for soft cheese and 4 days for hard cheese.
Discard liquid.  Labane is yummy!
I want to go to Israel and the Middle East, just to eat! Meanwhile, I will make do with a visit to a Moorish restaurant this week, and I will of course blog all about it.

And now, let's see who I should invite for my next Living Room talk...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In honour of Steve Jobs

This post is in honour of Steve Jobs, the true symbol of passion. RIP today, Steve.

The best way to honour a man like Steve Jobs is to do whatever you're doing today with 
passion and laughter. I'm chopping olives with such a fervour as never seen before. What
are you doing passionately today?

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, 

and the only way to be truly satisfied 

is to do what you believe is great work. 

And the only way to do great work 

is to love what you do. 

If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. 

As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. 

And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on."