Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An important day for the restaurant

New toys for the kitchen crew

Today marks a key milestone in the food-related social enterprise I'm volunteering my time at. Everyone worked real hard and in particular the past 24 hours to ensure the restaurant is ready to be inspected by the regulators and fire safety bureau. Well, the management team was delighted to receive the news today that all is well and it's all systems go from now. 

The kitchen crew got all excited and we unwrapped all equipment like we were opening Christmas presents. We lost no further time to start preparing our mise en place. The time it took me to julienne a carrot, the chef next to me finished 5! I'm one of the most inexperienced in the whole team, so everyone is kind and they try to encourage me. Every cook and chef has his own way of doing things and I got more than my fair share of advice. They work magic with the knives, these guys. In the past 10 days in the classroom training with them, they have been so unimpressive with pens and keyboards but now, the knives seem to be like their extended hands. It was truly impressive and a sight to behold. The chef giving me instructions didn't even know the word 'chiffonade' but his chiffonade cut was to textbook perfection. 

Conscious of my lack of knifing skills, I was careful not to cut myself. No, I didn't want to bleed - literally - for this cause, and I certainly didn't want to be the first. So, I cut real slow. But I did hurt myself today..

First injury. (No, I'm not counting.)
The butcher chopping board which weighs an elephant, measures 6-7 times the length and breath of the home version, and is sharp and slippery when wet. I'd never held one before and it slipped off my arm when I was trying to wash it causing a big bump on my left hand. I'm quite the 'gu-niang' type (meaning, cannot take the slightest cut or pain breed!) and so I decided it was TIME-OUT! I wandered off to the pastry side and sneaked around. 

The pastry chef and I got off on a good start and she has agreed for me to come over whenever I am free. Yippee!

It's full-on tomorrow with the entire crew on duty. It's not your Joel Robuchon restaurant, in fact, it's not even a restaurant, more like a cafeteria, or some people jokingly call it a "high class kopi-tiam" (coffeeshop).  It does not offer the culinary arts which is what I really wish to learn. But I am exactly where I need to be right now. I am so happy to be a part of this journey and will keep raising my hand to thank God for it. 

Word of the Week: Ramekin

As readers of this blog are from different continents, I can't assume that everyone uses the same terminology. I was asked this week what a ramekin is when I posted the Baked Sunny Eggs with Roasted Tomatoes in Ramekins. Maybe it sounds like a form of napkin, I don't know.

Anyway, a ramekin is a small, round (usually about 3-4 inches in diameter), straight sided soufflé dish made of ovenproof porcelain. It is used to cook individual portions of food.

Most ramekins I see in restaurants are the boring white ones. Yawn. I got these rainbow ramekins from Totts and they certainly add immediate cheer to the kitchen and the dining table. Go out and get some of these if you don't have them. They'll surely inspire you to try this dish for a leisurely Sunday breakfast - here's the link again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tandoori roti and naan

I have been asked a few times for the roti and naan recipe since I first blogged about it - click here for my Tandoor post. It's taken a while but here it is finally.

Recipe A

Tandoori roti (Tandoor bread with whole wheat flour)
Origin: North India
Serves: 2

180gm Whole wheat flour/ Atta
1/2 tsp Baking powder
2 Tbs Oil
100 ml Water
Salt to taste

1. Combine flour, salt and water to make a dough that is very soft yet not too sticky. Let rest for about 10 minutes, cover with damp cloth. Dimple the dough to catch the oil. Then add oil and turn the mixture out onto a floured board and knead by hand for 5 minutes.
2. Roll the whole dough into a ball and cover with a damp cloth and set aside for about an hour.
3. Knead the dough again for a few minutes and break it into 4 even pieces.
4. Flatten each ball with hands while dabbing with a little flour. Using a rolling pin, create circles about 6 inches in diameter
5. Using a pad stick the rolled out bread on the wall of a hot tandoor.
6. Cook for a minute and take out using the special skewer.
7. Brush with butter and cut into two before serving.

You can see which ones are done by Chef, and the one done by me!

I have not tried doing this in my home oven. Temperature in the tandoor is about 500C so if I try, I would set to the highest possible temperature in my own oven, the same way I would do for pita bread and pizzas. 

Special skewers to remove bread from the tandoor.

Recipe B
Naan (Tandoor bread with plain flour)
Origin: North India
Serves: 2

225gm Refined wheat flour/plain flour
25 ml Oil
80 ml Water
30 ml Yoghurt
5 gm Sugar
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
60 ml Melted butter for brushing
Salt to taste

You have to watch an Indian knead his dough. Some things are taught and some things are caught!

1. Combine flour, baking soda, yoghurt, salt, sugar and water to make a dough that is very soft yet not too sticky. Let rest, cover. Dimple. Then add oil and turn the mixture out onto a floured board and knead by hand for 5 minutes.
2. Roll the whole dough into a ball and cover with a damp cloth and set aside for about an hour.
3. Knead the dough again for a few minutes and break it into 4 even pieces.
4. Flatten each ball with hands while dabbing with a little flour. Using a rolling pin, create circles about 8 inches in diameter
5. Using a pad stick the rolled out bread on the wall of a hot tandoor.
6. Cook for a minute and take out using the special skewer.
7. Brush with butter and cut into two before serving.

As I'm on a low carbo track, I have not come back to try this recipe since graduating from the culinary school. I'm posting this specially for readers who are keen on trying. Please come back and tell me if you try this. Good luck!

Baked Sunny Eggs in Ramekin

It takes some skills to spoil a breakfast. Even an extra virgin chef can't do it.

This dish is great nutrition all packed into one little ramekin - Baked Sunny Eggs with roasted tomatoes and garlic sautéed spinach. What better way to start off your Sunday. Food to get you in the mood.

This one took a bit longer and you can see the eggs are firmer.
If you like this post, please share it with your friends.  A little Like goes a long way.

Ready to take one step further? Fancy trying to make your own burger? Click here to see my McVirgin burger.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

McVirgin Burger, anyone?

My first home-made beef patty. Feels like my first kiss - clumsy but sweet and memorable!

After spending a week studying recipes at the social enterprise I'm involved in, I garnered enough courage today to try making my first home-made beef burger patty. And without consulting my usual go-to Youtube tutor. I thought I would just do it based on some common sense! 

While it wasn't a box-office hit, I was pleased with it on a few fronts. First, I knew exactly what I was eating in this burger - all fresh and unprocessed. A rare treat these days. Two, the patty didn't disintegrate before my eyes as I had feared it might. It stayed true to its form, contrary to my culinary nightmare. And three, the meat was soft and juicy, not tough - another imagined fear. Experienced chefs don't understand the numerous fears we go through in our heads! 

So, here are the ingredients and some photos to share.

1 kg fresh minced beef
1 yellow onion, chopped
8 eggs
Chinese hoisin sauce, 3-4 Tbsp (or use herbs like thyme and parsley for a Western taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

140g each patty
Pan-seared on a non-stick, about 3-4 min on each side

I like it that it's not perfect!
Goes well with sautéed mushrooms. I should blend the mushrooms into the patty next time.

Now, I wish I had made my own burger bun so I can say it's 100% McVirgin!

Read comments from my family members below:

"Tastes like the Korean bulgogi beef. Good burger." - Husband 

Quietly devoured 2 burgers at one go - Foodie son

"Wow, mom, the meat is so soft and juicy. one more for me, I want to eat it again later." - Fussy-eater son

"OK, not too bad, no strong beef smell." (Packs 2 patties out for her beef-hating friends to try). - My mom who hates beef

"Maybe next time instead of placing the vegetables on top, you can try using it as a base. And since the vegetable is slightly messy, maybe next time you can try rolling the vegetable into a small ball then place it on the bun then spread it out, it would be a lot neater. A neater arrangement could be bun, vegetable of choice, patty then tomato and top bun.

Something I learnt today - you could fry a sunny side and place it at the top above all and instead of placing the top bun in the usual way -- you could place it slanted on the side and stick a satay stick right through from the slanted top bun all the way to the bottom bun."

 - My nephew who is learning to cook in a restaurant as part of his school holiday job 

Spoken like a true pro!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Word of the Week: Curing

My home-cured salmon with dill
I didn't forget it's Wednesday today. Word of the Week for today is "Curing".

Curing is a form of preserving or flavoring food especially of meat or fish, and dates back to ancient times. The process involves adding mainly salt, sugar and herbs. In very simple terms, the idea behind curing is that adding salt to raw meat removes water and moisture thereby eliminating an environment where bacteria can grow and multiply. Salt also slows down oxidation, preventing the meat from turning rancid. 

There is a lot to read and learn about curing and smoking on the internet. Just based on some simple research, I managed to do some home-curing and have lived to blog about them. Check out how I cured salmon - click here. Also, I am in the process of curing a pork belly to make pancetta - click here for more. Or go to the "Curing Meat" label/section on this blog.

If you have any questions on Curing, let me know and I'll be happy to do more research on your behalf as I am also interested to learn more in this area. Just spare me the lame (caught the pun?) healing and disease-curing jokes that my friends are texting me on!

My chef said I can tag onto his order for salmon for the restaurant so I'm going to be getting some good deals! That can only mean more curing projects - and more posts - from me!

Word of the Week features a culinary term each week, usually on a Wednesday. I picked up this practice from the culinary school and have continued with this learning journey after I graduated. See previous Word of the Week:


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Counting down to restaurant opening

The number of stoves gives you an idea of the scale of the restaurant
I mentioned last week that I have joined a food-related social enterprise. I have been attending their classroom training sessions and briefings and getting involved in all the pre-opening preparatory work. It has been interesting and educational for me, and I do feel it's such a privilege to be a part of something exciting. It's not exactly a restaurant, more like a cafeteria concept, so nothing of fine culinary art. Still, there is so much to learn if you choose to.

Today, we got a chance to visit the site. It's not quite ready but it seems it will open soon. I won't be mentioning the name to give myself more verbal liberty, if you know what I mean. 

Meanwhile, I have been given a 20-page recipe book to read, with detailed instructions on the method to prepare the cafeteria dishes for the Opening Day. They range from dressings and sauces for grills and sandwiches and salads to local food and roast meats. It would be interesting to try some of these recipes at home. I can't wait to attend the kitchen training sessions next week. I'll post pictures discreetly : ) so keep coming back here for more updates. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Home-cured pancetta - Part II

For those who missed my first post on this topic, here's the link - Home-cured pancetta Part I.

For those who are still wondering what the heaven a pancetta is, click here - Word of the Week: Pancetta.

And for the faithful followers who have written to say you want to know the progress and outcome of this culinary experiment, here's an update. In the last post, I showed you a picture of how the cured pork belly looked after Day 4 - that was where we left off.

And now, Day 10 or 11, frankly, I lost count and didn't date it because it doesn't really matter.

Day 10 in the fridge, or was it 11.
After ten days of curing this in the fridge, I remove and rinse thoroughly under running water, then pat dry with kitchen towels.
The underside has also turned dark.
Now, technically speaking, I have a pancetta in my hands. But all that is only Part I.

Having rinsed it off the curing mixture, I now proceed to Part II where I rub a spice mixture and leave it in the fridge for a month or so. Yes, a month. Troublesome but also kinda fun to keep this in suspense. 

Some people have a curing chamber where they can control the temperature and humidity. For enthusiastic amateurs and virgin chefs like me, I will make do with leaving it in the fridge. I've researched many sites and found this to be acceptable too. 

So I prepare my spice rub here.
My spice rub consists of Oregano, thyme, tarragon, chilli flakes, paprika, chilli powder, black pepper -
my own concoction of whatever I have in the cupboard that I want to get rid of, no quantity, just an estimate of what is enough to cover the pork belly fully.
I keep staring rudely at the different herbs and spices and they don't mind, something I couldn't do to my colleagues in the corporate world.
I spread the spice rub on a flat porcelain casserole and rub them all over porky.
I also stuff them into the scores I cut.
Tried to cover them as fully as possible but they keep dropping off.

So this is how it looks just before I cover them and pop them back into the fridge for a whole month. I'll give you a sneak preview around mid-December before I take off on a tour in Tuscany, Italy where I get to see first-hand how the experts there cure their meat. I'll be posting actively then, so do look out for it! (Readers in Europe, write to me!)

Cheers for now, and thanks for the likes and follows!

Friday, November 18, 2011

A chef's comments on my blog

I had the privilege of having a chef sit beside me this afternoon giving his professional comments as he scrolled through some of my blog posts. He scrutinised my pictures in my roast chicken post and told me where I could improve, e.g., trussing the chicken better for a more even roast, and gave me many tips on enhancing the flavour. He directed me to Thomas Keller, a world renowned chef and one of his specialties is in making a perfect roast chicken.

He also looked at my cured salmon and cured pancetta and asked his head chef to consider letting me cure some meat in future in his walk-in chiller. Now, how cool is that for an extra virgin chef!

My curing experiment attracted a chef's attention today.  Kewl!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Word of the Week: Pancetta

My work-in-progress home-cured pancetta. This picture shows my 3-day-old pancetta. It should be ready in about another 7 days.
Pancetta, an Italian word pronounced pan-share-ta, is simply Italian bacon. It is typically cured in salt and spices such as nutmeg, peppercorns and garlic. 

I am in the midst of experimenting with my first home-cured pancetta as I write this post. Check out where I'm at on this culinary experiment and what I cured mine with - click here. I wanted to do this because I want to be very sure what I'm eating, and what I'm feeding the family with. The bacon I get from the stores come with unpronounceable ingredients and a long list of suspicious-sounding chemicals. Plus the salt content is usually too high for my taste and liking. So, we shall see what I end up on my experiment, if I don't die from botulism!

Check out my Word of the Week posts to date. It includes Asian culinary terms as well. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Home-cured pancetta - Part I

The pork belly I left out to dry for a couple of hours

Ingredients I used to cure the meat (from top left): Brown sugar, black pepper, sea salt flakes, ground nutmeg, dried thyme, pink coarse sea salt, crushed bay leaves, minced garlic
I scored the meat and pushed the curing marinade in. Then I cling-wrapped and kept in the fridge.
It will stay there for 10 days. 

OK, here's how my pancetta looks after 3 days. I drain the excess water every 24 hours.

Meat has turned darker which is expected. Curing meat with salt is about extracting the moisture from the meat so bacteria cannot grow and multiply. 

This is what I need to see - water extraction from meat.
Cling-wrap and back to the chiller
 After 4 days...

Will keep it in there for another week or so. Meanwhile, look out for what exactly is pancetta in this week's Word of the Week.

Click here to follow the progress in Home-cured Pancetta Part II.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An ingredient worth its salt.

Ever since Eli introduced me to Atlantic sea salt, I got more and more curious about this ingredient. The bible calls us "salt of the earth". I also saw this in Colossians 4:6 - "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone." So there's truth in the saying, You are what you eat. 

Look at the different kinds of salt I bought recently.

This tastes great when I sprinkle over a salad or just as a bread dip in extra virgin olive oil.

Now, isn't this pretty in pink?
See how coarse each grain is.

I am going to use this pretty thing to cure a piece of pork belly I have and experiment with a home-made pancetta

Salt is also a critical ingredient when you cure salmon. The science of it is totally fascinating - as the salt extracts water from the salmon, bacteria is deprived of a conducive environment to breed. There is more to it than meets the eye when the bible tells us to be the salt of this earth.