Monday, June 27, 2011

First day at work

Punctuality and dependability I thought are important traits to exhibit as an intern, so despite my apprehension and nervousness, I made sure I turned up today and that I was there on time. One by one, the crew strolled in. No one spoke but everyone looked busy immediately. I was provided with the smallest chef jacket available and it suited me just fine. A chef's jacket is double breasted which serves to conceal stains on the jacket as one side can be rebuttoned over the other. How clever. I put on my brand new chef shoes and my $4 bandana, a good investment for a virgin chef until I remember my pay again. I stole a quick minute in the ladies to snap this for my blog. Do I look "cheffy"? Or maybe more like a  Jewish woman from the labour camp.



I spent the next 5 hours cutting bags of all sorts of mushrooms - shitake, portobello, white buttons - peeling onions, sorting the mixed salads, baby spinach and wild rockets. I could decide to dump an onion if I didn't think it was fresh. Such empowerment for an intern! There was no Gordon Ramsay to humiliate with his vulgarities, no Jamie Oliver food ambassador and certainly no Catherine Zeta-Jones glam. Everyone knew their jobs and the kitchen functioned to the precision of a Swiss clock work. The sous chef clearly directed the activities of the 5-member crew and knew exactly which tables had already been served and which ones were next. Office crowd, they have only an hour, so his team needs to be efficient, he tells me later. No shouting or yelling needed, just quiet, confident, assured instructions given at the right moments to steer the crew. No prima donnas, the goal is more important than the role.

It's nothing I've ever done in my life, using so much of my hands and so little of my brains. It would have gotten monotonous very quickly if I did not enjoy it so much. Exactly what is there to enjoy about menial work I don't know but it's such a refreshing change. And I have a ferocious appetite for change. No problems to solve, no one to impress, no strategy to develop, just try to make the pieces equal in size.

I have so much more thoughts to share but I am dog-tired - my back is sore and my neck aches from looking down so much. Should have developed those core muscles as the husband has been saying. I need to maintain a good posture the next time round, which will be very soon.

It's been anything but another Monday, and I'm loving it.

A brand new start with a brand new heart

I visited one of my favourite restaurants recently and enjoyed as always their good food and chic ambience.  The service staff however seemed somewhat 'zombied' and I was desperately looking for some passion in the place. Two days later, it still bothered me and I decided to post on the restaurant's facebook page. After 3 wall postings, I was invited to meet with them for an opportunity to learn in the kitchen! They are prepared to take in someone with zero kitchen experience but high on passion. Wow.

I am super excited to be an intern at age 46 in a cool restaurant. At less than US$5 an hour, I am also officially lower paid than my domestic helper at home. Even my teenage daughter makes more in a weekend job distributing pamphlets to passers-by on the road. That's something like a 95% pay cut, I think. How awesome is that. My mom will think I've gone bonkers and a shrink may diagnose this as a midlife crisis syndrome. Or it could be plain "lao-hiao" (old and vain).

So I have just turned my own world upside down. I have killed all sacred cows in my mind about work and how to be 'productive'. My appetite for change is bigger than I had previously thought, and it's making me nervous and excited all at once.

Armed with my new pair of "Shoes for Crew" and a bandana to my head, I am reminded of Ephesians 6 as I march into the unchartered territory of a commercial, hot, greasy kitchen. This is my brand new start with a brand new heart.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

There's something about opening kitchen cabinets and drawers even when you know it's empty.




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It's a common sight and acceptable habit of visitors to showrooms. They know the new drawers are empty yet the urge to pull them open is instantaneous and irresistible. What is it about opening drawers that give us a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment? A tour of a new kitchen seems incomplete if one resists the natural instinct to just pull and peep. Could it be the viewer is imagining his or her household items being placed in different drawers? How satisfying it is that kitchen systems allow users to customise each and every space for their storage items in both shallow drawers and tall larders. It gives you a sense of control knowing you can organise your utensils and by logic your life. Literally, things are in place.

Did you pull open a drawer the last time you visited a kitchen showroom?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Finally successfully removing that food item that's been stuck in between your teeth all day





We've all been there. The tip of your tongue is bruised and sore from all day prodding at that particular nook somewhere between the premolar and molar. Colleagues have been too distracted to hear what you have to say about that new idea as your face is contorting into various forms and shapes and your mouth looks busy at something else. That little nib just won't budge. It has nicely settled and snugged itself in a deep crevice. But your persistence at dislodging it is threatening its long term ambition of turning into plague. 


You've been at it all day and nothing seems to move. And then suddenly it's out and you can send it on its way. You move your tongue there once more for the last time to appreciate the clearance and cleanliness. Your strained facial muscles can now relax. The sense of liberation and satisfaction comes all over you. One big tick. Life is normal and great again! You can take on anything and anyone now. You feel a sudden surge of energy and passion to sell that big idea to any big honchos in the board room. What joy. What small joy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kitchen Lies

You expect to be asked the questions and you are ready. Ready to lie.  
The look on the face of the person about to munch into your chocolate cake or sink his teeth into the chicken you've just roasted. The crinkling of the eyebrow as he or she ponders on what I now experience as commonly- asked questions. The queries vary depending on who the taster is.  Children who prefer their food with more salt or more sugar. The weight-conscious who want to believe they are taking in less calories while still enjoying their food. Diabetic family members whose "once-in-a-while" sweet treats are becoming frequent. And the health freaks who take pride in their disciplined intake and control, and strict filtering of 'empty' foods and processed meat.

To the kids who find healthy vegetables repulsive,  I am ready to lie even before the questions are asked.  There is no carrot in this braised oxtail stew. That just looks like it but it is actually lean meat fallen off the bones after so many hours of slow-cooking. Try it.

To the anal and health conscious whom I decide need to just let loose and enjoy food and life, I say, This cake is unlike those in the stores, mine is reduced sugar. See, it doesn't have that disgusting way-too-sweet after-taste lingering in your mouth, does it? In my mind, I have a visual of a certificate-of-entitlement to lie while keeping my integrity intact because I took 20g castor sugar off the recipe. Yes, you should be suspicious of products on the shelves that yell "Reduced sugar".

Conversely, I half the sugar intake in the recipe when I bake for my mom who's diabetic yet rebellious. For the sweet-toothed or people like mom and their never-mind-won't-die attitude, I am so ready to tell a lie to their face without blinking an eye. I could pass a lie-detector for this cause.

And so I realise, Kitchen Lies are a funny way to express love in the kitchen. Saying I love you just won't cut it here. How strange and lovely human beings are. A small joy to observe.

10-hour slow-cooked oxtail stew on 8-min linguine . 'No carrots' (wink wink)



Small Joys & Pains in the kitchen

Call it Kitchen Humiliation or Confessions of an Extra Virgin Chef, I have brewing in me 50 or more thoughts, observations, encounters and experiences that make me smile in the kitchen even when I'm by myself. Loving things can be as funny as hating them, and there is fun even in frustrations. This blog honours life and the small joys and pains that God plants our way. I will share each one as they inspire. If they resonate with you, share yours with me too.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No time to be your friend.

Driving into Serangoon Gardens this morning, I suddenly recalled visiting my Primary school teacher's home some 30 years ago. She had invited a bunch of us to her home for an afternoon tea; she treated us to a chocolate cake she had baked. I turned to my kids in the car and asked, Have you guys ever been invited to your teachers' homes? They looked perplexed - the notion of a teacher being friendly and personable is alien to their minds. They have no time to be my friend, they are just teachers - my 12-year-old stunned me with this statement.

Make time today to be a friend to those God has placed in your path. Waste time with them.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Home-made Pizzazz..


"You'd better cut the pizza into four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."

Another easy and practical recipe shared by another virgin chef, and a dear friend too. With this, you can organise beer and pizza party for the upcoming French Open finals this weekend. I was told every Italian girl grows up learning to make pizza doughs - is this true? There are a zillion sites and YouTube videos teaching you how to make pizzas and each one is different. I read and watched about 30 of them (I am learning to 'waste time' on the net!) and picked up all the common elements across the board and apply them here. Enjoy!

I realise I have no pictures of the dough making process to show here. I'll post the next time I make these. Below are some of the toppings I pile on top of my easy home-made dough.  

I tried to make my own paste but was not too successful the first time. I also read that canned tomatoes can actually be fresher than the so-called fresh ones. After reading the labels on the cans, I was comfortable that there were no other ingredients except "real food". Here, I top them with mozarella pieces and basil from my garden. I also had some leftover wanton fillings from last night making this a fusion pizza. 

It is the privilege of virgin chefs  to break any culinary rules. 
My neighbour gave us some fresh pineapples from Sarawak, so I decided to use them for this round of pizza. Yum. Thanks, Chua!

These 3 pizzas are dessert pizzas. I did not know pizzas could be served as desserts! I spread peanut butter on one half and top them with bananas and chocolate chips. On the other half, I spread some strawberry jam and pile pineapples and blueberries. Yum. Easy. And fun for party guests to bring their own favourite toppings.


PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE
(Makes 2 base dough)

  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Sift together
  • 0.5oz yeast
  • 0.5tsp sugar
  • Dissolve together in 1.5 cup tepid water and stand 8 min or till frothy.
  • Form a well with flour mixture, pour water into well and knead. Then roll out on pan and put whatever you wish. Small pans will yield thick crust. If you prefer a thin crust pizza, roll out a bigger base on a larger pan. Grease pan so pizza will not stick.


How long should you cook your pizza? I've seen an Italian pizza champ on YouTube bake it for only 90 seconds in a wooden oven at 900C. Amazing. With my oven, I do 15 min at 275C. My friend Grace has an oven that can go max 190C - her pizza turns out just as yummy. Just ask her kids.

I'm not surprised if a professional chef is appalled reading my blog. I repeat, it is the privilege of virgin chefs to break any and all culinary rules.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Baked crispy chicken with basil

Another Jamie winner
I vote this one of the world's easiest and most rewarding recipes, inspired by Jamie Oliver.  Click here to find an idiot-proof explanation complete with beautiful step-by-step pictures. Healthy, tasty, and oh so easy. It is a must-try for all novice chefs. A good dish to have at hand when you are playing host. Our busy lives mean always turning to caterers who cook for a living not for love. Do it differently this time.  Impress friends and family and yourself with your hidden and stifled culinary skills. What are you waiting for.

Simple-to-get and easy-to-remember ingredients: Besides the usual olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, just add chilli, garlic, cherry tomatoes and basil leaves to 6-8 chicken thighs and legs. 


Rub salt and pepper all over chicken and pile them on top of the veggies. Pop them in the oven at 180C for 90 min and that's it, you're done.


After doing this for a few rounds, I start to add my favourite veggies like zuchinni (courgettes) or just whatever leftover veggies in the fridge that I want to get rid of. You can add pumpkins as well, whatever you fancy. 



Click here for a recipe from the culinary school on Fried Chicken - my children called it KFC Home style. 

Light & fluffy Chiffon Cake (a.k.a Angel Cake)



Another cake I like to eat but how do I get one without too much sugar and no artificial green colouring? I want nothing less than authentic pandan juice. I want to taste and smell the real stuff! The stores seem more interested to produce something cheap rather than something good. The only way is to try to do it myself, so here I am again.


I learned to separate eggs for the first time. I was so noob I had to use a noodle ladle to do it. Now after many tries, I think hands are still best. God designed our fingers such that it's a natural egg white filter, and I like the feel of ingredients on my palms, yes, even when they're gooey and squishy. A refreshing change from the feel of keyboards. 

I also learned to whip egg whites till they form what are called "soft peaks". I'll take these pictures when I can. This picture here is when the batter is about to be ready for the oven. A bit stressful usually at this stage for me as a novice as I need to be fast so as not to knock out the air that has been whipped into the batter.


Just out of the oven after about 43 minutes. It's a bit burnt. See pic of my next attempt where it looks much better. The usual test for when a cake is baked is the toothpick test. If it comes out clean, it's ready. 




I turn my tube pan upside down to let it cool for an hour or so. I've seen pictures on the net of people who don't have a tube pan and use ingenious ways to keep it upside down, like using 2 glasses on each side.

I didn't quite know how to remove the cake after an hour - it didn't drop on its own like some said it would. So I went back to my Youtube tutor and found a Japanese housewife scraping the sides and bottom with a flat cake knife, and that was how I got my cake out. Wah la!

Orange chiffon cake. Soft, fluffy and airy inside. And reduced sugar too so my mom who's diabetic can also take this. She's not into butter and cheese so this cake is good for her. Pandan chiffon is a little more work than orange chiffon - squeezing orange juice is a breeze compared to extracting pandan juice. But I'm all for natural juice. No essence nonsense and definitely no artificial colouring.

SEE MY MUCH IMPROVED 15TH ATTEMPT HERE. Yes, even the photography improved.




[Step One]

Ingredients:
  • 8 medium egg yolks
  • 2oz fine sugar
  • 2oz pandan juice (from blending screwpine leaves) 
  • or 2oz orange juice
  • 3oz corn oil or olive oil
  • 5oz self-raising flour


Method:

  • Beat egg yolk and sugar lightly with a whisk till sugar dissolves
  • Stir in pandan or orange juice and corn oil
  • Stir in flour into egg mixture
  • Set aside

[Step Two]

Ingredients:
  • 8 egg whites
  • 5oz fine sugar (I use 3oz and they taste ok)
  • Pinch of salt
Method:
  • Beat egg whites till frothy. Slowly add in sugar and salt while beating at high speed
  • Beat until the egg white is stiff and shining (about 3-4 min). At this stage, it's now called a meringue.
  • Preheat oven to 175C
  • Use a spatula and gently fold egg yolk mixture into egg white mixture or meringue.
  • Pour into an ungreased 25cm tube pan. Bake for 40-45 min.
  • Remove from oven immediately and invert pan onto wire rack. Let it cool before removing cake from pan.

Nonya Kueh- Seri Muka


A kueh I've bought and eaten countless times, but somehow this time, I wonder what goes into it and how it's assembled. My curiosity is aroused and my culinary sense awakened. I decided to google and youtube (yes, that's also a verb) it. Soon, I had all my ingredients prepared. I was ready to venture back into the kitchen with my newfound knowledge and confidence gained through wading through the web.  Below are some of my pictures to share this process.


Steamed glutinous rice with coconut milk. Throw some 
pandan leaves on top to give that added aroma!
This needs low steam otherwise you get pot marks 
on the surface like mine here LOL
I am quite proud of this attempt and encouraged to try other recipes now. 
Bye bye, Bengawan Solo, I don't really need you that much now. 
OK somewhat rough on the edges but pretty good first attempt, and taste was lemak too. 








Recipe 


(A)
  • 300gm glutinous rice
  • 50ml coconut milk
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp salt


(B)
  • 150ml eggs
  • 150ml coconut milk
  • 150ml pandan juice
  • 180gm sugar
  • 15gm cornstarch
  • 30gm all purpose flour
Method:
1. Soak rice for at least 2 hours. Drain water (into one of your potted plants!). Put rice into a baking pan suitable for steaming. Mix it with coconut milk and salt. Add in water. Make sure the water is abt 3mm above the rice but not higher than 1cm. (How one does that beats me!)
2. Steam rice on high heat for 20-30 minutes until rice turns translucent. Remove from heat and immediately fluff rice with a fork or chopstick. Place rice into a 8" round pan or 7" square pan. Level and press rice to compact it. Do this while the rice is still hot. Return compacted rice in pan to steamer and steam until custard is ready
3. Mix all the ingredients in (B) and cook in a heavy saucepan on low heat, stirring slowly all the time to ensure it doesn’t burn until it thickens slightly. Remove from heat. Pour (3) over compacted rice and steam on medium low heat for 25 minutes. 
Afternote: Just came back here to attribute this to Wendy's blog. Thanks, Wendy.

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