Thursday, March 29, 2012

Minced Chicken Crunch

Calling all moms with fussy eater kids. Here's one devious recipe to get them to eat whatever you want them to eat. Minced chicken with the usual Chinese seasoning of sesame oil, soy sauce, hua tiao jiu, salt and white pepper. Mixed with leeks or any veggies you want them to take. Add an egg if you want, it's optional. Wrap it in pastry sheets and pan sear for a couple of minutes for a koko-crunch texture. Very easy. Quantity is flexible. You can't really go wrong.

I saw this served ala-minute at the breakfast table in a Bali resort recently and noticed it was popular with the Japanese. Maybe it's like a type of gyoza for them.

My fussy-eater son came home from school and devoured 3 pieces before he put his school bag down. It's a culinary feat and a maternal joy to me when I can get him to eat any vegetables.

If you prefer a soft covering, click here to see minced chicken wrapped in cabbage leaves.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Word of the Week: Vanilla

There's nothing plain about vanilla. It is the second most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the seed pods is labour-intensive. It has a complex floral aroma and is highly priced for its flavour. It is widely used in commercial and home baking, in perfumes and in aromatherapy.

In my recent trip to Bali, I picked these up from the local spice market. They smell awesome - I mean, to come home to a luggage smelling of vanilla instead of the usual dirty laundry or airplane smell is quite something of a new experience. I have since used them in a bun pudding as well as in the apple cake I baked last night.

Baking with something straight out of a plant beats any type of essence, pure, natural or artificial, no matter how highly you may esteem them.

See last week's Word of the Week.

Her father's Warm Apple Cake

I mentioned last week that I got this recipe from an American chef in the Culinary Institute of America in Singapore. She named it, My father's Warm Apple Cake. A quick look around the kitchen and I realised I have all the ingredients in the recipe. I like recipes like that - no special ingredients to buy, just things you can find around the house.

The method is also fairly straightforward - mix all the dry ingredients. Then mix all the wet together and bake it. No sieving, no melting, no proofing, no frosting (unless you prefer). Serve with a dollop of vanilla ice cream you get at the stores.

Recipe and method below.

I was told it's usual and expected for oil cakes to dome like mine here. I actually enjoy seeing the top crumble.


Chopped apples 330g (I used 3 Granny Smith and did not even bother to peel them!)
Plain flour 450g (Ran out of plain after measuring out 350g and topped up with self raising flour!)
Sugar 420g (Way too much for my taste. I used 300g. Will try 250g next time round.)
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Cinnamon powder 2 tsp
Vanilla extract 2 tsp (I used vanilla pods I bought recently in Bali)
Eggs 135g (I used 3 small eggs)
Canola oil 320g (Ran out of canola and mixed it with EVOO, tsk tsk)
Walnuts & pecans 1 cup

Method (only 2 steps)
1. Using the well method, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

2. Bake in oiled ring mould at 300F/170C for 60 minutes or until golden brown.

How I would do it differently next time round
1. The batter was still wet after 60 min when tested with a wooden stick so I gave it another few minutes. But if you think about it, there is no such thing as an uncooked apple cake since all the ingredients can be eaten as they are! I remember the one I ate at the CIA was super moist. So the next time round, I would not even test with the stick and simply remove it when the time is up or when it turns golden brown. It should taste better. Who would like to try my next improved version warmapplecake2.0 ?

2. The aroma coming out of the oven was supremely divine after 30 minutes of baking. I would time it to the arrival of my guests next time round!

3. I would serve it with a warm vanilla sauce - another level of divinity.

Verdict: forget the usual boring apple crumble or apple pie. Apple cake is da' bomb! Cakes with nuts and fruits are so much more of my favs than those with heavy icing. I guess that's why I have till now not attempted any of those pretty cup cakes, against the wise sagely advice of all the teenagers in my life.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chocolate muffins for my godsons

It was just less than a year ago that I learned to make my first muffin. It's the easiest thing on earth to bake yet it took me more than 40 years to attempt one. I can't believe that since that day, I've now tried sous vide duck breast and smoked salmon

Today, my 2 dear godsons are coming over to spend the afternoon together and I got ready some ammunition in the form of extra-chocolate muffins. I also made a batch of banana and pecan nuts for adults. Anyone in this world can bake a muffin, it's true.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bebek Bengil - Dirty Duck Diner

I was told by many the Bebek Bengil is a must-try in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia and since we already had a big Western meal last night at the Mozaic, one of Asia's top 5 restaurants, I thought this would present a good counter balance being local.

I have to say, my heart sank when I read the menu that the duck is first steamed then deep fried. I'm not a fan of anything deep fried and with my recent encouraging encounters with ducks, I was not at all in the mood for a deep fried duck. I anticipated that it would be such a waste of its lovely meat.

The presentation and plating further dampened my already lacklustre enthusiasm. Chef was right, plating IS important. This duck came across as dry as a bone and flat as a pancake. And placing a miserable piece of watermelon next to it clearly didn't help. I did not even feel like trying it.

Anyway, it tastes like KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) if you must read on. Not sure why the restaurant is able to pull such a crowd, local and foreign diners. I'm so sure my duck looks and tastes better and is much healthier. But the difference is they are a successful business and me, I don't even have a stall to call my own. Maybe I should set up a street sous-vide duck stall just outside their compound.

On my way out just half an hour later, I spotted a stray cat striding across the dining hall, a clear sign to me that there is food safety and hygiene problems in this kitchen. Hmm...a new meaning to "dirty duck". Many locals and travellers alike have recommended this place but I for one would not come back again. I didn't like it one beak.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Food to get you in the mood

During my weekend stay in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, I ordered a roast beef salad at the resort restaurant. It's just another roast beef salad but it got me quickly in a holiday mood because everything about it was right. Colour, texture, freshness, flavours coming together. Whoever made this dish did not treat it as "just another salad". He took pain and care and I noticed and appreciated and loved. I could stare at my own pictures forever.

Beef strung on a lemongrass with freshly pound chillies dripping down my waiting fingers. Heaven.

It seemed the greens on my table conspired with the natural forest I was staring out into (one of the few remaining in Indonesia, may I add) to make my holiday one of pure culinary pleasures. Speaking of which, I am having my dinner at Mozaic tonight, rated one of Asia's top 5 restaurants for 3 consecutive years. I can't wait to be culinarily-educated and palate-trained by Chef Chris Salans.

Mozaic - French cuisine, Balinese flavours

Rated as a top 5 restaurant in Asia for 3 consecutive years, Mozaic is found in the least expected place, tucked in a corner of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia's resort island. Against all odds, Chris Salans has set up a successful operation and has even extended his restaurant business to open a professional culinary school imparting his knowledge of French cooking and sous vide to chefs in Bali. 

I was blessed with celebrating my 22nd wedding anniversary there this weekend. These are the wonderful food we ate. Apologies again for bad photography - it was just way too dark to take any good pix and besides, we had to be discreet about taking photos in a fine-dining restaurant.

Amuse Bouche or "mouth-teaser".  Salmon Cornetto.  A great palate stimulator and I was ready to savour my three-hour  long dinner.
My favourite for the night - Australian Hamachi (or Kingfisher) Carpaccio.
Finger lime, pressed watermelon salad (sous-vide and mixed with the fish), Shaved Radish and Andalima Pepper Sorbet. I had to restrain myself from asking for a second helping.

Butter Roasted Sulawesi Yabbies (Crayfish) with Fresh Wakame Seaweed Linguini and Dashi-Sea Urchin Emulsion (aka Foam!)

It was a 6- course dinner paired with wines from Domaines Schlumberger from Alsace, France (near the border of Germany).
I invited Mr Alain Beydon, owner of Domaines-Schlumberger who was present that night to our table so he could explain and expound on the wine that was served to us. Here, he explains the labels on the wine bottle. He is the 6th generation of his family's winery and his niece and nephew are also engaged in the operation, ensuring the heritage is passed onto the 7th generation.

Crispy seared Duck Foie Gras in a trio of mango: puree, candy, chip. Didn't feel the crisp but foie gras in any form is divine.

Cinnamon baked Quail Pastilla. This was not good - like an Old Chang Kee curry puff.

Slow cooked Veal Loin and Roasted Sweetbread, paired with a 2007 Riesling. I could not get enough of the sweetbread which you know is NOT sweet and NOT bread. It's an animal gullet or gland around the throat region. Sounds disgusting but tastes heavenly.  I think I could savage a whole bucket of them. It stole the show from the veal.
The potato puree was magnificient and though I was stuffed, I did not allow the waiter to take this away. I was prepared to suffer indigestion for this baby. As addictive as French Fries is to my teenagers. You can't stop once you start.

As it was alfresco dining under the starlight, we also had other companions at our table throughout the dinner...see below. Yiks! It bothered me that they were there all night and I had to check my plate every now and then to make sure there weren't additional undesirable ingredients.

Fresh Morbier - Fresh Quince, Candied Walnut, Truffle, Rosemary, Vanilla Brioche Croutons. Paired with a 2008 Pinot Gris which we later looked out for at the airport and bought a bottle home. Delish!

Warm Valrhona Dark Chocolate Fondant with Star Fruit Sorbet. It oozed out like a molten lava and I licked my plate clean, very clean.

An extra touch for us.

It was an awesome culinary experience and I could ask the knowledgeable service staff all my questions. I came home with his autographed cookbook - yes, there are recipes to try! It would have been great to have interacted with the Chef personally - I always like to talk to people who cook my food. A must-visit. Or even two.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kitchen Organisation

I yanked everything out of all my kitchen drawers and cabinets and placed everything on open shelves. Say goodbye to expired ingredients and forgotten utensils. Yes, I feel such a great sense of control now... smells suspiciously of a midlife crisis!

Nothing pretty like my dear friend's in Germany. Mine is purely functional, but I'm loving it.

Ignorance is bliss, truly

Just read in a cookbook - "To produce good quality cold-smoked fish requires a high degree of skill because it is difficult to get the flavour and texture just right."

Oops, sorry, too late! This extra virgin chef already did it many times. And my verdict in the first post on smoked salmon was: "Highly suitable for virgin chefs. No culinary skills needed." Wah ha ha!

Moral of the story? Don't allow the few elite in the world to SMOKE you and cloud your idea of what you can or can't do. Beware, the Ides of March.

Learning to waste time - a new level

I walked the streets of Chinatown for 2 hours before I found these - crockery I grew up with. They give a whole new meaning to "rustic" - read "rusty". Food evokes memories, and so do kitchenware like these. They are of course very different to another type of kitchenware I like - see those I got from Tuscany.

Now I have to ask my mom for her good old recipes to eat childhood food in these. Maybe it's time to try that Thunder Tea Rice recipe from my dear Hakka friend.

Now, don't ask me where this shop is - it took a while to trace back to where my car was. And I'm sure I cannot find this shop again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Food cooked by students from Culinary Institute of America in Singapore

This was my lunch yesterday cooked by students from the Culinary Institute of America in Singapore. It's tucked in the corner of the Temasek Polytechnic campus, on the eastern part of town. I was delighted at this lunch surprise from a friend in church. In the menu booklet, the Institute invites diners to interact with the students and ask questions about the food - not that I needed that invite. I had 20 questions for every dish served out to me. 

Apologies for bad photography - blame it on the iPhone. 

I chose a cured fish starter - if you've been reading my blog, you know I'm an incurable cure-r, having done home-cured salmon and home-cured pancetta. My dish came with a cured red snapper paired with diced tomatoes, and cured mackerel with mango, served on a biscotti that had gone soft and retoasted, I think. The mackerel smelled and tasted fishy, like otah (fish paste). The red snapper however was lovely to the bite, and tasted very fresh and beautifully cured, just the right taste and texture for me, and I rushed home to research more about cured red snapper - with vodka! (Who's ready for the next private dining seating on this??!)

My main was an interesting composition of lentils wrapped in black crepes in a mixed garlic herb sauce, with honey roasted pumpkins, and topped with fried leeks. Vegan. I'm learning to wake my palate and taste in a deliberate fashion, always conscious of the effect the food and each ingredient has on my tastebud. This dish, I enjoyed, although half a portion would have sufficed for me. The lentils had a Middle Eastern-Moroccan twang, and the leeks were very flavourful. Even the green sauce was palatable to me, and seemed appropriate with St Patrick's Day round the corner.

 I asked our student-waiter what made the crepe black, making it look like a Japanese seaweed. He smiled and said, Today's crepe is darker than it should be! Essentially, it's blackened using 2 ingredients, black bean puree and bamboo charcoal powder. That word again. I had just blogged about it a month ago - see post on Black Bread.

Poor girl had to go into the kitchen to bring this out to show me.
At the rate I'm going, I may be "black"-listed and banned from
coming back to this restaurant!
And here's our trio dessert: 1. Coconut sorbet with dragon fruit cubes and candied parnsips. The parsnip took the limelight from the sorbet.

 2. Yuzu tart with raspberry sauce. It was ok, ok - know what I mean? Like, forgettable.

3. Warm apple cake with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. This was the most humble and heart-warming dessert. In my friend's words and with hand to heart and a peaceful sigh, he said, Eating this just makes me feel so happy. Soul Food. I want my food to have this effect on my diner! 

My curiosity still unsatiated, I asked if I could have a tour of the kitchen. They willingly obliged. (God, that woman!) The student-sous chef brought us round, boasting of their state-of-the-art equipment and a chill room for salad and cake preparatory work to ensure freshness. I unabashedly asked the Executive Chef from the States if she was open to sharing her recipes or if they were trade secrets. For my audacity, I was rewarded with the recipe for the apple cake, her father's recipe from her hometown back in New York. Will post when I get to test it. Overall, well done to the student-chefs and the service crew. I would really like to be back there soon. And this time, with a decent camera. Ciao for now!

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Kissing Dinner Rolls

These rolls got me more excited than I should be. I mean, it's really just a slab of dough come together. But the aroma, taste and texture were pretty awesome. 

I was not too hopeful that they would turn out to be anything good as I had trouble dealing with a really sticky dough. But when they proofed well and puffed up after just a few minutes in the oven, they got my undivided attention. 

The aroma was amazing and I couldn't stop sniffing at them. I wanted to make calls to every dinner guest to ask them to come over, like right now!

What really won my heart was when I saw these rolls kissing! Aren't they the cutest buns on heaven and earth. Such loving creatures. I must remember to make them on Valentine's!

And my favourite part in baking these - shredding them apart and seeing the soft texture especially when hot!

I got this recipe from some time ago and have tested it a few times. It seems the original post has been removed. It's a good thing I copied them down. Here goes.

Caution: You need time and patience and you must not give up if it doesn't succeed at first try. Dough may be difficult to handle - way too sticky!

You will need:
Electric mixer (or be prepared to knead dough by hand)
Damp cloth
Large dry cloth
Baking tray
Baking paper

Ingredients (yields 12 rolls):
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup hot water
1 pack dry yeast (I used 11g instant yeast)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups plain white flour (I used 1 cup white and 1 cup organic rye flour which has higher protein and fibre, and lower carbo and saturated fats)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup margarine (I used butter instead. Say no to trans fat!)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
2. Add in remainder of the ingredients and mix well.
3. Once a ball forms, cover bowl with plastic wrap or damp towel and allow to rise. (Mine didn't form a  nice ball and I had to add another half cup of flour to make it drier. I let it rise till double in volume.)
4. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough. (I used my electric mixer and kneaded for a good 10-12 minutes.)
5. Line baking tray with parchment paper. Divide dough into 12 balls and flatten slightly on baking tray. Cover with cloth. Allow rolls to rise. (I took my dinner and came back to see they have doubled in size. Give them time to rise before you bake them.)
6. Preheat oven to 205 degrees Celsius.
7. Bake for 15-20 min or until light golden brown on top. Tap buns - they should sound hollow and not dense when ready. 
8. Remove from oven and after a few minutes of initial cooling time, wrap rolls in a large dry cloth. This will aid in keeping the crust soft.