Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Picture of Blessedness - Kuppersbusch Kitchen and Giant Bananas

This is my friend's beautiful kitchen equipped with state-of-the-art Kuppersbusch ovens. I should say, this is only part of her kitchen. She is blessed with a showcase kitchen but alas, she hardly uses it! So this morning's mission was to show her how easy it is to make Jamie Oliver's baked chicken legs in her own oven. Her son in particular loved the recipe, and this is enough motivation for her to try to make it on her own the next time. Mission accomplished.

Very even heat distribution noticed in the browning of the chicken meat.

Look at this picture of summer! It even comes with a hot stone in front! I so want to get my hands on this to try some recipes!

 And what about this cute, sexy trolley induction grill. The top panel can be removed to serve directly on the table. How cool and awesome is that. It would be totally impressive to serve a chunk of Angus beef on this!

I was at the right time at the right place as they also harvested their giant bananas that morning, and she blessed me with some to go.

Bigger and chunkier than a cucumber!

Yellowing and browning after a few days, perfect for a snack or a bake!

A picture of abundance! This is the time to test Marcus Wareing's Banana Bread Pudding!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Classic French Chicken Liver Pate - another maiden

We took a week night out to visit our friend's bistro and catch up over a cider beer. K is passionate about experimenting with different recipes and for a whole hour, we talked only about food. Inspired by the chicken liver pate he served us, I immediately checked some classic recipes and wahla, here's another maiden dish by an extra virgin chef. Another easy one. Really.

Good idea to use different size dishes for different occasions.  I gave these away to many friends, my poor guinea pigs - they all politely accepted.
Butter will help coagulate the pate.

Choose a good cracker. Pay for it. Seen here is whole grain thin rye crisp bread with sourdough rye.

(You can half everything for lesser portion. They can keep for several weeks.)

1 kg chicken liver, trimmed of sinews and fats
3 blocks or 750g good quality butter, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 large onion, or 3 small shallots, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh thyme leaves
3 Tbsp brandy
1 tsp grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
50g butter for topping

1. Wash liver and gently pat dry with kitchen paper.
2. Melt 30g butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion/shallots and saute for about 5 minutes until softened but not brown.
3. Add liver and thyme and cook stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes. Liver should turn brown on the sides but keep the insides pink so they do not become rubbery.
4. Pour brandy and cook for another 10 seconds, then add remaining butter and nutmeg to the pan. (Remember to leave some butter for topping.)
5. Ensure all butter are softened, then puree the mixture in batches in a blender until smooth. Some restaurants sieve them for an even smoother texture but if you like it rustic like I do, the blender is adequate. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Spoon the pate into individual ramekins or small dishes. Melt butter reserved for topping and pour over the pate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Serve with crusty bread or hot toast. Or if you are on low carbo, serve with carrot and celery sticks. Remove from fridge 10-15 minutes prior to serving so it softens slightly. This helps remove the chill from the dish which deadens the flavours.

My first attempt and it was well received by a big group of friends. My mom who loves chicken liver, finds it repulsive though, LOL. Warning: it's heavy on butter, so go slow on this. But Julia Child also says, "With enough butter, anything is good."

By the way, do you know the difference between brandy and cognac? Well, I just learned that cognac is a type of brandy grown in the Cognac region in France. Duh.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Everyday Crispy Baked Chicken with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes

I have strongly recommended this Jamie Oliver recipe many times and I want to do so one more time.

Easy. Healthy. Tasty. Impressive. Practical. No exotic, expensive or inaccessible ingredients. Little preparation time. Only one dish to wash. It passes all these criteria with flying colours.

Five ingredients: Chicken legs (6-8), garlic (as much or as little as you like), cherry tomatoes (8), basil (a handful), fresh red chillies (2).
Preparation time: FIVE WHOLE MINUTES!
Marination time: Zero
Oven time: 90 minutes

1. Rub chicken skin on with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Cut cherry tomatoes into half.
3. Crush garlic with skin on. (No mincing needed)
4. Wash basil. Pluck leaves and cut stalk into small pieces.
5. Place everything in a dish to go into a preheated oven. Arrange chicken in one single layer. Tuck all other ingredients underneath or in between chicken. Give it 2-3 good lugs of quality extra virgin olive oil.
6. Bake for 90 minutes at 180C. No need to check, turn, baste. Just get yourself ready for dinner in 90 minutes.
7. Serve with salad or rice.

End result you're looking for:
- Chicken with crispy skin and meat so tender they fall off the bones.
- Garlic will not be pungent but soft to the bite, with texture like mashed potatoes.
- Tomatoes will be sweet and lip-smacking sticky.
- An added bonus is that the olive oil mixed with all the nutrients from the various ingredients becomes a gravy that my kids love to pour into their rice.
- If there are any leftovers, toss them with pasta the next day.

- Select the fan circulation button on your oven.
- Don't turn the chicken or you'll lose the crisp on the skin.
- Don't be tempted to cut short the cooking time even though chicken is already cooked after 60 minutes. Slow cooking gives food more flavour.

See my first attempt in June 2011. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Maiden Paella

Learned it at lunch time and made it for dinner with friends.
Like salmon, Paella is pronounced without the L sound. Many foreigners believe this to be a Spanish national dish, but my Spaniard friends - no, not the late Mr Seabass - tell me it's in fact a regional dish, from Valencia on the east coast of Spain.

My chef friend learned this dish when he spent some time in a restaurant in Spain. Watch out, he is going to open his restaurant soon in Singapore! We thought we'd better catch him before he becomes famous, so he was over at my place this weekend to teach us how to cook paella.

The most expensive ingredient in paella is saffron, but if you omit this, you lose the authenticity, some golden yellow hue to the dish, and of course, it's antioxidant properties. And needless to say, you will need a paella pan to make this - it is traditionally round, shallow and made of polished steel with 2 handles. Chef taught us how to season the pan - er...what was it he said about treating it with oil and vinegar?!!

I have forgotten the taste of paella since my visit to Barcelona years ago. But what surprised me today was that the squids and mussels were not rubbery even though they was in the pan for a while. Overall, an interesting maiden attempt at a famous dish with somewhat relative success for a virgin chef. 

Here are some pictures from the cooking lesson as well as from my first attempt right after the lesson! Recipe and method at the bottom of this post.

Sweet paprika, saffron and short grain rice
Some kniving skills from chef

Many tips from him as we went along, including how NOT to cut your fingers!
Exuding aroma as it simmers away
The messier, the more authentic!
My version

1 large onion, chopped or finely diced
5 Tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
2 chopped green chillies (more kick if you don't deseed)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Chorizo or any meat (optional)
1 good pinch of saffron (about $10 for a good pinch)
Pulp from 2 large tomatoes, skinless
1/2 tsp sugar
11/2 tsp sweet paprika
2 cups short grain rice
3 cups stock (bring to boil before adding. Don't add cold stock from fridge)
1/2 cup white wine
Seafood: 200g white fish, 5 prawns, 10 mussels, 2 squids (choose your own favourites)

1. Sweat onions in olive oil over low heat till translucent. Ensure no colouration, ie, don't wait till onions turn brown.
2. Add green chillies and salt.
3. Add garlic. No discolouration.
4. Add chorizo or meat if you prefer (optional)
5. Throw in the saffron. It needs time and heat to infuse. Sprinkle paprika.
6. Add tomato pulp and sugar. Cook till jammy consistency. Put to medium heat and let it evaporate.
7. Add seafood (in some parts of Spain, they add only fish and squid first, and the rest later).
8. Sprinkle sea salt. Add hot stock.
9. Add rice by scattering the grains all over the pan and in between seafood pieces.
10. Simmer for about 15 minutes (then add remaining seafood if you did not put all in at step 7). It is important NOT to stir the rice or seafood. Leave them to simmer as when you placed them in. Stirring will result in gooey paella. The result you're after is loose al dente grains, not starchy lumps.
11. Turn off heat, then rest and toss before serving. The messier, the more authentic.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Baking Blast into the Past

I had the privilege to meet an elderly woman who learned to bake and cook since she was little from a Dutch lady living in Singapore in the 1950's. She showed me her recipe scrap book with its yellow tinge and brown spots. I was intrigued to see recipes that were type-written! How many of us have seen a typewriter much less use one? 

Funnily enough, just when I thought I would be spending the afternoon with her learning about how cakes were baked "the old school way", this amazing lady whipped out her iPhone and started telling me about a killer app called ScanPro which she highly recommends for scanning recipes. She says with a big smile, Now, I have my recipes everywhere I go. I don't need to carry this book with me anymore. 

She had three such recipe collection books but her daughter threw away two. Ignorant fool. I would have loved to inherit such a precious book. 

Old World Charm with New World Convenience

Look at the dates of her newspaper clippings. Where were you in 1974? Were you even born yet?

I flipped over some of her clippings. Look! Jurong Drive-in Cinema showing The Daring Dobermans. How I miss the drive-ins which form a big part of my childhood memories.

Petticoat Junction - oh, too cute!

What a blast into the past for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pandan Chiffon Cake - In Pursuit of the Perfect One

Some recipes call for 200g in a chiffon.
This one has less than 100g of sugar in this chiffon cake and psst! the kids didn't notice.
See, it's possible to have your cake and eat it too.

Today is my 15th attempt at a pandan chiffon cake. I looked back at the early attempts - the pictures look hideous and I had proudly blogged about them being my first ones! The most hideous and bragful one is here! Naive and ignorant as a little birdling boasting to eagles already soaring majestically in the skies! Too cute. And too embarrassing. I'm not deleting those posts, no matter how tempting.

There are a zillion different recipes on the internet on pandan chiffon and I was such a confused kid for the past months trying to make sense of them all. I finally settled on the recipe from Kitchen Tigress where she also produced a video on her method. It amused me to see her spreadsheet comparing all the different recipes from well known bakeries. Her site is now my go-to for pandan chiffon cakes. Thank you, KT.

The various liquids used: (L-R) Egg whites, egg yolk, canola oil, fresh coconut milk and fresh pandan juice. Coconut milk and pandan juice extraction are most laborious. For pandan, blend the leaves to get pulp that you then squeeze by hand to get the juice. Leave it for an hour and discard water that's split from the juice and use only the darker green. There are easier alternatives like buying the packet coconut milk and using just a drop of pandan extract or artificial colouring but they're not for me.

Here's a summary of the various tips I gleaned from different sources:

1. Separate eggs when they are fresh from the fridge, but beat them only at room temperature. (Joy of Baking)

2. Instead of folding, use a spatula to make rapid vertical lines from top to bottom of bowl when mixing egg white mixture to egg yolk mixture. (Very old aunty from the neighbourhood)

3. Use a chopstick to go round the edges of the mixed batter just before it goes into the oven to remove airpockets (KT)

4. Cover top with a tray 15 minutes into baking to prevent a burnt top. (KT)

5. Bake another 6 minutes or so even after a skewer comes out clean. (KT)

6. When cooling cake, elevate the inverted tube pan instead of just inverting it on a table top. Prop it up on a bottle for better air circulation. (Joy of Baking)

Meanwhile, my kids are loving all my chiffon, thankfully. Psst, did I tell you I reduced the sugar and they did not notice?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chinese Claypot Rice - All Credit to the Clay

Maiden pot and my maiden attempt at a classic Chinese claypot rice. This is high up on the list of one-pot dinners for busy folks who want to eat home-cooked food but don't fancy too much cleaning up.

It's less intimidating than I'd expected, and I hope the pictures will encourage you to try making it too.

First, wash and rinse 2 cups of jasmine rice, add to claypot and cover with 2 cups of chicken stock.

About 5 minutes into the cooked rice, I added salted mackerel, 2 chicken thighs chopped into chunks, mushroom and Chinese sausages. Just like the easy 5-step Hainanese chicken rice method, the fats from  the bird will melt and flavour the rice.

As I still had time before dinner, I put it on a low fire to let the claypot work on the flavours. Covered. Oh, I had some leftover Chinese spinach from lunch and added them at the last minute.

I checked in about 20 minutes later, and added more stock as the rice was still hard to the bite. And then before I realised, it was done. Drizzled a tablespoon of dark soya sauce all over just before serving.

Taste? Smoky, classic claypot flavour without me doing very much. Chicken was cooked just right, moist and juicy. All credit to the clay! I'm sold on this humble pot. Everything is cooked in the clay, no other pots to clean. My friends are so going to get a claypot from me this Christmas!

Got wiped out completely in 10 minutes. And I love the sight of this crust at the bottom. Another characteristic of the classic dish. Carcinogenic, maybe, so don't try to eat it.

To wash, just soak it in water overnight, and the crust will float up in the morning. Don't try to scrub it, just don't bother. And don't use soap to wash as the clay will absorb the detergent.

I have to record this step I took that turned out to be important. I soaked the claypot for more than 2 hours before using it. Water is absorbed into the clay and slowly released as steam under the gentle heat. I believe this accidental step made a huge difference to the end result.

Big tick from self and family. This is going to be a staple in this household now! I've been forewarned it can become very addictive, and I'm already loving it.

Now, do you think I could make pilaf rice, or the Indian bryani this way too? Basmatic rice beckons. Or how about a Western version replacing salted fish with anchovies, Chinese sausage with Italian pancetta, and Chinese mushrooms with a portobello? Could paella or risotto be cooked in a claypot?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Ode to the Macaron Myth, those Glam Morons

One of the few zillion macaron pictures taken off the internet.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, this one is probably going to upset some people and maybe even lose some of the already few subscribers I have. TOO BAD!

Dear macarons, you are grossly over-rated, over-priced and I don't like the way you're stacked so pretentiously at posh hotel lobbies and traditional-bakeries-now-called-boutiques. And I detest that you have taken over the place of my favourite herbed breads.

How is it people have not realised that, at six hundred grams of sugar per batch, you are the shortest cut to wide hips and diabetes. The only thing more than the sugar are the exclamation marks people use when they describe you. You are as fake as the gaudy colours you purportedly boast about, always trying to get as much attention as you can, and exuding such an upperty air about you as you become so ubiquitous. My darling, when you part your bright, luscious lips, you ooze of sweetness, and you try so damn hard to melt weak, fluttering hearts.

Things between us don't have to get this bad if not for your scheming, deceptive nature. There's something deeply disturbing about how you've deceived the whole world into loving you when in fact you are worth nothing. I have major trust issues if you continue to be so pretentious.

You make food bloggers think it would be such a baker's challenge to figure you out, and anyone who has successfully made a batch run out to the blogosphere to boast about how awesome you look. At your core, you're hollow and nothing but 4-day stale and dehydrated egg whites.

Youths spend their meagre pocket money on you and you've deviously creeped in to become the defacto prized possession for every birthday gift. They even Instagram the box you come in. Under my intense interrogation, a few pastry chefs have confessed to me how cheap you really are. You are such a waste of time, money and life.

If you feel I'm emblematic of anal people who can't enjoy their food without doing a calorie count, so be it. I don't care for your fillings. Plus, I bet they'll want me to write a similar post on your poorer cupcake cousins. What an idea.

Did I say it also irritates me that your "feet" are also called your "crown"? So you don't even understand your own body parts, how can I even think that you would comprehend the least bit about the importance of being true to yourself? Come to think of it - your name, your name. Macaron, macaroon, macaroni, macerena...I'll settle with Glam Morons.

You, Monsier Macaron Moron, have forgotten where you came from. You were a lovely cookie! I don't know how else to break this to you but right now, you are nothing but empty food and there is NO NEED for you to have to exist. Start being proud of your heritage, and since you choose to look like an UFO, do me a favour and fly back to your humble beginnings. Then maybe, just maybe, I may start to like you.

P/S: Sorry this has to come on Bastille Day. I love France and I love Sous Vide and I love to Confit.

P/P/S: Hmm...the last food I talked to directly was My Spanish Seabass.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Word of the Week - Claypot

This is a very typical Chinese claypot and commonly found across some parts of Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia and China. After salivating over Alan's post on claypot rice, I had to go out to buy one. Such claypots are not easy to come by anymore. I scoured 4 traditional shops before I eventually found this one in Chinatown. If you're looking to get one, ideally, you should find one that has a wire gauze around it for more even heat distribution. Alas, I read that only after my purchase. Whatever it is, don't buy claypots from Amazon! I just saw the obscene price they published on their website.

My claypot is unglazed for the most part, and comes with a cute handle protruded from the side. Most claypots available today come in 2 round handles but I much prefer my traditional version. Plus, mine has an added bonus of "Tao" hand carved on it. "The Way", yes, "The Way"!

The flat-base bottom of the pot is glazed as you can see here.

While at the shop, this cute Thai baby claypot caught my eyes and I just couldn't go home without her. I like her Tuscan colour and petite look. Never mind that I have no idea what to cook in it - that's totally irrelevant.

Afraid of cracking my new pot (like I did with my Jamie Oliver baking stone!), I researched on how to prepare it for the first use. Plus, you do realise today is Friday the 13th!

A few things stood out:

1. Don't subject it to sudden heat change. Sudden high heat or sudden cold can break the clay.
2. Soak it before first use to remove dirt, grit and condition it.
3. At the first use, start with low heat and gradually increase.

Do not wash your claypot with soap as the clay will absorb the detergent.

Next post: Extra Virgin Claypot Rice!