Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of 2011

It's the last day of 2011, the day we start reflecting and looking back at the year. I wanted to do a recap of the best moments of 2011. It turned out to be a horrible process that took me a lot longer than I wanted to, because I really couldn't choose. I ended up forcing myself to choose one from each of the categories on my RECIPES page (which I will finally update in a while so make me happy and go see it tomorrow).

Favourite Vegetable Recipe

The slow-roastd flesh of the eggplant is deliciously soft and savoury from absorbing the marinade, and it goes wonderfully texture-wise and taste-wise with the slightly sweet, aromatic and crunchy peanut dressing. Of course, I am generally biased towards anything with that sauce-- freshly ground roasted peanuts simmered with tamarind and spices, homemade (or satay man-made) with love. Refer to the chicken satay post for the singapore satay peanut sauce.

Favourite Meat Recipe

When I first came to London, I got pretty homesick in the first few months. My mum used to send me ridiculously large parcels which complained about because the fact that they were ridiculously large meant that, for her, they were ridiculously expensive, and for me, they were ridiculously heavy (I had to carry them from the post office in the snow). Secretly though, these parcels of love made things just a little better, and though most of the things were pretty useles--she sent me toothbrushes once-- some things I've still kept as treasures, one of which is a handwritten list of some of her recipes. Sesame oil chicken is one of them.

Favourite Fish Recipe

As perfectly normal and even boring as it may sound to some people., gooseberries are really very new to me. I've never seen them before coming to London, though I've heard of them, but only in Enid Blyton/similar storybooks.
Herring and gooseberries turned out to be a good combination, as the tart juices bursting from the gooseberries help to cut the richness of the herring. I couldn't resist adding the chillies and spices, and though it may sound off, I thought it'd work somehow. The sour-sweet gooseberries work kind of like tamarind in the Southeast Asian recipes I'm familiar with, which is often combined with soy sauce and chillies for a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

Favourite Rice Recipe

I know it was the previous post. But congee is the chinese equivalent of a bowl of risotto-- just simply rice, plump with the flavour from the stock it's simmered in, so each spoonful is a scoop of light yet creamy and comforting goodness.

Favourite Sweet Recipe

There is something about a peach, that fuzzy exterior which just begs to be stroked, and that bright yellow soft and juicy flesh inside. I loved them with the tangy sourdough crepes to mop up the sweet lemony gingery peachy juices and the smooth creamy yogurt. Refer to the "Sourdough crepe, that was easy!" post too.

This is not any ordinary chilli paste. Yes, you use this as a dip at the side, but you also use this as the base for creating so many classic Singaporean/ Malaysian fried rice/noodles/barbeques/curries/sauces. That said, it's an extraordinary dip, and nasi lemak is not nasi lemak, fried hokkien prawn mee is not fried hokkien prawn mee, without this sambal chilli on the side. What's unique about this cilli paste is belachan- a potent smelling fermented ground shrimp paste. I still remember cooking with it last year when I was still staying in halls and my Turkish flatmate kind of flew from the kitchen. But don't judge, because I guarantee you'll love this chilli for it's sweet, spicy, salty, savoury and just a tiny bit tangy and smoky flavour.

I tried game meat for the first time

Venison just sounded so fancy, so I had the impression I would be much better off without it, pocket-wise. But then I realised how cheap the venison necks were. I'm a fan of using the less popular cuts of meat. You get so much more bang for your buck, plus there's loads of flavour, especially if the meat is still hanging onto the bone (marrow bones in this case, score!). And, it's definitely tender if you remember to go low and slow. I found recipes calling for it to be braised in red wine, but because I'm not one to have red wine around the house, I used Shaoxing rice wine instead, and to complement that, some typical Chinese braising spices, which would also counter any gamey-ness.

Oh, and more.
I have the best job possible for a real food lover, working at the Pimlico Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings.

I'm thankful for all the good things that have happened, and for the bad, food and cooking have helped make it very much more tolerable. All in all, this was a brilliant first year for me food-blogging wise, I don't know what I see for the year ahead, but I hope to be able to continue doing the things I love and meeting people who also enjoy doing the things I love. May everybody have a lovely 2012, and enjoy your last few hours of 2011!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Leftover Turkey Congee

Christmas is actually over, after all the hype and excitement in the lead-up to the big day, it's finally over. And after a night with too much good food and wine, you really just want something quite light and comforting and ideally uses up the leftover turkey. For me, that's congee. It's the chinese equivalent of a bowl of risotto- just simply rice, plump with the flavour from the stock it's cooked in, so each spoonful is a soothing scoop of goodness. Unlike risotto though, you don't want separate grains, and in fact you don't even want to see any grains. The rice should have all disintegrated into a thick porridge. The ratio is about 10 cups water/stock to 1 cup of rice, you can use less or more depending on how thick you like your congee.

Turkey Congee
serves 2
1/2 cup of jasmine rice, washed till water runs clear
5 cups of homemade stock (in this case, turkey. refer stock 2.)
unrefined sea salt (to taste)

To serve:
leftover turkey, shredded
chopped spring onions
fried shallots and shallot oil (replace with toasted sesame oil if unavailable and lazy)
dash of good traditionally fermented soy sauce
dash of white pepper

1. Add the rice to the stock in a preferably heavy-bottomed pot and bring to the boil.
2. Lower the heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom and burning. It will take quite long, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, though unlike a risotto, you don't have to constantly stir.

Not yet, still not yet there, almost there, there!

3. When rice has reached the right consistency, scoop into bowls and top with the shredded turkey, spring onions, fried shallots, and finish with a drizzle of shallot oil. The soy sauce and pepper is usually at the side so the eater can add to taste.

Oh and another option. You can crack in an egg at the end, after you remove it from the stovetop, the residual heat from the congee sort of poaching the egg. I wish I remembered earlier, that's my sister's and my favourite part about congee.

Nonetheless, this was just what I needed after all that rich and sweet food, something plain and familiar, but deliciously creamy and comforting at the same time. The rice has fully soaked up all the yummy and nourishing goodness of the stock, and turned almost soup-like so you can just slurp it down without even chewing.

You can speed up the process by starting with cooked rice, but I think there's still no better way than to do it the traditional way, slowly letting it cook and stirring it with love, and though it takes longer, honestly, there is almost zero effort involved.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Flourless Chocolate Orange and Ginger Cake

One thing I left out from my Spain post, was the desserts and sweets. I don't have a massive sweet tooth, so I often favour the savoury. I don't think anyone noticed, because Spain doesn't exactly come to mind when you think of sweets, and Spanish treats don't seem to go beyond churros dipped in hot chocolate.

We did have quite a few nibbles of their candies and cakes, and what's most different about them is that they are quite often made with almonds instead of flour, probably because it's one of their major produce. Another is the orange. When we first arrived in Seville, our mouths literally dropped when we realised that every single tree on the streets had oranges growing on them. We didn't know if we could pluck them, but we picked a fallen one from the ground, and giggling excitedly, washed it and ate it (it was sour).

Anyway, all that- the chocolate, the almonds, the orange- got me inspired to try making Nigella Lawson's flourless chocolate orange almond cake, which has rave reviews from almost everyone who has tried it. I tweaked it a little, added a bit of ginger for that Christmassy spice and a bit of Asian character, and used unrefined muscavado sugar instead for a deeper caramel-sweetness and colour.

Flourless Chocolate Orange and Ginger Cake
Makes a 6" round cake (I halved the original recipe, so you can double and do an 8" one)
1 small orange, about 200g (haha mine was really from Spain)
3 free range eggs, lightly beaten
100g ground almonds
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
125g light muscavado sugar
4 tbsp of good cocoa powder
1 tsp of grated fresh ginger

1. Put the whole orange in a pot with some water, bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours. Drain, and cut in half to remove the seeds when cool, then pulp everything- skin, pith and all.

2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
3. Mix in everything else. You can do it in the food processor too.

4. Pour into a greased, lined 6" cake tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, you may need slightly longer or shorter depending on your oven so check at about 30 min to see if you need to cover with foil to prevent the top from burning.

You'll see mine cracked on top ): I don't know why, but it still tasted good so I didn't mind, I just sliced from the centre for the photo taking hehe.

5. Leave the cake to cool before slicing. I also just brushed the top with some honey for a easy prettier glaze. And this is optional but it's lovely served with some cream(preferably grassfed, full-fat).

It's the easiest cake I've ever made, there's no creaming of butter or whipping of egg whites etc. In fact, I realise there's no butter in this, nor is there gluten or dairy, or refined sugar in my version. Healthy cakes shouldn't taste quite as good, but this is deliciously chocolatey, with the fragrance of orange and slight spice from ginger. I hate airy chiffon-style cakes so I really liked that it's so moist, oh but at the same time, it's surprisingly quite light and not too rich you feel like you're eating a bar of chocolate shaped like a slice of cake, as many chocolate tortes are.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A little bit of December sun and a lot of Spanish food

I'm back! I write this now in a sleep-deprived, over-stuffed state, so I'll let the photos do more of the speaking. I went to Barcelona and Seville for a little 4-day escape from the cold and grey skies of London. As with most of my travels, the experience is largely gastronomic. Spain was always one of those countries on my to-go list after the Brindisa chorizo sandwich I had at Borough market.

And chorizo I did have, along with some of their other less-famous cured sausages and hams.

Little 1 euro sampler sticks for the indecisive like me

Jamon is Spanish for ham, and the slicing of the ham is a fine art in itself. The whole cured leg is usually hung up proudly for display, not just in the markets, but also in the restaurants and tapas bars.

You would think I stuffed myself silly with pork there, but actually, I had a lot more seafood. Barcelona and Seville are both coastal, and you can tell from the amount of seafood on their menus. I had the best seafood I ever had (and that's saying a lot because I grew up in Singapore!) at the Mercat (market) de La Boqueria. I was shocked, because, really, it was just plain-grilled, and then finished off with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil and sea salt, but it was amazing and just bursting with the fresh flavours of the sea.

Mind-blowing seafood platter done to perfection, not overcooked or overladen with excessive seasoning or flavourings

Oh and speaking of the market. I love to visit markets, and even in London, I still get excited every Saturday when I work at the farmers' market. I must say it's been one of the most impressive markets I've seen so far. Rows and rows of fresh vegetables and meat (including offal) and of course, the aforementioned seafood-- probably why the grill was so good.

The mushroom stall!

Just one of the maybe 20 seafood stalls there

It's not just your usual cod or salmon they sell though, often times, it's really the cheap fishes, things like sardines and the tiny oily fishes we often turn our noses up at, just simply fried up as little snacks, or tapas.

Pescadito fritos (fried little fishes)

Which brings me to the tapas. I think what was most immediately obvious about the Spanish were that they were really friendly people; everyone was like family, whether or not they've grown up together or only just spent the last five minutes together. That whole concept of tapas is based on the idea of sharing- just little plates of snacks and appetisers that everyone can all munch on over a beer and a conversation. It's not at all like a formal, stuffy dinner where no one really dares to speak much because you're busy making sure you don't accidentally open your mouth while you're chewing.

Haha. The very friendly owner at a busy tapas bar overflowing with locals all through the day and night.

Our never-ending appetite. The series of tapas we had, starting from the top left:
Croquetas, chorizo on bread, tortilla de patatas (Spanish thick potato omelette), fried sardines, and something he put a plate down of with a "Bueno!"

Oh and of course, what would Spain be without some paella! Our hostel was supposed to have a paella night on the rooftop where everyone will learn and have a hand in making paella, but disappointingly, it got cancelled ):

I got so excited when I saw that huge pan hanging in the kitchen, but, oh well.

We didn't have the chance to make it to Valencia, the birthplace of paella, but this dish is all over Spain. The most interesting one we had was the paella negra, kind of like seafood paella, but in a wicked black colour because of the squid ink.

(Black) Lip-smackingly good, but we came to the conclusion that this was not food you should order on a date, unless I find a foodie boyfriend just as greedy.

And now I need to get back to the realities of briefs and projects (yes, over the Christmas break; oh the cruel uni life!) I will still find time to do a thing or two inspired by my Spanish adventures; it should be great because the upcoming festivities are all about sharing and food and family and friends-- and that's Spain in a nutshell for me (: