Friday, December 30, 2011

All This Happiness, How Can I Contain Thee?

 [ source ]
I abandoned my day job and started dabbling in the kitchen only 15 months ago. But at times it felt as if I've been cooking forever.. Especially during those days where my fingers go numb over julienning carrots to painful feet. As if it has lost its charm and I'm just stuck doing chores.

But here's a toast to a year that is soon going to pass me by. A year full of cooking, at times with failure, and even more stubbornness to try again. 
Here's a toast to a year of being a grown woman, a wife and a chef in the making. A year that's full of hardships, but more laughters than I could ever imagine. 
Here's a toast to a year that taught me not to plan anything, because nothing ever run its proper course here, a year that forced me to embrace patience, no matter how much it eludes me. 

Looking back, I have come a long way from one who knows nothing about cooking to one who purposely ignores a good recipe. Pride always comes first before a downfall, so they say. But hey, as long as H doesn't complain.. I don't complain. 

Here are the highlights of my culinary journey.. the skills, tricks and secrets I've gathered along the way.

* The art of making the perfect caramel. Thanks to David Leibovitz's extensive notes, I've come a long way and make chocolate caramel tart and flan. Merci David! 

* The much loved butter chicken from Bee Yinn Low. It's Indian yet reminded me of my Singapore home. No one has ever complained about it. In fact, a copy of her book is en route to Toulouse as I type this, one of many presents from H. After all, if I'm going to educate my in laws about my heritage this coming Lunar New Year, I need all the help I can get! 

* The tricks of trussing chicken artfully, thanks to foul-mouthed Anthony Bourdain.

* He also taught me how to make garlic confit, that to this day become the ubiquitous ingredient in my fridge. It has oomph and sweetness and depth that raw garlic can't do. From slabbing that over toast bread to marinating meat to making a dip. Muchos gracias!

* The secret of yellow-ing the egg yolkThe egg yolk in Angola can never serve as a proper eggwash. I learn that all you need to do is add a little white vinegar to remedy that.

* After trying so many cake recipes, I learn that yogurt makes a very moist cake. Much preferred to substituting eggs with vegetable oil. And I hate icing, but the moment I heard about streusel, I fell in love. Yogurt muffin + streusel topping = bestfriends. Thanks K!

* I got my hands on herbs. Thyme on roast chicken, cilantro over ham and cheese toast, mint on cucumber salad, sage on pizza and pasta, bouquet garni on french stews. I love you herbs!

* The tricks of smooth baby bottoms egg. I watched many video tutorials over this but first of all, I learn to make a properly boiled egg from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa. Grey ringed yolks, be gone! I also learn that a room-temperature eggs that are few days old make the best hard-boiled eggs. 10 mins is all you need.

* The secret of making the perfect poached eggs, our most favorite egg-do, every single time. Vinegar and shallow pan with cover. Thanks to Simply Recipes.

* Flour and butter as the most basic thickener, also known as roux. 

* I have kneaded many doughs this year: pizza dough, short pastry dough, bread dough, chinese pancake dough, and all sorts of dough. My proudest moments are one where my dough turns well. The ingredients seem to know whether they are going to love each other or hate each other. My palm and fingers learn to recognize when to stop and when you need to knead the dough a little bit more, and more.. I hope I've picked up that graceful twist of wrist that a seasoned kneader always do, unconsciously. At the very least, I've surprised my Tia who's the family bread maker. This Asian girl has a pair of strong arms and even stronger back bone.

* And the best part, I experiment cooking with alcohol. Baileys cake, cognac truffles, rum raisin cake, beer can chicken, roast chicken with rum, fish scampi with white wine sauce, coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and many more. Rum is unobtrusive, beer adds weight and wine carries that nice tang saltiness (hold the salt, please). I can't wait to get into stout, port and mixing cocktails in my kitchen. My guests need drinks too, don't they? 

That's all folks. 12 worth keeping secrets, one for each month. 
I am giddy for 2012 and a whole new bag of tricks I shall unearth. 

[ source ]
Cheers to the future.

Be Still My Heart

This deserves an immediate entry although I can do laundry, wash dishes and return to the computer and still the photo is uploading. Anyway.. I am short of opening the door and screaming to the world about my wonderful, creamy, smooth flan.

I never realize it, but hey, I'm good. I'm that good. Ahem.

Well, either that or I'm armed with beginners luck! Wahooo.. Anyhoo, the result is the same.. teeheeee ;)

I have been bracing myself to make a flan. Afterall, my mom-in-law makes a really really wonderful creamy and smooth flan. Many people has tried making flan, but none that satisfied H. "I felt like I'm eating vanilla custard. Too much." or "The caramel is burnt" or "This is not flan. It doesn't move when you shake it.." Or in another words, his mom's is the best!

I learned to trust H's opinion, because (a) he practically grew up in the kitchen and (b) he has a very sensitive palate. He's one of those people who can tell the ingredients from just a teaspoon-ful. It's like watching the taste test in Masterchef kitchen. It's not easy to please (and fool) his tongue. And he's not hesitant to grow hungry rather than eating something that's distasteful. Imagine when I first brought him to meet my parents.. hah! even the full cream milk is too watery, not creamy at all.

But guess what he told me just now.. "I think yours is on the same level as my mom. It's really good, mon coeur" Wahoooo... Yippedeedoodah!!

Original recipe is from all recipe here and I upped the sugar, as per recommendation.

Creamy Caramel Flan (makes one 9-inch flan, but I used 10 inch mold here)

* 1 cup sugar
* 4 eggs
* 1 can condensed milk
* 1 3/4 cup water
* 1/8 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

How to: 
* Pre-heat oven to 175 C.

* In a heavy bottom pan, over medium heat, spread the sugar evenly and let it caramelized. Do NOT disturb it until you've started to see them turning brown by the edges. You can see the full instruction with photo here.

* In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add in the water, condensed milk, salt & vanilla essence. Mix until well incorporate.

* Pour the caramel mixture into an unbuttered pan, followed by the egg-milk mixture. Lay the pan inside a larger pan/pyrex (i.e. stacking up the two pans) and pour some hot water into the larger pan till half-covering the inner pan.

* Bake for 50 mins or so, until knife inserted in the middle custard comes out clean. Take out and let it cool.

* Chill in fridge at least for 4 hrs before serving. Don't forget to turn it upside down! ;)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

One Fine Day

This is what I do to make sure I got everything on my wish list! 

(1) Toasted bread with ham & cheese, sprinkled with cilantro
(2) Roast pork ribs with tamarind and rock sugar
(3) Fish Scampi with dill, over a bed of lemon & red chili aglio olio
(4) Herb Brown Rice with mints, coriander, shallots and toasted shredded coconuts
(5) Vietnamese Spring roll with Prawn, served with Nuoc Cham
(6) Fish & Prawn Tom Yum Soup

[n.b. the sketchy internet connection doesn't allow me to write a long post. So recipes to follow..]

[n.b.2. It worked!! Every single item.. :) ]

Chicken Empanadas

The chinese has dumplings, the Portuguese/Indonesians/Angolans have pastel. The Spaniards have empanadas.

I made this little cuties for Christmas entree and boy, were they delicious!!

It took quite a lot of work, nothing too difficult, and if you spread the work over few days, it is very doable.

Recipe courtesy of Crumbly Cookie.

Day 1: The filling
* 3 large chicken thighs, 3 large chicken drumsticks. Skin on, pat dry.
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/4 tsp black pepper
* 1/4 tsp chilli powder
* 2 large onions, diced
* 2 large cloves garlic, minced
* 2 bay leaves
* 1/3 cup diced chorizo
* 1/4 cup raisins
* 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
* 1/2 cup chicken broth

How to:
* Season the dried chicken with salt, pepper & chilli powder. Heat up oil in a deep skillet with cover, cook the chicken (skin side down). Do not disturb, touch & turn, until brown. Turn to other side. Once brown on both sides, set aside.

* Onto the same skillet, add the onion, garlic, bay leaves. Cook until onions are soft, before adding the chorizo. Let it cook for 1 min, then add the raisins, wine & chicken broth. Let it boil, while continuing to stir and scrapping the bottom. Add back the chicken and cover. Cook for 30 mins, and turn the chicken only once.

* After 30 mins, the juice of the chicken + broth + wine mixture should be thick and creamy. Turn off fire, and transfer chicken et all to a clean plate to cool down. Once it's cool enough to handle, peel off the chicken skin, de-bone and then roughly diced the meat.

* Transfer meat, sauce et all into a container. Covered and store in fridge for the next day. Fight the temptation to eat it, I know it's really good.

Day 2: Doing the dough
* 4.5 C all purp. flour
* 3 tsp salt
* 227 gr of butter, cold
* 2 large eggs
* 2/3 cup ice water
* 2 tbsp white vinegar

How to:
* In a large bowl, mix in the flour & salt. Using your hand, incorporate the butter until it turns crumbly (pea size).

* In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, water & vinegar. Add into the flour mixture until just incorporated. The mixture will be extremely wet.

* Onto a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a little. Gently. Cut into 4 of equal portion. Keep on freezer for at least 1 hour before you start working on it.

Day 2/3/4/ .. : after freezing the dough for at least 1 hour
* Preheat oven 200 C

* Prepare the egg wash: 1 egg + 1 tbsp water + a pinch of salt. Whisk in a small bowl.

* Work in batches. Take out 1/4 of the dough from your freezer. Mold into a ball and flatten it. Cut into 8 pieces of equal size. Flatten each piece, scoop 1.5 tsp of filling, and fold.

* Use back of fork to close it. And brush with egg wash.

* Bake for about 20-25 mins till golden brown.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

See you next year!

Pardon for my absence. Internet is a bitch these days. It took me over an hour to post my gateau au citron. During that time, I played with my hair before my biannual trip to hair dresser. It's long enough to do a fishtail braid now.

The idea is very simple, really, but it requires very nimble fingers. My hair was so layered that I can't do a single braid. Two is needed, and now I look like that woman in asterix and obelix. Bummer!

Anyway, I suppose this will be my last post for 2011. I certainly welcome 2012!

I need sea, sand and salt in my hair pleaseee..

Gateau au Citron, ala Joy of Baking

The purest pleasure is one that is simple and without pretension. 

Gateau au Citron, with thanks to Joy of Baking

* 1 cup (200 gr)  sugar
* 230 gr butter, room temperature
* 4 eggs
* lemon zest of a large lemon
* 1 tsp vanilla
* 2 C all purp. flour (T55)
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/4 C lemon juice

* 1 C icing sugar ~ I ran out of icing sugar and tried to made my own by grinding white sugar. Failed!!
* 2 tbsp lemon juice

How to:
* [Preparing the cake] Preheat oven to 175C. Butter a 9-inch round pan (I used a 10-inch) and line the bottom with parchment paper.

* In a bowl, whisk butter and sugar until the mixture turns pale. Add in the egg one by one, whisk well before adding the next egg. Add in the vanilla & the lemon zest.

* In a separate bowl, sift in the flour, baking powder, salt.

* Add in the dry ingredients into the wet mixture along with lemon juice. Mix only until it's incorporated.

* Bake for 30 mins or so, until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let it cool down.

* [Preparing the icing] mix all ingredients until it turns a smooth paste. Add in more lemon juice or water to your desired thickness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day 23: Tempe Goreng Manis Pedas

Nope, I did not forget this challenge.

This is my lunch today.
Ayam Suwir Cabe Ijo (green chilli shredded chicken), stir fry green beans and tempe goreng manis pedas (sweet spicy fried tempeh!). Yahooo.. 
Obviously H ate only 1 tempeh, but I can't be bothered. 
I can live with tahu and tempe (tofu and tempeh) alone! 

Tempe Goreng Manis Pedas (Sweet Spicy Fried Tempeh, serve 2)

* 1 packet of tempeh, sliced the long way 1 cm thick. 
* oil to fry 
* 4 shallots, sliced thinly
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 1 red chilli, deseed and sliced thinly
* 1/4 cup water
* 3 tsp sugar
* 1 tsp kecap manis (sweet soya sauce)
* salt

How to:
* Fry the tempeh sticks. Drain and set aside.

* Into a non stick pan, toss in the shallots, garlic & red chilli till fragrant. Add in the water, sugar, kecap manis and salt. Let it cook uncovered until it turn into a thick, sticky syrup. 

* Toss in the tempeh, making sure that all tempeh sticks are covered in the sticky syrup. Plate them and serve immediately. 

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

[Chicken, Chorizo, Raisin]

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nasi Tim Sapi (Steamed Rice with Beef)

A very standard dish in Jakarta, something that we used to eat for .. wait for it.. breakfast! Even H would make an exception. But the one we had in Jakarta is always with pork, too much rice and not enough meat. 
So I thought I'll make my own version, with leek and beef :)

Nasi Tim Sapi (Steamed Rice with Beef, serve 2)

250 gr minced beef
2 large cloves garlic, minced
some leeks (I used probably about 8 rings)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
salt, pepper, nutmeg

In a pan, heat up some oil & fry the garlic till fragrant. 
Add in the beef and the leek. Let it cook till done.
Add the seasoning, toss well and set it aside.

8 tbsp of long grain rice, washed. 
Set up your steamer.
In a small pot, heat up about 500ml of chicken broth. 
[I used 1 cube of chicken bouillon, added with spring onions & tongcai (salted preserved vegetable)]

Into your aluminum tin bowl, brush with some vegetable oil.
Put 4 heaping tbsp of meat-leek mixture. 
Add in 4 tbsp uncook rice. 
Laddle the chicken broth until about 1-1.5cm on top of the rice grain.
Put the bowl into your steamer, cover the steamer.
Steam for about 30 mins, until the chicken broth has evaporated & rice is cooked.

To serve, cover the tin bowl with a serving plate, hold tight and turn it upside down.
Tap, tap all over the tin bowl (the oil will help it loose).
Garnish with cilantro or more spring onions.

Ladle some chicken broth into small bowls and serve together.
And some green chillies on the side ;)

Caramel Roast Chicken

Caramel Roast Chicken (serve 2)

* 1 chicken breast meat, cubed
* 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced.
* 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (you can use balsamic vinegar but taste would be milder)
* 1 tbsp dark soya sauce
* 2-3 tbsp soy oil
* 1 tsp scallion, for garnishing

How to:
* Preheat oven to 220 C.

* In a bowl, add in the chicken cubed and the onion. Mix with red wine vinegar & soya sauce. Let it sit in fridge for about 15-20 mins.

* Add in 2-3 tbsp soy oil. Toss until all chicken are well coated then transfer to oven proof baking dish.

* Bake for 15 mins till done (but not too dry). Garnish with scallions.

Voila. H loves it so much. He would dip his bread and ignore me completely. And I'm a happy wife.

Let the holidays begin!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Caesar Salad made so easy

Original recipe is courtesy of Crumbly Cookie here and here's how I tamper with it..

1. Making the croutons

Cubed the bread
Sprinkle some water to each bread, dabbing to another if one gets too wet
Sprinkle with a pinch salt (no more than 1/4 tsp)
Toss with 1 tbsp EVOO
In a non stick pan, add in the bread mixture, further toss with 4 tbsp EVOO
Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently
Cook until brown & crisp.

Turn off the fire, push croutons to the sides
Add 1 tsp garlic confit/ garlic paste/ 1 clove garlic pressed through a garlic press
Let it cook for 10 seconds or so
Sprinkle with grated parmesan
Toss till garlic, parmesan and croutons are evenly distributed
Transfer to a crouton bowl, set aside

2. Making the Salad Dressing

whisk 1 tsp garlic paste & 2 tbsp lemon juice. Let it rest for 10 mins
Using the back of fork, break or pound 5 anchovies into a paste
Put everything into a bowl: garlic-lemon mixture, anchovies, 1 tsp worcestershire sauce & 1 heaving tbsp homemade mayonnaise 
(or you can subs the mayonnaise with 1 raw egg yolk)
While whisking constantly, drizzle EVOO into the mixture to your desired thickness. Approx 5 tbsp.
Add in more EVOO if needed. 
Whisk until all oil has fully emulsified.
Add grated parmesan (start with 1/4 cup and add more if needed).
Taste & adjust seasoning: salt, pepper, lemon juice.

3. Putting them all together

Add lettuce (iceberg, romaine.. even spinach), croutons & salad dressing. 
Toss evenly. 
Add in some shredded grilled chicken if you want.
Carved a thin paper sheet of parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle some fresh ground black pepper.
et.. bon appetit!

We were happy with our meat-free version. Very good and exactly how Caesar Salad should taste like.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Snippets of my week

View from the door
Love letter from H on my birthday
C(h)oco-nut cake with a "truck full of love"
my office
a little piece of Montmartre

fat pancakes, the way H likes it
The 'hood
Stairway to "heaven"
Something new, something sushi
the pot calling the kettle blue!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Homemade Mayonaise

1 egg, 3/4 tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp lemon, 1 tsp dijon moutard, 1/2 tsp salt
must be on room temperature

1 cup of canola oil & immersion blender

Add all ingredients one by one, with oil being the last. Start with 1/4 cup of oil.
Place the immersion blender right on the egg yolk and whisk medium to high speed.

Until it starts to emulsify..
Add more oil.. and whisk some more.
Repeat till you have added all the oil.

And slowly lifts up the immersion blender

.. until all ingredients are well mixed.
Taste. If not salty enough, lemony enough.. add and adjust to taste.

Keep in a jar and store in fridge.
Ideally used within 1-2 days. 

Recipe courtesy of Delicious Days here.

Tuna Patties

Tuna Patties (makes 5 small patties) 
Original recipe is courtesy of someone, somewhere in the internet that I couldn't remember now.

1 tin tuna, drained
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaving tbsp of smallish chopped onion
 2 tbsp all purp. Flour
1 egg
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chives (which I skipped)

How to:
* Mix all ingredients.

* Heat up some oil in a non stick pan, drop a tablespoon of tuna mixture. 
Flatten using fork. Once it’s brown, turn. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Quickie

Pardon my absence.

In between of moving to a new house, getting to know a new kitchen (different oven, different stove), following all sorts of utilities men (TV, internet, AC..) around the house, helping a Singapore company to set up their Angolan office and planning a Christmas party (supermarkets are empty!!), I have nothing left of me. I have so much to do, so tired and yet I couldn't really rest. My feet ache and often numb.

H isn't exactly helpful because he's been working a lot including weekends.

A proper rest is needed. I plan to chill out on the beach this weekend, then replying some mails, then blogging. Then more groceries hunting.

Ciao for now.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NYC Street Cart Chicken and Rice with White Sauce

Few winters ago YIKES!! It was (only) February last year, H and I decided to meet in NYC to buy my engagement ring. I would be flying in from Atlanta after my work trip and he would be flying from Sanaa, Yemen. I made sure that I would fly in to the same airport as H, that our flights would land on roughly about the same time. We calculated that we would just take the airport train to Hoboken (New Jersey) to our aparthotel by the Hudson. All within day light.

What we didn't calculated however that my flight (the flight before mine and the 3 flights after mine) would be cancelled because of the snowstorm. The domestic airplane is typically small hence rendering it pliable to heavy winds, rain and snow. H's flight however was 7-hour transatlantic flight, hence he took off and landed as scheduled. So when we finally met, it was close to 8 hours after the planned timing. The sky has turned dark and the night has fallen by the time we stepped off Hoboken.

We knew that our aparthotel is only 5 mins walk from the train station, by the river side but we lost our ways, even after asking direction from so many people. We probably waddled our way through in calf-high snow for only half an hour, but it certainly felt like years. I was drenched, cold and tired. But H persevered, grabbed my luggage and continued walking. To say that we walked through a storm that night will not be an exaggeration.

However after a very bad beginning, we had a lovely time in New York albeit stressful. Broadway, shopping, diamond district and of course, Zagat. We had our fills of the greatest food in New York, from Zagat and Michelin to street cart food. And today, I want to cook something that reminds us of that particular trip that ended with us engaged 3 weeks later and married 4 months after. We are ever so-efficient! :)

[ Hello Eloise! ]

NYC Street Cart Chicken and Rice with White Sauce (serves 2)
Original recipe is from Serious Eats (and Gilt Taste) here.

[a] Preparing the chicken
[ pardon my bite, can't fight the temptation ]
* 2 chicken thighs, de-skin and de-bone (roungly about 300 gr)
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 1 tsp dried oregano
* 1 tsp of chopped cilantro
* 1 tsp coriander powder
* 1 big clove of garlic, minced
* 4 tbsp olive oil

How to: 
* [Marinating the Chicken] Mix all the ingredients with food processor or pestle and mortar till it becomes a smooth paste, then coat the chicken with half of the paste. Marinate at least 1.5 hour. 

* [Cooking the chicken] Over a pan, spray with some oil, brown the chicken on all sides. Do not over turn/ disturb them too much. Once they are brown, coat them with the other half of the paste. Put it back into fridge. 

[b] Making the white sauce
* 4 tbsp mayonaise
* half of yogurt cup
* 1 tbsp lemon
* salt, pepper
* 1 tsp sugar
* 2 tsp white vinegar

How to: 
Mix everything and let it chill in the fridge.

[c] Preparing the rice
* basmati rice enough for 2 person, washed and drained
* 2 tbsp butter
* a pinch of cumin seeds
* 1 tsp of turmeric powder
* water (double amount of rice. so ratio of water to rice is 2 : 1) Note: I found basmati/long grain rice needs more water than my usual short grain rice.
* 1 cube chicken bullion
* some green peas (for colour)

How to:
* On a heavy bottom pan, melt the butter, add in the cumin seeds & turmeric powder. Stir fry for about 1 minute before adding the rice.

* Coat the rice with the butter mixture and let it toast for few more mins before adding water & the chicken bullion. Cover and let it cook until rice is tender. 

* Add in the peas and stir fry for another 2-3 mins then turn off the fire. Cover and let it rest. 

[d] Putting them all together
* Take chicken out from the fridge, return it into skillet together with their juices and marinate sauce. Cook them a little bit more until heated through.

* Divide the rice onto two plates and pile the chicken on top of the rice. Top with white sauce (and some hot tabasco sauce, if you want). 

I burnt my rice while typing this post, hence I need to supplement our lunch with some tortillas. Duh!
Note: You can also use pita bread instead, put some lettuce on top, before you pile on the rice & chicken, top with some slices of tomatoes, cucumber and what have you.