Friday, December 30, 2011

All This Happiness, How Can I Contain Thee?

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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. 

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Cheers to the future.

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